(Little Ezra - ATF)
by Clay Kalle
Disclaimer: All rights belong to their rightful owners. This was written purely for entertainment and practice, not profit.
SUMMARY: Little Ezra reveals what he wants for Christmas while on Santa's bouncing knee.
He was not quite sure what to expect when his guardian suggested a visit to the North Pole after they had finished their Christmas shopping, but never would have Ezra Standish predicted the long line, which curved in more places than one, of excited children and their parents waiting for the chance to reveal their heart's contents to the big-bellied man. The green eyes widened in surprise, before darting anxiously to look up at the blond man holding his hand; he doubted Chris would tolerate the noise and waiting just for the chance of his sitting on Santa's lap. The boy's eyes widened once more when Larabee offered a smile, moving forward when the bubbly girl and her mother moved, instead of turning the other way, away and out.
The time passed agonizingly slow, boys and girls taking their time to describe in minor details the treasures they wanted delivered under the tree back home, and with each passing moment, Ezra's heart would beat a pace faster; the seven-year-old was certain Mr. Larabee would eventually grow tired of the traffic and step out of the line, and Ezra felt guilty for the precious time wasted until then, knowing the man was not quite Chris Larabee unless productive. Biting his lower lip, Ezra gripped the larger hand tighter, ready to be tugged and led away when the time came, but the child was not ready for the reassuring squeeze, a calloused thumb caressing the smooth skin of the back of his hand.
"It'll be okay, Ez." Chris smiled, moving forward despite having his eyes fixed on the boy, "All you have to do is to confide in the big guy over there; tell him your greatest desire, and he'll take care of the rest."
"Greatest desire?" he repeated, wonderingly. Take care of the rest? He was barely young enough to understand the magic of Santa Claus when his mother deemed it appropriate to burst his ever expanding bubble of joy and awe instead of waiting for it to pop on its own. Such childish dreams had no place in their profession, for the chance of fooling a child through myths was too great of a risk. Now, waiting for his turn to hear the ho ho ho and the checking for his name on "the list", Ezra wondered if he should have told Chris about his knowledge of Santa's non-existence.
"Yep. Whatever you wish for, just tell it to Santa and he'll make sure you get it." The guardian grinned at the little boy, hoping his smile did not convey his eagerness to the ever-perceptive child; to get Ezra suspicious might endanger the whole plan.
It had been a last resort, the last, desperate measure: the men had been poking the solemn child with masked questions and memories of their own childhoods, hoping to get the hints they needed to make Ezra's first Christmas amidst their family a memorable event, to be recalled on with as much joy and fondness as possible. Yet the child had been unresponsive, resisting all attempts to reveal what he was expecting come Christmas morning, whether deliberately or not, they were not quite sure. Either way, they had still lacked the list they were wishing to put together as the date fast-forwarded to the 20th.
The idea was thrown in jest, in the beginning, but as the doors locked in their faces, Larabee and the others decided to get on with it. Applying as a volunteer, Buck Wilmington donned on the red outfit and fuzzy beard and sat on the chair at the mall, bouncing laughing children on his knee and smiling at the camera, while waiting for that one particular Ezra Standish to step forward and loosen those tight lips. Chris realized they were breaking some moral grounds with this plan, but the blond man figured anything was worth seeing the boy he had come to love happy and content. Moving forward once again, Chris was relieved to see how close they were to his friend; Ezra seemed to get more agitated as time passed, his small hand holding his own a little bit too tightly for comfort, but the child did not seem to be nervous about the bearded man, instead his anxious eyes stole peeks of his face every now and then, which Chris responded to with a smile or a gentle squeeze.
"Ho ho ho! And what do you wish for this Christmas, young'un?"
Ezra tensed, wondering if he could answer the question once he was staring at the man in disguise; the young boy was not quite sure about the benefit of confiding in a stranger who was running a show that might eventually disappoint children when they tear the gift wraps to find something never mentioned on their list of desires. Even if he were to tell him his wish, Santa did not have the power to make it come true.
"Go ahead, Ezra. I'll be waiting for you right here until you're done." Ezra nodded his acknowledgement, taking a deep breath when Santa's helper gestured for him to move along. Steeling himself for what he knew was coming, Ezra allowed Santa to carry and settle him on his bouncing knee, who was already doing a fine impression of the trademark laugh the commercial figure was famous for. Intertwining his fingers, Ezra clenched his hands tightly as he waited for the inevitable question; he was hesitating still on whether to answer the man truthfully or play his part of a toy-loving boy in this childish fantasy.
With a hand on his rigid shoulder, Santa laughed once more before asking, "What about you, little one? What is it that you want for this Christmas?" The temptation of biting his lower lip was enormous, yet Ezra resisted the habit as he stared into curious blue eyes. Something in those eyes was familiar, and the boy found himself altering his prepared answer without much hesitation, whispering loud enough for Santa's ears, only. "I wish that Mr. Chris keeps me."
