The doorbell halted Ezra’s search for the necessary supplies to provide food for his guests. He was slightly relieved by the interruption, as his cupboards were alarmingly bare. While the reasons for the scarcity were valid, due to his recent absence in the line of duty, he couldn’t help but feel negligent toward his current visitors.
Moving through to the living room he gave Vin and Xander a self-conscious smile as he passed. “It’s probably just as well; my stores are distressingly inadequate.”
“Sorry.” Xander felt bad for putting Ezra into the situation. If only he had thought his visit through, it should have been obvious that Ezra would be wrung out from his recent work.
“Enough!” Ezra grimaced as he realised Xander had taken his comment to heart. “They would have been in the same condition whether you had arrived or not. Mr. Tanner, would you be so kind as to retrieve the take-out menus whilst I answer the door?”
Vin smiled his agreement, not wanting to make any more out of the situation, seeing as Xander was still unsure of his welcome. Rising from his position Vin failed to hide a wince as pain shot through his ribs.
“What happened to you?” Xander asked.
“Perp threw me into some crates,” Vin answered, as he sorted through the menus Ezra had tucked into a drawer by the phone before handing them over to Xander.
“Getting old?” Xander queried with a grin.
“Saving Ezra’s sorry ass. He was the one who was moving too slow.” Vin snorted.
Ezra rolled his eyes as he caught the end of Vin’s reply. “I had the situation perfectly under control.”
“Oh, so the guy wasn’t about to knife ya in the back, then?” Vin raised an eyebrow sceptically.
Xander turned his amused attention from the bickering pair and looked over to see who had arrived. “Hi, Chris.” His face fell slightly as he saw who followed. “Nathan.” Xander gave him a nervous smile. He knew out of all of them, Nathan was having the biggest problem with the events of the previous night. Plus nobody in their right mind liked getting poked and prodded.
“Xander, how are you feeling?” Nathan made a beeline straight for the young man on the sofa.
“I’m fine!” Xander declared. Ezra and Vin just gave innocent looks, in response to the twin glares sent by Chris and Nathan.
“You eaten anything?” Nathan queried as he checked Xander over, pleased to discover no apparent fever remained.
“We were just about to do that, Nathan,” Xander defended, feeling bad at the disapproving look Nate had given Ezra.
Vin’s stomach interrupted the awkward pause. Xander looked up, giving the hungry sharpshooter a grin as he rifled through the menus on the table.
“Which place does that pie we had the other day?” Xander asked as Vin dropped to sit at his side to help in the search.
“I meant real food,” Nathan stated in exasperation.
“Pie is real food. Plus we’re under the weather, so comfort food is precisely what the doctor ordered,” Xander stated, oblivious to Nathan’s pointed gaze.
“Easy, Lance, you don’t want to get him riled before he’s examined ya,” Vin mock whispered.
“Duly noted.” Xander watched Nathan warily. “Totally unnecessary, though: I’m feeling 100% better.”
Nathan frowned, unhappy at being talked about rather than to. “I want to check the dressings and make sure there are no lingering effects. Just because your mystic mojo worked doesn’t mean you can’t get conventionally sick, too.”
The room fell silent as they all stared at Nathan. Chris was the first to break.
“Aw, hell, you know what I mean.” Nathan hid his embarrassment and got to his feet. “No more arguments, Xander. Let’s go.”
“Wow, that’s almost a fully fledged resolve face right there.” Xander decided to give in gracefully as it was obvious Nathan wasn’t going to let it go.
“What sustenance shall I procure for you?” Ezra asked as Xander rose from his seat.
“I’ll have whatever Vin’s having.” Xander knew he could trust the man not to order anything too healthy, and Vin would have a better idea of what Nathan would let them get away with. Before any more was said there was another knock at the door.
“That’ll be Josiah,” Chris explained at Ezra’s questioning look. “He’s going to run Nate home.”
Xander smirked. “It’s going to be the whole posse by the time I get back, isn’t it?”
