By: Angela B
AU: Journey to Avalon
Thanks to NotTasha for beta reading it for me.
Disclaimer: Not mine and never will be
Note: This follows New Beginnings
(Moved to Blackraptor January 2010)
Five-year-old Ezra stared out of the window, the passing scenery went unnoticed, the little boy was too deep in retrospection. He remembered every detail the first time he had met this man. He had been left alone in the motel suite while Maude had gone off somewhere with Mr. Wright, which was all right because he didn’t like the sniveling short man anyway. He had been lying on the floor reading; Maude rarely let him watch T.V. She had said it would corrupt his mind. She had said T.V. was nothing, but commercialism and a very good scam of brainwashing people into buying products that were neither needed nor useful The exceptions were the educational programs on PBS, the History Channel, TLC, or the news
Ezra had been used to such dealings before and was not bothered by the aloneness. However, the five giant men barging into the suite with guns drawn had been a new experience, and a very frightening one at that. The adjoining door had come crashing down, followed by the sound of running feet, the screaming announcement of law officials, and the demand for any in the room to freeze where they were. Of course, he had not frozen; he had run. Unfortunately, where he had chose to run to only landed him in a bigger trap.
When he had run into the bathroom, the fates had seemed to be against him, especially when Buck had picked him up and carried him down to that social worker’s car. That social worker, Mrs. Lewis, had taken him to the Children’s Home. Ezra had determined that was one of the worst places he had been, in regards to rules and rude people. There had been more than one person who had tried to interrogate him concerning his past and his mother. He had, however, been able to remain tight-lipped. It hadn’t been easy, but his mother’s words had helped.
Ezra had kept a tight rein on his emotions all week, but he had begun to struggle. The willpower it took to face all those adults and never let anything slip had begun to exhaust him. Maude had always cautioned him about what he should and shouldn’t say if he ever got caught alone. She had told him numerous times that the police where out to stop her from providing for him She told him, if he ever said anything then she would be arrested and he would be sent away and nobody would want him because people didn’t want children who were tattletales.
Then the tall man with the blues eyes had come. He had asked personal questions, but nothing about his mother. When he wouldn’t answer the questions, Buck had quit asking, as if the information wasn’t vital to him. Then, instead of just leaving like the other adults, he had come back for him, said they were going home. Now, he was going home with him, wherever that was, to at least spend the night. Ezra considered himself a bright boy; he didn’t let himself believe there could be more. Buck would take him to his house, let him spend the night, assuage his guilt, figure out he had made a big mistake and return him tomorrow to the facilities. But until then Ezra was going to use his powerful imagination and pretend this sleepover was going to last longer. He was going to pretend the man really wanted him and life was going to turn into one of those magical fairy tales. Ezra relaxed a little into the seat and watched the scenery pass him by.
Ezra was pulled back to the present as Buck turned the truck into a large parking area in an apartment complex. Buck pulled into a parking spot near the front of what, Ezra presumed, was his apartment. “Well, this is it,” Buck said. “Know it ain’t much, but it’s enough.”
Ezra looked around the multi-story apartment building. The “Southwest” colors and theme stood out vibrantly. He looked over the nervous man and beamed a hundred-watt smile at him. “It’s nice,” Ezra said. In truth, it was the most garish looking building he had ever seen, but the man lived here, so for him he would like it.
Buck returned the smile with an even bigger one before shrugging. “Well, the colors are a little loud, but it beats plain old brown or gray ones.”
Ezra could only nod. The man had a point there. He had been sent to live with an Aunt once that lived in a dingy gray apartment. Ezra had wondered if that was what color prisons were painted. Maude had told him more than once that if she were sent to prison, she would have to live in a gray colored cell no bigger than a closet. Ezra never wanted her mother to live in a closet, although he thought sometimes they were the safest places to hide.
