"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe

Vin Tanner woke up to a familiar nudging in his ribs.

“What is it, JD?” he asked sleepily.

“Unca Ezra’s Mama doesn’t love little boys, does she?” asked JD in a solemn voice.

“Nope,” responded Vin in his usual forthright fashion. “I think she wanted Ezra to send us a to a sitter so she could make him do something he didn’t want to.”

JD curled close to his older cousin and rested a little head on the older and wiser boy’s shoulder.

“I thought Mamas always loved their little boys," said JD wistfully.

“Me too,” said Vin thoughtfully, “I know our Mama’s love us a whole bunch.”

“Why doesn’t Ezra’s Mama love him?”

Vin thought about the different people in his short life. “Maybe she doesn’t know how, JD. Some people don’t like anyone.”

JD sounded fretful, “I wish she loved Unca Ezra. He’s nice.”

“Yup,” responded Vin.

JD was quiet in the darkness for a long time. Then he said softly, “I love Unca Ezra. Let’s adopt him. Then we can share our Mama’s and the angels with him.”

Young Vin Tanner smiled. “That’s a great idea.”

Silently now, but in mutual agreement, both the children crawled out of Ezra’s bed and snuck into the living room where Unca Ezra was asleep. By common consent, each boy took a different side of the bed and snuggled up against the sleeping undercover agent. The man’s arms curled around the boys instinctively and snuggled each of them closer.

JD sighed in content and promptly fell asleep.

Vin wondered how you could adopt a grownup. He’d ask Judge Travis. He knew everything. Since the Judge had done Vin's own adoption and JD’s, he was the logical person to ask. That's what he'd do.

Important decisions made, Vin cuddled down and drifted off to sleep.

+ + + + + + +

Sunlight peeked through the drawn shades in Ezra’s window and tickled the undercover agent’s nose. He wiggled said nose and cracked one eye open. Something appeared to be blocking his vision. The other eye now opened and he realized that a small foot was resting peacefully on his chest just under his chin. A slight weight on his abdomen appeared to be the matching foot belonging to one Master JD Dunne Wilmington.

Then he realized that his left arm was comfortably curled around young Master Tanner Larabee, who was nestled trustingly against his chest and drooling only slightly unto his elegant white silk pajamas. Ezra grinned. This was going to be a memorable weekend.

Next Tuesday Morning

At the Larabee ranch, Chris Larabee, Buck Wilmington, Vin and JD were busily eating breakfast. Chris and Buck had returned safely from their weekend required attendance at a law enforcement convention and their boys had returned from the weekend at Ezra’s filled with stories of putt-putt golf, breakfast at IHOP, a miniature train set and Godzilla eating pizza. They hadn’t sorted out the entire details, but both men were certain that the boys had a wonderful weekend with Uncle Ezra and that there had been no injuries.

JD was industriously slurping down his Cocoa Wheats while Vin was drinking down a glass of milk in an old Power Rangers tumbler. Chris was drinking coffee and Buck was reading the newspaper while he absentmindedly shoveled cereal into his mouth.

Then JD said, in a matter-of-fact voice, “Some Mama’s don’t love their little boys.”

Now Chris Larabee was prepared at all times for JD’s tendency to change known reality on him, so he looked only appropriately interested in the conversation, even though his invisible parental antennae had immediately gone up and were on full alert. Buck, on the other hand, was not prepared, and proceeded to snort milk through his nose rather painfully.

JD was delighted. “Do it again, Papa Buck!” he crowed enthusiastically, while Vin rubbed his own nose in sympathy.

Chris kicked Buck under the table and was given a quick glare.

“What did you say, JD?” he asked as he looked threateningly at Buck.

JD distracted, looked over at Chris and then said, “Oh, some Mama’s don’t love their little boys.”

“What makes you say that, JD?” coughed Buck as discreetly as one can when one’s nose is stinging.

Vin nodded and put down his glass. “He means Unca Ezra’s Mama. She don’t love him very much and she don’t like little boys.”

“She don’t really like much of anyone,” said JD authoritatively.

Buck’s invisible antenna apparently had just switched on to full reception, with klaxons blaring. He glared meaningfully over the table at his co-parent and tried to look casual.

“You met Ez’ Ma?” he queried.

Both boys laconically nodded and continued on eating.

Chris leaned back in his chair. “Did she say something mean?” he asked.

Vin looked up at him thoughtfully. “She wanted to have Unca Ezra send us to a sitter, but he wouldn’t. And she screamed in the bathroom when she found out JD got chocolate on her pretty clothes.”

