By: Angela B
Disclaimer. Not mine and never will be
Thanks: To NotTasha for betaing this for me. Any mistakes you find are not her fault
The song: To Make You Feel My Love is written by Bob Dylan. I chose Billy Joels’ version
Note: This follows…The First Day
(Moved to Blackraptor January 2010)
Buck couldn’t sleep. The dread of the day had bought on a case of insomnia. He tried to figure out what each team member’s, who were more like brothers, reaction was going to be to the addition of Ezra. In the end, he decided was that it could go either way, which is exactly how he went to bed feeling. He could only hope they accepted the boy like they had all accepted Vin. Buck threw the covers back, and pulled on a pair of running pants. Walking to the last door in the hall, Buck peeped in. The blankets were a giant mess again, but at least this time he was able to make out the small hump in the middle.
Ezra had woken up around seven the previous night and, after Buck had made him a supper of soup and grilled cheese sandwich, the two had settled down to watch T.V. It was then that Buck noticed that there were almost no children appropriate programs to watch on a Friday night. Turning it off, he rummaged through his video games and finally found a couple that he thought was acceptable for one of five-years-old: one was racing cars and the other was a game inspired by Olympic ski racing. He realized the next time they went to town, he was going to have to find some age-appropriate games for them to play. He had briefly wondered if they still made Candy Land, then chuckled to himself at the thought of the five-year-old playing such a game. Some things he did learn were: Ezra had terrific coordination and could make quick decisions.
Buck moved into the cluttered bedroom, mentally taking inventory of all the boxes and equipment that he had stored there over the past four years of residence. A brief flash of panic swept over him as to what to do with it all, and then with the same assurance he felt in everything else, he shrugged it off. He would deal with the problems as they arose. Like his mamma always said, “It doesn’t pay to go borrowing trouble, ‘cause it’ll come soon enough on its own.”
Buck sat gingerly down on the bed. No movement from under the covers signified that his presence was noticed. That was all right with the agent. He just wanted to sit and think for a while. He knew there were many obstacles to overcome, many fears to abate and a bond that would not be easily forged with this atypical five-year-old. Buck wondered if he could really do it without the help of his friends if they decided not to back him in this endeavor. Staring down at the bunched up mass of covers, he recalled how he felt yesterday just being with this boy and knew in a moment, with or without his friends, he would make this work.
An hour later a little, sleepy-eyed, brown-haired boy was issuing that he could take a bath by himself without any assistance. Buck just accepted the statement with ease and moved off to fix breakfast, listening for the sound that would tell him when Ezra was out of the tub. Fifteen minutes after he knew Ezra was out, the agent wandered back into the boy’s room to see what was taking so long and noticed Ezra was struggling with the shoelaces. Buck immediately offered to help, only to have his offer vehemently rebuffed. Buck had to admit one thing, the boy was persistent. Buck stepped out of the room and gave Ezra another couple of minutes before returning.
Ezra hated himself. How stupid could he be? He couldn’t even tie his shoes; a simple pair of shoes was slowing him down. The fact that his mother, or anyone else for that fact, had never taught him how didn't cross his mind. He knew the big agent was anxious about today for some reason and he had a good idea it had to do with him and now he was showing Buck what a dumb kid he had picked out to bring home. What if these men pointed out to Buck, his faults and convinced the agent of the mistake he had made? Ezra stared at the new shoes with disgust.
Walking back, the big man could sense immediately how frustrated the little boy had become with the problem. Ezra was sitting in floor glaring hatefully at his shoes, his once perfectly combed hair now hanging down in front of his forehead. Buck instantly thought of his best friend and grinned. If the two of them got into a glaring contest, the winner would be a close call. Showing no notice of the untied shoes, Buck reached out his hand. “Come on, breakfast is getting cold.”
Ezra refused to take the proffered hand and, shuffling his feet, followed Buck into the kitchen. Sitting down in one of the chairs, Buck motioned for Ezra to take the chair next to him. After Ezra climbed up into the chair, Buck scooted the other chair around and began talking about the horse ride the previous day. At the same time he took a small foot in his hand. Resting the bottom of the shoe against his thigh, Buck nonchalantly began tying the shoe in a slow motion. He figured it wouldn’t take Ezra too many times before he caught on and could tie his own shoes, but for right now, Buck enjoyed the simple task.
“Mr. Wil…Buck, You mentioned yesterday that we were to going back out to Mr. Larabee's ranch today for a gathering with your friends. I get the feeling you are not happy about this event. If you wish, you can change our plans. I do not wish to burden you with a task you do not want to do, merely doing it for me,” Ezra said, watching carefully as the large fingers gracefully tied the long strings together.
Buck sat still for a minute, processing the long-winded speech before understanding the message hidden within. The mustached man looked straight into those green eyes and said, “First, We’re not backing out of these plans.” Buck silently added, ‘Because it’s going to hit the fan sooner or later.’ “Second,” Buck continued, “I told you once, you aren’t a burden and I’ll tell you a hundred times a day if that is what it takes for you to believe it.” Buck stared hard at the little boy, willing him to understand. “I chose to bring you home and I chose you to be my…,” Buck almost finished with the word son, but could tell by the reaction Ezra was starting to have, it wouldn’t have the right impact just yet. “I chose you because I wanted you as family.” Buck couldn’t have imagined a stranger reaction if he had tried as Ezra chortled dryly.
“What’s so funny?” Buck asked, slightly amused.
Ezra sobered up immediately. “Nothing, you’ll figure it out soon enough,” he replied with an impassive face. He wasn’t going to tell Buck, he was the first person to claim him as wanted family, because he would change his mind soon enough. Ezra didn’t want this dream to end.
“Ok, then,” Buck said. “Let’s eat up and head out.”
Ezra nodded and turned to his juice, toast and egg. He wasn’t going to question why they were going so early when Buck had specified the rest of the men wouldn’t be there until noon.
After eating, Ezra brushed his teeth, then went into his room. It was then that he noticed that Buck, at sometime, had unpackaged all the new toys they had bought yesterday and had left them in a pile at the foot of the bed. A moment later, Ezra left the room with his hands in his pockets fingering a snatched object.