Ezra watched Buck climb out of the truck and walk around the front. He wasn’t sure if he was supposed to get out or wait for the man to get him out. Everyone had their own rules about such things. He tracked the man’s moments and was relieved when it seemed he had made the right choice by staying put, as Buck opened the passenger door and unbuckled his seatbelt. Ezra watched the big hands come towards him and fought the urge to jerk away. For a third time, he was surprised at how gentle those hands could be, as they clasped him about his waist and lifted him down to the ground. Buck reached into the bed of the truck and undid the bungee cord holding the medium-size suitcase in place. The agent had been surprised; at the items the social worker deemed was the child’s personal belongings. The clothes alone would take up a good hunk of his yearly salary, but other than books there was little else: no video games, toys, not even a stuffed animal. Well, he had decided they would remedy that first thing tomorrow.
Buck took the small hand in his and led the way up the stairwell and down the passageway to his apartment. He was silently relieved that JD was out on a date with Casey and would probably be spending all of tomorrow with her, too. He felt bad for a moment, holding back something this important from his young friend, but he wasn’t ready to tell anyone that he had become a foster parent to the little boy, just yet. Plus, he knew the first person he was going to have to tell was Chris. Buck shook his head at that thought. It wasn’t going to be easy.
As Buck unlocked the door, another thought struck him. He would have to notify the manager that he had a child living with him now. He knew, without a doubt, that meant he would be relocated to another area of the complex. At this particular place the manger tried, and succeeded, to keep the single people in one area and the families in another, closer to the playground. Buck looked at the little boy walking beside him and decided it didn’t matter if he got booted out completely.
. “I’ll show you to your room,” Buck said, as he headed down a short hallway. “Right now it’s full of junk, but if you bear with me, I’ll have it cleaned out and looking proper in no time.”
“That’s quite alright, sir. I don’t wish to be a burden of any kind. Whatever you have in the bedroom can stay,” Ezra replied.
Buck laid the suitcase on the bed, and then motioned for Ezra to sit down next to it. Ezra’s eyes roamed about the room taking in the odds and ends scattered about. There was enough exercise equipment to fill a gym and, from the looks of them, they were used regularly, especially the punching bag in the corner.
Buck caught the boy’s gaze and turned to look at what had caught the boy’s attention. “Punching bag is a necessity in this job,” he explained. Seeing the flash of fear in the five-year-olds eyes, he explained further. “I don’t hit people,” the big man said, and then corrected himself, “I don’t hit innocent people. There have been a few men who have done some pretty bad things that have accidentally run into my fist, though.” Buck smiled his easy-going smile and winked. Ezra smiled back.
“Now we got to set a few rules,” Buck said, noticing the instantaneous dark look that came into the green-eyes. Tipping the slightly downed chin up with his finger, he continued. “First, the name is Buck, not Sir. Second, this is now your home. You are not a burden, or a guest, or anything else you might be thinking of calling yourself.” Buck’s voice grew serious, causing the boy to pay more attention. “You live here because I want you to live here, got that?”
Nodding solemnly, Ezra said, “Yes sir…Bu…Mr. Buck.” His little heart momentarily doing flip-flops of joy, before he shut it down with the reminder that he’d never been wanted in the past and this was just a passing thing.
The tall agent watched the youngster gnawing on his bottom lip, and nodded his head once sharply in agreement to the name. The kid had been brought up on strict manners, that much he could tell and it wasn’t going to change overnight or with a magic wand. “What do you say we go find something to eat? I’m starved.”
Sliding off the bed, Ezra looked at the tall man that was still squatted down before him. “Yes, si...Mr. Buck,” he said.
Ezra sat on the counter and watched as his new guardian made something with crackers and canned tuna. Buck had called it Tuna Surprise and to the little boy’s surprise it was very good. They washed and dried the dishes together. Buck constantly learning just how independent and self-sufficient his new charge was.
