The next day was filled with reports and accounts of the arrests of the previous day. Ezra arrived at nine, rested and refreshed. He and Larabee were called down to make their reports to AD Travis. The rest of the team busied themselves cleaning up the loose ends that seemed to be left at the end of each bust.
Because of the length of time that Standish was under and the meticulous nature of the agent, the two men did not return to the office until late afternoon. Nathan had gone already, stating he was due at the medical center for a course in natural medicines he had enrolled in. Wilmington told him to have fun, but not expect him to try any more 'natural bark tea' like the medic had convinced the man to try the previous winter after Buck had been struck down with the flu.
Josiah and Buck looked up as the two men strode into the office.
"How'd it go?" Buck asked as he leaned back in his chair, rolling a pencil between his fingers.
"There was no difficulty encountered with the deposition that AD Travis asked for. I believe that I was able to alleviate his fears concerning any lack of proper procedural decorum."
That said, the undercover agent moved past to his desk. He gathered his coat and umbrella. Moving back to the door, he turned back to the other two men. "Gentlemen, am I still welcome at the ranch this evening?"
Buck glanced at Chris, who was studying the southerner. "I think that the boys would be very upset if you didn't show. And I don't want to have to drive back into town looking for you."
A small smile pulled at the man's mouth. "In that case, I shall see you at seven o'clock sharp with pizza in hand."
I should have known that something was wrong with JD. I'm his best friend, he's my brother, but I was too busy doing other stuff. Chris and I had a great weekend. We didn't talk much on our trip. That's the way we do a lot. Don't need to talk, we understand each other and have fun.
But it's different with JD. He talks a lot and loves to have a lot of people around. I didn't notice how quiet he was for two days. I knew that he was having bad dreams, but never asked him about them. Not really. I feel bad about that. I should have been a better big brother. He's a good kid and deserves a good brother to watch out for him. I didn't even know that he had got in trouble at school until after it was all over.
Buck and Chris pulled up in front of the house. They had talked, again, on the way to work about JD going to see Dr. Lowery, but found out when Buck called that the man was at a conference until Thursday afternoon. The receptionist told him that she would fit JD into the late afternoon schedule. Both boys had been frequent visitors to the office and both had endeared themselves to the woman with their sweet manners and angelic faces. Buck thanked the woman and made a note to send her a small bouquet of flowers; he noticed that she always seemed to have daisies on her desk and figured she was partial to them. When Larabee learned that they would have to wait forty-eight more hours to get the boy in, he remarked that he hoped 'it doesn't come to a head before Lowery gets back' to which Buck sighed and nodded.
Those hopes were dashed almost as soon as they walked in the door.
Mrs. Potter greeted them as they hung their jackets up, stating that the boys were in their room playing. She gathered her coat and purse and she extended her arm, a small envelope in her hand. Chris recognized the paper and frowned as he reached for the note. The frown deepened when the woman moved the envelope away.
"It's not about Vin, It's JD."
Buck's eyebrows rose. This was the first time the school had found it necessary to send a note home with the child. He took the offered message and stepped away. Chris thanked the woman and wished her a good evening. As the door clicked shut, he headed for the kitchen and coffee. He found Wilmington sitting at the table, studying the letter. It was clearly the elegant writing of Carolyn Roquette; Larabee had seen it several times as Vin had adjusted to the new school and free form environment.
"Buck?" Chris held up the coffee pot in a question.
The man nodded and turned his attention back to the words. Finally, without looking up, he said, "JD hit some boy."
"What? Why?" Larabee questioned as he poured the brew and then joined his friend at the table.
"She says he won't say, won't apologize." Looking up, he continued, "I think she's more upset by that then the fight. Well, not fight. He shoved one of the boys. When Mrs. Roquette asked what the problem was, all JD would say is 'nothing'. She is concerned that he won't say what is wrong."
"Yeah, well, tell her to join the club."
Buck nodded and then stood. "Guess I best have a talk with him before Ezra gets here."
"I'll take Vin outside to the barn."
