by Twyla Jane
The disclaimer is and always will be I dont own em and never made a plug nickel off em. Wish I did. This is a series of stories where Ezras a child and the remaining seven are adults. In a Modern universe where the boys are working in Chris and Bucks 4C agency as private investigators, bounty hunters and body guards. Follows the The Skin and Bones Story Arc. A Christmas story at Mac Creadys urging. Okay here it is. 12/25/02
The weather was balmy that December day. 12 year-old Ezra Standish dug his toes deeper into the sand. His shoes forgotten as they neatly set behind him on the blanket. The boy stared out at the ocean as a gull flew in low mere feet over the surf searching the shallow tidal pools for it next meal. A ghost of a grin played at his lips as the creature skimmed the water skillfully plucking up a small but feisty fish before flapping over to gracefully land atop one of the many huts that lined the shore. He absentmindedly rubbed at an itch just beneath the cuff of his shirt, then scratched at the irritated skin inside his elbow before turning his arm to inspect the area. Nothing was there only his deeply tanned flesh so he turned his attention back to his notebook, scanning over the neatly scribed words a moment before closing it and carefully slipped the battered pen back into place along its spine. More than six months had passed since Maude had put him on a plane to Denver. Once again leaving him in the company of strangers. The youngster sighed, the pang of loss tugged at his heart. She was his mother after all and he missed her.
Still early by his standards he glanced at his watch, it was just past ten oclock in the morning and almost time for his morning meal beginning yet another day in paradise. At least that is what the tourists called the place, Paradise. To Ezra it was just another town, one of many he and Mr. Larabee stayed in as they traveled all over Mexico, Central and South America. The older man insisted that the boy called him Chris, he never did. The two of them had fallen in a routine of sorts, amicable for the most part as Larabee hunted down clues in search of his son while protecting Ezra from the danger left behind in Colorado. The last few weeks had grown increasing awkward; a black tidal pool of emotion had enveloped Larabee. Their travels had ended here the moment Chris bellied up to the local bar and began to drink. The 12 year old did his best to steer clear of the intoxicated man, there seemed to be no reason to stir up matters, so he spent most of his time within the small resort town and along the beach either reading or catching up on his lessons. So he sat there watching the tide with arms wrapped around legs pulled tightly to his chest, chin resting on his knees enjoying feeling of the warm sun as its rays fell upon his back.
A screeching gull woke the boy; panic seized him when he failed to recognize his surroundings. Sitting stock still he rapidly blinked his eyes, his heartbeat hammered loudly in his ears as a long moment passed by although Ezra didnt remember falling asleep at least he knew where he was. Nervously gazing about, it seemed no one noticed his reaction. The sun higher in the sky and the rumbling of his belly told him without looking at the time that he had dozed off for more than a few minutes. The boy stretched out his legs before meticulously brushing the sand from his feet, he had pulled on a sock when a dark shadow fell across him. Ezra jumped back a bit before looking up immediately perplexed and confused by the visitor.
Sorry Ez didnt mean ta scare ya. The mans voice with its easy drawl attempted to put the lad at ease.
Mr. Tanner what brings you to this quaint coastal vista? Curiosity over the sudden turn of events allowed Ezra to quash down any lingering nervousness and pose the question.
Thought yall might like to come back home for Christmas.
I doubt Mr. Larabee would entertain such a notion.
Why dont we go get us some grub and leave that up to Uncle Buck.
Stepping quietly into the rented shack, Wilmington spotted Larabee sprawled face down on one of the dingy beds. A partially empty liquor bottle dangled precariously from lax fingers. The room was a shambles, broken glass littered the floor, flies buzzed around old containers of half eaten food strewn along a windowsill. Odd bits of debris crunched under foot as Buck strode towards his oblivious friend calling out to him.
Chris! The response was little more than an unhappy groan so he tried again a little louder as he crouched down by the tattered bed. Chris!
This time Larabee tensed, the loose grip lost its hold and the bottle clattered to floor rolling slowly under the bed, as hissed out. Go way
Nope not this time Bud come on sit up Buck cajoled as he tried to pull the uncooperative man into a seated position only to duck back from a less than coordinated swing that had Chris sunk down in the bed cursing.
Tried to be nice about this
Although mustached man chuckled out the words, they were tinged with annoyance. The blond didnt have a chance to react as he was unceremoniously hauled up, slung over Bucks shoulder and forcibly removed from the shack out into the painfully bright sunshine.