Once on the road, Buck picked up his cell phone and dialed the number. After a few rings, the person on the other end finally answered.
“Larabee,” the voice answering sounded rough. Buck hoped he hadn’t wakened the man.
“Hey, Chris,” Buck said, trying to keep his voice sounding neutral.
“Hey, Buck,” the blond returned. “You’re not calling to back out today, are you?” Chris asked with concern. He had known Buck for a lot of years and had heard the strange timbre in his friend’s voice. This last week had been rough on his friend and he really hoped Buck wasn’t trying to isolate himself from him and the others.
“Actually, I was calling to tell you, I was on my way out there and I was bringing a friend,” Buck replied. Glancing over at Ezra, to see what his reaction would be at being referred to as a friend. Apparently it didn’t bother the child, either that or Ezra was very good at hiding his emotions.
“Ok,” Chris answered a little confused. None of them, except Nathan on very rare occasions, bought anyone with them to their Sunday get-togethers. “I’ll be waiting,” Chris said.
“Be there in a few. Bye,” Buck said before disconnecting the line.
During this time, Ezra thoughts traveled back to the previous night He had been surprised to wake up and find himself dressed and put to bed. He couldn’t remember anyone ever putting him to bed. He had quietly walked into the living room to find Buck watching T.V. Before he could walk all the way into the room, Buck had turned around from his position and called out a soft greeting. Although he had denied being hungry in order not to cause the agent any undue work, Buck had insisted on making him some supper. Afterwards, they had actually sat down together, once again at Buck’s insistence, and played video games. It was a completely new experience for him and very overwhelming. He had studied the man tying to figure out his scheme. He wasn’t sure whom the man wanted him to be. Always before, he had been able to size people up within moments and determine what they expected of him. Buck was an exception and it was beginning to unnerve him.
Thirty-five minutes later Buck pulled into the yard. Seven, almost eight-year-old Vin dashed out of the house and straight into Buck’s arms. Although Vin loved all his uncles, Buck had been there from day one, since he had come to live with Chris. There was a different, tighter, type of bond between them. Ezra watched as the boy with shoulder length hair ran out of the house and into Buck’s arms. He felt a twinge of hurt and couldn’t rationalize why.
Buck hugged the long-legged boy hard before setting him down on the ground. “How are you today, Vin?”
“I’m fine,” Vin answered.
Vin walked around the truck with Buck. “Dad said you were bringing someone with you?” Vin questioned and then noticed for the first time a boy sitting inside. “That him?” Vin asked curiously with just a tad bit of jealousy coloring his voice.
“Yep. This is Ezra,” Buck explained as he lifted the child out of the truck and sat him on the ground. “Ezra, this is Vin. Vin, Ezra,” Buck said, keeping his eyes purposely focused on the two boys staring at each other, instead of the figure on the porch.
Chris stepped out onto the porch and at first wondered just where Buck’s guest was supposed to be riding. Then upon closer scrutiny, Chris spotted the small figure on the passenger side. Letting out a silent string of thoughts, Chris ran his hand through his short, blond hair and wondered just what his friend’s big heart had led him to go and do. He could see the potential for both victims getting hurt more than they already were.
The blond fixed a warm smile on his face. He and Buck would definitely be having a grand discussion later, but there was no way he was going to scare this little boy. The child probably already saw him as some kind of gun-wielding Darth Vader. He recalled how frightened all of them had been when they faced off the last time. He watched, as with Buck on one side and Vin one the other, they led the brown-haired boy up the steps to him. Chris held back a laugh, as the Ezra leaned way back and stared up at him, like he was some tall tower. Chris immediately lowered himself down to the tyke’s level.
Sticking out his hand, Chris smiled and said, “I’m Chris and I bet you’re Ezra.”
Ezra put his small hand in the other’s. “Yes sir. It’s nice to meet you under more pleasant circumstances,” Ezra stated with a very somber face, silently hoping he hadn’t stuttered.
“It’s nice to meet you, too,” the blond replied. Turning to Vin, Chris said, “Why don’t you get you boys something to drink, then take him to your room and play.”
Ezra had read the underlying anger in the other man’s eyes. The small boy turned and looked up at Buck and mouthed, “Play?” Buck knew the child was also, questioning his safety at being left alone with the black-clad man.
Giving his son a wink, Buck put his hands on the thin shoulders and immediately felt the tremors start. Without removing his hands, he turned Ezra back around and gave the gentlest of nudges. “It’s okay. Chris and I will be right here on the porch.”
At the same time, Vin was looking up his dad. Even though Chris wasn’t saying anything, Vin knew what that look was all but screaming, “Get the kid out of listening range because Uncle Buck is about to get it with both barrels.”
After the two boys had gotten their drinks and the men heard the bedroom door shut, Chris turned to his friend. “You check him out for the day?” he asked, silently praying for the answer to be yes.
Buck hesitated for a moment before stating, “Nope, more like permanently.” Seeing Chris’ eyebrow shoot up, he explained. “Became his foster dad.”
“YOU DID WHAT?” Chris hissed out, remembering to keep his voice relatively low. He didn’t want witnesses to the coming blows.
Buck stood there, seething. He had expected an outburst from Chris. Had planned on it actually and had all the answers rehearsed in his head to counter-argue, but what he didn’t expect was the feelings buried deep inside of him to erupt, “I said, I became his father,” Buck stated, trying to keep emotions under control.
“Buck, did you even think about this before you did it? Did you even stop to consider the ramifications of this or just jump into it blindly?” Chris demanded. He could see two hearts getting shattered in one swift moment.
The intense change in his friend’s blue eyes told Chris, he had once again mishandled a situation involving his friend. “This coming from a man, who didn’t even wait a week before jumping in and claiming Vin,” Buck shot back “What? You can have a family, even a second chance at one, but I must be punished forever by living out the rest of my life alone?” Buck hissed back.
Chris railed against this insinuation. “I have said it a million times, Buck, I never held you responsible for Sarah and Adam’s deaths. How dare you bring them into this!” Chris shot back.