The two men moved down the hallway, pausing at the door.
"JD, you want to talk?"
"You know Buck is gonna be mad."
A sniffle was heard before the boy said, "You have to defend your friends."
"What friends? Me?"
There was silence for a minute as the boy apparently shook his head, because Vin spoke again. "Who, then? What did Freddy do?"
Hearing nothing for several moments, the two men moved into the room.
"Chris." Vin jumped to his feet and moved to the man, stopping in front of him, looking up. "When did you get home?"
"Just a few minutes ago. How about some help in the barn?"
"Sure. Hi, Buck."
"Hey, squirt" Buck said as he patted the boy's departing butt.
JD had not moved since the men had entered; just sat toying with one of the action figures that littered the floor. Now, Wilmington stepped across the room and sat down on the lower bunk. He patted the bed, inviting JD to join him. Reluctantly the boy stood, dropping the toy, and moved closer to the bunk bed where Buck reached out and took him into his lap. JD leaned into the man's chest, hiding his face.
Buck responded by placing his chin on the boy's head. "So, you want to tell me about today?"
Tear-filled hazel eyes peered up at the man. "Freddy tried to take Joey's chair."
"Do you have assigned chairs? Ones you're supposed to sit in each day?"
"Then it's not really Joey's chair."
JD pulled back, both little hands clenched. "It is, too. Joey always sits there. It's right next to me and it's hers." While he wasn't actually yelling, the little boy had raised his voice and now dipped his head at the expression on Wilmington's face. "Sorry, Buck."
Deciding to let it slide this time, Buck asked, "Why can't Freddy sit there for now, since Joey's away for a while?"
"No!" JD wailed. "He won't give it back. He's always poking at me and talking. He's big and mean and smelly and I don't want him to sit next to me."
"So, you pushed him? Does that sound like the right thing to do?"
JD slowly shook his head.
"And you wouldn't apologize? Even after Mrs. Roquette asked you to?"
Tears slid down the boy's face to fall on Buck's hand as it rested on JD's stomach.
Sniffing, he drew his hand across his nose. "I'm sorry, Buck. I know it wasn't right, but Freddy said Joey was never coming back 'cause she's a cripple and worthless, now."
"Oh, son, I'm sorry." He lifted the boy and held him close as he sniffed and wiped at the tears. "How about we go together tomorrow and we'll talk to Mrs. Roquette? And you apologize? Because you know it was wrong, no matter what Freddy said. You don't push people and you don't disobey your teacher. Okay?"
JD nodded as he rested his head on Buck's shoulder. "I'm sorry I was bad, Da."
Wilmington rolled his eyes, thinking to himself that the boy used that word, knowing that he could get away with murder if he called Buck 'Da'.
Patting the boy, he stood up. "Let's go wash that face. We don't want to scare Ezra when he gets here."
JD pushed away from the man's shoulder and looked wide-eyed at him. "Uncle Ezra's coming? He got out from under the covers?"
Buck laughed-at the words and the turn-around in attitude. "Yep. And he's bringing pizza."
"Yeah!" JD shouted. "Does Vin know?"
Hearing a car honk out front, Buck answered, "He will in a minute. Come on. Let's get you washed up and then we'll set the table."
Minutes later, the five were sitting around the table, talking and eating pizza. The boys were telling the southerner all that had happened in the last five weeks since he had been gone. The man was properly appreciative of the purple cast and how the doctor had managed to remove it, yet keep the signatures intact.
Hearing about Torkus going to sleep, he was very sympathetic to the boys' loss. Ezra expressed great pleasure that the boys had taken the time to research the problem and come up with a viable solution, down to the most minuscule detail, such as setting up a schedule to check on the animal and what to look for to ensure his well-being.
After the meal was complete, Ezra and the boys went to the family room after a brief stop at the 'facilities' as Ezra put it, to wash greasy little hands and faces. While Buck and Chris cleaned up, the others decided to read.
