By Luna Dey
I want to start this time.
Okay you can.
Cool! We got to miss school cause it snowed. I like school, but it was fun to get to stay home with Da.
I liked getting to stay home. But I didn't like that Chris got stuck in town.
Yeah, but he had a meeting and had to ask Uncle Ezra to come get us.
What are you laughing at?
Why are you laughing at me?
Cause I heard Uncle Ezra tell Da that you is sweet on the lunch lady.
Well Miss Lottie is nice. She gived us cookies.
"I understand, Mrs. Roquette. I'll be sure that the boys are picked up as soon as possible. Thank you for letting me know." Chris Larabee hung up the phone and ran his hand through his hair in concern. The snow was really piling up outside and the boys' school was closing early, but he had a meeting that he just couldn't get out of, no matter how good the excuse. Buck was still restricted from driving after his leg injury, and they had told Mrs. Potter to go on home as soon as it became apparent that the snow was going to get really bad. Nathan and Josiah were helping Team Two for a few days, so asking them for help was out of the question. It seemed that there was no other choice; he would just have to see if Ezra would pick up the boys.
Standish looked up from his keyboard where he was working on a report. "Yes, Mr. Larabee, I am nearly finished. You'll have these by "
"Forget that for now, Ezra. I need to ask you for a favor," Chris told him.
A mildly surprised undercover agent looked at the team leader. "You require a favor from me?"
"Yes, I do. Mrs. Roquette just called and said the boys' school is closing early and they need to be picked up. Could you possibly pick them up for me?"
"Say no more. Of course I'll retrieve your young charges. Do you wish them brought back here?" Ezra asked.
"I know it's really asking a lot considering the conditions outside, but would you take them on out to the ranch? I have no idea what time I'll get out of this meeting, and I'd feel better knowing they're at the house." He saw the younger man glance at his work and rushed to put his mind at ease. "That can wait. We aren't due to start the next assignment until after Josiah and Nathan are back with us next week, so there's plenty of time to finish before then."
"Just allow me a few moments to shut everything down." Standish made quick work of clearing off his desk. He closed out the programs he was using for his reports and then stuck his head into Larabee's office. "I'm leaving now."
"Thank you, Ezra. I really appreciate this." Chris sighed. "I really hate meetings," he said sincerely.
"I think it's a safe bet to say that you are not alone in your feelings about that one frightfully unpopular part of our occupation." Ezra smiled, showing off his dimples. "I believe the appropriate phrase to say in this situation is, 'better you than me'."
The team leader rolled his eyes and shook his head. "I didn't think it would ever happen."
"And, what might 'it' be?" the younger man asked.
"Buck has finally managed to corrupt you too."
"Mr. Larabee, is it really necessary for me to stand here and be insulted, especially in lieu of your request for my assistance?" Green eyes glared at the team leader, but despite trying to keep a serious expression, he found himself unable to keep the sparkle of mischief out of his eyes.
"Well, don't just stand there then. Get going!"
Ezra finished pulling on his coat and gave Chris a crisp two-fingered salute. "As you wish, Mr. Larabee, and never fear, the boys will be fine."
A few minutes later the black jag slipped out into traffic, literally, causing the undercover agent to swear softly under his breath. The mild winters were one of the things he missed about living in Atlanta. At least it was still early enough in the day that the traffic wasn't too heavy yet, but the drive that usually took only about twenty minutes took nearly twice that long. Ezra cringed to think of how long the drive all the way out to the ranch was going to take.
The classroom was empty when he got there. At first he thought that Buck might have disobeyed doctor's orders and driven there to pick up the boys himself. Then the sound of children's voices from down the hall caught his attention and drew him toward another room. There was no mistaking the sound of a very enthusiastic JD. Standish peeked into the room, not wanting to interrupt something important and saw that this was the school's lunchroom, with his two charges being the only students left.
"Come on, Vin! Lookit all the snow!" JD's excited voice pierced the air, causing Ezra to wince slightly from the sheer volume of it.
"Not now, JD. I'm workin'," the older child replied in a much more subdued tone.
"Awww, but Viiinnn it's snowin'!" The younger boy leaned his elbows on the windowsill and plopped his head in his hands as he looked out the window, his breath steaming up the glass in front of his face. "Yer no fun at lunch anymore," he pouted. "Boring, boring, boring."
