Josiah opened the door to the darkened townhouse using the key on his ring. Upon entering, he closed the door and redid the lock. Turning, he flipped the light switch.
Tye sat on the living room table, looking at the new visitor. She looked a little upset that it wasn't her Daddy, and meowed her protest loudly. If possible, Josiah thought she would have stomped her little foot, eyes closed in a full out shit-fit tantrum.
He smiled at her and approached, dropping his bag on the couch as he went. He sat next to his discarded bag and reached out to the little creature. Tye leaned into the touch as Josiah stroked her tiny head.
"How you doin', huh?" he asked in a gentle rumbling voice.
The soft timbre of the preacher's voice and the gentle, loving touch had Tye purring loudly.
Josiah smiled a large toothy grin. Kittens were so much more fun and interactive than his goldfish.
"You've been lonely, haven't you?"
Tye blinked at him slowly and cocked her head, as though considering his question.
"I know. He'll be back soon, I promise."
Tye meowed again, but not as loud as she had when he first entered.
Ezra had been on an undercover assignment for the local branch of the DEA for the past few days, much to the discontent of the Southerner. But it was due to wind up soon; maybe even as early as tomorrow. In the interim, each of the rest of his teammates had gone to Ezra's townhouse each night to visit with the tiny kitten, keeping her company and playing with her, and checking to make sure she was fine. They were also keeping an eye out for destructive retribution exacted by the furry whirlwind, kitty payback for being left alone. So far, everything was still in one piece. Evident by their frequent visits, all of them had become smitten with her, even Buck; although Buck still wouldn't come and see her by himself, just in case Tye tried to maul and eat him.
"So, what have you been up to?"
A small trilling sound answered him.
"That sounds fun." The big man looked around. "Where are your toys?"
Tye cocked her little head at him and blinked.
"Ok. Let's go find them." Josiah got up off of the couch and began his search for the toys Tye always seemed to be playing with. He found a few scattered under the dining room table, but the majority of them were out of sight. Playing a hunch, he headed for Ezra's bedroom at the end of the hall, Tye prancing after him, bell jingling. The door stood open, a small obstruction keeping it propped just so. Clever, thought Josiah, so she won't get stuck in the room with no escape.
Josiah leaned his heavy mass against the door jamb. Ezra's bed was covered in all manner of things. Tye had brought all of her toys that she felt necessary into the bedroom: fuzzy mice, jingly critters, wadded up paper (probably courtesy of JD and Buck), and small stuffed animals. There was also one of those platform toys with a bouncy bug-like thing on the end of a wand that lay on the floor, obviously too heavy to carry to the bed top for the small creature. After all her hard work dragging it from the other room, she had to leave it on the floor. Looking back up to the bed top, Josiah noticed a couch pillow, a placemat from the dining room table, a slipper, and a colorful… something. He looked down at the small animal who sat at his feet at the threshold.
"You've been rather busy, haven't you?" he asked with a smile.
Tye looked up at him, and answered with a trilling meow.
The big man started for the bed, and Tye ran past him and jumped up on the comforter. He patted her and reached for the unidentifiable brightly colored… thing. Blue and green… kind of felt like silk. It was all knotted up on itself, and had many pulls in the fabric where tiny claws had batted and played with it. Realization dawned on him when he recognized it as one of Ezra's more favorite ties. And he remembered Nathan and Chris telling the guys the story of the log rolling and wanton destruction wrought by a fluffy kitten.
Holding the tie-toy in his hand, he pointed it towards the kitten and announced, "He really must love you a lot to give you this."
Tye stood on her back legs, paws touching the large hands holding her favorite toy, her 'shmoogie', as her Daddy called it, and took it out of the big hands and trotted off with it.
Josiah watched her go, and grabbed a couple of other toys off of the bed before following her out to the living room and taking his seat on the couch again. Tye meowed with the tie in her mouth, and jumped up and dropped it on the cushion. She looked at Josiah expectantly.
"I don't speak 'kitty'," he answered. But here I am, trying to.
A short, impatient meow answered him.
"What's the matter Lassie, is Timmy in the well?" he smiled as he asked. He felt ridiculous.
Josiah reached over Tye to grab his bag that he had brought with him, knocking the tie-toy off the couch cushion in the process. Tye immediately jumped down, grabbing it in her mouth and jumping back up to the couch, returning it to the cushion.
Realization again dawned on Josiah. "Do you fetch?" he asked disbelievingly. He picked up the silk tie-toy, and Tye's eyes grew immense in anticipation, her whiskers coming slightly forward, ready for the hunt.
Josiah gently lobbed the toy across the living room, and Tye took off after it. He couldn't help but laugh at her.
Tye trilled with merriment, delighted that this giant figured out her favorite game.
Every time the preacher threw it, she would scoot off after it, walk back to the couch triumphantly, jump up next to him and drop it expectantly. Then she would insist on being rubbed and patted before he threw it again.
"You know, not many cats I know of fetch," he said one of the times Tye returned with her toy.
"Did your Papa teach you? I guess I should expect no less, huh?" He smiled to himself. "I've seen what his horse can do."