By the time the dishes were done, it was getting late, well late for a certain little southern boy. Buck couldn’t help but laugh to himself as he watched the boy fight off the sleep struggling to claim him. Finally, Buck took hold of the small hand and led him down the hall to the crowded bedroom. Sitting the boy on the bed while he dug through the suitcase, Buck realized there were no pajamas. Telling Ezra he’d be right back, Buck reappeared shortly with one of his undershirts. It was ten times too big, but it would do for one night. But,by the time Buck had returned, Ezra had fallen asleep sitting up. Buck gently removed the child’s clothing and gasped at the sight. Evidence of a bad experience was permanently marked on the thin body. Sometime in his young life, someone had taken reprimand to the extreme. Slipping his t-shirt onto the boy, he maneuvered Ezra under the covers. Settling himself down onto the bed, he laid his large hand on the covered mound. Bending down and placing a kiss on the forehead, Buck whispered a promise, “You’re safe here, little one. No more hurts.”
Buck slipped out of the room, leaving the door opened and turned on the hall bathroom light. He went back to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door and instinctively grabbed for the brown bottle. Coming to a quick decision he redirected his hand to a cola can. He would be cutting back on his drinking from now on. He wanted to do everything possible to encourage the boy down the hall that he was in a safe place and he knew from his own experiences one didn’t necessarily feel safe with a drinking person.
Buck sat down at the dining table and ran his fingers through his hair. His mind drifted through the precious couple of hours he had spent with the boy and realized he had done most of the talking. Ezra, for the most part, had been quiet. Buck wondered if this was the boy’s natural state or, like Vin in the beginning, the boy was just unsure of his surroundings. When Vin had first moved in with Chris, Chris had barely been able to get three words out of the boy a day. As Vin had grown more confident of his place in Chris’ life they had learned that not only was the boy quite intelligent, but also had a great capacity for pranks. Buck could only hope that Ezra was the same way. ‘Just give him time,’ he thought to himself.
The next morning Buck awoke feeling better and more nervous than he could recall feeling in recent years. He pushed the covers off and slid out of bed. Treading down the hallway, he stopped in front of the spare bedroom door. That was another thing on the to-do list, make this place kid-friendly and give Ezra his own space. Walking in, the big man froze. The bed was a massive tangle of sheets and blanket, without a sign of the child anywhere. Buck stepped out into the hall and checked the bathroom. Next, he moved onto the living room and then the kitchen. After checking the front door and finding it was still locked, Buck went back to the bedroom, thinking perhaps the youngster was hiding. He checked the closet, then under the bed. By now his heart was racing. As Buck stood up from checking under the bed, he noticed the blankets seemed to be bunched up in the middle. Raising the covers up, he found Ezra curled into the tightest ball a human being could ever form.
Gently lowering himself onto the bed, he stared down at the slumbering bundle. Softly laying his hand on the small head, he began stroking the fine hair. The reality of the situation slammed home. He had a son. The thought made his whole body sing in absolute happiness. Oh, he would be the first to admit that with four brothers, a nephew, and at least three dates a week; he had rarely been alone, but there was fine line between being alone and being lonely. His next thought was that he was a father. A father to a little boy he knew nothing about. There were so many things to learn and do. The ramifications of what he had done started to overwhelm him. Was he really ready for this? Was Ezra? Jeez, he hadn’t even asked the kid if this was what he wanted, he had just stormed into that director’s office and demanded custody of the boy. Buck recalled how right that action had felt at the moment. As he looked down at Ezra, Buck smiled. It wouldn’t be easy, he wouldn’t fool himself into thinking it would be, but this was right. Ezra and him belonged together, and neither one of them would ever be alone or lonely again.
He began talking softly, trying to rouse the sleeping child. Ezra was instantly awake. The strange new voice startling him. He jumped up and away from the person next to him. Buck stilled, waiting for Ezra to become familiar with his surroundings. He would never be noted as a scientific genius, but he wasn’t so dumb that he didn’t know a person had to get adjusted to new surroundings. “Good mornin’,” Buck finally said, as the green eyes began to focus more.
“Good morning,” Ezra replied with a smile that was quickly replaced by a worried frown. “Have I overslept? I haven’t caused you any trouble in perhaps other duties you might have had to perform today, have I?” Ezra said quickly.
