Vin set the chestnuts they were going to roast on the table and swiftly realised he was talking to himself. "...Ezra?"
A quick glance found the boy's nose and palms pressed to the window like those of a child much younger. "Aw, Ez -- they'll be here."
"But it's started to snow."
Vin draped his arms over the slender shoulders. "Ezra -- last Christmas we were all together."
"But you couldn't see."
"I can see now. And the point is, we were together. We'll be together this year, too."
Haunted green eyes turned to him and Vin realised his son was still battling the demons of his mother's constant abandonment.
"They'll be here," Vin reassured.
Two hours later.
Nettie Wells, Gloria Potter and her children, and Nathan and Josiah had arrived. Swiftly, Ezra had thrown on his winter wraps, and he and his best friend Matthew Potter were now outside busily constructing a snowman.
"Buck and JD are working on a surprise," Josiah informed Vin. "And Chris said he would be here after he was finished at his cabin."
Nathan snorted. "Gettin' drunk, more'n likely."
Vin shook his head vehemently. "Has to say Merry Christmas to Sarah and Adam. He'll be here." He glared at Nathan. "And if you can't keep your mouth shut, you can go home. I'm already dealin' with Ezra's worry, I don't need you addin' to it with that acid tongue."
When the snowbirds came in, Nettie brought out several small loaves of fruitcake. Her niece Cassie arrived with more food and the makings for egg nog (minus the alcohol for the children), and they all had a festive snack while they waited for the huge Christmas meal to be finished.
And still, Ezra kept casting anxious glances toward the window and the snow that just kept falling.
Vin walked over to the anxious boy. "They'll be here."
He smiled into his father's eyes. "You always could tell what I was thinking."
"Because I know you well. I know you're worried. And I know our family. They'll be here. All of --"
Vin's words were cut off by the distinctive jangle of sleigh bells. He looked out the window and grinned. "See?"
"Whoa!" Buck called and the sled that carried him and JD -- and a multitude of presents -- pulled up short. "Dinner ready?" Buck laughed.
Ezra laughed a moment, then it faded and his eyes clouded over.
Vin squeezed his shoulder. "Go rest before you fall over."
"And Ezra? He'll be here."
When Ezra woke two hours later, Josiah was about to light the yule log.
And still, Chris wasn't there.
Just as Josiah was about to put match to wood, a sound outside caught Vin's attention. He smiled and rose to his feet.
"Vin?" Nathan asked.
But Vin's words were addressed to Ezra. "I told you he'd be here." He crossed the room in three large strides and pulled open the door.
And Chris walked in. "Sorry I'm late."
Finding himself with an armful of Ezra before he even unbuttoned his coat, Chris frowned at Vin.
"He was worried y'wouldn't be here," Vin softly explained.
Thunderheads darkened Chris's face for a moment as he mentally cursed Maude for hurting Ezra. They only lasted a moment, before he gently pulled Ezra away from him and crouched down.
"I said I'd be here," he said gently. "And I'm here. I had to go say Merry Christmas to Sarah and Adam."
Ezra nodded. "And then the snow...."
"Yeah, the snow didn't help matters." Chris smiled and put his hand on Ezra's head. "But I'm here."
Another hug, and Ezra watched as Chris and Vin went out to tend to Pony.
Matthew came over. "They all made it."
"They did," Ezra smiled.
"Yeah - I do."
"Good." And Matthew lunged, taking Ezra out the front door with him. Scooping a handful of snow, he dropped it down the back of Ezra's shirt.
Everyone laughed as Ezra bellowed and twisted to get it out before it melted. Even Ezra was laughing.
He'd gotten his Christmas wish. His family was together.
Maude had been wrong. They'd never leave him.
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