Fish Tales and Fathers

by Monica M. and Debra M.

Alternate Universe: "Regents"

Disclaimer: The M7 characters in this story belong to MGM.

Thanks: To Anna for her constant encouragement. (See I didn’t once mention nagging. <g>)

Notes: This story is more of an epilogue to our story Seven Toy Soldiers, so you might want to give that one a read before this one. We’ve become attached to the seven as teenagers and have developed a chronicle of stories (well at least a few so far) about their year in school together and perhaps even into their future as young men. Anyway this basically sets up some relationships and ideas that we’d like to explore and we hope that y’all will enjoy them with us.

Size: Approx. 160K

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Sitting in his La-Z Boy watching the NASCAR race at Talledega, Clint Larabee truly believed that it did not get much better than this. That was, of course, right when the doorbell rang. The police officer was not expecting anyone and did not feel like having any company either, so he turned the volume down on the big screen TV and hoped that whoever it was would just go away. The doorbell rang again followed quickly by knocking on the door itself. Clint groaned but remained fixed in his chair, determined not to have his Sunday ruined. He winced with the sound of a key turning in the lock.

He slid deeper into the recliner hoping that Beatrice Wilmington would not see him and figure that he had left the TV on, as he was prone to do on occasion. Once again, he discovered there was no such luck as she strode over and stood in front of him, effectively blocking out the TV. "I’m watching the race," he growled in greeting. "Move it!"

Beatrice turned to look at the screen. Her voice was dripping with sarcasm, as she answered, "Oh yes, can’t miss a minute of this. Cars going around in circles. Who knows? Somebody might suddenly decide to turn right for a change."

"That’s called a wreck on this kind of track," he responded as he reached out with a foot and pushed her aside. "You know, I think you can give me that key back now."

She smiled at him as she shook her head. "This key?" She held up his front door key. "Oh no. Somebody has to check up on you. So if you’re gonna want it back, you’re going to have to take it from me." With that she raised her eyebrows at him as she pulled the front of her T-shirt forward and stuffed the key into her bra.

Clint glared at her. "You think I won’t?" he asked with his own raised eyebrows.

Beatrice laughed then, a full-throated lovely laugh. "I know you won’t! You’re too old school for that!" Clint could not help the smile that crept across his face in response to her laughter.

"Yeah, I’m a regular gentleman. Too bad I’m in a world where there ain’t anymore ladies," Clint teased back.

"And don’t you forget it!" Beatrice stated proudly as she waggled her finger at him and tossed him a wink. She looked around at the house that was in amazingly good shape considering Clint’s bachelor lifestyle. "Well, I can tell by your ‘genial’ disposition that you are almost fully recuperated. Of course your enjoyment of watching cars drive around in circles all day does not speak well for your state of mind. But then, that’s normal for you also."

"What do you want, Bea?" he asked, knowing how much she hated the shortened form or her name.

She sighed and shook her head. "Just thought I’d drop by and see how you were doing, is all."

"I’m fine," he asserted, his cool, green eyes briefly meeting hers before flicking back to the TV screen. "But thanks for asking," he added softly.

Beatrice smiled warmly at him. "You’re welcome." Sitting down on the couch adjacent to him, she asked, "So is this how you are going to spend all of your free time?"

"They only race on Sundays," he answered smiling, already anticipating her response.

Her eyes rolled skyward. "I do at least know that!" She paused as she caught a glimpse of a prerecorded driver interview being shown in a split screen with the race. "Hey! Now who’s that?"

Clint rolled his eyes this time, "Oh, you would like ‘pretty boy’!"

"’Pretty boy’?" She raised her eyebrows questioningly. "Is this ‘pretty boy’ married?"

"I don’t keep track of the drivers’ marital status. What do you care anyway? You looking for a new boyfriend? Your other five not enough?" he teased.

"It’s only two for your information. A girl should always have options." She leaned back into the couch, crossing her legs and throwing her arms out over the headrest.

Clint decided to ignore her comments. He was not about to get into an argument about that with her. He had always left it to Sarah to believe that one day Beatrice would meet the one man who would sweep her off her feet and convince her to marry him. He laughed to himself as he remembered Sarah insisting that he invite over eligible, young cops so that Beatrice could meet them. And despite the fact that everyone at the station knew what he was doing and knew of all the failures of everyone before them, he never had anyone refuse the offer. Beatrice was after all an incredibly beautiful woman, a lively free spirit and a rich one to boot. What man in his right mind would pass up the opportunity to at least meet her in hopes of being the one? "You know now that you mentioned it, I think he’s divorced or in the middle of one. They made a big deal about it at the beginning of the season but you don’t hear anything about it anymore."

