"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe

Notes: For Anna Stewart -- because she wanted to know! This is an epilogue of sorts to "Coming Home Again." Thanks Carrie and Carla for listening to me bounce ideas and throwing in a few of your own.

Ezra stared at the sight in front of him. It was hideous. The splattering of color made his stomach churn in utter revulsion. How someone could perpetrate such a travesty toward mankind? He would never understand.

Ezra pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his sweaty palms. He closed his eyes and leaned his head on the headrest of the Jaguar. A shudder ran through him as the repulsive scene invaded his mind even with his eyes closed.

He could do this. He had been through much worse as an ATF agent. Ezra opened his eyes with the futile hope that the abhorrent scene would look different. No such luck. The garish display still offended his senses.

Why had he ever agreed to that fateful trip? It wasn't like he blended into the situation. He was the consummate undercover agent, but that assignment was far better suited to Buck or perhaps even Josiah. But he had been chosen, and now he was paying the price.

Even though he was reluctant to take on the assignment, he was a professional and he would do it to the best of his abilities. And he had. Most of the assignment had gone exceedingly well in spite of his discomfort. But then a single slip of the tongue, just a tiny phrase meant in the kindest sense had orchestrated this debacle.

Ezra loosened his tie. It was time to pay the piper. "Suck it up, Standish," he chided himself before removing his tie completely.

He had tried to save Larabee and ended up sacrificing himself in the process. This was what his mother had warned him about. He had tried to prevent the evil, yet it had been revisited on him.

"May the gods of GQ forgive me," Ezra muttered as he lifted disgusting, so-called piece of art from the box on the seat beside him. He sighed and pulled it over his head and tucked it under his shirt collar. He tightened it and using the rear-view mirror, straightened the knot on the ugliest tie he had ever seen.

Ezra shuddered again as he started the car and put it into gear, turning the bend and driving the remaining fifty yards to the Larabee ranch house. He should never have set foot inside the WalMart store with young Vin and JD, but they had pleaded for his assistance in procuring Christmas gifts for Chris and Buck. Vin had struggled for quite some time trying to choose a gift for Chris, and had finally settled on a tie. A smile twitched the corners of Ezra's mouth.

Vin had selected the tie that now "adorned" his neck. And then Ezra had made the slip up that sealed his doom. It was a simple thing, really. He had only said, "Master Tanner, I believe that is a fine tie, but perhaps this would be more suited to Mr. Larabee's tastes." He had shown Vin a classic style that would definitely look good on Chris. Never in all his dreams would he think that young Vin interpreted his words to mean he "loved" the first tie selection.

Ezra parked the car and shut off the engine. He had managed to open the gift Christmas morning and convey his appreciation to Vin, without everyone seeing it. But now he was truly stuck. When Chris had called this morning and invited the Team to dinner, Ezra had heard Vin in the background asking Chris if Ezra was going to wear his new tie. Ezra sighed. There was no way he could disappoint the boy.

He opened the door of the sleek Jaguar and stepped out, buttoning his Armani suit jacket. Closing the door he trudged toward the house. "Dead man walking," he mumbled reminiscent of the final walk of a death row inmate. He knew the merciless teasing of his teammates was forthcoming, but he could not let Vin down. He pasted a smile on his face and knocked on the door.

"Hey!" said Vin excitedly as he opened the door.

"Vin," Ezra replied. "And how are you this fine evening?" Ezra could see Vin's eyes dancing with delight at the sight of the tie.

"I'm fine," said Vin as he rushed off to tell Chris that Ezra had arrived. Buck came around the corner at the same time, nearly colliding with the seven-year-old.

"Whoa, there!" said Buck. "I think there's a rule about running in the house?"

Vin looked sheepish. "Sorry."

Buck smiled and nodded his head in the direction Vin had been heading, giving permission to continue on his way. Buck eyed Ezra and couldn't help but notice the horrendous tie, so out of place on the southern gentleman.

"Woo doggy, Ezra! That tie has got to be the..."

Ezra held up his hand quickly staving off any comment as Vin walked back into the room, trailed by Chris. Ezra's eyebrows raised warning Buck not to finish that thought out loud. "Young Master Tanner shows remarkable taste for a lad of his age. Don't you think, Mr. Wilmington?"

Vin walked over and stood next to Ezra with a grin. "When we was at WalMart getting Christmas presents, Mr. Ezra said this was a great tie but Mr. Chris would like a different one better," Vin explained. "That's how I knew he liked it. So when he wasn't looking I bought it with JD's present." Vin reached up and touched the tie. "I like the dogs and Mr. Ezra likes to play poker, so it was perfect," said Vin with pride. He slipped his small hand into Ezra's larger one and held it tightly.

Ezra squeezed back. Suddenly a tie with the picture of dogs playing poker was the greatest gift in the world. Any amount of teasing would be worth the delight in Vin's eyes and the warmth he felt right now.

Buck grinned with understanding. There was no way he would belittle Vin's gift, but the fun-loving ATF agent wouldn't let the opportunity pass either. It was too good. "Hey Ezra. If I'd known how much you like those kind of ties, I would have loaned you one of mine."

Ezra rolled his eyes imagining ties with naked ladies or some other outlandish thing. He knew there would be teasing outside of the earshot of the boys, but for now he was content to enjoy the moment. "I'm sure you have a lovely collection, Buck. But I am quite satisfied with this one." Ezra looked at the happy child beside him. "Thank you, Vin."

Vin squeezed Ezra's hand happily. He stood on his tiptoes and Ezra leaned down to hear as Vin whispered, "You're welcome... Uncle Ezra."

December 2001

Comments: JK