by Joy K
Little Britches ATF Universe
Hi computer. See Chris? It writes what I say.
I see that.
Vin, show him what it does when you do this. ???
It makes question marks when it doesn't know your word. It makes question marks when JD blows on the microphone like he did, or when I sigh like this. ???
Yeah. And it makes those marks when I laugh, too. See? ????
That's very interesting JD.
And Chris? After we write our papers Uncle Ezra lets us tell the story on the computer because it would take forever to write it on paper.
Whats wrong, Vin?
Chris, when is Uncle Ezra coming back?
Yeah. Hes been gone forever and I miss him bunches.
Hopefully, hell be back soon. So what are you going to talk about this week boys?
My cast, JD.
Yeah, sorry Chris.
Why don't you tell about both?
Okay. Me first.
No. Me first.
Chris took a closer look at the man seated at the lunch counter next to him. The man looked tired, worn out. The nervous clenching and flexing of his fist revealed someone who had been on edge for too long. Frayed jeans, faded tee shirt, slightly shaggy hair and a beard Chris could deal with, but the earring had been a surprise.
"Are you all right, Ezra?"
"I assure you, Mr. Larabee, I am fine." said Ezra, but the truth was reflected in the dark circles under his eyes and his less than convincing smile.
"And I'm the Queen of England," quipped Chris.
"I hardly think she'd appreciate the comparison," Ezra countered. He took a long, grateful sip of coffee. It wasn't his normal brew, but it was hot and that was good enough for now.
"Tell me," said Chris, urging his undercover agent to update him on his progress. He took a bite of his hamburger as he listened.
Ezra filled Chris in, giving the facts in short, succinct statements without any embellishment. The man was weary, and when a man got too tired, mistakes happened. The case was important, but the survival of his agent was Chris' first concern.
"I'm going to pull you out," said Chris.
"No!" said Ezra sharply. "No," he softened, "I'm close, Chris. A few days, a couple weeks tops and I'll have what we need."
Ezra took a bite of his baked potato, chewing it thoroughly before meeting Chris' concerned eyes. "I'll pull myself out if anything looks or feels wrong," he assured.
The past five weeks had been stressful for everyone with Ezra going into deep cover. His contact with the team was severely limited in order to protect his cover. Chris had been on edge with the responsibility for Ezra's safety, his life, resting in his hands, but it had to be even harder for Ezra. At least Chris had the rest of the team and two little boys to distract him and help him keep perspective.
"How is Master Tanner's arm?" asked Ezra. Vin had taken a fall at school and had fractured his wrist. The accident had happened only a few days before Ezra went on assignment.
Chris smiled. It had been the same at each of their meetings. Ezra would fill him in on the case facts, and then his questions would turn to Vin and JD. It was obvious that the two boys had changed Ezra's priorities.
"He should be getting the cast off," Chris checked his watch, "right about now."
Ezra frowned. "You should be with him. Go!"
"No, Ezra," Chris answered firmly.
"We could have changed our plans "
"No, Ezra," Chris repeated. "If we started changing plans somewhere along the line someone would slip up and - well, I'm not willing to take that chance with your life."
Ezra looked down at his hands, his heart humbled and strangely warmed by the concern.
"He'll be frightened," he said softly.
"Probably," Chris agreed. "Buck and JD are with him. Buck's bringing him by the office, so I'll see him after we're finished."
"I wish " Ezra stopped. The emotions stirring inside seemed to be stealing his ability to express himself.
"I know, Ezra," Chris replied, relieving the agent from having to say how much he missed two little boys. "They miss you, too."
"What have you told them?" Ezra asked pointedly as he took another bite.
"Nothing," said Chris. While Ezra had been undercover several times since the boys had become a part of the family, it had been for a couple weeks at the most, and his absence was easily dismissed with 'Uncle Ezra is working.' This was the first long term assignment.
"It seemed that telling them that you're in deep cover and in danger every moment of the day would be too much for kids to deal with."
"Seemed?" Ezra placed his fork on his plate.
