The next morning, Chris was back at the hospital bright and early. He stayed the night with Beatrice and Buck and they returned with him. They allowed him the privacy of seeing Clint alone, but promised to join him shortly.

Chris froze in the doorway when he found that Clint was awake and already had a visitor. The visitor strode over and extended his hand in greeting as he introduced himself, "Hello, Chris. I’m Otis Dempsey of the FBI. I have to tell you that I’m incredibly impressed by you, young man, and your friends."

Chris shook his hand and nodded his thanks. But said nothing as he moved over to his father’s side. "How are you doing, Dad?"

"Ready to get out of here, but they tell me that won’t be today," Clint replied. His words were slightly weak, but there was no masking the vigor behind them. He smiled at his son, "And I’m just so glad to see you."

"Me, too, Dad. I…" Chris trailed off as he looked back in irritation at Dempsey.

The FBI agent got the hint, but did not leave immediately. "I’ll leave the two of you alone. But I will still need to talk to you, Chris and your friends. There’s a lot that we don’t understand."

Chris smiled softly at that. "Well, I’m not sure I can explain it all, either."

Dempsey laughed, "Well I’ll take what I can get. And maybe I can convince you into following in your father’s footsteps, son. Then maybe even joining the Bureau. You would make one hell of an agent, Chris."

Immediately father and son stiffened and Dempsey realized that he struck a nerve. Apparently there was some kind of disagreement going on between the two Larabees about Chris’ future. The father recovered first and said, "Chris has ideas about joining the Army, make that his career, not the police force." There was a hint of bitterness in the older Larabee’s voice along with disappointment.

Chris’ head ducked down briefly then he met and held his father’s gaze as he answered Dempsey. "I haven’t really decided."

Dempsey nodded, "Well I’ll leave the two of you to catch up. But like I said, I will need to talk to you later, Chris. I’ll be outside." He turned and left then, letting the door shut silently behind him.

Clint chuckled softly, "Sure, I’m the one lying here with a gunshot wound and he tears me a new ass for my ‘renegade’ actions. But you? You he praises."

Chris laughed briefly. "You’re just not a people person like I am," he deadpanned.

His father gazed at him in blatant disbelief, at a complete loss for words. Finally he managed to say, "Right. And I’m a by the books kinda cop."

The two shared a laugh, relishing the renewed comfort they found in each other’s presence. It had been far too long since they felt at ease with each other or even wanted to be around the other. They did not speak about it, but both knew it was there and both were determined to keep it alive and nourish it so that the bond between father and son was strengthened and revitalized. They did talk about the events of the past couple of days and their roles in it.

Chris was not at all surprised to learn that his father secretly followed the military in. It was exactly what he would have done if the situations had been reversed. His mother often commented on the fact that father and son had been cut from the same cloth. Of course she also complained about the fact that she never knew two people so alike who could disagree about everything the way that they did.

Chris smiled to himself as he remembered how he and his dad would sometimes argue, each knowing that the other was teasing, just to irritate Sarah. She would eventually catch on, curse them out, and promise retaliation. And she always followed through with her threats, usually in inventive ways and always unexpectedly. Yet, they could never resist riling her up; or as she put it, they were just men behaving like men and the only reason she put up with them was because she loved them.

Clint was not surprised to learn that his son was a natural leader or that he was not one to hesitate when action was called for. He was proud of his son and told him so. Then in a whisper, holding tight to Chris’ hand, he added, "Your mother would be so proud of you, too."

Chris fought it bravely, swallowing hard, nearly choking as he struggled to restrain the tears that welled up in his eyes at his father’s words. He breathed out in short, sharp exhales of air as his eyes locked with Clint’s. The older Larabee pulled on his son’s hand, drawing him closer and lower to the bed. Clint released his hold on Chris’ hand and wrapped his own hand around the back of the boy’s head, drawing it close to his own chest. With all the strength in his weakened body, the cop hugged his son one handedly as he pressed his own face into the back of Chris’ hair, his own tears flowing freely. They were the first he allowed himself to shed since the death of his wife and daughter. He knew as well, that the silent sobs that wracked his son’s body were the first since the boy lost his mother and sister. They remained in silence and in healing for some time, neither eager to relinquish the hold they had on the other.