Momentarily stunned by all the words, Buck had to laugh as he shook his head in denial. JD might just have some competition now when it came to talking. Thinking of JD caused Buck to hesitate for a second. The two of them were very close and shared everything. A part of him hated keeping this new revelation a secret, but a larger part just wanted to spend time alone today with his new foster child. Besides, tomorrow would come soon enough. “Nope. Don’t have a fixed schedule at all, today. Though I had thought, maybe, we would go shopping for some stuff for ya,” Buck answered.
“I don’t require anything, Mr. Wilm…Buck,” Ezra said. He had almost called the man by his last name, but seeing the smirk on the man’s face had reminded him of the new agreed upon name.
“Every little boy needs toys,” Buck said as he reached out and hauled the small tyke into his lap.
“Toys?” Ezra asked, not able to keep neither the question nor the excitement quite out of his voice.
“Yep, toys,” Buck answered as he stood up. He didn’t plan on telling Ezra the rest of the things he planned on buying the boy. By the reaction to the word toys, that alone had almost been too much for the waif.
Putting Ezra down, he turned the boy towards the door. “Now, you go get dressed while I make the beds. Then after breakfast we’ll be on our way,” he said.
A good time later, Ezra appeared in the kitchen doorway wearing blue dress pants, a white shirt and his black leather shoes. Buck noticed is hair was wet and had been parted on the side. The big man laughed inwardly at how immaculate the child appeared. During breakfast, Buck learned two things: a). Ezra was not a morning person, having had trouble holding a conversation during his toast and juice breakfast, and b) He didn’t eat much. Buck wondered if the boy’s appetite was minimal all the time or just in the mornings. He shrugged the puzzlement off, there would be many days to come to watch and learn the boy’s traits. He wasn’t one of the best surveillance agents around for nothing,
As Buck pulled into the discount store parking lot, Ezra sat up even straighter than he had been sitting. “Why are we stopping here?” Ezra said, puzzled.
“Because this is where we are going to shop,” Buck explained, a little confused at the boy’s question.
“Never been to one of these…,” Ezra stalled for the right word. “These quaint stores,” he finished.
“Quaint?” Buck repeated, as he pulled into a parking spot halfway down the aisle.
“Yes, well….,” Ezra paused; suddenly knowing he had somehow just made a grave error.
“Where do you usually go?” Buck asked, killing the engine and removing his keys.
“Sax’s Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, Barney’s,” Ezra rattled off some of the store names he had visited. Getting an intuitive feeling he was only making things worse, he tried to smooth things over. “Once we were unavoidably detained in a town with only a mall and we had to shop in a Dillard’s,” Ezra said, hoping to mollify the man.
Buck just grinned as he got out of the truck. Muttering as he went around to the other side, “Kid, I think we’re both going to be in for some real shockers.”
Going inside the store, Buck grabbed a cart and swung Ezra up into the back part, feeling the small quivers his touch caused the boy. Ezra looked a bit indignant as he said, “Excuse me, Mr. Wil…Buck. I am capable of walking.”
“I know, but it’s a big store and I don’t want to lose you,” Buck said as he headed for the boy’s clothing department. Ezra had nothing to counteract that argument, he didn’t want to get separated, either.
Pushing the cart into the section of clothes for small boys, Buck asked, “See anything ya like?”
“For what?” Ezra asked confusedly.
“For wearing,” Buck answered.
“Wearing? You are not possible considering purchasing items here; for wearing,” Ezra asked, needing clarification.
“Yep,” Buck said as he glanced over the different stocked items.
Ezra had two very big crises on his hands to his way of thinking. First, Maude would have an outstanding fit if she came back for him and caught him wearing anything less than what she deemed acceptable clothing, after all appearance were everything. The second problem was that clothing costs money and even though Maude had paid the extra price for his clothing, because appearances were everything, she had never failed to remind him how expensive children were to keep. Looking at the agent in front of him, Ezra guessed he didn’t have that much money, so the less Buck spent on him the better. If the man before him spent too much money on him, Buck might decide to take him back to that horrid place.
“Mr. Buck, I do not require any clothing. I have a suitcase full of clothes. I do not require any more,” Ezra tried to explain.