"Really? So even in the manly world of racing, you boys like a little gossip," she mocked.

Clint rolled his eyes at her. "NASCAR’s got a lot of female fans these days. They’re probably the ones to blame." Pushing himself out of his chair he stood up and stalked over to the kitchen. "Because you know it’s just like women to go and ruin everything!"

Beatrice laughed at his remark, knowing full well that he did not truly mean it. She and Clint would just never see eye to eye on much of anything. They were just from two completely different worlds. In the beginning they had suffered each other’s presence only because of their sons and because Sarah willed it. Beatrice had greatly admired the other woman and deep down in her heart the younger woman had been jealous of the matrimonial bliss that Sarah possessed. She had meant a lot to Beatrice, had always been there for her, and that was why, despite his crusty demeanor, she felt she owed it to Sarah to keep an eye on Clint.

"Oh, it doesn’t ruin anything! The cars are still going round and round. But, hey! At least I got you off your ass. I mean you can’t just mope around this house for the next couple of weeks."

"I wasn’t moping," he stated firmly as he returned from the kitchen with a coke. True to his word to Chris, he had gotten rid of all the alcohol in the house. "I was watching the race until ‘someone’ had to come over and ‘ruin’ it!" He sat back down and met her unimpressed eyes. He tossed her a mock glare, which only garnered him a laugh.

"Well, judging from the relatively clean state of the house I would say that you just might have been expecting someone to come over," she teased. Then leaning forward she asked, "Want to tell me about her?"

"No one to tell you about," he growled as he turned up the volume on the TV.

"Really? Not even the redhead I saw leaving your hospital room a couple of times? Don’t want to tell me about her?"

Clint studied her intently, noting the very pleased look flashing in her brown eyes. "She’s a friend, from work. See, those of us who work with other people have them. Those of you, who work alone, don’t. I see how you get confused."

Beatrice nodded, the smile brightening in her eyes, "So, this friend…Chris know about her?"

"He knows his father’s not antisocial," he stated and she caught the glint in his eyes.

She had to laugh then and shook her head at him, knowing she would get no further admission from him. So instead she turned it back around on him, "So why doesn’t this ‘social’ father go out and do something with his son?"

He chuckled softly and she waited for him to explain. After a moment of consideration on his part he did. "You know I did plan on taking Chris fishing. That was why I was out there at the school that day." That day had been the day that a Colombian druglord had attempted to take over Regents School for boys only to have his plan thwarted by seven teenagers. The boys had acquitted themselves very well with the only casualties being the druglord and his henchmen, though Clint had taken a bullet meant for his son and was now on leave from the police department as he recuperated.

Beatrice smiled warmly at him, her eyes crinkling slightly. She knew what he was not saying, that he and Chris still had a long road to go before their relationship was mended. And so she said nothing but nodded encouragingly at him.

"Maybe I’ll invite him and Buck out for a trip. Me and the boys haven’t been fishing in a long time."

Beatrice laughed out loud, a truly infectious happy laugh. "You sure you want Buck to go with you? Didn’t you have to save him from a skinning from some girl’s irate father, the last time?"

Clint joined the laughter, shaking his head. "You know, it’s not natural how that boy tells you everything."

"No secrets between Buck and me, that’s our rule," she stated proudly. Then leaning in conspiratorially she added, "Although there are some times that I am hard pressed to believe everything he tells me."

Clint continued to shake his head but the smile was clear in his green eyes. "He’s one of a kind, that’s for sure. But he’s a good boy, gonna be a fine man, Beatrice." She swelled a little with pride at those words so he had to add, "But you better watch him, or else he’ll make you a grandma soon."

"Don’t even joke about that, Clint Larabee!" she expressed firmly, her face going suddenly very serious.

Clint shook with silent laughter. "Alright, I won’t." He paused for a moment. "But aren’t you a little wor…"

"No! I’m not," she stopped him. "Trust me. No secrets between Buck and me, remember. We’ve had several conversations about this. Chris will make you a grandfather before Buck makes me a grandmother."

"Oh? Is that your other rule?" he teased.

