A Home For Christmas

by Angela B.

Ezra was stunned and suddenly extremely uncomfortable. It wasn’t the fact that Buck had his arm on him but that the man was so open with his emotions, something Ezra could never do. The younger man leapt up and walked over to the stall gate. Chaucer knowing it was his owner standing at his stall leaned his head over the top railing and nudged Ezra wanting to be petted. Ezra unconsciously stroked his nuzzle.

Buck watched the interaction between horse and master. Somehow the two belonged together. Their personalities meshed like one, both were hard to control but faithful to the end. The ladies’ man looked up as Chris walked through the doors. Nodding to each other the leader made his way down the isle to his horse’s own stall. Passing by Ezra he rested his hand for a moment on his friend’s shoulder before moving on. "How’s Chaucer?"

"He’s well" Ezra was devoted to his horse. If he ever were forced to use the word love it would be used for the steadfast steed.

Buck got up and moved over to Ezra. "Well, now that the ornery beast has been taken care of, you ready to come in and get ready for some football?" hiding his grin, knowing full well Ezra didn’t care about football but watched it regardless when they were together, usually because of the wagers he’d make.

"It's over?" Ezra asked. Ducking his head in embarrassment. How childish can you be, Standish.

Chris and Buck glanced at each other. Neither could help but notice the anticipation and relief in Ezra’s voice. For the thousandth time that day they wondered what could have happened to make the man dislike the Holidays so much.

"Yes Ezra it’s over. The guys have gotten everything cleaned up and now they’re getting the snacks out for the games."

"Good Lawd" the green eyed man knew just what kind of snacks Buck was referring to. Buck and J.D. didn’t know what healthy food was. Those two thought cheetos were one of the major food groups.

Chris came up beside Ezra as Buck slapped Ezra on the arm "C’mon Ez."

The two old friends started off and noticed the third man was not following, turning they noted Ezra still held onto the stall gate. Walking back to Ezra’s side Buck put his hand on the agent’s arm. "Ez, you’ll get farther if you let go." Smiling his mischievous grin and wiggled his eyebrows.

"Yes, of course," Ezra released his grip and joined up with Chris.

The three men walked back to the porch, the two older agents flanking the younger one. Nearing the steps Ezra gave a sideways glance at his car. Chris put his hand on Ezra’s shoulder and gave him a jovial shove "Ez, it's just a football game. Think of the money you can win," letting out a rare chuckle. Ezra gave sigh. Yes, Well there is that. Besides the worst part is over.

Entering the kitchen the three agents walked into the midst of happy chaos. J.D. and Vin were having their customary argument over which teams were best and why. Nathan and Josiah were bantering over the hot sauce for the chips that Nathan had made. Nathan insisting it was hot enough, Josiah shot back that it could be hotter. All four briefly stopped as Buck, Chris and Ezra walked then began assaulting them with "Tell him I’m right." A light smile floated across his face Everything was back to normal.

After Chris and Buck settled the disputes by adding their own opinions each man grabbed a drink of his choice and a snack. Ezra observed someone, most likely Josiah or Nathan, had been kind enough to bring him some fresh fruit and a container of cottage cheese.

Ezra was unsure how they finagled it but he wound up on the small couch. He noticed stacked on the floor at the end of the couch was seven presents of various shapes and sizes. Ezra tried to ignore them for the time being. He settled into his spot and began to relax. His green eyes roamed around the room. Chris and Buck were both stretched out in their recliners, Josiah was writing notes on a yellow pad of paper. A wish list no doubt for either the auto store or the Youth Center. Nathan was reading one of his books, getting a head start on his class readings. J.D. was playing Buck’s new game. He had set up the video game player in the corner across the room, so he could play and still watch the football game. He had bought his old TV out to the ranch a couple of months ago, after purchasing a new one, for such occasions. Vin was sitting next to the young man coaching him on how to play, which was irritating J.D. because Vin had never played the game before himself. Getting those together was like turning two five-year olds loose.

Ezra kept glancing at the packages at the end of the couch. Curiosity began sneaking into the reserved agent. After half-time Vin came over to the small couch sensing J.D. had enough of his "help." Ezra sat up and shifted to the end giving his longhaired friend as much room as possible. Vin disliked being crowded as much as he did.

