Small Refugees

by Pat

This story is a sequel to: Lizards, Little Boys and Big Papas

Acknowledgements: First to DCP, my dear PIE, who is my inspiration and who patiently lets me bounce tons of plot bunnies off her during my lunch hour. Second, to Antoinette Brenion for both spelling hints, editing and giving me feedback on the story. Any mistakes in the titles of Griffin are because I’m only partially sane.

Chris Larabee knew something was up when the boys took baths voluntarily that evening. He wasn’t sure what it meant, aside from a possible sign of the apocalypse, although he did carefully check each boy’s forehead for fever as he checked behind small ears.

Since the unfortunate incident with the pet skunk getting lost in the ATF team offices, he had been very strict about new pets. Buck was still getting over the effects of finding the poor little thing while vacuuming under JD’s bed. He had called Buck from the speakerphone at Miz Nettie’s office when Buck made his little discovery and swore he had gone slightly deaf as a result.

The girl skunk had been de-scented, fixed, given a plethora of shots for all sorts of diseases, including rabies, and now lived peacefully in the Larabee Ranch, attended by her adoring slaves. JD had named her Maude because “she smells good now and Unca Ezra’s Mama smells good too.” Ezra had probably ruptured something internally when he discovered the choice of name. No one has suggested telling Ezra’s mother that a skunk had been named after her. They were not suicidal.

And now the boys were taking grilled cheese sandwiches to the barn and taking completely voluntary baths. He wondered what on earth they had adopted now and why they hadn’t told him. They knew he and even Buck were suckers where they were concerned. He recalled an incident during the summer when JD picked up a fringed toed lizard as a pal during vacation in Coachella Valley. The Conservation Officer, who was a Native American as well, nearly had heart failure over the whole thing, especially when it was revealed that JD could communicate with the damn lizard. Even Vin appeared to talk with the thing. It gave him quite a turn at first, but then he decided it was all part of the magic of small boys. Buck wisely felt the same and they resolved not to let the incident blow into something that would traumatize the boys or make them feel strange.

He sincerely hoped it wasn’t something ELSE endangered or even something dangerous.

He sat quietly at the supper table in the dining room and contemplated small boys. Maybe they had found a real cat or a dog. If JD gave one of his characteristic concrete blasting shrieks he could get bitten badly or clawed.

The ATF team leader sighed and quietly walked out to the barn.

The boys weren’t with the horses but in the tack room just off the stables. He stood in the door and let his eyes grow accustomed to the shadows and familiar smells of hay, horse, and leather.

Vin and JD were both sitting quietly on the floor and Vin had something on his shoulder. Chris smiled. Leave it to Vin to charm some squirrel or bird. Then he looked again and froze. This was no animal he had ever seen or heard of.

It was smaller than Maude the skunk. It had brown fluffy fur but also had brown wings on its back as well as well as a combination of feathers and fur on its head. The face was similar to an eagle with a golden hooked predator’s beak. It had strange eyes that shone slightly in the dark. It rested on Vin’s young shoulder; its front paws had large golden claws that looked razor sharp. Chris could hear his own frantic heart pounding in terror at the thought of those claws ripping into Vin’s shoulder.

Then it turned its head and Chris realized that its eyes were purple. It was definitely way beyond the endangered species designation.

The boys looked up and saw him there, having a stare down with an impossible creature.

They smiled at him.

“She really likes grilled cheese,” said Vin quietly, still stroking her feathers.

Before Chris could think of an adequate comment, JD frowned up at him.

“She’s scaried of grownups, Papa Chris. You should sit down.”

Not wanting to disturb whatever the hell she was, the ATF team leader cautiously took a seat on the floor. The purple eyes still watched him and the eyes seemed to glow slightly. Then she or it began to make a tiny rumbling sound.

Vin smiled, “That’s better,” he said, “She’s purring again.”

JD looked up at Chris wisely. “Her name is Avesta,” he announced

Taking the opening, Chris asked, “Pretty name, what does it mean?”

Vin’s forehead wrinkled and he appeared to be listening. “I don’t know – It’s in Persian though.”

“Like Persian kitties,” JD supplied, “Only Avesta is more beautiful.”

The purring got a little louder.

“Where did you learn Persian?” Chris tried to ask this mildly.

Vin smiled, “Never heard of it till Avesta told me about it. She’s from Persia.”

Larabee’s decision to stop drinking all together never seemed more stupid or ill timed. He had no idea where Persia used to be, but he knew the general gist. They were all up to their respective asses in Persian alligators.

“Is Avesta visiting?” he asked hopefully, thinking of Rey the magic talking lizard, who had wanted off in a sand dune to go visit a lady lizard.

Vin gave him a sorrowful look.

JD, the ever helpful, piped up, “She’s losted, Papa Chris. She can’t find her mama. There was big booms and she got scared and she flew a long ways. She was cold and tired. Then we found her and fed her. She was real hungry.”

Vin nodded encouragingly while JD gave his enthusiastic report. Chris was always amazed how the little stinker could talk so long without breathing.

“Can she sleep in our room?” asked Vin, with his heart in his eyes.

Chris sighed just a little. “Do you think she’ll scare Maude?”

“Nah.” Both the whippersnappers shook their heads in mutual negation.

Well, it had been worth a try. He was going to have to tell Buck and make sure he didn’t make any loud noises. Buck still hadn’t gotten over the vacuum cleaner incident.

“How did you find out Avesta likes Grilled Cheese?” asked Chris carefully.

“OH we gave her peanut butter at first but it got in her fur and she had a terrible time cleaning it. Then we gave her our Brussels sprouts, but she didn’t like them too much. But she really liked the grilled cheese. She must like what little boys do. I wanted to give her a little chocolate, but Vin said she should eat healthy stuff first till she feels stronger.

JD made a face, presumably about the Brussels sprouts and not the peanut butter.

“Well, Avesta,“ said Chris Larabee resignedly, “We’d be pleased to have you as our guest. I’m going to go in the house and turn off the television so the noise doesn’t bother you.” <And so he could warn Buck>. With all the care he exercised when faced with dangerous criminals, the ATF Team Leader quietly rose and then went to the house.

Buck was watching television and sorting laundry.

“Hey old Dog,” said his partner, friend and co-parent.

Chris quickly turned off the television and turned to Buck.

It must have shown on his face, because Buck went pale.

“What?” he asked tensely, his mustache trembling.

”We got a guest from Persia,” Chris said shortly, “Don’t scare her or make any sudden moves.”

Years of battling criminals and hostage situations stood them both well today.

Buck swallowed and then tried to get up. Chris put a warning hand on his friend’s shoulder and sat next to him and then looked toward the front door.

As usual, it slammed open and the nearest thing to a full frontal invasion catapulted into the living room gleefully.

“Papa Buck, we has a new friend!” cried JD.

After him, walked Vin. There on his shoulder, regal, head held high, sat Avesta, the whatever she was. She took Buck in with her purple eyes and the ladies’ man froze. She was utterly still, but you could see those amethyst eyes taking in the two men and the room.

“It might be good if you didn’t vacuum tonight, Papa Buck,” said JD thoughtfully. “Avesta doesn’t like loud noises.”

“Sure thing, little britches,” muttered Buck, still staring at the little creature like a rabbit caught in a snake’s hypnotic glare.

Of course, even pole-axed, Buck had to be polite to the female gender. “Howdy, Avesta. I hope you like our home,” he said in a much quieter voice than his usual booming tones.

Avesta cocked her head at Buck as though she understood and then made a chirruping noise that reminded Chris of a young bird.

The boys smiled happily, and Vin and JD took their new guest up to their room. Both the men listened to the sound of little feet making their ways up the stairs. J.D. literally bounced before Vin, while Vin carefully held the little she-creature on his shoulder, still stroking with gentle hands.