“That you do, Ezra, but you don’t have any play clothes,” Buck said as he looked through the stack of jeans for a size he thought would fit the boy.
“Play. What type of play requires such…such clothing,” Ezra asked, looking despairingly at the jeans Buck had unfolded and was studying.
Buck was caught off guard by the question and turned back towards the cart. “Play, Ezra. You know: running, yelling…having fun,”
“I already informed you, Mr. Buck. I do not participate in such medieval activities. Mother says it not only shows off bad parenting, but also, adults do not wish to be inundated with such vulgar and uncouth behavior,” Ezra tried to explain.
Buck stared at the brown-haired little boy for a moment. How could any parent not let their child play, let alone call it uncouth? Buck sighed internally. Ezra had been at the home a week and the psychologists; counselors and numerous other agency personnel had not been able to determine anything of the boy’s past. He’d had the child less than twenty-four hours and had already determined the boy had had a strange, if not harmful upbringing.
“Well, I like to play. So do Chris and Vin, not to mention the other guys I work with. So I guess we got a lot to teach you about being uncouth,” Buck finished with a wide teasing smile.
Ezra didn’t comment on the part about on being taught how to be uncouth. He did, however, ask, “Who’s Chris and Vin?” He had taken notice of how Buck had reacted to his earlier speech and decided keeping it simple was best.
“Chris is my boss, but he’s also a long-time friend and Vin is his son,” Buck answered, pushing the cart over to where some overalls were hanging on a divider.
Picking up a pair, he held them out for Ezra to examine. “What or who is that object on there?” Ezra asked in obvious distaste.
“Don’t know,” Buck admitted. Turning around, he saw a mother leading two children through the clothes racks. “Excuse me, ma’am, but you could tell me who this cartoon figure is?”
The woman looked at him for a moment with a look that definitely asked where this man had been lately. “That is Builder Bob,” the woman explained.
“He’s on T.V.,” the young girl next to the woman supplied
Buck nodded his head. He could admit it when he was out of his league and right now he was getting rather close to it. Stepping closer to the woman, while keeping an eye on Ezra, who was looking at some striped shirts on the other side of the cart, Buck whispered, “He’s my new foster son,” he said with pride. The words slipping off his tongue so naturally.
The woman’s attitude improved immediately. “That’s wonderful. Congratulations,” she offered.
“Thanks you, but I have to admit I’m a little lost on what to get him,” Buck said
The woman looked at the child in the shopping cart a moment before saying, “He looks to be about a size four. And at that age t-shirts and jeans would be best.”
Buck thanked her, but before he could move away she said, “Don’t go for a lot of expense, he’ll be growing out of them in no time and it’ll just be wasted money.”
Buck agreed and moved back to the cart. After a few rounds on the Builder Bob overalls, Ezra and Buck compromised. Buck found some plain overalls and Ezra had capitulated that they were acceptable, as long as no one saw him in them.
Buck then maneuver the cart over where the tennis shoes were, where another interesting conversation took place about appropriate footwear. Finally, Buck remembered the fleeting look of interest when he had mentioned his horse. “Well, no one can ride a horse in loafers,” Buck said, leaving the thought hanging.
A moment later Ezra had found some nice, plain white tennies that he found wearable. After placing the box of shoes in the cart, Buck headed for the toy department. Finding the asles that contained ‘boy’ toys, Buck parked the basket at the end of the isle and lifted Ezra out. Taking the small hands in his, he slowly walked down the aisle. Buck watched the boy look at all the different selections. From the way the kid kept looking surreptitiously from the toys to him, Buck quickly figured out he was being looked to for help. Returning to the middle of the aisle, Buck squatted down and encircled the narrow waist with his arm. “See anything you like?” he asked, watching the boy more carefully.
Ezra couldn’t help but shrug. He felt so unsure of what the right answer was supposed to be. He had never been given this option, even when living with people other than Maude. How was he supposed to guess what Buck wanted him to choose from with so many choices? The subtle shifting of his lips was his tell and Buck picked up on it immediately. “How about a couple of action figures, a few Matchbook racing cars and some puzzles?” Buck said, as he pointed out the different items.
