Rock a Bye Baby Chapter fourteen
Disclaimer: Not only don't I own the seven or the show I don't even own any babies of my own (thank goodness!)
A/N It's a bit longer than usual but it's the final chapter. I hope you enjoy it.
"No Josiah, I don't know why our babies haven't talked yet, or why the others have." JD blew his black bangs out of his eyes in exasperation. As their computer expert the others had automatically been coming to him for answers. Well he had certainly proved his lack of robotics knowledge when he had 'killed' Junior but that was a confession that wouldn't even make it to his Parish Priest's ear let alone his colleagues. He had his suspicions as to why first Ezra's Ethan and then both Vin's Alice and Ezra's Victoria had begun saying Da Da on a semi regular basis and neither Josiah and Nathan's Joseph nor his and Buck's charges had but to offer that conclusion would also involve admitting that his and Buck's own babysitting had been less than perfect which would lead to questions. Questions he was too embarrassed to answer. After all he was meant to be the conscientious one, not the baby killer.
With a sigh he went back to polishing his part of the speech they were all due to give the Ladies Circle next day. How could he face all those mothers knowing that he wasn't fit to care for a hamster let alone a baby! He quickly glanced round almost convinced that his guilt was somehow written large on his face in big red letters but thankfully everyone else seemed to be doing the same as he was. He could see that Josiah had his psychology books out. It looked like the poor ladies were in for quite a lecture, JD mused as Josiah completed another page of writing and set it atop the growing stack of paper. With any luck the women would either be asleep by the time his own turn came or so grateful that 'Siah had finished that he'd be able to get away with reading the phone directory and receive applause. Perhaps there was a good reason that Josiah was going early on, after Chris. Nathan, too, was writing diligently, but he was also crossing a lot of stuff out. You would have thought that the medic would have the easiest job, after all he lectured all of them on a regular basis about…well about just about everything actually. JD suppressed a snigger as Nathan scrunched up his latest attempt and tossed it to the waste basket. It missed and joined the growing puddle of paper around the nearly empty receptacle. Domestic Services would not be happy. It also explained why, despite his impressive height, the medic had never been invited to play for the Agency basketball team.
JD's curious people watching didn't find any surprises as he took in Buck's preparations. Words were never his room mate's strong point, but women were. By the way he was practising his seduction techniques on a nearby coat stand it looked like he was expecting to do more writing at the event than before it….all numerical.
Poor Vin, thought JD as he twirled his chair round to spy on Vin in the break room pouring himself yet another cup of coffee, a morose expression on his face and a faraway look in his eye. It was uncannily similar to the expression on Ezra's face as he sat by his twins cribs gently fussing over them. Neither man was coping too well with the fact that tomorrow was the last day of the experiment. He suspected that they also resented having to go out in public instead of spending those last few precious hours as a family. It sounded stupid even inside his own head but JD reckoned that everyone else sensed that this had meant so much more to both men than it had to anyone else, and since there had been no teasing for the pair's deep feelings he also knew that, on some level at least, like him, they all respected the attachments formed. JD wished he could go back and begin again because the pleasure the two had received from the infants had made him a little jealous if truth be told. He noticed that neither man was making any attempt to prepare for tomorrow's event. He wasn't surprised since he knew that Ezra, their wordsmith extraordinary, didn't need to prepare, it was probably all there in his head already, and Vin would say as little as possible in as little time as possible, blush furiously and run like hell for cover.
JD didn't know how Chris was preparing but from the occasional sounds of irritation and heavy objects hitting immovable surfaces he wasn't sure he wanted to know. He wasn't the only one; Chris's office door remained un-knocked on all morning.
Judge Travis stood in the wings of the auditorium and prayed fervently that his wife, who was at that moment introducing both the baby care scheme and it's participants, hadn't bitten off more than she could chew. He glanced with trepidation at his men, and their charges and prayed even harder as he watched the Larabee glare increase in ferocity and the Wilmington leer settle into place. JD, he noted with a sympathetic sigh looked as nervous as he had when giving his first opening address in court and Vin looked like a startled doe in a hunter's sights. Considering that they were different species the resemblance to Bambi was uncanny! only Josiah and Nathan looked relatively calm which was to be expected; they were, after all, the sensible members of the team. He doubted very much whether they had made any mistakes during their custodianship…though by the way Josiah was clutching baby Michael's, (or was it Joseph? He could never seem to remember) carrier he seemed to be afraid of his baby disappearing right in front of his eyes.