The two men waited till the door to the boys’ room closed.

“What the hell was that?” said Buck hoarsely.

“You got me.” Said Chris, as he strode across the room to the telephone.

“Who are you calling? Animal control?” asked Buck fearfully.

Chris glared at him.

“I’m calling Juan,” he said.

Buck nodded in agreement. Juan Morales Salvador was the only person they knew equipped to deal with animals that didn’t exist.

The phone rang and then an answering machine clicked. Chris would normally have hung up, but he was desperate.

“You’ve reached Juan Salvador. If this is Chris Larabee, Uncle and I will be at the Denver Airport at 7 p.m. tonight on SW272. Uncle says you need help right now. Otherwise, please leave a message at the tone, we’ll be back in a few days.”

Chris dropped the receiver and it hit him on the foot. He winced and pulled the phone and hung it up silently. He turned to the puzzled Buck who was looking worried.

“Juan’s on his way here. It’s almost 6. We have to haul butt to pick him and Uncle Roberto up at the airport.”

Buck was a man of few words tonight, “Shit.”

Chris nodded wisely.

“Aint’ taking that thing in the car,” said Buck.

Chris nodded. He’d tried to transport a sick cat in a car once and it hadn’t been pretty. He could just imagine Avesta’s nails shredding the upholstery. “One of us will go pick them up and the other will stay here with the kids.” <and Avesta – the words remained unsaid and hung in the air ominously. >

Buck usually didn’t want to be separated from JD but tonight he was all for leaving Chris with the kids. Chris watched sourly as his partner pulled out of the driveway at 60 MPH and sped down the gravel roadway.

After finishing sorting the laundry, he went to the kitchen and contemplated how many grilled cheese sandwiches your basic baby monster ate a day.

Then he heard a screech come from upstairs that sounded like a combination lion’s roar and eagle’s shriek over its prey. His heart stopped in sheer undiluted parental terror and then he tore up the stairs into the boys’ room. Later he would realize he’d sounded like a stampede of buffalo.

He pulled the door open, catapulting in and stepped smack on Maude the skunk, who was dancing on her hind legs at the foot of the bed. The baby monster, who was apparently playing tag with Maude, shrieked in distress and hid behind Vin’s neck while Chris and Maude slid right under the bed and Larabee cracked his head loudly on the floor.

“Damn fool,” he thought, as he slid under the bed, banging his shins and then his head violently, “you’re acting like a rookie on his first day.” He realized he couldn’t see anything, and recognized it as unconsciousness approaching. “Hope I didn’t kill that poor damn skunk.” He mourned as the blackness claimed him. The boys would never forgive him.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra Standish rang the doorbell to the Larabee abode and felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck. Something felt wrong. He looked at Nathan Jackson and Josiah Sanchez.

“I have the strangest sensation that all is not right,” he began, when the door opened slowly

J.D. Dunne Wilmington opened the door. Instead of ritually flinging himself upon his adoptive “Uncas”, he smiled.

“Papa Chris stepped on Maude and felled down and went boom,” he announced. “He’s under our bed.”

“Good Lawd,” said Ezra and the three agents tore up the stairs, after closing the door behind them and making sure Master Dunne was unscathed.

They crowded into the open doorway of the boys’ room and stared.

On the floor, halfway under J.D.’s bed, lay their erstwhile leader, Chris Larabee. On his chest, purring like a teakettle, was a tiny creature with brown fur and wings. It looked up at them and tilted its birdlike head to the side. It had glowing purple eyes. Next to Chris sat Vin Tanner and in his nap was Maude, who was looking pretty good for a skunk who had been stepped on by a full-grown man.

Behind them, JD announced, “Don’t scare Avesta, she don’t like loud noises.”

Vin was giving them an anxious look that said plainly, “Please don’t do something stupid like Papa Chris did.”

“Good Lawd,” Ezra muttered.

+ + + + + + +

Now Chris Larabee was not a very verbal person. He communicated with glares and sometimes smiles and tended to grunt for yes and no. So he had probably never told Nathan Jackson that seeing his face over him while he was in pain after seeing action always meant safety and comfort to the ATF Team Leader. Whenever he was hurt in the line of duty, seeing Nathan made him feel like he at least had a chance getting out alive. So observing the handsome medic fussing over now made him smile.

However, seeing Josiah Sanchez looming behind Nathan Jackson with a small purple-eyed monster did not.

“Maude!” he shouted in distress, “I stepped on Maude!”

Across the room, Ezra Standish winced.

J.D. Dunne sprang from the undercover agent’s lap and danced over to where Larabee lay and showed him Maude in his arms.

“Avesta kissed her and she was all well. She kissed you and you got all well too. Avesta is magic” he pronounced proudly, as though he had discovered this all on his own.

Vin was next to him, looking at him anxiously, “You scared Avesta.”

“I’m sorry, Avesta,” Larabee muttered, “I heard the noise and thought someone was being hurt.”

“See, see,” said J.D. in excited tones to the little monster atop his chief profiler’s head, “I told you Papa Chris thoughted we got hurted. He didn’t mean to scare you.”

The teakettle noises started up again. Apparently Avesta didn’t hold grudges.

Josiah Sanchez looked pleased as punch with a tiny monster in his hair. “I knew the boys found a lot of strange animals at your ranch, but I never expected them to find a baby griffin,” said the profiler solemnly, as the apparent griffin played with his hair and purred.

“What is a griffin?” asked Larabee, as Jackson helped him get up.

“A mythological beast from ancient Persia, part lion and part eagle,” said his undercover agent. Josiah smiled at the younger man.

Chris stood by himself now and felt Vin’s arm surround his legs, hugging him fiercely.

“The boys said her name is Persian.”

“Where is Persia?” asked Nathan Jackson, almost absently. Baby Mythological beasts that could heal his teammates and small skunks were okay in his book.

Josiah looked at them solemnly, “Iraq and Iran” he said. “Probably the ancient city of Nineveh.”

The grownups in the room fell silent.

J.D. wasn’t worried about where Avesta hailed from. He looked up at his Unca Ezra and smiled. “Avesta is hungry from making Papa Chris and Maude feel better. Could you make her some gwilled cheese sandwiches?”

Avesta made a crowing noise from atop Josiah and launched herself gracefully into the air, flying around the room and then landing on Vin’s shoulder between the boy and Chris. He felt the warmth of the tiny creature and it looked up at him excitedly.

“I think grilled cheese and hot chocolate would be good for all of us.” Larabee remarked.

That was how he came to be sitting at his dining room table with Vin in his lap and a baby griffin on his shoulder, purring like a teakettle.

Ezra came in with heaps of grilled cheese sandwiches on a serving platter that Larabee recognized from last Christmas. Leave it to Ezra to make grilled cheese look like something from an epicurean magazine. Cooking them in butter instead of margarine made them even more delicious.

Avesta sat on the edge of the table with Maude and demolished her grilled cheese sandwiches with evident delight. Maude was more dainty, but apparently thrilled with her new playmate.

The sound of a car in the drive way announced that Buck was home with Juan and Uncle Roberto.

Chris got up slowly, careful not to fluster the two animals.

Maude evidently didn't hold anything against him. She kissed his hand skunk style and then proceeded to jump off the table to wrestle with Avesta. The ATF team leader stared at the two unlikely playmates and went to the door to greet his guests.

“Next time, I'll drive,” he told Buck as he shook with Juan and Uncle Roberto. Juan looked and smelled like he was slightly plastered.

Uncle Roberto was impassive and calm as usual. Without being told where the trouble was, he solemnly went to the dining room, where the baby griffin was now sitting on Josiah's head while the skunk was crawling up Josiah's leg, eager to wrestle more.

