During lunch, Mr. Beidler supervised as Vin and JD were allowed to make a phone call to their dads.
"Hi, Uncle 'Siah."
"Well, Hello, Vin. What can I do for you?" said Josiah.
"Is my Dad I mean, Agent Larabee there?" Vin asked, trying to be formal for an office phone call.
"I'm sorry, Vin. He's in a meeting with his boss right now."
Josiah cringed at the disappointment in the child's voice.
"I can have him call you as soon as he's through," suggested Josiah.
"O-kay," Vin sighed. He really wanted to talk to his dad. He NEEDED to talk to him. He didn't know exactly why, but he just needed to hear Chris' voice.
"Buck's here," said Josiah. "Would you like to talk to him?"
Vin brightened a little and nodded.
Josiah waited for a moment assuming Vin had made a movement instead of answering and then said, "Is that a yes?"
"Okay, hold on."
Vin waited patiently while JD tugged at his shirtsleeve.
"My turn," JD said.
"Just a minute," Vin said with a frown.
"Hi, Agent Wilmington," Vin said to the phone.
"Let me talk!" JD whined. "He's my Da!"
"Just. A. Minute!" Vin growled. "I just want to know if Uncle Ezra is okay."
JD scowled and stomped his foot. He wanted to know Uncle Ezra was okay, too, but he wanted to talk to his Buck.
Jim Beidler looked on, wondering if he was going to have to step in to stop an argument.
"Buck?" Vin asked, forgetting the office call formalities.
"I'm here, Junior," Buck assured.
Vin closed his eyes and held onto the phone with both hands. Buck wasn't his Dad, but Buck was Buck and that was almost as good.
"Chris is in a meeting right now," said Buck.
"I know," said Vin. "Uncle 'Siah told me."
JD tugged at his sleeve and Vin twisted away, protecting the phone from the younger boy.
"Did you talk to Uncle Ezra?" Vin asked, uncertain of how to voice what he really wanted to know but didn't really want to know.
"Well, Junior," Buck answered carefully, "I didn't talk to him, but Uncle Nathan did. He woke up for a little while."
Vin smiled. "Uncle Ezra woke up," he relayed to JD. "So he's going to be fine?" he asked Buck.
"He's still pretty sick," Buck hedged, "But the doctors are taking very good care of him."
Vin frowned slightly. Why wasn't Buck saying Ezra is fine?
"MY TURN!" JD demanded.
Vin handed over the phone. He looked up as Mr. Beidler put his hand on his shoulder in support.
"So Da, can we go see Unca Ezra after school?" asked JD.
"No, Little Bit," said Buck. "Not today."
JD's shoulders slumped. "But you said he waked up."
"He did, but he's asleep again," Buck explained. "And right now he's in a special part of the hospital and he can only have a few visitors."
"I'd be real quiet, Da."
"I know you would, Little Bit, but they don't allow children in that part of the hospital. When Uncle Ezra is moved to a different room, then we'll see about getting you in to visit."
There was uncharacteristic silence on the other end of the phone.
Buck heard the sigh.
"But we made pictures for him. Everybody maked him feel better pictures."
Buck easily recognized not only the disappointment, but also the underlying fear in his boy's voice.
"We'll give them to him, Little Bit," he said softly. "I'll be by to pick you boys up at three o'clock, okay?"
" 'Kay, Da. Love you."
"Love you, too, Little Bit," said Buck. "I'll see you at three."
JD sighed and handed the phone to Mr. Beidler.
"Da's gonna come get us after school," JD relayed to Vin. "But we can't visit Unca Ezra. Not til he's in a different room. The room he's in now doesn't 'low kids."
Mr. B. watched as JD reached out and took Vin's hand as they walked back to the classroom, both boys needing extra security.
As they entered the classroom, the boys walked to the shelf to get their mats. It was rest time.
Jim and Carolyn watched as the boys placed their mats side by side. Mrs. R. let out a small sigh. They hadn't seen this behavior in the boys for months. They had gained enough confidence that Vin would rest near the bigger kids and JD near the younger. But today that gain had disappeared when two little boys' world was shaken up.
Jim sat down at the desk and began to read aloud a story as the children rested.
Carolyn walked around the room checking the children as Jim read. Some of the children would fall asleep, but some of the older children just rested and listened to the story.
As she walked, she noticed that Vin and JD weren't the only ones sharing a mat. Michael and Richard Torres were snuggled close together as well. Their father, Ken Torres was an ATF Team Leader like Chris Larabee, and although the boys weren't directly affected by the shooting, it appeared that the worry about their father's safety had struck them as well.
