A hectic weekend was spent trying to keep Vin and Ezra occupied and out of trouble. A not insignificant task at the best of times, the endeavor was rendered nearly impossible since the two "men" now had energy levels corresponding to their apparent age. Ezra and Vin chafed at the restrictions placed upon them, while the rest of Team 7 nearly went crazy. Vin hated being inside and was constantly sneaking out. Ezra refused to either go to bed or get up at reasonable hours. The trips shopping for school supplies and additional clothes were quite frankly nightmares. Having convinced himself that it wouldn't be that bad, Chris had taken Ezra and Vin to the mall by himself and had quickly decided he was in hell. He had spent the entire trip trying to keep Vin out of Mister Bulky's and Ezra out of some designer children's store -- whose name he still couldn't remember despite the fact that he was sure he had removed Ezra from it at least six times during the hour and a half that they had been there. The mall had been left behind after Chris had for the tenth time dragged Vin out of Mister Bulky's and once again retrieved Ezra from the "baby Armani" store as Vin had called it. (Vin complained bitterly that he should have been allowed to buy more than one bag of candy, and Chris replied that he wasn't putting up with a seven year old Tanner on a sugar high. Ezra had argued that since they would be paying Chris back once they were back to normal and had access to their bank accounts they should be allowed to get what they wanted. Chris had replied that reimbursed or not he refused to pay $300 for an outfit so that Ezra could attend third grade in a silk suit.)
Much to the rest of the team's amusement, they had returned to the ranch without any packages at all except for Vin's candy. The amusement had been replaced by stark disbelief, when Chris had declared that the shopping trips were going to be a group effort from now on. Mary and Inez had nearly made themselves sick laughing after Mary found out during a call to Travis to remind him of Billy's school play that night that Team Seven's latest mission was a trip to Walmart. Once at the store, Chris divided up the team in order to get things over with as quickly as possible. He sent JD and Nathan to get the school supplies. Josiah took Ezra and Chris took Vin to the clothing section. Ezra and Vin were both extremely particular about the clothes they were getting and vetoed almost everything Chris or Josiah showed them. Buck's job turned into keeping Josiah and Chris from killing their aggravating charges. The clothes shopping was finally completed and they took their items that had been deigned acceptable and went to find JD and Nathan.
"What the hell?" Chris stared at his two agents aghast. He hadn't told them to buy out the damn store. How much stuff did two kids need for school? JD and Nathan were standing in the checkout line with a shopping cart full to the top. OK, he could understand the backpacks, and given Nathan's background the ergonomic, wheeled design wasn't a surprise, but there had to be thirty notebooks in the basket and pens and pencils each with a different design.
"Hey, did you look at that list? We didn't really get much more than was on it." Nathan was defending the pile of stuff that was being placed on the checkout counter while Chris was preoccupied with what his next credit card bill was going to be. Shaking his head, Chris decided he was not thinking about it right now and he and Josiah added the clothes and shoes that had been picked out to the growing pile. While this discussion was going on, the team neglected a very critical item. No one was watching Vin and Ezra. The boys ended up in the electronics department where Vin introduced Ezra to video games. Ezra quickly became a fan of Tetris, which he had never seen before. Eyes shining as he learned the controls, he began racking up an impressive score.
"I didn't know they made games like this. I thought they were all shoot'em up games or racing games like Buck and JD play." Ezra said when his turn was finished. "Do you think?" Ezra began to ask Vin something before he stopped and shook his head, "No, it's stupid."
"You want the game, don't ya?" said Vin making the question into a statement of fact.
"I don't need it," began Ezra before being interrupted by Vin
"Who said anything about needing it? Ya want it. When was the last time you got something ya just wanted and not something that ya needed. And I ain't talking about that fancy food or your car - those are things ya need even if ya don't necessarily need the versions of em ya got. I ain't talking bout books, neither. When was the last time ya got somethin just for fun? Something that let you relax at home without having to think?" Vin had realized some time ago, that his friend had a problem personalizing his areas keeping things almost utilitarian as if afraid to lay a claim to a place only to be forced to leave. He had also realized, that Ez didn't really know how to play, and he wanted his friend to have some of the opportunities he had missed out on a child. His own childhood hadn't always been great, but he had begun to realize from Ezra's nightmares and mannerisms that Ezra's had probably been worse. Besides, he figured, if they were stuck this way for a while, they might as well enjoy it. He'd never had a brother growing up and had already come up with several jokes that he and his partner in crime could perpetrate on their hapless teammates.
"I don't remember. I don't know that I ever have," admitted Ezra in a whisper.
"Well then pard, it's about damn time," said Vin picking up one of the game boxes before directing a hesitant Ezra to pick up a power adapter, joysticks, and some other accessories along with several of the games he had enjoyed.
"Are you sure this'll be alright?" questioned Ezra hesitantly. He couldn't ever recall actually buying a game before, and it seemed somewhat strange to him to be purchasing something so frivolous.