Vin shook his head and sighed heavily as he looked up at Lottie, the lunch lady. "He's just too little to know sometimes ya gotta work 'fore ya can go play," he said seriously, as he wiped one of the tables.
"That's a very grownup way to think." Lottie smiled affectionately at the shy boy who had become her shadow in the lunchroom.
Vin blushed at the praise and scrubbed even more vigorously at a dried-on spill. "That's 'cause I'm older than JD."
Ezra chose that moment to make his presence known. He was nearly deafened by a shout from a very ecstatic five-year-old just before he was nearly bowled over by the child's headlong rush to hug him.
"Unca, Ezra! Did ya see all the snow an' the man on TV said there's gonna be a lot more an' we getta go home early an' " the child paused for half a breath as he looked quizzically at the undercover agent. " what're you doin' here, Unca Eza? You getta go home early too?"
"JD, grownups don't getta go home early 'cause of snow like kids do." Vin rolled his eyes and looked at Lottie with an expression that clearly said, 'kids - whatcha gonna do with 'em?'"
"On the contrary, Master Tanner. Grownups do occasionally get such an opportunity due to inclement weather, especially when asked to retrieve two young friends in need of transportation." He gave the smaller child an affectionate pat on the head and tried not to think about the smear of chocolate that suddenly appeared on the leg of his tailored pants.
"Does that mean yer takin' us home?" JD asked innocently.
"Indeed it does. Now, if you'll get your things together, we'll be on our way." Standish watched the exuberant child dash toward his classroom and then turned his attention back to Vin.
"Where's Chris? Mrs. Roquette called him t' come an' get us," the youngster asked sadly.
Ezra squatted down to get more on eye-level with those sad blue eyes. "Mr. Larabee had a very important meeting that required his attendance; however, he assured me that he would be on his way home immediately afterward."
Vin nodded slightly, indicating that he had expected that answer, but had hoped he was wrong. He looked at the rag in his hands and then back at the table he had been cleaning. "I gotta finish this first."
"Vin, you go on and get your things. I can finish up here," Lottie told him, and then leaned down conspiratorially. "If you don't tell the other kids, I'll give you boys a treat for the ride home," she promised.
"I won't tell," he said with a grin and hurried to get his things.
"Mr. Standish?" a male voice asked.
Ezra turned to see who had spoken to him. "Yes. You must be Mr. Beidler," he said as he held out his hand to the man standing in the door, while digging his identification out of his pocket with the other.
"Yes, I am. Mr. Larabee called and said that you would be picking up the boys for him. I just wanted to be sure I was releasing them to the right person." He nodded toward the window. "It's getting bad out there. You all have a safe trip home," he said before disappearing as quickly as he had appeared.
One pint-sized person emerged from the other room, coat on and carrying his backpack. "Unca, Ezra. We don't gots our boots," JD whined.
"Well then, I guess that means you get a lift," Ezra told him with a wink. 'And I can save the carpets in the Jag from a soaking,' he thought. He made sure the boy's hood was tied and his mittens were on before scooping him up in his arms and carrying him to the car. He had already set the child's seat he kept in the trunk into the back seat. The bright red McDonald's booster seat brought back memories of the first time he had these two munchkins in his car. What a trip that had been! After strapping JD in, the southerner headed back to the school for his second passenger.
Vin had just finished tying the hood on his coat and was pulling on his gloves when Ezra stepped back inside. "Well, Master Tanner, are you ready?" At the child's nod he started to reach down to pick him up when they heard Lottie's voice calling from down the hall. The mortified look on the child's face told Ezra what Vin would never tell him himself. The boy had a crush on the kind lady and did not want to look like a baby in front of her. Instead of picking him up, he simply untwisted the straps on the red backpack slung over the child's shoulders.
"I was afraid I might have missed you. I promised this to Vin." She handed the small paper bag to Standish and then smiled at his small companion. "Thank you for all your help today."
"Yer welcome," he answered, and then ducked his head shyly.
"Enjoy your snow days." Lottie called after them from the door as Ezra led the way to the car.
Vin had tried to stay in his uncle's footprints on the way to the car, but his shorter legs made it very difficult. By the time they reached the opposite side of the Jag and he started to climb inside, he had snow up to his knees, and he looked sheepishly at the agent. He knew how picky his 'adopted' uncle was about his car, and he was sure he was going to be in trouble.