Uncle Roberto smiled and held out his hand and the tiny Griffin flew to his hand. They stared at one another a long time. The old man with darkest black eyes and the purple eyes of the little Griffin were silent.

Then Uncle Roberto smiled and the griffin purred.

Juan burped and sat down hard on the floor, muttering under his breath about magic birds now

Maude sniffed and Avesta’s feathers ruffled in annoyance. Juan looked dumped on.

Chris had no pity for him, especially since HE had to be on the wagon.

Juan looked morose, “What next - talking amoeba?”

Chris raised his hand, ready to make introduction when Uncle Roberto handed Avesta to Vin and turned to them all with a look that caught every man's attention

"We are in great danger. The little one's mother is looking for her and will be very upset."

“Shit”, said Chris

JD and Vin looked at him. “BAD WORD” JD mouthed.

Silently he handed JD a quarter, which went in the swearing fund. The big jar sat in the boy's room and already had enough funding to be the start of a college fund for both urchins.

Behind him, Buck sounded plaintive. "We can't shoot a mama”.

"She's a griffin," said Ezra rather archly, "seeing as she's also a magical beast, she may be impervious to bullets as well."

"You believe in magic?" asked Chris disbelievingly

Ezra watched Avesta fly up in the air and chirrup gleefully before returning to Josiah's head

“I believe in my eyes Mr. Larabee”

Avesta blinked and began to purr again. The men stared at the little griffin quietly.

“What should we do?” Josiah asked Uncle Roberto solemnly.

“Stay together and be ready. Uncle Roberto sounded serene.

In the middle of figuring out sleeping arrangements, Chris decided to sleep with the boys. Buck still seemed shaken by the baby griffin (although as always he was charming and thoughtful of the little creature), but Chris wanted to be near his boys in case of trouble.

So he slept in one of the large guest beds with J.D., Maude, Vin and Avesta. Soon he learned that JD was a massive bed hog who practiced sleep karate. The tiny boy also snored like a mountain lion with a bad cold. Chris shook his head and wondered how on earth Vin got any sleep at all sharing quarters with so much noise. To make matters worse, the skunk crawled onto J.D.’s little round tummy and proceeded to snore loudly, just out of sequence with J.D.

Avesta lay silent and Vin curled his head into Chris’ arm and fell asleep. Chris lay there wondering how in hell he was going to protect them all from an enraged Mama Griffin when Avesta gave an audibly patient sigh, crawled up on the other side of the ATF team leader, and stuck her head in his armpit.

Chris’ eyes snapped open and for the first time in 15 years had to fight a terrible case of the giggles. The baby griffin would rather smell his underarms then listen to J.D. snore.

Finally, exhausted, he slept.

+ + + + + + +

Breakfast was more than memorable – Chris found himself wishing he had the whole thing on video.

Juan came downstairs, contrite, hung-over and worried.

Uncle Roberto made the grownups absolutely delicious breakfast burritos. The boys had cereal and toast, of course, with a variety of jams. They ate of necessity in the dining room instead of the cozy kitchen, and Buck brought the toaster in and plugged it at the dining room table, so that the boys would be able to have warm toast.

Avesta sat on JD’s head and watched all this with high interest until the toast popped.

She shrieked in alarm and flew straight into the air, desperately grabbing at the dining room light fixture, which swung back and forth crazily.

Immediately, the small griffin began to scold at the toaster in indignant tones.

Everyone had stopped; shocked at the noise, but now they smiled. Chris was impressed. Avesta could have shredded J.D. when she flew up to the ceiling fixture, but the boy was unharmed.

Uncle Roberto said in his solemn and deliberate voice, “It is not a monster, little one, it is making toast for you to eat. Show the little one, young Vin.”

Vin accordingly, and with a serious expression, buttered the offending toast and then put a liberal spread of strawberry jam on it.

He sat it on a clean plate and said, “Come Avesta. You will really like this.”

Avesta appeared doubtful at first, but then Maude made her way up to the top of the dining table and began to head to the toast offering. This was too much for Avesta. Apparently she was not to be outdone by a skunk, no matter how good a playmate.

Suspiciously, she flew rather gracefully back down on the table and approached the culprit toast. She leaned forward, and delicately bit one corner.

Small purple eyes gleamed and Avesta crowed in delight. Stretching her neck she reached over and bit and clawed at the toast, as though it were a captured animal. With many shrieks of predatorial glee, she ripped her prey apart and proceeded to messily devour it. Then, she chirruped and pushed a large piece towards Maude, who was watching this with a twitching inquisitive nose. Maude gave a delicate sniff and tore into her toast, with far more sophisticated table manners than Avesta, who now was covered in jam and toast crumbs.

“By God,” remarked Buck, “that poor toast never had a chance.”

The grownups smiled.

Avesta now looked around and chirruped.

“Would you like more toast?” asked Vin.

She trilled at him and flapped her wings.

Vin and JD both put the bread in the toaster. This time, when the toast came up, Avesta flew to the toaster and snatched the hot toast in her little talons and flew expectantly to Vin and JD, who proceeded to prepare her toast with jam and peanut butter.

This too was messily devoured, except the peanut brother was much worse than jam.

Avesta finished her toast (which she again generously shared with Maude), and then gave a decidedly unladylike belch.

Someone snorted, and JD glared around the table at the grownups. No one was going to laugh at his Vesta.

All grownup faces immediately grew solemn.

Then Avesta made a disgusted noise. Apparently she had peanut butter on her feathers and was very upset.

Ezra came to the rescue. Taking an elegant pure silk handkerchief from his pocket, he coaxed her over and began to gently remove all the offending traces of breakfast. Eventually he held her on his lap. “See there, young lady,” he said gently, “this is why table manners can be so essential. They prevent having to deal with distasteful remnants of breakfast.” Avesta purred as though she understood and Chris couldn’t help but smile.

They spent the day watching Avesta play with two excited little boys and a baby skunk. When not swooping about the house playing tag, Avesta liked to perch on Josiah’s head, Vin’s shoulder and on Uncle Roberto’s forearm.

+ + + + + + +

The night sky grew colder and rain began to fall. Soon high winds began to whip trees like so much grass and clouds danced dangerously across the moonlit sky.

Young Vin Tanner woke up. JD had stopped snoring, and so had Maude. His Papa Chris had one arm around his shoulder. Gently, Vin slipped away from the encircling arms and checked. Avesta was sleeping with her nose in Papa Chris’ armpit. He smiled. Outside the horrible wind wailed angrily, like it wanted to hurt little boys and baby griffins, maybe even ATF agents.

Vin frowned. “Avesta” he said in a wee voice.

Little glowing amethyst eyes now regarded him in the dark.

“I think your Mama is coming,” he whispered. Avesta flew onto his shoulder and Vin went silently out of the bedroom.

Vin stopped outside the room where Unca Ezra was sleeping. He heard Unca Ezra muttering to himself. “If someone is going to face the wrath of a Mother Monster, it should be myself. After all, I have a life time of experience.”

And while Vin didn’t understand that Ezra was talking about his mother, he did understand that Unca Ezra thought that Avesta’s Mama was going to hurt someone and decided it should be him to be hurt.

Vin looked at Avesta and ran down the hall to the darkened kitchen. He knew that Unca Ezra would probably get hurt. He did that all the time. Unca Ezra was often hospitalized from bullet wounds and beatings in the line of duty. And he knew that he, Vin, could get hurt badly. His life on the street had stripped him of any such illusion of immortality or even safety. But he wasn’t going to let any of his family suffer, and he wasn’t going to keep Avesta from her Mama.