"It'll be fine. Ya don't always have to be so damn serious about everything. Ya need to learn how to relax, let go and have fun. Ya need to learn how to play. This here's a fine way to start. Now, lets go catch up with Chris and the guys, alright." Vin grinned at his friend who was still standing somewhat hesitantly with his arms full of electronics. Finally, Ezra grinned back and nodded his agreement.
The two boys headed toward the front of the store, unaware of their observer. Robert Michaels was head of security for the store and was, unfortunately, one of those people who should never be given any power. His employees despised him but none of them would stand up to him. He was also a coward, who only ever struck at those who were unable to fight back. Seeing the two boys heading toward the front of the store with their arms full of electronics, he decided to have some fun. Coming up behind the two boys who were quietly talking, he grabbed each one by the shoulder bringing them to a stop with the shouted demand, "And just what do you think you're doing? You have to pay for those in the electronics department unless you weren't planning to pay for them at all."
Ezra and Vin had dropped what they were carrying in surprise when they were grabbed and Ezra clutched at his left shoulder almost going to his knees at the pressure that was applied to the still healing joint. Vin seeing the difficulty his partner was in, turned into the grip holding him, forcing the thumb back at the wrong angle and forcing the SOB to release him before punching him in the stomach. Ezra in turn had forced himself straight and brought one foot down on the man's instep before twisting out of his grasp. Together they knocked his feet out from under him and standing in the midst of broken electronics, the two stared down at the man sitting on the floor who was attempting to hold both his foot and his stomach at the same time.
Ezra glared at the idiot who was mumbling threats at them and said, "Don't ever touch either of us again." He would have continued if they had not been interrupted by the manager of the store showing up and demanding to know what had happened.
Michaels began claiming that Vin and Ezra had been attempting to steal the items now strewn across the aisle way and as the manager began nodding in agreement, Vin and Ezra closed ranks standing back to back with decidedly unchildlike looks on their faces. The manager was preparing to call the police on Michaels' say so when Chris and the rest of Team 7 arrived. Having realized that Vin and Ezra were missing, Chris had headed in the direction of the crash he had heard moments earlier and was not surprised to find his "men" in the thick of things. Those two couldn't stay out of trouble in church much less anywhere else. Seeing the two boys in a defensive posture with several adults around them and the pain in Ezra's eyes had Chris seething. No one hurt children, and no one hurt one of his own. Striding through the crowd that had gathered, Chris went straight to Ezra and Vin and going down on one knee looked at each of them in turn.
"You two alright?" at their nods of agreement, he continued, "Want to tell me what happened?"
Micheals still on the floor began expounding his version of the story and was silenced by a glare from Chris and the comment "I didn't ask you, I asked them."
"And just who the hell are you?" questioned Michaels whose embarrassment and anger were overriding his common sense. The manager stepped forward to begin an explanation before backing off at the look aimed his way and both men were distracted by the arrival of the rest of Team 7. Suddenly confronted with 5 very unhappy men and having been laid out by two children, Michaels was struck with the realization that he had made a grievous error of judgement when he had decided to harass the two apparently harmless boys. Buck and JD took over dispersing the gathering crowd. Nathan joined Chris to make sure that neither Ezra nor Vin were hurt while Josiah explained to the now chagrined security guards, their boss, and the store manager.
"We didn't do anything wrong, Cowboy. Ron decided he wanted to spend some of his money he's been saving on that new game, and that sorry bas...,"
Chris quickly interrupted "Vic",
"He came up behind us and grabbed us, hurt Ron's arm again, and started accusing us of stealing. We got startled and dropped the stuff we were carryin, then I hit him and Ron kicked him to make him let us go. Then that stuffed shirt showed up and didn't even listen to us when we tried to explain. He was getting ready to call the cops on us when y'all showed up."
"I'm sorry, Chris. I shouldn't have decided to get the game. I didn't mean to cause any trouble." Ezra refused to meet his eyes, and Chris looked at Vin wondering just what had happened.
"For cryin out load, Ron. We talked about this already. It ain't a crime to buy a game." Vin was getting fed up with the whole situation when Chris stood up and stalked over to the store manager and Michaels.
"As I understand it, Vic and Ron were carrying those things to the front of the store to join us and pay for them when you accused them falsely of stealing." Chris glared at Michaels before turning to the store manager. "We'll be leaving now, I suggest if you want reimbursement for the damaged merchandise, you take it out of that idiot's paycheck. JD, where else can we get one of these things?"
Looking at the system that was in pieces on the floor, JD said "Just about anywhere actually."
"Alright, decide on a store and we'll stop there on the way back out to the ranch. Put together a list of what we need to get. Vic will tell you what they had picked out originally. Aaron," Chris glanced down at Ezra and shook his head at the stunned look on his face, "come here and let me help you put that sling back on." Chris finished with a smile and was gratified to see a shy smile in return.
Leaving the sputtering manager and security guard behind, they headed out in search of the game their reticent brother wanted. Finally returning to the ranch after some five hours, all of the "adult" members of the team agreed that it was an experience they were in no hurry to repeat.