The agent could almost feel the pressure being lifted off the small shoulders and definitely felt the small inaudible sigh. Buck silently screamed. ‘No child should be so torn up about picking out a few toys.’
The last stop was to pick up a booster seat to put in the truck. Ezra had started to argue, but one look at Buck’s face told him this matter wasn’t up for debate. Carefully examining each one, Buck read everything about them and deliberated which would suit Ezra’s best. Finally, after narrowing it down to two, Buck went with the heavier one. He wanted to give his son every possible chance of being protected in case they were ever in an accident.
Purchasing the items, they walked out to the truck. Putting the items behind the seat, Buck unboxed the new safety seat and installed it. Bending down to lift Ezra into the truck, the youngster announced, “I can do it myself.” Buck nodded and moved back to watch as Ezra crawled onto the floorboard on his knees, then stood up and climbed into the chair. Ezra wouldn’t admit it, but he liked the seat. It made him taller to see out and he felt a bit more protected.
Driving down the road, Buck began to smile as he spotted the iridescent colors of a play land associated with a fast food place. Ezra watched as they pulled into the Mc Donalds parking lot. He fought hard to keep from showing any excitement. He had always wanted to stop at one of these places; they looked to be so much fun, but he never had been allowed to. Maude had said it wasn’t suitable for people of culture like them. He was kinda glad Mr. Buck wasn’t so cultured.
Getting out of the truck, Buck took some of the bags out and began to dig through them. “What are you doing, Mr. Buck,” Ezra asked, still strapped into his seat.
“Well, you can’t play in those,” Buck replied, finally finding everything he wanted.
Buck walked around and hoisted the boy out of the truck. Upon entering the establishment, Buck headed for the bathroom and was about to enter before being stopped by Ezra. “I can dress myself,” the small child said, holding out his hands.
Buck nodded. “Ok, but I’ll be standing right here if you need help,” he said.
A few moments later, Ezra reappeared in jeans, a blue t-shirt with Spiderman on it and his new shoes. Ezra had down right objected to the Sponge Bob in Square Pants shirt, Buck had first picked up. The first thing Buck noticed was the shoelaces weren’t tied and the excess strings were tucked inside the shoes. Buck took the folded clothes handed to him, before walking over to a chair. Motioning to Ezra to come closer, Buck lifted Ezra up onto his lap backwards. Taking one leg, he bent it so the foot was resting flat against his thigh. He pulled the shoestrings out of their tucked place and began to tighten them. “Mother says a gentlemen always presents himself in a fashionable way,” Ezra whispered in way of an explanation.
Buck just nodded, understanding the child had probably never worn anything but dress shoes and wondered what other things Mother had said to her son. “Across, pull through and tighten,” Buck said as he demonstrated in slow motion. “Loop, cross, through and pull. Buck eased the foot off his leg and repeated the process with the other foot. Finishing up, he eased Ezra off his lap and flashed him a smile.
Returning from putting the clothes in the truck, Buck stepped up to the counter. “What’ll it be, hamburger or chicken nuggets?” he asked.
Ezra responded, “Hamburger.”
Receiving their meals the duo headed out to the tables in the play area. Ezra sat down and opened his sack and pulled out the plastic toy. Turning the object over in his hands, Ezra looked up with a puzzled look on his face. “I hate to inform you of this Mr. Buck, but economically speaking, you really didn’t get your full value. They can mass-produce these...things for very little and then by selling them at an inflated rate, their earnings are greatly increased. Of course, the CEO’s of the company are earning the biggest percentages while the factory worker is only making minimum wage. So, essentially, by buying such a product, you are helping keep people’s wages very low.”
Buck stared at the talking encyclopedia and wondered if the child was really possessed by a reincarnated wall-street broker. Sensing Buck was not comfortable with his knowledge, Ezra tried to explain, “I like the guy on the money management show on PBS.”
“Hmmm,” Buck replied. Kid can’t tie his shoes, but he understands product reproduction sales.
Ezra quit talking and, doing his best to eat it as politely as possible, ate his hamburger.