“Fine, you don’t blame me. Then why are you so angry I did this? Is it because I didn’t ask for your permission first?” Buck questioned hotly.
“I’m not angry, Buck. I just don’t want either of you to get hurt,” Chris said, trying to get the conversation back under control.
The two men stood there, eye-to-eye, neither one looking away. Buck finally said, “I’ve always had your back and been right there beside you in everything you’ve done and, for the most part, you’ve been there for me, even if you didn’t agree with me. But I guess this is where it ends.” Buck stopped and took a breath. “I tell you, Chris, it’s up to you how things go from here as friends because I’m not giving up that boy,” Buck stated, his tone indicating he would not relinquish on this topic.
Buck turned and walked down the steps, turning his back on Chris. “For your information, Chris, I did think about it. I thought about how much better both our lives could be being together. You know, Mr. I’m-Always-Right-No-Matter-What, sometimes you’re wrong.”
For a moment Buck contemplated going inside and retrieving Ezra and just leaving, but knew the boy would read the anger and take the blame for it. He had to get his emotions under control before facing Ezra, or Chris again. “Going to the barn,” he said flatly.
Chris knew the words weren’t for him, but for the little boy inside. When Ezra came looking for Buck, he would need to be told where to find him. The blond paced the porch for a long time. The minute he had spoken his words, he had regretted them. He had seen how they had torn at the very quick of Buck’s heart. When Buck turned his back on him, Chris wanted to call him back, but knew the man needed to calm down first. If it had been anyone else, Chris knew the fists would have been flying after dressing him down the way Buck had. He wanted Buck to be happy, wanted him to have his family. Heck, Buck was a natural family man if there ever was one, but somehow Chris felt the need to protect his friend from becoming a family man on the spur of the moment like this, when so many things could go wrong, like losing Ezra back to the system or his mother. The blond knew from experience that Buck had never contemplated either. From Buck’s way of thinking, things always worked out. Chris hoped for his friend’s sake it held true.
Vin watched the little boy with intense scrutiny. His dad had come home and told him about finding a little boy all alone. The seven-year-old had felt bad for the child. He knew what it was like being left alone. Now, that same child was here in his house. Vin studied Ezra’s wary movements; the way he cautiously held his glass of juice, the darting eyes, the slight twitch of his lips. Vin summed up this boy in one word; scared. Vin knew that feeling, too.
“Come on, I’ll show you to my room,” Vin said softly, all jealousy gone.
Ezra followed the other boy through the ranch house. The smell of raw wood filling the house with its own type of air freshener. The furniture was simple, yet comfortable looking. Everything about the house echoed that theme, comfortable and warm. Ezra walked carefully, concentrating on not spilling his drink. When he entered Vin’s room, he stopped and stared.
The walls were painted in an array of muted blues. The bed comforter had a racing car on it, which covered almost the whole cover. Posters of racing cars and horses were pinned on the walls throughout the room. On one wall were shelves with books, puzzles, and toys. It looked so cluttered to the five-year-old, who had never been allowed such privileges. Maude had said, when a person is always moving, like they were, a person couldn’t afford such trivialities.
Vin stood in the middle of the room waiting for the youngster to step further in. He noticed that Ezra seemed to be fiddling with something in his pocket. “Whatcha got?” he asked quietly, nodding down at the pocket.
Ezra’s hand immediately stilled and he froze. If this boy found out he had taken one of the toys Buck had bought him yesterday and went and told Buck, the man could be awful angry. Maybe, he wasn’t supposed to play with the things outside of that room. Swallowing the lump, Ezra put on his blank face and said, “I do not have anything, Mr. Tanner. I was merely moving my fingers.”
Vin knew he was being lied to; he also had a pretty good idea why. It hadn’t been so long ago that he was in the same boat this kid was in. “It’s okay, I won’t tell. Promise.”
Ezra had had a lot of people promise him a lot of things over the years and had learned not to trust anybody who so readily promised something. Looking into the seven-year-old’s eyes, Ezra was hard-pressed to find the lie. Like Buck, this kid seemed to be one big contradiction to the world he had grown up in. Hesitantly he removed his hand from his pocket and slowly opened it up.
Vin had to lean forward a bit to make it out, and then let out a whoop. “Cool! I love racing cars,” Vin exclaimed, throwing out his arms to encompass the room. Going over to one of the shelves, he pulled out a large box and set it on the floor. “C’mon, we can set up my racetrack and play.”
Ezra continued to stand in the exact same spot. He watched with interest as Vin removed pieces of a racetrack from the box and began snapping them together. After the racetrack was completed, Vin went back to the shelves and picked up a large plastic suitcase. Setting this on floor, too, Ezra couldn’t help but take in a large gulp of air when Vin opened it. Inside had to be at least twenty-five racing cars. Vin looked up at the statue boy. “C’mon. Let’s play.”
Seeing the confusion and uncertainty on the small face, Vin’s big brother instincts kicked in full force. Getting up from his spot, he slowly walked up to Ezra, putting his arm around the little shoulders, he ignored the quivers and whispered, “It’ll be all right. I’ll take care of ya.”
Leading Ezra over to the racetrack, Vin sat the boy down next to him. “You can save your car. I’ll let you use mine, okay?” Vin said, as he began pulling the multitude of cars from their parked spots in the carrying case. Vin showed Ezra how the racetrack worked, but Ezra was just content to watch for a while. He was listening for any signs of trouble Mr. Buck might be getting into with that tall blond man.
Vin had been in almost the same position Ezra was in when he was six. He knew how unsettling a new place could be with so many new strangers. He also knew the boy was waiting for someone to tell him he couldn’t stay. Vin knew this because he had waited on the same thing when his other uncles had first learned of his arrival. He was sure those other men would talk the blond out of keeping him. Instead, they had just taken him into their lives without batting an eye. Of course, there had been a few rough spots, but it was continually getting better. He had no doubts his uncles would do the same for this kid. Ezra really needed them.