Tye jumped up on the couch again after another fetch, but didn't release the toy. She walked over to Josiah like she owned him and dropped the toy at his side and sat. She started to lick her feet to wash her face.
"Tired already?" he asked through a chuckle. "I can see how it could get old fast, but still, that was less than 5 minutes."
Tye was uninterested in whatever the giant was saying. Then he reached out and petted her, instantly becoming the most interesting thing there was. She purred happily.
"It's all about endurance, little one," he said as he stroked her.
"Just like Ezra… that man has more grit than anyone I know." He paused. "Your Daddy," he pointed in the small kitten's face, "is an amazing man. Yes he is." He nodded to himself while scratching Tye's chin.
"Right now, he's helping people he doesn't even know, with a case that shouldn't be his." He continued to absentmindedly pet the small kitten, who had flopped down on his lap as he spoke.
"He's too good at his job, you see," Josiah mused. "So good that everybody wants him." He let out a long breath. "And that scares the shit out of me," he admitted. He scratched Tye's chin, much to her delight. "What happens if someone recognizes him? What happens if something goes wrong and we're not there for him? How many times can he wheel and deal before someone doesn't buy what he's selling?"
Josiah sighed again..
"I worry about him too much, I know. But I really can't help it. Maybe because he doesn't worry about himself enough. He doesn't think twice about making rash decisions that put himself in danger, if it benefits someone he feels is more worthy or deserving than him."
"I don't think he thinks he is worthy of anyone else's care, no matter how hard me and the boys try to change that. It's ingrained in him, a part of him. He thinks his worth is based on what he can do. How do you get through to someone like that?"
He looked down at the small animal, purring contentedly and sleepily blinking her eyes.
"Not that I expect you to know, of course. Too bad you can't tell him. I think he would listen to you."
He furrowed his brow, considering. "And even with that, kids and animals are such a good judge of character. And I have never met a child who doesn't respond to him with love, or an animal who didn't trust him. Why can't he see that?"
He reached up from petting Tye to scratch his stubbly chin, the scratchy noise causing the kitten to look up. Josiah looked down at Tye, and gathered her and her toy up, and swung his legs up onto the couch, placing his bundle in the middle of his chest. His feet rested on the far arm. He resumed the petting as she settled on him.
"I know how hard he works. I know how little it seems he is appreciated at times. Truth is, he makes a difference in this world by doing what he does."
He shook his head slightly. "But damn, I worry."
He got a faraway look in his eyes. "And he won't talk to any of us about it if something is bothering him. He just packs it inside." He focused back on Tye's little face, growing sleepier. "I worry that he'll fall apart."
He swallowed around the lump forming in his throat. "I worry about him every single time he goes undercover."
He paused and sighed loudly.
"Because I love him." Josiah looked down on the small bundle hovering near sleep on his chest. "Like a brother. Like a son." He ran his big hand down Tye's back. She sighed and dropped her head to her front paws, giving in to slumber.
"But I can't tell him." He quirked the side of his mouth into a wry smile, his own eyes starting to droop. "It's not what we do."
Josiah yawned, and his eyes closed. "I hope he knows."
He drifted off into a peaceful, unburdened sleep.
The door opened slowly, quietly. Knowing there was someone there, having seen the car in front of the house and noticing that there were no lights on, he tried to be as quiet as possible. Sneaking into your own home though was a little trickier than you would think.
Ezra closed the door behind him, doing the deadbolt. The snoring coming from the living room told him that his guest would be spending the night.
Veering into the kitchen, navigating from memory, he turned on the light over the stove. The low-wattage bulb provided more than enough light to see adequately. He returned to the doorway and looked at his guest, crossing his arms over his chest as he leaned on the jamb and smiling fondly. Josiah slept with his mouth slightly open, legs bent to fit his large frame on the too-small couch, and snoring softly at a good clip. Tye was nestled on his chest, held safe and secure by large hands. She blinked sleepily at Ezra.
The southerner walked over to the couch and unfolded the blanket that lay on the back of it, covering his slumbering friend. Tye stood and stretched, then ambled her way to the back of the couch and into the loving caress of her Daddy.
"Hey you," he said softly. He leaned his face down to Tye's, placing a kiss on her head, and she rubbed her face on his. "Did you take good care of Josiah?" He looked over at the peaceful face of his friend. "You tucker him out?" he asked quietly through a soft chuckle.
Tye trilled and meowed.
"I bet. Wanna go to bed?"
Another small trill.
"I missed you too."
Ezra started towards his bedroom, leaving the stove light on in case Josiah woke. The southerner stopped and looked at Tye, and asked, "Where's your shmoogie?"
As if understanding what he was asking, Tye went back to the couch looking for her toy. Coming around the front of the couch, she took the toy gently from Josiah's hand, accepting a small pat from the "sleeping" man before scampering off to her Daddy again.
Josiah chuckled softly as he pulled his hand back to his chest. "Shmoogie?" he asked himself in a whisper, adjusting the blankets around himself and chuckling lightly as he drifted back to sleep.