This story was inspired by an episode of "House." I have taken generous liberties with the medical stuff, so allow me to apologize in advance.
They were at the end of a long and grueling mission. Ezra had been undercover with Team 2 for most of six weeks and Buck for the last several days. Chris was maintaining things at the ranch and caring for the boys during Buck's absence. It gave him a new appreciation for the man after dealing with JD's mood swings over the past week. Originally, Tom Harper from Team 2 was scheduled to go in as Ezra's driver but his wife went into early labor, delivering twins. Josiah was away at a seminar in San Francisco and Nathan was on vacation in Arizona with Rain. The men had patiently explained to the boys that Buck would be away for a few days. At first, JD seemed totally at ease with the idea, that is until his dad didn't come home that first night.
JD awoke and bolted from his bed. He padded down the hall to his Da's room and cautiously opened the door. Seeing the empty bed, his heart sank. He had really expected him to be there this morning. Chris came out of the bathroom and spied the boy leaning heavily on the doorframe.
"Hey JD, are you okay?"
"Hi Chris," JD replied with a massive sigh.
"He won't be home for a few days, remember?"
"Yeah, but I was hoping."
Chris wrapped a hand around the back of JD's neck, giving it a gentle squeeze. "You want to come pick out the cereal for breakfast?" he offered. The blond got the boys ready for school and drove them to the end of the driveway to wait for the bus. It was bitterly cold but the mountains held back the snow. As soon as the bus disappeared around the bend of the road, he pulled out and headed for the office. It was depressingly quiet in the Team 7 office, all by himself. He got regular updates from the Team 2 agents who were watching the compound from various places. Ezra and Buck had arrived on time after supper the night before and had yet to set foot outside.
Three days of keeping little JD's spirits up was like running the Boston Marathon carrying a fifty-pound weight. The normally happy, independent little boy was suddenly moping and helpless. Vin, bless his heart, was doing his very best to help.
When the case ended, it was with a whimper and not a bang. Ezra managed to slip out of the mansion and the compound with a computer disk filled with incriminating evidence. Buck called the office and told Chris that they would be there as soon as they finished with the clean up at the site. When the two men dragged into the office a couple of hours later, Ezra was wound up. Buck confided that the undercover assignment had been very stressful for Ezra and that he needed a few days to relax and unwind.
"We'll bring him out to the ranch. The boys have been asking about him, they're worried," Chris explained. "And I know that it'll do him good to be with them too."
Chris sent Mrs. Potter home early. He had stopped on the way home and picked up a bucket of chicken and all the fixings, so that she didn't have to cook. When the boys got off of the bus, they were puzzled at the absence of the little white car that usually sat in front of the garage door in the afternoon. They hurried inside, stopping in the foyer to hang up their coats and toe off their insulated boots.
"We're home, Mrs. Potter," Vin called as he headed for the kitchen. He froze at the sight of the mustached man standing in the living room. Buck motioned for him not to say anything and the older boy grinned. "JD, why don't you turn on the TV and I'll get our snack," he called back.
A big sigh burst from the dark haired boy as he kicked his boots under the table. He was tired. Since his Da had been 'under covers' with Uncle Ezra, he hadn't slept good. He fell asleep during art class and awoke with macaroni stuck in his hair. Although he couldn't prove it, he was certain that Ely Joe had put it there. His coat had fallen from the hook and he bent over to pick it up, shoving it toward the wall. It fell again and he huffed angrily.
"Leave it, Little Bit," Buck said softly. JD's head whipped around and his eyes nearly bugged out of his head. It took a second for the message to get through to his brain and then for him to draw breath to scream.
"BUCK! YOU'RE HOME!" JD yelled as he launched his body toward his father. Buck caught the dark haired torpedo and wrapped both arms around him. Other words spilled from JD's mouth but they were muffled by the fact that his face was pressed so tightly against Buck's chest.
"I can hardly wait to see what kind of welcome I shall receive if that is what Buck receives after only a few days' absence," Ezra said as he came out of the guest bedroom.
