Don't own, don't make money.
Special thanks to sga_rocks for the inspiring idea, and to sga_rocks and Tiffany Pena for the beta-reading!
Sons, Lost and Found
Ezra P. Standish, a too-smart-for-his-own-good 15 year-old, stared at the monitor of his home desktop. It showed two windows; one was a web-page with a list of the private boarding schools in Colorado; the other contained a letter from Mr. Buck Wilmington. Said Mr. Wilmington had been, and still was amazingly, the best friend of Mr. Chris Larabee, the man who had the dubious honor to occupy the father's line on Ezra's birth certificate. The letter was dated in April; Ezra already knew its contents by heart, and surely there wasn't any further point in staring at it. The boy groaned in frustration, sharply turned his rotating chair, stood up and paced to the window. The curtains weren't closed, and outside there was a good view of London lit up in the night. Ezra sighed, to calm himself, and folded his arms on his chest. His gaze drifted from the window to the bookshelf, to an old, small leather photo album. It had a lock, like a girl's diary, the lock hadn't been opened for years now, but Ezra could still recall every picture in it. He looked out into the night again and remembered the events which were captured inside the old leather book, and the ones that had lead from them to the letter glowing on the monitor…
Maude Standish, an outstanding poker player and con artist, had gotten careless one night in Vegas, and that turned her into Ezra's mother. As she had several times pointed out to her son, it was carelessness and not some long-term ploy. And he believed her, because what could she have possibly gained from a young Navy officer on vacation? He'd been an honest man though, had admitted his fatherhood and sent Maude money for child support regularly. But he never claimed any rights until Ezra was four; by that time Chris Larabee had retired from the Navy, married a lovely woman, and been living on a ranch in Colorado. Maude had grown tired of having a toddler under her feet, so she'd happily dumped him at the ranch for a couple of months.
Ezra smiled sadly. His memories about that first visit were foggy, but warm nevertheless. Chris had been awkward, most of the time not knowing what to do with a child who already talked in full, long sentences and preferred puzzles and board games to cars, balls, and any outdoor activity (that had eventually changed with the discovery of the horses though). But Mrs. Sarah had felt no confusion at all; she'd welcomed and accepted her husband's bastard with all her heart and had made Ezra feel at home.
After that year, he'd spent two months at the ranch every summer. Maude hadn't been particularly happy about his visits; she used to say that he brought back some vexing habits from the ranch, and that he had gotten out of practice in most of his 'God-given talents'. But, fortunately, she hadn't tried to stop them, not willing to risk an open confrontation with Larabee, a police officer at the time. Adam's birth hadn't complicated things a single bit. Ezra had adored his baby brother, and loved playing with him, and had even managed to keep the energetic toddler occupied when both his parents had been exhausted already. All in all, Ezra P. Standish had been completely content with his place in the Larabee family. Until it all had ended one fateful spring day, with phone call from Mr. Wilmington.
Maude sometimes had the notion to act decently, so they'd made it to the funeral. Chris hadn't noticed, but then he hadn't been noticing anyone or anything, all the arrangements had been made by Buck Wilmington. After the funeral, Maude had taken Ezra to Atlanta, her hometown, and signed him up for therapy. She had even encouraged him to trust the therapist and had stayed close for the whole period. It was the most un-Maude thing Mrs. Standish had ever done in her life, but it had helped. Six months later Ezra insisted on visiting Denver on Adam's birthday; Maude had arranged for him to stay with Ms. Nettie Wells, a retired social worker and Larabee's neighbor. Mr. Wilmington would have gladly received the boy himself, but he'd been too busy looking after the vessel of whiskey Larabee had turned himself into. Ezra had seen his father twice at the time, and it had been more than enough, he'd left not sure he would ever return. Mr. Wilmington, though, had kindly promised to stay in touch and inform the boy about his father's state.
Ezra sighed and came back to sit in front of his desk. Buck Wilmington had kept his word; he'd sent Christmas and birthday cards, and a letter every month. The letters had all carried pretty much the same message: 'Situation has improved a little, but it's still too early for Ezra to visit'. Time had fled and Ezra had stopped waiting for something different; he was now sure that Chris had never loved him at all, and had welcomed him before only because of Mrs. Larabee. It sounded strange, but was entirely possible. And now, five years after the tragedy, this letter had arrived. According to Mr. Wilmington, Chris had finally pulled his life back on track; he was working in the ATF now, leading his own team (with Buck as second-in-command) and more or less stayed away from the bottle. He'd even expressed a desire to meet with his son and start afresh. With another sigh, Ezra closed the letter. He was glad Mr. Larabee was back among the living, he truly was, but he highly doubted Chris really wanted to settle things with him; most likely, he just felt obliged to. But the point was, what did he, Ezra P. Standish, have to lose? The boy glanced around his neat, but empty, room in the London house of Mr. Wilson; Maude's latest conquest. Nobody gave a damn about him here. Maude was too busy enjoying the fruits of her victory, and Mr. Wilson…
Well, he wasn't that bad, he just could not tolerate more than one Standish in his life. Actually, Ezra understood him completely on that matter; besides, the man wasn't a complete villain. He'd set the price range and offered to sign Ezra up at any boarding school in the States within it. And that's why Ezra had been studying what the Denver educational system had to offer; the St. James School seemed the most appealing, it just might be the perfect solution. Ezra definitely was not ready for 'summer at the ranch' and he was sure Chris was not either. But living in the school an hours drive from the ranch might provide the opportunity to settle things without rushing them. If things worked out, he would spend weekends and holidays at the ranch; if they did not…well, as long as the school had a rich library and a steady Internet connection, it would be as good as any other place he'd stayed in over the last few years. Taking a deep breath, Ezra reached a decision; he sent the school information to Mr. Wilson and he would write to Mr. Wilmington as soon as he got his official acceptance papers.