The worn path underfoot spun as Chris succeeded opening his eyes getting an awkward view of Wilmingtons jean clad backside. Bucks long strides made the ride nauseating, kicking Chris sluggish brain into gear, and growling out as it did so. Sumbitch put me down!
For a fraction of a second he was airborne before being swallowed up whole by warm water gently bumping the bottom of the pool as he stopped. Air bubbles spewed from his mouth, floating up to the liquid sky, as he screamed forgetting that was not wise to under eight feet of water. A rush of tiny bubbles disrupted his thoughts as a colorful shape shot towards him. The resort exploded into view as Chris broke the surface of the water.
Jackass stupid stubborn Bucks wheezy breathing didnt stop him from giving his long time friend a verbal drubbing as he towed him to the shallow end.
Bucklin make sure ya use plenty a soap! A familiar bemused voice echoed across the pool as his hazy mind tried to figure out that tidbit a sturdy grip guided him to a submerged cement step.
Wiping the water from his face was a futile effort gave up on as Chris found himself staring into Buck steady serious gaze.
Listen to me Bud, I aint gonna let you do this to yourself especially not to that kid. Ezra deserves better and whether you believe it not right now so do you.
Whatever response Chris may have had was lost when he lurched up the steps his stomach heaved spewing its contents over the worn stonework that surrounded the poolside.
Dining a la fresco on the seashore
The lanky Texan smiled, the kid sure had way with words, made eating at a snack shack sound like they were in one of those high fluting restaurants where they practically painted the food on ta the plates. Vin sat next to the boy atop the blanket that Ezra had been toting around watching him eat. Clearly famished the twelve year old, maintained his façade resisting the temptation to devour the meal whole instead he took small bites and chewed slowly. Tanner doubted anyone would have noticed the subtle clues. A faint tremor in the boys left hand and lack of idle chatter. Looking back out to the waves that washed up on the beach, wasnt right to sit and stare but he almost hadnt recognized Ezra when he found him earlier. Sure he was a little taller the intense green gaze was the same, the dark tan and brown hair with red highlights streaked through it were the biggest physical changes but there was something else that he couldnt quite grasp. Might be the clothes, they were wrinkled and a little dirty, on any other boy a normal state.
Brushing a stray hair from his face as the breeze picked up he mentally cursed his friend.
Dammit Larabee ya got more than a few things answer to
The drone of engines, the low rush of recycled air and muffled sound of muted conversations floated through the aircrafts economy class section. Larabee was stretched over several seats mercifully close to the toilets, a light blanket draped loosely across his shoulders staring at the collection of unused paper barf bags crammed into magazine pouch of the seat in front of him.
Air sick and allergic to Dramamine
Thats how Buck had explained his wretched condition to the flight attendant, if the young woman thought there was something amiss she kept her comments to herself saying nothing. Instead she brought them a supply of stale ginger ale and the curse-ed bags throughout the early part of the trip when his abused body completely betrayed him. There had been a point Chris thought he was going to heave up part of his lower intestines while his head exploded. Twenty minutes had passed since the last episode, not willing to risk another he lay there without moving trying to ignore the painful throbbing that seemed to course through almost every synaptic circuit in his brain .
The cabin was for the most part blissfully dark, although Larabee couldnt see from his current vantage point there were a few seats illuminated by overhead lights and he could hear Buck laugh across the rows of seats. The man had left Chris side, when the blondes rebellious body finally settled down, joining Vin and Ezra. Giving him time to ponder the mostly one sided conversation with his long time friend doing most of the talking as he lay there and listened.
Buck had settled into the seat next to Chris head, he let out a soft sigh before he began to speak.
Bud, I got to have a word with ya.
No, not Feeling haggard in every sense to the word, Chris hadnt wanted to go over the hows and whys that had left him in this state much less the repercussions as he lay there with his eyes squeezed shut and his arm draped protectively over his sore belly, wanting to curse the man out but couldnt muster the necessary energy instead tried to stall him.
His plan failed as Bucks prodding voice continued. Yes now, Im not taking no for an answer so listen up I understand your anger
Buck Chris hissed out a warning but the man would not be put off.
Christopher Larabee.. Ive known ya since we were both knee high to a grasshopper and dont get me wrong but you get angry about everything from folks cheating to cutting in line. Some things in life are unfair and it frustrates the hell outta ya. Look you have every right to angry about what happened to Sarah and Adam..
Dont.. The single desperate and agonized word came out.
During the long silence that followed Chris hoped that Buck had given up cringed when the tenacious man began again.