She nodded, "Yes. Yes, it is."

Clint was convinced then that she was dead serious so he managed to curtail his laughter. Coughing loudly he turned back to their original subject, "Anyway, I think it would be like old times if me and the boys went fishing."

Beatrice fumed a bit, still trying to get over the image of anyone calling her grandma. She shuddered slightly at the idea of dirty diapers again. Clint’s words filtered through and she smiled again. "Don’t know about the old times, but the boys part you got right. If I know my Buck," she held his eyes again as she added assuredly, "and I do know my Buck, he’ll want to invite young J.D. with him. I don’t think that poor boy ever went on outings like that with his father."

Clint considered that for a moment then gave a sideways nod and a shrug. "That’s okay by me. He’s a pretty respectful kid. ‘Sides it’ll be Buck’s job to keep an eye on him and get him fishing."

Beatrice nodded, her expression blank as she added, "Course then Chris might get it in his head to invite Vin since he loves the outdoors so much. And he was raised in foster homes and I doubt very much that he has ever had much opportunities like this."

"I like Vin," Clint stated. "He’s a good kid, too. The strong, ‘silent’ type."

Her crooked smile made a reappearance on her face as she continued, "With the four of them going, you don’t think they would exclude Josiah and Nathan, now do you?"

"Now them I see as just going along for the trip. But that’s fine. Those boys have never been any trouble at all."

Beatrice nodded, but now her lips quirked into a full grin. "But you do know now that there are seven of them…"

Clint sat up straight in his chair, raising a warning finger, which she ignored. "So of course that means that…"

"Don’t say it, Bea," he warned.

"That you will also be taking Ezra on your little trip," she laughed.

Clint sighed heavily as his eyes shot skyward as if searching for divine intervention. "That’s not funny, Bea. Besides I don’t think the great outdoors is that boy’s idea of a good time. Even if he’s invited, I doubt he’d come along."

"You underestimate the others. I’m telling you, they’re a set. You take one, you take all seven." She laughed again as Clint ran his hand through his hair.

He gave her a sideways glance and then asked, "Well what are you doing next weekend?"

Beatrice ignored the question, "Clint, with that many boys, why don’t you let me help out with expenses? In fact, let me handle car and cabin rentals. I can get you a great deal. And I know of the perfect place where all eight of you can stay."

Clint nodded. He had learned long ago that when it came to Beatrice and money his pride did not stand a chance. The woman would just do as she pleased anyway. And with that many boys he would need the help. Which led him to repeat his question. "But what are you doing next weekend?"

She sighed heavily as she stared up at him from beneath her long lashes. He leaned toward her, his eyebrows raising questioningly as he realized she was not certain she wanted to tell him or not. Finally, she rushed out, "I’m meeting with Maude Standish to discuss working on a book together."

She dropped her head into her hands in dismay as he laughed with glee. But inwardly she was almost enjoying it. She had not heard Clint laugh uncontrollably since Sarah and Eve died. When he was able to talk again, he said, "Good! If I’ve got to deal with a Standish, so do you! Although at least I can send mine off with his friends, that’s still if he even goes. You get to listen to yours all day long. And I bet that woman can talk all day nonstop."

"Shut up, Clint," Beatrice tossed at him as she stood up.

"Oh yeah, see if that line works on her," he teased. "She might marvel at your creativity and prowess with the English language, Miss Best-selling Author."

"I’m leaving now," she said as she strode past him. "I’ll let you get back to the riveting sport of watching cars drive around in circles, left hand turns are so engrossing!" She paused at the front door. "But don’t worry, I’ll be sure and make those reservations for eight." She paused a moment, then added sweetly, "Or should I make it for nine? That way you can invite your redheaded friend from work as well."

His response was to turn the volume up even louder and toss her a wave goodbye over the headrest. Beatrice let herself out and locked the door behind her. She would have to be sure and tell Buck to remember everything so that she could get all the details of this little fishing trip. Clint and seven teenage boys. She was sure there would be at least one story there. It might not be a romance, but she could not wait to hear it.

+ + + + + + +

Clint weighed his options and finally decided that he would simply wait for Chris’ phone call. The young man called just about every other day now. Usually their conversations were brief, but were still a far cry better than the almost complete lack of communication that they used to know. The call came a bit later in the evening.

"Hey, Dad," Chris greeted him. "So who won today’s race?"

"Junior did," Clint answered.