Vin went to the bookshelf and looked over the many choices. He picked out two books and held them both up. "JD? Which do you want to hear? 'Eragon' or 'The Black Stallion's Ghost'?"
JD sat close at Ezra's side and looked from the man to the books. "I think Uncle Ezra would do 'Eragon' best."
Standish cocked an eyebrow at the comment, but turned quickly as Vin plopped down next him, book in hand.
"So, what do we have here?"
Vin pointed to the cover page. "This is Saphira. She's a dragon and she is friends with Eragon."
"Am I to surmise that you have read this missive previously?"
The boys both frowned. "Huh?"
"You've read this before?" the southerner interpreted.
"Yeah, but only once."
Looking at the expectant faces of his 'nephews', Ezra smiled and opened the book as the boys snuggled closer. The soft southern drawl wrapped around the words, rising and falling with the story. The two children sat unmoving, enthralled.
The other two agents came in with neither boy even noticing. They grinned as they sat down, but soon found themselves listening also. Ezra read on for an hour, pausing only to sip the coffee Larabee had set in front of him. After an hour, Chris broke the spell by standing and moving toward the trio.
"It's about time for bed, boys."
"Please, Chris. We haven't seen Uncle Ezra in forever."
Chris looked at the boys and shook his head. "Okay, you can stay up another half hour, but no more reading. Ezra's voice is beginning to go."
"Go where?" JD asked, wide-eyed.
Buck laughed and said, "Going away. His voice is tired."
Vin took the book and put a slip of paper in to mark the spot where Ezra had stopped and placed the book back on the shelf. Turning, a very serious expression on his face, he stated, "Thank you, Uncle Ezra."
"Yeah, thanks, Uncle Ezra." JD stood up and hugged the man around the neck.
"You are most welcome, both of you. It is a fine story. I would be honored to come back and read more for you."
JD bounced on the couch, clapping his hands. "Yeah."
Grinning, Ezra turned to the little boy and asked, "You'd like that would you?"
"Yeah, you do a good dragon voice."
Buck laughed. "A dragon with a southern drawl?"
JD fell against the back of the couch, giggling.
"You find that humorous, young sir?" Ezra reached over and began to tickle the already laughing child. Not to be left out, Vin climbed onto the couch and wrapped his arms around the undercover agent's neck and chest as he leaned over the now reclining JD. Buck and Chris stood back, chuckling at the antics. They were both glad to see Standish so relaxed after an extremely long and difficult operation.
Ezra bent over the dark haired boy, using one hand to tickle him and the other to hold onto the hip of the boy clinging to his back. Vin placed his hands over the southerner's eyes as JD wiggled around in the man's grasp.
Standish sat with one leg on the floor and the other tucked under him. He reached around and pulled Vin down next to JD, wrapping his arms around both. The boys struggled against the man's strength for several moments, but Vin finally managed to wriggle out, leaving JD alone in the man's grasp.
Sitting up, Ezra narrowed his eyes and flexed his fingers into claws. Growling, he reached for the boy, making him squeal.
"I am Winston, the evil dragon and I eat little boys for my supper. Ah, here's a tasty little morsel. I think I'll start with the leg." He grabbed JD's leg and pretended to take a bite. No one was prepared for the child's reaction.
It took a moment for the man's words to register in the young mind, but in the next instant, the child's face went from happy to horrified and he screeched in terror. Panic took over and JD instinctively kicked out, catching Ezra in the mouth with his foot.
Ezra had felt the boy's muscles tense even before he heard the scream. Quick reflexes were the only thing that saved him from receiving the full force of the blow, though he still ended up with a cut lip. He drew back, holding a hand to his injured mouth.
At the boy's scream, Buck had jumped forward and gathered the shaking child into his arms. JD was still howling in terror. Buck rubbed the boy's back as he moved around the room with the boy clinging to his neck in an effort to comfort him.