The child failed to see the startled eyes, his own looking anywhere but at the man who had just heard his secret. Wringing his hands, Ezra realized he had made a terrible mistake when the silence stretched on, and he was in the process of getting off Santa's knee when he finally got a reaction, as the hand on his shoulder tightened in a gentle, reassuring squeeze. Reluctantly, the child looked up only to be surprised by the mist in Santa's eyes, but then the man blinked and Ezra was not quite sure if he had truly seen the unshed tears.
"Well, this is a tad of a hefty task, but worry none, little one; Santa's on the job!" Santa laughed again, his belly jiggling before leaning in closer, serious, "You sure that's what you want, though? What about your Mama? Would you rather be with her?"
Ezra bit his lower lip, nervous at the sudden change in the man's demeanor and anxious about the question itself, but it did not take long for him to smile up at the bearded-man and simply answer, "Yes, I'm certain."
Yet when he followed Chris out of the mall, a few steps back, Ezra could not help but sigh as he took one last look at Santa bouncing another boy on his knee.
He felt quite foolish.
Christmas morning had been a rush like nothing Ezra Standish had experienced before; Mr. Larabee's friends had stormed into the house very early in the morning, filling the place with racket and laughter as they proceeded to make breakfast and stuff their packages under the decorated tree. It was yet too early for the child, but Ezra did not complain much when Buck and JD stole him away from his warm bed, announcing that nobody was allowed to sleep in on Christmas morning; his excitement had prevented him from sleeping, anyway.
Breakfast was an entertaining affair, as the men harassed each other to give away the secrets of their presents as they wolfed down the food, encouraging the child to eat faster only to place another portion on his plate, an action Vin accused as bribery to make him spoil the surprise, only to sneak him a piece of candy afterwards, which caused a very short food war that only Tanner seemed to be the victim of.
It was only after the table was cleared, dishes washed, Vin cleaned up and made fun of that the six men and child sat around the tree and started opening their presents. Fortunately, everybody seemed to be genuinely happy about the gifts they had opened, and Ezra was surprised by the amount of packages that had his name on it; every man seemed to think that the child needed to make up for the previous holidays that had passed without the thrill of receiving. The men were relieved and content to see the boy's face flush with joy, and each man was surprised at the offered embrace, realizing the progress they were achieving when the child wrapped his arms around their necks, awkwardly, for the first time.
After spending some time complimenting and commenting on each present, trying some toys and planning sleepovers to marathon an old series, Chris nodded to Buck silently; a signal that got the man going, making an excuse to remove himself and the others from the living room. Larabee chuckled when Ezra raised an eyebrow at him, seeing through the plan to leave him alone with his guardian.
"It is a mystery how Mr. Wilmington charms the ladies when listening to such a poorly executed escape."
Chris only offered a grin and a one-shouldered shrug at the comment, noticing the tell-tale signs of nervousness that the boy could not control. He, himself, was feeling the butterflies poking his stomach's wall as his heart drummed a bit faster. "I just wanted it to be the two of us for now," he explained his reasons. "Just until you got to open your last gift, then you can join the boys again."
Ezra nodded, a lump forming in his throat; needing privacy had never been a good thing in Standish's book, for it usually meant bearing some bad news of an impending replacement or delivering some sort of punishment with no means of creating a scene or attracting the attention of a rescue. Stepping closer to where his guardian was sitting, Ezra reminded himself that Larabee had not been abusive in the last six months he had spent with the man, but that failed to calm the boy down as he thought of the other probability.
He did not want to leave.
"Here." Chris held out a very small and thin envelope towards the child, waiting patiently as Ezra hesitated before taking it with an anxious glance towards him. He held his breath, painfully, as Standish opened the envelope and took out the small business card inside, awaiting a reaction, any reaction at all.
With a blink, Ezra stared at the neatly typed letters, which read:
NETTIE S. WELLS,
FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY
Chris was dumb-struck when the boy looked up, green eyes filled with too many overwhelming emotions; confusion, fear, uncertainty and a glimmer of hope. With a hitch, Ezra said aloud: "I don't understand."
Hastening to reassure the boy, Larabee leaned forward and pulled him up on his lap, holding the tense frame close. "Mrs. Nettie, she's the best at what she does; she hasn't lost a case in a very, very long time and she agreed to help me adopt you in any way she could." Looking down at the unbelieving eyes, Chris continued, "But, since this is a forever kind of thing, I thought it'd be better if I asked you first before doing anything. D-do you want this, Ezra?"
Ezra blinked his eyes a few times, quickly, fighting back tears as he nodded.
"Are you sure? You can take your time, th-"
Fearing the man might change his mind if given the time, Ezra interrupted with the same simple answer he had given Santa a while back, a smile brightening his face: "Yes, I'm certain."
It was a loud sniffle that alerted the man and child that the others had been listening, but neither minded the intrusion; they were family, after all.
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