As she approached Vin and JD, she noticed that the younger boy appeared to be asleep. Vin was staring out the window absently stroking JD's black hair.
Hearing a sniff, she squatted down next to the boys.
"Are you all right?" she asked softly.
Vin wiped his eyes on his sleeve and nodded.
She patted his shoulder comfortingly. Sensing that he needed more than he would ever let on, she decided to stick close.
"Since you're not using your mat," she whispered, "would you mind if I used it?"
"Sure," said Vin softly, grateful that she would be close by.
The combination of a caring teacher's presence and her coworker's soothing tones finally lulled Vin into a much-needed sleep.
Ezra shifted and grimaced. His leg spasmed with the smallest movement. He raised his head, stopping as the room suddenly went black and threatened to disappear altogether.
Nathan was with him again.
Gentle hands lowered him back to the pillow.
"You're going to be lightheaded for a while. You'll have to take it slow."
Ezra closed his eyes. He had the headache from hell.
"What happened?" he mumbled.
"You were shot," Nathan replied.
Ezra lay quietly for a few moments trying to piece things together in his muddled mind. It wasn't working.
"I don't remember."
"It's all right, Ezra. You've been through a shock," assured Nathan. "You might not remember."
"We were on a case?"
Ezra frowned, trying to force his mind to clear, but the trauma mixed with the medications made it impossible. He blew out a sigh in frustration.
"Think you can stay awake long enough for a visit?"
Ezra looked at him questioningly.
"There's two little guys that are pretty worried about their Uncle Ezra," Nathan explained.
Ezra closed his eyes as his head pounded mercilessly. He didn't have the strength or energy to even try to pretend he was all right.
Nathan's hand rested on his shoulder. "Not in person. On the phone. Buck sweet talked one of the nurses into bringing in a phone for just this call."
Ezra nodded. He was exhausted, but he wanted to hear Vin and JD's voices and give them some reassurance.
Nathan dialed the call and waited for the answer.
"L W T D Ranch, this is Vin speaking."
Nathan smiled. He remembered the discussion of giving the ranch a name so the boys wouldn't have to say 'Larabee Wilmington Tanner and Dunne household' when they answered the phone. He also remembered the ensuing argument about the order of the initials. They had settled on oldest to youngest.
"Hello, Vin. It's Uncle Nathan."
"Hi! Are you with Uncle Ezra? Is he awake?"
Nate grinned at the enthusiasm from the normally reserved child.
"Yes, he is. I'm going to hold the phone up for him so you can talk to him."
"Okay. JD! It's Uncle Ezra!"
"Uncle Ezra, is that you? How are you?"
"Let me talk!"
"Let go of the phone, JD!"
Ezra heard a clicking sound. "Ezra, it's Chris. We're on speaker phone now."
Ezra smiled and leaned his head deeper into the pillow. He was really tired. He listened to the boys tell him everything that had happened at school and everything else they could think of.
Nathan couldn't help smiling himself as he pulled the phone away from the slumbering patient.
"Guys? He's sleeping now. But he has a big grin on his face. You made him feel better."
"We did?" asked JD.
"Yes, you did," Nathan assured. "And I know Uncle Ezra is looking forward to seeing you as soon as the doctors say it's okay. So don't go getting into any trouble and getting yourself grounded again, Okay?"
"Yes, Uncle Nathan," both boys chorused.
Vin and JD both felt better as they ended the conversation with Uncle Nathan. Neither seemed to realize that Ezra had only spoken two words the whole time. Trotting down the hallway to the bedroom, they began to plan what they would do when they visited Uncle Ezra.
After the boys had 'talked' to Uncle Ezra, the evening had gone well, almost normal and Chris and Buck started to relax thinking that maybe they'd get through this without a major trauma in the boys' lives.
All thoughts of that were nixed when Buck announced bedtime and JD immediately asked if he could sleep in Buck's bed.
It wasn't a habit they wanted to encourage, but it was tough to say no. Fortunately for Buck, Chris stepped in to take the role of mean guy.
"Why don't you try your beds tonight, boys. We all need to get a good night's sleep. If you have a bad dream you can wake us up, all right?"
"Okay," JD replied, but it clearly wasn't the answer he wanted.
Vin just frowned a bit, and then nodded. He walked slowly to the bedroom to get ready for bed.