Soon, Ezra found himself fingering the top package; he yanked his hand back as if it had been scalded. He closed his eyes desperately trying to figure out what to do with the presents. He wanted to open them but doubt and "what ifs" overran his mind. "What if the presents were nicer than the ones he had given? What if they wanted them back after his ungracious and appalling behavior earlier? What if…"

Vin watched his friend closely knowing the struggle he was going through. He had gone through a similar war within himself that first Christmas. He wanted to give encouragement but decided it would be best to leave the man alone and let him come to his own decisions. A funny thought occurred to him at that moment was that what was in all those unopened boxes in his closet; Christmas presents. Vin didn’t think so but it was something to ponder.

Ezra opened his eyes and once again gazed around the room. No one seemed to be paying him any attention, their minds on the various interests they were involved in. Ezra eyed the packages once more before making a decision. Picking up the very top present he noticed it was from J.D. Seeing how this day meant so much to him he decided to open it last. "Save the best for last" popped into his mind. He put the small square box on the floor and picked up the next gift and set it on his knees. The note on top stated it was from Chris. He ran his fingers along the taped seams on each end and gently pushed the rectangle cardboard box out on end. Taking the red wrapping paper, still taped together underneath, he folded it in half and laid it on the couch beside him.

J.D. noticed, along with the others, Ezra’s actions out of the corner of his eyes. Stopping the game he quietly walked over to Buck’s recliner and sat down on the arm. As the black haired agent watched his friend slowly and methodically remove the box from the wrapping paper, the antsy young brother wanted to tell Ezra to just rip it off but figured one kick to the shins today was enough.

The brown haired agent stared at the box a moment before taking a deep breath and lifting the lid off, letting out a low gasp. The loquacious agent was speechless. In the box lay a Forest green colored shirt with a matching tie and a coat handkerchief. Lifting out the items like he was handling fine crystal, he placed the box on the coffee table and placed the articles on his lap. Running his fingers gingerly over the shirt he could tell the shirt was of good quality. He spied his initials on the shirt’s left cuff and upon further inspection marked the fact that the tie and hankie also held his initials. Looking at the attire he tried to mask his feelings and failed miserably. After a length of time he placed the ensemble back into the box, slipping the wrapping paper into the box before replacing the lid.

J.D. was puzzled as why the seemingly well off brother was saving the paper. He certainly didn’t need it. Maybe he’s saving it till he can throw it away later.

Chris had hoped the young undercover agent liked his gift but he wasn’t prepared for that kind of reaction. The man had acted like he’d received the crown jewels or something just as valuable. The others had marveled just as much as Chris had at their reserved brother’s feelings that showed plainly on his face and in his actions. They only hoped Ezra would like their individual presents as much.

Ezra reached for the next present as slowly as he had the first. Maybe this won’t be as much of a catastrophe as I thought.

Carefully untaping the wrapping paper, he again laid it aside. He opened the fair size box and peered inside. A slow smile crept up on his face, deepening his dimples. Nathan’s present for him was medical supplies. Working undercover had its drawbacks, one of them being that there were times when he was out there working alone. At these times he had to take care of any injuries he incurred himself. More than once he had come across a malefactor that required a "show of faith." This usually meant having to go a few rounds with a few hundred pound bodyguard. Afterwards, if he wasn’t almost dead, he had to fix whatever harm had been done to his person. He couldn’t very well go running to Nathan, or a hospital for that matter, to get patched up. The supplies were Nathan’s way of taking care of him from afar. The two men had come to a silent understanding, they cared about each other they just would never vocalize the feeling.

The six friends watched as he treated the wrapping paper with as much reverence as he did the presents themselves as like before he placed the wrapping paper inside the box. Each one wondering, once again, about the strange idiosyncrasies that made up their brother.

Placing the box on the coffee table alongside the other box he glanced at the medic. Suddenly he blushed with embarrassment, and whispered a thank-you. Nathan merely nodded a "you’re welcome." By now the TV had been placed on mute, the game totally forgotten about.

As he reached for the third present Era noticed a large package leaning against the wall. He briefly wondered about it and quickly surmised it was a present for Chris’ neighbor, Mrs. Potter or Vin’s tutor, Mrs. Wells. Taking the third one into his hands he knew was a book and since it was from Josiah he guessed it to be one on philosophy. Josiah and him often had philosophical discussions, especially when they were working undercover together. Even though he would never admit it Ezra enjoyed those conversations. Josiah, Ezra had found out, was highly intelligent; you just had to decipher his parables and figure out what he was saying.

