Thought for the day: Kleenex is not a food group.
Ezra Standish, refined gentleman of the deep south, strode into the office he shared with six other men. Men who on most days he would consider eccentric and a tad uncouth, but nonetheless a formidable bunch whose resourcefulness could be witnessed in their spectacular arrest and conviction rate. The much-lauded Team Seven of the Southwestern Division of the ATF was a most eclectic clan, but one which Ezra was proud (if not publicly so) to be a member.
So when he opened the door to the Team Seven bullpen on this particularly bright Monday morning, prepared to give a complete debriefing on the previous week he had spent at the New York seminar on new designer drugs, he was taken aback slightly to survey the usually business-like, if casual, room in a state of... well, putrefaction would be the best word. The place looked like a landfill for toxic disposal. And among the refuse so thoroughly scattered about, he counted four bodies huddled over various desks.
Ezra frowned and stepped back, closing the door quietly, and ducked across the hall to the secretarial pool for the 9th floor of the federal building. "Elaine," he called to a motherly woman in her early 50's who had always struck him as a dead-wringer for Donna Reed. "What on earth."
"Oh, good morning, Mister Standish," the matron smiled cheerfully. "I take it you've seen your teammates." Ezra raised an eyebrow as the woman shook her head. "Poor lambs. Flu, every last one of them. And not enough brains in the bunch to go home and be sick. Finally ADA Travis threw up his hands and said he'd leave it to you to convince them, as only you can." She handed him an envelope, which he took with the thought it very likely could poison him on contact.
"How kind of him," Ezra said dryly, opening and reading the missive with disgust. "However, I do not see Mister Jackson."
"Oh, Nathan's girl apparently hogtied him to the bed," Elaine chuckled. "Called herself and said he won't be coming in until she decides he can. Made a few rude remarks about physicians as patients, I believe. You'll have to ask Jenny, she took the call."
"Marvelous," Ezra sighed. He'd hoped for a relatively quiet day. "The place looks like Hiroshima after the bomb." He squared his shoulders. "Well then, if you would be so kind as to inform Mister Travis that I have taken matters in hand?" Elaine nodded. "And then please place the following calls."
It was twenty minutes before the first of his reinforcements arrived, but the two of them made a profound impact as they entered the bullpen with him. "Gentlemen," Ezra announced with an air of command. "I had hoped to be welcomed back to the fold with the joy that usually greets the prodigal child. However based on the covert intelligence I have received from our faithful administrative assistants, I would be ever so grateful if you would remain at a discrete distance."
JD moaned, pressing his hands against his temples, while Buck continued to snuffle loudly and wetly into a Kleenex which was most likely doomed to join its numerous associates in the pile that was nowhere near the overflowing waste basket.
"Mister Wilmington and Mister Dunne, you will collect yourselves in the best fashion you are able and be returning to that pit you call a home with Miss Casey here." Casey Wells shook her head, the fury to have only this morning learned her beloved boyfriend and his gregarious roommate were ill strengthening her resolve to handle the pair. "I will brook no argument, as you obviously haven't the strength between you to defend yourselves against this slip of a girl, much less myself." Buck cocked a watery eye.
"Who died and made you boss?" he rasped, his voice hoarse from coughing. Ezra grinned widely.
"I believe, Mister Wilmington, that ya'll did," he chuckled. "And in lue of that, the illustrious Mr. Travis has, in fact, signed paperwork making me temporary leader of this team until such time as Mr. Larabee actually has the energy to argue that point." He waved an official-looking memo in the air with a triumphant gesture. "It really does take an act of God, Mr. Wilmington. Or in this case, our bureau's next closest thing. I am henceforth in charge of Team Seven until such time as they are able to represent the position of `alive and well'."
He turned to his second assistant. "Mrs. Wells, do tell me if I am amiss, but do you see a single body in this office that remotely represents the phrase `alive and well'?"
Nettie Wells drew herself up to her formidable height of five-foot-four and narrowed her eyes. "I would say, Mister Standish, that you are the sole survivor of this motley crew."
"Please, my dear lady, there is no need to be crude," Ezra responded. "I daresay I have never been, nor never will be, `motley'."
"Of course, Ezra, I do apologize," Nettie chuckled, surveying the war zone. "Alright Vin Tanner, on your sorry feet this instant!" Vin gulped (a throatful of phlegm, most likely) as the woman he respected above no other bore down on him, her grayish-blue eyes snapping angrily. "What on God's green earth do you think you're doing working when you should be home in bed?" Vin attempted to speak, but the laryngitis prevented anything recognizable from forming.
"And you, Josiah Sanchez!" Josiah's head shot up in surprise as the elderly woman pointed a finger in his direction. "A man of your age and sensibilities, behaving like a stubborn schoolboy! I thought you better than these good-for-nothing louts for taking care of your own health, but here you sit sweating like a stuck pig without a thought to your own care!"