Buck and Chris tucked the boys in and read them a story before saying goodnight and leaving the room. Buck pulled the door mostly closed, but could hear Vin's bunk squeaking before he left the doorway.
Chris heard it as well and grimaced as the boys whispered and JD's bunk squeaked. Obviously they needed extra security tonight and decided to seek it from each other since their dads had said no.
He felt like a heel, but realistically in order to function he and Buck both needed a good nights' rest without little arms and legs keeping them awake.
Both men stood guiltily at the doorway until they heard the rustling cease and eventually the slow rhythmic breathing of sleep begin. Both boys were so tired that it was only a few minutes before they were out.
"I feel like sh "
"I know, Pard," Buck said, cutting off the expletive. "They'll come get us if they need us."
Chris nodded. "I'm headed for bed."
Buck grinned. It was only nine o'clock, but he was headed for bed as well. They were getting old.
Larabee bolted upright in bed.
The terrified shriek sounded again.
His heart pounded as he stumbled out of bed and hurried down the hall, meeting Wilmington at the boys' doorway.
"Shh, Vin. It's okay," JD soothed. He squeezed Vin tighter, trying to wish away his brother's nightmare.
Chris turned on the light and both men entered the room.
Vin burst into tears, sobbing, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
"Sorry for what?" asked Chris as he moved to the bunk and pulled Vin out of the twist of blankets and onto his lap.
"I wasn't s'posed to wake you up," he wailed. "I'm sorry."
"Ah, Vin," Chris said softly. "I didn't mean you couldn't wake me up. You can wake me up anytime you have a problem, Cowboy."
The seven-year-old buried his face on Chris' chest and sobbed.
Chris rocked him slightly as he looked at JD.
"You all right, Kiddo?" he asked.
He could see big tears welling up in JD's eyes and his lower lip trembling.
"I think maybe Buck needs a hug, JD. It kinda scared him when Vin screamed."
JD's arms reached up in silent quest for his father and Buck scooped him up and hugged him tightly.
"Can you tell me about it?" Chris asked softly.
He watched as Vin's eyes darted to JD and he shook his head. He didn't want to talk about it in front of JD.
"Why don't you grab Cat and we'll go sleep in my room?" Chris suggested.
"But, you " Vin sniffed, "you need to sleep."
"So do you, Cowboy," said Chris, "and I know I'd sleep a whole lot better if you were right next to me. All right?"
Vin nodded and crawled across the bed to retrieve Cat.
"JD's going to bunk in with me tonight," said Buck.
Chris nodded to Buck, giving him a look of apology.
Buck shrugged in response. The boys were more important than a good night's sleep.
Besides, his heart was still beating a mile a minute from the abrupt awakening.
"Are you all right, Little Bit?" Buck asked as he situated JD under the blankets beside him.
"Is Vin scare-did because Unca Ezra got shot?" JD snugged closer to his Da.
"I don't know for sure," Buck answered. "Sometimes people just have scary dreams."
"He doesn't has to be scare-did. The doctors are taking good care of Unca Ezra."
Buck smiled at the innocence of his boy, praying that he was right. "That's right. The doctors are taking very good care of him. Now you snuggle up here and get some sleep."
"Goodnight, Little Bit."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Vin shook his head.
"Are you sure?" Chris asked.
"I don't remember," said Vin. "All I remember is it was really scary."
Chris stroked Vin's hair. He was all too familiar with that kind of nightmare. "That happens sometimes, but it's over now. You're safe and you can sleep."
"It won't come back?" asked Vin, his blue eyes still wide with fear.
"You might have another dream, but I'll be right here and I'll wake you up, all right?"
"Vin?" Chris asked, knowing there was something more.
"Are you sure it's okay I waked you up?"
Chris smiled. "I'm sure. Go to sleep, Cowboy."
Vin settled onto the pillow. "Night, Dad."
"Good night, Son. Sleep well."
Chris lay quietly holding his son, waiting for sleep to claim him. Vin's nightmares had increased over the past few weeks, which was disheartening after a long period of improvement. He was sure that it was directly related to Ezra's absence.
Especially after the Wal-mart incident. After Vin had seen Ezra with the "Troll" the bad dreams had become a nightly occurrence. Some nights he would remain in his room, but his cries in the night would draw Chris to his bedside. Some nights he would come and stand in Chris' doorway. He wouldn't come in. It was almost as if he just needed the assurance that Chris was there.
Then there were the nights where nothing but the physical touch of his father would assure him that he was all right. Chris marveled at just how far they had come - from a boy who shrank away from all physical touch, to a child who actively sought it when frightened.