Chris led the bleeding Standish to the kitchen, where Ezra could clean up while Chris got some ice for the swelling lip. Vin stood still in the middle of chaos, undecided on where to go. Seeing that Buck was taking care of JD, Vin followed the other two men to the kitchen. He found them sitting at the table. Ezra was holding an icepack to his mouth. Chris was just finishing explaining about Joey's accident.
"Good lord, Mr. Larabee. I am so terribly sorry. My actions, my antics " Ezra's hands dropped to the table at his loss of words.
Chris shook his head. "Ezra, no. There's no way you could have known how the boy was going to react. I had no idea that he would react like that. And I knew about the girl." The man leaned forward, placing a hand on the undercover agent's arm as it lay on the table. "I never thought to tell you and I am sorry. You might have 'played' a little differently."
"Yes, but still "
Vin moved to stand next to the man. He placed his hands on Ezra's leg and leaned against him. "Not your fault, Uncle Ezra. We were only having fun."
Standish wrapped an arm around the slender shoulders and gave the boy a squeeze. "Thank you, Mr. Tanner."
The threesome sat quietly, listening to the sounds from the next room.
Buck had continued to walk, patting the small back, back and forth across the room. Slowly, the youngster calmed down with the crying slowing and finally stopping as the five-year-old clung to his neck. The man moved to a chair and sat down, sitting the boy on his lap and placing one hand on JD's back and the other on his legs.
The dark haired boy sat huddled in the man's lap as Buck's hands held him secure. He brought his thumb toward his mouth, but a gentle hand stopped it and tenderly massaged the small fist.
The boy sniffed and drew his hand across his nose.
"JD? You know that Ezra wasn't going to hurt you."
The little boy nodded.
"You want to talk about it?"
Buck heard muffled words and reached down to raise the little head up and got his first look at the tear filled eyes. "What did you say, Little Bit?"
JD sniffed before asking, "What'd they do with Joey's leg? Freddy said they fed it to the dogs."
Buck felt the tremors begin again in small body as the words were spoken. The man inwardly cursed the cruelty of some children. He would never understand how they could say the mean things that they did, hurting others with the uncaring words.
Wilmington wrapped his arms around the boy's slight frame and pulled him even closer, whispering to himself, "Ah, Little Bit. I'm so sorry."
Releasing the boy, Buck pulled him around to look into the hazel eyes. "JD, I don't know exactly what they do with things like that. That's a question for Uncle Nathan. But I know that Freddy is wrong. He only said that to be mean."
Buck smiled sadly at the question. "I don't really know why, son. Some kids are just like that."
The two looked around as Chris, Ezra and Vin reentered the room. Ezra approached the duo and squatted down in front of the chair. Seeing the boy's lip start to quiver caused the man to pause, guilt plaguing him. As he started to pull away, a small hand reached out and touched his swollen lip.
"I'm sorry, Uncle Ezra. I know you was only playing."
Ezra found his eyes tearing at the forgiveness the child offered with a few simple words and he brought his hand up to grip the small hand. Smiling, he drew it to his lips and placed a kiss on the palm.
"Thank you, kind sir. But I feel you are not the one to apologize. Had I known about your young friend, I would never have brought up a reminder of her much delicate situation."
Chris had taken a seat on the edge of the couch with his arms wrapped around Vin as he stood between the man's knees. After watching the exchange between JD and Ezra, he had questions.
"JD? Why didn't you tell us how upset you were?"
JD's eyes glanced at Chris, but settled on Vin. "Vin didn't want me to."
The seven-year old's eyebrows drew together in confusion. "I didn't say anything," he said defensively.
JD's head bobbed. "You had your 'empty' face on. I'm not supposed to let anyone see if I'm hurting or scared. Remember?"
Vin slumped in Chris' grasp for a moment before his head started to shake. "JD, I wasn't doing the 'empty' face. I just don't know Joey all that good. Was sorry about her being hurt, but that's all"
Blinking, JD said, "Oh. Sorry."
Ezra glanced at Buck and then Chris. Both men shrugged.
Chris turned Vin to face him. "Vin, this 'empty face'? This is what?"