That Monday, they took then entrance exams for St. Vincents, and both passed with flying colors. Aaron and Victor Tyler were enrolled at St. Vincents and were scheduled to begin school that Wednesday. They had determined that third grade was a good compromise on their placement, because they didn't want to attract the kind of attention they would receive if they were too far in advance of their peers given their apparent ages of 6 and 7. Unfortunately, home schooling wasn't a possibility. They would never have been able to find someone trustworthy and reliable who didn't already work full time to pretend to be their teacher. Consequently, they had reluctantly agreed to attend St. Vincents.
Chris sighed with relief and wondered if he should call and warn the poor teacher who was going to end up with his troublesome agents in class. "God Help Her", even as adults those two had sometimes had the attention spans and senses of humor of hyperactive six year olds.
Wednesday, after Chris had dropped the boys off at school and after having dealt with the attempt to play sick by threatening to call Doctor Murray, he went in to the office ready for a break. Chris was sure he would be either bald or completely gray if they didnt manage to get things back to normal soon.
Fortunately with two of the members of their team missing, the only case they had at least for the time being -- involved locating Ezra and Vin. Once everyone had somewhat come to terms with what had occurred, the team had divided the tasks among each other in keeping with their specialties. Buck and JD were in charge of finding the carnival and any information they could locate about Mister Knight and his associates. Nathan was researching everything he could find on the scientific and medical studies that were being done on aging and reversing its effects while Josiah was researching the nonscientific aspects of the problem. (He had decided that if he read one more article on the supposed Fountain of Youth or the Elixer of Life that he would go insane. Consequently, he had started investigating even more esoteric possibilities hoping that since neither Vin nor Ezra could remember drinking anything that he might have more luck following another trail.) Chris by unanimous decision from the other "adult" members of the team got to deal with the day to day issues concerning Aaron and Victor Tyler not to mention the regular paperwork required as the leader of Team 7. Ezra and Vin were tasked with the most difficult assignment they could have been given, that of not drawing undue attention to themselves and staying out of trouble.
It was 11:30 when Chris received the first phone call and the other four listened intently to the side of the conversation they were able to hear.
"What? Are they hurt? Is anyone else hurt? They did what? Do you have any proof? NO, NO Alright, Alright, Ill be there as soon as I can."
Chris came out of his office and glared at his team daring them to make a single comment as he walked toward the door. Buck unable to resist called out when he well out of range of anything but the glare, "Hey, Chris. Where are you going? Need any back-up?"
Muttering under his breath, Chris turned to face his team before growling, "I dont need back-up, and Ill be back shortly." Pausing before continuing in a nearly inaudible tone, "I have to go to the principles office." He turned and stalked out the door barely making it to the elevator before hearing the laughter of his men.
A week later, Team 7 was showing the strain. They hadnt located the carnival, and they had not made any real progress in finding out either what had happened to Ezra and Vin or how to reverse it. To make matters worse, the paper pushers were beginning to insist that they give up on the search and begin looking for replacements for the missing team members. Facing yet another meeting, this one called by the FBI to discuss who knows what, Chris realized there was no way he would be able to pick the boys up from school on time. He tried unsuccessfully to call Mary Travis or Inez, but neither one was available. Briefly considering calling the judge, he decided against it and reluctantly decided to call in a favor from the leader of Team 8.
Ryan Kelly wasn't sure what to expect when Chris Larabee called. Larabee and what remained of his team had been called to an emergency meeting with the FBI, and Chris had called Ryan to ask him for a favor. Knowing how seldom Team 7's leader acknowledged needing help from anyone much less anyone that wasn't on his team, Kelly had agreed before he had even found out what he was being asked to do. Which was why he currently found himself waiting inside of a principle's office for two children he had never met. How had he missed that one? When during the frantic search for Tanner and Standish had Larabee ended up with two foster children and how in the Hell had it happened? He was told the boys had evidence concerning the missing member's disappearance and that Chris had them staying at the ranch as material witnesses. Since they were orphans, Chris had also obtained temporary guardianship. (Kelly would have liked to have been a fly on the wall for that meeting. Everything had been OK'd through social services and kept extremely quiet. SRS had agreed to the arrangement as long as the children attended school and met with a counselor and social worker as necessary.)
Kelly, after he had picked his jaw up off the floor, had driven to the school and had arranged to have the children brought to the principle's office just before classes were over. Although he had been told he didn't have to be there until 4:00 because of some after school program, he was too curious to wait. He had names, Victor and Aaron, and ages (7 and 6 respectively) but that was all he knew about them. When he had asked the principle about them the man had shaken his hand, smiled, and wished him luck - something that did nothing for his confidence level. He wasn't really used to dealing with little kids. Uncharacteristically fidgety, Kelly waited impatiently for his two charges wondering what they were like as he paced back and forth. Chris had apologized right before he hung up, and the principle's reaction did nothing to appease his increasing worry. They were just little kids; they couldn't be that bad. He sat down to wait, and he had just resisted the impulse to start pacing again when he heard voices in the hallway.
"I assure you, Victor, that I in no way committed any offense that could possible warrant another trip to this dismal locale."