Silent, he put Avesta gently on the kitchen table and put on his thickest coat and the boots he used for cleaning the stable or tromping in the woods. Avesta watched this procedure with interest. Then he turned at looked at her.

“We gotta find your Mama.”

Avesta chirped and flew to his shoulder. Vin slowly opened the back door lest it make creaking noises. He made sure to pull it shut firmly behind him so the awful wind wouldn’t blow into the kitchen.

He could feel Avesta’s claws scrambling not to be blown off his shoulder. He pulled her down and put her under his jacket. She squeaked and wrapped a fuzzy tail around his waist and peaked out over the zipper just under his chin.

He could feel her purring next to his heart as the wind whipped his hair. Avesta’s Mama was getting close.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra Standish had made his decision. The lives of his friends were more important to him than his own. He would take Avesta to her monstrous mother and hope not to be torn asunder or at worst, not to die too slowly. He dressed and went to Chris’ room, a leftover cheese sandwich on a plate. He hoped the little griffin would see the treat, feel his good intentions and come with him.

He opened the door quietly and grinned at the sight of JD and Maude sprawled across the bed. Then he realized that Vin and Avesta were gone.

Ezra Standish was a thorough man, not given to hysteria. He checked the bathroom, then the rest of the house. He noted Vin’s boots and work coat missing and rushed up to the guest room.

He shook Chris Larabee awake, dodged a punch and karate chop and said in a tight-frightened tone, “Vin and Avesta are gone.”

That was all it took to bring Larabee to full consciousness. Soon the entire house was roused, except for JD and the skunk, both of whom slept on blissfully, while the adults rushed about making preparations to find the older child.

Then they heard a crash of thunder and a roar that was not like anything they’d ever heard before, except perhaps in nightmares.

And with hearts filled with absolute fear for the fate of a small boy, they ran out into the night.

+ + + + + + +

Avesta’s Mama was almost as mad as Papa Chris got the time they lost Maude the skunk in the ATF offices. And she was way bigger than Papa Chris, so Vin stood and clutched Avesta to his heart. Mama Griffin roared at him, and Vin fell to his knees and was very glad that Uncle Ezra wasn’t here. She would have scared him half to death.

Carefully, he unzipped his jacket and Avesta stuck her head out and chirruped questioningly.

Mama Griffin sat down abruptly on her haunches and chirruped back anxiously. Avesta gave a shriek of pure joy and launched herself in the air and ran to her Mama. Vin smiled. Mama Griffin put her big head down and nuzzled at Avesta, sniffing and whining and checking her over just like Papa Chris and Papa Buck checked all of them over when they had been in trouble. Then very large purple eyes glared at him and she growled low in her throat.

Vin got up, but knew that running wasn’t a smart idea. He glared back.

Avesta however, had no intention of letting her Mama hurt her new friend. The little griffin shrilly scolded her mother, who flinched back in surprise. Vin watched Avesta flying right in her Mama’s face and he called out her name for the first time, “VESTA!”

Mama Griffin reared back in shock and blinked great purple eyes at him, astonished. He felt a nibble at his ear and knew Mama Griffin was talking to him like Avesta did.

“You are her friend?” asked the little nibble hesitantly like the word wasn’t used much.

Vin sat on the grass in the dark windy night and told about him and JD finding Avesta. Mama Griffin sat on her haunches before him and listened to him as intently as his Papa Chris did. After awhile, she began to purr. Avesta sat on her Mama’s head and purred too.

Vin explained about him and JD and Mamas sleeping with angels and Chris and Buck and their uncles and Avesta explained about grilled cheese being much easier than peanut butter. Mama Griffin made little nibbles in his ear that were motherly questions and comments that made Vin’s heart feel warm.

Then Vin heard a back door slam and his Papa Chris screamed his name louder than anything, “VIN!”

Vin jumped up. Papa Chris would hurt Mama Griffin because she was so big and fierce looking.

He stood and faced toward Chris and realized that Buck, Ezra, Josiah and Nathan were heading toward him, with guns drawn and horrible looks of fear and resolve on their faces. Juan Morales and his Uncle were following behind.

Vin raised his hands, “No – Don’t hurt Mama Griffin,” he yelled, “She won’t hurt me. She’s nice.”

Chris Larabee looked white as a ghost as he pointed his gun at Mama Griffin. Avesta scolded at the men with their guns, and Vin knew his father was going to tell him to step away from Mama Griffin so he could shoot her and Avesta would die of a broken heart without her Mama, and nothing would ever be the same again. He shook his head and felt tears in his eyes.

Then behind him he felt something warm like a summer wind and he heard a woman’s voice saying calm and yet big and powerful like the mountain or the sky was speaking, “Christopher Larabee, your son is my friend.”

And Chris, and Buck and his uncles all froze. Juan sat on the ground and his Uncle smiled.

The warm voice continued, “You protected my child; I will never harm any of you.”

Then the door slammed and JD Dunne ran out of the house and squealed, “VESTA, Yor Mama is HERE!!!” He ran past all the frozen uncles, and Buck and Chris, who dropped their guns and grabbed madly. JD didn’t even hear Buck’s cry to stop, and instead launched himself full throttle on Mama Griffin and Avesta.

The men all held their breathes and then sighed in relief as Mama Griffin let JD exuberantly jump all over her fur and wings, hugging and shouting for joy.

Vin could hear Mama Griffin purr and he laughed. He turned back and no one was frowning or pointing guns anymore. Avesta was almost as loud as JD and flying around her mother’s head so fast it made Vin kind of dizzy.

Uncle Roberto walked past the grownups right up to Mama Griffin and spoke to her in injun talk. Vin couldn’t tell what he was saying, but he knew Mama Griffin understood perfectly, and he could see Uncle Roberto and Mama Griffin understood each other the way he and Papa Chris did.

Papa Chris came and picked up Vin in his arms and hugged him so fiercely that Vin thought he might actually pop.

“Oh God, Vin, I was scared,” whispered Chris, the bravest person in Vin’s world.

Vin hugged him back, “I’m sorry, Papa. Are you mad at me?” he asked.

Papa Chris gave a tired shudder, and said, “No, Vin. I may start sprouting gray hairs in a bit, but I’m not mad.”

“Uncle Ezra was going to take Vesta to her Mama, and he can’t talk to Griffins. She might have mushed him.” Vin felt he had to explain. Papa Chris shuddered more and laughed a funny shaky laugh and kissed Vin.

“My brave wise little son, I love you,” he said softly so that only Vin and Mama Griffin heard.

+ + + + + + +

Uncle Roberto told everyone that it was very difficult for Mama Griffin to talk out loud, so he had volunteered to translate. Avesta and Mama Griffin indeed lived in Iraq in the ruins of ancient Ninevah. When the war there started, Avesta had been very frightened by the noise and flew off into the night. She had been caught up in high winds and ended up adrift over the ocean and finally in the mountains of Denver. Her Mama had been searching desperately for her for months.

Papa Buck gasped when he heard that and went over and took Mama Griffin’s paw in his hand. The big-hearted ladies man’s eyes filled with empathetic tears. “That must have been right horrible for you, Mrs. Griffin,” he said, “All that time without JD would have killed me for sure.”

Mama Griffin nuzzled her great head majestically up to Papa Buck and he hugged her gently, stroking her fur and feathers gently. She made a low moaning noise as Buck muttered, “I’m so glad you found her.”

Larabee walked up to the Mother Griffin and stared into her large purple eyes. God, what pain she must have gone through. Without contemplating the fact that her huge claws could rip him to pieces, he placed a hand on one gleaming appendage. She wasn’t an animal, or a monster. She was an intelligent life form and a parent.

Uncle Roberto said solemnly, “She will want to return to home, but needs to rest before flying all the way back to her ancient city. We need to find a place where she will be safe.”