Chris conceded with a sigh. “Probably. JD’s been fretting all day, fidgeting like a bunny on crack. Buck wasn’t much better.”
“You get used to all the mother-henning eventually,” Vin added, grinning at Xander’s eye-roll.
Realising he couldn’t put it off any longer, Xander reluctantly followed Nathan into the spare room. By the time they returned, JD and Buck had indeed arrived.
“Xander! You look like crap.” JD bounced up from his seat when Xander entered the room but was shocked to see how worn out Xander looked.
“Thanks, JD.” Xander collapsed back to his now customary position on Ezra’s couch.
“You OK?” JD joined him, a genuine look of concern on his face.
“Nothing a couple of days rest won’t cure.” Xander gave JD a smile of reassurance.
“Them girls of yours wear you out?” Buck quipped without thinking. No one missed the flash of pain on Xander’s face. Buck found himself pinned with glares from Vin and Ezra.
“Guys, it’s alright.” Xander sighed wearily. “Dancing around it isn’t going to make any of it go away. Just buries the pain deeper, and ends up causing more damage in the long run.” Taking a deep breath he continued: “Couple of the girls on my team were killed. We lost five people in total.”
Xander tried to force himself to be grateful that the number was so low. If it wasn’t for Slayer healing, the death toll would have been so much worse. Wrapped up in his thoughts, he kept his eyes closed and missed the looks of shock on the others’ faces.
The ATF agents all exchanged glances. They each took a moment to be thankful that, while they’d had far too many close calls, the seven still rode together.
Ezra moved behind Xander to lay a supporting hand on his shoulder. He didn’t miss the automatic tightening of muscles, a ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction still highly active after the stress of the previous days, but he was pleased to find Xander relaxed quite rapidly.
Xander was relieved that he was saved from having to provide any further details by the arrival of the food. The atmosphere was edgy to begin with but was soon eased, as Buck and Vin began to tease Nathan about the relative merits and nutritional values of deep-fried vegetables.
Xander watched the men around him interact and felt some of the anxiety from his recent trip begin to lift. He would be forever grateful to the fates that provided him with a new family and friends.
After clearing up the remains from the meal, Nathan and Josiah were the first to make a move, followed by JD and Buck. Vin had taken Chris up on the offer of a lift after checking with Ezra that he was going to be OK.
Returning from seeing the last of his visitors to the door, Ezra paused at the entrance to the living room, taking in the sight of his son: Xander was clearly tired and in pain. Ezra slipped quietly off to the bathroom, returning with some pain killers.
“These should help with the pain, but be aware they will probably render you quite senseless. I know they did me.” Ezra grimaced in distaste at the memory. He had always despised the lack of clarity and disassociation he felt when under the influence of narcotics. “I trust this will, however, remain between us. Mr. Jackson has a tendency to scold when one fails to complete a prescribed course of medication.”
“Your secret’s safe with me,” Xander answered with a smile. Normally he tried to deal with the pain, but he was desperate for a respite from both his physical and mental ailments. “Thanks, Ezra.”
“You are most welcome. Come, let’s get you settled for the night.” Ezra hovered in the bedroom while Xander took a moment to freshen up. The southerner was aware of the hypocrisy of his actions but couldn’t help himself. The others were clearly a bad influence on him, causing him to become the very thing he despised when injured himself - a mother hen.
Xander returned to his room and smiled wearily as Ezra fussed over him as he climbed into bed. Once Xander was as comfortable as possible, Ezra prepared to leave him in peace.
“If you need anything, I am simply a call away.” Ezra accepted Xander’s nod of acknowledgement and made to leave.
Xander smiled sleepily, his softly spoken words causing Ezra’s hand to freeze on the doorknob.
Thanks again to RevDorothyL for all her hard work and thank you
for reading and reviewing.
Bad news - have stalled re: next installment! Got roughly 3 stories part written, no endings in sight... Pray to the muses! :0)