Now fully aware he had garnished the other’s attention Ezra continued to remove the leather bound book from its container. It was Homer’s Odyssey. Ezra had let it slip one time that the story was one of his favorites, Ezra was surprised that Josiah had remembered that incident. Ezra ran is hand over the leather with feather-like motion, taking note of the fine cracks and the imprinted words. From his observations he gathered it was an old copy but had been well cared for.

The reserved agent ran a hand through his hair. He realized these fellow workers had actually bought him presents that he would use and enjoy. Always before, when he spent the precious few Christmases with Maude, the maid had been sent out to pick something up. When he was placed with "relatives" "Aunt" or "Uncle" So and so would grab off the shelve the first thing they saw, never considering his likes or dislikes or even his age. He pushed these thoughts from his mind and reached for the next gift.

It was from Vin. Oh boy, no telling what this prankster got me. Ezra grinned at the thought, when they first met he was sure that he and Vin had nothing in common. It turned out that they actually had a lot in common, including having a wicked mind when it came to pranks. Ezra stopped cold and stared at the present he had unwrapped. There in the cardboard box was a shadow box. It was about a 14"x14" wooden box frame. Glass was encased in the front of the frame, looking in you could see the blue velvet that was glued to the back panel. Mounted on the velvet were a lighter with a flip top, like those used to light a pipe; a half of a deck of cards were fanned out in the upper corner, so old they didn’t have numbers only the suit; and last of all a silver pocket watch, a train ingrained on the outside lid. Staring intently at the antique items he momentarily lost track of time. Like all the other presents, the thoughtfulness these men showed took his breath away.

Ezra turned and gave Vin the same shy smile and quiet "thank you" he had given the others. The soft-spoken Texan returned the thank you with an equally quiet "you’re welcome." Like his brothers Vin had no desire to break the spell that settled itself around the seven. Vin was enjoying the rare appreciation Ezra was giving each present.

Next was Buck’s gift. The ladies man sat up a little straighter in anticipation. Ezra had been a challenge for him. The mischievous man had thought of a gag gift but decided against it since this was the first Christmas Ezra was spending with them. He had stumbled across the article by accident; he had gone with Vin to that antique shop and spotted it in the glass case. The minute Buck saw the prized possession it reminded him of Ezra.

The normally constrained agent was beginning to feel like he was going to explode from the emotions he was trying to keep under control. He was allowing some of what he felt to show through but not all. If this didn’t end soon he was going to totally breakdown and once again have to leave. He glanced down at the remaining packages and heaved a mental sigh of relieve, only two more to go.

Ezra removed the bright red, green and blue paper with Santa Clauses splattered about. It was truly tacky. We’ve got to work on improving his tastes or at least have him checked for color blindness. Inside was another shadow box identical to Vin’s except smaller, perhaps a 9"x9" the southerner guessed. Mounted inside was a small two-shot Derringer. If Ezra had to guess he would put it in the middle to late 1800’s, the same time period as those items in the other shadow box.

If Buck was worried that his friend wouldn’t like his gift he shouldn’t have. The ladies man watched attentively as the loquacious man seemed to be as immersed in studying the small pea shooter as he had all the other gifts.

Laying the small shadow box with all the other presents he reached down for the last one. "Best for last" the southern drawl came in a whisper as Ezra gave J.D. a wink; he was, after all, because of the youngster’s relentlessness. Boy is like dog with a bone when he wants something bad enough. Chris Larabee watch out. Placing the small cubed box on his lap he undid the paper as carefully as he had all the others and was slightly baffled by the box. Opening the box Ezra removed the object, his bafflement intensifying. Quickly masking his confusion he studied the object held in his hands. It appeared to be a puzzle of some kind. It was a cube with various moveable parts; on each part were smaller squares that were colored. The stumped agent could only stare at the object trying to figure out what it might be. Maybe it's supposef to be abstract art. Perhaps Mr. Wilmington informed the young agent of my likeness for art and Mr. Dunne thought he was doing something special. Not wanting to upset his young friend Ezra put on his best player face and with feminine pleasure thanked J.D.

