By Thalia


She stepped through the swishing glass doors of the emergency room with trepidation. She knew Ryan had told her all was okay, that the boys had just scraps and bruises, but until she saw them with her own two eyes, panic would still be holding her heart in a wrenching vise. My God, she could almost kill them all… scaring her like that, that was not fair…

She swepped the hall with wild eyes, looking for the beloved face or at least a known one... and finally spotted her husband and his partner deep in conversation with a third man… and they looked like they were about to do something they really didn't like at all… Time for me to swoop in before they decide to send Ezra back home, she thought. Of course, they can't send him back home. He's hardly been here a week and he's been so nice all along…

Decidely, she made her way to the group.

"I'm really sorry, Ryan, but there's nothing I can do about the boy. He's wanted by the State of Texas and as a Federal Judge, I have no other choice but to send him back there," the man in grey smiled sadly.

"Damn it Judge, you've read his file, the boy's been sent from one foster family to another over twenty times in the last ten years. There's even been hints of child abuse, but the State closed its eyes on it," Ryan Larabee all but raged, passing a frustrated hand in his already unruly hair. "Besides, what makes you think he's gonna stay where you send him? The last they heard of the boy was before last Christmas and you've seen him. He's alright and manages on his own very well."

"I know that, Ryan… but look at his file: failed all or most of his classes at school, loves to be by himself… which at his age is the trademark of an anti-social behavior…"

"I beg to differ, Judge," interrupted a soft but firm voice. "I mean, just think about it Judge. You spend ten years being shipped from one family to the next and being told you're plain stupid because you move so much you can't keep up with school… Of course, if everybody tell the boy he's stupid, why would he bother with other human beings? Of course he's much better by himself. He's not torn from one family to be dropped into another… besides, Judge, you know very well the State of Texas isn't really up to date on childcare and the such. You've lived there and you've left. Why shouldn't he? If he can get free and decide of his life for himself, why shouldn't he take the chance?" Maggie finished, hotly pleading for a boy she didn't even know under the amused gaze of Josiah and the loving gaze of her husband.

"Maggie, for him to stay in Colorado, he would have to be in a foster family," the Judge gently told her. "One more foster family… and that family has to be approved by the State… and by me, since I'm the Federal Judge for Youth Services. And any family reading his file won't be too keen to take him in…"

"We'll do it!" She exclaimed, then turning to her husband, "Won't we Ryan?"

His only answer was to smile gently to her. His Avenging Angel was on the loose and there was no stopping her now.

"Maggie…" The Judge interrupted.

"Come on, Judge, our family has been registered as a foster family for three years now… and you have yet to trust us with one of your charges. So, would it be so hard to ask that this kid be released in your custody and assigned to us?"

"Yes, Maggie, I do trust you with the kids or I would never have allowed Ezra to stay with Josiah and you. And no, Maggie, that wouldn't be so hard to get this young man released to me and trusted to you… but Maggie, you have to understand, Vin Tanner is quite a special young man. Hell, he'd make Houdini look like a child… this kid has escaped from every family and every childcare facilitly he's been sent to. What make you think he would stay with you?"

"Because, he would not have been sent to us, we are asking for him to come live with us. Because, with us, he wouldn't be fenced in, he wouldn't be in jail, he would be free… don't think I don't remember how it was, growing up in an orphanage Judge, it's something I will never forget," she spoke softly, looking him straight in the eye to make sure he understood everything. "And it's something he will never forget either… Or he wouldn't be trying to escape every chance he got. I wanna give him the chance you gave me Judge, when you and Evie welcomed in your family. I wanna give him the chance to start a new life, just like you did for me…"

The Judge closed his eyes and sighed deeply. He knew when he was beaten. But there was another thing he had to make sure.

"Maggie, he has to go to school, or at least to receive adequate teaching… hell, for all I know, right now, he can't even enter high school, he wouldn't even have the academic knowledge…"

"That's not a problem Judge," Maggie smiled. "You know I used to be a teacher, so I can do a little at home to help him catch up to high school level… and I'm sure our neighbour Mrs Wells will be delighted to help him prepare for high school… Of course," she said, frowning and walking up and down the hall, "that would meant that this coming year, he'd have to stay at home and catch up to his level, and then he would have to pass the exam to enter highschool, but I foresee no problem at all… I'm sure he would gladly exchange some hours of schooling for his freedom of movement…" she finished, smiling at the men.

The Judge smiled. "Very well… so, how about we go and see if he would agree with the deal?"

"Yeah," Ryan sighed, "and then, we have to go and decide how we're gonna transform the house to receive all those wayward kids…" He suddenly stopped in the middle of the hall and turned to his wife smiling wanly, "Huh… honey, there's something you should know about the kids…"

Maggie looked at the men and when Josiah and the Judge refused to meet her eyes and she could see her husband forcing himself to do it, something twisted in her guts. Bravely, she took a deep breath and asked, "They're alive? In one piece? All of them?"

"Yep, yep and yep…" Ryan answered, then hesitated… "It's just that…"

"It's just that..." She prompted.