"It's only water," Standish reassured him as he checked the child's seat belt, before climbing into the car himself.
"All right gentlemen, are you both ready?"
"Yeah!" JD shouted from the backseat.
It was fun when Uncle Ezra comed to get us.
Yeah, we got to ride in the Jag.
Uh huh, an we had a as a dent.
That's what I said.
Gentlemen, do I hear arguing?
No Uncle Ezra.
I am pleased to hear that. How are you progressing?
We is still working.
Then might I suggest that you continue?
He means we need to get busy and stop fighting.
We had an accident an Uncle Ezra told us we had to be real quiet so he could drive.
An Uncle Ezra had to stay for days and days cause it snowed so much.
Forty-five nerve-wracking minutes later, they finally reached the Interstate on-ramp. Ezra sighed in relief. At least there wouldn't be all the stopping and starting involved with city driving once he made it up that ramp and onto the thoroughfare. Traffic was moving at a snail's pace. At this rate it might be another hour before they got to the ranch even though it was only a few miles away. Normally, the Denver highway department did a good job of keeping the roads cleared, but this was the first major snow of the year, and it had hit them much harder than predicted.
"Uncle Ezra," Vin spoke up softly from the backseat.
"Yes?" the southerner prompted the child to continue when he paused.
"Can we have our treat that Miss Lottie gave us?" he asked timidly.
Standish had checked the bag that the lunch lady had handed him, and he knew it contained several cookies. He thought of the chocolate that now graced his pant leg and then considered the fine upholstery of the Jag. "I think it would be best to save the treat for when you get home." He silently cursed himself when he saw the dejected look in the boy's eyes in his rearview mirror. "I believe that chocolate chip cookies require milk for dunking to be best appreciated," he added.
"Chocolate chip cookies!" JD squealed. "Miss Lottie makes the bestest chocolate chip cookies. Even better than Mrs. Potter's!"
"JD, that ain't nice t'say. Mrs. Potter's cookies is real good too, and she makes 'em for us a lot." Vin was torn between defending their housekeeper, who he loved, and agreeing with his younger sibling. He loved Miss Lottie's cookies too, and when he helped her in the lunchroom she always slipped him an extra one.
"But they are!"
"Yes, Uncle Ezra," they said in unison.
"Call it a draw."
The two boys looked at each other, and Vin shrugged. "Unca Ezra, what's a draw?" JD asked a little too loudly.
The undercover agent took a deep breath and willed himself to try to relax. After all, he could handle going undercover with gunrunners and terrorists. He could handle chauffeuring two small boys home from school. Of course when he was undercover he had only his own life to be concerned with, but here on these snow and ice covered roads he had the lives of his young surrogate nephews in his hands too. That definitely added to the stress level. No wonder the muscles across his shoulders felt so tense, and he was sure that was the beginning of a headache nagging at the base of his skull. "A draw is a tie."
"A tie?" JD turned and looked back at Vin, even more puzzled than before.
"He means like when there are two winners. Right Uncle Ezra? But how can there be two winners with cookies?"
"Yes, that's what I mean. Perhaps you love both of the ladies' cookies equally, but for different reasons. What do you love about Mrs. Potter's cookies?" Standish asked. At least during normal conversation the decibel level was much lower.
"That's easy," Vin answered. "We always get some warm right outta the oven."
"Yeah, an' the chocolate is still all gooey," JD added.
"All right, and what do you love about Miss Lottie's cookies?"
"She always puts lotsa extra chocolate chips in 'em," JD licked his lips at the thought.
"No she don't," Vin corrected his sibling. "She uses them chocolate chunks, not chips."
"Oh yeah!" the five-year-old agreed. "She uses bunches an' bunches of 'em."
"Then I think you two young gentlemen are very fortunate indeed, to have two such wonderful ladies providing you with such culinary delights," Ezra commented, as he kept an eye on the car ahead of him.
Before either boy could voice the question that was undoubtedly on both their minds, the car slid sideways and lurched when it came into contact with the mound of snow piled up along the edge of the road. They both sat open-mouthed, wide-eyed, and totally quiet.
"Damn!" Standish swore, and tried to swallow his heart back down into his chest where it belonged.
"Awwww, Unca Ezra. Swear jar!"