Buck had tried to take a sip of coffee, the but mental image of the immaculate Maude Standish covered in an application of JD’s chocolate caused him to enhale the coffee, which obligingly snorted out his already irritated nostrils.

“She had a cool car,” remarked JD.

Buck usually worshipped and revered all women, but currently was considering shooting Mrs. Standish. Just the thought of her influence on JD’s bright personality or on Vin’s fledgling sense of self-worth made his hackles rise.

“I don’t think she knows how to make cookies, either,” said Vin rather darkly. “Mrs. Potter has her beat six ways till Sunday.”

JD nodded and said, “We’s decided to share our Mama’s with Ezra. We don’t think his Mama ever played with Unca Ezra or even let him play. That’s why he uses big words all the time. He didn’t have time to do anything but homework.”

Chris looked blankly at Buck.

“From the mouth of babes,” muttered Wilmington softly.

“Do you think Judge Travis will help us?” asked Vin.

Puzzled, both the grownups at the table looked at him quizzically.

“Do what?” asked Chris finally.

“Help us adopt Unca Ez,” responded Vin.

A sudden mental picture of him and Chris tucking their erstwhile undercover agent into bed with a stuffed animal presented itself to Buck Wilmington’s inner eye, and he proceeded to cough in reaction. Both his sons jumped up and pounded obligingly on his back until he restored both his abused lungs and his equilibrium.

“I’m sure the Judge will be happy to give you any help you need,” he gasped and glared at Chris, who was laughing at him.

Then it was time to take the boys to Mrs. Potter’s house and report for work.

Once the boys were safely with Mrs. Potter, they went into the building that housed the ATF and other federal agencies. They both walked into the office and found themselves stopping outside Ezra’s door and exchanging looks.

Chris shook his head after a moment and Buck, the ever outrageous, whispered, “at least we wouldn’t have to put him through college.” Larabee shot him a poisonous look, but then grinned.

“The boys sure love him.”

Buck grinned too.

“Yup. I’d say that had him wrapped around their tiny little fingers.”

Chris smiled at his partner and old friend. “Hell, Buck, they have US wrapped around their fingers, too.”

Both men chuckled and went to work. They said nothing to Ezra about the boys meeting Maude, realizing that their undercover agent had shielded the little ones to the best of his ability.

The week passed quickly. Ezra Standish went on another undercover assignment in the world of the wealthy and corrupt. That Friday night, Mrs. Potter dropped off her two charges at the ATF offices on her way to complete errands for her own family. The two little boys always viewed the place where their Papas and Uncles worked as a fascinating place. They stood in the lobby with Mrs. Potter and her own children and waited patiently as she checked in with the Security people. Then they saw a familiar face.

“JUDGE TRAVIS!” hollered JD joyfully at the top of his lungs. He ran across the marble floors of the reception area at full speed and launched himself onto his favorite judge. Vin was a second behind him.

Fortunately the Judge was used to being tackled by his own grandson, Billy. And braced himself to safely capture the two junior projectiles.

He knelt down and hugged the two boys, and was gifted with kisses and hugs.

“It's terribly nice to see you boys.” The Judge privately was of the opinion that the two little boys had tamed his best team. While their arrest rate had remained high, their injuries on the job had lowered since the responsibility for these two little imps had come into the equation. His best team had realized that if one of them died, it would reflect on the children. Chris and Buck had been almost wound free since the adoption, and the rest of the team actually appeared to listen to Nathan Jackson’s lectures on safety and health.

Judge Travis smiled at the children and realized that they might have saved several lives just by being themselves.

Vin grinned up at the Judge and then tugged the busy man’s hand urgently.

“Judge Travis, we decided we’re going to adopt Unca Ez. Can you help us with the paperwork?”

The Judge was seldom fazed by anything the boys did anymore, not since the day an innocent game of hide-n-seek had ended up with a SWAT team and helicopter searching for two small boys. He nodded wisely. Being “adopted” by these two would probably mean the world to their often closed-off undercover man. And these two imps could actually out-match the conman in the area of mischief. It would serve him right for all the times he’d given Travis new gray hairs.

“When you finish your certificate of adoption, I’ll put one of my gold seals on it and sign it for you.”

This declaration was met with whoops of enthusiasm from the boys and the Judge grinned.

That evening at the Larabee Ranch, the boys raced through their homework and then ran to their room. After that, an unusual silence reigned and within 10 minutes, both Chris and Buck were nervously checking up on them.

Two little heads were bent together over what appeared to be some kind of special project.

“That for school, JD?” asked Buck.

“Nope,” said JD, his tongue sticking out as he laboriously drew straight lines with a ruler across a large piece of paper. Meanwhile, Vin appeared to be assembling a picture frame of macaroni.