"Yeah, well, I didn't do anything either, so what's going on. Why're we leavin early, and why ain't Chris here? You don't think somethins happened to him do ya?" The soft Texas voice took on a concerned tone.
"I am sure that had anything untoward befallen him, one of the others would be here in his stead. However, if anything has happened to him or one of the others, ..." The high southern voice grew hard and trailed off.
"Yeah, we'll handle it, one way or another."
Kelly shook his head as he listened to the exchange. If it weren't for the obvious youth of the speakers, he would have sworn he was listening to Tanner and Standish. He stood up when the door opened and his jaw dropped as he fell back into the chair he had just vacated staring at the sight before him in absolute shock. A young boy with shoulder length blond hair, blue eyes and wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and buckskin jacket stood next to a green eyed, chestnut haired boy who was unbelievably wearing slacks, a white shirt, a blazer and a tie. Why hadn't Larabee warned him? Kelly remained in the chair staring in shock at the miniature versions of the missing members of Team 7. He didn't remember ever reading anything about Tanner and Standish having any kids, but damn it all -- he'd eat his hat if these two weren't related to the missing troublemakers. But Larabee had said they were orphans, Kelly felt the color drain from his face, before shaking his head dismissing the thought. There was no way Standish and Tanner were dead.
The two boys stopped in front of him and exchanged worried glances before the younger one said, "Sir, might I inquire as to whether or not you are the reason for our presence in this office, and if so what has befallen our guardian?" The two boys were tense and staring at him with fixed expressions, no emotions showed on either face, but Kelly knew the fear was there.
Shaking himself out of his daze, Kelly replied, "Larabee's fine and so are the other guys. They just ended up in a late meeting is all. I'm supposed to take you home today. Larabee said he didn't want to take a chance with anything happening to you two."
The two boys ended up wearing matching looks of disgust before the younger one answered, "Indeed, Mister Kelly, while we appreciate the offer, it is truly unnecessary. We are more than capable of finding our own way out to the ranch and would hate to inconvenience you in anyway."
Lord, Kelly thought, this kid just had to be related to Standish. "I'm not falling for that one, Chris would shoot me if I don't make sure you two get out to there in one piece. By the way, how did you know my name?"
"Considering the fact that you haven't removed your badge yet, it weren't that hard to figure out what your name was, Mister. I'm Vic by the way, and this here's Ron."
The smaller boy rolled his eyes and glared at his brother. "Aaron. Really, it's only two syllables, it shouldn't be that difficult, can't you at least attempt to not massacre my name the way you do the rest of the English language."
Kelly stared at the two, looking from one to the other as they continued their conversation. This was just too surreal. "Uh, kids, ..." Kelly froze at the twin glares that garnered. "Sorry, Aaron and Vic, we really should get going. Is there anything you need to pick up from your lockers or something before we leave? For, uhm, homework and stuff?"
A look of withering disdain was his only answer; and as the two boys turned and left the room, he saw two rolling backpacks at the door with several children standing near them.
"Are you sure you should have just left them out there unattended?" asked Kelly.
"They weren't unattended. No one's gonna be foolish enough to mess with our stuff. Not with them keeping an eye on it for us." Came the reply from Vic who received a nod of agreement from his brother as they gestured toward several of the children who beamed at the recognition. Kelly watched in bemusement as several of the older and larger kids in the hallway gave the two boys a wide berth while the younger students literally surrounded his two charges clamoring for their attention. Kelly recognized Billy Travis in the happy throng that was slowly making its way outside and smiled when the boy waved at him while talking animatedly to Vic.
Several of the teachers were in the hall smiling at the unlikely duo of pied pipers while the principle shook his head in resignation with a slight smile on his face. Kelly keeping site of Aaron and Vic approached the principle, "What's going on? Is it always like this?"
"Only since those two got here. Come on, you won't believe this." Replied the principle as they followed the children outside. Kelly watched as the children gather in a rough circle around Aaron and Vic. "Normally, they would have stopped off in the gym and changed, but I guess since you're here, they won't be staying in after school care the way they usually do. I feel sorry for Ms. Bates today. She's gotten used to having the two in there."
"They need to be in detention. They're nothing but troublemakers, and they need to be disciplined for their unruly and disrespectful behavior. They encourage the other children to fight and ignore all of the orders that are given in class." Came a shrill voice from behind them.
Kelly glanced over his shoulder to see a tall woman standing with a disapproving look on her face, and he unconsciously flinched at the tone of voice that sent him back to elementary school himself and the meanest teacher in the school.
"Vice Principal Elaine Patterson, meet Special Agent Ryan Kelly. He's picking the boys up today since Mister Larabee was called to an emergency meeting," said the principal with a forced smile.
"Miss Patterson, do you mind if I ask what you have against the boys?" said Kelly.
"They encourage fighting, are disrespectful, and are too smart for their own good. They need a firm hand, and why Mister Larabee doesn't seem to realize that I don't know."
