Disclaimer: Neither the characters nor the show SBFSB are mine
NOTE: When I wrote the first story (All in a Day's Work) I didn't really intend to make this an AU. After writing it several more storylines came to me.
+ I'm backing up the ages of the three youngest. Ezra is now fourteen. Vin is twelve and JD is nine.
+ It's open to all. I just request you leave the story for permanent custody story for me since I have it half written. Have Fun
+ Thanks to Christina for beta reading this for me.
Josiah sat on the porch swing watching the rain. It had been an extremely long five days since the funeral of their parents. Shock, grief, fear and anger were the major emotions that had settled around the house. After the funeral the house had been so filled with people that the brothers couldn't really be together. All were grateful to see the last person drive out of their driveway. That night had been unnervingly quiet. That had been the last night they were altogether. Josiah knew after tonight that would change. He had received a fateful phone call. The phone call, as disruptive and nerve wracking as it was would be the sole reason they would become once again a family. It had certainly galvanized the older ones into action.
The day after the funeral, Chris and Buck had decided the best way to deal with their feelings was work them off. They rode out early and came back late. Of course, the need to ride the fence was always a pressing matter, now it also provided an excuse for the two to get out of the house and away from the oppression that had settled in. The fence was no longer a problem; neither were all the other little chores around the ranch that were constantly in need of being done.
Josiah couldn't blame them. Chris didn't deal well with his emotions and Buck went along to give support where he was allowed. Chris had needed something to hit and Buck, again, had been there for his brother, to fill the spot. Buck had shrugged it off when he had come home and Josiah questioned him about the sore ribs. Josiah had been ready to knock some sense into the young blond brother but Buck had stopped him. It was done and over. No use stirring up more trouble.
The oldest thought about the day's events. When he woke he didn't think things could get any worse. He found out they could, all because of one phone call.
He had been working at his father's desk in the family study, thinking about all the problems one erroneous accident had caused. The will needed to be probated; insurance was going to have to be seen about, credit card companies had to be notified and bills to be paid. On top of that a working ranch was always a source of money concerns. There were so many things to be seen after, four of them were scattered about the ranch somewhere. Josiah turned his thoughts to the other four brothers.
Nathan, eighteen had already had enough deaths in his past to overwhelm any young man. Much like the older ones the senior was a strong person and looked to what needed to be done. Nathan worked on the indoor chores. He had helped Josiah pack up some of their parent's belongings and store them in the basement, to be gone through at a later date. He had taken over with other household chores too, cooking the meals and keeping the laundry done and with seven boys there was a never ending supply of dirty clothes.
Ezra, Vin and JD were the biggest concerns at the moment. Each one was handling the deaths differently. They all needed individual attention and somehow Josiah felt he was letting them each down.
Ezra had climbed up into the rafters of the barn shortly after coming back from the funeral and had practically lived up there. Josiah and Nathan had tried several times to get him to come down but the brown haired brother had simply tuned them and the world out. Josiah was aware the youngster did come in late at night and after eating the supper he had left for him, went to bed. He would sleep late then after getting up would return to the barn.
Vin, on the other hand stayed at the house. He either sat on the porch or sat in the window benches. He seemed to be waiting for something or more accurately someone. The boy had always been quiet, now he was just silent. He wouldn't tell anyone whom he was waiting on but it was obvious he was looking for someone.
JD was different from his two older brothers. JD had become a walking emotional case. Nathan and him often found the youngest curled up crying. No amount of comfort helped. JD kept asking what was going to happen to them now. He had tried to make several deals with Josiah and Nathan if they just let him stay, it seemed that simple to the young boy. He had, on several occasions, promised to be extra good and do whatever Josiah wanted him to do; go to bed early, do extra chores, anything he thought would persuade Josiah into letting him stay. The fear of being taken away caused the child a lot of anxiety.
Josiah thought about the conversation that took place with Buck and Chris a short time earlier. Supper had been eaten and the dishes done. The two youngest were in bed, Nathan had been sent to his room and Ezra had yet to come in for the night. The three oldest had adjourned to the study where Josiah had told them about the phone call he had received earlier in the day.