"Uncle Ezra!" Vin yelled as he raced across the room and threw his arms around Ezra's waist. JD was struggling to get free of Buck's arms so he could run over and hug Ezra, too. Ezra did a remarkable job of listening to both boys as they filled him in on all that he had missed while he was 'under covers.'
When the boys paused to grab a breath, Chris called their attention to the food he had put on the table. After a satisfying meal, they returned to the living room. Reluctantly, the boys admitted to having worksheets to finish but they were thrilled to be allowed to do them on the coffee table instead of having to go in their room.
Ezra reveled in the warm feelings he got from being around his nephews. The boys were a well of unconditional love, no matter how good or bad his mission went. The Southerner was bone tired from having to be on guard all the time for the last six weeks. Not even his frequent meetings with teammates and the agents providing backup had been able to alleviate the tension. All evening, he had been the recipient of an abundance of hugs from the boys. As they settled down to watch a program on Animal Planet, he noticed that Vin whispered something into Chris's ear before climbing up on the couch.
"Can I sit on your lap, Uncle Ezra?" Vin asked. JD was tightly glued to Buck since he'd gotten out of the bathtub and the older boy thought his Uncle might be feeling left out.
"I would love for you to sit with me while we view this program," Ezra replied.
Overnight, the mountains lost their hold on the heavy moisture in the air. By the time the alarm went off to get the boys up for school, a foot of new-fallen snow blanketed the ground. The boys did their 'happy dance' at hearing that school was cancelled for the day. Buck took it in stride, heading for the kitchen to begin making breakfast for all of them. Mrs. Potter called to see if they needed her and was relieved that they didn't.
"Everyone who wants pancakes better get them while they're hot!" Buck bellowed as he flipped another one on the platter. Vin, as expected, ran for the kitchen but JD ran for the guest bedroom. Before Chris could catch him, the boy had thrown the door open and launched himself onto the bed.
"Uncle Ezra! Uncle Ezra! Da says you better come if you want pancakes!" JD announced as he happily bounced on the barely-awake man's midsection.
"Would I be correct in my presumption that academics have been cancelled for the day?" Ezra asked as he eased JD off of his stomach and stilled his bouncing.
"School was cancelled on account of the snow!"
"Snow?" Ezra asked, opening one eye and carefully focusing on the adult-sized blur in the doorway. "We were beset by snow?"
"Almost a foot and still coming down," Chris said as he came forward and lifted JD off of the bed. "It's gonna be a bad one by the time it's all over."
And it was. Nearly two feet of snow fell on Denver, virtually shutting down the city. Emergency vehicles were handling calls as quickly as humanly possible and hospital workers were sleeping in empty patient rooms rather than attempt to leave the building. At the ranch, the entire event was met with a cheerful attitude, though. The boys were warmly bundled and allowed outside to play in the snow. The dogs bounded through the thick, wet mess, barking excitedly as they chased the boys. Ringo sneezed several times after inhaling a snoot full of crystalline wetness. Elvis burrowed in the snow, disappearing in one place and popping up in another a few seconds later. The three adults made a path to the barn so they could tend to the horses. Chaucer nudged his unlocked gate aside and walked to the big sliding door. Lowering his nose, he sniffed at the drift that came nearly to his chest before shaking his head and snorting loudly.
They spent a pleasant day at the ranch, having plenty of food and wood to keep warm if the power went out. Josiah called, having seen on the news about the blizzard, and Chris assured him that his extended family was all safe and warm. The profiler spent a while talking about the workshops he'd attended and the things he was learning. Scarcely ten minutes after he hung up from talking to Josiah, Nathan called. He was also assured that they were fine and told to enjoy his vacation days.
Two days after they were buried by the snow, the weather pattern shifted and they got a warm day. Since it was Saturday, the adults didn't have to worry about going in to the office. By early afternoon, gigantic icicles hung from the gutters and the barn. They had all dined on a thick, rich stew and grilled cheese sandwiches for supper. After supper, Buck and Chris headed for the barn to check on the horses, leaving Ezra with the boys watching a video in the living room.