“She can stay in my room,” said JD enthusiastically.

Chris stared at the great creature. “JD that would be nice, but I don’t think Mama Griffin could fit through our little doors,” he said thoughtfully, “But she could stay in the barn if the horses aren’t too skittish of her.”

He looked sadly at the great creature, “I’m sorry my house isn’t big enough.”

Mama Griffin stood up gracefully and he knew somehow she wanted to look at the barn. He opened the great doors and decided that tonight the horses could stay in the stall outside. He knew Mama Griffin was a friend, but they’d be terrified of her predator smell. Indeed, he could hear them inside stamping and snorting in the beginnings of alarm.

At his side, Mama Griffin began to hum tunefully. He looked at her puzzled and was reminded of the soft little whispers he would use to comfort a frightened animal or an upset small child. Then he realized that the horses had fallen silent and now whickering in greeting at the men entering the barn. He looked into huge purple eyes and knew she would never hurt the horses either. She had quieted them with magic, but wanted him to know she would never use magic to take prey – that would be dishonorable even though she was NOT fond of horses.

Uncle Roberto was following behind. “Mama Griffin’s magic helps make the horses know she is not an enemy. That is why they are not terrified.”

“Thank you, Ma’am,” he said politely, but he already knew.

Uncle Roberto answered, “Mama Griffin is really pleased with your kindness and your hospitality. When she has rested enough, she will return to her home.”

Chris frowned, “Mama Griffin, please don’t feel you have to, er, rush away.” (An immediate mental picture of her flying past a 747 and freaking out the crew and passengers made him pause for just a second). “The ranch is pretty far from most people, so you should be undisturbed here. My friends and I will keep strangers away until you are rested.”

Amazed, he realized he was relating to Mama Griffin as a fellow parent. A few minutes ago, he’d been ready to kill her to protect his young, and now he found himself worrying about her and Avesta and considering her with respect and admiration. And from the glow in Vin’s eyes, he had made a good decision too.

There was a big clear area opposite the horse stalls. Mama Griffin made little approving sounds and Avesta flew around her mother and then nestled on the big griffin’s head. Two matching sets of amethyst eyes glowed as Mama Griffin seated herself.

Chris frowned. He didn’t like the idea of her sleeping on a barn floor. Then he heard Ezra’s voice behind him.

“I for one have no intention of leaving our new friends to sleep alone without a proper honor guard. I’ll get my sleeping bag.”

‘Yipee!!!!” yelled JD and Chris wondered how he’d managed to charm the little griffin when his yells could crack concrete.

Vin looked up in Chris’ eyes earnestly.

Buck laughed. “You know, that sounds like a right smart plan, Pard. We’ll have a nice sleep over right here with Avesta and her Mama.”

Mama Griffin appeared to be pleased. Avesta trilled cheerfully.

Chris got a push broom and proceeded to sweep up, careful not to get dust on Mama Griffin. Within half an hour the barn had been transformed into a pajama party. Fortunately, they kept full camp gear on site at all times. Ezra, of course, insisted on wearing green silk pajamas that appeared to match his eyes. Chris snickered and Buck yelped. Ezra opened his mouth to chide his friends and teammates, then turned at a scratching at the barn door.

The door hadn’t been locked yet, and was wiggling slightly. Then the door popped open and the familiar sight of Maude the skunk looking for her worshippers came into view.

Chris started to grin, then Mama Griffin gave a shriek that she must have learned from JD. Her wings flapped in anxiety and it felt like the beginning of a small tornado.

Buck, immediately turned and held his arms up. “Mama Griffin, Maude is friend too and she doesn’t stink.”

Mama Griffin watched in motherly horror as her precious baby griffin flew to the smelliest of the smelly and kissed it. Maude kissed back and the two babies proceeded to play.

Mama Griffin looked like she could use a beer.

Buck, ever the protector of the female gender, petted Mama Griffin, “I know, Mama Griffin, the first time I met Maude my hair nearly fell out.”

Mama Griffin gave a worried grunt and started examining her fur and feathers carefully, still eyeing her offspring.

“Perhaps,” said Ezra, in his best diplomatic tones, “Mama Griffin would like to try some grilled cheese.”

Avesta crowed and flew over to her mother, chirping and flying around the larger griffin’s head. Apparently Avesta voted for grilled cheese.

“And perhaps we can all wind down with a cold beer, with warm milk for the boys,” Ezra continued.

“I’ll help,” said Chris promptly.

They slipped out of the barn and made their way to the ranch quietly. Behind them, Avesta was evidently still going on about the wonders of grilled cheese. They made their way into the kitchen. Chris began to rummage in the refrigerator.

“What are you doing, Mr. Larabee?” asked Ezra, a little confused for once.

Chris grinned at his friend. “I’m making a hell of a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches, that’s what.”

Ezra’s delighted chuckle filled the air and the two men worked together to make a very large platter of sandwiches, using the pancake griddle to make six at a time. Fortunately for all involved, Buck had purchased cheese in bulk just before Avesta and the boys had discovered each other.

Finally, they took a covered platter back to the barn, with a cooler filled with beer and a thermos with hot cocoa.

The boys cheered at the sight of the platter and Avesta crowed triumphantly, flew around the two men and then landed on Chris’ shoulder and purred furiously.

Chris noted that Buck had spread out a tablecloth so they could have an impromptu midnight picnic. He carefully sat the platter down. Mama Griffin’s beak twitched curiously and he smiled. Avesta had been discussing grilled cheese for sure.

He took 5 grilled cheese sandwiches to the gigantic mother on a paper plate. Ezra brought over a beer. The grilled sandwiches disappeared instantly, and Mother Griffin tilted her head to one side, obviously considering this new culinary offering. A soft purring sound filled the barn and everyone grinned.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra showed Mother Griffin the beer and smiled ingratiatingly. “Dear Lady, you come from one of the countries that first made beer. Please try our local offering.”

He tipped it into the great beak and saw a huge tongue lick up the fine brew. When she finished, she smacked her beak in pleasure and chirruped at Ezra.

Soon they settled down to sleep. Ezra stared in the dark at the ceiling and thought about two special little boys. His mother would think their special abilities something to be used for profit. She would want to kill Mama Griffin and use Avesta in a show or sell her to science for study. And she would probably think taking the little boys from their custody and letting them fulfill their potential while simultaneously filling her Swiss accounts would be a good thing.

He thought of other people in the world who would try to study the boys, or study Avesta and her mother. He shuddered lightly under cover of darkness and mentally made a vow to protect them all. Eventually, sure of his safety, and lulled by the sound of a tiny baby griffin purring to her mother, he fell asleep.

At an obscenely early hour for the undercover agent, he became aware of something treading in a catlike manner on his 200-dollar silk pajama top.

Opening his eyes, he found Avesta rubbing and purring over his silk-clad arm. She also ran her beak lovingly over the material. Obviously she had excellent personal taste in fabrics.

He sat up carefully and pulled off the pajama top. He had sufficient blankets and the barn was surprisingly warm.

“Here, little one, a gift from me to you,” he said in low tones, “Now go back to your Mother, she’s missed you terribly.”

The little creature purred louder for a moment and then flew to the large hulk that was her mother, the green silk top grasped in her little claws.

Ezra fell asleep with a smile on his face.

+ + + + + + +

When the sun rose, so did J.D. Dunne, who discovered his beloved Unca Ezra in a half nude state. Since Papa Buck and Chris had made some very firm rules about wearing clothing around females, he was justifiably horrified.

Ezra woke to the sensation of a small hand shaking him frantically.

“Unca Ezra, you’re naked and there are GIRLS here!” exclaimed Master Dunne.