Vin saw the confusion and decided he’d best rescue the drowning man before he took the younger agent unintentionally down with him.

"Hey! A Rubik Cube," grabbing the puzzle from Ezra’s hands. "I haven’t seen one of these in years," starting to rearrange the already mixed up colors.

"I hated those things," Chris `grumbled, trying to give Ezra time to watch Vin and catch on what he was suppose to do the gift. "Never could get all the colors to line up right."

Josiah appreciated the way the longhaired brother had unobtrusively rescued his drowning brother. "I loved them," the deep voice of the anthropologist filled the quiet room as he walked over and took the cube from Vin. Sitting down on the coffee table he ignored Chris’ stare and began trying to match the colors back together. "It’s a great mind game," glancing in Ezra’s direction. "It expands the learning process, helps you think outside the box," handing the puzzle back to Ezra with a smile Josiah saw understanding dawn in those bright green eyes. J.D. was thinking this would be a challenge for him.

Nathan couldn’t believe it. Ezra hadn’t known what the game was. Even as poor as the Jackson family had been his siblings and him had each received one those blasted infuriating puzzles. Maybe rich kids don’t play with such common and trivial games. the medic quickly dismissed that idea, nope it was just that Ezra had never seen one before.

Ezra held the cube in his hands, turning it over and over. After a couple of minutes he began twisting and manipulating the moveable parts until five minutes later all the colors were correctly aligned. Smiling a full smile at J.D. he placed the finished puzzle on the loaded coffee table. "Thank you Mr…J.D."

J.D. couldn’t only mumble a "welcome." He was stunned, Buck and him had played with the object for two days, making sure all the colors were sufficiently mixed up. This only proved what he had always believed; Ezra was smarter than he let on. Oh yeah, he uses big words but he never really shows off how intelligent he is.

None of the men expected Ezra to voice his feeling about the presents, or them. He just didn’t do that. Yes, the man grumbled and complained about petty things but the important or serious emotions he kept hidden behind his walls. On the rare occasion when he wanted them to know how he felt he used those bright green eyes to convey it. With those eyes he could express everything or absolutely nothing. Even Chris, who was notorious for keeping his feelings under wraps, could express his emotions easier than the reticent brother.

Ezra started to gather his precious belongings up but was stopped short by Buck’s words. "You got one more there," pointing to the large, thin square package leaning against the wall. The stunned agent’s head popped up in surprise. Ezra slowly got up off the couch and took the two steps over to the object. Leaning over he hefted the gift up, noting how heavy it was. Turning around he saw Vin had cleared off the table so he could lay it down.

Buck swatted J.D. off the arm of the chair long enough so that he could set the recliner upright. This present had been his idea and the ladies’ man had convinced the rest of the guys to chip in and buy it.

Ezra didn’t think he could take any more. Emotions that had long been buried had come racing to the top and flowed through him till he felt drained. He could have run a marathon and not felt so wrung-out. He had tried to mask his emotions in the beginning but it was too draining and besides he figured these friends deserved to know how he felt about their gifts. He would never be able to vocalize what this day had meant to him in the past and how they had changed all that this day.

The reserved agent knelt down by the coffee table and started meticulously uncovering the package. When he spread back the paper and saw what it was he thought his heart was going to stop. He struggled momentarily for his next breath. The agent finished removing all the paper with shaky hands. Feeling slightly light headed he rested back on his heels. There before him was ‘his’ painting.

It portrayed an old west saloon with seven men gathered around a green felt covered table playing poker. By their appearances and dress it was easy to distinguish whom the gentlemen were. There were a couple of dusty cowboys, a young blond one and an older dark haired one; a young kid, wearing a bowler hat; a doc; a gunfighter, dressed in black; a man marked as a preacher by the cross he wore around his neck and the peaceful look that graced his face; and lastly a riverboat gambler dressed in a fancy red coat, holding the winning hand. The seven players seem to be enjoying themselves and if one was to use their imagination it was easy to perceive that these men were well acquainted with each other, perhaps even friends or brothers.

