The moon wasn't quite full but the sky was clear and there was sufficient light once their eyes had adjusted that they could make good progress as long as they didn't go to far into the woods. Ezra's increasing awareness became evident when after several hours of careful and thankfully uninterrupted progress
Vin felt the rope tighten once more and heard a muffled curse that was followed by, "Mister Tanner, if it is not to much trouble and if the current circumstances would permit a brief pause in our seemingly endless trek through the expanse of wilderness before us, would you please tell me what in the hell is going on? I assume you have some plan and would greatly appreciate being informed of what our current course of action is, and if you mention the Appalachian Trail I may be forced to shoot you as soon as I have access to a firearm once more."
Well Vin thought, at least he was waking up. Deciding that a brief rest was probably in order, Vin perched himself on fallen tree and motioned for Ezra to do the same.
"Well, Ez, I figured we can't go back to Jo's, Grady'll be looking for us there. We need to figure out how to get back home, and I thought our best chance to get out of the immediate area would be to hitch a ride on one of the freights heading south. That would probably get us the farthest distance as fast as possible. Another alternative would be heading down the river. We could make it a good distance on a boat ..."
Vin paused and bit back a laugh at the horrified look on Ezra's face.
"I refuse to play Tom Sawyer to your Huck Finn, Mister Tanner. Good Lord, the idea of hopping a train is bad enough. I categorically refuse to set foot on a boat unless it includes room service."
"Yeah, well Ez, our choices are kind of limited here. We can't fly the way things are right now since we don't have any IDs, and we can't take a bus till we manage to get far enough away that they won't be watching for us. I ain't sure how we're going to get the money to pay for bus tickets though and anythin else we need along the way. The food we got ain't gonna hold out that long."
"I believe I may have an answer for that already." Ezra produced a fold of bills from his shoe.
"Dr. Grady keeps his money in a money clip. I picked his pocket when the son of a bitch was forcing me into the hospital." The people who had stripped him of his shoes and clothes and dressed him in the hospital gown had assumed that the rips in the sneakers were normal wear and tear. They had not realized that several of the "tears" were intentional and allowed items to be secreted between the layers of leather and padding.
"Geez, Ez. Why didn't ya tell me about this before, and what else have ya got in them shoes."
Ez looked somewhat shamefaced before admitting, "I was afraid your overly developed sense of morals would preclude our making use of these funds. As for the shoes, well there is also a length of thin but heavy gauge wire and a home made lock pick."
"Hell, Ez. Grady owes us somethin after being such a bastard. Sides, it ain't like we aren't goin to pay him back once we get home." His smile indicated that is was not just the money that would be paid back and Ezra grinned in return before saying,
"Indeed, I have been considering what we should do about Miss Jo and the others as well. At the very least we owe them an explanation and assurances that we are safe. Once we get 'home' we should let them know we are in good health and will contact them again at a later date to clarify the situation. Although exactly how we are going to explain what occurred and repay them for their kindness, I have no idea."
Vin nodded his agreement contemplating the debt they owed to their benefactors. They'd definitely have to figure out some way to thank them. "Yeah, well, we'll figure that out when time comes, Ez. Come on, we still got a ways to go before we get to the railroad tracks. According to the map I saw, we should meet up with them if we keep heading west. Figure once we reach the tracks, we can follow them till we get to a station or if we have to we can stop when we get to a switchback or somethin else that would require the train to slow down or stop so we can hop it."
"Ah Hell." Ezra wearily climbed to his feet as he spoke and began walking once more in the direction Vin had indicated. Vin took the lead once again, and Ezra followed him fighting the memories that threatened. At least this time, he wasn't alone.
The pair walked in silence for several hours pacing themselves and the sky was beginning to lighten with the coming dawn, before Ezra asked the question Vin had been expecting for some time.
"Mister Tanner, just how far is this rail road?"
"Well, Ez, I reckon it was about 20 miles or so from Jo's place back toward town, so I don't think it's much more than about 10 miles or so from that hospital we ended up at. We been walkin off and on for about four hours, reckon we should be finding the tracks pretty soon. They cut right through the woods so we can't hardly miss em."
"We should probably parallel the tracks once we find them and remain concealed in the foliage until the opportunity to acquire transportation presents itself." Ezra paused momentarily before stealing himself to continue. "Mister Tanner, have you ever had the misfortune to require this mode of transport before?"
"Naw, Ez, I ain't never had to hop a freight before. What about you?" Vin
"I have, unfortunately. An assignment went wrong and a passing train proved to be the most promising solution to avoiding a highly painful demise." Ezra shuddered remembering the betrayal that had led to his headlong flight that had culminated in a nightmarish ride on a cold and wet train car. "Great care must be taken not to be pulled under and certain cars are more amenable to hitching a ride on than others. We shall have to make our selection most carefully. However, I am afraid that given our current sizes and injuries, unless the conveyance comes to a complete stop, we will be unable to acquire sufficient purchase to secure a position on board."