Chris nodded. "We thought it was best to keep it from them, but now, I just don't know. They seemed okay the first couple weeks, taking the news that you were working and couldn't come over at face value. JD still seems to be okay with it, except," Chris chuckled, "you are in his bedtime prayers every night about how much he misses you and hopes you'll come home 'really, really soon.' He still thinks you work 'under covers'."
Ezra smiled. JD had caused him an undue amount of teasing by his innocent statement. Somehow the child had connected the fact that Ezra tended to enjoy sleeping late with the job assignment of undercover and came up with 'Uncle Ezra works under covers.' His teammates had really piled on the innuendo when they were away from little ears.
"And Vin still thinks you're a James Bond style secret agent with all the gizmos," Chris added.
Ezra nodded, remembering the day that Vin had asked him if he could shoot oil out of the back of his jag to make the bad guys 'slippy slide across the road and crash.' Of course, he had also wanted to know if there were guns in the headlights and an ejector seat.
"But Vin is starting to really press the issue," Chris said with regret. "He knows we aren't telling him everything."
"He's a very intuitive child," Ezra agreed. "What are you going to do?"
Chris shook his head. "I don't know. I still think the naked truth is too harsh for them to handle. Little kids don't need to deal with the fear of someone they love being in constant danger or not coming home."
"They already are," chided Ezra softly.
Chris looked down, realizing the truth of Ezra's statement.
His point made, Ezra changed the subject. "I should be going, and you have a youngster who needs your attention." He stood and turned to leave.
The southerner looked back as he approached the door.
"Watch your back."
Ezra gave a short nod. "Monday at 4:00 p.m."
"I'll be there."
As he watched Ezra leave the diner, Chris grinned, realizing that the wily agent had stuck him with the check.
Vin closed his eyes tightly. "I wish Chris was here. I wish Chris was here. I wish Chris was here," he thought. Opening his eyes, he let out a sigh. Nope, Chris wasn't here. Just Buck and JD.
He looked at all the big scary instruments on the tray beside the exam table. He wasn't very excited about getting his cast off anymore.
"You'll be fine," Buck assured, catching a glimpse of Vin's nervous fidgeting.
"I want Chris," Vin whispered, the plea barely audible.
Buck looked into the frightened blue eyes realizing Vin didn't know he had said the words aloud. He cupped the back of Vin's head and squeezed reassuringly.
"Hello, Vin," said Dr. Steve as he entered the room. "Are you ready to get that cast off?"
Vin just blinked in response. His eyes widened as Dr. Steve picked up a huge drill like thing with a round blade with gigantic teeth on it.
Well, it seemed huge to Vin.
"He's gonna cut Vin's arm off!" JD shrieked.
Buck covered JD's mouth to prevent the child from saying anything else to the already terrified Vin.
JD struggled to move Buck's hand. "Ya gotta save him, Buck!"
"It's all right, JD," Buck assured. "He's not going to hurt Vin."
Vin's lip began to quiver as the doctor approached with the gigantic saw.
"It's all right," Dr. Steve soothed. "Let me show you how this works."
Vin reflexively pulled his casted arm tight to his body. He wasn't going to let anyone cut his arm.
"Look," said Dr. Steve, "It doesn't hurt at all. It doesn't really cut the cast, it vibrates it apart." Dr. Steve put the cast "saw" against the heel of his own hand and turned it on, showing Vin and JD that it didn't cut.
"Do you want to keep your cast?" he asked.
Vin, now more curious than terrified gave a single nod.
"Let me see," Dr. Steve examined the signatures on the cast. "Looks like we might have to go through one."
"No!" said Vin, finding his voice as Dr. Steve indicated he would have to cut through Chris' signature.
"Okay, okay," he soothed. "How about we start here," he said, indicating a spot on the upper outside edge of the cast by Vin's elbow. "And we'll wind our way around a little bit here, but I'll do my best to save the signatures. Okay?"
Vin nodded. He braced himself as Dr. Steve prepared to start cutting the cast. He could be tough. He could be strong, even if Chris was at work.
Who was he kidding? He gasped in fear as soon as the saw roared to life
And melted into giggles as soon as the vibrations of the blade tickled his funny bone.