And as for Standish, well it was never possible to tell how the con man was feeling or what he was thinking, and looking at the figure before him it was also nigh on impossible to tell that it was Ezra Standish at all - which, he supposed, proved that the disguise was successful. It would have been far too risky for their undercover agent to have stood on stage as his recognizable self, indeed it would have been an invitation to a bullet at some future date but it was still disconcerting to look into grey-blue eyes instead of pale green and watch a still elegant hand put last minute touches to dark blond hair and an off the rack suit and tie. If appearances were, as Ezra frequently expounded, everything then their sartorially elegant and distinctively handsome agent had become completely ordinary, completely forgettable. Even the man's posture had slipped and in doing so somehow diminished his presence; and as the southerner grinned at a comment from Buck Travis could see that the gold tooth, too, had been covered for the occasion. It always amazed him when he saw the lengths the man would go to in order to be someone else but then his very life often depended on it so it wasn't surprising that he did it well. It always gave him the uneasy feeling, though, that he didn't really know who the real Ezra Standish was, that his whole life was a disguise so successfully applied that there wasn't a real Ezra anymore. He had once made that, in his opinion very profound, observation to Evie. She had openly laughed at him, telling him that all he had to do was look…and then when he thought he saw the truth, look again and if what he saw matched up with what he heard then it was sure to be a lie. His wife could be a little bit strange now and then, but then that was why he loved her. Though at the moment as he watched Chris Larabee about to step on stage the look of betrayal and the vengeful glitter in the clear cold eyes on the normally taciturn man's face didn't bode well for future budget negotiations and he wished that Evie had focused her attentions on her flower arranging or Bridge Club. Hell, he'd only just finished finagling the justification for the damned southerner's Jag!
"And now, ladies, and gentlemen" Evie indicated the smattering of men in the audience acknowledging that it wasn't just women who were primary carers in today's world. "I am delighted to introduce the leader of the team chosen for this pivotal and inspired project. A man who has faced some of the most hazardous situations and ruthless villains imaginable in order to keep the streets of Denver safe for us and our children. Please just bear in mind that he hasn't yet faced anything as terrifying as a room full of women so please be gentle with him!" As the laughter bubbled up Evie beamed and indicated to the side of the stage. "May I introduce the leader of ATF Team Seven, Christopher Larabee."
As the applause began the tall and black clad form of 'The Bad Element' as he had been nicknamed by those who thought they knew him strode seemingly confidently across the stage…and if anybody noticed the slight stumble that may or may not have been due to a push from his oldest friend they would never have the guts to comment on it. For his part Chris had an almost overwhelming desire to be somewhere else, anywhere else, and preferably with his mommy.
Part of Chris's brain helpfully pointed out that usually when he was sitting under a spotlight in a large open space and terrified out of his wits he was being interrogated by the bad guys…ahh the good old days! Of course the whole point with the bad guys was to say as little as possible while in this case his carefully planned speech had just gone completely out of his head. Against all his better judgement he decided to speak from his heart rather than his brain - it had turned to mush anyway and wasn't being much help.
"Thank you for inviting us to speak to you today. I can't honestly say that it was our decision…we tend to be a little bit anti social, which I guess is how we got in this position in the first place" He hoped that their laughter was a good sign, and Evie's encouraging smile from his right was welcome so he carried on.
"We were chosen for this project because we didn't seem to display enough of a caring attitude toward the public, to people just like you. I think that they got that wrong. The very reason that we do what we do is to protect people. To reduce the threat on the streets. If any of you have had your purse snatched by an unarmed punk then we may well be the reason that they were unarmed and though we couldn't stop the crime it could have been much worse. If there was a plot to blow up the building you work in or the plane you have flown on and it came to nothing because the explosives were intercepted then that was us. But our success comes at a price. When we are doing our job it is all we see and all we hear. To do any less would be to court tragedy; and our adrenalin is too high for being nice. So it's not that we don't care that we can be brusque or unsociable it's because we DO care."
As he paused for breath Chris was astounded by the roar of applause in his ears and the sight of a short but obviously heartfelt standing ovation. It brought a lump to his throat to know that he and his team were understood and appreciated. He relaxed a little and found himself going in a direction he hadn't expected.
