by LaraMee

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, gentlemen.”

“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.

“I’m afraid Vin’s 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 child’s attention, he spoke gently. “I know that I can’t make up for missing your special time with your father, Vin, but I promise to do my best to make our time together fun.”

“It’s okay, Unca Ezra,” the little blond said, trying to sound cheerful, “you don’t gotta do nothin’ special.”

“Perhaps I don’t 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 Vin’s 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 Three’s 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 Warren’s shoes and take charge of the operation. It was set for tomorrow. Father and son time would be postponed for a day or two.

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 days.”

Hearing the mixture of fear and accusation in the child’s voice, the tall blond smiled gently. “I’m just taking a spare pair in case I need them.”

“How come?”

“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, it’s only going to be for a couple of days. You’ll 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?” Vin’s 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 I’ll be a good boy while you’re gone. I’ll 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 can.”

“I know you will, Dad,” the seven-year-old said as he choked back tears of disappointment. He knew that his Dad didn’t want to go; that he didn’t want to back out on their plans. He knew that he should be brave, but he couldn’t 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 family’s 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 Vin’s lap as he offered his master his own brand of comfort.

Once more his nephew brought back memories long buried. Ezra’s 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 hadn’t 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 screen.

Ezra couldn’t 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?

“Unca Ezra?”

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.

“Yes, why?”

Cocking his head to the side, the child said, “’Cause you looked real sad just now. Like you was havin’ feel-bad thoughts or somethin’.”

Swallowing the emotions that swelled his heart at the child’s concern, Standish could do nothing but be honest. “I’m sorry, Vin, I didn’t realize that it was so obvious. I didn’t mean to concern you.”

“I just didn’t want you to be sad.”

Reaching out and cupping a hand around the square little jaw, the undercover agent said, “Well, I certainly can’t be sad for long, with such a loving and caring nephew by my side.”

Blushing, young Tanner replied in childlike simplicity, “You’re my uncle, Unca Ezra.”

“And you’re 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 uncle’s 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 child’s 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 couldn’t help but smile when the tiny body in his embrace slowly relaxed as Vin drifted off to sleep.

Ezra stirred, drawn from sleep by… something. 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?”

“Unca Ezra… you ‘wake?”

“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 warm bed.

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 couldn’t help but chuckle.

He had to admit that the waffles weren’t 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 he’d 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 couldn’t 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 couldn’t 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 television.

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 Vin’s 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 alone.

He was never quite certain how he was related to ‘Grandmama’, but suspected she had been related to one of his stepfathers. It didn’t 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.

“Unca Ezra?”

“Yes?” Standish found his nephew watching him, little head tilted to the side, blue eyes studying him intently.

“Wha’cha hummin’?”

“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, I’d 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 Warren’s team. Did he have trouble sleeping?”

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, “No.”

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 Gran’ma. Did’ja know it’s 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,
Dormez-vous? Dormez-vous?
Sonnez les matines, sonnez les matines
Ding ding dong, ding ding dong.

“That means…

“Are you sleeping, are you sleeping?
Brother John, Brother John?
Morning bells are ringing, morning bells are ringing
Ding ding dong, ding ding dong.”

The End