Ezra groaned, “J.D., I still have pajama bottoms on,” he moaned despairingly, “I think Papas Chris and Buck meant girls of the human species. I don’t think Mama Griffin or Avesta mind at all.”

“Where did your nice green PJ top go?” asked J.D.

Ezra pulled his blanket overhead and muttered, “I gave it to Avesta. She apparently likes silk.”

“Oh,” said J.D.

Ezra could hear Buck chuckling from his bedroll and resolved to take vengeance, non-lethal, of course, since Buck was Da to his adoptive nephews, but some kind of terrible thing, like inviting Jehovah’s Witnesses to come to his house on a Saturday morning.

He smiled evilly, and turned to go to sleep again. Then he felt J.D. lift the blanket and snuggle against his back.

“Dat was nice to do to Avesta,” whispered the little stinker loudly, “She don’t got no toys.”

“Yes,” Ezra agreed in a low voice, not wanting J.D. to be traumatized, “But she can fly all she wants, so I think she has lots of fun.”

There was an inquiring chirrup and Avesta landed on his head and purred loudly. J.D. giggled, snuggled closer and Ezra despaired of getting adequate rest.

However, Avesta’s purr allowed him to slumber once more, even though he learned that J.D. snored like a large truck revving its motors. He concentrated on the steady purring instead and soon was blissfully unaware of a small boy’s incredible lung capacity.

Ezra woke later, at a much more civilized hour and realized he was apparently reclining on an amazingly soft mattress of feather and fur. Sleepily he realized there was no such thing, and his eyes snapped open. He was sleeping between Mother Griffin’s paws with J.D. and Avesta. Avesta was purring happily and J.D. was making noises highly reminiscent of a grizzly bear in hibernation.

Aghast he looked up into one great purple Amethyst eye overhead and for the first time in his adventurous life, felt the true warmth of a mother’s love. He could feel Mother Griffin and sensed she had put him in the same orphan in need of love category shared by J.D. and Vin. He really couldn’t blame her, because it was true. He looked up and smiled and the great eye winked at him.

It was so incredibly unlike anything he’d ever experienced, that the wonder of it all hit him and he laughed. Sitting up, careful not to dislodge the other two slumberers, he hugged the great griffin, luxuriating in her soft fur and those mother love thoughts she was beaming at him.

Vin came over and snuggled next to Mother Griffin too. “She’s awful nice. She reminds me of how I felt when Ma was alive,” said the boy quietly.

Ezra grinned at him as he continued to hug the purring Griffin, “I agree. I am fortunate to make her acquaintance and that of little Avesta.”

Then feeling strangely invigorated, Ezra went in to the house and started up coffee and pancakes.

+ + + + + + +

Chris woke up with Vin’s sleeping bag next to him, empty. He saw his adopted son playing quietly with Avesta and Maude. The threesome silently pounced and stalked one another and then wrestled merrily. Vin had a big grin on his face and he lay on his back and let the two creatures pummel him.

Chris rolled on his side and watched with his face propped with his arm. Every smile or grin from that skinny little boy was a priceless treasure in his life. Finally, they noticed him and proceeded to stalk him. He grinned and let them come, tickling and hugging the little stinkers and thoroughly enjoying himself. He’d worry about the fact that mythical beasts were in residence later.

The horses began to make inquiring, “where is my breakfast?” noises. He extricated himself from the tangle of small boy, feathers and varied fur and started in on chores with the horses. J.D. was still asleep by Mother Griffin, who was watching over him with a slightly bemused expression.

The ATF Team leader understood that bemusement. He could hardly keep up with the little stinker and the level of noise the boy could create was amazing.

The barn door swung open and Josiah and Nathan carried the picnic table in from the backyard.

“Ez is making pancakes,” said Nate.

“And sausage,” added Josiah.

Buck came behind them with a tray holding coffee. The smell put a smile on Chris’ face.

Ezra came in and hurriedly set the table for breakfast. Josiah rushed out and returned triumphantly with covered platters that smelled of hot sausage and maple syrup.

JD suddenly leapt into the air, “Pancakes!” he shouted.

Chris gave Mother Griffin points for not shooting through the roof in alarm.

Soon Ezra had everyone’s plates filled with steaming pancakes, hot syrup and tantalizing sausage. An entire extra platter sat at the head of the table.

Ezra bowed and said, “Mother Griffin, we would be most honored if you would join us in this repast.”

She stood and delicately made her way to the head of the table and sniffed at the offering. Avesta, who had fewer manners, swooped suddenly from out of nowhere and snagged a dripping pancake in her talons. Trilling shrilly, she landed next to Vin and began to attack the defenseless pancake.

Uncle Roberto started to laugh and Mother Griffin sniffed chidingly at her offspring.

Avesta creeled in an extremely unrepentant manner and snatched up one of Vin’s sausages.

“I reckon she’s mighty hungry,” said Vin politely

Mother Griffin snorted disparagingly, and Chris Larabee chortled and then started chuckling as he tucked into his pancakes.

He took a bite of sausage and then looked over and saw that Mother Griffin’s plate was already clean.

Before he could help, Ezra immediately put a heaping serving of more pancakes with syrup and sausage on her plate.

Chris doubted that even that huge plate was more than a mouthful for Mama Griffin, but she did appear to enjoy it, eating daintily without spilling anything, while her less polite offspring insisted on full body slamming her pancakes and sausage.

Josiah mildly said, “Someone is going to need a bath to get all that syrup off her feathers.”

Buck choked on his sausage

Mama Griffin made a noise that Chris would be meant, “I told you so,” to Avesta.

The little griffin hunched just a bit, as if she just realized that, but Vin gently touched her head and said, “I’ll help you, Avesta.”

Chris looked at Buck, “Its your turn to do the bathrooms, too.” They grinned at one another. Cleaning up after the tiny Griffin couldn’t be any worse than cleaning up after two small boys.

Chris ended up doing dishes with Nathan Jackson, while Avesta took a short nap to recover from her magnificent victory over breakfast foods.

Mother Griffin rested in the barn while J.D. and Vin rushed to clean things up.

Chores finally completed, they all took lawn chairs to the barn, kept the door open to let the breeze come in and kept Mama Griffin company. Then Avesta woke up from her nap and discovered her feathers were stuck together with dried maple syrup.

She gave a little cry of dismay. Her mother immediately came over and nuzzled her and began to lick carefully at the feathers.

Vin stood up and touched Mama Griffin’s side (he couldn’t reach her shoulder).

“I can give her a bath in the tub,” he said.

Avesta chirruped and looked up at her mother inquiringly. Mother Griffin nodded to Vin and he picked Avesta up carefully and went with J.D. to give Avesta a bath.

Chris exchanged glances with Buck. “Do ya think we better go help em?” he asked plaintively.

Ezra popped up from his chair and said briskly, “I’ll go.”

Josiah saluted him with his beer bottle, and Ezra glared at him and then left.

“There goes a brave man,” said Chris.

“Yup,” the others agreed.

+ + + + + + +

Arriving in the bathroom, Ezra found Vin gently washing Avesta in a bath that appeared to contain the entire contents of a gallon of bubble bath.

“Good Lawd,” said the conman, “Ah hope Avesta can breath in all those bubbles.”

Avesta flew up in the air, regardless of wet fur and feathers, crowed excitedly and dove back in, causing a splash that hit the entire bathroom and left a wave of bubbles.

“Gee,” said J.D. “I think I want a bath too.”

Maude was perched safely on the back of the commode and glaring.

Ezra signed heroically and went to find a mop and bucket.