"Yeah, well you'll have ta tell me what ta look for so's we get on one that won't be a problem. As for the other thing, reckon we best start trying to figure out how to stop a train." Vin smiled briefly at his friend before his face grew serious and he continued, "I ain't gonna push it, but I'm here if ya ever want ta talk about what happened."
Ezra nodded his acknowledgment of the offer but remained quiet. He wasn't quite ready to discuss the memories associated with that particular escape, but he appreciated the unobtrusive offer of support.
After another half-hour of walking, they reached a set of railroad tracks and headed south paralleling the tracks as Ezra had suggested. As the sky grew lighter they withdrew further into the woods bordering the tracks, and Vin began searching for a safe place to rest for a few hours. The adrenaline had worn off quite some time ago, and the previous day's activities were taking their toll.
Vin located a sheltered area formed by the roots of several trees that had grown together and they both more or less collapsed in a combination of exhaustion and relief. Ezra and Vin smiled at each other as they opened their bedrolls and spread out the blankets while they each munched on a granola bar. Ezra had been surprised at the presence of granola bars in their food supply -- having expected chips, beef jerky, and snickers bars to make up the sum total of their choices. At least he had been surprised until he noticed that any health benefits were probably mitigated by the fact that Butterfinger and Baby Ruth candy bars were apparently included in the ingredients. Deciding that they had covered enough territory that a sentry was probably unnecessary -- no one would have expected two children to be able to make it this far, they both settled into their blankets and were asleep in minutes.
When Vin woke, it was close to 11 in the morning, and he shook his head. They needed to get going. They hadnt intended to sleep so long. Reaching out one hand, he cautiously shook Ezra awake. Standing, Ezra carefully tested his shoulders range of movement and decided that the bandage was no longer necessary and with Vins reluctant but able assistance he removed the constricting brace. No longer encumbered by the drugs and only having one hand free -- something that caused surprising problems with ones balance -- Ezra made better time and Vin was able to pick up the pace a bit as they continued heading south still within the shelter of the trees.
They continued walking until around 5 oclock at which point they began searching for somewhere to spend the night. Although they had rested earlier, both of them were operating on too little sleep and too little food and exhaustion was quickly overtaking them. Spying a bridge in the distance, they decided to head along the railroad tracks for a bit longer and take shelter in the shadow of the bridge that turned out to cross over a small chasm with a creek at the bottom of it. They found a relatively clean spot hidden from view and sheltered on two sides by girders and on a third by the side of the chasm, spread out their blankets and were asleep almost instantaneously.
A few hours later, Ezra and Vin woke to the smell of a campfire and the fragrant aroma of some sort of stew. Hearing someone approach, they scrambled up in a near panic cursing themselves for not setting a watch. They stopped short, when a soft voice called,
"Hey kids, you up yet? We got some stew going if youre hungry. You come on out, and well stand back. Dont want to scare you or anything."
Vin and Ezra exchanged glances before cautiously edging forward. They wouldnt be able to gather their equipment quickly enough to get away if they made a dash for it now, and they couldnt afford to loose the blankets and supplies that they had so they took a chance. Vin took the lead glaring at Ezra and gesturing to his arm. Ezra may have removed the bandages, but Vin knew the shoulder was still giving his friend trouble, and he wasnt going to stand by again and let him be hurt. Motioning for Ezra to gather as much of their stuff as possible, he slowly looked out realizing that dusk had fallen, he focused on the two men standing as promised well away from him just on the other side of the flames.
Ezra quickly gathered their supplies, made up their makeshift bedrolls and followed Vin out into the open. Vin stopped just outside the entrance waiting for Ezra to come out and kept a wary eye on the men on the other side of the fire. He had verified as well as he could that the two men were alone before venturing out. Reaching back with his hand, he felt Ezra hand him bedroll and he slung it across his back without every taking his gaze away from the fire and the men beyond it.
Approaching the fire cautiously, Vin and Ezra remained on alert for any threat with Vin facing forward and Ezra covering their backs.