The phone rang and Ezra reached back to answer it, "Larabee residence."
"Ezra, this is Orin, I need to speak to Chris."
"He's in the barn at the moment, tending to the animals. May I ask him to call you when he returns to the house?"
"I need to speak to him right away, it's urgent," Travis insisted.
"I will call him," Ezra said, laying the phone on the table. "Gentlemen, I have to go down to the barn for a moment. Please don't touch the phone. Do you understand?" He eyed each of them until they nodded. Grabbing his coat from the hook on the wall, he decided to forego the heavy boots. In his Italian loafers, he stepped out on the deck and made his way to the step at the side. He hadn't taken more than a couple of steps when his feet flew out from under him and he hit the ground. Unable to see the stones surrounding the flowerbed because of all of the snow, his head struck one and he was out like a light.
The phone was making a funny sound and JD snuck around and slipped it off of the table without Vin seeing. "Hello?" he said.
"JD! Uncle Ezra said not to touch it!" Vin exclaimed as he jumped up from the floor.
"But it's going beepbeepbeepbeepbeep," JD replied, holding out the receiver for Vin to hear. Just then, Chris flung the door open and JD dropped the phone like a hot rock. His fear of getting in trouble escalated when his Da carried Uncle Ezra in and put him on the couch.
Chris reached for the phone and noticed the handset on the floor at JD's feet. "Did someone call?" he asked as he bent down to pick it up. JD and Vin were staring, stunned, at Ezra while Buck revealed a bloody gash on the side of his head.
"Vin? JD? Did the phone ring?" Chris asked, hearing the rapid, high-pitched tone.
"Uncle Ezra took the call. He told us not to touch it," Vin managed to say after tearing his eyes away from where Buck was pressing a bathroom towel to Ezra's head.
"Phones are out. Boys, I need you to get dressed, quickly. We have to take Ezra to the hospital," Chris said, watching as Vin grabbed JD by the arm and dragged him toward their room. His attention was immediately brought back to Ezra when he heard a pained moan.
"Give appendages off! Rise sitting tomorrow!" Ezra said as he struggled to get off of the couch.
"Be still for a minute, Ezra. You hit your head," Buck said, not paying attention to the odd words pouring from the man's mouth.
"Let me sitting tomorrow. Honor speak. Children?" Ezra gripped Buck's sleeve and looked around the room in complete panic.
"Ezra?" Buck said, confused.
"Dear ... children? Speak? Laugh."
"Buck, keep him calm, I'll go hurry the boys," Chris said, his concern for his agent growing by leaps and bounds.
"Dear ... laugh," Ezra said again. "Going!" he cried as he pushed free and stumbled for the bathroom. Buck followed him until Ezra went to his knees beside the toilet.
"Uncle Ezra?" Vin asked as he stared at his uncle. Buck nudged the door closed, not wanting the boy to get sick at the sight of Ezra spewing up his supper.
Once the boys were dressed, Chris rushed outside to start the truck. On impulse, he tried to open the garage door. To his horror, it was solidly frozen shut. He tried kicking it and hitting it in several places but it wouldn't budge. He had a propane heater for inside of the garage when he was working out there but he didn't think it would get warm enough to melt the ice that had gotten into the tracks of the door. Cursing himself for not thinking to get the truck out earlier in the day, he shut off the engine and went back into the house. Buck had put Ezra back on the couch with a wet cloth over his forehead. Both of the boys were sitting vigil on the edge of the coffee table, staring in sympathy at their uncle, who looked absolutely miserable.