"What do you mean a social worker is coming tomorrow? What for? We are doing just fine!" Buck bellowed. He had never given any thought as to them not staying a family. No one was going to take away his brothers, not if he had anything to say about it and he had plenty to say. They all knew Buck might act like a loveable easygoing guy but just threaten something he truly cherished and watch out.
Josiah knew there was going to be fireworks; he just had the wrong one pegged for lighting the fuse. He truly thought Buck was going to blow a blood vessel when he explained about the social worker that was due out the next day. Mrs. Potter, a social worker they were all familiar with, would come out tomorrow and survey the condition in which the children were now living. She would then recommend whether the children should be removed or be allowed to stay in their care.
Chris was the one that had shocked him. He had sat back patiently and waited for Josiah to finish telling about the impending visit, then when it was over Chris quietly denied anything was going to happed to those boys and simply asked what needed to be done. Josiah had to admit Chris was like that; he liked knowing all the facts. He had to have all the details, right down to the minute ones and he certainly didn't like anyone who messed with the set plans.
"They can't come and take them away. They're legally ours." Buck continued.
"Yes, they were adopted by Mom and Dad but now..." taking a deep breath, feeling very old. "Now, though they're considered orphans again and can be taken away and placed in the states care."
It had suddenly dawned on the young blond that was where the problem lied. Whose care were the children going to be left in? Josiah lived in town and worked as a counselor. He, himself, lived in town as well. He was going through school and planned on receiving a degree in criminal justice. Afterwards he would go through the police academy and become a law enforcer. They were both home on the weekends. Buck lived on the property but had his own small place; Chris didn't see Buck getting awarded the boys. He loved his brother but somehow Chris knew the other brother wouldn't quite meet the specifications of a guardian.
"We won't let that happen" Chris grounded out through his clenched teeth.
Josiah then explained he was of course moving back home. It was the only thing to do if they were to keep the boys. Chris had stated he would quit college and put his plans on hold for a while. He continued on by saying that he would go back at a later date. Josiah didn't argue, instead he felt relieved; with the two of them they stood a better chance, especially since Josiah would be working.
Buck had, also, been quick to state he would move back into the house. To his way of thinking if two was good three ought to be even better.
"We'll give it our best shot but we're going to have to make some changes around here if we are going to have any chance of keeping them." Josiah had wearily faced his brothers.
"Like what?" Buck asked. He was willing to do anything to keep the remainder of his family together. Josiah, staring at the floor, seemed not to hear him.
"Josiah" Chris leaned forward and touched his brother on the knee. "Just tell us what you need us to do."
The selflessness of his brothers had not really surprised Josiah. He knew in a pinch they would be there to do what they could.
"Ok", Josiah started, "If we're going to keep this family intact things are going to have to change. First, you two can't keep riding out of here at the crack of dawn and returning after dark. I've got to go back to work next Monday and the boys will have to back to school. Someone is going to have to take over the chores here in the house. Nathan's been doing a lot of it this past week but he can't keep doing it and go to school and keep his grades up."
Chris spoke first, "I'll take over the household and Buck can handle the outside chores. " Turning to the dark haired brother, "I'll help when I can."
Buck nodded. Chris would be the wiser choice for the indoor jobs.
"What else?" Feeling like that was the easy part, something bigger was coming. "What about the boys" thinking how they had ignored the younger ones.
Josiah looked at them then down again. "That brings us to the next set of problems. I don't know which one to begin with."
Chris and Buck looked quizzically at the oldest. What had gone wrong? Surely if it had been serious Josiah would have talked to them before now, Chris thought. Then he corrected himself. How could he have, Buck and him had hardly been around. 'Boy they had messed up' Chris thought. They were going to start doing better, the blond resolved, 'A lot better'.
