Dedication: For Joy, who has for months gone above and beyond in creating
one of the funnest AUs in the Magnificent Seven fandom. Thank
you, Joy, for allowing me to join the fun in producing the amazing series
that have entertained so many for so long. Joy
may you have a MAGNIFICENT
birthday, filled with all the wonderful things you deserve.
Ezra Standish smiled at the little boy standing
on the broad front porch beside his father. Then his smile faltered as he
got close enough to see the drying tears on the narrow face and the quivering
bottom lip. Replacing the smile with an effort, he said, Good evening,
Hi, Ezra, Chris Larabee replied. Thanks again for doing
this at the last minute.
No problem at all, I assure you. Turing toward the slender
seven-year-old he said, I look forward to spending a couple of days
with you, Vin.
Vin Tanner managed a faint smile in return, but said nothing.
Im afraid Vins a little upset about the change of plans,
Chris offered in a soft voice.
Standish nodded. He knew the disappointment that came from abruptly changed
plans only too well. He also knew that Chris, unlike Maude, was acutely aware
of how hurt his son felt. Leaning down and catching the childs attention,
he spoke gently. I know that I cant make up for missing your
special time with your father, Vin, but I promise to do my best to make our
time together fun.
Its okay, Unca Ezra, the little blond said, trying to sound
cheerful, you dont gotta do nothin special.
Perhaps I dont have to, but I want to. I look forward to spending
time with you.
Again the child managed a faint smile but said nothing. Then he followed
his father into the house.
Ezra, last in line, noted the contrast between the slumped posture of his
nephew and the tight, too-straight posture of his friend. It was all too
obvious that this was as difficult for one as the other. The undercover agent
knew the plan well, having heard it just as frequently from Chris and Buck
as he had from the boys.
Buck and JD had flown out the day before yesterday, leaving to spend a week
of the winter break with Joey Granger and her family. While they were gone,
Chris and Vin would spend the week enjoying their time together. It was a
chance for father and son to bond. Not that they actually needed to bond,
Ezra mused. Then the family would be together for Christmas before Chris
and Vin were scheduled to fly to Arizona to spend time with Major Carpenter
and the other men who had known Vins birth parents. While they were
gone, Buck and JD would hold down the fort at home.
Those plans had been changed abruptly at 10:47 this morning, with a phone
call form AD Travis.
Team Three was poised to bring down a dealer that was infamous for involving
teens and even children in his drug operation. Then last night disaster struck
when Bill Warren, Team Threes SAC, suffered a heart attack. The man
was expected to make a full recovery, but not in time to spearhead the
assignment. Chris had been involved in the planning as SAC for the back-up
team and knew the details of the operation as well or better than the members
of Team Three. Therefore, it was Travis considered opinion that Larabee
would step into Warrens shoes and take charge of the operation. It
was set for tomorrow. Father and son time would be postponed for a day or
That translated to an eternity in child-time.
Vin sat on the edge of Chris bed, one little
hand idly picking at the comforter as he watched his father packing an overnight
bag. He frowned as he watched the third pair of socks disappear into the
black leather bag. I thought it was only gonna be for two
Hearing the mixture of fear and accusation in the childs voice, the
tall blond smiled gently. Im just taking a spare pair in case
I need them.
Well, in case one pair gets a hole in them or something.
Coming to sit beside his son, Chris reached out and stroked a hand through
the fine, dark blond hair. Vin, its only going to be for a couple
of days. Youll have a lot of fun with your uncle Ezra.
Vin heaved a deep sigh. Uncle Ezra was great, but no one could make him feel
as safe and happy as his Dad. He leaned against the strong body beside him
without thinking. An arm circled his shoulders and drew him into a hug. A
second sigh escaped the little boy, but this one was filled with contentment.
It was contentment short-lived as his father hugged him, patted his shoulder,
and gently moved away.
Dad? Vins bottom lip quivered as he looked up at the tall
blond beside him, with tear-filled eyes. When Chris looked down at him, he
took a trembling breath and said, softly, I promith Ill be a
good boy while youre gone. Ill mind Unca Ethwa.
Leaning down and kissing the little blond on top of the head, Larabee said,
I know you will, Son. And I promise to come home just as soon as I
I know you will, Dad, the seven-year-old said as he choked back
tears of disappointment. He knew that his Dad didnt want to go; that
he didnt want to back out on their plans. He knew that he should be
brave, but he couldnt seem to stop the tears that insisted on falling.
Aw, Cowboy, Larabee sighed. He picked his child up, hugging him
close as thin little arms and legs wrapped around his neck and waist. Retrieving
his bag, he carried both from the room.