Finally they broke apart as Chris sat back in his chair, his blackened eyes now red rimmed as well. They shared the awkward embarrassment of men who just revealed deeply held and checked emotions. And finally that was broken in the only way that they knew how; they laughed at themselves, though neither said a word. And before they knew it, they were talking about their everyday lives and catching up on the events that the other had been too lost in his own grief to notice.

And that was the way that Beatrice and Buck found them when they finally entered the room. Mother and son almost backed out immediately when they saw how easily and naturally the Larabees were getting along. But they were told to come in and stay since they were so much like family.


Chris reflected on that first day in the hospital as he waited for his friends to find him in the clearing. It had been a week before they were allowed back into the school. Aside from Buck, Chris did not have a chance to see too much of the others. They were all debriefed by the Army and FBI and had been interviewed by the newspapers. Their picture even made it on the front page. But after that, he talked to Vin only a couple of times, as well as Josiah and Nate. But nobody heard from J.D. and Ezra. He hoped that his two newest friends, and he had come to realize that they were indeed now part of the small circle of friends that he found, were well and would return.

Despite having to do it in the hospital, he and his dad spent a great deal of time together over the last week. The air had not been fully cleared between them, but the fog was beginning to lift. One of the things that they discussed at length was Clint’s drinking. The cop attempted to brush aside Chris’ concerns, but his son was adamant. Clint sat in silence as he listened to his son’s softly spoken lecture. Chris tried to remind his father that it had been a drunk in the car that crashed into them, killing his wife and daughter. And he had seen the visible affect those words had on Clint. He believed his father when the elder Larabee promised that he would not turn to the bottle for relief from his pain. Chris found some healing in that. It was as if, because Clint acknowledged the role that alcohol played in the deaths of Sarah and Eve, some of the guilt could be taken off of Chris. He would never truly be rid of it, but somehow it eased a little with the newfound understanding he shared with his father.

His thoughts were interrupted as Vin entered the clearing. "Hey, cowboy," the Texan grinned. Chris looked up at him and smiled, foregoing his customary glare at his little used nickname.

"If it isn't one of the heroes!" Chris teased back. Vin rolled his eyes at the newspaper characterizations for them and slouched into the seat beside him.

"Can you believe all that fuss?" the Texan complained. "All I wanted was to spend a few days showing Betty and Henry the city sights without some journalist in my face asking dumb questions!"

Chris nodded in sympathy. "Yeah it was pretty bad at the hospital as well until some of Dad's friends made sure they kept their distance," Chris explained, remembering with disgust the barrage he had to walk through every time he arrived and left the hospital.

"How is your dad?" Vin asked. He kept in touch during the week but had not spoken to Chris for two days.

"Well enough to keep asking when he can go home!"

"So they gonna let him?"

"Well they insisted someone be there for a couple of days and Buck's mom volunteered," Chris told him then laughed.

"What's so funny?" Vin smiled.

"Dad quickly agreed you know, anything to get out of there Then Beatrice starts talking about getting him Dandelion tea and having her male masseuse come around to do some aroma therapy to reduce his stress levels," Chris recounted with a grin.

"You should have seen his face, Vin," Chris continued and let loose a unrestrained joyful laugh. Vin happily joined in the laughter, elated to find his friend in such a good mood. The past week with his father softened some of darker persona the senior often carried and the slight change gratified the younger boy, more than he would ever admit. As their laughter died down the two friends basked in the enjoyable silence that was unique to their relationship until Chris spoke again.

"How are your folks?" he asked and immediately liked how Vin beamed at the informal way Chris referred to his foster parents.

"They're the best!" he said simply.

"Yep. We all noticed that," Chris agreed, remembering how the Van Owens made a warm impression on all of them.

"I think they might have money problems though," Vin frowned. "I heard the end of a conversation but when I asked them about it, they said everything was fine."

"Maybe when you go home at Christmas, you can find out more," Chris suggested and the sophomore nodded. He was about to add something else when he saw someone approaching.