Pullman and Codey were shocked to find a couple of children sleeping in one of the spots they used as a campsite. They did migrant work and crisscrossed the country riding the rails and following the harvest and had come across any number of strange things, but two boys sleeping under a bridge in the middle of nowhere looking like they had been through the wringer topped just about anything. They didnt want to startle the boys whose exhaustion was evident in the fact that neither had so much as moved a muscle when Codey almost tripped over them and had retreated outside to start supper and try to decide what to do. The two men had used this spot as a temporary camp several times before when they had decided to take a break for a few days. It was less than half a days walk from a station, had a source of fresh water, and if you knew anything at all about living off the land, game and vegetables were plentiful. They had planned to spend two or three days just resting up before heading south to catch the next round of harvests, but now those plans would have to be changed. There was no way they could just leave the kids out here without at least trying to help, and they settled in to wait for their unexpected guests to wake up. Hearing movement from the sheltered area where the boys were curled up, Pullman got to his feet and walked toward the entrance before calling out softly and inviting the boys out for dinner. He backed away to the other side of the fire as soon as the invitation was given so that the children wouldnt feel threatened by his presence.
The two men watched in fascination as the boys left their shelter and edged forward giving every impression of being wild animals in their wary posture. They saw the boy in front reach back and sling a bedroll across his back before being joined by a slightly smaller boy who turned his back to them matching the other boys forward motion perfectly. Obviously trusting the other boy to warn him of any possible obstacles to his progress as he watched their backs. Approaching within a few feet of the fire, they stopped and stood silently watching everything.
Pullman regained his senses first and slowly approached the fire and scooped some of the stew into the two bowls that were waiting by the fire. Placing the bowls back down, he backed off again before saying,
"Youre welcome to share our supper, if you want."
A soft southern voice came from the child who still had his back to them,
"How can we be sure that there is nothing in there that might render us incapable of acting in our defense?"
"Geez, Eric, cant ya just ask if they drugged it?" the boy in the front had a Texas lilt to his voice and an amused tone as he question the other boy.
Pullman shrugged and looked at Codey and together they approached the fire and took several bites from each of the bowls before setting them back down and moving away once more.
Codey looked at the two boys before cautiously answering,
"Boys, we arent gonna do anything to you. We just want to make sure that you get a good meal, and maybe see if we can help you out. You shouldnt be out here on your own."
The next fifteen minutes or so passed in silence as the long haired boy in the front watched them carefully before deciding that the food must be safe.
"Eric, I thinks it's OK. They aint showin any signs of being drugged or anything."
"I will defer to your judgement then Vic. It does smell far better than what we have been subsisting on for the last few days."
Ezra reached his hand back, still scanning the area for any possible threats. The stew was well seasoned and filling and best of all warm. Ezra was unable to identify the meat in it, but he was sure from the chuckle that came from his partner that Vin had and he decided he really did not have any desire to find out just what it was that he had just eaten. Although knowing Vin, it was sure to be mentioned at some highly inopportune time, most likely in the company of the rest of the Team so that everyone would be able to share in his embarrassment.
The two men had kept their word and stayed on the other side of the fire patiently waiting while Vin and Ezra continued eating. Ezra moved back until his shoulder touched Vins,
"Vic, shall we trust them with our story?"
"Yeah. I think theyre OK, Eric. Ifn ya want, ya can go ahead and tellem whats going on."
With that, Vin turned his back on the fire as Ezra turned towards it and they waited while their eyes adjusted before Ezra looked across the flames to the two men standing in bemused silence.
"Gentlemen, my brother and I thank you for your gracious invitation and your generosity in sharing your repast. My name is Eric and this is Victor."
"Codey and Pullman."
"It is an honor to make your acquaintance."
"Eric, what are you two doing out here? Are you lost?" Although Codeys knowledge of children was somewhat limited, he didnt think he had ever met any quite like the pair in front of him.
Vin while maintaining a careful watch, listened carefully to see how Ez would reply. Allowing Ezra the opportunity to handle any questions that arose was the primary reason they had switched places, and he wanted to make sure he didnt miss any of the details of the story Ez was about to spin.
Deciding to keep with the same basic story they had told Jo and Matthew, Ezra began
"Although we didnt know about each other until about a year ago, Victor and I are brothers. He was living with his mother while I lived with our father. Then last year his mother died, and he came to live with us. Neither of us knew before then that we had a brother, but after awhile it became hard to imagine that there had ever been a time that we were not together, a time when we didnt know we were brothers."
Vin swallowed hard at this admission from Ezra, knowing that it was true if slightly modified for the current situation. Ezra swallowed hard before continuing. He hadnt intended to say that last part; however true it might be.
"A month ago, father went away on business and never came home. They took us away when they found us living by ourselves and put us in an orphanage. Father had a brother in Denver that he talked about, and he always told us if something happened to go to Uncle Chris. If we can get there, hes family, hell take us in. We cant go back, they dont believe us about Chris, and they wont let us stay together. Were brothers. We belong together. They were going to send us to different foster homes, so we left. We didnt head toward the road or bus station, thats were they would look for us. The rail road tracks lead south. We figured we could follow them until we were able to catch a ride. Once were far enough away that they arent looking for us, well figure out how to get the rest of the way home."