Delicately, Ezra ran his fingertips over the oil painting. Taking in all the fine details; the chip in one of the whiskey glasses. The fine layer of dust that seemed to coat everything. There were so many little details that popped out. The thought that this beautiful painting was his to enjoy forever overwhelmed the undemonstrative brother. He felt a crack in the wall that he had carefully constructed around himself to keep out the pain and hurt people had the ability to inflict. There had been so much of it in the past; he didn’t think he could stand anymore. Then these six different men came into his life. The reflective brother began to contemplate what these men had been telling him from the time they merged as a team. He had a family. A real family. One that accepted him as he was; one that would be there no matter what happened. A family that argued with him but stood up for him when outsiders tried to take him on. They really cared about him. The loner knew it was more but he couldn’t say the word, love, yet.

Chris had sat up in his chair when Ezra had first removed the paper and glanced at Nathan. They had all witnessed Ezra’s face become a very unhealthy shade of white. Nathan shot a ‘lets wait’ look, so the leader of the seven leaned back in his chair and waited, and prayed they wouldn’t be going to the hospital. That would be a tough one to explain to the doctors. "See doc he had a heart attack because he opened a gift he liked." Oh Lord, Ezra you better behave!

When Buck had first told them of the painting they had laughed. The theme just didn’t figure into the image of what Ezra would like. But, Buck had persisted and now watching the closed-in friend run his fingertips over the painting it seemed Buck was correct, this did mean a lot to their brother. Chris looked over to his long-time friend and smiled ‘way to go my friend’.

Buck had found out about the picture four months before. Ezra and him had been put undercover; Ezra as a gun dealer and Buck had been, of course, his bodyguard. The job had become not only physically draining but psychologically draining as wel

. The miscreant they were dealing with was not only a gunrunner but a drug dealer, too. One who liked to sample his own goods, a lot. For this reason he was always in a party mood, which meant when he partied the two undercover agents partied. Another problem was that due to his constant inhalation of the drugs the guy was whacked. He was forever coming up with some crazy and at times dangerous game for him and Ezra to play. Which the undercover agent went along with until the drug addict suggested Russian roulette. Ezra had drawn the line and the next day Team Seven busted the lunatic.

Buck noticed during the afternoons, while Mr. Telford slept, his partner would disappear. For several days the ladies man had followed him, out of curiosity. Buck would watch as Ezra disappeared into a small gallery just three blocks from the Federal Building. One day, feeling like an intruder but wanting to know what Ezra did in there for hours on end he went in. He found his partner in a small room filled with western art. He was sitting on a bench staring at a particular painting. Without turning around a southern voice bounced off the walls. "Was wondering when you’d decided to come in Mr. Wilmington" Every day after that the two men drove to the gallery and Ezra would stare at the painting.

One day Buck couldn’t hold it back any more. "Ez, what is it about this painting?"

Ezra shrugged, "Through this picture I can become somewhere else and get re-energized." During those times the undercover agent taught the ladies man a thing or two about art.

Ezra was gathering up the assortment of presents. He was wondering what he was going to do with the painting, though. Hanging it at his house didn’t seem like something he could do and he couldn’t very well store it in his closest.

Seeming to read his friend’s mind the owner of the ranch house leaned forward, "You know Ez, if you wanted to hang your painting in that room in there I wouldn’t mind. Seeing as how you guys are out here half the time anyway." Chris had already had this discussion with Buck. They all knew Ezra had a personal problem with making things, especially places, his own. He had lived in the same house for three years and it looked exactly like it did after the first week of moving in. Chris and the guys had discussed this dilemma and wondered whether buying the painting would be such a good idea. Buck had suggested to Chris that he let Ezra hang the picture in the room he occupied at the ranch. The mischievous friend had winked at Chris, "Room by room we’ll get him to belong."

Vin helped his overloaded friend to the back bedroom. Putting the stuff down on the bed the Texan started to leave. When Ezra stopped him with a simple word. "Mr…Vin"

The sharpshooter turned at the mention of his first name. Walking back to bed he replied, "yeah Ez?"

The unflappable agent shuffled his feet and looked at the floor "Might I be so bold as to ask you a rather personal question?"

"Shoot" Vin figured whatever it was it had to be worrying the usually cool agent something fierce for him to be so nervous.

Looking up into his friend’s eyes he thought about changing his mind but went forward, "Did you ever have a good Christmas….you know before," waving his hand in the air to indicate where they were.

"Yeah." Vin said softly, sitting down on the bed. "When my mom was alive she always made Christmas good."

"And afterwards" Ezra questioned.