"We got a problem," Chris whispered as he pulled Buck into the kitchen. Buck scowled at hearing that they were effectively stuck there with an injured man. While Buck went out to abuse the frozen garage door, Chris picked up the phone. With the same mentality that people use when they touch freshly painted surfaces in spite of a sign, he had to prove to himself that the phone lines were down. Sighing at the dead receiver, he headed for the other room to try his cell phone. Staring angrily at the 'no signal' message on the screen, he had an idea. Their computer link was on a different system than the phone and it was possible that it still worked. To his delight, his Internet connection did work and, miracle of miracles, Nathan was on line. He typed quickly to send a message to the medic. He outlined what had happened and asked for advice.
Hearing her fiancé curse softly, Rain got up and crossed the room. Although she wasn't in the habit of reading over his shoulder, she was mildly curious about what could cause him to react that way. Reading the message on the screen, she gasped.
Buck came back into the house, sucking on a small cut on his hand. He shook his head, indicating that he couldn't open the door either. Chris was talking to Nathan on line, at least that was something in their favor. Suddenly, the blond looked up at him.
"Can you get me the flashlight?"
Nathan looked at the screen and his frown deepened. Not only had they found Ezra unconscious and bleeding in the snow, but he also appeared to have aphasia, not a good sign. He recommended that Chris check the undercover agent's pupils to see if they reacted to light. He just hoped that Ezra wouldn't pass out or stop breathing with those innocent little boys standing over him. He drummed his fingers nervously on the table as he waited for Chris to tell him more.
"I have to check his pupils for reaction and ask him some specific orientation questions," Chris explained as he plucked the flashlight from Buck's hand.
"But nothing he says makes any sense!"
Following Chris into the living room, Buck called the boys out of the way and told them to take off their coats and boots. They complied, even as they protested that they had to take Uncle Ezra to the doctor.
Kneeling beside the couch, Chris touched Ezra's shoulder. "Ezra, I need to look at your eyes for a second," he said softly. Ezra turned his head, frowning.
"Naught that fable stairs," he muttered crossly.
Chris sighed. "Nathan said that you have aphasia. Do you know what that means?" Rather than speak, Ezra gave a slight nod. "That's good, so you understand us but we can't understand you."
This time, Ezra cut loose with a string of words in French, struggling to sit up as he spoke. Chris helped him to get upright before showing him the flashlight. "I'm going to check your eyes with this," he said. He was relieved that the pupils of both eyes contracted at the light, he hoped that was a good sign. How to ask the orientation questions was a little harder. Remembering that Ezra had nodded, he had an idea.
"I have to ask you some questions and I want you to answer me with yes or no, understand?" Seeing Ezra nod again, he started with 'Is it February?' Ezra shook his head 'no' and Chris asked another question. After five or six, he figured that the man was oriented to time and place and person, so he hurried back to the computer to tell Nathan.
"He knows who they are and where and when," Nathan read aloud, "And his pupils react to light. His head still hurts but he isn't nauseous anymore."
"That sounds good, doesn't it?" Rain asked.
"Well, it could be a whole lot worse."
Buck got the boys back into warm pajamas and allowed them to go back out to the living room. Both of them were worried sick about Ezra and he couldn't blame them. Ezra was sitting upright on the couch and the boys climbed gingerly up beside him. Giving a slight chuckle at the irony of the situation, Ezra wrapped an arm around each of them and drew them in close. When Chris came back from the computer, Ezra looked up expectantly.
"Well, Nathan said to keep you calm and not to let you fall asleep for a while."
"And merrily sat the storm?" Ezra asked.
"I liked him better when I had half a chance of understanding what he was saying," Buck groused from across the room.
"He called the hospital and the state patrol to tell them that we're stuck here, so someone may be able to get to us in the next few hours. How about we get you cleaned up?" Chris gestured toward the blood that had run down the side of Ezra's head.
Sighing heavily, Ezra unwrapped his arms from the boys and tried to stand. The action caused a deep throb in his head and he moaned. Chris immediately steadied him and led him toward the bathroom. Ezra flinched but then relaxed as Vin moved up to his other side to 'help.' He smiled down at the intuitive child. He murmured something in French that Chris recognized.
"He said thank you, son."