"It tickles," said Vin with a smile.
"Really, Vin?" asked JD. "It don't hurt?"
"Nope. It tickles," said Vin with a laugh.
"Yep," said Dr. Steve, smiling. He continued down the outside of the cast and then up the inside of his arm. Then he put the cast saw down and picked up the bandage scissors.
Hearing Vin's gasp of fear, he showed him how the bandage scissors had blunt tips and no edge underneath so he wouldn't be cut. Then he used them to cut away the gauze lining underneath the cast material.
"Ewwwww!" said JD, pinching his nose closed at the odor. "Vin, your arm is stinkerooni!"
"Nah, it's not his arm, son," said Dr. Steve. "It's the padding inside the cast. Nurse Jennifer, let's see if we can do something about that."
Vin ignored JD's comment, staring at his skinny odd-looking arm. Some of the skin was very pale, some was dried and peeling, and his arm looked scrawnier than his other arm.
Dr. Steve cleaned Vin's arm while gently supporting Vin's wrist. "There we go," he said as he set aside the swab. "Let's see what you can do now, Vin. Why don't you try bending your wrist a little?"
He smiled at the look of uncertainty on Vin's face. "See that x-ray on the wall, Vin? That's your arm. It's all healed up. It's okay to move it. It might be a little painful at first, but you need to move it. Give it a try."
Vin wiggled his fingers as he worked up his nerve to try bending the wrist. Slowly he moved it, wincing as he did.
"Ow," he complained.
"A little sore?" asked Dr. Steve.
Dr. Steve took hold of Vin's hand while supporting the wrist with his other hand. He slowly and carefully maneuvered the wrist, watching both the movement and Vin's reactions.
"Okay, Vin. I'm going to give you some exercises for your arm, and I want you to do them every day. Can you do that for me?"
Vin nodded and watched intently as Dr. Steve showed him how to exercise his arm.
"Do you have any questions?"
Vin chewed on his lip for a few moments.
"Will it break again?" he asked tentatively.
"Not from normal use. It's healed. See?" Dr. Steve pointed to the healed place in the x-ray image.
"So you can do anything your arm feels up to."
"Can he play on the jungle gym?" asked JD. "We gots a real great jungle gym in the back yard. It's boring playing on it without Vin, and if he plays on it, he gets hollered at 'cuz he ain't s'posed to."
"Well, his arm will tell him when it's ready," said Dr. Steve.
"That's silly," laughed JD. "Arms can't talk."
"JD," said Vin rolling his eyes.
JD laughed. "I know Vin. I'se just teasing." He grinned broadly at his joke, while Buck just shook his head.
"Jennifer, how are we doing with that cast?" asked Dr. Steve.
"Here we go," replied the nurse. She had pulled all the well-worn padding off the inside of the cast, leaving the dirt smudged, purple shell.
Vin smiled as she handed him the two pieces. "Thank you."
"You're welcome, Sweetie."
Dr. Steve rolled his eyes at the word "sweetie" making Vin giggle. "Girls," said Dr. Steve. "They like to call us things like sweetie and honey and baby." He shook his head.
Vin grinned at the pediatrician.
"Well, that does it Vin," said Dr. Steve. "You're ready to go."
"Thank you, Dr. Steve," said Vin.
"You're welcome." He lifted Vin off the exam table and stood him on the floor. "Don't forget your toy from the box."
"Me, too?" asked JD.
Steve smiled. "You, too."
"Yay!" said JD as he scrambled away from Buck and started pawing through the toys.
Chris looked up as two little boys came bursting into the team's outer office.
"Hi Unca Nathan! Hi Unca 'Siah!" bellowed JD as he ran to their desk area.
Josiah scooped him into his arms as JD showed him his toy and chattered excitedly about the doctor visit.
Vin climbed onto Nathan's lap and showed him his arm.
"It looks good, Vin," said Nathan. "I bet it feels great to have it out of that cast."
Vin nodded and looked towards Chris' office. "Did Chris get done with his meeting?"
Nathan nodded. "He's making some phone calls. What have you got there?"
Vin dumped his armload of stuff on Nathan's desk and sorted through it.