Ya know it started out as a good plan you taking Ez into hiding with Merrin still on the loose and all. God Damn Chris Me and the boys were about nuts trying to find ya both those first few weeks until we got yer phone call. I could understand you need to stay away but why didnt come back when we told you Merrin was dead. When did the plan change? Was it that first tidbit about Adam being whisked away by Salvos lady friend to Bolivia? You said you would check it out and be back in plenty of time to get Ezra registered for school. That was more than three and half months ago. One hundred eight days and not a single word from you. Ya vanished from the face of the earth with a boy that isnt even yours.
When Buck fell silent again Chris finally looked up at his friend through burning blood shot eyes. The man was slouched down rubbing a weary hand across his stubbled face and for the first time since he was roughly hauled from his rented room, he saw him. Wilmington didnt look like he had slept in days, worry lines etched his handsome face, his brightly colored clothes were rumpled and in disarray. The dark haired man didnt look down at him as he started again.
We didnt know where you were until four days ago, when a letter from Ezra arrived
You didnt know he sent it well Bud he wrote me and the boys a letter apologizing for being unable to spend Christmas with us
Yep ya jackass ya promised and Im here to make sure its kept and Chris just so you know that little boy spent the last few nights on the beach cause of you stop being a shit an let us help ya through this.
Nothing like an emotional sledge hammer to jolt a body from a self induced misery. Chris lay there for the first time in months not thinking about his son but another boy, though his body still suffering from a particularly nasty hangover and his mind was still reeling. He knew somehow he had to get beyond this, for both their sakes.
The world outside his window was wrapped in a blanket of white. Snow fell in big fat heavy flakes lowering the visibility on the taxiway. Ezra resisted the temptation to press his face against the cool glass, finally understanding Mr. Wilmington had meant. The man had given him a thick down jacket and heavy lined boots during their lay over in Mexico, and was very insistent that Ezra would be needing it upon their return, Mr. Tanner had supplied the same apparel to Mr. Larabee.
The three adults were having were having a quiet conversation but the boy couldnt quite follow it because he was having a hard time staying awake, sleep had eluded him during the past week and he hadnt dozed at all during the flight.
Early on during the first leg of their trip Buck had gently prodded him with questions mostly on how Chris had been treating him and with the extensive vocabulary he had, Ezra could only respond with okay, good and fine. Truth was Mr. Larabee had treated him well, kept him fed and clothed even saw to it that he could continue his studies. He just couldnt find the right words to explain this to the big mustached man. Somewhere amidst those thoughts Ezra Standish fell asleep.
The odd sensation of moving woke him, the boy tensed when he realized he was being carried. The person who held him stopped and whispered in his ear. Dont worry its just me you want down? Ezra was just too tired he shook his head no without removing it from where it was comfortably nestled under Chris chin. Okay but Im going have to set you down for a minute so that we can get your jacket and boots on. The weary child nodded barely opening his eyes as one at a time his arms were gently manipulated into the puffy coat, vaguely aware as the jacket was zipped up that another pair of hands had removed his shoes and warm boots were tugged on in their place.
Sure hes okay?
In the middle of trying to figure out who else was there talking the boy gave into to his exhaustion.
Walking through the airport terminal had awakened memories for Larabee, of a promise he had made and some how along the way failed to keep. World weary he strode across the tiled floors carrying the boy, the same as he had then only this time he did so under the wary gaze of two angry men. Wilmington was pissed he knew that much, the conversation they had on the airplane after Chris finally stopped spewing his guts was the first of many, basically informing him that he was either going own up to this or Buck would personally snap him in two there would be no other options. Tanners reaction was a bit more subdued a simple Ya fucked Cowboy. didnt mean that the Texan was any less pissed. Hell Chris knew he had screwed up royally, but he refused to relinquish his hold on Ezra. If he was going to fix this mess hed have to start then.
It wasnt the weak grey light seeping in that woke him but the sweet smell wafting through the air, a lax fist came up and feebly rubbed at sleep encrusted lids allowing them to freely blink open. A long moment passed before Ezra was coherent enough to remember the events of the past few days and realize he was in the guest room at the Larabee ranch.
Five minutes later the pajama clad boy shuffled towards the kitchen after a futile search for clean attire unable to locate his suitcase left the bedroom and sought out Larabee, following the delightful aroma of freshly cooked bacon and maple syrup. Genuinely surprised to see the man up and the midst of making breakfast.