“What is it?” asked Chris.

“Doption Certificate,” said Vin, not looking up.

Both men looked at one another and grinned.

“For Ez?” asked Buck, still grinning.

“Yup,” responded both boys.

“Judge Travis said he’d put a court seal on it,” said JD. Now he looked up at his two beloved protectors. His dark eyes were flashing joyously and he grinned at them.

Both men couldn’t help but smile back. “That’s mighty fine, boys,” said Buck, “How do you plan on giving it to Ez?”

Vin frowned and looked up.

“I ain’t sure,” he said.

“How about we have him over for supper,” suggested Larabee, “We could barbecue.”

Vin looked thoughtful.

“That might work. We gotta splain to Uncle Josiah and Uncle Nathan why we ain’t officially adopting them. We love them just as much but they don’t need to be adopted all right and proper like Uncle Ezra does.”

JD’s eyes filled with concern. “Yeah,” he said meaningfully. Neither boy would ever intentionally hurt any of their uncles’ feelings.

Chris was pleased. Vin was more thoughtful than most adults of the ATF Agent’s acquaintance were and JD was a little angel (when not up to something).

“I’ll explain to Nate and 'Siah,” he said, “they’ll understand and be happy.”

He was rewarded with beaming smiles.

“Well,” said Buck, whose own eyes were gleaming with humor and sentimental enthusiasm, “we’ll let you boys get on with your work. Iffen you need something, give a holler.”

Both men retired to the living room where they watched TV and chuckled out loud from time to time.

Vin and JD worked on their grand project for more than two weeks. Both the ATF agents were surprised by the boys’ stick-to-it-tiveness as well as their creativity. They only asked for assistance on spray painting the macaroni frame with gold paint, since they weren’t allowed to use spray paint without adult supervision.

JD did the actual lettering, although he and Vin thought up the wording together. Vin was responsible for the decorative illustrations and bordering on the certificate as well as the frame.

One evening at the ranch, Nathan Jackson and Josiah Sanchez were in attendance, to watch a football game tape.

Suddenly, sounds of distress came from the boys’ room.

All four men rushed in to discover that the certificate was about two inches larger than the frame so the writing was covered. JD’s lip was trembling and Vin looked like the world had come to an end.

Josiah looked at the certificate and the two appalled boys and smiled encouragingly, “We can fix that boys. We just need to make the frame bigger.”

So instead of football, he and Nathan Jackson worked on the certificate frame. Nathan’s medical knowledge and firm grip helped slice the frame at each corner while Josiah rushed out and purchased some golden ribbon that matched the macaroni paint. They covered the gap in the framing with the gold ribbon at each corner and the boys were enchanted.

“It’s even prettier now with the ribbon and you can read everything!” exclaimed JD and Vin beamed with pleasure.

The finished product gleamed. Vin had laboriously drawn a Crayola border of leaves and berries, but his greatest accomplishment was a sketch of a man with an ace of spade on his shirt being hugged by two small boys. The man was smiling and showed one gold tooth.

“Amazing likeness,” drawled Josiah as they all looked at the boys’ masterpiece.

The certificate read as follows:

'Hear Ye, Hear Ye, Know Ye all men by these presents that under the hospices of the right honorable Judge Orrin Travis (grandfather to our buddy, Billy Travis) of the City of Denver, in the State of Colorado, in the United States of America, on planet Earth, that we the undersigned, Master James Dunne, aka JD, and Master Vin Tanner, being of sound mind and body, do hearby claim and adopt Ezra P. Standish (We don’t know what the P stands for), who also resides and lives in the City of Denver, to be our family for ever and ever as long as we all shall live, and longer if necessary.'

'This here certificate does grant him all rights of family to us, including but not limited to having our Mamas in heaven watch over him, because he gets beat up and shot a lot and we worry about him. Therefore, by the power invested in us, we declare the Ezra belongs to us now, forever and that we’ll always love him and he can stay over night any time he wants.'

Nathan looked over at Chris and Buck when they had finished reading. “You know, they know way more legal terminology than most 6-year-olds.”

Chris nodded ruefully.

“First time I’ve ever seen a legal signature done in Crayola, too,” said Josiah thoughtfully.

+ + + + + + +

Two little boys nearly went mad with impatience over the next week until Ezra came back from his latest assignment. The certificate was displayed in glory on the living room table, to be admired by all visitors. Mrs. Potter, the housekeeper, was terribly impressed, and her children while visiting viewed the object with suitable awe (especially since Vin had threatened them with dire consequences if they touched it).