Josiah entered the clearing next and while he smiled a greeting to both of them it was as if a cloud hung over the senior’s head. His normally clear, intelligent eyes were dulled with sadness, and his countenance, normally transformed with his wide grin, was dour. Chris and Vin exchanged a look as they recognized the symptoms of Josiah having a hard time dealing with his father.

For his part, Josiah knew that the other boys saw and understood his depressed state and was grateful that they were silently supportive. But his father was his own cross to bear, and he would shoulder it for as long as he could so that he could spare the burden from his sister. But he could tell that his time was running out and that Hannah was beginning to rebel against the restraints of their father.

He could no longer soothe away her concerns that nothing she did could please her father. She was growing up quickly, noticing the disparity between the way that Bernardo treated his congregation and his own family. It was filling her with an anger and bitterness that Josiah could no longer whisper away with calming words. And she was still so young, her innocence and childhood being robbed away from her by a father too selfish to see how he was destroying that which he should cherish the most. Josiah’s heart ached with despair and helplessness as he felt his sister slipping away from him. And the hole in his heart that stemmed from the loss of her was filling with hatred and bitterness toward his own father, who he once respected and looked up to.

But Josiah could not speak on these things to his friends for they were his escape from all that. With them he could be loose and free; truly be himself without the concern that they might look down on him. And so it was that with a little bit of effort, he was able to shrug off the darkness that overshadowed him. After all, he could not help but relax around the comfort of his friends, especially as he came to notice that Chris seemed to have made some semblance of peace with his demons, though they were far from put to rest.

And so he sat with them, talking about how the school seemed to rebound rather well from the events of last week. It was in that discussion that Nathan found them. There was no doubting that Nate enjoyed his week away as the tall junior’s wide smile spread across his entire face as he greeted them.

"Have a good time with your parents?" Josiah asked, his voice warm and rich with his happiness for his best friend.

"The best since… I can’t even remember when," Nate answered, his smile managing to widen even further as the memories washed over him. The three other boys shared knowing and happy glances, as Nathan continued unaware, "We didn’t even do anything special, but it was all special. You know?"

Vin nodded, "Yeah, we know. And we’re happy for ya, Nate. So tell us a bit about it."

He started to reply as he took one of the empty chairs in the clearing, but J.D. and Buck made their loud entry into the clearing. The two were arguing as usual.

"It’s a gift, Buck! It’s the thought that counts," J.D. said, a touch of anger coloring his usual easy going demeanor.

"The thought?" Buck asked in complete disbelief. "And just what were you thinking when you bought this?" The taller boy flapped something in his hand too quickly for the other boys to get a good look at it, but they thought it looked like a baseball cap.

J.D. sighed, hunching his shoulders forward and ducking his head as he answered in defeat. "That I’d like for my best friend to have the cap of the best football team."

Buck eyed him, feeling his anger start to fade away, despite his desire to keep it. The kid was just so pitiful looking. "But you know I don’t even like them," he argued weakly, as he looked around for some support from his other friends. But they would not meet his gaze as they tried to suppress their laughter.

J.D. sighed again, even more heavily than before. With a quick swipe he grabbed the cap from Buck. "Well, if you don’t really want it, then I guess I’ll just have to keep it," he said smugly as he proudly fit the cap to his head.

Buck’s mouth dropped open as the others burst into laughter, realizing the snow job that the freshman just pulled. J.D. could not help but rub it in. "Just think, Buck, if you had kept it, you wouldn’t have to see me wearing it all the time." With that he took a seat between Nathan and Vin.

Buck finally laughed at himself as he grudgingly nodded his head. "I’ll admit, kid, that was good. You are learning. You just stick with me and you’ll do fine. We might even find some girl that we can convince to go out with you."

J.D. blushed and turned away from the other’s laughter. "Speaking of girls, Buck," Nathan asked, "how many of ‘em had to listen to your exaggerated retelling of everything?"

His roommate smiled as he found a chair by Chris. "No exaggeration was necessary. The girls love me for who I am."

Chris snorted and received a wounded look from Buck. "Now honestly, they saw my picture in the paper and they just couldn’t help themselves."

"Buck Wilmington, a legend of his own making," Josiah stated with a grin.