Principal Patrick James cut her off in midstream. "Sorry, Elaine, but I'm sure Mister Kelly is in a hurry." With that he motioned Kelly toward him and they continued toward the ring of children. Peering over the small heads, Ryan was once again stopped dead in his tracks as he watched Aaron and Vic practicing katas belonging to several different styles of martial arts. He noticed that two concentric chalk circles had been drawn on the ground and that the children watching were very carefully staying outside of the marked areas. Shaking his head, Kelly continued to watch in fascination. "You don't have a problem with them working out here?"
Patrick shook his head. "They practice in the inner circle, the outer one is a buffer zone as Aaron puts it to ensure that no accidents occur. It is quite impressive when they decide to practice with each other, but they never actually touch each other and most of the moves are done individually. Actually, fights and bullying at the school have dropped off amazingly since those two started here. I thought for sure that given their sizes and their intelligence that there would be all sorts of problems with some of the known bullies, but that situation was diffused amazingly quickly."
"They had a free day in gym the first day they were here, and they practiced the routines they are doing now. I'm an adult and I don't know that I would try to mess with those two." Kelly and Patrick watched the two small forms move flawlessly through the practice routines.
"What do they do in after school care? Is that the right term?"
"Actually, Aaron has quite a few students that he has taken to tutoring in academics while Vic leads a class in the gym under the coach's supervision. Miss Bates who's in charge of the program watches everything very carefully, but she said the children see positive role models in Aaron and Vic so why discourage them. Aaron and Vic are willing to work with the other children, and she sees nothing wrong with encouraging them. I have to say that I agree with her. Several students Aaron has been working with have shown marked improvement in their grades while several of the students Vic has been working with have shown decreased aggression. Fights are down, academics are up, and the children are working together to solve their problems. I have no complaints. Besides, as intelligent as Aaron and Victor are, since Mister Larabee refuses to have them moved up to the high school much less the university level, I would say they have found an admirable way to keep themselves occupied and out of trouble. Wouldn't you agree?"
"It certainly sounds like it, but wait a minute, just how intelligent are they?"
"They both tested in the genius levels on the IQ tests, not that they were informed of this fact. Aaron appears to have an eidetic or photographic memory. They both speak Spanish quite fluently, and I suspect that Aaron may also know French and German. Several of the younger children speak somewhat rudimentary English since Spanish is spoken in their homes. Vic and Aaron have been overheard assisting them with their English in the library during lunch. I am not completely convinced that they are actually biologically brothers, given their different mannerisms and physical looks, but I certainly wouldn't be the one to tell them that. In everything that matters, they are brothers and they support each other accordingly. They could easily go to a high school or even university level in most subjects. Vic has some slight problems with reading because of dyslexia but as long as he has his sheets to use he's fine. As far as moving them up to high school or beyond, given what little history we know for the boys, I have to agree with Mister Larabee's reasoning. They've been through enough for now without adding all the social problems being 6 or 7 in high school would add to it. Its bad enough for them being the youngest students in the third grade."
"What do you mean, they've been through enough? What do you know about their history? Were they abused?"
"I don't know what happened to them, but from their reactions and their scars, I would say the martial arts they're doing were probably learned in self defense. If you want to know anymore, you'll have to talk to them or their guardian."
"Well, can you tell me why Miss Patterson dislikes them so much?"
"She can't intimidate them. She found them waiting in the office when I was first meeting with Mister Larabee and made the mistake of assuming they were there because they were in trouble. She began interrogating them and became incensed when Aaron politely informed her that they were under no obligation to answer any of her questions and Victor chimed in with weren't they supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. Then they ignored her. She made the colossal mistake of grabbing Aaron by the arm and hauling him off his feet. Apparently he has a weak shoulder because it dislocated. It was really strange though, Aaron never made a sound even when it happened. Victor came to his aid and nearly broke her arm in the process. They ended up shoulder to shoulder in front of her with Victor slightly in front and Aaron supporting his arm with his belt to keep the other hand free. I came out of my office with Mister Larabee to discover Aaron informing her in a deathly quiet voice that if she ever touched either of them again or any other child without cause, they would have her up on charges. We didn't even know Aaron was hurt until Larabee put his hand on his shoulder and Aaron passed out at his feet. I thought Mister Larabee was going to kill her, but Victor stopped him. Aaron came to school the next day in a sling that he refused to actually keep on, and since then neither of them has ever acknowledged her. It's like they have erased her presence from their existence, and she can't stand it."
"She's damn lucky Larabee didn't press charges, but I thought you said they were doing martial arts in gym the first day they were here."
"They were, Aaron ditched the sling as soon as they got out of site of their guardian so the coach didn't know what was going on. He came to talk to me after class was over with because he had seen some of the scars they had and was concerned. I filled him in on what I knew and then went to find the two boys. Aaron reluctantly put the sling back after I threatened to call a Mister Larabee."
"Have you ever had to call Chris since then?" Kelly asked curiously.