Good Morning, or rather Afternoon Ezra, you hungry? The youngster nodded. Good, why dont ya sit down and dig in before the others get here. Chris set a plate loaded with Texan style French toast, and bacon in front of him as he sat down at the kitchen table unable to mask his surprise.
What? Didnt think I could boil an egg much less do this.
I must admit I am surprised with the extent of your culinary abilities.
Well beyond bar-b-cueing this is the full extent of my culinary abilities. A tradition I started when I first married Sarah, Id cook breakfast Christmas Eve. Chris smiled at him as he explained and the only thing the child could do was sit there with his mouth hanging open wondering when things had changed.
With Chris help, he had located his missing suitcase and Ezra was slowly getting dressed after taking a long hot shower. He had tried his best to work some of the creases out of clothing he hadnt worn since attending Pendleton., at one point quietly shuffling out to Chris requesting the use of an iron. Emerging from the guest room almost an hour later wearing a dark red sweater, neatly pressed shirt and slacks, and freshly polished shoes genuinely surprised by he found in the living room. A large fat fir tree so tall that it almost touched the high ceiling with Buck, sporting baseball cap adorned with a floppy antlers, standing next to it handing a string of lights to a Santa hat clad JD, who was teetering precariously atop a step stool weaving the tiny lights through the upper branches. There were several open cardboard boxes were strewn across the floor filled with a variety of ornaments and bits of garland. Mr. Wilmington was the first to notice his entry into the room, followed by JD both greeted him with a big grins as they stood there alternately feeding out the string of the lights and winding them around the tree. Speaking simultaneously
Hey pal, youre here just in time to help. Hey Ez.
In time to help with what pray tell Mr. Wilmington?
Decorating, so why dont you look through those boxes and see what we got while the kid and I finish stringing out the lights
Still a little unsure the boy stood there looking at them both men as they hummed a familiar Christmas tune more than a little slightly off key. A gentle insistent Go on supplied by JD had him tentatively poking through what treasures were held in the boxes.
A few hours later
The tree was finished, perfect in every aspect to the eyes that beheld it even that only half the lights blinked while the other remained on and there were patches of green barren of tinsel whilst it hung dense in others spots, nope this was the best tree Chris Larabee had seen in years. He sat on the couch nursing a cold cup a coffee with Ezra leaning heavily into him lightly snoring despite earlier protests that he was not at all tired. JD had disappeared into the kitchen cleaning up the remaining dishes left from their light evening meal, a thick beef stew graciously provided by Miss Nettie. Wilmington was crouched by the fire place stoking the glowing embers into a growing blaze by adding another log and more kindling.
Thanks for everything you did today Buck. The words were quietly spoken in deference to the sleeping child, Larabee sat there lightly fingering the two cards his long time friend had given him earlier. They needed no explanation, one was a business card for a Denver psychologist, a date and time was hastily written on its back, the other was an appointment card for a meeting with AA counselor.
No problem Bud, me and the kid will back in morning.
Laughter reached his ears, along with some grumbling as the sound of feet stomping off excess snow reached his weary mind. His eyes fluttered open to find Ezra stretched out across his legs and Tanner, who had already shed his winter jacket, quietly stepping across the wood floor to gently deposit his booty of paper shopping bags onto the floor deftly emptying the bags shoving the brightly wrapped packages under the tree. The lop sided grin and the twanged Merry Christmas Cowboy had Chris smiling in return just as Josiah rushed by carrying in a massive wrapped roasting pan, its tin foil hid the partially cooked turkey. Followed in rapid succession to the kitchen by Nathan and JD similarly burdened with several wrapped casserole dishes. The makings of a proper feast were completed by Buck who toted in several unidentifiable pastries still in the white boxes tied with red string.
Once the coffee was made and the last of the presents set in place, Chris gently shook Ezras shoulder when the tired green eyes finally popped open and the boy slowed pushed away from his lap he pulled him into a warm embrace and whispered. Merry Christmas Ezra, I want you to know I love you and that if I ever do anything stupid again know that you have five uncles that will never let me forget that again. Those same eyes widened as the boys tired brain slowly absorbed what had been said. Chris waited a long moment before he asked. Now do you want to open presents, eat breakfast or have coffee first?
Thats my boy, lets get some before its gone and Tanner makes the next pot.
With a grunt Chris got off the couch pulling up Ezra with him and the two of them content enough to amble off towards the kitchen to join the others.
Christmas, it would be yet another day not but not without affection and not alone.