"But chosen we were, and looking back I feel that it HAS been a good thing, though maybe not for the reasons the powers that be intended. Speaking personally I found it incredibly hard and my allotted partner spent far too much time as a single parent, and knowing his fondness for practical jokes I'll probably find myself paying for it somewhere along the line" As the crowd laughed once more Chris could almost see and hear the exchanged conspiratorial glances and sniggers from his sharpshooter and undercover agent, 'Me and my big mouth' he thought.
"But if there is one thing I've learned and would like to pass on to you all, and would ask you to pass on to your own partners it's that work isn't everything. Don't presume that the opportunities to interact with your children will be there forever because babies grow very quickly. I had a wife and child, Sarah and Adam and Adam was just five when they died…." he paused to catch his breath. He rarely mentioned his wife and child and he could actually hear the gasps from backstage as well as from the audience. But somehow this seemed the right thing to do. If just one couple got more joy from spending those special months with their baby because of his words then his Sarah and Adam's memories had been honoured. "And one thing this experience has showed me was how much I missed when Adam was a baby because I thought I was doing something more important than being a part of his life. Like I've already said, we do an important job…but so do you as parents. You do the most important job of all, just don't let the realities of life obscure that.
Thank you for your time"
With another wave of applause following him Chris left the stage to be greeted by a hug from the only other person present who had known Sarah and Adam.
"They'd be proud Cowboy."
Chris nodded thankfully at the comment and then his eyes narrowed to slits.
"Did you just call me Cowboy?!"
No-one had ever been quite able to pin point how Buck managed to make that single innocent and supposedly respectful word sound like an invitation to a night of unbridled passion but from the way more than a few of the women present suddenly sat up a little straighter and blushed a shade rosier than the heat in the air conditioned theatre accounted for it was an invitation that wouldn't necessarily be turned down - in their fantasies anyway. And after a very informative…though some might use the word boring… talk from Josiah about the needs of the parent versus the welfare of the child, without mentioning that said welfare was not best served by leaving the baby in a public building, the ladies were ready for something a little more light hearted and engaging. And they most definitely were engaged by the tall dark and handsome lothario.
"I would say that I've learned two things from this experience. Firstly that old saying 'babies are chick magnets' is highly misleading, and secondly never serve hot food to an angry woman." By the time Buck had finished regaling the women with his romantic adventure and it's consequences he had the females metaphorically eating out of the palm of his hand…and had already spotted a few possible future dates among the unmarried contingent.
Orrin Travis shook his head in resignation. Some things would never change!
After Nathan had given his little speech the women were well aware of the dangers of blindly following the advice of baby books and the need for mothers to take good care of themselves. Nathan, ever helpful, supplied the audience with a whole list of suitable foods, and relaxation techniques and herbal remedies - the yelled warning from backstage that the remedies tasted unpleasant was cut off just in time, via a hand across the mouth, to avoid offending the audience's delicate ears with just what Buck did think they tasted like.
From JD they learned more about the computerization of the simulacrums than his interaction with them although he got quite a few sympathetic responses when he admitted that he had found it difficult to give enough attention to his girlfriend and look after the baby and that he had some serious making up to do. The women had all been in similar situations and JD practically bounced as he left the stage, both grateful that his ordeal was finally over and by the look of expectation on Casey's face as she greeted his appearance offstage. He gulped as he wondered just what her expectations were and how he was going to meet them!
Vin wanted to run. He was sure that the men gathered behind him as he was being introduced and whose presence happened to cut off his only exit route only happened to be in that exact position because of coincidence - because anything else would be far too cruel. And they wouldn't be that cruel to their friend, their brother…would they?
The malicious gleam in more than one eye? - merely another coincidence.
This nudge was a damn sight harder than the one that had forced Chris Larabee on stage, but then it had to be since Vin was holding onto the nearest solid object in an attempt to remain where he was. That the solid object he was clinging to was his lover was his big mistake because it was Ezra that gave him the push forward. The resultant laughter as he staggered onto the stage nearly had him heading straight back the other way but a quick glance at the Larabee double death glare - the strongest one he possessed and normally reserved for serial killers and FBI directors (especially those east of the Mississippi) - pushed him forward as much as Ezra's elegant….and soon to be broken…hand had.