He rubbed Vin's back gently as the boy shifted. Most nights Vin remembered his vivid dreams, like the nightmare of two nights ago where Ezra was a pirate. And then there were nights like tonight when there was no remembering of details at all, only the terror. Chris could identify with that fear all too well. There were many nights after the deaths of Sarah and Adam where he woke terrified with no idea what he was afraid of. He was pretty sure the dreams were about losing his wife and son, but he never remembered the details.
He ran his fingers up and down Vin's arm comfortingly. Was it Ezra's situation that was troubling his dreams? Or had the shooting brought back memories of when Vin himself was wounded in that warehouse?
Chris sighed. Sometimes he felt so inadequate. How could he help Vin through all of the things that seemed to block his path? Although he'd prefer to handle the situation on his own, he decided that it was time to set up an appointment with Doctor Will. He was much better at handling these things.
Listening to the soft snores from his soon to be adopted son, Chris let his own eyelids fall. He would schedule an appointment in the morning.
JD and Vin did fairly well at school that morning. But just after lunch Vin and Michael Torres were playing together on the playground. Their game of chase ended near the staircase and they both sat down to rest for a minute.
"When I saw that news lady on TV during Scooby Doo, I was scared it was my Dad," said Michael. Ken Torres was the leader of ATF Team Four and had worked with Team Seven on a number of occasions.
"Me, too," Vin admitted.
"I was so glad it wasn't my dad."
"Me, too," Vin agreed. "I kept wishing and hoping it was somebody else."
"Yeah," Michael said. "Me, too. I hoped it was somebody else. Anybody else."
The words stole Vin's breath as he realized their significance.
He had wished and hoped it wasn't Chris. He had wished and hoped it wasn't Buck.
But he hadn't wished it wasn't Uncle Ezra!
Tears trickled down the cheeks of the emotionally exhausted boy as the omission overwhelmed him. He had in essence wished that Uncle Ezra got shot.
Vin darted off the steps and rounded the corner, not knowing where he was going, but needing to find a safe place.
The small open space under the staircase beckoned and Vin hid himself and his tears from his classmates.
"Vin? What's wrong?" Michael called, running after his distressed friend. He knew that the agent who was injured was part of Mr. Larabee's team, but he didn't understand why Vin was so upset. "Vin?"
Michael looked into the small space. He could hear Vin crying. Not knowing what to do, Michael ran to get Mr. Beidler.
Soon a crowd of classmates had gathered around as Mr. B tried to coax Vin out of the small space, but the guilt-ridden boy wouldn't be budged, and the teacher had no idea what was wrong.
In a last ditch hope that JD could coax Vin out, Mr. B let JD crawl in with Vin while Mrs. Roquette directed the rest of the children back to the classroom.
Jim realized his mistake too late when instead of convincing Vin to come out, JD joined his brother, sitting close and trying to comfort him.
Admitting defeat, he had one of the teacher aides stay by the steps and continue to try to coax the boys out, while he went and placed a call to their fathers.
Thirty minutes later Chris and Buck knelt in front of the small opening, coaxing their sons to come out.
Seeing Buck, JD reluctantly left Vin. He wanted to take care of Vin, but he was scared and he really wanted his Da to make things better. He rushed into Buck's arms nearly knocking him over.
Vin was a tougher nut to crack. Seeing that talking wasn't working, Chris got down on his hands and knees and tried to crawl into the small area.
He'd only crawled a couple of steps before he smacked his right knee into a half buried rock. He jerked back in pain letting out a string of expletives.
In Buck's arms, JD turned toward Chris with wide eyes and covered his mouth with one hand in shock.
"He's going to owe a lot to the swear jar, huh, Little Bit?" Buck whispered.
Chris rolled back away from the entrance, landing on his backside and gripping his injured knee with both hands. A couple more curse words slipped out as he rocked slightly wishing the pain would ease.
Then he caught sight of Buck and JD and spouted, "Gosh darn it!"
It was comical in light of the words he'd just spewed.
Chris hissed as he tried to straighten his leg.
His heart skipped a beat. The "injury" to his knee had done what his words could not. Vin was crouched at the entrance to the space. The elfin face was red and tear streaked, but most apparent was the worry for his foster father.
Chris opened his arms in invitation to his son. It was all the coaxing that was needed as Vin sprang from the hiding place and dove into the security of his father's arms. Giant sobs racked the tiny body as Chris simply held on and rocked. Undoubtedly this was spurred by Ezra's injury, but until Vin told him what was going on, all Chris could offer was the security of his presence.