Chris walked back into the house and headed for the fridge. Soon he heard the bedroom door opening. Chris watched as Ezra walked out and saw him standing there. Ezra couldn’t keep the disappointment and fear from showing. The boy had been dumped before and knew the feeling well. The big man had been showed the error of his ways. Without noticing when it had happened, he suddenly found himself staring up into stark green eyes. “You taking me back to that place?” Ezra asked with such despondency, Chris’ heart cracked.
“No,” the blond replied, and then went on, “Buck’s not gone. He’s out in the barn checking on Blue.” He said it hoping to alleviate the fear in the child’s eyes. The blond had learned from reading Vin expressions when he had first come to live with him.
The small frown and slumped shoulders told Chris the boy thought he was lying to him. Chris squatted down and stared into the other’s eyes. “He’ll be back in a moment,” he said encouragingly.
“Dad doesn’t lie,” Vin stated firmly as he walked up to Ezra’s side. “Come on, I’ll take you out there,” he said, nodding his head toward the door.
Ezra nodded without any real conviction. He followed Vin out the door and down the steps. The minute the two were out the door, Chris yanked out his cell and hit the speed dial number.
“Yeah?” Buck answered it roughly. He had spent the time brushing Blue’s coat with such solid strokes it shone in one spot.
“You got company coming,” Chris said quickly before hanging up and jogging to catch up to the two boys.
Buck hung up his cell phone and took a couple of cleansing deep breaths. Hearing noise in the entryway, Buck turned to look at the boys coming in. Seeing the sad emotions displayed on the reserved child’s face, Buck glanced up at the blond and threw him a quick glare, accusing him of causing Ezra’s sudden stress. Bending down to eye-level in front of Ezra, he asked, “Hey, what’s wrong?”
Chris spoke up quietly, “Thought he got misplaced.”
Buck glanced up at Chris and nodded his apology for the sudden accusation. Turning his attention back to the boy he said, “Nah, just thinking about saddling up Blue. Thought maybe a ride would be nice.” He wasn’t going to mention he needed the ride to be solo, that had become a lost thought.
Seeing the green eyes light up, the big man asked, “Ready to ride?”
He started to reach out for the boy, but Ezra saw this move coming and circumvented the man to clamber up the slats of the empty stall gate. Buck turned to Vin, but looked at Chris for approval, “Vin can come along, too if he wants.”
Vin turned and looked at his dad with pleading eyes. Receiving a quick nod, Vin went to get the bridle while Chris saddled the troublesome horse. Watching the proceedings, Ezra couldn’t help but ask in a low voice, “He has his own horse?” He was hard pressed to keep the awe of out his voice.
“Yep, and when your old enough you’ll get your own, too,” Buck said.
Ezra couldn’t help the wistful look that crossed his face. If only he could behave and stay long enough to be rewarded with his own horse.
Once the horses were saddled and the riders were mounted, Buck gave Chris the barest of nods. “We’ll be back before lunch.”
Chris nodded back. “Have fun.” Watching the riders drift off, the blond walked towards the backyard to check on the grill and do some heavy thinking. How was he going to persuade Buck his words had been spoken out of caution and friendship and not anything less?
Within an hour, the remaining three men showed up. As always with this group, they arrived almost at the same time. Some said it was intuition, some said it was because they shared an internal bond. The team just knew what time the others would be there and that was that. Walking up to the black-clad man tending the smoldering charcoals, Josiah clapped his friend on the back. “See Buck is already here.”
Chris let out a long breath. “Yeah. Showed up earlier. Went out for a ride. Vin went with him.”
Josiah, Nathan and JD knew immediately something was wrong by the tone of their friend’s voice.
“Something wrong, Chris?” JD asked concerned. They all knew Buck had had a hard week stewing over the abandoned child, but JD was sure Buck would have come to one of them if he needed a friend to talk to.
“Showed up with Ezra,” Chris quietly explained.
Josiah ran his hand through his salt-and-peppered hair. “He couldn’t resist going and taking the boy out for the day, could he?” he asked sadly, thinking how hard it would be on both man and child when Buck had to return the child that night.
“Worse than that,” Chris supplied.
“You aren’t saying Buck kidnapped the boy are ya?” JD’s said, his mind quickly jumping to the worst-case scenario.
The leader gave the youngest member a withering look before turning to the other two men. “Went and became his foster parent,” he explained.
“Oh dear,” Josiah said.
“He did what?” Nathan exclaimed, speaking up for the first time.
“Whoa!” JD said in astonishment.
“Yeah,” Chris said soft and slowly.
“I am going to guess you handled the news in your usual blunt manner and said something that was meant well, but didn’t come out that way?” Josiah said, staring at his boss’ countenance.
Chris could only nod his head. There was no denying the fact that he had done exactly what he had accused Buck of doing, jumping in without thinking first.
“You’ll figure it out, brother,” Josiah said encouragingly, giving Chris a brotherly slap on the shoulder.
The conversation would have continued, but was interrupted by the arrival of the horsemen. Vin and Ezra chatting back and forth like old friends. Buck was glad Vin had chosen to go along. Vin had done all the talking in the beginning, Ezra was too cautious to say much. Seemed the boy thought about everything before saying it. Vin had explained about the striations in the mountains that overlooked the ranch. He explained how to tell the difference between the different plants and how to track certain animals. Of course, neither Vin nor Buck expected Ezra to pick up on any of the information. The words had been said to fill the silence and to give him time to calm shook nerves. By the time they had started back, Vin had finally found a topic Ezra would converse about; horses.
Chris handed the meat turner to Josiah and gave a meaningful look to the others to stay put. In the barn, the blond walked over to where his son was struggling with his cinch. Putting his hands around the tight leather binder, Chris gave a nod of his head and began unsaddling the beast Vin loved so much. Vin gave a quick ‘bye’ and left in search of his uncles.
Ezra stood on a hay bale, watching Buck unsaddle his own horse, the tall man explaining about the care one had to give their steed after a long ride. Ezra, though, could feel the tension in the air, the way Buck was giving Chris the cold shoulder. He didn’t like it, but was at a loss about what to do. He could only watch both men silently do their jobs.