As he walked up the stairs from finding cleaning supplies in the kitchen, he heard squeals, giggles and creeling while a puddle of water and bubbles made its way under the bathroom door. Maude the skunk scampered down the stairs, just ahead of the puddle. Maude felt that baths were unnecessary and always kept herself clean by traditional skunk methods. She flashed him a look on the way down, that say, “you ain’t getting me back in there,” Ezra smiled and her and wondered if Chris’ wet dry vac could withstand soap bubbles.

He opened the bathroom door. The tub was now overwhelmed with bubbles, Avesta and two small naked boys who were chasing Avesta in the tub.

He wished he dared take pictures, but both the boys and Avesta’s safety depended on anonymity, so he sat on the commode and watched them all have the time of their lives.

After about half an hour, they began to run down a bit as they ran out of bubbles and bath water, which Ezra mopped up.

“Let’s get dried up and show Mama Griffin how lovely Avesta looks after her nice bubble bath,” suggested the Undercover Agent.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra returned soggily to the barn. The boys and Avesta were clean, the upstairs bathroom was clean but Ezra was wet and impregnated with bubbles and a few stray feathers. None of the feather loss appeared to impede on Avesta’s ability to fly though. Distaining to ride on his head, she rode regally on Vin’s shoulder, when not launching into the air and flying around them, making gleeful noises and chirruping.

He stood the door of the barn and heard Buck snicker. A bubble blew out of his hair and floated into barn, glistening in the sunlight. Avesta creeled, launched and attacked the bubble, which popped audibly.

The little Griffin flew to her mother, preened and told her mother all about the adventure with the bath, while her mother sniffed her complacently and looked rather sympathetically at Ezra.

Ezra stopped making plans to torment Buck and smiled at Mother Griffin.

A tiny soap bubble of thought touched his ear and he knew that tonight she would be rested enough to fly. From the way his co-workers and the boys stiffened, they had been given the same knowledge.

Chris stood up, and walked over to him, “I got some of your clothing here, if you want to take a non-bubble shower,” he asked laconically.

“That would be heaven,” he replied.

+ + + + + + +

Chris decided that this was just an ordinary day of parenthood. He planned to barbecue for tonight and thanked God for Josiah’s suggestion of getting a big freezer to buy meat on sale. He figured Mama Griffin could eat the contents of one barbecue grill and the rest of them the other. He figured Avesta would go for hot dogs and hoped she liked them plain, because he wasn’t sure he could handle her bath as well as Ezra.

The grownups spent the day watching the kids play, while Chris went to the kitchen to start the barbecue. Ezra apparently felt he had done his duty for the day with cleaning up after the bath, and Chris couldn’t blame him. His undercover agent sat next to Mama Griffin and appeared to bask in her regard. She probably was glad someone else had cleaned up the baby. Uncle Roberto helped in him the kitchen; Buck and Juan visited and talked to the horses.

Uncle Roberto made a barbecue sauce that he promised wouldn’t upset child or griffin tummy, but would taste delicious. Maude sat on the counter and watched all this avidly. She apparently decided playing with Avesta might mean unbecoming incidents with soap and water and was now laying low.

Mama Griffin expressed extreme approval of the barbecue and the sauce, as did Avesta, who ate in a much more dainty fashion under her mother’s watchful eye.

Nathan and Josiah did cleanup and J.D. played with Maude and Avesta.

Uncle Roberto came up to Chris and Buck and said, “When the moon rises, Mama Griffin and Avesta will leave.”

Chris and Buck nodded and then watched J.D. Vin was sitting next to Mama Griffin with their undercover agent. The child’s eyes turned to them and a small head nodded solemnly.

J.D. who might not catch on to whatever the adults were doing was always tuned into Vin. He stopped jumping up in the air to tag Avesta and said, “I don’t want them to leave.”

“Oh boy,” said Buck

A group meeting was immediately held next to Mama Griffin. Chris noticed that Josiah and Nathan slipped in and joined, along with Juan and Uncle Roberto.

“J.D., you know that Avesta was lost and scared,” started Buck.

“But they could both stay here with us.” Said J.D. with all the hope of youth shining in his black eyes.

Mama Griffin ruffled her feathers and the breeze caught everyone’s attention. Rather firmly, the impression reached all present that Mama Griffin and Avesta would be in danger in this place, and could be hunted by humans that didn’t understand. Also, Mama Griffin knew that J.D. and Vin loved their horses, but horses were actually ancient enemies of griffins and it was draining on Mama Griffin’s magic to keep them unafraid and happy for long periods.”

J.D. stared up at the great griffin and tears shone in his eyes. Buck scooted over, drew J.D. in his lap and let the storm start.

“I wuv them, I can’t even email them to say hello,” the boy sobbed.

Vin looked incredibly sad, but didn’t give into tears. He understood the dangers more than J.D. did.

Then, they all heard, distinctly, that little tickling voice saying, “We’ll visit you again, little friend. Avesta loves you too and will miss you.”

Avesta crawled between her mother’s legs and snuggled against the great griffin’s breast. Obviously, she had just realized she wasn’t going to be with her new friends anymore.

She sniffled and creeled piteously to her parent and then flew around in an extremely agitated fashion.

She landed on Josiah and chirruped fiercely to let him know this wasn’t HER idea. Then she scolded her mother and flew to Vin, who carried her to mama Griffin. J.D., still weepy, stumbled over and spent the rest of the evening waiting for moonrise snuggling with Mama Griffin, Vin, Unca Ezra and Avesta. Mama Griffin preened Avesta’s feathers and played with Vin’s hair gently the whole time.

They all sat quietly. Uncle Roberto and Josiah discussed ancient legends in quiet voices that didn’t seem to bother the silent night. Nathan Jackson watched Avesta and Mama Griffin and worried about the tiny griffin making a long flight over the entire ocean. Buck worried about J.D. and Juan Morales wondered if he had it in him to be a shaman like his Uncle and wistfully thought it would actually be nice to be able to talk to animals, mystical or not.

Chris Larabee decided that if J.D. wanted to sleep with a grownup, it could be Buck tonight. And worried about that incredible full body snore that J.D. had let loose with last night. Maybe he needed to talk to the pediatrician. He’d wait till they were back in the office and talk to Nathan.

Convinced that the danger of bathing against her will was over, a small skunk made her way into the barn and sat in Juan Morale’s lap. Juan had the distinct impression she was trying to cheer him up, and that made him considerably happier. Maybe he could be a little like his Uncle. It was a warm thought. He slowly stroked the dainty creature and thought of skunks.

The sky started to darken and all of them sat quietly now, watching for the sliver of moon to appear over the mountains.

Avesta gave a shrill shriek of dismay and flew to where she had apparently stashed Ezra’s pajama top. She flew back to her Mother, dragging the green silk, landed in front of Mama Griffin and then scolded

“Ah would surmise that Avesta is attached my sample of haberdashery.” Said Ezra.

Mama Griffin sighed in the fashion reminiscent of all mothers being asked to do the impossible.

Chris walked over and took the pajama top and wrapped it firmly around one of Mama Griffin’s talons.

“Do you think that will work?” he asked plaintively on Avesta’s behalf.

Mama Griffin raised a claw, examined her new decoration and nodded judiciously. Avesta creeled in delight, flew around the barn and then landed on her mother’s head.

Uncle Roberto stood up. “It is time,” he said solemnly.

J.D.’s lower lip began to tremble, but he fought his urge to cry by hugging Mama Griffin.

Quietly they all stood, and Mama Griffin majestically walked out of the barn. She looked up at the moon and gave a harsh cry.

Avesta creeled back, and flew in front of the great griffin, who gently gathered her offspring in one immense taloned arm.

Avesta chirruped and all the boys hugged Mama Griffin once again.