"This is my cast. And this is my new truck. See? It looks just like Chris' truck." Vin held the truck up so Nathan could see. "And this is my new ball," Vin said as he put down the truck and picked up the ball. "I'm supposed to squeeze it to make my arm get strong." He demonstrated for Nathan, and then picked up the papers. "And these are my - umm rules for making my arm better and my x-ray that shows it's all healed. See?"
Nathan nodded and grinned at Chris who was now standing behind his excited boy. Vin had been so excited about telling Nathan everything that he hadn't noticed Chris' approach.
"Looks good," said Chris.
"Chris!" Vin turned and dove into Chris' arms.
"Hey, Cowboy," Chris chuckled at the exuberant greeting. "How'd it go?"
"He had a huge saw!" Vin exclaimed.
"Yeah," JD piped in. "He was gonna cut Vin's arm off!"
"But I was real brave, wasn't I, Buck?" said Vin.
Buck smiled. "Yes, you were, but I would have been really scared."
"I think I would have been scared, too," said Chris.
Vin looked at Nathan and Josiah. They were nodding in agreement that they would have been scared, too. "Well, okay," said Vin. "I was kinda scared, but Dr. Steve showed me how the saw worked and you know what?"
"What?" asked Chris.
"It tickled!" shouted JD.
"JD!" Vin scowled. "I wanted to say that. It was my special thing!"
JD looked at Buck. He didn't look mad, but he didn't look happy either. JD couldn't help it. He didn't have a "special thing" right now and he was getting awfully tired of Vin getting all the attention. Besides, Torkus hadn't been eating all week and nobody else seemed to care. Especially not Vin. He was too worried about the dumb ol' cast. JD sighed. He should probably apologize anyway. That would make everyone happy again.
"Sorry Vin," he mumbled.
Chris nudged Vin, who seemed reluctant to accept the apology.
"It's okay, JD. But let me tell it next time, okay?" said Vin.
"Okay." He turned towards the door as it opened. "Hi, Aunt Rain! Vin gots his cast off, do you see? And he's supposed to tell the part about the saw tickling."
Vin thumped his head against Chris' chest in exasperation.
"He's just excited," said Chris quietly.
Vin sighed. "I know. And he's little."
After Rain appropriately admired Vin's wrist and his cast and ball and list of exercises, Nathan declared it was time for them to head out. He and Rain were going to baby-sit the boys until Chris and Buck got home after their meeting with Team Two. They gathered up the boys and their gear and headed for the ranch.
That's when we got the broccoli.
You did apologize to Nathan and Rain, didn't you?
How come Uncle Nathan always brings broccoli? It's ???? Look, Vin. It doesn't know ????
That's because ???? isn't a word. Just say you don't like broccoli.
Did you like the cheese sauce at dinner tonight?
Yes. It was really good!
Did you happen to notice what was under the cheese sauce?
I don't know. It was green, I think.
Yeah, Vin. And it was yummy.
What was it, Chris?
Chris, why are you smiling like that?
JD, I think the green stuff in the cheese sauce was BROCCOLI!
"Spy One to Spy Two."
"JD!" Vin sighed. "You're 'sposed to say, "Spy Two, here."
"Oh yeah, I forgot." JD keyed his pretend radio made of red, white and blue Legos. "Spy Two, here."
Vin grinned. "Any sign of Agent 7 and Miz 7?"
"Nope. They went out to the car," replied JD.
Both boys grinned at each other as they stealthily crept back into the kitchen. They had a mission. Uncle Nathan and Aunt Rain were watching them and making dinner. Uncle Nathan always brought broccoli for a salad. Their mission was to remove the broccoli from the dinner menu.
JD stuck out his tongue and grimaced as he picked up the plastic bag of broccoli off the counter. They had better uses for the broccoli than salad.
"Uh-oh!" he whispered loudly as the screen door squeaked.
"Come on, JD!" urged Vin as he hurried from the kitchen.
"I'm Spy Two, Vin!" JD reminded him as he ran after his friend.