The audience laughter soon turned to respectful silence and the occasional ahhs as Vin told of his experiences with little Alice. For the first time that afternoon the ladies got a real taste of what it was like, and what was involved in caring for one of the simulacrums. They were amazed at the level of emotional attachment that the soft spoken Texan had for the infant and a few tears were shed at his admittance that the experience had reminded him of his own dead mother.
Ezra Standish was no less terrified than the others had been, though he still had enough common sense to stand as far away from Vin as possible when he came off stage. Ezra was a con-artist, like his mother, albeit a legal one. Instead of conning people for money he conned criminals for the government. At least that was how he saw it. In essence he lied for a living. What he did not do was walk out in front of a hall full of strangers and talk about himself and his feelings. It would be so much easier to tell an amusing and totally fake anecdote or two about his month's experiences; after all Maude had been doing something similar all his life. Yet how could he give less of himself than the others had? He had been no less shocked than the others when Chris had mentioned Sarah and Adam and Vin had spoken straight from the heart with an honest eloquence that had made him proud of the man who had given him that heart. But how could he convey his experiences, weeks that he would treasure for ever, without giving away too much of himself…something he just couldn't do, had never done.
Before he could bring his own internal argument to a satisfactory conclusion he found his name, or rather the name of his persona, being called and like Pavlov's dog he responded by walking to his doom, or the podium as most would call it.
"Ladies and gentlemen may I present our final team member, and one who was presented with the most challenging task of not only living for a month as a single parent but being randomly allocated with twins. For security reasons this team member's name has been altered but will you please welcome Patrick Williamson."
Both Evie and Orrin and the other members of the team were surprised at the lack of a southern accent as Ezra began to speak. The man really did cover all his bases thought Orrin with admiration. He just hoped that the mercurial agent didn't do or say anything too outrageous. With Standish you never knew quite what you were going to get.
Suddenly, as he looked out over the sea of faces; faces of all races and all creeds Ezra knew exactly what he wanted to say. And spotting an older blond woman dressed impeccably in her trademark Chanel sitting in the third row he knew who he wanted to say it to.
"My first comment on reaching this point was to be the same polite greeting that I have heard from everyone else - hello Ladies and Gentlemen. But you are not ladies and gentlemen…or at least that is not all you are. When you gave birth, or took responsibility for the children in your care you traded that title in for a far more prestigious, yet highly underrated one of parent. From what my experiences with my Ethan and Victoria have taught me the role of parent is fraught with many hardships and unbelievable joys. Yet I would be a fool to stand here and claim a fellowship with you all based on one month with two simulacrums. As much pleasure and fond memories as they have brought me I always knew that they would not stay; that they would not grow. I would not have the responsibility or the privilege of setting them on the journey of life. I do, however, have one perspective to share with you all; that of a child. An only child of a single parent. I have reached that stage of my life that all of your children are working towards, that of adulthood. And no doubt many of you are unsure as to your own capabilities in successfully shepherding your own offspring to that stage without making mistakes that may result in losing their respect and their love along the way"
Ezra noted the many nods of agreement at that statement and his own mother raised a quizzical eyebrow, though he fancied that he spied a hint of unease in her normally bland expression. "My mother was far from perfect in her maternal capacity and her custodianship of both my physical and moral upbringing was positively littered with mistakes that would make some of you gasp in horror. I mean no disrespect to my sainted parent in my less than perfect portrayal of her efforts as a mother, indeed I know for a fact that she would agree with my summation"…Ezra knew that he was right about that because Maude was smirking at him from her covert position. He resisted the impulse to smile at her. None of this was news to her; the one thing that they had never denied each other was being painfully honest about the status of their relationship.
"For every mistake you can think of making with your own children she has made the same with me and more besides. Yet here I am, I survived both my childhood and my mother….and what is more miraculous is that she survived me…Say hello Mother"
Ezra almost laughed out loud at the look of consternation that briefly flashed across the ageless (thanks to cosmetic surgery courtesy of husband number four) face. She recovered quickly however and stood to receive warm laughter and a round of applause before sitting down and giving her darlin' boy a look that promised everlasting affection and which Ezra knew to actually promise a painful retribution. She would no doubt hit him where it really hurt…his bank book.