JD's voice broke through his momentary shock. "Are you boys both all right?" he asked anxiously as he twisted in the seat to be able to see them, relieved to see them both nodding in reply.
"That was fun. Can we do it again?"
"No, JD. That weren't meant to be fun," Vin explained when he saw the look on his uncle's face. "Even if it was," he grinned and added in a nervous whisper.
"Boys," Ezra drew their attention back to him. "I need you to try to keep still for the remainder of the drive." It pained him to see the hurt looks his sharp tone caused. In a calmer tone he explained. "I am not angry with you, but I need to be able to concentrate on driving. Do you understand?"
Both boys nodded and promised to be really quiet for the rest of the trip home. Sliding on the icy road had been fun, but they could tell by Uncle Ezra's reaction that it was something that he really didn't want to happen again.
The shrill tone of the cell phone ringing startled all three occupants of the car. Standish managed to get it out of his coat pocket and glanced at the caller ID before he flipped it back over the seat to Vin.
"Hello," the seven-year-old said tentatively. "Oh, Hi, Chris!" he said excitedly. "Yeah, he's here. Uncle Ezra, Chris wants t' talk to ya." He tried to lean forward enough to hand the phone to his uncle.
"I cannot be talking on a phone at the moment. Please inform your father that I will return his call when we reach our destination." Ezra had a death grip on the steering wheel as he maneuvered the Jag down the exit ramp and onto the country road leading out to the ranch. The snowplows had been down the road, but it had been much earlier. At least eight inches of new snow had taken the place of what had been scraped away earlier, and in places the wind had it drifted considerably deeper.
Vin put the phone back to his own ear. "He says he can't talk right now. Chris wants to know where we are." The child craned his neck to try to see out, but the windows in the back were steamed partway up and he couldn't tell what road they were on.
"On the road leading to your house," Ezra said as he leaned forward over the wheel and strained to see through the sudden white-out caused by the blowing snow.
"Oh, Okay. He said oh he can hear you, Uncle Ezra." Yeah we's alright."
"We slided," JD announced loudly.
"JD be quiet! Ya know Uncle Ezra said he needed to consetrate," Vin scolded.
That last exchange would undoubtedly have alarmed the team leader. "Mr. Larabee," Standish said loudly enough for the small phone to pick up his voice. "Everyone is all right, but at the moment I need to keep both hands on the wheel. We are perhaps three miles from the ranch."
"He said Okay," Vin relayed Chris's reply.
The next three miles seemed to take forever to cover but at last the drive up to the house came into view. Well, at least the place where the drive should be came into view. All Ezra could see now was a large expanse of deep unbroken snow. He hoped the Jag could make it through that to get to the house. On several occasions the wheels spun, but he managed to keep the car moving forward, barely. About three fourths of the way up the drive the car stopped, and no amount of coaxing was going to get it moving again. With a deep sigh, he turned off the motor.
"We's stopped," Vin informed the man on the other end of the phone connection. "Yeah Okay Chris wants t' know if ya can talk t' him yet."
Ezra didn't even reply; he simply held out his hand to take the phone. "Mr. Larabee, when you arrive tonight, you might want to avoid a large mound of snow in your drive Yes, we're here, but immobile at the moment Yes, I mean I'm stuck in the drive. If you will allow me to get the boys inside, I'll call you back." He snapped the phone closed and put it back in his pocket.
"Well, gentlemen, it appears that we walk from here. Vin, will you be all right here on your own long enough for me to get " A knock on the window caused him to jump and stop talking, making both boys giggle. He cracked the window and saw Buck standing there grinning.
"Y'all plannin' to sit out here all day?" the snow-covered man asked with a wink at the giggling boys. "Come on, let's get y'all in out of this. It ain't fit out for man nor beast." He opened the door for Ezra to get out and then reached into the back to pick up JD out of the booster seat.
"Mr. Wilmington, you shouldn't be putting this much strain on your leg. Let me carry him in and then I can come back for Vin." Ezra knew that the walk through that deep snow had to have been painful for his teammate, even without the added weight of the small boy and his overstuffed backpack.
"I'll be fine, Ez. But it's nice t' know that ya care," Buck teased. "Come on, Little Bit, let's get in outta the cold."
"Can we play in the snow, Da?" the boy hugged his adopted father and asked, using his best cute puppy look.