"Speaking of legends," Nathan changed the subject, seeing Buck getting prepared to launch into a tirade on how girls were just automatically drawn to him, "how’s your mother? My mom sure did appreciate her sending an autographed copy of her latest novel."

Buck groaned. "Let’s not talk about my mother, okay?"

That immediately got everyone’s attention and insured that it would be the only topic. "Why not?" Vin asked. "There sure seemed to be a lot of talk about her."

Chris nodded, "Oh, we learned long ago that you just can’t go anywhere with Montana Fontaine and not attract a lot of attention and talk. Didn’t we, Buck?"

His oldest friend glared at him. "Ain’t that the truth? And the woman has no shame!" His friends laughed as they all shared the thought, like mother, like son, but no one spoke it aloud.

"Don’t listen to him," Chris told the others conspiratorially. "He’s just mad cause Miss Fontaine stole all his thunder."

"And how could such a lovely, little thing like your mother do that, Buck?" Josiah asked with mock innocence.

Buck tossed a glare at all of them, before losing his irritation in a smile. Chris shook his head at his friend. There was just something so good-natured about Buck. Unless there was a malicious attack against him or his friends, Buck just did not hold a grudge. Nor did he mind, on occasion, being teased as long as the final outcome was that they could all laugh together. "Well, Hell!" he exclaimed. "I was the one who knocked that first guard out. But do you think the reporters wanted to hear about that? Oh no! They wanted to know what the plot was on Mom’s next book. Hell, I could tell them that. Let’s see…some strong willed, yet impetuous woman meets the man of her dreams, but is too stupid to see it at first. So they fight, each hiding their attraction, their desire for each other. Ah, but their love is destined to be and so they admit they love each other. Then some horrible, devastating circumstance sweeps in and separates them, most likely forever. But by God, and a couple of major plot contrivances later, they find each other again and live happily ever after. That’s what they’re all about."

Josiah struggled against his deep laughs in order to say, "But you left out the all important sex scenes. Your mother has the most incredible descriptive details in her stories."

Buck ignored the laughter of the others as he looked at Josiah in shock. "You read her stories?"

"But of course. As your friend, I feel it is only proper to support your mother’s endeavors."

Buck tilted his head to the side as he gazed at Josiah with his best ‘you’re bullshitting me and I know it’ look. He said nothing though, just looked around at his friends, noticing that Ezra was still missing. The others boys knew it as well, each hoped that the southerner returned to the school and that he would join them out here. The last time they had seen him was at the news conference that the FBI held, celebrating them as the heroes. Chris made it a point to remind Ezra that they were all meeting under their tree when the campus was reopened. The southerner had not said that he would meet them there, but nodded his thanks for the offer. And so they waited to see if he would show up.

"How was your week off, J.D.?" Vin asked to fill the silence.

The freshmen looked up in surprise and with a little bit of embarrassment replied, "Okay, I guess. I stayed at my aunt’s house."

An uncomfortable silence settled over them, as no one knew how to respond to that admission. They had all learned about the strained relationship between J.D. and his father and stepmother. Vin looked at Buck in apology for bringing the subject up, but the junior shook it off.

Nathan was desperately thinking of anything to say to break the silence when an unmistakable southern drawl did it for him. "Good Lord! There are perfectly good dorm rooms where y’all could gather. Instead, y’all just had to choose this God forsaken locale."

Gratified grins spread across the faces of the six boys as Ezra entered the clearing, though he did not meet any of their eyes. He was not at all sure about how they would react to his presence. He talked himself in and out of coming several different times. Finally his curiosity won out and he had followed the directions given to him by Vin when the Texan had first tried to get him to join them. Now he struggled to hide his insecurity in the only way he knew how, sarcasm and misdirection.

"We like the peace and quiet," Buck said, "or at least we used to."

Ezra heard the teasing tone and immediately took the words to be a jab at his tendency to enjoy hearing himself speak. Oddly, he found it comforting. He knew how to handle teasing, but would have been completely at a loss if they had greeted him like an old friend. He ignored Buck, knowing that would irritate the older boy more than anything else he could say. Instead he looked around at the others, his gaze settling on Chris. He did an exaggerated double take as he noticed that the senior was dressed in his customary black jeans but wore a new midnight blue shirt.