Eventually the sobs gave way to hiccupping breaths, which after several minutes calmed.
"Is your knee okay?" Vin asked, his voice raspy from all the tears.
Chris chuckled. "Yes. It's fine. Did you ever crack your elbow on something and hit your funny bone?"
"Well, it was just like that. Hurts like crazy because you pinch the nerve, but it's all settled down now."
Vin's small hands patted his shoulder.
"How about you? Are you all right?" Chris pulled back slightly from his son so he could see Vin's face.
Vin shook his head, finally admitting he wasn't fine.
"Can you tell me about it?"
Fresh tears welled in Vin's eyes and he took a deep breath fighting them away.
"How about Doctor Will? Could you tell him?"
Vin bit his lip and buried his face against Chris' shirt.
"Hey, Junior," Buck called as he moved closer. "Ol' Chris here isn't going to be offended if you want to talk to Doctor Will."
Chris frowned. What was Buck thinking? Chris swore to himself as he realized the implications of his questions to Vin. Even if Vin wanted to talk to Doctor Will he wouldn't say "yes" because he would worry that Chris would be hurt that he wanted to talk to the Doctor instead of his dad.
Buck was more perceptive than he gave himself credit for.
"Vin?" Chris asked. "I arranged an appointment for all of us with Doctor Will for after school today. I don't know about you, but I'd really like to talk to him."
"Really?" Vin asked hopefully. He really didn't want to tell Chris that it was his fault that Uncle Ezra got shot. He didn't want Chris to be disappointed in him. But he needed to tell somebody, and Doctor Will always helped him figure things out.
"Really," Chris affirmed. "Is that okay?"
Vin nodded. He looked around as his classmates were emerging for the last recess of the day. "Can we go now?" he whispered.
Chris hugged his shy son tighter. Vin had caused a scene at school and didn't want to be the center of attention or teasing.
"Yes. Buck, why don't you and JD go get their backpacks and assignments from Mrs. Roquette? Vin and I will go to the office and let them know we're leaving early."
"You got it," said Buck as he carried JD towards the classroom.
Doctor Will sat patiently observing the seven-year-old seated in the big overstuffed chair. He was swinging his feet and staring out the window. In fifteen minutes he was no closer to finding out what had caused the reaction at school today.
"Vin, is there anything you would like to ask me?" he asked, turning his tack from questioner to questionee.
The feet stopped and the boy heaved a sigh. After several long seconds he spoke.
"Did you ever wish something?"
Will looked at his young client. He needed to tread carefully so he didn't answer the vague question the wrong way.
"Sometimes," he replied, "but it depends on what you mean."
Vin started digging into the fabric on the arm of the chair with his fingernail.
"Did you ever wish something didn't happen to somebody?" Vin asked.
"Many times. It's a very normal reaction."
Vin squirmed in his seat. It took nearly a minute for him to settle.
"Did you ever "
The boy hesitated. His fingers played nervously with the hem of his tee shirt.
"Did I ever what?" Dr. Will encouraged.
"Did you ever wish it was somebody else?" Blue eyes darted up to see if there was condemnation on Doctor Will's face.
"Yes, Vin," said Will. "Yes, I have."
Vin frowned and thought for a moment. "But I bet it wasn't really bad."
Will shrugged. "I don't know. When my brother was seriously injured in a car accident, I wished it wasn't him. I wished it was someone else."
Vin's fidgeting ceased. It was easy to see the boy try to sort out his problem, weighing Doctor Will's comments against his feelings.
"What if " Vin hesitated again. "What if you wished it was someone else and then it was?"
"Did you mean harm for that person?"
"NO!" Vin objected strongly. "I didn't want no one to get hurt. I just wanted Chris to be all right and Buck to be all right." Tears started rolling from the big blue eyes as the words poured from his mouth. "And I forgetted to wish Uncle Nathan and Uncle 'Siah and Uncle Ezra were all right. And I wished it was someone else and Uncle Ezra got shot."
Bingo. There it was. The boy felt guilty that he didn't wish safety for his uncles, and that he wished harm on someone else and it wound up being his uncle.
"First of all, Vin," your wish didn't make Ezra get wounded. "When you wished safety for your father and for Buck, the shooting had already happened, right?"
Vin frowned. He hadn't thought about that.
"Yeah, it did."
"So how could something you wished after the fact, cause it to happen?"
Vin sighed. "But I didn't wish it wasn't him."