"And the amazing thing about our relationship is, that despite both of our faults and mistakes, I love her dearly. That has never changed. It didn't change when she left me with relatives because of her work or when she couldn't be with me at Christmas or on my birthday. Just knowing that despite everything she did wrong the fact that she did love me in her own way was enough. In the end all you have to do is love your child…as long as we know that we are loved everything else can be forgiven. Children never expect perfection from their parents; that is a burden they place on themselves" He tilted his head to one side for a moment and then added with seeming seriousness "I would recommend, however, that you never attempt to dress your boy children in a frilly dress and ringlets to impress the mother of a potential spouse…it can leave your offspring quite traumatised and with a lifelong aversion to Barbie dolls. Thank you."
The laughter and applause surprised Ezra. Usually honesty got him a far more hostile reception. His eyes connected with his mother's and he saw how much his admission of his love had affected her though anyone else would be hard pressed to spot it. He felt that although they seldom verbalised their feelings for each other she deserved his accolade. He was aware of her visit to Nettie's on his and Vin's behalf. And her acceptance of his relationship with the Texan had been a priceless gift.
As the seven stood on the stage to receive the applause of the audience they had mixed emotions. Some were just glad that it was all over while for some this last event heralded a feeling of near grief. Even Orin was sensitive enough to Vin and Ezra's need to spend some time alone with their 'babies' and after the mandatory teasing of their performances they were allowed to get away. They gratefully escaped and spent the rest of the day indulging themselves in the fantasy of parenthood and loving each other when the pain of imminent loss became too much. Chris, too, managed to escape back to the office while the others found themselves hustled into a show and tell session with interested members of the audience. Nathan's muttered 'Where is a good arms case when you need one' was echoed unanimously as the horde of women descended on them and their offspring.
Ezra carefully folded the last of the baby clothes and laid them neatly in the storage box on his bed. It was surprising just how much one could acquire in so little time he noted with detachment as he gazed at the tiny outfits and the delicate baby shoes. It was a detachment that he was having a very hard time holding onto. The babies had been taken away earlier that morning and he had spent most of the subsequent time wandering his overly silent home…no, he thought. Somehow it didn't feel like a home anymore, or rather it had only begun to feel that way when Vin and the babies were there. It was once again merely the cold shell that he slept in. He wished that Vin could be with him now but the rules stated that the pick up points be the same as the delivery ones and so Vin had to hand over Alice at Chris's ranch. He would be here soon though and Ezra comforted himself with that knowledge. He reached back into the carton and extracted two pairs of baby shoes. They were so delicate, just like Ethan and Victoria had been. Like his sister must have been.
God it hurt!
Ezra clutched the shoes to his chest as he finally let the tears flow in silence, as much for the sister he had never known and for the babies he would never have as for the two pretend babies that had held all his dreams and in uniting him with Vin made some of them come true. He registered the familiar scent of his lover just before the strong arms slipped round his waist and pulled him back into the warm and welcome torso. Ezra turned round and buried his head into Vin's shoulder. He didn't need to be told that Vin had had a similar reaction; he could hear it in the hoarse voice that whispered comfort to him and who truly understood his sorrows as he did in turn.
The office next morning had had an unusually subdued atmosphere as the agents gathered together to resume their normal routines. Everyone was careful to go out of their way to avoid upsetting their two most affected friends. Both Vin and Ezra appreciated their concern…until around lunchtime when the novelty of their attitude had long worn off and they were beginning to feel a little less grateful. The trouble was that neither man could think of a way to change that attitude without offending their well meaning brothers. Every part of their routine had become dominated by the care of the babies and being reminded that they were gone on such a constant basis was not helping. They needed things at the office to get back to normal…home was the place for them to console each other.
Their opportunity to lighten the atmosphere came after lunch when the ultra observant duo spotted something odd.
"Buck?" Ezra's curious tone alerted the rest of the men and Buck who had just returned from a half day of 'personal time' felt like a rabbit in headlights.
"Ezra." Buck smiled nervously. The undercover agent's jade eyes were twinkling and his Texan partner in crime was smirking…that was never a good combination. He looked quickly to his best buddy, his room mate, his most trustworthy ally for support and an explanation. JD burst out laughing… and was rewarded with a Wilmington glare which, unlike the Larabee glare, was about as intimidating as a kitten's frown.
Taking pity on his friend JD rubbed his finger across his top lip and supplied helpfully, "You've got a moustache."
"Well of course I've got a…" Buck's exasperated comeback went unfinished as Josiah held a hand mirror in front of the man's face and Buck beheld said moustache in all it's glory. All it's greyish white and greasy glory!