"I’d say I had one or two. Not every foster home was terrible," the young agent finished with a smile. He knew something was wrong and his friend was trying to feel him out before divulging the problem. "How about you?"

"Huh?" Ezra’s head jerked up. He, too, had sat down on the edge of the bed and was fingering one of the precious boxes.

"How about you?" Vin repeated. Unlike some of the others he knew Ezra’s life wasn’t what he led the others to believe. It had been as difficult as his.

"I had two," the brother answered without emotion.

The longhaired sharpshooter was appalled. Two! Jeez, I’ve had more good Christmases than him. The concept blew Vin’s mind. "Wanna tell me about ‘em?" figuring maybe this was what was bothering him.

Ezra shook his head negatively. They were his only good memories and for now he wanted to keep them to himself. Vin nodded. He understood about keeping the good memories safe. Another thought occurred to him "What about the others?"

Ezra stopped fingering the presents and looked up at Vin. Let’s just say that by the time I was thirteen I learned the only way to get through the stupid day was with a bottle of Bourbon," ending in an angry and hurt tone.

"You were drinking Bourbon at age thirteen," Vin shook his head. He hadn’t started drinking the day away until he was eighteen.

"It’s the only way," the cockiness returning to the southerner’s voice. "Some hells can’t be survived any other way, am I right?"

Chris, who had been standing at the door listening, figured it was a good time to interrupt. It had been too good a day to let his two friends get burdened down with the past. "So, Ez you know where you want that picture? I was thinking on this wall right here," going to wall at the end of the bed.

"Yes, Mr. Lar….Chris. That would be just fine, wherever you’d like." The man had jumped a mile on the inside when Chris had interrupted.

As Chris finished hanging the painting J.D. came bounding in, "Hey that looks great. By the way Josiah says if you want lunch you guys gotta come now, he ain’t doing repeats on the prayer."

The three older agents laughed as the youngest agent bounced back out of the room. Taking another look at the artwork Chris stated, "You know Ez, you got good tastes, in art and in clothes."

The late lunch went very smoothly, much better than breakfast. Ezra had relaxed and joined in the bantering over what football game should be watched next and how much each man was going to wager on the outcome. The green-eyed agent was having a good time when he cell phone rang. Getting up to answer it he walked into the kitchen. The other men couldn’t help hear his end of the conversation.

"Hello Harold...No, I don’t know where she is….I haven’t heard from her today. In fact it's been several weeks since I talked to her….Yes, that sounds like her…You know how she is, calls when it’s in her best interests… yes Harold and you have a Merry Christmas, too…. Goodbye"

The seven brothers cringed. None of them had living parents and Ezra talked so little of Maude it was easy for them to forget she existed. The seven looked at each other with that ‘what do we do ‘ look. Chris knew whatever path he took his friends would follow.

Ezra returned to the table with his smile firmly plastered on. "Sorry about that rude interruption."

"No problem," Chris stated and went back to eating. "Josiah this is really good stuffing." Playing ignorance was the name of game. The others played along.

After cleaning up the seven retired to the living room. J.D. grabbed the remote and the recliner Buck had been sitting in. Buck moved over to the couch and Nathan found himself without a seat. Ezra smiled. It wasn’t often one of them got the best of the medic. Ezra recounted the day. Though Maude had called it didn’t bother him, it wasn’t the first time she’d forgotten about him during the holidays. Though the day had started out rough it was going end well. Each one had come around and quietly told him how much their gift meant to them, except for J.D., that agent never did anything quietly when he was hyped. The trip had him definitely hyped. Ezra felt bad for J.D., he knew the kid wanted him to share in the present swapping. Maybe, just maybe next year.

After two football games and watching "The Terminator" Ezra stood and stretched his tired muscles, "Well, gentlemen I believe I shall call it a night," and received six variations of "good night." As he was about to leave the room he caught J.D.’s eyes. There was no recrimination in them but Ezra knew he had just about ruined the kid’s day. The distant agent sighed silently and walked up to the young man and gently swatting him on the head commanded softly "Come with me, Mr. Dunne," continuing forward.

J.D. threw a confused look to Buck. His mustached roommate only shrugged. Before anyone could make a comment the southerner turned and prodded the youngest brother, "Come on J.D." The use of his first name got the black haired agent’s attention and set him in motion.