"Why, Christopher, I almost did not recognize you. Did you know that there is color upon your person? Though it is very subtle." Ezra stated, his drawl lengthening the words, yet somehow softening the sarcasm and infusing them with a teasing warmth at the same time.

Chris snickered lightly as he shook his head. The other boys smiled as well, but waited to hear Chris’ reaction. "I thought I’d give something new a try."

Ezra heard the double meaning in the senior’s words and gave him a slight nod as a smile graced his face. "It is always good to broaden one’s horizons."

"Yep," was Chris’ simple reply. Ezra took the remaining chair and asked, "So what were y’all discussing?"

"How we spent our free week off," Vin answered. The southerner nodded but gave no indication of sharing anything about his own time. So Vin prodded, "How was yours?"

"Never long enough," Ezra stated and it was clear from his tone that he was not about to explain further. In truth, Ezra could not wait to return to Regents. True to form, he and Maude could only take so much of each other. They argued as usual, mostly about his desire to return to the school. Maude wanted to use the experience and its ‘traumatizing affect’ on Ezra as leverage against Robert, since her new husband had been the one to insist that her son attend the school. But the boy’s wish had been to come back to the school for the full year and he stubbornly refused to back down. In the end, Maude finally acceded to his demands and even gave him her solemn word that she would not take him out of the school until the entire year was over. Normally he would not have taken his mother’s word at face value. But this time he knew that she would keep it, though he had no real reason why. He also knew that there would be some time in the future, whether it be near or far, when she would call in this ‘favor’. But no matter what that was, Ezra felt the chance of getting to know and have six good friends was well worth it.

Wanting to change the subject, the southerner suddenly and loudly said in outrage, "Do you know that I have been placed on permanent probation? How can someone be on permanent probation? Probation is in and of itself a trial period!"

"What?" six voices asked at once.

"Dean Parker has informed me that due to the so-called ‘contraband’ discovered in my room, that the school has no choice but to place me on permanent probation. And Headmaster Lowell agreed with him." Ezra stood up by this time and was pacing back and forth in the small clearing, gesturing broadly with his hands as he tried to channel off his excessive, irritated energy. "I mean, after everything that I did! They never would have even known about all that stuff if it hadn’t of been for me!"

"That’s probably what they are upset about," Josiah stated, trying to hide his smile.

The southerner whirled to face him, striding quickly over so that he was mere inches from the senior. "But what’s the point now? It’s not like I can use any of that stuff anymore since it’s all been destroyed."

"Maybe they’re trying to discourage you from gathering a new stash?" Josiah countered.

Ezra met Josiah’s gaze for a moment and the senior could almost see the thoughts flashing through the younger boy’s quick and agile mind. "Well that is true," he stated agreeably. Then striding off to pace again in agitation, he added, "But it’s still not fair!"

"Well, all’s fair in…" Nathan started with a laugh, but was interrupted when Ezra turned to face him, his hand raised up in a vehement stopping notion.

"Don’t say it," he drawled, "don’t you dare even say it! Because this is most certainly not love and while I do find myself at odds with the dean and headmaster I would not consider this a war." He stopped then, a crafty smile creeping up his face as his pale green eyes narrowed with a devilish thought. "But then, perhaps it is about time that I counterattack," he added thoughtfully as he rubbed his bottom lip with the side of his thumb.

Vin groaned, "That would be a bad idea, Ezra."

"What would be a bad idea?" Chris asked severely, demanding an answer.

Vin answered Chris but kept a stern eye on his roommate. "Trying to get some payback on Parker and Lowell."

"Oh, you don’t have to worry about any threats against your scholarship, Vincent," Ezra assured, tossing away that concern easily. "I asked Dean Parker if you were still required to ‘inform’ on my activities."

Vin and the others all stared at him in open amazement. The Texan was the first to find his voice, "You asked him that flat out?"

Ezra shrugged as if it were nothing at all. "Of course. He said no, that he would be keeping a very careful eye on me instead." The southerner rolled his eyes. "Like he has a chance of catching me at anything."