Buck and Chris had done this particular dance before. Words had been said, feelings stomped on, and neither was overly worried. The fight was gone in both of them; all they had to do was find their way back to solid ground without either actually giving in. Buck turned to Ezra and found the boy worrying on his bottom lip, he immediately felt bad about the boy staying and suffering through this dance, he and Chris were doing.
“Hey Pal, why don’t you go find Vin for a little bit while I finish up here?” Buck stated, lifting the boy off the bale and directing him towards the open barn doors.
Ezra took one last look before nodding his head and walking off, but he didn’t go over to where Vin was talking to three very big men. Well, two of them were big, the other wasn’t. Instead, he headed over to Buck’s truck and leaned against the bumper to wait for Buck to come out. He stared at the laughing grownups and wondered about the men Buck called family. They were all so big and tall, even Vin had long legs for his age. He wondered what they would have to say about him being so small and cringed at the cruel remarks he could imagine them saying.
Chris slid the saddle off Peso and laid it across the stall separating Vin’s horse from Buck’s. Blue seemed to have a calming affect on the high-spirited horse. Chris shook his head as he thought Blue and his owner had a lot of the same traits. The blond took a deep breath and decided to get the problem solved and over with; they certainly couldn’t continue this through the meal.
“Josiah and Nathan bought spare ribs for lunch. Gonna be ready in a little while,” Chris said, as he brushed down the pony’s stiff brown coat.
“We could smell them from over the ridge, there. Smells good,” Buck replied, giving Blue some oats.
“Think that little boy of yours likes ribs?” Chris asked, backing out of the stall, keeping his eyes on Vin’s cantankerous horse.
“Guess we’ll find out,” Buck replied with a hint of a smile, walking out of Blue’s stall and hanging up the currying brush.
“Been through the red tape myself. Can help ya maneuver through if ya need help,” Chris said, as Buck stepped up beside him.
“Might take ya up on that offer,” Buck said as the two men walked out of the barn side-by-side.
Buck spotted Ezra off to the side by the truck and gave a small whistle and held out his hand. “Come on, Ez. Let’s go eat.” Ezra ran up to the tall agent with a small smile, but didn’t take his hand.
Buck walked up to the small group of men that meant so much to him. Showing none of the nervousness he felt, the black-haired man made the quick introductions.
JD was the first one down on his knees. “Hey, Ez! You ever need a break from this old man you come down to my place, I got some games we can play, while the geezer takes a nap,” the young agent said, with a large smile and a kidding wink.
“Old man? I’ll show you old man,” Buck shouted as he took off after JD. Ezra watched in quiet amusement. He watched as the men surrounding him laughed and cheered both runners on. Ezra was beginning to get the sense that these men could say anything to each other and nothing would change. Maybe, he thought, that’s why he and Buck stayed for lunch. He would have to stay back and observe this new concept.
Josiah kept his eye on the little boy as Buck finally captured JD, and was in the middle of giving the younger agent a dry shampoo. Squatting down next to the little boy, the profiler said quietly, “I’m awful sorry about scaring you, last week.”
Ezra spun around to stare at the giant agent. No one had ever apologized to him before for anything. He quickly realized his shock was showing and hid behind his ‘plain’ face. “It’s quite alright, Mr. Sanchez. You we’re only performing your duties.”
Nathan and Chris, who were standing close by, joined in Josiah’s shock at the complexity of the five-year-olds language. Garnering unwanted attention had not been his intent and Ezra was beginning to wonder how he could throw their attention elsewhere, when JD did it for him. A loud “Buck!” caught everyone’s attention as JD attempted to get his cap back from the taller agent and friend. With the spell broken and the attention gone, Ezra made a mental note to watch his speech. Apparently, these gentlemen were not accustomed to boys with good manners.
Josiah had informed the rest that lunch would be another thirty minutes, so Vin had asked Ezra if he wanted to go play. The five-year-old had resisted the urge to roll his eyes at the suggestion and simply accepted the offer. They went off to play under the tree by the barn, which, to Vin’s way of thinking, had the best dirt. Plopping down on the ground, the seven-year-old began building roads. Looking up the other boy still standing, Vin patted the ground invitingly. “Come on,” he said warmly.
“I can’t. I’ll get dirty,” Ezra explained, looking down at the new clothes that Buck had just purchased.
“It’s okay. They’re washable, Vin said patiently. He knew about new clothes and wanting to keep them clean. “Buck won’t mind, I promise,” Vin said reassuringly.
Ezra was in a quandary. He wanted to get down there with his new friend, but years of entrenched teaching made it hard. Finally, he settled for squatting down on his heels and watching. He didn’t understand the rules to this type of playing, but pride kept him from asking. Maude had told him no one liked dumb children.
Called for lunch, the two boys ran to the gathering. Buck stopped Vin long enough to lean down and whisper a “thank you.” Vin smiled back and whispered back, “No problem.” Then thinking about it a moment, he whispered, “He doesn’t think he’s allowed to get dirty. He’s a little strange.”
Buck could only nod. “Different upbringing,” the agent tried to explain. Vin took this simple statement and nodded his concurrence.
Sitting down at the long picnic bench, Ezra watched the others around him. They were passing food around, laughing and talking. The insults and barbs flew carelessly to one another, followed by an equally good retort. No hurt feelings, no malice, these men were solid in their ease with one another. Ezra couldn’t help but study the nuances of their relationship. Plates were passed; food was dived into; with Buck asking him if he wanted this or that. With only a nod of his head he would agree or disagree, the scene playing out before him too intriguing to stop and eat.
Finally, Chris caught his attention and Ezra yanked hard to get his expressions under control. “You don’t like ribs?” the blond asked non-judgmentally.
Looking down at his plate he realized it had food on it. Having to think fast for an excuse for not eating, Ezra said, “I do not seem to have the correct utensils.”
Five coughs sounded around him, smirks were quickly hidden behind napkins and glasses. The only one not caught off guard was the blond man still looking pleasantly at him. “What do you need?” Chris asked.
Looking down at his plate again, Ezra looked back up at the intense green eyes on the end of the table. “I’m not sure, sir. I have never partaken in this type of food before. What does one eat this with?” Ezra asked, embarrassed.
Buck, who had been watching the bi-play spoke up, “Just pick it up with your fingers and dig in.”