“Good isn’t it?” Buck asked, breaking the uneasy silence that had settled over them.
“The taste is certainly distinctive,” Ezra agreed.
After finishing their lunch, the tall agent suggested to Ezra he go play on the brightly colored climbing structure. Now that he had a chance, Ezra was suddenly unsure he wanted to leave the man’s side and venture over to the humongous contraption. Seeing Ezra’s hesitation, Buck took his hand and led him over to the play land. Ezra sat down on the ground, while Buck squatted down and removed the shoes. He put the shoes in an empty cubby. Buck walked Ezra over to the tunnels. Ezra let go of the hand holding his and determined not to show the growing fear knotting up inside of him. Climbing up the steps to the tunnels, Ezra couldn’t help, but stop and glance back every few steps.
Buck began to realize how insecure the child was and called out to him every-so-often. Upon entering the see-through tunnels, Ezra kept one eye on any obstacles in front of him and one down on the ground, watching the agent's every move. After what seemed to be an eternity to Ezra, he reached the slide. This was the only place he couldn’t see Buck. It would be the perfect opportunity for the man to slip away. He heard Buck’s booming voice calling out his name in encouragement. Ezra stepped into the mouth of the slide and sat down, closing his eyes; he pushed off and said a small prayer. ‘Please let him still be there.’
Buck had chastised himself for pushing Ezra to go play. It had become quite obvious how difficult it had been for the green-eyed boy to let go of his hand and go inside the monstrosity. As soon as Ezra had begun his descent down the slide, Buck moved over to the bottom of it. Ezra felt himself zipping through the slide and within moments two strong hands had grabbed his waist and lifted him into the air. Opening his eyes in alarm, he almost panicked before realizing that it was Buck that had him. Buck saw the brief flash of fear cross through the green-eyes before the emotion was shut down. Buck held Ezra a little tighter in his arms.
“Ready to try that again?” Buck said with fake enthusiasm. He wanted to encourage Ezra to try it.
“I believe the one experience was enough to satisfy a curiosity,” Ezra replied, not quite accomplishing keeping the quiver out of his voice.
“Fair enough,” Buck said, as he leaned down to the cubby and plucked the tennis shoes out.
Returning to the truck, Buck wondered what else he could do with Ezra that the boy might find enjoyable. For some reason he felt the overwhelming need to fill the boy with good memories. Suddenly remembering how Ezra’s eyes had briefly lit up when he had mentioned he had a horse, the idea hit him. The timing would have to be perfect, because, if caught, it could turn disastrous. The black-headed man made a sharp turn at the next light and headed out of town.
Buck was thankful that he remembered how Chris had told him that he was taking Vin to see Treasure Planet today and then they would probably stop by Mrs. Nettie’s on the way home. Mrs. Nettie and her late husband had lived just west of Chris’ place and had become a surrogate grandmother to young Vin. If he timed it just right, Buck could get them out there, give Ezra a couple hours of riding and be gone before Chris arrived home. He only hoped nothing would happen to alter his friend’s plans.
Once again, Buck’s attention was drawn to how quiet and almost introverted the boy sitting next to him was being. When Vin had first came to live with Chris, Buck had learned that some children wear out fast, especially if they haven’t been living a cared-for life, and from what he had gathered so far that fit Ezra to a tee.
Ezra suddenly noticed the change in landscape and asked, “Where we going?”
“Out to Chris’. Though you’d like to meet Blue,” Buck replied, turning to give the small boy a grin.
Turning his eyes back to the road, Buck watched secretly from the corner of his eyes. He fought to hide his grin at Ezra’s reaction. Ezra was fighting his reaction from showing, but failed to keep his eyes from completely lighting up and the small tip of his tongue from darting out the side of his mouth and giving a quick lick to his upper lip. The agent smiled to himself at the small tell. ‘Gotcha.’