Buck clamped his hand over the offending feature and closed his eyes briefly in humiliation. He thought that all those stares he was getting in the elevator and the reception area had been admiration for his stunning looks and physique, and his new green and magenta striped shirt. How could he have been so stupid?! The session with Bobby Pickles and his special effects people had lasted longer than he had planned but they had promised him that his skin had been left free of the gunk they had plastered all over it.
"Is it some kind of new wax treatment for aging moustaches?" Buck almost grabbed the chance of having a believable excuse offered by the southerner but the look of disbelief in his own statement writ large in the man's eyes and echoed in everyone else's plus the horror of having to admit to cosmetic intervention let alone that his moustache was not always perfect prevented him from doing so. With nothing else to say his mouth simply opened and closed like a stranded fish until JD, still chuckling began to reveal the story behind Buck's bizarre appearance.
Buck's automatic instinct was to warn his friend that if he told that part of the tale his own errors of baby care would also come to light. Then he remembered just who had gotten him into the situation he now found himself in…and kept quiet. Sure enough JD's enthusiasm got ahead of his common sense and he regaled them all with Buck's promise to have his head cast for one of Bobby's displays. As the laughter died away came the question that was the inevitable result.
"But why would Buck owe YOUR friend a favour JD?" Vin asked innocently, suspecting something even more interesting lay beneath the tale… Buck was looking smug and Buck seldom looked smug without good reason.
"I….That is I….y…you see…"
"Games up JD" boomed back Buck heartily now that the attention had turned from his own plight. "Might as well fess up."
JD sighed and dropped back into his seat in defeat. The only good thing to come of his confession he thought to himself later, was that at least it had made Vin and Ezra smile. It was worth the humiliation for that. JD's opinion changed slightly as the next few days found various toy robots, copies of Isaac Asimov Robot novels and computer generated WANTED posters adorning their youngest agent's desk. And he swore that if he ever found the person who had put out the advertisement for a doll's hospital with his cell phone number then he would show them just how good he really was at breaking things! - and he didn't mean dolls.
The conference room was unnaturally silent as the seven members of team 7, and Orrin and Evie Travis awaited the results of the baby experiment. They had all greeted, once again, Moira Carter, the woman who had given them their introductory talk just over a month ago.
"Mrs Travis, gentlemen. Well I must say that collating and interpreting your team's statistics has been quite the labour of love. You are certainly full of surprises that's for sure." JD cast the smiling woman a quick fear filled glance. There was no way she could have known, was there?
"Firstly I would like to thank you all for participating in the scheme. I know it couldn't have been easy but the data we got from your simulacrums will go a long way to helping us further improve our service." Moira smiled even wider as she added "We may even be branching out into the leisure sector. We have had some interesting enquiries about a setting up a franchise company with a local businesswoman, a Mrs Standish - Schwartz. Ezra groaned and placed a hand over his eyes to blot out the stares that were no doubt fixed on him. He would be having serious words with Maude later. Ms Carter stifled her own chuckle as she got down to business.
"Very well gentlemen, the results." All eyes were quickly fixed back on the woman who held their futures…or at least that portion of them that might possibly be spent on the therapists couch - in her hands.
"I will go through them pair by pair. Firstly Mr Sanchez and Mr Jackson. Over all you both did quite well. The baby was mostly fed on time and diapers were changed within acceptable time parameters" Nathan and Josiah exchanged pleased looks. After JD and Buck's fiasco their own little mishap might escape notice after all. "However…" two faces fell as Moira continued. "While the computerized tasks were performed adequately some questions were raised by your log book. As I am sure you are aware the log books, unlike the personal journals, are a part of the assessment criteria and to be honest gentlemen if I didn't know better I would say that we are dealing with two different babies here. At no point in your recordings did you manage to agree on a single name for your baby and while one of you seems to have been following our guidelines the other seems to have taken independent advice resulting in several missed bonding opportunities." Nathan glared at Josiah. Unlike the profiler he had soon given up on the books that told him to let a child cry…not because he thought it was wrong but he just couldn't stand the noise. Josiah meanwhile rewarded his old friend with an equally put out look. The name he had chosen was perfectly acceptable. He hadn't seen why Nathan's choice should be the only one to use!