Chris, having an analytical mind, liked to list the problems, set the goals then go about finding a way to get from point A to point B. "Start with JD"
Josiah looked up into the two sets of eyes staring back at him waiting patiently. "Well.... he's not doing well emotionally" he stopped and chuckled like he knew an inside joke. "Heck none of them are doing well emotionally."
"Josiah" Chris whispered softly, getting his brother back on track.
"Ok. He's started wetting the bed for starters. Which is not uncommon for a young child under a lot stress or emotional turmoil. He also burst into tears over everything, another emotional outlet for his fears. He's scared and feeling very insecure. He has trouble completing simple tasks. He needs support and a lot of reassurance." Looking at his brothers, "They all do."
Buck, let out a soft curse. How could he be so selfish, his little brother who had started depending on him since his arrival had needed him and he wasn't around. The dark haired young man nodded to his oldest brother. He would have JD right as rain in no time.
"Next, I guess is Vin," Josiah continued looking at Chris. Chris felt his stomach tighten in fear. Lord, by the look on his brother's face he knew had failed his little brother miserably.
"He's quit talking altogether. He stands at the window waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for something awful to happen. If he hadn't been doing this all week I'd swear he knew the social worker was comin'."
"After the life he's had he probably did," Chris spoke into his hands as he rubbed his face in concern. How could he be so self-involved that he'd left Vin swinging in the wind? He'd promised the kid when he first came that he'd never be alone again. He promised that he'd always be there for him and now when he was needed most he'd failed.
"As far as Nathan, he'll be ok. He's strong and rational. Like I said he's already taken on some of the responsibility. But, he's still a kid, a kid in school." Josiah hadn't wanted to make the guys in front of him feel any worse than they'd already did but they had to be reminded that Nathan was still young. With Nathan, it was easy to forget you weren't dealing with a mature adult.
The other two had the good sense to duck their heads. The blond thought about all the things they had to accomplish and still retain the kids in the home. A thought suddenly hit him. Snapping his head up he demanded, "Wait a minute that's only three. What about Ezra?"
Buck's head popped up, now that he thought about it he hadn't seen the kid since the day of the funeral. 'Oh good Buck, its been almost a week and your just now missing the kid. Some guardian you'd make.'
Josiah had sat down heavily; the burden of the past week had come to the forefront. He'd leaned his forearms on his knees and bowed his head. With this kid he was stuck. The boy was not letting anyone get close to him physically or emotionally. Before last week he hadn't been what they would call a blacksheep but he definitely tried standing outside the family circle, even after a year and a half. Now the problem was magnified.
"Josiah" Buck had questioned softly, the longer the older one was quiet the more nervous he was became.
Josiah had looked up with sadness blanketing his face and a tear streaming down his cheek. "I'm afraid we're losing him."
"Literally or figuratively" Chris had asked.
As Josiah sat there watching the rain he recalled how they had worked at trying to help the fourteen-year-old. Their Mom and Dad had worked with Ezra a lot at home and he, as a counselor and a brother had worked with him at school. Josiah remembered how he had missed the youngster a little while after returning from the funeral. He'd finally found him sitting up in the rafters. Josiah shook his head as he remembered thinking it might be best to let be alone for awhile. Ezra might have good people skills but that didn't mean he liked being around people. He realized now that was his first mistake and quite possibly the worse.
After talking with Chris and Buck, Josiah headed for the barn to recover the lost one. The job had seemed even more arduous knowing the social worker would be coming the next day. The counselor, older brother, peacemaker had walked into that barn determined and full of willpower. Ezra never stood a chance.
After the oldest finished the long climb up to the rafter he stopped to get his breath. Josiah watched his little brother anxiously shuffle his cards. The almost blank look in his green eyes told Josiah that the wall that had taken two years to knock a hole in was not only repaired but also possibly stronger.
"Hey there" Josiah didn't receive nor expect an answer.
Continuing, he scooted a little closer. "Think it's about time you came down and rejoined the family."
"What family?" the fourteen-year-old asked tersely. He heard the anger he felt slip into his voice and internally winced. His mother had always warned him not to let his feelings be known to other people.