"Home? How can it be home if you havent been there before?" Pullman was fascinated by the two boys.
Ezra was cursing his slip of the tongue when his whirling thoughts were interrupted by a quietly voice statement.
"Home is family and Chris is family." The Texan was plainly defying anyone to refute his claims.
Codey was stunned at the determination that showed in the two boys, and he admired the spirit that led them to risk everything to stay together while at the same time cursing the stubbornness that could easily get the kids killed. Silence settled on the small group as the two boys finished their dinner.
"Thank you for allowing us to partake of your meal with you. We greatly appreciate it. Please accept our apologies that we have no means of returning the consideration." As Ezra was talking he settled his makeshift bedroll more firmly on his shoulder and took a step back to join Vin and they prepared to leave.
Codey and Pullman exchanged glances, there was no way they could let the kids just take off on their own. Regardless of how resourceful they were, they were still just children. Both of the men had seen too much happen to adults riding the rails for their consciences to let them rest if they allowed the boys leave without at least offering to help.
"Hey kids, wait up a minute. Its getting too dark for you to be traveling now. Why dont you go ahead and bed down here for the night. As for Denver, well we were headed South ourselves." "Hadnt planned on going all the way to Denver," Codey shrugged before continuing, "but theres always work down that way during harvest time. If you want some company, wed be glad to have you travel with us. Just think about it, OK."
Ezra and Vin had stopped in midstep and spun to face the two men the instant Codey started talking and prepared to defend themselves. They knew better than to let their guard down for an instant regardless of how friendly and relatively harmless their hosts appeared to be. Ezra was watching the eyes of the two men as carefully as he could in the firelight while Vin focused on their body language A barely perceptible nod passed between them, and they slowly made their way back to the fire.
"Thank you once again for you courtesy, gentlemen. A place at your fire would be greatly appreciated; however, if you dont mind, we would prefer settling the question of becoming traveling companions until the morning?"
Neither of the men were surprised when the boys did not undo their bedrolls, instead using them as pillows and taking places close enough to the fire to share in its warmth but not so close that it would prove an obstacle if it became necessary for them to run. They also made sure that they were positioned in such a way that the fire acted as a barrier on one side for each of them and that once settled, they never looked toward the flames. Codey and Pullman who had both spent time in the service exchanged glances wondering where the extremely unusual boys that they had stumbled across had learned such things. They were even more disturbed at the thought of what might have happened to the two boys to make such defensive actions a habit. Unwilling to trigger any kind of fight or flight response from the children, the two men kept their distance, bedding down well on the other side of the fire.
Ezra groaned unhappily as the morning sun hit his face making additional sleep impossible. Hearing Vin scramble to his feet, he reluctantly joined him trying to work the stiffness out. What would his mother ever say if she could see him now? Hell, this was why he hated camping. It required sleeping on the ground, waking with the dawn and involved dirt and bugs. He would never understand why anyone would participate in such an activity unless there was some form of coercion involved.
Ezra recalled the quiet conversation hed had with Vin the previous evening. Relying on the sounds of the flames and the forest at night to ensure their privacy. They both had agreed that the two men appeared to be genuine in the offer, and their assistance could quite readily make the difference between success and failure. Of course, that did not mean that he and Vin would not exercise all due caution. To put it mildly, neither of them were terribly trusting individuals and they would be prepared if their new acquaintances tried anything.
Two day later huddled with Vin behind some boxes in the corner of a moving freight train, Ezra was wondering just what he had done to piss off the powers that be. The train was just picking up speed again from yet another stop to unhook some cars and attach others, and the constant shaking and noise had triggered the migraine from Hell. The only good thing about being on the damn train was that he was no longer on his feet. He would never complain about public transportation again. Anything was better than this. The previous days were a blur on constant motion, but tonight would see them in Denver. Thinking about their two unusual benefactors, Ezra was thankful for the two men who had stumbled upon them. God only knows just how long the journey to Denver would have taken without the assistance of the two men who had taken them under their wings.
Sensing motion coming toward them, Ezras head came up and he started to his feet at the same time that Vin moved to stand as well.
"Hey, Reb, Tex, it's OK. Its just me. Nothing to worry about."
Vin and Ezra resumed their seat as Codey came toward them. They werent exactly sure at what point during the last two days, they had been dubbed Reb and Tex, but given that Codey and Pullman had been better than their word, Ezra wasnt about to complain. The two men had been very careful about not crowding the boys and whenever possible approached them singly so that they wouldnt feel threatened. They recognized the mannerisms of a hunted animal in the childrens behavior and were unwilling to cause any harm to either of them even inadvertently.
"Hey Reb, you doin OK. Managed to pick up some aspirin at this last stop if you think it would do any good?"