Silence greeted his response for a moment as Chris thought on that. Father and son had enjoyed watching the races together once upon a time, though they had never really agreed on a favorite driver. But one they had both respected and admired immensely was the late Dale Earnhardt and both had hoped to see his son, Junior, follow in his footsteps. "He is a chip off the old block, isn’t he?" Chris finally said.

"Yes, he is," Clint agreed. "His dad is mighty proud of him, I’m sure," his tone conveyed the fact that the same was true between their particular father/son relationship.

Chris paused a moment again before answering, "Well Little E’s got a lot to live up to there. But he’s going to do his best."

Clint nodded though he knew the gesture was lost over the phone. He wished sometimes that he and Chris could just come out and say what they really meant and felt. But it was still so difficult for them to be completely open and honest with each other, so they talked around it, never really stating things outright, but somehow knowing what the other was trying to convey. The silence dragged on the phone for several long seconds. Finally Chris broke it, "Well, I just wanted to see how you were doing."

"I’m doing fine. Beatrice came by earlier. You know I’d change the locks on the door if I thought that you wouldn’t just go ahead and give her a copy of the new set."

Chris laughed. "Yep."

Again silence filled each of their receivers. Clint ran a hand through his hair before finally stating, "I told her that I’d like to take you boys fishing this weekend. What do you think about that?" There was a long pause on the other end and Clint began to worry that Chris would toss the idea aside.

"Boys?" the younger Larabee questioned. "As in me and Buck?"

"Yeah, and whoever else you might want to invite. I mentioned it to Beatrice and she said Buck would probably want to include that kid, J.D. And I figured you might as well invite the rest. So what do you think?" Clint hoped he did not sound desperate for approval.

"Sounds great, Dad. It’ll be good to be out on the lake again, just us guys. And Dad…"

"Yeah, Chris."

"Even if the others don’t want to go, you and I can always still go."

Clint squeezed his eyes shut in gratitude as he leaned heavily against the hallway wall. "Of course," was his simple response.

"Alright, then I’ll call you later and let you know how many."

"Alright. Then I’ll start looking into borrowing and renting some equipment for the others if they’re coming. Talk to you later, Chris."

"Later, Dad," Chris replied before disconnecting from his end. A smile crept across the senior’s face as he thought of spending a weekend with his father and his best friends. It had been far too long since he had even considered something like that and now he just could not wait. First he would have to tell Buck. He laughed as he imagined the look on the tall teen’s face when he got the invite. Fishing trips always became interesting when Buck was along. And now add the likes of J.D., Vin and the others and Chris could only wonder at what all could happen.

+ + + + + + +

Buck swaggered down the hallways, a happy whistling heralding his walk to the lower level and the freshman dorms. He could already see J.D's excited face when he told him the good news. Buck hadn't even had to ask to have J.D. included in Clint's fishing trip invitation, both Larabees already knew Buck wouldn't want to leave his young friend behind. He stopped whistling as he got closer and as he approached the room J.D. shared with Jeremy, another freshman. He heard a radio playing softly. Leaning against the open doorway he smiled as J.D. huddled over a desk, elbows on either side of a book, one hand twiddling with one of the bangs that hung over his eyes.

"Hey kid!"

J.D. jumped and immediately closed the book and shoved it aside.

Buck grinned and walked into the room.

"Whatcha reading there?"


Reaching over J.D., Buck easily snatched the book up from the desk.

"Hey, give me that back!" J.D. demanded as he jumped for the book Buck now held high above his head. Buck laughed and turned around to look at the title. He heard J.D.'s groan as his eyes widened as he recognized the book. He turned around and glanced at his now embarrassed friend.

"Passion in the Wild? You're reading one of my mother's books?" Buck asked incredulously. J.D. flushed and averted his eyes.

"Kid, you ain't old enough to read these!" Buck joked.

"I AM too!" the freshman protested.

"Where did you get this?"

"Josiah loaned it to me," J.D. replied smugly.

Buck handed the book back with a laugh as he sat on J.D's bed. "The good part starts at page 98," he told J.D. with a smirk. The freshman snatched the book back and put it safely away.

"What are you doing here?" J.D. asked, changing the subject. "I thought you were heading into town to see Cindy?"

"Libby. Her name is Libby," Buck corrected.

"Oh yeah. Cindy was last week," J.D. replied with a grin.

"You know Libby has a little sister," Buck offered.