JD slid off of the couch and reached out for his Da. Buck gathered him up and gave him a bear hug, squeezing until the child grunted, their signal that he'd had enough. JD laid his cheek against Buck's shoulder and sighed.
"Is Uncle Ezra gonna get his words back?"
"I hope so, Little Bit, I sure hope so," Buck answered.
While Chris gently cleaned the blood from Ezra's neck and hair, Vin leaned against his injured uncle, offering the only comfort he could. Chris was surprised to find only a tiny break in the skin, which he carefully cleaned around. He took a stack of gauze pads and covered the wound and then used an ACE bandage to hold it in place since he didn't have any rolls of gauze. When he was finished, Ezra looked up and asked a question.
"So, fairly toad visions?"
Vin giggled and Chris started to scold him.
"He wants to know if he looks that bad," Vin explained. At Ezra's surprised expression, Chris could only shake his head. Leave it to Vin to be able to make sense of the disjointed words the injured man was spouting. Ezra trusted his next question directly to Vin.
"Wet swallow tomorrow?"
Vin puzzled over it for a minute before his expression turned hopeful, "You want something to drink?" Ezra smiled and nodded.
"No alcohol, Ezra. Not with a head injury," Chris said.
"Spoke for ever want. Clouds of swallow. Happy laugh," Ezra replied crossly.
"I don't think he wanted that kind of drink, Dad," Vin translated.
Ezra wanted a drink of water. He sipped it slowly, so as not to upset his stomach. Buck had settled in the recliner with JD and the younger boy was nearly asleep. Chris was surprised to see that it was after midnight.
"Vin, you better get to bed, son."
"But Dad, I want to stay here with you and Uncle Ezra!"
"You need to go to sleep, Vin. I'll stay up with Ezra."
"Rest ... should train for races," Ezra said to Vin. The child tossed a hurt look toward his father before moving to give a gentle hug to his uncle. In French, Ezra whispered something into Vin's ear.
"What does 'je tem' mean, Dad?"
"I think it means I love you," Chris said, looking to Ezra for confirmation. Ezra nodded and then frowned in pain.
Chris settled for letting Vin sleep in his sleeping bag on the living room floor. He pulled a heavier quilt out of his closet and put it over the pair sleeping in the recliner. There was an older western playing on AMC and he decided that it was better than the other choices. After Vin was soundly asleep, Chris offered Ezra some soup. He helped Ezra into the kitchen, as he was still somewhat unsteady on his feet. Rather than play the guessing game, he simply lined the cans up on the counter and let Ezra choose. It took only a few minutes to warm the tomato soup in the pan and Ezra took a large coffee mug from the cabinet to put it in. Sitting across the table from each other, Chris struggled to contain his worry.
"Concern naught. Language decline work too fine," Ezra said. Chris took it that he was issuing the standard 'I'm fine' and he nodded.
"Yeah, you're fine. It's like that episode of Star Trek when the Captain meets the guy who talks in parables."
"When the walls fell," Ezra said, stunning the team leader.
They had just about finished their soup when the emergency vehicle arrived behind the snowplow. Chris woke Buck and went to get dressed. The highway department worker was spraying something on the garage door while the paramedics skated up the sidewalk to the house. Both of the boys stayed out of the way, just barely, as the stretcher and drug box were brought into the living room.
"Bed not with the octopus!" Ezra declared as he eyed the paramedic.
"He doesn't like the stretcher thing," Vin supplied.
"Buck, go throw in extra hay for the horses and fill the trough, we're going in with Ezra," Chris said as he grabbed the snow shovel and dashed back outside.
"You boys stay out of the way," Buck instructed as he grabbed his coat. "Get dressed again and take your sleeping bags and backpack with you."
When everyone had left the room, Ezra walked over and sat on the couch. The paramedics came over and began asking questions. Thankfully, Nathan had warned the dispatcher that Ezra was suffering from aphasia and could only answer yes or no questions. They checked his pupils again and asked if he was in pain or nauseous. They unwrapped the ACE bandage and gently peeled away the gauze to examine the wound. While they were working, Vin slipped back into the room and wiggled over the arm of the couch to get as close to Ezra as he could without being in the way. When Ezra hissed at the paramedic, Vin glared at the man.