"Your family" Josiah responded calmly. Getting Ezra to accept them, as family had been an uphill battle, even after the adoption papers had been signed. Josiah took a deep breath, "Look, this is hard on everyone, Ezra but we're family and we can make it...together."
"Together?" Ezra snorted and kept his head down. "You and Nathan pretend nothing is wrong. JD mopes around and cries. Buck and Chris ride out of here everyday, away from us. And Vin stands at the window and waits for the social worker to come and take us away." Ezra briefly stopped shuffling his cards, "And they will come you know? So, don't say we're together". He resumed shuffling of his cards.
"Yes, I know," answering Ezra's statement. Wondering just how much damage was going to be done to his brothers before this ordeal was over.
Ezra showed no signs of hearing his brother at first. Taking a soft breath and without emotion he simply asked, "When?"
Josiah softly explained about Mrs. Potter's visit the next day. Nudging his little brother before wrapping his arm around the thin shoulders, "C'mon lets go in".
Josiah could tell that any fight his brother had in him was gone. The two descended down from the rafters onto the hayloft then down the ladder to the floor. Josiah placed his arm around Ezra and walked towards the house filled with so many worries.
After seeing Ezra to bed, Josiah moved to the other rooms. Besides, the master bedroom there was three other rooms. Since, the three oldest had moved out before the three youngest arrived Nathan and Ezra had each gotten their own room while Vin and JD shared a room. That was another thing that was going to have to change now that all seven would be in the house.
Josiah walked into the room currently occupied by JD and Vin. He noticed Buck had crawled into bed with JD. The little black haired boy was nestled into the man's chest, his arm wrapped around his big brother's neck. Both were snoring softly.
He glanced across the room. Vin had climbed out of bed and now slept on the floor next to his hero. There was no doubt the two had a special bond, much like the other duo. Josiah knew separating either pair would cause irreparable damage to all.
He closed the door and made his way to the next door. Nathan was sound asleep. Knowing that sleep would elude him Josiah made his way out onto the porch. Sitting down on the swing his father had made he let the gentle rain relax his tightly knitted muscles as he began reliving the day's event and the impending visit the next day.
The family gathered into the living room after breakfast. He looked at each one. Buck, Vin and Chris sat on the couch. Knowing something frightening was coming JD had crawled into Buck's lap. Nathan sat on a straight back chair at the end of the couch next to Buck. Josiah sat in a chair facing them all, silently wringing his hands and wishing this was over already. He stared at the youngest, his eyes held fear and apprehension. His small hand clutched the big one that was wrapped around his waist. The blue eyes screamed for reassurance, Buck was trying to do just that. Josiah moved his gaze over Vin. Those blue eyes held no accusation, just acceptance, hopelessness and sorrow. Chris had his arm wrapped around the narrow shaking shoulders. Nathan's dark chocolate eyes had a look in them that gave him courage and strength. Both Vin and Nathan knew what was coming and how hard it was for their brother. Nathan was trying to give Josiah comfort in his own way.
The oldest looked over to the corner were the last brother sat. He was already closing himself off from the love and comfort they were providing one another. He looked into those green eyes that normally shined and saw nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Josiah's blood slowly began to boil. The kid was giving up before the fight even began. Well he wasn't going to allow it, not by a long shot.
"Get yourself over here" Ezra knew by the tone in his brother's voice there was no room for argument. He rose slowly from his spot and headed for the others.
Chris moved Vin to the other side of him to make room for Ezra; instead he sat down on the floor in front of the couch. He felt two strong hands on each arm before being yanked up and placed between Buck and Chris.
The reaction to the news pertaining to the imminent visit of the social worker was different in each child. JD turned and buried his head into his brother's chest, crying uncontrollably. The counselor knew that the begging to let him stay would come later, along with all the promises to be good. If it was only that simple.
Vin merely lowered his head. The tears silently flowed down his cheeks as Chris tightened his embrace and held him.