"Actually, well several times. Their teacher was concerned that they would be too bored in her class and called him in for a parent-teacher conference after she saw their test results. She ended up agreeing with his reasoning and has been trying to keep them occupied, with varying degrees of success. I had to call him the first day they were here when one of the parents of a sixth grader that they threatened complained. Actually the boy they "talked" to was picking on one of the first graders and then decided to have some fun with the new kids. A decision that he ended up regretting. They didn't hurt him; and he didn't actually manage to touch them, but he did end up on the ground. Then they told him rather bluntly what would occur if he continued to bother either them or any of the other children, which was what prompted the call from his parents. He had apparently neglected to inform them of Victor and Aaron's ages and size, and they quickly apologized when they were introduced to the two of them. Especially since Aaron had put his sling back on by then and an extremely irate Mister Larabee was sitting beside them. Since then, like I said before the amount of bullying at the school has bone down tremendously. Actually, I believe Mister Larabee has been down here at least once a day since they enrolled. I shouldn't admit it, but its actually quite amusing at times to have them around. They each have a wicked sense of humor and no one seems to be considered off limits as far as practical jokes are concerned. Considering theyve only been here just over a week, theyve had an amazing effect on the other students and to tell you the truth some of the teachers as well."
With each new piece of information, Kelly became more confused wondering where the children had come from. The two boys were truly miniature versions of Tanner and Standish. He grinned as he considered the possibilities; God help the poor teacher who had them in class. Continuing over to the crowd of children he saw that Victor was demonstrating various moves to some of the older children, while Aaron had produced a deck of cards and was doing magic tricks for the rest of them. "Excuse me, Aaron, Victor, we really should be going." With a twist of his wrist Aaron made the cards disappear and nodded to the crowd surrounding him before turning to Victor who bowed to his students before joining his brother.
"Your pardon, Mister Kelly, if we have caused you any inconvenience. Yesterday, without knowledge of a possible change in our schedule, we had promised several demonstrations to our classmates. As you were involved in a discussion with Principle James, we thought we would meet our obligations as best we could in the time permitted to us rather than disappoint those who were waiting for our presence. Please accept our apologies if we have inadvertently caused you any difficulties."
"No problem, Ron." Kelly almost flinched at the look he received from Aaron when he used the shortened form of his name, while Vic grinned at him and winked behind his brother's back. "But we really should get going." Kelly was anxious to get his charges out to the safety of the ranch. He had planned to stop by the bank on the way, but if these boys had the same luck that the two men they so closely resembled had then they were trouble magnets. Tanner and Standish managed to walk into bank robberies, kidnappings, drug deals, and almost anything else life threatening or weird that you could name. Looking at the two boys, Ryan decided that he wasn't going to take any chances. He had an almost full tank of gas, and he could go to the bank tomorrow.
Half an hour later, Kelly was standing by his car waiting for backup and praying that it wouldn't include Larabee. How was he supposed to have anticipated a carjacking? All he had done was stop at a traffic light. Yes, he had the windows rolled down, it was pleasantly cool that day and he had a headache -- Aaron never stopped talking, ever. He was at a light and next thing he knew he had a gun shoved in his face. The idiot's partner was on the other side of the car pointing a second gun into the back seat through the open window next to Vic.
Shit, Kelly wasn't willing to risk anything happening to the boys and had turned to get the kids out of the back seat when all Hell broke loose. Victor was apparently sitting in wide-eyed shock staring at the gun in the hand of the second carjacker when Aaron had suddenly thrown himself over the back of the seat at Ryan crying pitifully, "Please don't let them hurt us."
Reacting instinctively Ryan caught the small form in his arms turning in the process to pull the boy into the front seat trying to comfort him. Holding the distraught boy, Ryan was trying to get him to calm down when the little shit had glanced up through surprisingly clear eyes and winked at him, glanced at his brother and brought one foot up to kick the gun that was still pointing in their general direction. That move was followed by a kick in the face and one of the would-be carjackers was out for the count with a broken nose. At the same moment that Aaron had made his move, Victor's hand had shot out toward the second carjacker whose entire focus was the scene in the front seat. One hand caught the guy in the throat while the other knocked the hand holding the gun down pushing it away from the occupants. Some well applied pressure loosened the man's hold on the gun, and it fell to the floor where Vic grabbed it and brought it to bear on its previous owner. The entire thing had taken maybe 20 seconds once Aaron started moving. Kelly ended up sitting in the front seat stunned as the two would be car thieves were covered by the two children - Aaron having appropriated the other gun and covering the man on the ground as soon as he saw his brother had the other one under control. Ryan was shaking his head and restraining the impulse to strangle the two little morons who could have gotten themselves killed.
"Mister Kelly, might I suggest that you avail yourself of the handcuffs you undoubtedly have available and restrain the miscreants who were so foolish as to attempt procuring your vehicle."
"Yeah, and ya might want to call someone ta come pick'em up. Chris ain't gonna be to happy ifn we're to late gettin out ta the ranch."
Shaking himself out of his daze and gritting his teeth on the reply he wanted to make, Kelly made short work of applying handcuffs and calling for assistance. Forgetting his audience, the dispatcher was treated to Kelly's attempts to get the two boys to turn loose of the guns they had appropriated. Something neither of them would do until they were sure the "miscreants" had been secured. The two criminals had their eyes fixed on the boys and were shaking their heads in disgust at having been bested by a couple of children.