Buck pulled into the big yard and parked the red truck in an obscure place. Ezra unfastened his seat and pulled on the old lever type doorknob. Struggling a bit, he finally got the door unlatched, but couldn’t get the heavy door to open. He was still fighting to push it open when, Buck appeared and pulled it out. Ezra grabbed the seatbelt and used it as an anchor as he lowered himself down to the ground. Buck waited with infinite patience. Together the two walked into the barn. On either side were rows of stalls, almost all of them containing a horse. Ezra was having a difficult time containing his excitement. Buck kept an awareness of where the child was as he made his way to the end. He shook his head sadly, that the little boy was so contained. Who had impressed upon him so early in life that one could not show one’s happiness, or sadness for that matter. He had a pretty good inkling who that person would turn out to be and almost hated the woman for her irresponsible actions.
Buck didn’t take long to get Blue saddled, then led the complacent old horse out into the main aisle. Calling Ezra over, who had been carefully inspecting all the other horses, he held out his hand. Slowly reaching down, he lifted the dwarfed youngster up in his arms, so Ezra could pet the soft muzzle. Blue, for his part, stood unbothered by the new presence and was happy just to have someone paying attention to him.
“Ready,” Buck asked.
“Yes, sir,” Ezra answered, still entranced in touching the big animal.
Buck let the response slide by. Old habits were going to be hard to break. “Ok, you stand up here on this gate, while I mount up. Then you can get up, ok?” Buck explained, before putting Ezra’s feet on the slats. Ezra held onto a post as Buck mounted up. After Buck got situated, he reached over and lifted the boy up and placed him in front of him in the saddle.
Ezra didn’t have much to say, he was simply enjoying the freeing feeling of being on horseback. His darting eyes missed nothing of the surroundings. He felt the secure arms around him, only one of Buck’s hands held the reins; the other was firmly wrapped around his waist. He muscles that had been in tight knot for such a long time began loosening with the gentle rocking motion of the steady gait of horse. Thoughts that had held him almost hostage in his own prison seeped from weary feelings of fear. Right now, right here, he felt safer and more relaxed than he had in a very long time.
Buck could feel the slight weight change in his arms, as the tightly coiled nerves began releasing their strangled hold. He had to readjust his grip as the sway of the horse’s rhythm lulled the boy into a restful sleep. Buck looped the knotted reins over the saddle horn so he could rock the lolled head back against his chest. Checking his watch, he headed further out instead of turning for the barn. Whether Ezra was awake or not was beside the point, he was soaking up this moment to its full extent. The last time he had experience anything close to this feeling, Chris’ son, Adam, was still alive and he was playing ‘Uncle Buck’ to the max. This time though, when he returned back to the ranch house, he wouldn’t be leaving the child and going home alone.
Two hours later, Buck guided Blue into the barn. Grapping the boy under his legs with both hands, Buck gently maneuvered a sleeping Ezra onto one thigh. With one arm still securely wrapped around the small waist, he eased his other leg out of the stirrup and eased his leg around the saddle. Using the weight of the one foot still in the saddle and the hand gripping the horn, Buck lowered himself to the ground. When his boots reached the ground, Buck reshifted Ezra up into his arms. Throwing an old saddle blanket over a bale of hay, Buck laid Ezra down while he unsaddled Blue.
Buck pulled into the parking spot and scanned the area. Not seeing JD’s car, Buck let out a slow breath of gratitude. Opening his truck door as quietly as possible he slipped out and pushed it closed. Walking around and opening the passenger door, Buck had to smile. Ezra hadn’t so much as twitched since falling asleep. Buck moved in to unbuckle the safety straps. Once removed, Buck lifted the slumbering bundle into his arms and headed into his apartment. He briefly considered waking Ezra up and making him something to eat, but somehow, internally, Buck knew the child needed the sleep more. After putting Ezra to bed, Buck went into the kitchen, warmed up some leftovers and grabbed a cola. He went back into Ezra’s room, sitting down on the edge of the bed. Thoughts of tomorrow came to mind and filled him with dread and hope. Things would go one of two ways; either he find out just how loyal and supportive his friends were, or Monday morning he would be filling out application forms for a transfer. He sure hoped it would be the first, but prepared himself for the worst.
Continue on to Meeting the Family