When all the arrests were made that Friday, Ezra noticed that his fellow agents were acting strangely. It was worrisome. He tried to remember if he’d done anything warranting a dressing down or some type of sanction, and worried that the old ghost of his FBI record was coming back to haunt him. When Chris Larabee informed him they were having a barbecue on Sunday and that Judge Travis would be present, Ezra became more concerned. First he worried he would lose his job, then he began to worry that Maude Standish had done something and now he would be forbidden to spend time with his unofficial nephews. Worse yet, perhaps he was to be supplanted by a new agent and Larabee wanted it done at the barbecue.

It was foolish to worry. He was certain if Chris or Buck felt him an improper baby-sitter, they would have cut short his acquaintance with young Masters Dunne and Tanner long ago. But he was being watched by his co-workers. It was most distressing. Therefore, instead of sleeping and relaxing as he usually did after a bust, Ezra quietly worried himself into an emotional frazzle. He chided himself from time to time, knowing he could trust Buck and Chris, but still worried because this time he felt instinctively it was about the two young boys he loved with all his heart. If he were somehow to be deemed unworthy of them, his heart would break into a hundred little pieces.

So when he arrived at the Larabee Ranch, dressed in a casual Armani leisure ensemble, he had on his best poker face. When he was greeted by his team members with that strangely searching look, he quailed inside, but kept up a stiff upper lip. And even the boys greeted him differently. They charged toward him in their usual linebacker fashion and then suddenly stopped and looked nervously at one another. They smiled at him hesitatingly and Ezra Standish, who had braved gunmen, murderers and even Maude’s temporary spouses, nearly turned and ran for his life. He quietly nodded to everyone, his heart pounding in raw terror. Something was going to happen. Perhaps they felt he was too attached to the boys. Perhaps the boys felt uncomfortable with him now. A hand touched his shoulder and he damn near hit the ceiling.

“Um, hello Mr. Larabee,” he stuttered. Hazel eyes regarded him in great seriousness.

“Ez,” said his leader and friend, “Vin and JD want to give ya somethin. It's mighty important to them, and they wanted everyone to be here when ya got it.”

Ezra gave a polite terrified smile.

“Why, of course,” he whispered, and Chris patted his shoulder consolingly.

“It will be over in a minute, but don’t let the boys down,” begged Larabee in a gentle open tone that Ezra rarely heard from the man.

All this sounded at the very least reassuring, but Ezra’s heart still pounded, his nerves too stretched today to bear with being the center of attention even in this select group.

Then JD and Vin came out of the ranch and walked toward him solemnly. He noticed all the other guests making a circle around him and felt a little trapped, but curious.

Vin and JD stopped in front of him and looked up at him. They appeared a little nervous, and even though he was ready to either pass out or run for his life, Ezra gave them a smile that came from his heart.

JD grinned at him, but Vin frowned. He was evidently trying hard to say something.

“Aw Heck!” exclaimed the youngster quietly, “Uncle Ezra we love you an awful lot and we want you to belong to us special, just like we belong special to Papa Chris and Papa Buck.”

Next to him JD nodded encouragement so hard that Ezra was fairly certain that his head was going to come off.

Ezra realized with horror that his hands were shaking, not with fear, but with a completely different emotion. His eyes burned, but he wasn’t the best of undercover agents for no good reason. Not one irresponsible tear leaked, instead he stood at attention and hoped he hadn’t herniated or ruptured something vital this time.

JD was tired of waiting for Vin to find all his words, “We’s is dopting you, Unca Ezra, all official. See!?”

Vin glared briefly at JD and then whipped the cloth off the object he was holding. It was a huge picture frame with something illustrated and words.

Astonished and rather impressed, Ezra began to read.

Many things entered his consciousness simultaneously: the golden frame, the loving Crayola illustrations, the border, the carefully phrased words from little boy hearts, and the official court seal didn’t escape him either.

For one of the few times in his adult life, Ezra Standish was at a loss for words.

JD was waiting anxiously for his reaction and Vin was beginning to look a little worried when the undercover agent fell to his knees in front of the picture and just touched it as if it were the most beautiful and fragile work of art in the known universe. Since both the boys felt this was true, they relaxed and smiled. Uncle Ezra understood. Everything was all right.

Finally, after a long heartfelt silence, Ezra said in a funny squeaky voice, “This is the most wonderful gift I have ever received in my entire life. Thank you, Gentlemen.”

Then Ezra leaned forward and kissed both boys, JD first and then Vin, on their respective grubby foreheads and beamed at them.

Around them, the rest of the extended Larabee family, Judge Travis included, grinned in relief. Ezra had handled it just right and apparently completely understood the spirit of this special gift. No fragile egos or personas had been damaged, although Buck privately thought Ezra had seemed suspiciously close to “going down” for a few moments there.