Nathan looked worried, for the others. Josiah realized the senior didn't see his removal from the house as a possibility. The counselor in him berated himself for not seeing this coming. Yes, Nathan was eighteen and a legal adult, but he was also still in school. There was a chance that he, too, would be removed from this family. Josiah was feeling a hundred years old.
Josiah was brought out of his reverie by the emotionless southern accent. "Well, if this family meeting is over I'm going to my room."
Josiah briefly thought about not stopping the youngster. Ezra didn't deal well with emotions, his or anyone else's. Josiah watched as the youngster started to get up. "Oh no you don't," Josiah ordered, grabbing the boy and pulling him into a bear hug. "You're staying right here where you belong." He could feel the slight tremors course thru the thin body but wasn't sure it was because of the news or the fact he was being held. Either way it was the only response Ezra let out.
It wasn't but a couple hours later that they heard the car drive up into the yard. Josiah stepped out onto the porch and waited for Mrs. Potter to exit her car. He was dreading this worse than the funeral. First, they lost their parents and now there was a possibility of losing one another.
"Morning Mrs. Potter" Josiah spoke as the woman climbed the steps.
"Josiah. How are you today?" the social worker returned. She secretly dreaded this visit. She had been the one to place the last boys here. She really liked this family.
Josiah opened the screen door and showed her in. She sat down on the couch and opened her brief case before starting. "There's no reason not to get down to business." taking a breath. "I've come to remove the boys from here."
"Not without a fight" the voice behind her was cold and stern.
Turning, the older woman recognized the blond young man. "Now Chris, we really don't want to make this any harder for the boys than necessary. Do we?" She didn't want this turning into a messy scene.
"What my brother means," Josiah put in trying to patch up his brother's potential mistake. "Is that we want a chance to become Ezra, Vin and JD's guardians. More specifically me."
"Oh." Mrs. Potter wasn't completely surprised by this admission. This was a strong knitted family. "You wish to petition the courts for custody?"
"Yes." Josiah answered, trying not to wring his hands or look too nervous.
"You realize it's not going to be easy? There are a lot of things that will need to done. Lots of questions answered." The woman studied the three young men standing in the room and took note of their seriousness. She quietly reflected that these brothers would stand a decent chance of being given a chance at keeping their family together.
"We've already worked out some of the potential problems." Josiah rushed on. "All three of us..." nodding towards Chris and Buck, "will be moving back into the house. Buck will continue to run the ranch. Chris will run the household. There will be someone here for the boys at all times. Money won't be a problem. We'll have our parents inheritance and I'll still work at the high school, where I'll be able to keep an eye out on any problems the boys may encounter."
"Well, I have to admit I'm impressed and I'm willing to hear you out further. But there are still more hurdles to jump and I'll have to interview the boys". She paused for a moment, "all four of them." Mrs. Potter was willing to help these young men to do whatever it took to keep their brothers if at all possible.
"Four?" questioned Buck.
Josiah had seen this coming and waved Buck off, shaking his head. Buck understood, Josiah was telling them one problem at a time.
"Yes. Now if you'll ask the boys in here so I can talk to them I would appreciate it." Mrs. Potter remained calm after Buck's outburst. It was clear that he hadn't considered Nathan to be at risk.
Chris left to gather the boys. Going into Nathan's room he found him sitting at his desk apparently trying to keep himself busy. Walking up to his brother he placed his hand on the shoulder. "She wants to talk to you." Nathan nodded his head and moved to leave the room with his brother behind him.
While Nathan headed down stairs Chris headed to the little one's room. Not finding them in their room he moved towards Ezra's assuming he would find the three together. What he found was an open window with no kids in sight. Cursing himself for letting them out of sight he hurried downstairs.
"They're gone!" Chris announced as he hit the bottom step, heading for the front door.
"Shoot!" Buck and Josiah shouted as they headed after their brother.
"Buck, you find JD. Chris...Vin. Nathan and I'll go after Ezra." Josiah ordered as they split up.