The news that he was officially off the hook put Vin at ease. The possibility of pulling a prank on the top school officials themselves became very appealing to him. "So what do you have in mind?" he asked, unable to hide the eagerness in his voice.

Ezra resumed his pacing, "Well several ideas immediately come to mind, but it need to be something daring and that makes a bold statement."

"Something that will lead you into more trouble than you can handle," Nathan said disapprovingly.

"I can assure you, that I have never been in more trouble than I can handle," he answered.

Nathan rolled his eyes as he leaned back into his chair and crossed his arms across his chest. "But your day will come," he retorted in a softly voiced threat.

Ezra either did not hear it or chose to ignore it as he continued working out his ideas. The others watched with amusement as the southerner paced around the clearing, pausing as a good idea struck him only to shake his head, dismiss it and then resume pacing. Finally he seemed to latch onto the perfect idea as he looked at each of them in turn, a truly mischievous glint burning in his sage eyes. "Could I interest any of you in abetting in the perfect payback plot?"

Nathan shook his head almost as quickly as J.D. eagerly nodded. Vin also gave him a nod of assent. The others eyed him skeptically even as Buck asked, "What’s the plot?"

Seeing that it would only take a little bit of persuasion to sway them to his side, Ezra quickly explained his plan. Even Nathan had to admit that if it was pulled off, it would indeed be a truly poetic prank and the beauty of it was that no one would get hurt by it. Well, unless they were caught. He shook his head as he caught himself thinking of it as if he would go along with them. And he knew there would be a them by the smiles crossing the faces of all the others except for Chris. This was verified as Buck and Josiah both laughed and said, "Count me in," almost simultaneously.

Josiah nudged Nathan with a hard elbow to his side. "Come on, Nate, relax and live a little. What is the worst that could happen?"

The junior sighed, "I can think of a hundred things." But his resolve was weakening. It would be fun to be a little daring for once.

"Any one of them life altering?" Josiah prodded.

Nathan considered it carefully and could not really find a compelling reason not to go along with it. At worse he would be put on suspension and his parents would be called. But considering that they were always telling him that he should loosen up a bit, he figured that they would not be all that mad. "No," he admitted. Then with a shake of his head and a grin to show that he could not believe what he was saying, he added, "Count me in, too."

All eyes fell on Chris, eliciting a shake of the senior’s blond head. "Count me out on this one, boys," he said. He looked up briefly and caught Vin’s eye. The Texan caught a glimmer of something in Chris’ green eyes and knew that the senior was up to something and hoped that he would have time to find out what that was.

They sat around and worked out the details of Ezra’s plan before time ran out on them and they had to return to the dorms for curfew. In the end, they were all looking forward for the opportunity to partake in the prank. It felt pretty good to work all together on something again, even if Chris was abstaining from the actual execution of the deed, he was willing to help in the planning. And his input proved to be invaluable as the senior had a keen eye for details. The other six could not hide their disappointment that he would not be joining them.


It was nearly midnight when Vin sat up quickly as he heard movement outside their dorm room. Looking across the room he saw Ezra mimic his movement in the darkness.

"What are you waiting for?" came an urgent whisper through the door.

"Were we supposed to knock?" was the whispered reply.

Ezra opened the door and pulled the two boys through the door, poked his head outside briefly to check that the hallway was clear before closing the door again.

There was a muffled snort followed by a louder one.

"Please control yourselves!" Ezra pleaded quietly.

"Sorry, Ezra," J.D. whispered giving Buck a push when he choked back a laugh.

"Where is Nathan and Josiah?" Vin asked.

"Nathan went to get Josiah. They should be here any minute," Buck answered.

"Sit down and be quiet until they come," Ezra ordered. Their room was bathed in a soft glow emitted from an outside light and Ezra saw Buck plonk down next to Vin pushing the young boy along the bed. He teasingly reached out to rub the Texan's head but Vin slapped his hand away and J.D. giggled.

"Sssshhh!" Ezra ordered and shook his head disapprovingly. His look had the desired effect, as his three friends became seated statues. They were still all quiet when Nathan and Josiah arrived a few minutes later. Their arrival was silent compared to their counterparts. Josiah was smiling as he greeted the others in whispers whereas Nathan looked nervously excited.