"Later, Little Bit. When it stops snowing and the wind dies down." The big man reached out for the blue pack but came up empty handed.
"At least allow me to take the pack." The smaller man refused to accept any argument and lifted the larger of the two boys and slipped his arm through the straps of the backpacks. The two men struggled through the drifting snow to the house and deposited the boys just inside the door.
Buck grinned at Ezra and then asked innocently. "Ya stayin' for dinner?"
It was starting to get dark when the phone rang. "It's your dime," Buck said when he picked it up and listened intently. "Yeah, I don't blame ya a bit. It's really bad out there Sure be sure to give us a call before ya start out tomorrow." He held the receiver down against his chest to muffle the sound and yelled for Vin. "Chris is on the phone and wants to talk to you," he told the boy when he dashed into the kitchen.
"Chris! When ya comin' home?" The boy's enthusiasm faded quickly when he heard his father's voice. "All night?" he asked quietly. "Yeah, I'll be good. Ya promise you'll be home tomorrow? 'kay." He handed the phone back to Buck and walked back toward his room.
"Don't worry about anything. We'll all be okay here. We're warm; there's plenty of food. It is better that ya don't take the chance on tryin' to get home in this." He paused and listened to his friend. "He'll be okay. I'll talk to him and make sure he realizes how dangerous it would be for ya to try to drive home tonight. Just keep us posted, all right?"
"Am I to assume that Mr. Larabee is seeking other accommodations for the night?" Ezra asked after Wilmington hung up the phone.
"Yeah, and I don't blame him. He just really hates to disappoint Vin, though."
"It has grown considerably worse out there since our arrival. Even with the truck and its four-wheel drive, it would be difficult to get here. I'm sure Vin will understand. Would you like me to talk with him while you finish here?" Ezra offered.
"Thanks, Ez. I'd appreciate it." Buck opened one of the cabinets and got out a box of macaroni and cheese and a can of vegetables to go along with the hot dogs he had just pulled out of the freezer. He had scrapped his original plans for dinner as soon as he heard Chris's voice on the phone. The vegetables were a compromise that Chris always insisted on, but at least he could offer Vin his favorite dinner.
Wilmington watched the southerner leave the room and then slipped a small brown bottle off the top of the fridge. He dumped one of the large caplets into his hand and then had second thoughts. If he took the pain medication, it would make him sleepy, and he didn't think that was a good idea tonight. His leg throbbed, and it had been a real effort not to let on that it really hurt. Ezra was right. He shouldn't have tried to carry JD earlier, but he had been so worried that he just had to get hold of him. Finally, he broke the caplet in two and dropped half of it back into the bottle. Hopefully half a dose would help without knocking him out.
Standish headed for the boys' room and knocked lightly on the doorframe before stepping inside. "Mind if I join you?"
JD sighed audibly. He hated it when his brother was so sad, and he crawled up on the bed to get Cat. Vin absently took the stuffed toy and clutched it to his chest as his younger sibling settled down beside him. Two sad little boys sat on the floor, leaning back against the bottom bunk. Even Ringo and Elvis climbing all over both them and licking their faces and trying to get them to play had not lifted the older boy's spirits. JD scooted over to make room for Ezra to sit between them and looked at him with hopeful eyes.
After a few moments of silence a small voice said accusingly. "You said Chris would be home after the meeting, but he ain't gonna be home t'night."
"Vin, look at me please," the southerner coaxed. Finally, a pair of blue eyes lifted to meet his. "Chris would be here if could. You know that don't you?" He waited until the small boy nodded. "Do you remember when the car slid on the way home today?" There was another slight nod. "I know you are aware of the fact that it has continued to snow all evening. If Chris tried to drive on the roads like they are now, he could be in a far worse accident than our little encounter with a snow bank. He could get hurt or end up stranded out in the cold and snow."
The boy's bottom lip quivered slightly as he tried not to cry. "Don't want Chris t' be in a accident," he said softly.
"I know you don't." The undercover agent slipped an arm around the child's small shoulders and hugged him against his side. "I might not be a good substitute for your father's presence, but I am here and so is Buck." He grunted when the pint-sized five-year-old on his other side decided his lap was a better place to sit.
"Is Chris gonna be all right?"