Ezra gratefully took the pills swallowing them without even waiting for the water that was offered and closed his eyes waiting for them to at least dull the pain.
"We wont be getting in till after dark. You boys got any idea about where to find this uncle of yours?"
"We got his work address. Figure we cin go there and wait for him ta show up. We know his name, and weve seen pictures of em. Well be fine once we get there."
"Well," came Pullmans voice as he joined Codey, "Sounds like we have a plan. If you want to get some rest, well wake you before we get in."
Benefiting from their companions many years of experience by 10:00 that evening, Ezra and Vin were staring at the Federal Building. To say Codey and Pullman were surprised at where they ended up with the two boys would be putting it mildly. Standing in an alcove of a store that was closed for the evening, Pullman looked askance at the two boys,
"Are you sure this is where your uncle works?"
"Yeah, we told hes with the government didnt we?"
"Well, yes, but "
"Gentlemen, there are no words to convey our gratitude for your assistance and our appreciation for the concern you have shown us, but truly we are home now. Well be fine." Ezra hadnt taken his eyes off the building since they got there, and Vin hid his grin at the words that had come from his partners mouth. This was the second time Ezra had referred to Denver and Team 7 as home.
"We wont be needin these any more. It aint much, but wed like you ta have em." Vin shrugged out of his bedroll as Ezra matched his movements. They had discussed earlier how they might repay the two men, and this was all they could come up with. The extra blankets and supplies, not to mention the cash, would at least be of some use to their new friends.
"Ah come on, kids, we cant take your stuff." Codey started to say before being interrupted.
"Please, we have no further use for it and no other way to even begin to thank you for all you have done for us."
Recognizing the need in the children in front of them to thank them, Codey shrugged. "If youre sure." Each man took the bedroll from the boy standing in front of them, before kneeling to look them in the eyes.
"Well stick around for a few days. If it dont work out, you know where to find us. You take care of yourselves and each other, alright." Pullman said before reaching out to pull each boy into a brief hug. His actions were mirrored by Codey before the men reluctantly pulled away and watched as the two boys crossed the street heading toward the building they had pointed out earlier.
ATF - Denver -- Team 7 - Offices
The angry voice was raised in a shout that was heard even through the closed door to the office allowing anyone within 50 feet to hear one-side of the "conversation" that was taking place.
"I don't give a shit what those bastards want us to be working on, Vin and Ezra are missing and we're going to find them. I know it's been over a week since they disappeared. If the damn FBI had told us when it happened, we'd of found them by now. Hell, like they didn't learn anything from the when they lost Ezra the last time he worked for them, now they've lost Vin and Ezra. I'm telling you now once we get them back the only way Team 7 works for those bastards is all or nothing. They take us all on our terms or they don't get any of us. And for your information," this part was practically growled at the man sitting behind the desk, "as far as Ezra and Vin go, I'm not giving up, not yet, not ever, and I damn well am not accepting any new members to the team. Team 7 has no openings and if you have a problem with that then here's my badge. You can't have the gun, it's mine." Putting his words into action, Chris tossed his badge across the desk.
Glancing over at the Judge who was seated next to him, Chris paused momentarily in his tirade before turning and looking straight into Travis' eyes saying quietly, "If they were dead, I'd know it." In a voice that sent chills down the listener's spines, he added with a cold smile, "You might want to tell the agent in charge, that once we do find them, I'll be paying a visit to the SOB that left them out to dry." With that he turned on his heel and headed for the door. The four remaining members of Team 7 who had been waiting outside looked at each other, stood as one, and without saying a word reached into their pockets and withdrew their badges placing them on the desk outside the office.
"Hold up there, pard. Don't think you're going anywhere without us," said Buck as Chris Larabee stormed out of the AD's office followed closely by Judge Travis and AD Jameson. Chris looked around at his men before nodding slightly as they fell into formation behind him. In complete silence, Team 7 left the Federal building together to find their missing brothers.
Looking at the pile of badges on the desk, Travis slowly picked them up before turning on Jameson and saying, "I told you what would happen if you pushed them, and I'm not explaining this one. It was under your orders so you can go tell the Director that the most successful, highly decorated, and insubordinate team we have just walked out."
As the Judge was getting ready to leave, he almost literally walked into Team 8. Ryan Kelly was blocking his exit and turned a glare on Jameson that almost rivaled Larabee's.
"What's going on with Team 7?" growled Ryan looking at the badges the Judge held in his hands.
"AD Jameson decided that they needed to quit looking for Mr. Tanner and Mr. Standish and get back to work." Holding up the badges, the Judge paused briefly before continuing, "Obviously, they didn't agree."