Ezra allowed a brief interlude of talk before he took charge.

"Are we ready?" he asked and they all nodded.

"Everyone clear about the plan?" and again they all nodded.

"I hope we don't get caught," Nathan blurted.

Buck chuckled and draped an arm around Nathan's shoulder. "It's alright, Nate, we know you're a prank virgin and don't worry, we'll be gentle with you," he teased. Nathan glared and shrugged Buck's arm away.

"Buck!" Josiah warned, trying to keep his own laughter in check despite the chuckles of amusement from the others.

"Alright," Buck grinned holding his hands up.

"Let's go," Ezra drawled before anything else was said.

With a gesture, Ezra led them out the door and down the hallway. Looking back constantly, he was surprised to realize how much he was enjoying this. Until recently, he always carried out his escapades and pranks by himself. Then he had met Vin and discovered the pleasure of having a partner in crime. But tonight he had five friends ready and willing to go along with his plan and with it the feeling of excitement and daring was ten-fold.

After a number of hallways and stairwells, they reached their destination. Opening the door silently, Ezra waited until they had all entered before closing the door and turning on his flashlight. They were all huddled in front of him and they all screwed up their eyes as the light penetrated the darkness. There was a sound to his left and Ezra hurriedly flashed his light towards it. There was a collections of gasps and intake of breaths, followed by colorful curses.

"Dammit, Chris, you scared the crap out of us!" Vin berated and the senior grinned wickedly.

"Yeah!" Buck agreed. "How come you changed your mind?" he asked, secretly pleased his oldest friend joined them.

"You girls would get caught without my help!" Chris shrugged nonchalantly. "Well, let's get moving!" he added.

Ezra met Chris’ eyes briefly, the southerner’s smile smug, as if he had known all along that the senior would join them. Chris’ eyes gleamed as he raised a finger to quiet any comment Ezra was going to make. "You’re gonna owe me for this one, Standish," the senior promised.

Ezra tilted his head to the side, but was not allowed to voice his question. "I’m not gonna tell you what it is now," Chris said, "but when I do, you’re gonna have to do it." Their eyes locked as the challenge was thrown down and accepted. For Chris, it was to get Ezra to do what he wanted. And for Ezra, it was to deny Chris the satisfaction. With that understanding, they turned to helping the other boys in their evening’s work.

+ + + + + + +

Headmaster Lowell parked his car in his reserved car space and eased himself out of the driver's seat before retrieving his briefcase and coat from the back seat. Making his way to his office, he immediately noticed huddles of boys along his walk, accompanied by sniggers and smirks. With a rising concern, he turned the corner and entered the quad, his steps slowing and finally stopping at the sight before him.

In the middle of the grassy quad, his entire office furniture and contents were set out in perfect replication of the way he had his office set up. His desk complete with phone and personal items, executive chair, meeting table, chairs, hat stand, lamp, even his coffee table adorned with his potted plant were all there. He blinked and his jaw dropped before he slowly shook his head and made his way towards his newly situated office.

Dean Parker was already there, arms folded looking unimpressed as he occasionally sent glares into the grouped boys in a failed effort to silence them.

"Morning, Harry," Lowell greeted him quietly.

"Jim," Parker replied just as informally.

"Let me guess, no one saw or heard anything?"

"That's right," Parker admitted. "But I know who did this!"

"And how is that?"

"They left a calling card, so to speakl" he replied and nodded to the desk. Lowell walked around and put his briefcase on his desk and sat on his chair. Picking up a folded newspaper, he opened it up and began laughing. Despite his dour countenance, Parker began smiling.

"What do you want to do?" Parker asked and looked puzzled when Lowell grinned mischievously.

"I think it's a lovely day to have classes outdoors!" he joked as Parker returned the grin.

Leaning back in his chair, he threw his legs up onto the desk crossing them at the ankles. He made an exaggerated effort about getting comfortable before he returned his attention to the newspaper in his hands. Chuckling again, he read again the prominent headline from last week's newspaper.



Continues in Fish Tales and Fathers

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