Vin fidgeted for a moment and then looked up. "On the streets, there's people that liked to take your stuff, or hurt you. Sometimes, if they didn't know you was scared, they'd leave ya alone; cause it wasn't fun if you wasn't scared. I told JD that he couldn't cry or yell if I was doing the empty face. I didn't think about tellin' 'im that we don't have to do that anymore." The boy's head dropped, afraid of the disappointment that might show in the blond's eyes.
Chris placed a finger under the boy's chin and brought the boy's head up to look into his eyes. "Vin, what you did, you did to survive. I hate that you had to do some of the things that you did, but I am grateful that you could. Because that made you able to hang on until we found you " The man glanced at the boy in Buck's lap, " both of you."
The boy blushed at the praise, but smiled at the pride evident in the man's voice, in the light touch of his callused hands on his arms.
JD watched the exchange and then looked at Buck. "No more 'empty face'?"
Buck smiled and hugged the boy and planted a kiss on his head. "No. No more 'empty face', From now on, if you have a problem, you can talk to someone. That's why we're here."
JD looked around at each person in the room and then asked Buck, "So, if it's okay, how come we didn't go see her? Or take her balloons or cards, like we do when the boys are hurt?"
"Well, that's something we can still do, if you want, Little Bit. How about I call Joey's dad and see if we can go see her? Would you like that?"
"Yeah" the boy said as he bounced slightly on the man's lap.
Buck smiled and smoothed the long dark hair back from the hazel eyes. "Alright then. I'll call Matthew and see about a visit."
JD leaned over and hugged the man. "I love ya, Buck."
Wilmington returned the hug, relieved to finally understand the unusual behavior of the little boy. Gripping the little head, the man placed a kiss in the dark hair and then ruffled that same hair.
"I think it's time for someone two someones to go to bed."
"Ah" and the beginnings of protests were heard, but cut off quickly as Larabee stood, patting the shoulders of his son.
"No arguments. Bedtime, boys. Say good night to Ezra."
"Night, Uncle Ezra," JD said as he leaned out of Wilmington's lap and wrapped his arms around the undercover agent's neck. Standish stood up, holding the child close.
"Good night, young sir. May your dreams be most pleasant."
Buck stood up and the boy was passed back to his father. Vin stood quietly at the southerner's hip. As one boy left the man's hands, the other replaced him.
"Night, Uncle Ezra."
"Sleep well, my young friend. I hope you will invite me back to continue our story."
"I don't have to invite you, Uncle Ezra. You're family and family doesn't need an invite."
Ezra hugged the boy again. "Thank you, Vin. I appreciate the sentiment."
Setting the boy on the ground, Standish turned to Larabee. "I will be taking my leave now. I believe that I am as weary as the boys," he said as JD yawned from his spot on Wilmington's shoulder.
All five moved to the door and goodbyes were said again as the southerner moved to his car and got in. Turning the ignition key and dropped the car into gear, Ezra waved as he drove away. The others returned to the house and bed.
Thursday afternoon found JD and Buck walking down the hallway of the hospital. Not to see Dr. Lowery as Buck had feared, but to visit the young friend JD had worried silently about. Arriving at the door, JD hesitated and Buck looked down.
They had stopped at the store and picked up some books and crayons for the girl as well as a stuffed horse. Buck had bought a card the day after Ezra had stopped at the house and gotten all of JD's extended family to sign it. JD clutched the package with its bright ribbon in one hand while the other clung to Wilmington's finger.
"You okay, Little Bit?"
Huge hazel eyes looked up at him. "Will she look different?"
"Well, I think that she'll look, and be, tired. There'll be a cover over her leg and she has some scrapes and bruises, but she'll still be the same little girl."
"What if she doesn't want to see anyone?"
"You just be yourself and we'll see how it goes. Okay?"
JD nodded and took a deep and noisy breath. Looking straight ahead, he said, "I'm ready."
Buck grinned and knocked on the door lightly. A call to 'come in' had him pushing the door open. The two walked into the room to find several people sitting around the private room and the child asleep on the bed. JD paused as he entered the room. Buck looked down, but continued across the room, his hand extended.