Ezra stood up shakily and carefully wrapped the picture up. “Is there someplace I can keep this safe?” he asked and was escorted by his new adoptive little brothers/nephews/relations to the house where the picture was put in Larabee’s room on the dresser.

Ezra quietly sat on Mr. Larabee’s bed and hugged both boys to him as he digested both the gift and the perception that had brought it into being.

Buck and Chris appeared at the door and Chris Larabee wordlessly handed him a scotch, which he downed in one gulp.

“Thank you,” he said in a much more normal voice.

“Dis means you can stay over iffin you want. Papa Buck and Chris said it was okay with dem, too,” said JD hopefully.

“As long as I don’t have to tuck ya in,” said Buck easily from the doorway, with a grin that made his mustache look in danger of being airborne.

Ezra blinked and had the strangest mental picture of Buck tucking him into bed with a stuff toy and an admonition to say his prayers.

“While I’m certain the thought would be appreciated, that would be most entirely unnecessary, gentlemen,” he said, with only a trace of his usual attitude. He was still too shaken. Indeed, the thought of driving again after this was a little daunting. “Perhaps I could stay tonight and leave early tomorrow to shower and change at my house?” He asked it casually, and watched his two co-workers with trained eyes to make sure he wasn’t infringing on their territory or in any way a potential burden.

He received two very open and knowing smiles, smiles that said he was welcome and part of this strange and wonderful family.

He relaxed and felt some of the adrenaline surge start to wane.

For the rest of the barbecue, he was quiet and spent most of his time with the boys, who were also uncommonly quiet today.

Josiah and Nathan told him gleefully about their chance to assist the two boys in their big project and Ezra showed proper appreciation and horror for that dreadful day when the boys realized the certificate was too large for the frame.

JD and Vin relived the moment of salvation for the frame in an exciting blow-by-blow account that JD punctuated by bouncing at all the most important points. Ezra smiled and listened attentively and gave his two co-workers grateful looks that were returned with happy smiles.

After the guests left, Buck was astounded when Ezra joined him in cleanup duty and actually washed dishes efficiently. After a complete and satisfactory cleaning took place, Ezra then took a walk on the ranch with the boys, returning in time to help with supper. He stayed overnight in the guestroom and the fact that two small imps seemed to magically migrate from their beds to his was not commented upon.

Both Chris Larabee and Buck Wilmington watched Ezra carefully, but the subject of Ezra’s adoption was not brought up again.

However three things happened afterwards.

A truck with installers, a barn like structure and a huge trampoline with full safety accoutrements was delivered to the Larabee Ranch later that week. The workmen assembled the barn like structure and set up the trampoline and disappeared before Chris and Buck returned home. The two men stared at one another thoughtfully, shrugged, and then spent the evening bouncing with the boys.

Ezra brought his adoption certificate and put it in his office, along with several less flamboyantly framed pictures of the Team and the boys. The entire arrangement took up the wall opposite his desk and was much admired by the rest of the team.

A passing FBI agent was said to have started to make scathing comments about the certificate and was subsequently thrown out of the entire ATF building by Buck Wilmington and Josiah Sanchez, while Nathan Jackson carefully checked the certificate for damage. The FBI agent did not return.

And then one day, while Ezra was undercover, Maude Standish appeared, immaculately dressed, and asked after her errant boy.

“I’m sorry, Ma’am,” said Josiah in a cold, polite voice, “but Ez is undercover now and we can’t contact him till he’s done.”

Maude sniffed, “Well, my darling boy does seem determined to be unavailable to the mother who bore him. First he won’t make himself agreeable at his home and now he sneaks out of the office.”

She paced and then walked angrily into Ezra’s office.

There was a long silence, punctuated by an occasional noise as Maude moved around Ezra’s desk. Then she stopped and looked at the certificate.

Buck, who loved all women equally, had an awful desire to pull his gun and shoot the creature that had given birth to his friend.

Chris Larabee was silent, listening, and Buck realized he was worried she’d hurt the certificate that was such a source of joy in their extended family.

Suddenly Maude was at Ezra’s office door, her face white and her eyes angry enough to strike sparks.

“You can tell my thankless son that he won’t be hearing from his poor mother in the immediate future. He appears to have decided to waste his God given gifts in your gentle company where he will never prosper. You may give him my regards.”

With that, she sailed out. As soon as they heard the elevator ding, laughter and clapping broke out.

Buck muttered, “I shoulda winged her.”

Chris shook his head, “Hell, no. Paperwork'd be a bitch. 'Sides, you might've splattered blood on the certificate, Buck. Ain't worth the risk."

The End