Larabee's ranch, August
"Nervous?" Buck Wilmington asked Vin Tanner, a lanky 14-year-old Texan.
"Don't fret, Junior. It'll be okay."
Vin half-shrugged, and Buck smiled reassuringly. They were at the ranch, waiting for Chris to bring his son from the airport. His oldest son, Buck corrected himself. They had three days before Ezra had to show up at that fancy school; and Buck actually had to give Standish some credit for that idea. Boarding school would give father and son space they might need, because reconciliation after five years of silence couldn't be easy, especially with what Buck knew about how Ezra had spent those years. And Buck had no idea if Vin's presence would simplify things or, do the opposite, complicate them.
Averting his gaze so as not to embarrass Vin, Buck smiled lightly, remembering how a blue-eyed runaway had become their charge.
The bust at the abandoned warehouse had gone wrong; it would have gone ugly if not for some divine intervention. Well, maybe not divine, but someone from above did throw a rock with deadly accuracy and thus saved Nathan's life. A momentary confusion among the bad guys was all that Chris and Buck had needed, and couple of minutes later everything was over. They looked up and saw an obviously stray teen with a slingshot.
"Damn, Junior, but aren't you a sharpshooter!" Buck exclaimed. "Come down here, I want to shake your hand!"
The kid looked like he was ready to bolt, but then he locked eyes with Chris…and actually came down.
A week after that, Chris Larabee was officially fostering Vincent Tanner. Buck didn't even want to think about how many favors Nettie and AD Travis had to have called in for that to happen; he was just glad it did. Because it had been Vin Tanner who'd returned joy and interest to Chris's life. For the first time in years Buck could stop worrying Chris would lose it the minute he left him alone. A few short months had brought major changes, and in the kid himself, too. He'd been as jumpy, and as dangerous, as a frightened wolf cub in the beginning, seemingly not knowing the meaning of the words 'trust' and 'home,' but for whatever reason he'd trusted Chris unconditionally from the start. And later he expanded this to the rest of Team 7. Buck glanced askance at his 'honorary nephew,' the teen looked perfectly calm, but Buck new better.
When Ezra's letter had arrived, Vin had immediately stated that Chris's firstborn should spent as much time as possible at the ranch; Chris was relieved that the boy hadn't been afraid of losing his place. And Ezra seemed to react well to Vin's existence, at least judging by his letters and couple of phone calls. But it was a big question - if the two very different boys would get along. And would Chris be able to handle the situation without being torn between his job and two teenagers with pasts? Well, at least he wouldn't be alone in this. All four 'Honorary Uncles' would offer all the help and advice they could.
A car noise interrupted Buck's musings; Vin stood abruptly, and Buck followed his example. A couple of minutes later, Chris and Ezra entered the living room.
Ezra had grown up from a charming kid to a real heartbreaker; and his obsession with neat clothes, as it seemed, had only worsened with time. He didn't look like a teenager who'd just survived all the delights of a transatlantic flight; heck, he looked like a President ready for his inauguration speech. But he was still a kid, visiting his father for the first time since the tragedy; he could use a warm welcome. Besides, Buck had truly missed the little dandy.
"Hey, Ezra! Look at you, almost a grown man now! It's awful good to see you in the flesh again, pard!" Something in Ezra's demeanor stopped Buck from giving the intended hug and so he settled for a handshake instead. The boy had a firm grip.
"It is nice to see you again, Mr. Wilmington," Ezra gave that mischievous smile, which was both irritating and charming all at once. It amused Buck that the boy hadn't lost it over the years. Vin had come closer, and so Buck stepped aside; it was Chris's job to formally introduce the boys.
"Ezra, meet Vin Tanner. Vin, this is Ezra Standish."
Yeah, ol' Chris never used a word he could do without. The boys surveyed each other, obviously appraising; a perfect gentleman and a cowboy. Then Vin offered a hand:
"Nice to meet ya, Ez."
"The pleasure is mine, Mr. Tanner," Ezra took the hand, but it was the slightest and the shortest handshake Buck had ever seen.
Yup, things definitely wouldn't be easy. But they sure would be interesting.