Hearing sirens, Kelly looked up only to be greeted by the site of two of his men approaching.
"Hey boss, we recognized your voice and wanted to make sure you were OK." Came from Douglas Stone.
"What happened?" said Kirk Gustin curiously.
"I was giving those two a ride out to Larabee's ranch," Kelly gestured to Aaron and Vic who came over to join him, "and the two idiots on the ground over there tried to carjack me."
"What, you took on two armed carjackers with a couple of little kids in the car?"
"No Stone, I didn't. I was getting ready to hand the keys over. They" he fixed Aaron and Vic with a glare worthy of Larabee before taking a deep breath and continuing through gritted teeth, "They decided to take on two carjackers, and they get to explain it to Chris and the rest of his team when he gets here."
"Surely, Mister Kelly, you can't expect us to take credit for a truly..."
Kelly cut Aaron off in midstream, "No way, kid. You two did it, you two get to explain it."
"Ah Hell, all we were doin was keepin the bad guys from getting away. It ain't like anyone got hurt or anything."
"That's not the point. You two could have been killed. What the Hell were you thinking?"
Watching the byplay between the two children and their leader, Douglas and Kirk admitted defeat.
"Hey Boss, who are they anyway and why were you taking them out to Larabee's"
"Aaron and Victor meet Douglas Stone and Kirk Gustin. They're material witnesses in the disappearance of Tanner and Standish. Larabee has temporary custody so they are staying out at the ranch." Kelly buried his face in his hands and sighed while Douglas and Stone stared in amazement at the two boys.
The smaller boy stepped forward with his hand out and fixed them with piercing green eyes and an dimpled smile, "Mister Stone, Mister Gustin, it is a great pleasure to make your acquaintance. My brother and I are duly grateful for your timely arrival. I do believe that Mister Kelly is quite incensed at us for some reason and your arrival provided an admirably timed distraction."
"Yeah, nice to meet ya and thanks for comin so quick. Since nobody but the bad guys got hurt, I didn't think he'd be so hot about it, but he ain't real happy with us right now."
Exchanging stunned glances, Douglas and Kirk took a closer look at the two boys.
"Ah you're welcome, Aaron and Victor. Glad we could help." The two men smiled fixedly at the boys before walking over to Kelly.
"Hey Ryan, did Tanner and Standish have any kids, cause there's no way in hell those two aren't related to them." Gustin whispered keeping his eye on the two children who had gone back to watching over the criminals on the ground.
"How the Hell am I supposed to know? It's not like I've had all that much time to think about it anyway. All Larabee asked me to do was pick up a couple of kids after school and take them out to the ranch. I didn't know I was going to end up with the junior versions of Standish and Tanner. Or that the little," Kelly paused to bring himself under control. "I was not warned that they were just as accident and disaster prone as the adult versions."
Kelly's tirade was cut short by the arrival of Team 7 with Larabee and Sanchez leading the pack.
Seeing the approach of their "guardian", Ezra and Vin began contemplating what kind of damage control might be necessary. They truly had not even considered the ramifications of their actions when they had acted to subdue the would-be carjackers, but seeing the looks on their teammates faces they were contemplating making a break for it and were backing away from the scene when they were stopped abruptly. Glancing up and back to see what they had run into, they saw the smiling face of Ryan Kelly who was standing shaking his head. He had seen the cautious retreat and had decided to preempt the escape attempt. Damn if these two weren't just like Tanner and Standish.
"Sorry boys, but I am still responsible for you until you get out to the ranch, and you're not going anywhere."
Any reply they might have attempted was cut off by Chris's voice. "Does anybody want to explain what happened here?" The tone was carefully controlled and it was obvious to anyone who knew him that Chris was controlling his temper by the barest of threads.
Josiah on the other hand had no such qualms. He had been terrified when they had heard the call knowing that Ezra and Vin would have been unable to resist trying something. Seeing the two prisoners out for the count did nothing to appease the anger and fear that ran through his system as he scanned the milling crowd of people for the only two that he cared about at that moment. Spotting them backing away and seeing Ryan Kelly put a stop to their attempted flight, Josiah closed in on his charges.
"What did you two do, and what in the Hell were you thinking?"
An immediate attempt at spin control came from Ezra in the form of a question "Why do you believe that we had anything to do with this ..."
He was cut-off by a snort of laughter from JD, a disgusted sigh from Kelly, and a glare from Chris who said, "Because you're here. You two are incapable of going anywhere without getting into some sort of trouble."
"Larabee," Kelly began an attempt at an apology, "I'm sorry, but I ..."
"Shit, Kelly, I should have known better. It's not your fault that those two menaces to mental health can't go anywhere without attracting trouble. I suppose another call to the principle's office would have been too prosaic for you. You couldn't just let them have what they wanted and then call it in. Not you two, Oh no, you had to take on armed carjackers. Damnit you could have gotten yourselves killed." Chris continued ranting in this vein for a few more minutes much to the adult member's of the team's amusement. Chris had been averaging at least one call a day from the principle, had already had two "parent-teacher" conferences, and had been heard threatening to turn the two "boys" over his knee if it happened again.