Will smiled at the sympathetic heart seated beside him. "It's only natural to think first of those who are closest to us. Chris and Buck are with you all the time. It's natural that you would think of them first. But I bet, if you'd had more time, you would have wished it wasn't your uncles either."
Vin picked at the arm of the chair, his uncertainty showing through the simple movement.
"Do you love Ezra?"
"Yes!" Vin growled as if were offended by the accusation that he didn't.
"Did you want him to get hurt?"
"No! I don't want nobody to get hurt. Well, maybe Freddie Chaney or Eli Joe sometimes, but not really."
Will smiled again. "When something happens suddenly, you don't have time to go down through an entire list of name of people you love. Sometimes you have just a second. Long enough to hope it isn't Chris or Buck. It doesn't mean you don't love the others or you don't wish they were safe. And you wished it was someone else, meaning you wished it wasn't anyone you loved."
Vin's countenance brightened momentarily and then saddened. "But isn't it bad to wish someone else got hurt?"
"Did you really want someone else to get hurt, or did you just want your family to be safe?"
"I guess I didn't really mean it."
"I could tell. Even when you said you wished Freddie and Eli would get hurt, you said, "not really.""
"I don't want 'em to get hurt. I just want them to stop buggin' me and JD and everybody."
Vin sat and swung his feet for a few moments.
"Are we done now?" he asked.
"Do you have anything else to ask me?"
Vin shook his head. It was obvious that he felt a lot better about things.
"Then I think we're done for today. I'm going to have Marcy set up another appointment for next week, though. You haven't been here for a while and I miss talking to you."
Vin smiled shyly.
"Let's go find your dad and see if Buck and JD have finished their game yet."
Ezra rested quietly in the bed, with the head slightly raised and a notepad in his lap. How long had it been? Two days? Three? Four? The pain medication made it impossible to remember. At least he was no longer in ICU.
This room could use improvement, especially in terms of the snoring, grunting and groaning roommate in the next bed. Actually the grunting and groaning were not nearly as bad as the odiferous ungentlemanly bodily noises emanating from the bed.
JD would love it.
Ezra smiled. The five-year-old thought flatulence was hysterical.
He'd truly enjoyed having his ear "talked off" by two little boys on the phone each night since he'd been shot.
The smile faded and the fear resurfaced. Piece by piece the events of the raid had come back to him and he remembered with clarity who had shot him. A fellow agent. One of the good guys. A split second decision had almost stolen everything from him and would have caused great trauma to the two little hearts he cherished most.
Even as it was, it had caused great fear for the boys. He could hear it in their voices when they spoke.
That wasn't ever going to happen again. Not if he could help it. And right now, he could.
He finished the last two sentences on the yellow pad and signed his name. Carefully he folded the letter and put it in the envelope the nurse had provided. He wrote Chris' name on the outside and laid it on his bedside table. He would give it to Chris when he brought the boys to visit. Maybe he wouldn't read it here, and even if he did, he wouldn't make a scene in front of the boys.
It was a coward's way out.
He'd never claimed to be anything else.
Ezra looked at the pile of pictures on the small bedside dresser. All of the boys' classmates had made get-well drawings for him. He had found JD and Vin's and made sure that the nurse put them on the wall prominently.
He sighed. A split second. A slower reaction and he could have lost everything. He was just getting used to his family, and he wasn't ready to lose them by risking his life when it wasn't necessary.
When the foursome arrived to visit Ezra, they found Josiah and Nathan standing outside of his room.
"Changing his dressing," Nathan explained.
"Unca Ezra is wearing a dress?" JD asked causing the men to chuckle.
"No, JD," said Nathan. "A dressing is a bandage."
"Oh. Did they give him Scooby Doo?" the five-year-old asked.
Nathan smiled. "No. Right now they have to change the bandage lots of times a day. We'll save the Scooby band-aid for when he can wear it for a long time."
"Okay," he said. Then he grabbed Buck's wrist with both hands and picked his feet up off the floor, dangling from his human jungle gym.
Vin hung back a little from the rest of the group; his nervousness about being in the hospital was showing.
Suddenly JD dropped from Buck's wrist.
"Oh no!" he gasped.
"What?" Buck asked anxiously.
"We don't got a present!" said JD.
"We gave Uncle Ezra your pictures yesterday," said Buck.
"Yeah, but you gave them. Not me," JD said with five-year-old logic. "We's s'posed to have a present."
"And a balloon " added Vin.