"Nnno. Oh no," J.D. answered, shaking his head.

Buck chuckled. The kid was so shy around the girls despite his best efforts to give him the benefit of his extensive expertise with the opposite sex. "Got some news for you."


"Chris' dad is taking us fishing for the long weekend."

"Yeah? You mean me as well?" the boy asked excitedly.

"Like I could leave you," Buck replied. "You'd fret," he teased.

J.D. rolled his eyes. "When do we leave?"

"Friday morning. You'd need your dad's permission," Buck informed him. "Do you think he'll let you go?" Buck added, only now considering that possibility.

"I'll email him now," J.D. replied quickly, turning and switching on his laptop. Buck watched as the boy connected and entered his password. Ever since his father had come to the school after the hostage drama, Jonathan Dunne had begun phoning J.D. weekly and they emailed each other during the week. It wasn't much, but it was more attention that he had been receiving prior to that and Buck knew J.D. eagerly looked forward to the contact.

"Where are we going?" J.D. asked, pausing as he typed a message.

"Patoka Lake," Buck replied.

"Cool!" J.D. wiggled before completing his message and clicking send.

"I asked him to email Principal Lowell and send permission."

"Do you think he'll give it?"

"I think so," J.D. shrugged. "Who else is coming?" he asked in a brighter tone.

"Chris is talking to Vin and the others now," Buck replied.

"This is gonna be great! Are we camping?"

"I'm not sure. My mom's arranging something."

"Is she coming with us?" J.D. asked eagerly.

"Nooooo!" Buck hastily replied.

"Oh. But."

"It's a man's weekend, J.D. A fishing trip. You got it?" Buck explained, with a shake of the head.

"Oh yeah!" J.D. enthused. "Buck?"


"I don't know how to fish!"

+ + + + + + +

Chris made his way down to the school field. He recognized Vin's lean frame and longish hair from afar and smiled as he saw him talking to a girl dressed in the uniform of the girls' school that was near their own school. As he drew closer, Vin saw him walking towards him, ended his conversation, and jogged the distance between them. Vin missed the hopeful look on the girl's face as she watched him depart but Chris saw it.

"Got an admirer?" he teased as Vin stopped in front of him.

Vin smirked and tossed the hair out of his eyes. "Nah, she's just waiting for her brother to finish practice."

"Ah huh," Chris replied unconvinced but Vin began walking back to the dorms and Chris fell into step beside him.

"I called my dad earlier."

"Yeah. How is he today?" Vin enquired with concern.

"Good. A little restless. Wants to take us fishing this long weekend," Chris replied with a warm smile and Vin knew his friend liked the idea a lot.

Vin glanced up at the senior; his blue eyes alight with interest. "Us?"

"Yeah. You, me, Buck and J.D. I haven't asked Josiah and Nathan yet but I will."

"What about Ezra?" Vin asked, stopping and facing Chris.

"What about him?"

"You are asking him as well right?" Vin urged.

"You know he might not want to come. Can't really see him wanting to fish," Chris answered doubtfully.

"Don't you think we should let him make up his own mind?" Vin asked and Chris did not miss the defensive tone to his voice. Chris wasn't surprised. Vin and Ezra had become friends, despite the southerner's initial resistance to the idea. And whilst Chris had legitimate doubts about Ezra when he first arrived, with everything they had experienced together three weeks ago and the bridges they had mended since then, he honestly didn't mind if Ezra accompanied them. Because they all spent so much time together, he figured they would all miss him if he wasn't there anyway.

"Fair enough. You talk to him then," Chris offered.

Vin smiled but then his face grew thoughtful as he considered how he was going to convince Ezra he should come and that he would have a good time as well.

+ + + + + + +

Vin winced under the cover of darkness. He had decided to not bring up the subject of the fishing trip to Ezra until after lights out. It was always easier to talk to his roommate then, when he could simply focus on the other boy’s voice and not let himself fall prey to the distractive body language that Ezra employed to stop people from seeing anything more than what he wanted them to. He waited a bit until he heard the other boy settle down before calling out in a gravelly whisper, "Hey, Ez."

He heard a soft yawn before the response in a thickened, sleepy drawl, "What, Vin? What can not possibly wait until morning?"

Obviously something had not gone as the southerner had wanted during the course of the day and Ezra was annoyed. Probably not the best of times to ask him to join them on the trip, but Vin always finished what he started. "Whatcha doing this long weekend?"