Kelly looked at his team and reading the agreement on their faces looked back at the Judge before looking at Jameson, "Tanner and Standish may be two of the biggest pains in the butt I have ever known, but they are damned good agents. As much as I hate to admit it, I can't even begin to count the number of times they and the rest of Team 7 have saved our hides. I'll be damned if I leave them out to dry when they need backup." Glaring at Jameson, he added "If you're going to start writing agents off, I don't see how can we trust you to watch our backs. Maybe it's time we all reevaluated our positions."
Leaving the Judge looking after them with a slight smile on his face and Jameson sputtering his outrage, Kelly led his team in the direction of the briefing room. Later that day, Jameson reluctantly gave official sanction to Team 7's continuing search for their two missing teammates. He couldn't understand what drove them to the loyalty they had to the two: Standish was a dirty cop and Tanner was an undisciplined, ignorant savage. However, with Team 8 threatening to join the walkout, there was no way Jameson was going to go explain to the director why his two most successful teams resigned in mass.
Nearly a week later, Chris was in a foul mood when he arrived at the office. Vin and Ezra were still missing, no one knew anything and eventually the damn paper pushers would win. Hell most of the department was convinced Ez and Vin were dead - not that anyone was foolish enough to come out and say it to any of Team 7. The only real support they had came from the Judge and Team 8, after all they were the one's most familiar with Vin and Ezra's seeming ability to get out of anything. Chris entered the break room to start the coffee and was surprised to find that someone had beaten him to it. Pouring a cup of coffee he took a sip before nearly gagging. God, it must have been sitting there all night baking - it had achieved the consistency of roofing tar. Smiling sadly, he thought no one but Vin would have been able to drink it. Shaking his head, he dumped the pot and started a new batch before continuing on to his office. Tired and discouraged, he failed to notice that the door to his office had been opened slightly. Leaving the lights off, he kept his head down walking to his desk on autopilot. Sitting down heavily in his chair, he raised his head and turned on the computer before glancing around the room. He froze briefly and was on his feet and standing over the couch almost before his mind registered what his eyes had seen.
There were two small boys sleeping on his couch. They looked like they had been through the wars, covered with dirt, their hands were bandaged and he caught glimpses of other bandages underneath the worn and ragged clothing they wore.
"What the Hell?" he hadn't realized he had spoken out loud until two sets of strangely familiar eyes opened and stared at him.
A soft southern voice came from the chestnut haired, green-eyed boy "It's far too early to attempt explanations, Mister Larabee, and it would probably behoove us to wait for the rest of our compatriots to arrive so that we only have to make what explanations we do have once. If you would wake us at a decent hour, preferably no earlier than 10, I would be most appreciative. You have no idea what tribulations we have gone through in order to get home." With that the green eyes closed and the boy rolled over and placing one arm over his eyes appeared to be instantly asleep once more.
Stunned, Chris turned to look at the other boy shaking his head as he took in the shoulder length blond hair and blue eyes. "Hey Cowboy, reckon I'll go along with what Ez said. Don't need to tell the story five times over. I'm gonna go on back to sleep till the others get here, OK."
The blue eyes closed and Chris stood there staring before shaking his head and mumbling "This is not happening. This can't be happening. That's it, I'm still asleep or something."
"Ya ain't dreamin Cowboy, wish ya were but ya ain't. And before ya decide we cain't be who we are, we left ya our fingerprints." Two rumpled sheets of paper were shoved in his direction and Chris reached automatically for them. "Ya can check em against the ones in our records." Hearing the tired Texas accent, Chris backed toward his desk and grabbed the files out of his bottom drawer before maneuvering out of the room without ever letting his eyes leave the couch until the door closed blocking his view.
A few minutes later he was staring at the impossible. With the exception of the sizes, the prints were a perfect match. He had even dusted Vin's desk and Ezra's desk to double check his findings. It appeared that Vin and Ezra were back - sort of -- may be he was going crazy. He had ended up at Vin's desk sitting in the chair and alternating between staring at the papers in his hand, the fingerprints on the phone handles, and the door to his office. Buck and JD made their appearance about half an hour later only to find Chris still sitting motionless staring at his office door. Without otherwise acknowledging their presence Chris said quietly,
"Buck, JD could you look in my office and tell me what you see."
"Pard, what's going on," began Buck before Chris interrupted him,
"Just do it."
Buck grabbed JD before he could say anything and hissed, "Kid, when Chris is in this kind of mood ya just do what he says and don't ask questions."
Chris was still trying to convince himself that he had been sleepwalking or something and that his two missing agents weren't sleeping on his office couch. Actually that part would have been fantastic, it was the fact that the agents had apparently been turned into little kids that had him questioning his sanity. Of course, nothing that happened to those two should surprise him anymore.