A half an hour later, they were ready to go. Chris had shoveled a path out of the garage, with the help of the highway department plow and the Dodge was all warmed up. The boys each had a sleeping bag rolled up and slung over their shoulder with their book bag filled with toys and things to keep them entertained. The only problem was Ezra. He flat out refused to move to the stretcher.
Buck had to bite his tongue to keep from laughing out loud at the scene before him. Ezra was sitting on the couch with his arms folded across his chest, scowling at the paramedics. Directly in front of him, but not blocking his view of the medical personnel, Vin and JD stood with their arms folded across their chests wearing almost identical scowls. The paramedics stood, staring down at the two tiny defenders before looking to Chris for help.
"Alright, come on boys. Let's get you in the truck," Chris said.
"Uncle Ezra doesn't want to sit on the octopus," JD stated firmly.
That was all it took. Buck couldn't hold it back any longer. He broke into a fit of giggles. Chris glared at him and that only made it funnier. The paramedics, at a loss to understand what was so funny, turned to stare at the laughing man.
"If he's refusing transport, there's a form to sign," the senior medic explained to Chris.
"Is it safe for us to drive him to the hospital?"
"He seems to be fine, other than the aphasia. As long as you don't slide off of the road, he'd be as safe with you as he would with us."
Ezra took the pen and put it to the clipboard. To his irritation, he couldn't make his hand write his name. He could see it in his mind, but his hand simply refused to move the pen along the paper. For the first time since he awoke from the fall, fear crossed his face.
"It's okay, I'll sign it for him," Buck said as he took the pen and the clipboard. The other paramedic helped Chris to bring Ezra to his feet and steadied him as he put on his coat. Chris and Buck kept hold of his arms as they put Ezra into the back seat and fastened his seatbelt. Buck went back for the boys and Chris helped the medics get back to the ambulance. The highway department truck had gone, leaving a reasonably clear path down the driveway.
It took two hours to make the 45-minute drive to Denver General. JD was asleep, leaning against the door and snoring softly. Vin, however, was wide-awake. He was staring intently as Ezra, making sure that he didn't fall asleep. He didn't really understand why it was important, especially since his Uncle looked really, really tired. Chris parked the truck in the ambulance bay and got out, opening the door to help Ezra out. Vin scurried out behind him, not intending to be separated from his uncle, since he was the only one who could understand him.
Buck slid across the seat and offered to take the truck to a parking lot and walk back with JD. Chris nodded and turned to help Ezra get into the building, even though the bay was surprisingly clear.
Once inside the emergency room, they were confronted with another problem, since Ezra couldn't write or answer their questions, he couldn't fill out any of the mountainous reams of paperwork that inevitably occurred with a hospital visit. Fortunately, the hospital had more than enough information on the man's medical history and they allowed Chris to sign the rest of the papers. Buck had just arrived with JD sound asleep and draped over his shoulder when the nurse called Ezra's name.
"Stay here with Buck and JD, son, I'll be back as soon as I can," Chris told Vin.
"But Dad, how're you gonna understand him when you get in there?"
Ezra smiled and reached out to give Vin's shoulder a squeeze. "Make sun and yodel for safe," he said. Vin studied the green eyes that held his for a moment before he nodded.
"Okay, but Dad'll come and get me if they can't understand you," he solemnly agreed.
As the sun was coming up behind the thick cloud cover, the doctor came in to explain the results of the variety of tests they had done. Ezra was not in a good mood and the phrases from his mouth became increasingly convoluted.
"Mr. Larabee, Mr. Standish, I'm sure you will be relieved to know that there is nothing seriously wrong. There was some slight swelling of the brain at the point where your head struck the rock and that is causing the aphasia. As the swelling dissipates, the aphasia should go away on its own."