The sheer look of horror that came over the small chiseled face once again sent men to wiping their faces or drinking their iced teas. Aghast at the thought of picking up the greasy looking bone with its Bar-B-Que enriched meat had Ezra wondering just how he went from eating in five stars restaurants to eating Bar-B-Que sopped meat in the back yard in the middle of nowhere.
After the food had been inhaled, the men drank their iced tea and seemed content to sit and visit. Vin itched to get up do something involving all of them. Seeing a lull in the conversation he saw his opportunity and took it.
“Sure is hot today, huh dad?” Vin hinted.
Chris didn’t miss the fact he was being led into a specific topic. “Yep, sure is.”
“Hot enough for a swim,” Vin said, trying to sound nonchalant.
Chris couldn’t keep the small smile from forming on his tight lips as he glanced around the table. Seeing agreement in all the eyes except for the littlest one, Chris slowly nodded as though he was deeply thinking about this.
“Yeah. I guess it is,” Chris said slowly. Before he could get the whole sentence out Vin was letting out a whoop.
With the experience of doing it many times, the table was quickly cleared and food put away. Towels were grabbed, along with sun lotion and a first aid kit. Ezra watched the change of pace with confusion. Buck turned and noticed Ezra was still sitting at the table looking around in confusion, he mentally kicked himself. Walking back to the table, he held his hand. “Come on, Ezra,” he said.
“Where?” Ezra asked. He hadn’t noticed any swimming pool around the house.
“Chris has a lake on his property about a half-mile from here where we go swimming,” Buck explained.
A flash of fear flew through the crystal green-eyes. “I don’t have the proper clothes, Mr. Wilmington,” Ezra confessed in a low voice.
Buck held onto the smile that threatened to fall. “Don’t need any. We go in our BVD’s.” Buck said calmly.
One more time shock came over the small face. “In our underwear?!” Ezra exclaimed lowly.
‘We’re all guys, Ez. Nothing to fret about,” Buck said. He didn’t mention there had been a time when they had gone swimming in less than that.
“I prefer not to,” Ezra said, paling slightly as he tugged on his shirt unconsciously.
Buck’s mind quickly flashed back to the first night and remembered the reminders left behind by others and understood completely. Patting the small knee lightly Buck said, “Don’t worry, I’ll think of something, okay?” Buck said.
Ezra looked into the piercing blue eyes staring hard at him and remained still. He wouldn’t agree, but would wait and bide his time until he saw what the man was planning. Seeing Ezra was remaining non-committal, Buck stood up and headed for the house and his adoptive nephew. Finding him in his room, Buck knocked on the open door before walking in. “Hey Vin, need a favor from ya?” he said.
“Sure, Uncle Buck,” Vin agreed before hearing what it was.
“Need an old t-shirt Ezra could borrow. He’s kind of shy,” Buck said.
“Sure,” Vin said going to his dresser and digging in the back of a drawer he pulled free an old shirt he never wore anymore.
Taking the shirt, Buck said, “Thanks.”
“No problem,” the boy said. Stopping his uncle before he could leave the room, Vin said quietly, “Are they bad?”
A sad look came into Buck’s eyes when he turned. “The bruises are still noticeable,” he said.
Buck walked out of the room and headed for the outside. Chris had been coming out of his room when he overheard the conversation and stilled. He knew only too well about trying to hide bruises on a self-conscious little boy. Buck had a rough road ahead of him, but had no doubt Buck could travel it and come out on the other end with a healthy, happy little boy.
It wasn’t long before the horses were saddled and they were on their way to the swimming hole. Upon arrival, clothes flew off and bodies landed in the water. Buck hung back with Ezra who was taking it all in. Sitting on the edge of the water, Ezra consented to having his shoes and socks removed and his jeans rolled up, but he was still unsure about entering the water. The men were acting a little too wild for his taste. He didn’t want water splashed on him and, the way some of them were carrying on, the little boy wasn’t sure he wouldn’t get drowned. Buck stripped down to his shorts and walked into the water and held out his hands. Letting Ezra make the decision. Apparently either saying a silent prayer, or dragging up all his nerve, Ezra stood, removed his outer clothing then let Buck pick him up and walk out further into the water.
Ezra, like all the other times Buck had held him, hung like a limp dishrag. He had yet to put his arms around the solid neck. The black-haired man let it go, all things in their own time was what he had said to Chris a million times when Vin had moved in with the blond. Now he knew how his friend had felt. How hurt it could make one feel at the lack of faith a child had in you.
Chris was playing space rocket with Vin, with Josiah on the other end to catch the reed-thin boy, screaming out in joy, JD was in the middle, pretending to try and catch the boy as he ‘flew’ past. Buck walked over to where Nathan had settled away from all the roughhousing. Sitting on a rock down in the water, Buck settled Ezra on his lap and kept a loose hold on the skinny waist.
Wanting Ezra to join in the fun and enjoy himself, JD waded over to the two men and boy. Bending down, he said, “Hey, Ez, You want to come with me. Keep ya safe. I promise.”
Ezra turned to his guardian with a slight distaste on his face. “Why do you people keep calling me, Ez? It’s Ez-Ra,” the little boy said, distinctly pronouncing both syllables.
Buck just laughed. The laugh lines in his face crinkled deeper, making Ezra smile in return. “It’s a nickname. Besides it fits,” the smiling man replied.
Turning back to the young agent, Ezra studied the honest face. Not wishing to hurt the man’s feelings, Ezra reluctantly nodded. JD lifted the boy bonelessly into his arms. Carrying child like this made it a little more difficult, but JD held his tongue. Vin had been the same way. It was a lack trust in the boy back then, somehow, JD doubted that was the reason for this one’s lack of reaction.
Standing on the outskirt of the ‘cannonball’ game going on between Chris, Vin and Josiah, JD and Ezra watched the three laugh and cut up. JD suddenly looked into those small green-eyes and asked, “You want to try it. Josiah will catch you, I promise,” he asked.