Chris looked down at his son. The only hospital experience the boys had that they knew of was Vin's hospitalization, and he had indeed received gifts at every visit.
Josiah could see that both boys needed to feel like they were doing something for their 'Unca' Ezra. Kneeling down he asked, "Would you boys like to go with me to the gift shop to find a present for Ezra?"
"Yeah!" both boys cheered.
Josiah beamed. "We'll be back," he said imitating Arnold Schwarzenegger.
JD giggled and grabbed Josiah's hand.
Josiah rested his other hand on Vin's shoulder as he took them to the gift shop.
Each of the boys had something specific in mind for Uncle Ezra. In Vin's thinking, he was hurt and in the hospital so he needed Cat. He moved quickly to the stuffed animals and began to search for one like Cat.
In JD's thinking, Uncle Ezra needed a Scooby Doo, so he dug through the bin of animals as well.
"This one!" both boys said at nearly the same time holding up their treasures.
"Nuh-uh, Vin," said JD. "This one. Unca Ezra needs Scooby."
Vin shook his head in disagreement. Uncle Ezra needed Cat.
Josiah decided to put a quick end to the argument. "I think Scooby Doo and Cat are very nice, but they might get mixed up if Uncle Ezra brought them to your house. Why don't we find something just Uncle Ezra's?"
Both boys hesitated, but agreed. Neither would want their favorite toy mixed up. JD dove into the pile and started looking for something else.
"Vin, is something wrong?" asked Josiah quietly.
"I was just thinking maybe Uncle Ezra's too big to have a 'tuffed animal."
Josiah smiled. "What do you think he'd like?"
"I think he'd like some fancy lickers, but we can't buy him those."
Josiah laughed. "I think you're right."
"Maybe," Vin said hesitantly.
"Maybe what?" Josiah encouraged.
"Maybe an animal would be okay," said Vin. "One time Eli Joe told me I was too old for Cat and Uncle Ezra told me 'Nuh-uh.' And then he went and got Cat and we both rocked and holded Cat."
Josiah nodded to him and Vin turned to look at the shelves of animals on the wall.
"How 'bout this one, Uncle 'Siah?" JD held up a pink floppy-eared bunny.
"Hmm," said Josiah thoughtfully. "It's very cuddly, but I'm not sure that pink is Ezra's favorite color."
JD tossed the bunny back into the bin and tried something else.
"How 'bout this one?"
Josiah grinned at the huge green frog. He squeezed it. "Well, this one isn't very cuddly."
"Yeah," JD agreed and tossed it back.
Vin tuned out JD's prattle, as he stared up at the very top of the stuffed animal display.
There, perched way up high was a spotted cat. Around it's neck was a swing tag. Vin could barely make out the word on the small tag. 'J-a-g-u-a-r,' he spelled to himself. He knew that Unca Ezra called his car Jaguar. Perhaps that was what the tag meant.
"Uncle Josiah," Vin tugged impatiently on the older man's leg.
Josiah turned from assuring JD that, no, Unca Ezra probably wouldn't want a blue elephant.
Vin pointed to the jag. "That one, Uncle Josiah, the spotted one. Is it a jag, like Uncle Ezra drives?"
Josiah pulled the toy down, checking the tag. Sure enough. "Yep, Vin, this is a Jag."
"This one's perfect for Uncle Ezra," Vin announced.
"See, JD?" Vin turned to the other boy, "It has the same name as Uncle Ezra's car."
JD stared at the toy suspiciously. "But Unca Ezra's car is black. It don't match. I don't like it." He crossed his arms stubbornly.
Vin rolled his eyes and muttered something about having never seen a spotted car.
"Vin?" Josiah prodded.
"It's a Jaguar and Uncle Ezra likes Jags," said Vin stubbornly. "Don't you remember when Uncle Nathan said Uncle Ezra was so crazy about his car that he should marry it?"
Josiah had to hide his laughter in a sudden cough. Nathan had indeed said that one day when Ezra was complaining about dust on his upholstery.
"Well, maybe," said JD. He studied the animal, reaching out a hand to touch it. "Vin, it's soft!" he exclaimed. "It IS the bestest because Unca Ezra loves jaguars."
"How do you know that?" Josiah had to ask.
"Because that's what he named his car," JD said seriously.
"Oh," said Josiah. He had forgotten to use child-logic. Of course Ezra would like Jags. That's what he called his car. Josiah shook his head trying not to laugh.
Both boys smiled in perfect agreement, this was the gift for Unca Ezra.