Ezra watched from the couch as a very quiet Vin
Tanner sat cross-legged on the floor. He was supposedly watching a cartoon
something called Monsters, Inc. but Standish
knew better. Although Vin kept his face turned away, it was easy to hear
the distress in the occasional sniffle. The little boy was flanked by the
familys two dogs. Elvis sat on one side, his tail thumping from time
to time. Ringo lay on the other side of the child, his head in Vins
lap as he offered his master his own brand of comfort.
Once more his nephew brought back memories long buried. Ezras mind
entertained one particular memory; that of himself at nine years old. Maude
had once more abandoned him into the care of virtual strangers. They had
been introduced to him as his Uncle Claude and Aunt Agnes and they had greeted
him as the strangers they were.
They had been his reluctant hosts for three months. He hadnt been treated
as badly as he could have been. They simply ignored him most of the time.
They left him alone in their cramped apartment while they went out to dinner,
the movies, or a variety of other outings. What could have been an enjoyable
summer vacation had been spent sitting before an ancient, snow-filled TV
Ezra couldnt remember the number of evenings he had sat in front of
the television, pretending to watch one insipid sitcom after
another. Alone. While his eyes took in the frantic action, his mind focused
on one thought. When would his mother come to get him?
The Southerner started, realizing that his young nephew had moved from the
floor. Currently he was sitting on his knees, peering up with wide, blue
eyes. Covering his shock, Ezra replied, Yes, Vin?
You okay? The little blond wore a concerned expression.
Cocking his head to the side, the child said, Cause you looked
real sad just now. Like you was havin feel-bad thoughts or
Swallowing the emotions that swelled his heart at the childs concern,
Standish could do nothing but be honest. Im sorry, Vin, I
didnt realize that it was so obvious. I didnt mean to concern
I just didnt want you to be sad.
Reaching out and cupping a hand around the square little jaw, the undercover
agent said, Well, I certainly cant be sad for long, with such
a loving and caring nephew by my side.
Blushing, young Tanner replied in childlike simplicity, Youre
my uncle, Unca Ezra.
And youre the richest blessing I could have ever received,
the man said in a choked voice, drawing the little boy into a hug.
Vin smiled as his uncles arms wrapped around him. With a contented
sigh he snuggled against the broad chest, soaking in the love he felt coming
from the man.
Mirroring the childs sigh of contentment, the undercover agent laid
his cheek against the nest of unruly, loose blond curls. He held the child,
rocking slightly for several minutes. He couldnt help but smile when
the tiny body in his embrace slowly relaxed as Vin drifted off to sleep.
Ezra stirred, drawn from sleep by
Blinking his eyes open halfway in the gray, pre-dawn light, he found a pair
of big eyes staring back at him. After a few false starts, he managed to
croak out, Vin?
I seem to be.
Good. Can we fix waffles for breakfas?
Stifling a groan, the Southerner fought the urge to burrow back beneath the
blankets. With a brief nod, he started the process of climbing out of the
The next hour was a whirlwind of activity that the agent-turned-caregiver
could scarcely wrap his groggy mind around. Under the tutelage of his far
too awake nephew, he managed to produce two plates of only slightly burned
waffles. Doing his best to ignore the three plates of inedible productions
awaiting a trip to the garbage can, he carried their breakfasts to the table.
Sitting across from the smiling child, he couldnt help but chuckle.
He had to admit that the waffles werent bad, as long as he avoided
the spots that had been the most burned. He watched in awe as the slender
little boy devoured his breakfast, downing a glass of milk as well.
Uncle and nephew spent a joyful day together.
Several inches of snow had fallen during the night, creating a winter wonderland
in the backyard. Making certain that Vin was well bundled before donning
his own winter garb, Ezra escorted the child outside. He knew that his co-workers
would think hed taken leave of his senses if they saw him. And heaven
knew his mother would probably need to be hospitalized for shock if she saw
her baby boy that day.
And Ezra couldnt remember when he had had more fun.
They built a snowman in the front yard, tossing snowballs for the dogs to
chase as they formed the three tightly packed balls that fit together in
near perfection. Finishing him off with a carrot, sticks and some of the
smaller stones that provided drainage at the side of the drive, they stood
back and admired their work.
So, what do you think? Standish asked.
Tilting his head to one side as he studied their creation, the child said
sagely, He looks lonesome.
By the time they stomped into the mud room, shivering and laughing, they
had built a second, smaller snowman as well as a lumpy creation they
affectionately called the snowdog.
They had pulled off snow soaked clothing, hurrying
through the house in longjohns and socks. Changing into warm, dry outfits,
they worked together to fix lunch. Ezra decided that the finest filet mignon
couldnt compare to the tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches he
shared with the smiling seven-year-old.