"Doctor, I don't understand something," Chris said, "How is it that his English is all jumbled but he can speak French and Italian correctly?" One of the nurses had taken a trip across France and still maintained a fair grasp on the language and another's grandmother had spoken Italian and she recognized some of the phrases when Ezra was cussing at the technicians during one of the tests.
"Well," the doctor explained, "when a person learns a foreign language as an adult, it is stored in a different part of the brain than the primary language."
"Then why can't he write?"
"I think that's more stress than any brain injury."
"Assemble trains and fight clowns," Ezra replied acerbically.
"Does he have to stay here?" Chris asked.
"No, I'll give you some medication for the pain and you already know the standard concussion protocols. Take him home and let him rest. If his language isn't straightened out in 48 to 72 hours, let me know and I'll refer you to a specialist."
"Palms and prayer," Ezra said as he slid off of the exam table and started for the door. He turned and headed for the waiting area, eager to be away from the hospital. He had to smile when he reached the large, mostly empty room. Buck was stretched out on the small couch, his long legs hanging off of the end. JD lay on top of him, like a human blanket. Drool from JD's little mouth had wet a spot on Buck's shirt. Vin had spread his sleeping bag out and was curled up in it, also asleep. Chris stopped behind Ezra and also smiled at the sweet tableau.
Back at the ranch, Ezra headed for bed, not having been able to rest at the hospital for all of the poking and prodding he had endured. Just as he was starting to relax, the door opened and a tow headed boy slipped into the room. Vin padded silently to the bedside table and placed a cowbell on the corner. Taped to the bell was a small paper that said 'ring for service.' The thoughtful child also placed his stuffed cat on the side of the bed before slipping away. It was indeed good to be loved by Vin Tanner.
It was an unusual few days at the Larabee ranch. On Monday, Chris and Buck had to go to work but school was still cancelled. There was a minor disagreement over leaving the boys at home with Ezra, since he couldn't use the phone if there was an emergency. Mrs. Potter offered to come over, saying that she knew there was laundry that needed doing anyway. Ezra spent a lot of time resting and reading. It was frustrating to him, talking to people and having them look at him as if he was speaking a foreign language, well, more frustrating than usual. On the other side of the coin, he was strangely comforted by all of the attention Vin and JD lavished on him.
Gloria wiped her hands on the tail of her apron and turned from the sink. It was about time for the boys to have their afternoon snack. She set out the things she needed and put out three bowls. In the winter, she believed that it was even more important to eat fresh fruit and, to that end, she bought bananas, grapes, apples and cantaloupe for the boys to snack on. Both Vin and JD had balked at first over the healthy snacks but after a while, they had come to enjoy them as much as cookies and junk food, as long as they still got the cookies and junk food occasionally.
She found JD on the couch, watching Animal Planet. Setting the bowl on the table at his side, she noticed that he reached for the fruit and thanked her without ever taking his eyes off of the screen. It showed someone trying to extricate a rather large snake from under the hood of a car. Gloria shuddered, she hated snakes. Taking the other two bowls, she looked for Vin and Mr. Standish. She knew that the young man was embarrassed at being supervised like a child but he was taking it well.
As she approached the door to the guest room, she heard Vin's voice, unsteadily reading from one of his schoolbooks. Whenever he made a mistake, Ezra said something and Vin corrected his error and continued. Gloria shook her head at the unusual rapport between the pair. When she opened the door, she could see that Ezra had another book in his lap and when Vin made a mistake, he was indicating something in his book to help the boy make the correction.
"I have a snack for both of you," Gloria said as she opened the door wider. Ezra looked up in surprise as she handed him a bowl full of fruit, too.
"Muchas Gracias," he said. Vin was quick to jump in to translate, "That means thank you very much!"
"Thank you, Vin, for clearing that up for me and you're very welcome, Mr. Standish."
When she came back to collect the dishes, Vin and Ezra were asleep, the child curled up on the man's shoulder, their books laid aside. She took a blanket from the quilt rack at the foot of the bed and draped it over them before picking up the empty bowls and slipping out. JD was also asleep on the couch, a piece of melon still clutched in his little, sticky hand.