Ezra felt trapped. He didn’t want to keep seeming as though he was afraid of everything and a wimp. Nobody wanted a wimp for a son. Holding back his fear, the boy nodded. JD carefully turned Ezra around in his arms and called out to Josiah. The older agent smiled and closed in on the pair. To Ezra’s complete surprise he wasn’t thrown like the older boy had been. Instead it was more of a gentle pass off as he ‘flew’ through the air. A pair of hands never left his body. Josiah smiled at the boy and the gray eyes captured Ezra’s attention. Those eyes held age, scars, memories and great promises of something Ezra didn’t understand. “Want to try that again?” the deep rumbling voice echoed through the boy.
Ezra couldn’t keep the very small smile from slipping out and very slightly nodded his head. Buck sat where he was and watched the bond form between his son and his uncles. He knew the boy had no idea what was happening and didn’t understand the significance of the game. Buck let out a long held breath of relief; they would be accepted into this family as easily as Vin had been. For a moment, the agent wondered why he had even worried to begin with, then shook off the feeling as he watched the game include Chris and Vin, Josiah always playing ‘catcher’. Buck grimaced, the oldest member of their family was going to be really sore tomorrow morning.
It had to eventually happen; secrets had a way of coming out. In this case JD was tossing Ezra to Josiah. The two men had taken one step away from each other, so that Ezra actually flew for a second before hands grasped and held the boy once again. JD tossed, Josiah reached out to grab and only caught t-shirt. The shirt, being big on the skeletal child, slipped right off as Ezra hit the water. Ezra wasn’t sure his head ever completely went under, except for the water running into his eyes, before hands were grabbing him and hauling him well above the water line. Ezra wasn’t as surprised of the missed catch as he was of the immediate attention it garnered.
JD had him in arms, wiping water from his face. Josiah was patting his back asking him if he was all right, he could see Nathan and Buck heading for him and it was all getting too much. He could feel a panic attack rising up inside. Suddenly, hands took a firm hold of him from behind him and plucked him from JD’s arms. “He’s fine, if you ladies would quit clucking over him,” Chris said.
Grabbing the t-shirt from Josiah’s hands, the blond stalked away from the men. Sitting down on a fallen log out in the middle of the lake, Chris held the boy in one arm while maneuvering the shirt back onto Ezra, with the boy’s help. “Those boys are the biggest bunch of mother hens I’ve ever met,” Chris said. Staring at the men he worked with, a smile tugged at his lips.
Ezra was surprised that this man would: first, refer to those big men as boys and second call them mother hens. He, himself, had been more shocked by the response than the incident itself. They had acted as if it had really mattered that he had slipped into the water. It was at that moment that he realized his shirt had come off. A brief moment of panic swept over him that maybe they had seen the vanishing yellow bruises on his back. A reminder that he wasn’t always a good boy like he needed to be. The next thought was that none of them had questioned him about them. He hoped none of them had noticed; maybe they wouldn’t need to know he was a bad boy sometimes and needed to be reminded, like his uncle had done. Of course, Maude hadn’t noticed, but then again she rarely noticed anything about him as long as he acted like he was supposed to and behaved properly.
Chris held onto the boy and watched as Buck and Nathan made their way over to them. Reaching the pair, the dark-haired man bent down in front of them. “Hey pard, you ok?” he asked. The true concern showing on the man’s open face baffled Ezra.
Nodding his head in reply, he said, “Yes, sir.”
Buck looked up into Chris’ eyes for confirmation. Getting it, Buck returned his smile to the little boy sitting on his friend’s knees. Chris looked at the open happiness displayed on Buck’s face and knew without any more lingering doubts that this was what Buck truly wanted and needed.
Ezra looked over at the big black man watching him with a critical eye and tried his best not to flinch away as Nathan’s large hands slowly moved towards him. Ezra steeled himself against the touch. Like the other’s, this man’s touch was incredibly gentle and light. “You sure you okay, Ezra?” he asked with a worried frown.
Staring shamelessly at the large man, Ezra nodded once again. His mother would be appalled at the lack of good manners he had been displaying throughout this day. “Yes sir, Mr. Jackson. I am quite fine,” the little boy said.
“Ok, but if you start feeling sick to your stomach, you let me know okay?” Nathan said, before receiving an affirmative reply and moving back to join the others.
Buck sat up on the log beside Chris and Ezra, and yearned to take the boy onto his lap, but the child seemed content to stay where he was so Buck left him alone. The three sat in silence for a long time, sometimes laughing at the horseplay the others were producing. Vin approached after a while and asked Ezra if he wanted to join them. Josiah was coming up behind the seven-year-old looking shamefaced. “I’m truly sorry about not catching you completely, Ezra.”
Ezra sat there stunned. This mammoth of a man was apologizing to him, again. In just one day they had managed to turn everything he knew about the world inside out and upside down. They laughed, played, apologized and seemed really aware that he was a person. “That’s quite all right, Mr. Sanchez,” he managed to say.
“Would you let me make it up to you?” Josiah asked in a quiet tone. He knew how untrusting this child was of them. He had been a psychologist for many years and could read the hesitation in the small green-eyes, no matter how hard the kid tried to cover it up.
Reluctantly, Ezra held out his arms and let Josiah pick him up. ‘What was it, that made them all want to hold and carry him around?’ he wondered.
Josiah made his way back to the other group where a game of Marco Polo immediately began taking place. Ezra, for his part just sat in the massive arms and watched the proceedings, watching as Josiah engaged in the game. It didn’t take long to get the gist of the game, but he didn’t feel like participating. Every once in a while, he would look over to check on Buck’s whereabouts. He was still on the log talking to the blond leader.
A couple of hours later, one by one they exited the water and began sun drying. Ezra immediately went to put back on his jeans, but was stopped by Buck. “You don’t want to do that before your dry. Wet jeans tend to chafe,” he said knowingly.
“So, we just sit around like this?” Ezra asked uncertainly.
“Yep,” Buck answered.
“Oh,” the little one said. Buck couldn’t help but notice how small the answer was and held a bit of trembling.
“It won’t take long, promise ya,” Buck tried to reassure his charge.