Regaining some measure of control, Chris turned to Ryan, "Kelly, you want to tell us what happened? If I ask those two, I'll never get a straight answer." Chris continued talking over the objections of Ezra and Vin, who were once again started considering a strategic retreat since Kelly had finally released them. Glancing at Vin and receiving a nod in turn, they began trying to surreptitiously extricate themselves from the circle of men surrounding them. Ezra was sure that given their current location, they could make it to his town house or even God forbid Vin's apartment and barricade themselves in until the team calmed down. Unfortunately that plan required an initial escape from their overbearing teammates which he conceded with a resigned sigh was probably not going to happen at anytime in the near future when he felt Josiah's hand clamped down on his shoulder. After being read the riot act, much to the amusement of their teammates, Chris almost literally dragged them over to his Ram and ordered them into the back seat.
Kelly had watched the entire thing in bemused amazement.
Chris had finally calmed down by the time they got to the ranch when he was startled by a call on his cell phone. "Larabee."
"Chris?" he recognized Mary's voice and wondered why it sounded like she was trying desperately to maintain control.
"Mary, what is it? Is something the matter?"
"No, No nothing is the matter. I just have a question I need to ask you." Chris realized that what he had taken for distress in the initial part of the conversation was actually Mary trying desperately not to start laughing.
"What question?" he responded with a certain amount of dread in his voice.
Mary paused once again fighting laughter and Chris reluctantly decided to continue the conversation, "Yes?"
"Well, Evie promised Billy that he could invite up to three friends for a sleep-over this Friday. He's been begging to have one, and since I have a dinner meeting that night, she decided that she would volunteer to have it over there."
"Mary, I'm not quite sure where this is leading. Why are you telling me this?"
"Billy hasn't done anything all week except talk about his two new friends, Ron and Vic, and he wants to invite them to the sleep-over." The last few words were lost in Mary's laughter, but Chris was able to figure out what had been said.
"Does the judge know about this?" Chris had a hard time imagining the look on Judge Travis's face when he found out about this development.
"Well, he knows about and agreed to the sleep-over, but he doesn't know who the guests are going to be. Only that it is limited to no more than four boys, including Billy. So, what do you say? Can they come?"
Chris was fighting laughter of his own at this point and considered the situation. The team would get a break, and the Judge would get the full experience of what they were currently going through.
"I don't have a problem with it, but I'll have to ask the boys if they want to go." Chris paused before continuing, "Better still, put Billy on and I'll let him ask them. I doubt either of them will be able to turn him down." Chris paused to make sure Billy was on the line before calling,
"Aaron, Vic get on the phone. There's someone who wants to talk to you."
Ezra and Vin exchanged glances wondering what had occurred. They had been quietly discussing what their next course of action should be after they had been of all things sent to their room while Chris tried to calm down enough to think rationally. Much to their consternation, Chris had sounded like he was laughing about something, and they reluctantly reached for the phones.
"What do ya think is going on Ez. He weren't real happy with us earlier, why do you think he's so cheerful now?"
"Actually, Vin, I am afraid to hazard a guess as to what has raised Mister Larabee's spirits to such levels, and I am not at all sure that I desire to find out. However, given the degree of provocation he has already suffered today, I don't believe any delay in our acquiescence to his request would be wise."
Surprised and wary given their bosses reaction to the carjacking debacle, Ezra and Vin each hesitantly picked up a cordless phone.
"Hello? Might I ask to whom I am speaking?"
"Aaron, is Vic there, too?" the excited voice could only belong to Billy Travis, and Ezra and Vin exchanged surprised glances. Why on earth would Billy be calling them?
"Yeah, Billy, I'm here."
"Great, listen, my mom already said it was OK, as long as it's OK with you guys, I mean if you want to ..." the excited voice became difficult to follow and Ezra reluctantly interrupted,
"Please pardon the interruption, Billy, but what exactly is it that you are asking us?"
"Oh, sorry, it's just I'm real excited, I never got to have a sleep over before. I get to invite up to three friends over and I really want you to come. Will you, please? It isn't for a birthday or anything, it's just I've been wanting to have one forever. My mom said that it was OK with her, and she said that Chris said it was OK with him if you wanted to?" the voice trailed off hopefully and Vin and Ezra exchanged glances before nodding to each other. There was no way they could disappoint the boy.
"We would be honored, Billy. I presume your mother and Mister Larabee will work out the details?"
"Yeah, this is so great. You'll like grandma, and grandpa's real nice but kind of stern sometimes. He makes real good ice cream sodas though. I'll tell you all about it tomorrow at recess."
"Wait, Billy, where exactly is this sleep-over taking place?" Ezra was struck with a sense of dread at the last comment.
"Oh, sorry, it's at my grandma and grandpa's house. Mom's got some party or something she has to go to tomorrow night. Anyway, I'll tell you all about it tomorrow. Mom needs the phone again."