Chris and Buck arrived home a little late because of the sloppy roads and numerous accidents. The boys were peering out the window with worried expressions, fearful that something had happened to their father's. As soon as they got into the house, they were set upon by the boys.
"We were starting to worry, Da," JD said as he followed the man to his room. "But Uncle Ezra said you was 'flight in dreary pathways and ne'er wandering.' And Mrs. Potter said that the newsman on TV said for folks to drive slow because of black ice conditions. Did you know that ice can be black? I didn't know 'cause all I ever saw was clear or white ice like comes out of the 'frigerator. Did you ever see black ice, Da?"
Vin was more circumvent about expressing his concern. "The roads are pretty bad, huh?"
"Yes, they are," Chris answered as he hung up his jacket and shrugged out of his shoulder holster. He stepped into the walk-in closet and opened the small safe, laying the gun on the thick felt liner and hanging the holster itself on a hook.
"And you had to go real slow so that you didn't have an accident, right?"
"Good," Vin said as he stepped up to hug his father now that the gun was put safely away.
"How was your day?" Chris asked, moving to sit on the bed to untie his shoes.
"Me and Uncle Ezra ... Uncle Ezra and I read for a while after lunch."
Smiling at the correction, Chris handed his shoes to Vin and waited for him to bring the sneakers back in their place. "So you took good care of him today?"
"Uh-huh, and we read a whole chapter in my book for school." Vin proceeded to tell his father all about what he had read as Chris changed clothes and put on shoes and got ready for their evening. Mrs. Potter was talking with Buck when he came out of his room. Ezra came out of the kitchen and motioned for the older boy to come to him. Vin darted across the room at a fast walk so as not to have someone yelling at him for running in the house. He conferred with his uncle for a few minutes before turning to tell his father that supper was ready.
While Mrs. Potter had prepared the meal, Ezra took it on himself to set the table and put everything in serving dishes. It was the least he could do since all of them seemed determined to 'take care' of him. Chris was impressed, the undercover agent had taken paper towels and folded them like they did at fancy restaurants and placed one on each plate.
Over supper, Chris spoke without really thinking about it, "So, Ezra, how was your day?"
"Dangles flowers at Galahad sever or dance," Ezra replied. Chris turned to look at Vin and the child shrugged his shoulders in complete confusion.
"Josiah made it back okay, he said to tell you that he hopes you're feeling better. And Nathan should be back tonight. He called to say he hopes your scrambled dictionary is straightened out soon," Buck offered.
"Gracias," Ezra replied dryly.
"De nada," Buck returned.
"Hey, since when do you understand Spanish?" Chris asked.
Ezra cut in with a phrase in Spanish that started out with 'Senorita' and ended with 'nunca.' Buck's face reddened slightly and Chris chuckled softly behind his hand.
"Hey Da, what does 'nunca' mean?" JD innocently asked. Immediately, both Chris and Ezra burst into loud laughter. JD looked at the two men and began to laugh, not understanding but enjoying the mirth and frivolity.
It was two more days before Standish could speak so that someone besides Vin could understand him. His regular doctor examined him and suggested that he take another couple of days off, just until the headaches stopped coming and going. He was sitting at home in his recliner when he suddenly remembered that the reason he had gone out into the snow the night he was injured. Picking up his phone, he dialed the office and was transferred to Orin Travis's office.
"Ezra, Chris tells me that you will be out for a few more days. You must have hit your head harder than I realized," the older man said.
"Yes Sir, I did at that. But as I was sitting here I remembered that you called the Larabee house just before my misadventure. Did you ever speak to Chris about that urgent matter?"
"Urgent? I don't remember anything urgent. I called to let him know that our garage doors were frozen shut and to suggest that he turn the heater on in his garage so that he didn't have the same problem."
Letting his head fall back against the chair, Ezra groaned, "Good grief ..."