Buck was correct; it wasn’t long before the guys were dried off enough to slip into their clothes. Saddling the horses back up, a quieter group headed back for the ranch house. After unsaddling and putting up the tack, the group moved back to the house. Leftovers were pulled out, warmed up and chairs were scooted around the smaller kitchen table to make room for all of them. Buck placed Ezra on a stack of telephone books to make him tall enough to reach the table. Being flanked by Buck and Josiah, Ezra had the warmest feeling. Looking around at the other men and other little boy, Ezra felt a quiet relaxation seep into him. It had not turned into the travesty he had so worried about.
Supper was eaten, the kitchen cleaned up and then they were all getting ready to leave. Ezra stood next to Buck as each man came by and slapped the big agent on the shoulder for some reason, Ezra didn’t comprehend. Then each one knelt down and either gave him a small pat on the back or in Josiah’s case a hug. Ezra did his best not back away, but couldn’t control the jerky nerves inside of him. They all said they would see him around and then they were gone, leaving just him, Buck, Chris and Vin. Chris bent down and looked him in the eyes, Ezra felt like he was being stared into and then watched as those other green-eyes lit up with a knowing wink. “You two are going to make some kind of pair.”
The two men faced off, all tension from earlier in the day gone. Buck shook hands with his friend, glad once more that their friendship was so strong. “I’ll be back to work in a couple of days, then,” Buck said, completing a conversation that had started earlier.
“Take as much as you need. You have accrued enough that you could be out for a couple of weeks if need be,” Chris responded.
“We’ll see,” Buck said. Turning to the boy at his side he said, “Tell Vin goodbye and let’s go home.”
Turning to the seven-year-old, Ezra stuck out his hand. “Mr. Tanner, thank you for allowing me to spend time with you,” Ezra said so formally; Chris had to duck his head to keep from bursting out in laughter. Buck definitely had his work cut out for him.
“No problem, Ez. Next time it won’t be so bad,” Vin said with quiet reassurance.
Watching the two walk to the truck, Chris turned to his son. Resting a hand lightly on the thin shoulders, he smiled.
Vin looked up at his dad. “Uncle Buck planning on keeping the kid?”
Chris looked down at his son and nodded. “So, what do you think?” he asked.
“I think it’s a good idea. Uncle Buck needs someone to love and take care of, and that kid needs Uncle Buck bad,” Vin answered in a sagely old voice that always amazed his dad.
“Really?” Chris asked curiously, wanting to know Vin’s take on the kid.
Nodding slowly, Vin looked up at his dad. “He knows nothing about being a kid. It’s like being with a very small old man,” he said.
“An old man?” Chris asked, somehow knowing he was about to step into it.
“At least forty,” Vin replied with a straight face.
“FORTY!” Chris replied with mock shock.
Vin broke out into a laughter that Chris loved and took off running through the house with his dad in hot pursuit. The punishment was a good tickling.
Buck walked his son out to the truck and buckled him up. They chatted back and forth about the day’s events until there was a lull in the conversation. Buck looked over to find Ezra resting his head against the side of his booster chair, asleep. Pulling into the parking lot, Buck got out and went around to the other side. Opening the door, he gently removed the shoulder straps and lifted a sleeping Ezra into his arms. The small boy roused and mumbling; complained, “I can walk. I’m not tired.”
Buck rubbed the bony back and replied, “I know.”
Ezra was not satisfied that Buck understood and repeatedly stated he was awake and not tired, Buck just grinned at the whining. After entering the apartment, Buck hesitated whether to put the child right to bed or give him a bath first. He decided that a bath would be a good idea after their time in the lake. Taking him into the master bathroom, Buck started the water before walking into the spare room and gathering up the needed clothes. Ezra’s head kept lolling forward, no matter the statements that he could take care of himself and give himself his own bath. Waiting for the water to rise a little before sticking Ezra into the tub, Buck continued to rub the back and whisper encouraging words while he lowered the child to the ground and proceeded to undress the boy. “Won’t take but a minute and then we’ll be done.”
Slipping Ezra into the water, Buck held onto him with one arm wrapped around him. Using the other, he hurriedly soaped the child and rinsed him off. Reaching with one hand, Buck grabbed the shampoo bottle and put a dollop into the wet hair. Lathering it up, he massaged the small head, causing it to further droop forward. Grapping the removable showerhead, he leaned Ezra back into his arm. “Close your eyes while I rinse out your hair,” he instructed softly.
Once the hair was rinsed and the water was turned off. Buck pulled the plug and then grabbed his big plush towel. Laying it on the side of the tub, he stood Ezra up and had the towel wrapped around the small body in seconds. Standing, he took Ezra up with him then sat down on the closed toilet seat, putting Ezra in his lap. The small boy still managed to mutter every-once-in-awhile about not being tired. Vigorously toweling off the small boy, Buck quickly dressed Ezra in his new pajamas, then dried his hair.
Leaving everything as it was, Buck picked Ezra up into his arms and walked into the living room. He picked up the remote to his stereo system and flipped through the CD’s until he found the one he wanted, and then selected the right song. Laying the remote down, he picked up the throw from the back of the couch and spread it across the mumbling boy in his arms. All mumblings stopped immediately and then the song began playing.
When the rain is blowing in your face
And the whole world is on your case
I could offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love
Ezra snuggled deeper into the arms holding him and let out a small sigh. “I can hear your heart beating,” he mumbled sleepily.
Wrapping his arms a little tighter, Buck whispered, “Beating just for you.” Buck began softly singing along with the song.
…I know you
haven’t made your mind up yet
But I would never do you wrong
I’ve known it from the moment that we met
No doubt in my mind where you belong
Buck could feel the small head, leaning against his chest, loll forward a bit, tucking into the edge of the throw. Walking out of the living room the music followed in the background. Turning on the bathroom light so he could see, Buck walked into the spare room and over to the bed. Still singing, he shifted the weight in his arms, threw the covers back and gently lowered Ezra into bed and covered him up.
…I could make you
happy, make your dreams come true
There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do
Go to the ends of the world for you
To make you feel my love
Bending down and placing a small kiss in the clean hair, Buck whispered, “We’re going to make it, little man. I promise.”