Both boys slid around the corner in their stocking feet, hiding just inside the dining room grinning at each other. They peered around the corner watching Uncle Nathan set another bag of groceries on the counter.
"Let's start with the chicken," said Nathan, wrapping his arms around Rain and kissing her.
Two boys rolled their eyes and stifled their giggles. Uncle Nathan and Aunt Rain would be busy a long time making dinner and playing kissy face.
"Let's go, Spy Two," said Vin.
JD nodded and scurried down the hall into the den behind Vin.
Honey, whered you put the broccoli? asked Rain.
Its right there in the plastic grocery bag, replied Nathan. Next to the fridge.
Rain looked through the bag a second time and shook her head.
Its not here.
Nathan and Rain exchanged glances, and then Nathan rolled his eyes in realization.
You havent seen two short people come through here? he asked sheepishly, knowing he had been paying more attention to the lovely Rain than he had to his two young charges.
Rain smiled. I thought they didnt like broccoli.
They dont, but a certain member of the extended family does, explained Nathan. He nodded towards the doorway in invitation.
Rain slipped her hand into Nathans and walked down the hall with him.
This has happened before? she asked.
Yep, Nathan said. It seems broccoli makes perfect trees for their cowboys, and a certain pet tortoise considers it a delicacy.
Rain smiled back at him as they peeked into the den. Sure enough, Vin and JD sat in the middle of the floor, surrounded by little plastic cowboys and horses
And broccoli trees.
JD seemed to be preoccupied with feeding a tree to their pet tortoise.
Nathan cleared his throat.
Vin looked up guiltily, but JD continued trying to coax the tortoise to eat.
And what are we going to have for dinner tonight? Nathan chided gently.
Vin shrugged. I don't know. Torkus is having broc'li trees.
Nuh-uh, said JD, with a slightly desperate tone. He wont eat it.
Vin frowned and crawled over to see what JD was talking about. He picked up a plump tree and offered it to the tortoise.
Torkus blinked and drew himself part way into his shell.
He wouldnt eat his food last night neither, said JD as the tears began to form. "Or the night before or the night before that."
Maybe hes sick, said Vin softly.
JD picked up the tortoise and ran to Uncle Nathan.
Fix him! he cried, pushing the tortoise into Nathans hands.
The boys had become accustomed to Uncle Nathan taking care of their bumps and bruises and checking up on them when they were sick. It made perfect sense to them that he would do the same for Torkus.
Nathan looked to Rain for help. She shook her head. She knew nothing about doctoring a tortoise.
JD, lets just watch him for a while and let Buck and Chris check him out when they get home, Nathan suggested.
But you always fix us when were sick, said JD.
Maybe hes just not hungry, suggested Rain.
But you always make us eat when wes sick and dont wanna, JD insisted. You says we has to eat to get better. Fix him, Uncle Nathan. Please?
Vin now stood behind JD, his blue eyes pleading the same request as JD.
If Nathan had known anything about tortoises, he would have done anything in his power to fix Torkus and keep two little boys fears at bay, but the truth was, he didnt even know if this was abnormal behavior for a tortoise.
Okay, heres what well do, said Nathan. Chris and Buck will be home in an hour. Until then, well just keep Torkus warm and quiet.
Noooooo! Vin protested, taking the tortoise from Nathan. Torkus likes cool, not warm.
Nathan stared at the boys for a moment. It didnt make sense. They found this tortoise in the desert. Obviously it did well in hot temperatures. But the boys had been caring for the creature for a few months, and maybe they knew more than he did about what it needed.
All right, Nathan compromised, Lets just put him in his tank where hes safe and let him rest until they get home.
Okay, said Vin tentatively, examining their beloved pet. The cowboys and horses and broccoli trees were forgotten as more urgent concerns flooded the minds of two little boys. Any scolding for the broccoli theft would have to wait.
JD sniffed and wiped his eyes on his sleeve. He frowned at Uncle Nathan not liking his suggestion at all. Something was wrong with Torkus and Uncle Nathan wasnt making him better. JD popped his thumb in his mouth and trotted down the hall behind Vin to their room to hold vigil over Torkus, not sure if he liked Uncle Nathan anymore.