Uncle Roberto held up a hand in blessing and said, “Safe Journey<”

Mama Griffin gave a roar that made everyone’s hair stand on end and launched herself into the sky. She flew away, already becoming smaller, clutching Avesta carefully and they could hear Avesta faintly crying out to them.

Nathan and Ezra stood next to each other and waved to the rapidly diminishing wonder. J.D. and Vin, of course, were waving frantically.

“Oh Hell,” said Larabee and waved himself. It wasn’t that often he got to see a damn mythological wonder.

Mama Griffin grew smaller and smaller until she was a silver light rapidly moving into the distance.

Finally, the light winked out. J.D. waved a little more, sat down on the ground and sniffled quietly. Vin sat next to him and put a brotherly arm around the small shoulders.

Buck swooped down and picked both boys up in his arms. “I think we should all make hot cocoa with marshmallows,” he announced.

They trooped into the kitchen. Buck wisely set the boys to work helping prepare the cocoa. The adults looked at one another meaningfully. They had seen a wonder that must be kept secret. Ezra said, in molasses sweet tones, “I believe this calls for a group meeting. We must all understand that we must protect Mama Griffin and Avesta by keeping this secret.”

J.D. nearly dropped a cup and stared at his Unca. “The government might kidnap them and do experiments on them like on television!” exclaimed the scamp.

Ezra gave him one of his brilliant gold-toothed smiles, “Yes, Master Dunne, I’m afraid we must protect them. Its our bound duty.”

Chris grinned suddenly; his fears about J.D.’s sharing about his new friends in Show-N-Tell had mounted since Mama Griffin had taken flight.

Buck frowned, “What television show have you been watching?” he asked rather sternly.

J. D. smiled up at him brightly, “Xfiles!” he exclaimed.

Nathan smacked his head against the wall. “Oh Sh…..oot,” said the team medic. “When we babysat the boys, we had boxes of DVD’s and Rain just got the Xfiles collection.”

“You are so busted,” said Josiah solemnly.

Ezra was not perturbed, “However, in this instance it helps, because should someone in power discover about Avesta, they would try to hunt and capture them. They might decide Mama Griffin was a danger and harm her.”

Vin and J.D. gave twin gasps of adolescent horror.

Buck began to serve cocoa and they all solemnly discussed this important secret.

J.D., whipped crème decorating his nose, said, “We can’t tell nobody, even best friends, or Show-N-Tell, or the principal or a doctor or anything.”

Chris hid a smile, Ezra’s explanation had fully convinced the boys, which would protect not only the griffin family, but his precious sons as well.

Vin said excitedly, “We can’t talk about it in places with other people besides us, either, or someone could overhear us. And we can’t discuss it on the computer, because someone might hack our email.”

J.D. smacked his forehead in exasperation, “Sheesh!” he exclaimed.

Buck said, seriously, “It will be a special secret that only we know. We can’t tell anyone.”

“Should we solemnly swear?” asked J.D. his eyes big with sudden excitement. J.D. thought solemnly swearing was cool.

“That is an excellent idea,” said Ezra. Every adult at the table smiled, and with grave decorum, Josiah, his eyes gleaming, said, “All right, everyone raise their right hand and repeat after me ……”

So they all swore to keep this very secret information especially secret.

When they had finished, J.D.’s eyes gleamed, “Should we cut ourselves and swear blood oaths?” he asked, clearly ready to start drawing blood.

Nathan Jackson’s mouth dropped in full germ alert horror.

Juan Morales raised a hand, “That is not necessary. Blood oaths are between warriors of different tribes. We are all of the same tribe, the tribe that loves griffins, so we can’t swear that kind of oath.”

Nathan put his head down on the kitchen table, muttering.

Chris smiled at Juan. “Thanks for the information, Juan, that’s a help.”

“Yeah,” said Buck enthusiastically, “I was scared it would hurt.”

J.D. looked skeptical, but it was obvious that Juan’s authority in the matter of blood oaths was accepted. Uncle Roberto nodded solemnly in agreement.

Nathan looked immeasurably relieved.

J.D. looked disappointed, then a flash of pleasure came into those snapping black eyes, “We’ll have to swear a curse on ourselves if we tell anyone.”

Chris closed his eyes.

Buck reached out a hand and patted his friend’s forearm reassuringly.

“What sort of curse, little bit?” he asked carefully.

J.D. pursed his lips and thought. “Something awful,” he said, nodding his head cheerfully in small boy bloodthirsty mode.

Uncle Roberto started to cough, obviously not wanting to be caught grinning.

“Gosh,” said Nathan, “what would be awful enough.”

Chris sat up, remembering himself at J.D.’s tender age, “I know. If we break our oath of silence, may we all become GIRLS!”

“Euuuuuuuuuuuw!” both boys exclaimed.

J.D. nodded his head, “That’s a really good curse,” he said, impressed.

Juan Morales, stood up and raised his arms as though giving a benediction. “If we betray Mama Griffin or Avesta may we all turn into girls,” he said dramatically. “I swear it by the sky and the clouds and the rising moon,”

All of them stood up and nodded solemnly. After all, Juan had gone through it, and their goal here was to protect the boys, even if it meant being really silly.

Ezra stood up, and smiled at the group gathered there. “I think that our beloved friends will be safe. I am certain that I will do nothing to risk such a terrible fate.”

J.D. and Vin nodded at the thought of such horror.

“I reckon that its time for you two to get ready for bed.” Said Buck, “and you already took a bath, so all you have to do is get in your PJ’s and brush your teeth.”

“Yeah!” cried both boys, even though they had fully enjoyed bathing with Avesta.

The little scamps ran upstairs rapidly, their small feet beating a homey staccato on the stairs.

Once they were safely gone, Chris started to shake with long suppressed laughter.

“Good Lawd!” said Ezra and they proceeded to giggle, snort and whoop quietly, so as not to alarm the little boys.

Chris laid his head on the table and actual tears of mirth began to drip down. Josiah’s stomach rumbled like the beginning of serious seismic action and Nathan’s shoulder’s shook. When they’d recovered, Buck said, “You know, the boys are right. We gotta keep this secret.”

“Oh most assuredly, we all agree on that score. It was just necessary to make that clear on a more primitive level,” agreed Ezra.

“Yes,” said Uncle Roberto. “We must keep both the griffins and the small boys safe from those who would use them for gain.”

Ezra shivered and Chris decided he was thinking of his mother, Maude, who tended toward cons and get rich schemes.

“We will keep them safe,” said Josiah and everyone nodded to one another. And Chris knew that was better than any blood oath, for those little boys would be protected and sheltered at all costs.

On that note, they prepared for bed. Josiah and Nathan drove home, but Ezra, Uncle Roberto and Juan Morales opted to stay the night. Ezra would drive both men to the airport for a flight back to California.

+ + + + + + +

Nothing was said about griffins during breakfast. Juan put up with about a hundred questions on Indian lore instead. J.D. and Vin waved vigorously when Ezra drove them away to catch their flight.

Chris waited for the boys to mention Avesta or her Mama, but nothing was said, at all. The week passed by and seemed bland after the adventure of the weekend and Chris began to wonder. No one had said anything. J.D. didn’t appear to be ready to explode with wonder and mystery.

It’s like seeing aliens or fairies or ghosts. Perhaps none of them believed it happened. Perhaps no one wanted to remember.

He sat in meetings with his team, but it was never mentioned.

Chris Larabee, who had kept many an old secret, realized that this was the same kind of thing, and said nothing.

The next weekend, he was sleeping restlessly, when he heard his door open and the covert footsteps of his son.

A little form slipped into bed with him and arms went around his neck.

“Pa, it happened, didn’t it?” asked Vin softly in the night.

“Yup,” he said, and smiled in the darkness. They all knew it had happened and they’d all been touched by wonder. And then he slept peaceful.

The End