"Matthew." The two men shook hands. Matthew turned to the petite woman seated next to the bed.
"Mr. Wilmington, this is my wife, Abby." She stood and shook hands with the agent.
"Nice to meet ya, Ma'am."
Matthew proceeded to introduce the others in the room, which included both sets of grandparents and an aunt. Buck greeted each one before turning to the little boy.
JD had moved from the door to the high bed and now stood on his toes trying to see the girl in the bed. Buck walked over and took the boy in his arms, lifting him up.
"This is my son, JD. He's a good friend of Josephine's from school." JD blushed as everyone shook his hand and patted his cheek. As they reached Abby Granger, she patted the boy's leg.
"JD. How nice to meet you at last. Joey talks about you all the time. I am so glad you could come. She hasn't seen anyone from school, no one her age. I think she feels that no one cares about her now."
"I care. Joey is really neat for a girl. She spells real good and she likes horses." JD smiled and glanced around, before saying in a loud whisper, "We got her a horse. Do you think I could give it to her?"
A moan drew everyone's attention to the bed. Buck felt JD's hand tighten on his neck as the blue eyes opened and Joey looked around. When she saw JD and Buck, her eyes lit up and she smiled. Color tinged her pale cheeks as she said, "Hi, JD. Hi, Mr. Buck."
"Hello, Josephine. How are you doing, darlin?"
The girl giggled at the man as he approached the bed. JD started the lean forward and Buck held him out, so he could see the little girl closer.
"Hi, Joey. I missed you." He seemed to suddenly remember the package in his hand and held it out. "We brought you something."
The girl's eyes widened and then she moved to sit up. Her mother was there immediately and helped her, raising the head of the bed. JD held out the package and Abby took it, placing it on her daughter's lap.
Abby took the card and opened it, showing it to her daughter. It had balloons on the front and inside it was signed by all of JD's family including uncles and aunts.
Joey pulled the ribbon and her mother lifted the lid off the box. Reaching into the box, she removed the stuffed horse JD had picked out for her.
"He looks like Buck's horse, Beau. I was going to get a black one like Pony, Chris' horse, but I think I like the gray horse better."
As she pulled each item from the box, JD told her about it. Of course, everything was pretty self explanatory, but JD felt he needed to talk, to fill the air with sound and he did. By the time the box was empty, the adults were all chuckling and wondering if the boy would ever run out of air. Joey had laughed and commented about the gifts as they were revealed often times with both children talking at the same time
JD finally wound down as the girl yawned and drifted off to sleep. He watched as the girl slept and her mother picked up the items that littered the bed.
Buck cleared his throat. "I think we best be going. Thank you for allowing us to come."
The woman stopped picking things up and came around the bed. She placed a hand on the man's arm. With tear filled eyes she looked up.
"No, thank you. She hasn't laughed since the accident. You and your son are welcome to come by anytime." She squeezed the arm before turning to the dark haired boy. She reached up and took his face in her hands, pulling the boy down and kissing the cool cheek. "Thank you."
JD smiled and then lay his head down on Buck's shoulder. Buck patted the small back and, saying his goodbyes, left the room. Once outside, he flipped the boy around in front and looked him in the eye.
"If I have never told you how proud I am of you, I'm telling you now. I am so proud of you. You were very brave to go in there. And you made a scared little girl very happy. She knows that someone cares, now."
JD blushed and smiled. He leaned forward and placed his head on Buck's chest and the two headed down the hall.
Hey, JD. I was just finishing. Do you want to say anything?
No. Did you tell about Joey?
Did you tell about me being sad?
Did you tell about me kicking Uncle Ezra?
And about me going to see Joey?
What about that Joey is getting to go home tomorrow?
No, cause it hasn't happened yet.
Oh, okay. That's all. I don't have anything to say.
Say goodbye, JD.
Smarty. Goodbye, computer.
Things We Learned (Index)