The remaining five men watched the two disappear into the back of the house in the opposite direction of Ezra’s room. J.D. followed Ezra into the room next to the study. There was no name for it; it held a few overstuffed chairs and a piano. Sarah’s piano. Ezra motioned J.D. towards the piano bench. J.D. felt funny being in here. No one had ever come in this room, it was kinda sacred.

The youngster knew instinctively what Ezra was planning. The Boston accent was heavy as he spoke, "Ezra you don’t have to do this." Many times since finding out Ezra played the piano "a little," according to Ezra, J.D. had requested Ezra to play. Each time the brown haired friend had declined or made up some excuse not to play. Buck had finally pulled his roommate aside and suggested maybe Ezra didn’t like playing for people the way he didn’t like talking about himself. After that J.D. had quit asking.

"Yes J.D. It’s the least I can do for ruining your day"

"You didn’t ruin it! You came. It would only have been ruined if you hadn’t come" J.D. replied earnestly.

Ezra sat down on the bench and began to play the "Forrest Gump Suite." It was one of his favorites. It allowed him to feel the many emotions he kept locked up. It also brought back a happy memory from his early childhood.

The five men were watching the news when Chris muted the TV. The four brothers turned to watch as Chris lowered his foot rest, got out of his chair and headed to the back of the house. Buck followed closely as did Vin, Nathan and Josiah. By now they all heard the piano. Buck wasn’t sure how his oldest friend was going to react. No one had played the piano since Sarah’s death.

J.D. watched as Ezra’s fingers flew across the keys so effortlessly. A little my foot.

Ezra was on his favorite part towards the end, where it starts out slow and climaxes into a fast and open pace, a simple feeling of joy, making his mind run free. Ezra asked so quietly J.D. almost didn’t hear, "Do you feel it?" his voice light and filled with an emotion J.D. rarely heard from the southerner, happiness.

The young friend was about to ask what he was supposed to feel when he glanced over at the brother beside him. The sight made him catch his breath. Ezra was smiling. Not one of his trademark fake smiles or the halfway smile he gave out. A true smile, one that made his green eyes even greener. J.D. noticed in awe that they were actually shining. At that moment he knew exactly what he was suppose to feel. Joy. Pure unadulterated joy. "Yeah Ez. I feel it" J.D. answered and meant it.

The soft clapping, after he finished, caught the ordinarily observant agent unaware. There, standing in and around the doorway was his five other teammates. It suddenly hit Ezra where he was and who’s piano he was playing. For the second time that day he felt cornered. Then he was overcome with embarrassment. When he first came in all he was thinking about was repaying the kid for his thoughtfulness.

Chris watched the southerner’s face turn white then bright red. He mentally chastised himself for enjoying the brief emotions that ran across the normal poker face. Ezra looked at Chris then down at the piano, "It was…Uhm…I mean I" the loquacious agent was at a loss at how to explain why he was in here playing his leader’s beloved, deceased, wife’s piano.

It wasn’t often that the mouthy agent was at a loss for words but the black clad man decided it was time to throw the drowning man a lifeline. "So, do you take requests?" he asked as strode across the room.

"What?" gasp Ezra snapping his up. His green eyes landing on the black shirt of his leader as he stood next to the piano. J.D. moved and Chris took his place. "I said…do you take requests?"

"Uhm…sure." The piano player replied, immensely relieved he wasn’t about to take up residence in the cemetery.

"OK. As owner of the house and host of this little party I get first request," Chris smiled mischievously at his friend. Few people knew that the fierce leader of Team Seven could be as mischievous as the other members.

Ezra assented not sure "Alright, Mr… Chris" correcting himself after receiving a little warning glare from his boss.

"Jingle Bells" shot out Chris with a small laugh.

"Excuse me?" Ezra responded, shock written all over his face. "Uhh… well… you’ll have to hum the tune. For the life of me I can’t recall how it goes."

Chris stared at Ezra a moment than began softly singing what had been his son’s favorite Christmas song.

As Ezra began to play Chris acknowledged, mentally, that in the last two minutes he’d seen his agent shaken up more times than in the last three years. Which, Chris thought, could account as to why his agent needed prompting with the song. Then again, Chris analyzed, it could be Ezra really didn’t know Christmas songs that well. After today Chris had to go with the second option.