Many seconds passed before Vin received a reply other than an irritated sigh. "Most likely the same thing I do every weekend. I am still not allowed off campus and my mother has already informed me that she has other obligations this weekend. Therefore, I will have to find my ‘amusement’ here." Vin could not miss the thickly laced sarcasm. But his keen ears also caught the very subtle tone of hurt in Ezra’s voice when he mentioned his mother.

"Yeah, but you are allowed off campus with proper supervision, right?"

"As much as you, Christopher, and the others like to appoint yourselves as my watchdogs, I still do not believe that Principal Lowell would categorize you as ‘proper supervision’." Vin heard it then, buried beneath the derision Ezra was curious to know just where he was going with this line of questioning

"Well I know that," he laughed, "but I don’t see how Lowell can’t see Chris’ dad as suitable supervision for you." Vin waited and listened intently but Ezra did not so much as stir for several long moments.

"And just why would I care to be placed under Officer Larabee’s supervision for any length of time, much less a long weekend?"

The Texan was glad the darkness covered his smile. Ezra was very curious now. He could hear it in his voice and in the fact that he had turned on his side facing Vin. "Cause he’s invited all of us up on a fishing trip to Patoka Lake for the weekend."

Ezra’s mocking laughter echoed around the room but Vin did not respond to it, instead he merely waited it out. He wanted to see what arguments Ezra threw at him first. He did not have to wait long for those.

"And what on earth makes you even imagine that I would care to join y’all on a fishing trip, much less one with Officer Larabee of all people?"

"’Cause knowing you, you probably ain’t ever been on a fishing trip with friends, just like I ain’t ever." He knew he had stuck a chord when Ezra did not immediately respond.

"Be that as it may," Ezra slowly stated, "I have never had the desire to go fishing with friends." What the southerner kept to himself was the fact that he had never desired it because he had never imagined having friends to enjoy such things with. "I’ve never even had the desire to go fishing at all. In fact, I believe that I could live my entire life without ever going fishing and would not regret it in the slightest."

Vin inhaled deeply but silently, gathering his determination. Ezra was proving to be difficult but somehow in his heart, the Texan just knew that Ezra truly did want to join them, he just was not prepared to admit it either to himself or to them. Vin believed in calling things as he saw them. "But can you live your entire life without friends and ‘not regret it in the slightest’?" he asked bluntly.

He heard Ezra’s indrawn breath and knew that he had managed to catch the southerner off guard and so he pressed his advantage. "More than any of the others here, Ezra, I know how hard it is to make friends when you’re constantly on the move. And yet, look at us. I don’t care how much you want to protest, but you can’t tell me that you don’t consider Chris, Buck, J.D., Nathan, Josiah, and me as your friends. We’ve been through too much. And we all know it ain’t gonna last. Chris and Josiah’ll graduate. And your ma will probably take you out of here at the end of the year. But that just means that we ought to enjoy it while we can."

In his bed, Ezra’s eyes searched the ceiling above him though only darkness surrounded him. Try as he might, he had no counterargument for Vin. He did want to enjoy these amazing friendships he had found. It was why he had very nearly begged his mother to let him stay the entire year. But of all the things that they could possibly come up with, why did it have to be fishing? It was not something he was at all eager to do. And they would all know that about him. That would mean that they would know that his whole reason for going was because he did want their friendship so very much. And he could not let them know that. In his mind, his desire for their friendship was a weakness. And his mother had always taught him to never ever let anyone know your weaknesses.

Ezra smiled when Vin provided a cover story for him. Obviously the Texan had been planning this for a while and had done his homework. Ezra was grateful even as a touch of fear filled him at having his roommate know him so well already. "And come on, Ez, you know it’ll be worth it just to get off campus for a weekend."

"Yes, well that would be the only reason why I would go along with such a trip," Ezra hastily agreed.

Vin laughed out loud at that. "Oh I know, Ez."

Silence fell over them. Vin was about to ask if Ezra was indeed going or not when the southerner stated, "There is still the problem of Officer Larabee."

Vin could tell by the slightly teasing tone that Ezra had indeed made up his mind to go and was now just being ornery. He laughed again, "I have complete faith, Ezra, that you’ll be able to make this trip a living hell for him. After all you do owe him some payback for handcuffing you."