"Wouldn't they all be together?" Mrs. Potter questioned as she followed them out onto the porch.
"NO. If I know my brothers...and I do" giving the social worker a look that spoke volumes Josiah hurried on, "Ezra took off and Vin and JD found the open window and probably tried to follow but he wouldn't let them go along."
Seeing the woman's puzzled look Buck quickly explained, "Ezra would sabotage his chances of staying but he wouldn't do that to the other two"
The four brothers took off in separate directions leaving the older social worker standing on the porch by herself. After they disappeared into the woods she turned and went to find herself some coffee. She intended to be there when they bought the youngsters home. She'd then question their reason for running then decide whether to let them stay until a ruling could be made.
Buck didn't have to wonder where his little brother would run to, there was only one place. The tree house. As Buck came to the trunk of the tree he could the small high pitch crying floating down. He climbed the nailed strips of boards they used for steps up to the base of the fort. He looked over at the edge and searched the small area, his eyes quickly found what they were hunting. In the corner with his knees drawn up to his chest and his head buried in the arms that were wrapped around his knees was JD. Climbing up onto the floorboards Buck made his way over to the sobbing child.
Taking JD on his lap, "Hey pal". Cuddling the small body next to his, Buck asked gently, "Whatcha doin' here?"
"Vin wouldn't let me go with him. He said I had to stay. He said I'd be ok, that you'd take care of me." JD brokenly voiced between sobs.
Buck said nothing for a while, just held his brother. He wondered at Vin's faith in him. Did Vin think he or Chris would fight any less for him? It was true no one had wanted the boy in the past but Buck thought they had convinced the young brother he was wanted now.
"We got to go back home now kiddo. We gotta show Mrs. Potter you're ok." The older brother said as he stood and lowered the younger one down onto the rungs and quickly followed.
"Is she gonna be mad at me?" JD looked up with the frightened look that seemed to have become a permanent fixture on his face.
"Nah" ruffling the small black haired head, "She is going to want to know why you did what you did and you're going to have to answer some questions." Buck took the small hand in his and headed for the house hoping the others were having similar luck in finding their quarry.
Chris didn't find their longhaired brother as easily. He had already looked in four different places before heading towards the pond. It had already been thirty minutes and he knew the more time that passed the worse it would look to the social worker.
The tall blond finally stepped out of the small stands of trees and found Vin standing at the edge of the pond skipping stones. Chris sighed; finding him suddenly appeared to be the easy part. Getting his brother back to the house and convincing Mrs. Potter that this is were they all belonged was going to be the hard part. Chris stepped forward.
"Not bad" noting the fact Vin had made his stone skip three times before plopping underwater.
When he received no response Chips ventured on, "Vin, come sit over here with me for a minute." He took the other's hand and led him to a log and sat down. Nudging the younger one with his shoulder they sat quietly.
"Running isn't going to help, Vin." The soft voice said admonishingly. "I know you're scared. So am I. We all are, but running off isn't the answer."
"I was going to come back after she left." Vin promised.
"It doesn't work that way. She's waiting at the house to make sure we recover you guys in one piece." Chris placed his arm around the younger one and laid his cheek on the top of Vin's head. "You have to trust us. Josiah, Buck and me are going to do everything in our power to see that you stay with us. Ok?"
Chris could feel the small head nod. "Come on, let's get back." Leading the way back to the house.
JD was sitting on the porch with Mrs. Potter drinking lemonade when Vin and Chris came around the corner of the house. "Well, Vin you sure have gotten taller since the last time I saw you" the social worker said with warmth in her voice, patting the spot on the swing next to her. "How about some lemonade?"
Vin slowly climbed the steps and made his way over to the spot. "Ok"
"We'll just sit here and have us a little chat while Chris here joins your other brothers. It seems your brother Ezra is quite a good at playing hide-and-seek."
"We weren't playing hide-and-seek" JD piped up. "We were running away."
The social worker heard a low threatening, "JD" from the twelve-year-old next to her shaking his head.