"Now a balloon," said Vin.
"And a card," said JD.
Josiah didn't realize when he volunteered to take the boys to the gift shop, that it would take nearly an hour to make their selections.
They exited the elevator and he followed a few steps behind as the boys skipped to Uncle Ezra's door.
They stopped and JD knocked on the door.
Buck opened it. "Hey, we thought you were never coming back."
"We won't go away," JD assured.
"I know that, Little Bit. I was just teasing. What have you got there?"
JD pulled the bag away.
"It's for Unca Ezra!"
"Well, he's waiting to see you, so come on in."
Buck ushered the trio in, noting that Josiah looked a little frazzled. He smiled at his teammate sympathetically. He knew what it was like to take the boys shopping.
The boys' excitement and energy faded as they got their first look at their injured uncle. Small hands instinctively reached for their father's.
Buck scooped up JD and Chris pulled Vin onto his lap on the chair next to Ezra's bed.
"Are you okay, Unca Ezra?" JD asked softly.
"I am now that you're here," said Ezra with a smile.
He was pale and looked very tired, but the smile told JD it was all right.
"We bringed you a present," JD announced.
JD nodded and grinned. "You gots to open mine first."
Ezra glanced over at Vin and saw a mischievous grin.
JD held out the large paper bag. "Hold the top tight until you's ready," he instructed.
Ezra accepted the bag, careful to hold the top closed. It was very light, almost as if there was nothing inside.
"Should I look now?" he asked.
JD nodded vigorously, his dark hair flying with the movement.
"Okay, here we go."
Ezra carefully opened the bag and broke into a huge smile as a balloon floated out and JD burst into laughter.
At JD's contagious giggle everyone joined in the laughter.
Ezra lifted out the card and smiled again. It was a child's get well card. When he opened it, it had a real Spiderman band-aid inside. He swallowed hard running his finger over the childish scrawls of his nephews' names.
"Thank you," he whispered.
"That's not all!" JD announced. "Vin's got the other part."
On cue, Vin slipped off of Chris' lap and stood by the bed. He handed Ezra the bag.
"Hope you like it," he said softly before turning and climbing back on Chris's lap.
Ezra wanted to tell Vin that it didn't matter what was inside, that he'd love it because it was a gift from their hearts, but he was afraid he'd lose control if he did.
"Well, I know it's not a balloon," he said, testing the weight of the bag.
"Nope!" JD chirped.
Ezra looked inside and smiled. He pulled out a large spotted cat. It was soft and floppy and if he were younger, extremely huggable.
Vin slipped off of Chris' lap and moved next to the bag forgetting his unease.
"It's a jaguar, like your car," he said. "See? Here's its name."
Ezra examined the tag thoughtfully.
Vin leaned closer and whispered, "He's got green eyes like you."
"Do you like it?" JD asked.
"It's perfect," he announced. "How did you know I liked jaguars?"
Vin grinned. "Because that's what you named your car."
"Ah!" said Ezra following the train of thought. He had no desire to correct the boys' misconception about the car. It was indeed a Jaguar, but that was its brand name, not a pet name.
Ezra covered his mouth trying to hide the yawn he could not contain.
"Well, boys, I think we'd better go," said Nathan. "Uncle Ezra needs his sleep."
Both boys groaned, but they knew Uncle Ezra needed rest.
"Thank you, boys," said Ezra.
JD reached out for Ezra, and Buck held him so that JD could give his Uncle a kiss.
"When you gets out of the hop-sital, can I see where you got shot?"
Ezra grinned. Evidently JD was still in the 'blood and gore' stage.
"We'll see," he said as JD kissed him.
When it was Vin's turn, he hesitated. He was too old for the kissing stuff. He started to stick out his hand to shake Ezra's but pulled it back. It didn't seem right.
"Vin," said Ezra, "I really need a hug and a kiss."
Vin smiled and looked at Chris for a lift up.
Chris held him over the bed and let him kiss and hug his uncle.
Vin held onto Ezra for a long time, before gradually letting go.
"I love you," he whispered.
"And I love you," Ezra returned.
As they left the room, they didn't see the undercover agent wipe his eyes. They didn't see him hug the jaguar close to his chest as the silent tears flowed.
Buck and Chris walked down the hall with JD and Vin between them, all four holding hands. Josiah and Nathan flanked the family as they headed for dinner, none of them but Chris aware of the letter from Ezra in his jacket pocket.
Next up - Looking for a Different Puzzle by Joy K
Comments: Joy K
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