"Yes, JD. He'll be fine. It's the smart thing to do for him to stay in town tonight," Standish explained. "That way when he drives home tomorrow it will be daylight and he will be able to anticipate what lies ahead of him better, because he will be able to see where he is going."
"Unca Ezra, will you play in the snow with us?" JD asked.
"Uh I am afraid I have never played in the snow," he confessed. "I wouldn't know what to do."
"We could teach ya," Vin offered.
"Uh huh " JD agreed, nodding vigorously. "An' we can make snowmen an' snow forts an' snow angels an' have a snowball fight an' go sleddin' an' "
"Breathe, Little Bit, breathe," Buck interrupted. When he heard the boy stop and take a loud breath he grinned. "You boys go wash up and then go and set the table." He watched the two miniature whirlwinds dash past him, carefully keeping his injured leg out of the line of fire of flying limbs.
"You're in for it now, Ez. They'll make it their mission to teach ya how to play in the snow." Wilmington laughed almost wickedly. "They'll keep ya out there until your jewels freeze off." The sound of two pair of little feet running toward the kitchen got his attention and he gave the southerner a wink before following them.
Standish looked toward the empty doorway and whispered to himself. "I would risk more than that to hear them laugh."
Dinner had been a fairly subdued affair. Once the dishes had been done, they all settled in the great room to watch a movie before the boys had to go to bed. It was Vin's turn to choose what they watched and he chose Spirit: The Stallion of the Cimarron.
Chris called again just at bedtime to tell both boys goodnight. Ezra had answered the phone and brought it to the boys' room. "Someone would like to say goodnight," he announced as he handed the phone to JD first and then passed it up to Vin, before Buck turned on the nightlight and turned off the overhead light.
"I'm glad he called to tell 'em goodnight," Buck said when they got back to the great room. "Vin would have probably had trouble goin' to sleep." He winced when he leaned the recliner back and it put pressure against his leg.
Ezra detoured into the kitchen and returned a couple minutes later with a glass of water and a brown pill bottle. "I believe you should take this before retiring for the night. Only this time take a full dose."
"How did you know?" Buck asked.
"That doesn't really matter, but the fact that you are in pain does."
"Ezra, I appreciate what you're tryin' to do, but if I take a whole one of these, it knocks me out," Buck explained.
"And your point is?"
"My point is that I have the boys to look after and I can't be in a fog."
"Buck, you are going to bed. The idea is to sleep, and you won't sleep well if you are in pain," Ezra pointed out. "If the boys need anything in the night, I'm here too. You won't be alone with them and drugged."
"All right, but can I ask ya to do somethin' else for me too?"
"You know I'll help you in any way I can. What do you need me to do?"
"Can you help me change the bandages? Chris has been helpin' me, but " he shrugged and looked up hopefully, with his best imitation of JD's lost puppy look. "I just can't wrap it tight enough on myself."
"Of course, I'll help you, but first you take that." He indicated the bottle with a nod of his head.
Ezra hadn't been sure what to expect when he removed the bandages, but he was surprised at just how large the wound really was. Chris had told them that it was deep, having actually exposed the bone, but he had not gone into too much more detail than that. It was no wonder the man was in pain. By the time they had finished, Buck was fighting to keep his eyes open. The southerner got him settled into bed and then decided to make it an early night as well. He knew those two little munchkins very well, and he had no doubt that they would be awake at a totally uncivilized hour, somewhere around daybreak.
We didn't get to play outside cause the wind keeped blowing.
Yeah, but Buck an Uncle Ezra got to go out an take care of the horses. It wasn't fair that they got to go out an we didn't
But Da said it was too cold to play outside.
Heavy sigh. Grown ups get to have all the fun.
Vin, did it hurted to get gum stucked in your hair?
No, except when Buck had to comb it after getting the peanut butter out.
"Shhhh ya don't wanna wake him up," Vin told the younger boy, just outside the guestroom door.
"But, we need to go check on Torkus today," JD whined.
"No, JD, that's tomorrow," the seven-year-old reminded him. "'Sides, we always check after school, so it'd be too early anyway."
Ezra cracked one bleary green eye at the boys and then glanced at the bedside clock. "Is there a reason for the two of you to be up this early?" he asked with a yawn.
"See I told ya ya'd wake him up," Vin grumbled and nudged his young sibling.