"Well, that one piece they're in? Well, it ain't that pretty to look at…" He muttered, then as she was closing her eyes and bracing herself, "But then, you should see the other guys," Ryan enthused, "They're in an even sorrier shape!" He added, slapping Josiah on the shoulder in his pride…

"And that's supposed to make me feel better?" She asked acidly, making him flop back to earth in record time.

"No ma'am!" He answered quickly.

"Good, because it doesn't!" She griped and walked down the hall towards the cubicle where her boys were waiting for her… without knowing it, of course!

7 7 7 7 7 7 7

"Darn Ez, you got quite a mark there…" JD exclaimed in awe as he was looking at the bruises marring the skin of his friend's neck. "'M still wondering how you can be alive."

The only sound Ezra could come up with was a grunt. The bruising his throat had received from Nathan was quite remarkable. And the way Chris, Buck and JD had been hovering over him, it must be quite a sight too. Good, he thought, that will remind me to take care of my own business!

Even though the Black boy had kept asking for his forgiveness and he had given it several times already, Nathan was still hovering in the cubicle and had refused to be treated until all his rescuers had been treated, Ezra first. And that was really starting to get on Ezra's nerves. He didn't need a baby-sitter. He could do very well on his own.

At the foot of the bed, Chris and Vin were quietly discussing.

"Can't stay much longer," Vin was saying. "Gotta leave, now…"

Chris looked at him quietly. "You in trouble?"

Vin sighed. "Kinda…"

"Need help?"

Vin smiled. "Nope, don't wanna put a friend in trouble. They're mine, I can handle them on my own…"

"You know where I live now… you come by anytime you want, okay?"

"Hu-oh…" Buck's voice intoned in their back. "Trouble coming our way…" Then, letting the dividing curtain drop, he turned a wan face to Chris. "Hurrican Maggie is blowing our way, bro… You got a 'chutte?"

Vin turned to Chris when he heard him gulp loudly.

"Hurricane Maggie?" He asked softly.

"A.k.a. Mom," Chris whispered uneasily. "I think she's gonna be pretty pissed when she sees us… and Ez too. We were supposed to keep the kids outta danger…" He sighed.

He didn't managed to say more as the curtain was swept away and a petite woman with long dark-blond curls, light green eyes and a decidly angry frown on her face walked in on them. Her soft muttered curses made his eyebrows shoot way up into his hair. That certainly was no language for a lady… then again, they were quite a sight to behold.

"Hey Mom…" Chris smiled tentatively.

"Hey Mom!" Buck said with much more gusto, a would-be charming smile on his lips…

"Chris, don't 'hey mom' me… we'll talk later! Buck, stop smiling like a loon, you're gonna split your lip… so unless you want me to stitch it… JD, you're okay, good," she smiled at the sweet boy, then turned to the one lying on the bed. "Great God! Ezra, what happened to you? Did one of those thugs tried to strangle you?" She exclaimed, then as Ez was trying to talk, "No, don't you go using your throat like that. What you need is rest and light food! And who might you be?" She asked turning to Nathan.

He coughed and bent his head, muttering something she didn't quite got… something that got lost among the long suffering sighs of the other boys.

"What did you say?" She asked, not quite sure of what she had heard.

Nathan finally lifted his head, took a deep breath and told in a slightly shaking voice, "I'm the thug that strangled your son, Ma'am…"

Lying on the bed, Ez tried to speak up to inform Nathan of his mistake, that he wasn't her son. But she just seated on his bed and quietly asked Nathan to tell her his story.

Vin sighed. He had been so taken with the beautiful woman, he had forgotten about the importance of his not being here when the law officers return. And now that Nathan was about to, once more, tell of his woeful story, slowly, inch by inch, he started to fade into the background, trying to move behind the men that had followed this dream vision into the cubicle, when a voice, firm but soft, stopped him dead in his tracks.

"Vin Tanner, don't you leave this room," she said gently. "You and I need to talk."

He was looking at her… her back was to him, yet she had been perfectly aware of his moving in the room. Then, she just turned her head to him and the kind green eyes held him hostage long enough for him to hear her next words.

"I have a proposition for you, Vin. Hear me out first, please, and then you can decide. Will you give me your word you won't leave until you've heard me out?"

Glued to the spot by her gaze, he could only nod… then, remembering his education, he answered as softly as she'd asked, "You have my word, Ma'am…"

She beamed him a blinding smile that had her husband softly chuckling as he looked at the boy. She hadn't even known the boy and had offered him a home out of the goodness of her heart. Yet, once more, her instinct had been the right one. He couldn't help but wonder one more time at the woman he had married all those years ago. After over twenty years of marriage, she was still taking him by surprise. And if he read the boy well, she had yet another faithfull admirer. She hadn't ordered, hadn't threatened. She had just asked and found the right words from the get-go.

Judge Travis smiled at Josiah. God, Maggie still managed to surprise him after all these years. And from what he could see, she had been right. Letting the boy decide for himself where he wanted to go, asking for his word, had been the right actions, the right words to chose to reach him. He had no doubt now, that everything would be alright for Vin Tanner. He didn't know it yet, but he had finally found his family. Everything would work out fine.


To Street Gang VII