Ezra smiled as Nettie collected her two assigned charges to take back to her home. That left him with only the worst of the bunch, the head mule himself. Collecting his wits, he strode into his boss's office, swinging the door open without care to the bang it produced when it hit the wall. At his desk, the wilted form of Chris Larabee jumped in his chair, gasping for air like a landed fish.
"Ezra," he whimpered, gazing through glassy eyes at his agent. "We-comb back. Lemme finish dis rapord and we can go over your nodes."
"Stuff it, Larabee," Ezra growled. Ezra was more than a little irked to see the man looking so much like a corpse out of a bad horror film. "Good Lord, man, I always knew you had a head like a rock, but this is ridiculous. I suppose if you admitted the rest of your team was ill, you would have to address your own operatic tune as well, hm?" Chris looked at his returned lover in confusion, and Ezra realized that Chris's normally agile mind was incapable of translating the undercover agent's regular diatribe. "Face the music, Larabee. You're sick as a dog, and so's the rest of your team."
"Jus' a code," Chris groused.
"Well, code or not," Ezra said, deliberately using the ill man's tortured pronunciations, "I'm taking you home and putting you to bed. The lovely Wells ladies have taken custody of your partners in influenza, leaving you alone to my care." Chris tried to focus enough see into the bullpen, where Nettie and Casey were fluctuating between gentle prodding and something akin to cattle-herding to move their respective charges out the door. "That's right, Mister Larabee, it's Mutiny on the Bounty, and I'm Fletcher Christian to your Captain Bligh. Up with your pathetic carcass now. I'd hate to wrinkle my newest Louis Vuitton simply because you've once again decided to impersonate an Equus asinus."
"Ez," Chris groaned as he found himself being forced into his jacket. "Pwease, coub ya use smaller words? Ma head hurds too buch for yoh Harbard dicsonary."
"And that is my fault?" Ezra chuckled, directing the ill man toward the door.
It took twenty minutes to maneuver Chris Larabee down to the garage, another five to pour his body into the Jaguar in a manner that could be considered a legal position in a vehicle (at one point the man simply dropped to his knees on the cement with his head resting on the leather seat), and a twenty minute drive to Ezra's townhouse. Ezra had considered driving all the way out to Chris's ranch, but the greenish hue of his lover's skin suggested that it was too risky to his recently detailed car's lush interior.
From the car to the bedroom, normally at most a five minute excursion (if one took into account the trip was usually encumbered by deep, passionate kisses and considerable fumbling for keys, doors, and body parts), was completed at the seventeen minute mark when Ezra unceremoniously deposited Larabee's feverish form on the edge of the bed. A testament to how ill Chris Larabee truly was, the usually formidable leader of the notorious Magnificent Seven had been only slightly verbally opposed to Ezra's actions, and had put up almost no physical resistance (though, Ezra wondered, if Chris was even able to consider the option, as standing up seemed to take the majority of the blond man's resources). Ezra sighed as he began removing Chris's clothing, holding the thoroughly sweat-soaked materials far from his well- groomed person as he transported each one directly to the small washing machine just off his pantry.
Stripping Chris down to the flushed flesh, he then retrieved a bowl of cool water and a washcloth and proceeded to bath down the heated form, smiling affectionately as Chris's eyes attempted to focus on him.
"You're a handful, my love," Ezra sighed, shaking his head. "Was there a particular reason for allowing the lot of you to become this ill, or was it just the usual arrogance that seems to permeate our entire entourage?"
"Jus' wanned ya ta take care'a me," Chris murmured as Ezra ran the cloth over his forehead. "Whas da fun of bein' sick if ya can'd get a few cubbles out of it?"
"There will be no cuddling until your fever breaks, you jackass," Ezra snapped, washing Chris's broad chest gently. Chris's eyebrows raised at Ezra's uncommon use of vulgarity. "I would much have preferred you nipped this in the bud at its inception. And don't think I believe for one moment you simply saw an opportunity for coercing my servitude. You, sir, are simply satiated with mendacity." Chris frowned and Ezra snorted as he translated: "Full of bullshit, Larabee."
"Shame on yoh," Chris murmured. "Kickin' a man when he's too sick ta fight back."
"I have no doubt you'll retaliate in due course," Ezra said simply. He set the bowl aside. He made a trip for aspirin and a glass of water, and assisted his lover with the ingestion before tucking his love into bed, brushing hair off the man's forehead. "Sleep, my beloved moron. When you are more rested you'll attempt to eat something that wasn't retrieved from a vending machine." He paused to caress Chris's cheek lightly, using the movement to lull the stubborn leader into sleep.
"What am I supposed to do with you, Christopher James?" Ezra whispered fondly at the sleeping form, drifting a hand lightly across the fevered brown. His heart knew only one response - to love, beyond all other thoughts.
He couldn't wait for the man to get better.
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