"We couldn't sleep anymore," the pint-sized brunet explained.
"Ah and is there a reason you cannot sleep?" the southerner asked.
"We miss Chris," the older child said in a timid voice, hugging his stuffed cat under one arm.
"It is six A.M." Ezra informed them. He saw the sad look in the boys' eyes and watched as JD reached up to take Vin's hand in reassurance. Standish sighed and gave in to the inevitable if he wanted to get any more sleep. "Would you like to sleep here for a while?"
No further invitation was needed. Two small boys surged up onto the bed and one snuggled in on each side of the sleepy-eyed man.
Buck stood in the door of the guestroom and grinned. This was just too good of an opportunity to let it slip past him. He made his way quietly back to his own room down the hall and grabbed his digital camera. Ezra would probably kill him for this but it would be worth it.
The usually dignified man lay stretched out in the middle of the bed with Vin curled snugly against one side. His tousled head rested on the southerner's shoulder and one arm pinned Cat to the agent's chest. Vin usually was a fairly quiet sleeper, but JD was another story altogether. Somehow in his sleep he had managed to get turned completely around. Now he lay sprawled on his belly with his head down and one leg flopped on the man's chest, its foot just inches from Ezra's face. One wrong move and Standish would get a rather rude awakening.
Wilmington took a couple pictures and stashed the camera out of sight in a hall closet before he tried to wake the sleeping agent. He wasn't really surprised that Ezra slept through the pictures since this was the one place, other than his own, where he felt completely safe and allowed himself the luxury of falling into a very deep sleep.
Buck gently wrapped his fingers around one tiny ankle to still any sudden movements, and then shook his sleeping friend's shoulder. "Ez come on time to get up."
"Wha ?" Standish mumbled as he tried to settle back down into a deeper sleep.
"Nope ya ain't goin' back to sleep. Up and at 'em." This time the big man was rewarded with a pair of green eyes blinking sleepily up at him and then popping wide open when they locked on the sight of a child sized foot barely three inches from his face. Buck chuckled at the look in his friend's eyes. "Thought ya might need a little help getting away from Taz here."
"Thank you," Ezra said and then cringed slightly when his breath tickled the bottom of the small foot causing its toes to wiggle. "If you would, please?"
Dark blue eyes twinkled with mischief as they watched the look of trepidation grow in the green ones that now stared intently at the offending appendage. Finally, he took pity on the southerner and eased the sleeping child away, turning him around in the process. When Ezra managed to squirm from between the two small boys, Buck tucked JD back in next to Vin.
The ladies' man nodded toward the hall and led the way out of the room before speaking again. "You sure believe in livin' dangerously," he commented. "That is one young'un that should be more tired when he wakes up than when he went to sleep."
"I think you're right. I am in more danger of bodily harm from allowing that one small child into my bed than I am when I am undercover. One must wonder how he manages to sleep through all that movement."
Buck shook his head and laughed heartily. "Well, the same could be said of you, ya know?"
"I beg to differ, I do not flail around in my sleep," Ezra said in self-defense.
"Never said ya did," Wilmington responded with a grin. "But, ya can sleep through all of his movement," he said as he nodded back in the direction they had come.
Standish blushed at the accuracy of that observation. He had to have been utterly exhausted to sleep through the attack of a sleeping five-year-old. After a moment he paused and looked at the older man with a puzzled expression. "Taz?"
Buck laughed again, delight shining in his eyes. "Yup, that's what Chris and I sort of nicknamed him, especially when he's asleep."
"I fail to follow the reference."
"Taz! You know the Tasmanian Devil from cartoons? He turns into a whirlwind every time he moves around. That's JD in his sleep once you lay him down, constant motion, but you couldn't wake him up even with a stick of dynamite." Buck slapped Ezra on the shoulder companionably. "Let's go start breakfast. Doubt they'll sleep much longer."
The southerner followed still puzzled. "I am afraid I still fail to understand."
"You don't know Taz!" Wilmington exclaimed. "Where ya been all your life, man?"
"Being raised by my mother. Remember her?" Standish replied, well aware that that was all the explanation that was needed.
"Sorry, Ez. I wasn't thinkin'. I just still find it hard to imagine never bein' allowed to be a kid while you're growin' up. But, we're gonna take care of that now. When the boys get up, you're gonna get to meet Taz," Buck promised.