"The most interesting entry, however, is the point at which, for a short time anyway, the baby managed to acquire a mother as well as two fathers." This one had puzzled them at the office she admitted to herself as she passed over the photocopied entry of the log…
It had been the day that Josiah had lost the baby. In a little girl's untidy printed scrawl they could clearly read the word MINE entered into the logbook along with her name, the book which had been tucked into the side of the crib.
"Oh Lord!" Josiah intoned as Nathan slapped him on his head and everyone in the know burst out laughing. They laughed even harder when Moira noted that whilst that portion of the day had been a mystery, from an emotional caring point of view the baby had never been cared for better, receiving lots of contact and support even though the computer hadn't registered any diaper changes or feeding.
"Overall gentlemen I would say that while you would both make good parents I would advise against taking on that role as a couple. You have, however, passed the test and will be exempted from psychiatric counselling " Nathan and Josiah managed to smile at her joke; they were just pleased not to have done worse.
"Mr Larabee and Mr Tanner. Well what can I say… outstanding work gentlemen. Especially you Mr Tanner, your baby was exceptionally well cared for and I would go so far as to guess that giving her back would not have been easy" Vin's blush and shy nod confirmed her suspicions that, like some of her past clients, the end of the task was not a welcome event. She didn't want to embarrass the man any further so turned to Chris.
"Mr Larabee. I am especially grateful to you for seeing this task through to the end. It must not have been easy for you."
"From the log book I noted that as the project progressed you became more involved… that is actually quite a normal reaction and I would say that you did a fine job.""Couldn't let Vin down."
Moira turned back to Vin who was now blushing even deeper at his friend's support. She had to word this carefully so as not to upset the man. There were very few people, male or female, that put as much of themselves into the project as he and Mr Standish had and they were very often people who were for whatever reason unable to have children of their own. Telling him that he would make a wonderful father was not a wise move however true it might be.
"Mr Tanner I have to say that your personal score was one of the highest we have ever recorded and I don't hesitate to recommend that if you ever get tired of law enforcement that working with children would be an ideal career choice."
Thankfully Vin was already blushing as deep as he was able otherwise he would have further embarrassed himself at the round of applause that broke out. The applause soon turned to sniggering as Moira turned to Buck and JD with a disappointed shaking of her head.
"Oh Mr Dunne. Did you really think that you would get away with it." She fought the urge to laugh as the experienced Federal agent turned into a naughty schoolboy before her eyes. "I must say that whoever you got to re-animate the baby did an excellent job; obviously someone in the trade. My congratulations on your ingenuity. May I ask just what you did to deactivate the simulacrum in the first place? It's just that the lab boys were curious." She bit her lip as the whole tale was told again with Buck, JD noted, giving no help whatsoever. Moira wasn't surprised. The scheme they had rolled out at a major computer design firm had been a logistical nightmare with one infant being returned with the ability to spin her head 360 degrees and sing show songs. It seemed that computer geniuses found the challenge to meddle irresistible.
"Well, apart from your Do It Yourself attempts Mr Dunne I have to say that your care of the infant was not ideal, yours either Mr Wilmington" she added as Buck smirked again. "In fact at one point I would say that the baby was either thrown or dropped and several pages of the log book are empty indicating, along with the computer data that you were not there to care for him at all." She watched each man glare accusingly at the other with remembrances of assuming that each would watch the infant while they went out on dates.
"I am afraid that you have failed the task gentlemen. It is our recommendation, approved by Judge Travis, that you attend six counselling sessions with the Staff counsellor." She was a hardened professional and the two sets of puppy dog eyes didn't faze her one bit. She turned to her final candidate.
"Mr Standish, you have the admiration and thanks of both myself and my data collectors." Being said hardened professional Moira Carter forced herself to ignore how well the rosy pink blush went with the pale jade eyes and reached out to shake the elegant man's hand. "Thanks to the data we recovered from your care of Ethan and Victoria we now have benchmarks set for the care of both twins and the performance of single parents." She waited for the applause to die down and couldn't resist adding her own handclap to it. Seeing that the man was highly embarrassed she continued in a businesslike fashion.