The remaining brothers had gathered around the piano and joined in the singing. Each one requesting a song. After an hour and half Ezra felt like his fingers were going to fall off. He hadn’t played like this in a very long time. Ezra moved to stand up when Buck asked for one more. "Alright Buck," looking into the blue eyes and smiled, the man was truly a good friend. "What shall it be?"

"The song you were playing when we first came in," replied Buck, returning his friends smile.

Ezra merely nodded and started playing. Buck had a reason for asking for that song. He was looking for something, the look on Ezra’s face when he was playing that piece the first time. Ezra had looked content enough throughout the other songs, but it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t the look of joy.

As Ezra played he began to unconsciously smile. He loved this piece. It made some feel like flying; some like racing with the wind but for him it was more. It felt like love. He played the song lighter, faster and with more feeling than he had the first time. It reminded him of the time he was eight and had been shipped off to Aunt Grace. She had been an actual blood relative; she was a middle-aged teacher who lived alone.

For their first Christmas together they had gone and gotten a tree, a first for the little boy. They took it home and Aunt Grace had taken her decorations down from the closet shelves. The day before she had insisted he help her make Christmas cookies, so as they decorated the tree they ate the treats. Then on Christmas day had exchanged gifts. Ezra had bought her a silk-like scarf. Ezra fondly remembered seeing her wear it quite often. She had bought him a drawing kit and a fire truck. Ezra didn’t have the heart to tell her he was too old for the truck. The little boy had wound up playing with the fire truck but only when he knew no one was around to see. He had loved his presents because Aunt Grace had bought them from the heart.

After breakfast she had taken him to the park, southern winters not being exceptionally cold. She then proceeded to present him with a kite. That little boy had been both indignant and scared. Kite flying was for children, something he didn’t believe he was. Besides he’d never tried to fly a kite before, didn’t know anyone who had either. He knew nothing of how it was to be done and for a child who needed to be in control at all times this new twist was a shock. Aunt Grace had showed him without ever making anything out of it. He had run and she had held the kite until a precise time then let it go. Ezra had watched as the kite sailed higher and higher, like it was escaping. Something he had wanted to do on numerous occasions.

Ezra remembered the little boy in overalls, courtesy of Aunt Grace, running and laughing. Blond hair flying in the sun, green eyes sparkling with happiness that only a child can express. He had felt complete happiness as he watched that kite float towards the clouds. Aunt Grace had patted his back and placed a kiss on top of head. That night as she tucked him into bed he thanked her for the day and as she started to leave he stopped her. He asked her why she gave him the kite now since it was winter. She had responded, "I gave you more than a kite Ezra. I gave you a taste of childhood."

There were several such Saturdays to follow until Maude had summoned him away. Ezra never told his Aunt Grace how much that year and some odd months meant to him. How that lone memory had gotten him through the dark days of his life when it seemed he couldn’t go on. That Christmas he had learned that at least one person in the world had cared about him. She had made him feel loved. Ezra closed his eyes briefly at the memory and savored it.

Chris, who had watching Ezra with intensity, looked up and eyed each of his brothers. He wondered if they had seen what he had, each pair of eyes confirmed they to had seen it and was equally stunned. For in those few minutes, while Ezra played, the walls had come down and the shades that normally stood between the masked eyes and his soul fluttered opened. The six friends had brief glimpse into the seventh’s soul. They were overcome at the depth and magnitude of feelings that were always guarded so tight.

After Ezra finished the piece he looked up at the members of his new family and smiled a warm and well fleet smile. J.D. leaned over to Buck and whispered, "Did you feel it?"

"Yeah, I felt it." Buck choked out.

Buck felt like he could have drowned in Ezra’s soul, the emotions ran so deep. The mustached man broke out into a smile as glanced around the room. Happiness, contentment and the feeling of home flowed from each of his brothers’ faces. He caught his long time friend’s eye. There was no pain in them, no all consuming sadness flooding Chris’ being. Just blessedness, they had a family once again.

These hard, private individuals, who had once all been loners had come together and bonded and melded into the family they all needed. He knew they had all been given a very special gift tonight. Their seventh brother had come a little closer to accepting their friendship and brotherhood, and for payment had let them into his world for a little while.

Six brothers decided that night that by next year the seventh would be able to stay in the house with them. After all they had twelve months to work on it, and everyone knew that when Team Seven went after something there was no stopping them.


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