Ezra laughed and Vin could hear him settling back down on his bed. "I like the way you think," the southerner drawled. "And you’re quite right. I couldn’t miss an opportunity like this. No, not at all. You may tell Christopher and his father to count me in."

Vin smiled smugly as he turned into his pillow. He hesitated a moment as he pulled his head back up so he could say, "You will have to get permission from your ma."

"That will be no trouble at all," Ezra promised and Vin decided he would be better off not knowing exactly what he meant by that.

+ + + + + + +

Buck collapsed down to the grass in relief as he watched Chris and Vin finish securing the last of their gear to the Dodge Durango that his mother had rented for the trip. He looked over to J.D. and again shook his head before pulling on the collar of his sweatshirt to swipe off the drops of sweat that had gathered on his forehead from his exertions despite the coolness of the morning. "You know, we’d have a lot more room if the old man had listened to me and let me drive my Mustang as well. But no! Instead we all gotta cram inside that thing with all our gear. I tell ya, J.D., sometimes I think that old man’s been knocked around one too many times and something’s got loose inside that hard head of his and is just rolling…" Buck cut off suddenly as J.D.’s eyes went wide as the younger boy looked high over Buck’s shoulder.

Buck winced and squeezed his eyes tight. "Ah Hell! He’s right behind me, isn’t he?"

J.D. nodded slowly. Swallowing hard, Buck decided to just face the music and turned around. To his utter amazement Clint was not there. Instead he heard J.D. break out into a fit of laughter. "You shoulda seen your face, Buck," the younger boy teased when he could breath again.

Buck launched himself at J.D. but the freshman was nothing if not quick and scrambled to his feet, eluding his grasp. "Well wait until you see your face when I get my hands on you," the junior threatened as he began his pursuit. "And where the hell’s the hat I got you? You should be wearing that instead of that stupid Ravens cap!" Buck extended himself, throwing himself forward to try and snatch the black cap off J.D.’s head.

J.D. continued to run but threw his hands up and grabbed hold of the brim of his cap keeping it firmly affixed to his head. "I ain’t wearing that hat!" Last night Buck had given him a specially made Regents Lions cap.

"Instead of the cap I gave you, you’re gonna wear that piece of crap?" Buck exploded as he again made a grab at the younger boy.

The freshman dodged even as he teased, "But I can’t wear it, Buck! It’s a collector’s item now. I mean you signed it and all."

Not hearing J.D.’s sarcasm, Buck stopped in his tracks and nodded. "You’re right. That’s good thinking, there, kid."

Vin and Chris, leaning again the Durango, watched the two boys race around the yard but neither made a comment. After a moment, though, Vin looked back over at Chris and said, "You know Buck does have a point."

"You actually think his signature will be worth something some day?" Chris teased dryly. Vin did not make a reply to that so finally Chris prodded, "So what do you think he has a point about?"

"It’s gonna be a tight fit there for all of us. It’s a good size SUV but Nate, Buck, and Josiah are a pretty good size, too. And you know Ez don’t like cramped spaces. "

The older boy nodded his head in understanding, but answered, "He ain’t even here yet, Vin. You sure he’s coming? My dad’s already set to go. He’s not gonna be too happy if we end up having to wait for Ezra too long."

Vin sighed. He hoped that Ezra would have spent the night at the Larabee’s like he, Buck, and J.D. had. Josiah stayed the night at Nathan’s and the two boys had arrived very early in the morning to help with the loading. Ezra claimed that Maude’s provision for him going on the trip had been that he stay the night before with her. Vin would not admit it, but he was worried that Ezra would use it as an excuse to avoid the fishing trip entirely. And as time continued to pass without his roommate’s arrival, Vin’s concern grew. But he could not let the others, especially Chris, know that. "I’m sure."

Chris knew Vin better than that, knew that the younger boy was not as confident as he wanted to appear. He did not push the subject, though. He knew it was important to Vin that they all go together. So, while part of him would not mind if Ezra did not join them, the rest of him promised severe penalties if the southerner let them down. "Well he’ll just have to suck it up for the drive. It’s not even that long of a drive, Vin. Just about an hour."

"Well if something made you that uncomfortable, would you want to do it even for just an hour?" Vin pressed.

Chris shook his head at Vin’s persistence but did not have a chance to respond as a black limousine turned down his street and then came to a stop in front of his house. The driver quickly exited and opened the passenger door. However, the occupant waited a moment before moving to exit.