"Your performance was not perfect…but I would doubt that perfection would be possible in raising children - no parent I know has achieved it yet" she saw the southerner relax a little. Odd that telling someone they weren't perfect made them happy but still…
"There were some missed changes and one occasion of neglect although the log book confirms that this was due to illness. We also noted that both you and Mr Tanner have made entries in each others logs which is encouraging. It shows teamwork and a willingness to share burdens which is a healthy attitude to have. We also noted a couple of entries by your mother and you and Mr Tanner were the only two to introduce your offspring to those around you and have them witness it. The most telling factor in your task was the emotional wellbeing side. You and Mr Tanner are the first participants to achieve the maximum simulacrum function - that of speech. Only the highest levels of care enable the computer chip to trigger that function. Congratulations Mr Standish, you passed with flying colours and both you and Mr Tanner scored the highest we have ever seen at this establishment."
After Moira had left and Buck and JD had been given a not too serious dressing down by the Judge, and their appointment times the points were calculated on an individual basis and word was passed that Ezra Standish and Vin Tanner were the joint highest scorers - the betting pool experienced a flurry of activity.
It had been two months since the end of the baby experiment. Two months which had seen Vin and Ezra's relationship go from strength to strength. So much so that they announced one morning that they were planning on buying a house together. They figured that if Buck and JD could get away with living together without repercussions or rumours then so could they. Their plans to buy their dream house were altered slightly when Chris offered them a portion of his land to build their own home on and many a get together at the saloon was soon dominated by blueprints and building specifications. The only low point for the lovers was the empty feeling that they both experienced without their infants but the sudden and unexpected visit of Nettie Wells to Ezra's home one night a month after the end of the experiment gave them hope that at least part of their family would someday be restored to them. It was early days yet and Ezra was still angry on Vin's behalf while Vin had lost the admiration he had held for the old woman. But she had made the first move and seemed willing to try to change. Whether she was able to was something that only time would tell. A much more positive outcome was the request from the domestic abuse refuge for their help around the home after they had made their donation of clothing and accessories. And their help also with the women who had sought sanctuary there. Positive male role models were needed to give the women confidence that not all men were like their own abusers. And when a man and his little boy turned up with nowhere to go after fleeing a violent wife the two men joined forces with Evie to set up a male refuge.
"Come on guys it's this way, just round the corner."
"Have either of you seen it yet brother JD?" asked Josiah in response to his young friend's enthusiastic urgings. He noted that Buck seemed a little less gung-ho about their lunchtime trip.
"No, not yet. Today's the first day. Bobby said that it should be on display in the reception area so we won't actually have to enter the convention."
"What is the convention JD?" Vin, like the rest of the team who were following their youngest, had been curious as to what plans Bobby had for the replica he had taken of Buck's head. Buck's claim that it must be for some sort of dating agency convention or an armed forces recruitment drive was treated with appropriate contempt but nobody had been able to find out any details. Bobby hadn't even given them the address until an hour ago by which time the man was already half way across the Atlantic - a fact that made Buck rather nervous.
"I rang the hotel but they just said it was a national medical conference. I didn't think to ask anything else."
Buck perked up a little. Buck the surgeon; Buck with the caring bedside manner; Buck, the after in a cosmetic surgery comparison! He liked it!
"Well I don't…more like Buck the 'before'" Chris's mumbled reply made Buck realise that he had spoken out loud.
They reached the plush and expensive hotel but couldn't see the sign advertising the event due to several people standing in front of it. There was a banner but it had become twisted in the breeze. Still none the wiser the team trooped into the lobby.
"NO! No no no no!" Buck's face paled at the sight before him.
Nathan and Josiah stared in fascinated horror while Chris, Vin and Ezra immediately pulled out their phones to take pictures. It was a feat that only Chris actually managed due to Vin and Ezra's need to hold each other upright, their laughter threatening to cut off their breathing.
JD knew without a doubt that he was a dead man.
As Chris moved closer the sensors picked up the movement and Buck's very recognizable features attached to the body of what at first glance appeared to be an oversized tadpole began to perform it's welcome routine. The real Buck whimpered softly.
"HEY! Welcome to the tenth annual National Convention for the Eradication of Erectile Dysfunction. I'm Bucky the Sperm and together we can work towards making sure that little swimmers like me get the chance to do what a sperm's gotta do." With that Bucky wiggled both his tail and his moustache and gave a saucy wink.
Buck turned to the rest of the guys who were in various stages of collapse and his jaw dropped as he heard his oldest friend talking into the phone.
"Hey Inez it's Chris Larabee, you just have got to come and see this!"
JD revised his earlier opinion. They were ALL dead men.
A/N Thank you all for reading my rather odd little story. I hope you enjoyed it and it made you chuckle.