His ruminations were cut short when he heard Buck's voice "Holy shit, where did they come from?" JD and Buck were staring at the two boys sleeping in Chris's office when the smaller boy opened brilliant green eyes and glared at them before saying scathingly
"Are you incapable of doing anything quietly, Mister Wilmington. I am fairly sure that whatever Mister Larabee requested of you it did not include waking us up in such a peremptory manner. After all, Mister Jackson and Mister Sanchez aren't here yet and it can barely be considered morning."
With that the eyes closed and the boy appeared to return to his interrupted slumber only to be pushed off the couch by the other boy who looked up at them with a grin.
"Hey pards, good to see you again. C'mon Ez, it ain't like we're gonna get anymore sleep. Sides we're home, it's time to get back to work. Damn, I need coffee, ya want some?"
"Not if you had a hand in making it. I want Starbuck's."
Ezra said as Vin helped him off the floor. Ignoring their stunned coworkers, the two made their way out of the office heading for the coffeepot after stopping by their desks for their cups. JD turned to Buck pointing after the two children,
"Buck, it's ..., but ..." Buck didn't appear to hear his roommate and followed Ezra and Vin in a daze. Upon exiting the office he looked over at Chris who was staring at the two children before turning to Buck,
"I thought I was going crazy, but you see them too don't you."
"This ain't possible, Chris, it can't be happening." As they watched the two boys walk toward the coffeepot, Chris shook himself out of his daze and handed Buck and JD each one set of the papers he had been examining. Chris sat listening to Vin and Ezra argue about what constituted good coffee while Buck and JD exchanged papers before staring in fascination and disbelief at the two small forms in the break room, as the two children began walking toward them full cups of coffee in their hands. Buck and Chris both started swearing when they finally registered the fact that Vin was trying not to limp and that Ezra was keeping his left arm pressed against his side trying to hide a growing red stain.
"Dammit, you two don't have the sense God gave a mule," said Buck before he and Chris and JD descended on the two. Stunned would not have begun to describe the look on Ezra and Vin's faces as JD snatched the cups from their hands before they were unceremoniously picked up and carried back to the couch in Chris's office.
Finding their voices the complaints began "Put me down, Cowboy..." "Mister Wilmington, this is most undignified ..."
"Both of you shut up." JD was placing the coffee cups on Chris's desk and had apparently rediscovered his voice. "You're bleeding Ez, and Vin's ankle is swelled up like a balloon so don't even try to argue your way out of it this time. Nathan and Josiah are gonna have a fit."
"Ezra and Vin are back. Brothers, why didn't you call us?" overlapped with "How bad are they hurt?" Josiah and Nathan had come in and seen the rest of their teammates gathered in Chris's office. JD turned and stepped aside; no way was he gonna get in their way.
"Damn it let me through ..." Nathan's voice trailed off as he was faced with two very familiar sets of eyes glaring up, way up, at him as their owners sat on the couch staring defiantly at him. He heard Josiah mutter "Oh my God" before registering that the profiler had fallen to his knees and placing his hands on their shoulders he looked deep into their eyes before gathering the two boys into a gentle hug.
"Mister Sanchez, please" "Josiah,"
"Sorry boys, it's just a relief to finally have you home, besides you're both so damn cute I couldn't help it," said Josiah with a grin still on his knees in front of the boys. The identical looks of indignation and disgust that were aimed at the profiler had the others laughing before they realized what had occurred.
Nathan shook his head, as he looked at the two boys. It wasn't possible, just as he was about to protest the situation, Buck and JD shoved some papers at him and a brief examination of the information settled that question. Sometime ago, Nathan had come to the conclusion that Vin and Ezra attracted trouble like no one else that he had ever known. After all who else had he ever known that got kidnapped by the Devil, temporarily blinded, repeatedly framed, waylaid by amorous hillbillies, operated on without the benefit of anaesthetic -- you name it, and it had probably happened to one if not both of them. Put them together and it was a miracle they even survived much less ever got through a case without being hurt. But this, this topped everything that had ever happened. Hell, they should just never be allowed out alone. Deciding to skip the "What happened?" questions for now since he wasn't really up to dealing with the answers at the moment he looked down at the two troublemakers ensconced on the couch.
They were glaring up at him apparently not realizing that the twin scowls lost a great deal when worn by seven years olds. In fact, looking down at them, Nathan conceded defeat and fought a smile. They were both absolutely adorable, and God help him if they ever figured that out. He finally managed to ask the question he had been trying to get an answer to since he walked into the room, "How badly are you hurt?"
The two looked around for a possible escape route but quickly realized they were at a grave disadvantage compared to previous times they had been in this situation and began trying to argue their way out of Nathan's ministrations or worse a trip to the hospital.
"Scarcely anything to be concerned by Mister Jackson, just a slight cut on my part, and Mister Tanner has already bandaged it," said Ezra as Vin chimed in with "Just a sprain, Nate, Ez already wrapped it and everythin."