Both Chris and Vin startled a bit as Clint spoke up behind them, "That boy never seems to be in a hurry to get out of a car." They turned to look at him and caught the teasing glint in his eyes, reminding them of the first time they saw Ezra exiting Clint’s police cruiser.

Vin’s lips curled into a smirk as he responded, "You might not want to remind him of that, he’s still a might touchy."

"Thanks, I’ll remember that," Clint stated so dryly that Vin was uncertain if he meant thanks for the warning or for giving him ammunition for teasing.

Finally Ezra made his way toward them, after retrieving a duffel bag from the trunk of the limo. He had been told that his gear would be provided for him. Vin felt some of his earlier enthusiasm leave him as he noted the extreme wariness with which Ezra faced them. The Texan could understand it, had been through it several times in the past himself when he faced a situation he had never been in before. But he never felt wary around his friends, these six other boys that he had been through so much with. And he had hoped that Ezra would start to feel the same way. Deciding that Ezra would get there, given time and opportunity, Vin grinned and greeted him, "Hey, Ez."

Ezra opened his mouth to make some remark but Clint spoke first. "Alright, since everyone’s here, let’s get going. Ezra, throw your bag in the back. I think there’s still just enough room. And then, you’ve got shotgun up front with me."

The southerner’s jaw snapped shut in his surprise. His eyes blinked rapidly as his brow furrowed with his confusion as to what had just happened. "I didn’t call for that particular honor. And I believe that is Christopher’s place."

And indeed, Chris was looking most displeased as he looked from his father to Ezra and back to his father. Clint shrugged off the concern. He had heard Vin and Chris’ discussion earlier and had decided that he would not make it much of a choice. He did not feel like having to hear the argument that would surely ensue. Chris would be stubborn in giving up the seat that he felt he was entitled to and Ezra would be stubborn in admitting that he might have a problem sitting in the back. Clint decided it was best that he assert his authority early on. "Chris’ll be just fine in the back. But I want you where I can keep an eye on you." It was not the true reason, but Clint knew that the challenge in his tone would be just the trick needed to make Ezra do what he wanted.

The southerner straightened as he faced the cop, but for once he managed to stop the flow of words that would have spilled from his lips. He had wanted to retort that Clint should instead keep his eyes on the road. But he thought of Chris and all the guilt that the older boy still carried on his shoulders for the accident that had taken his mother and little sister and decided that the comment would be more harmful than he intended. So, still keeping his silence, Ezra tossed a glare at Clint before haughtily tossing his bag into the back of the Durango and then sliding into the front passenger seat. He avoided looking over at Vin, knowing that his roommate might be able to see some of the hurt he was trying to contain. This was not at all the way he had hoped this trip would start off.

After hearing the door slam shut, Clint turned back to his son and his other friends. By this time the other five had all gathered behind Chris and were looking at his father as if he were slightly addled. The cop tossed them a smile, "Well boys, Ezra’s all eager, let’s not keep him waiting." The other five all laughed and quickly began filing into the SUV. Chris waited and caught his father’s eyes briefly. The older Larabee smiled again when he saw the barest glimpse of approval in his son’s gaze. Chris might not completely agree with it, but he understood the reasoning behind it and could accept it. Clint was not too surprised when he also caught a knowing look from Vin. That young man was very perceptive, especially, it seemed, where Ezra and Chris were concerned.

Clint waited a minute, to watch the boys sort themselves out in the back of the Durango. With the two long bench seats it took the boys a little while to decide on who should sit with whom. Finally they settled on Buck sitting behind Ezra, J.D. in the middle and Nathan behind Clint. And the back row settled into Josiah behind Nathan, Vin in the middle and Chris behind Buck. Suddenly wondering exactly what he had managed to get himself into, Clint locked up the house and then climbed up into the driver’s seat.

He had no sooner fired up the engine then Ezra started fiddling with the radio. Clint slapped his hands away. "I’m driving, I’m in control."

The boy’s pale green eyes flared wickedly as he pulled his hand back as if burned. "Relish it then. It might be the last control you have."

Knowing Ezra’s words were probably true, but not wanting to show it, Clint turned off the radio. As the chatter from the six other boys began to fill the SUV, Clint began to wonder what was worse; whatever radio station Ezra would force them to listen to or the constant chatter of Buck, J.D. and even Josiah. He was grateful once again that it was not as long a trip as it could have been.


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