After they had eaten, and both the lunch and breakfast dishes had been rinsed
and set in the dishwasher, Vin talked his uncle into drying the two pups
off so they could come into the house. By the time Ezra had changed into
yet another outfit and tossed four damp towels into the washer, his nephew
had curled up on the floor of the great room, surrounded by the two dogs.
Yet another brightly colored cinematic offering that the child informed him
was called The Ice Age was now playing on the large screen
By the time the Giant Sloth had broken the last melon, soft snores
could be heard from the floor. Standish looked to see the little blond was
curled up, using Ringo for a pillow, his little feet draped over Elvis. Smiling
affectionately, the agent pulled the afghan from the back of the couch and
spread it over the sleeping child.
The snow returned that afternoon, relegating
them to the house. Uncle and nephew passed the time playing games, building
with blocks and coloring in Vins Spiderman coloring book.
Ezra smiled as he recalled reading the comic books of the red-and-blue garbed
superhero. His mother had deemed them off-limits, which made reading them
even more enjoyable. He had spent several months in the home of an elderly
woman he knew only as Grandmama the year he was eleven. Maude
had fallen on hard times and he had been withdrawn from the boarding school
his third stepfather had paid for until he abruptly left her stranded and
He was never quite certain how he was related to Grandmama, but
suspected she had been related to one of his stepfathers. It didnt
really matter how she had come into his life, she had been one of the bright
spots in his childhood. Grandmama was a smiling, cheerful, eccentric old
woman with a Creole accent and a lust for life. She had doted on him, indulging
him in not only the taboo reading material, but many of the things his mother
had denied him.
One of the most important gifts Grandmama had bestowed on him was a deep
and abiding, unconditional love.
Yes? Standish found his nephew watching him, little head tilted
to the side, blue eyes studying him intently.
Humming? He frowned, having no idea that he had been making any
type of noise.
Yeah, you was hummin
The little boy demonstrated
with a few off-key notes.
With a chuckle, the agent realized that he had been humming the song Grandmama
had taught him to sing on the last evening they had shared. It had been one
of her childhood favorites, and she offered it to him as a way of keeping
her in his heart.
As if he had needed a reminder.
That was a song someone very dear to me taught me when I was a boy.
Would you like to learn it?
With a grin, the little blond said, Yeah, Id like that.
The hour was late, but he was loathe to move.
He sat on one end of the couch, legs stretched out before him. One thigh
had been pressed into service as a pillow, while one hand gently combed through
the silken mass of blond locks that adorned the tiny head warming his leg.
He could happily sit like this a long time to come.
The sound of tires crunching on the unmarked snow of the driveway called
his attention from the muted television. A sigh escaped his lips, the thought
of this special time coming to an end sadder than he would have believed.
A few minutes later there was the quiet tap of heels on wood and his boss
and friend appeared in the doorway. The tall blond looked worn out and there
was a darkening bruise on his jaw.
I take it the assignment has been concluded?
Nodding and yawning at the same time, Larabee said, About four hours
ago. I left the bulk of the paperwork to Warrens team. Did he have
Looking down at the child beside him, Standish shook his head. Without explaining
and giving a sly grin at the look of confusion it elicited, he said only,
Chris stood at the door, his son settled on his
hip as the two of them watched their visitor slowly driving away. Ezra had
spent the remainder of the night and the following morning at the ranch while
they waited for the snow plows to clear the road.
Even though Larabee offered him the use of the guest room for another day
or two, Standish opted to go home. Although he relished the idea of spending
more time with his nephew, he also knew that the father and son needed their
time alone. He still heard the squeal of delight Vin had let loose upon finding
his father fixing breakfast a few hours ago.
Back in the doorway, the senior agent frowned as he heard a soft, slightly
off-key hum. Tilting his head, he listened to the vaguely familiar tune his
child was attempting. Vin?
Hm? The little boy was busy watching the little car as it grew
smaller and smaller.
Where did you hear that song? Did you learn it at school?
Shaking his head, the blond boy said, Unca Ezra teached it to me. He
learned it from his Granma. Didja know its French?
Smiling, Larabee nodded. I learned it when I was a little boy, too.
Do you know what the words mean?
Nodding in answer, Vin began to sing
Frere Jacques, Frere Jacques,
Sonnez les matines, sonnez les matines
Ding ding dong, ding ding dong.
Are you sleeping, are you sleeping?
Brother John, Brother John?
Morning bells are ringing, morning bells are ringing
Ding ding dong, ding ding dong.