"Let me be the judge of that, besides given whatever happened to you guys, I think we need to go to the hospital anyway. A doctor should check you over." replied Nathan. Hell, somethings obviously hadn't changed, and he shuddered at the thought of taking the two of them to a pediatrician. The doctor would probably end up on medicine himself after dealing with these two.
"But Mister Jackson, we're fine, truly. We don't need to go to the hospital." Ezra looked up at him with pleading eyes. Looking into the green eyes Nathan felt like he had just killed Bambi for even suggesting that the terrible two might need to be checked out by a doctor. Nathan looked away from the frightened green eyes only to see the same look in the blue eyes of the boy on the other side of him. Shit from the looks he was receiving, they had to know what effect those big eyes had and God help him were those tears. Ah Hell, Ezra had one large tear slowly streaming down his face and Vin's eyes were misty and he looked scared to death.
"They'll decide we're some kind of science project, Nate, come on, don't do this to us, please." Vin almost begged.
"Guys come on help me out here. I mean just look at them. They have to see a Doctor," said Nathan. He looked away from the two knowing he would never be able to make them go if he didn't. They looked like hell. The clothes they wore were ragged, oversized, and torn. Added to that was the fact that Vin's ankle while wrapped really did look like a balloon and that Ezra's arm was bleeding through the attempt at a bandage that had been placed on it and that other bandages and bruises were visible through the holes in their clothing.
"You have to see a doctor, but we won't let anyone take you anywhere. They won't admit you and you have my word that neither of you will be left alone at any time. We'll use false names, and we'll head out to the ranch afterwards to try to figure out what to do." Chris paused briefly, but the twin looks of disappointment and betrayal aimed at him from Vin and Ezra almost prompted him to rescind the hospital order.
He looked up and noticed that the Buck and JD were fidgeting restlessly looking from one small face to another before Buck finally said, "Ah come on Chris, can't Nathan just look over them. I mean they got here OK, they can't be hurt that bad." Buck was a pushover for little kids and all Ezra and Vin had had to do was look at him with those big eyes before he turned into a puddle of goo.
JD was nodding emphatically in agreement, and Josiah who had remained kneeling on the floor, suddenly found himself with two small bodies clinging to him and caved completely when Ezra put one small hand on his face and whispered, "Please, Josiah. Please don't make us go."
"Chris, Nathan, can't we take care of them?" began Josiah.
"Take care of whom? What is going on here, gentlemen. I've been trying to call you for the last hour." Everyone froze at Travis's voice. They had been so preoccupied with Ezra and Vin that they hadn't heard either the phone or his entrance.
"Uhm, well, you see Judge, it's like this, ..." started Chris.
Ezra and Vin detached themselves from Josiah and resumed their places on the couch once more schooling their expressions so that no outward emotion showed although the exhaustion and pain was still evident. Exchanging glances, they nodded at each other. Damn, they had had half the team on their side before the Judge showed up but with him introduced into the mix a trip to the hospital was probably going to be inevitable.
"Just get out of the way, Cowboy, ain't no easy way to explain this one 'cept to let him see for himself."
"Indeed, Mister Tanner, I believe in this case that only seeing will lead to believing."
The two voices were full of resignation and profound weariness and shocked Travis to the core, "What, where did Tanner and Standish come from ..." Travis's voice trailed off as the members of Team 7 stood aside to reveal their teammates.
"Hey, Judge." "Good morning, Judge Travis." Came almost simultaneously from the two children who were once more sitting on Chris's couch. Apparently struck speechless, Travis stood motionless long enough that the others began to get worried.
"Judge, are you alright?" JD asked.
"Help him sit down, I think he's going into shock" said Nathan rooting for the smelling salts he carried in his backpack. Shaking his head, the Judge finally tore his eyes from the two boys and looked at the rest of his top team.
His immediate denial of the situation was forestalled as the papers with the fingerprints were once more produced and shoved in his direction. Staring at the irrefutable evidence in front of him, the Judge for once lapsed into profanity. "Shit. What the hell happened? I always thought you boys couldn't possibly surprise me anymore, but this." His voice trailed off as he unsuccessfully fought for words to describe the situation. Looking closely at the two children sitting in front of him, he continued, "How badly are they hurt? What happened to them?"
"We haven't actually gotten to that part yet, Judge. Chris and Nate were too busy trying to make Vin and Ez go to the hospital," said JD. Nathan rolled his eyes at JD's tone of voice. Lord those two hadn't even been here for an hour and they already had more than half the team wrapped around their little fingers. The argument that ensued had JD, Buck and Josiah siding with Ezra and Vin while Nathan, the Judge, and Chris were fighting in favor of at least one brief trip to the hospital.