Mrs. Potter couldn't keep from smiling as she looked up towards the tall blond standing at the bottom of the steps. He had the same look on his face as Vin. "Chris, the sooner you and the others find your brother the sooner the game can end." Giving Chris a knowing look. Chris nodded and took off to look for the last brother.
Josiah was getting exasperated and frantic. They had been looking over five hours for Ezra. Every place they could think of had been searched at least twice. Josiah finally sent Nathan back to the house to care for the two boys and get them fed. The three oldest kept hunting, keeping in contact by cell phone. Josiah quit worrying what the social worker was thinking about all this, he just wanted his brother back safely.
The sun finally sank behind the horizon leaving behind the cold and the dark. Josiah, Buck and Chris returned to the house to dress warmer and grab something hot to drink before starting back out. They were in the kitchen filling up their thermoses when Vin came in through the swinging doors.
"Hey there, you need to be in bed." Buck walked over to the boy and put his arm around him. When Vin laid his head on Buck's chest it dawned on him how much the boy had grown in the short fifteen months he had lived with them.
"I couldn't go to sleep." Vin muffled into his brother's shirt. "Are you going back out to look?" worry lined his voice.
"Yeah bud. Just getting us something to drink first." Chris walked over to the twosome. "Don't you worry we'll find Ezra."
"You should let Chaucer out. He'd find Ezra." Vin offered.
"You're probably right." Josiah slightly chuckled. Horse and owner had a bond that was beyond explaining. His father had often said he'd never seen such a thing before. The two were quite a pair, deeply devoted to the other.
"Come on Vin, back to bed." Chris slightly pushed his brother back through the doors and turned him towards the stairs.
Vin turned around and looked at the social worker who had decided to stay until Ezra had been found. "If you're still going to take us away I hope they don't find him."
"Vin!" His three brothers admonished him at once.
"Well I do! He'll be better off out there," he said, defending himself. "At least out there no one can beat, starve or neglect him." Staring directly at Mrs. Potter, "Like some of the places you'll probably stick him in. He deserves better. We all deserve it."
Vin turned and padded his way up the stairs to his room. The four adults below stood silent for a moment, that was the most Vin had said in almost a week. Mrs. Potter turned to the three men still watching their brother and pointed out they should get going. Buck elected to stay at the house. First, so that an adult other than the social worker would be in the house while the others were asleep and second in case by some miracle Ezra decided to come back one of them would be there waiting.
Josiah and Chris stepped out onto the porch and pulled on the gloves. It was early fall, the days were warm but the nights became chilly. They looked at each other and smiled as they had the same thought. "I'll saddle the horses while you go try to harness the ornery beast." Josiah laughed.
"Thanks a lot" Chris shoved his brother down the steps.
In a short time Josiah bought the two horses around as Chris walked out of the paddock leading the gelding. Chris looked like he was ready to shoot the animal then and there. Josiah raised an eyebrow trying not to smirk. "Problems?"
"What makes you think that" Chris retorted brusquely as he mounted his own horse.
After reaching the back of the house they stopped underneath the window Ezra had climbed out of and Chris unhooked the lead rope from Ezra's horse while muttering how stupid the idea was and secretly hoping the idea would work. "Go find him boy." as he slapped the horse's rump.
When his mother had left him alone that last time Ezra had set to mind that no one would ever hurt him again. Never. During the hearing that terminated his mother's parental rights Maude had not even showed up. Ezra had been placed in the Children's Center and shut down completely. He had arrived into this family with charm, sarcasm, and buried anger. Ezra had fought hard against his new foster family, unwilling to be incorporated into the family. They had slowly and patiently won him over, changing his behavior without changing him. They took what he could give and asked for nothing more. Now that was gone and once again he was being hurt.
Now that the safety he felt had been ripped away his natural instincts to survive came flooding back. Fearing for what was in store for him his little voice had screamed at him to run. He hadn't paid attention to where he was going he just ran. Now it was dark and he was lost somewhere in the woods and all he wanted was for his brothers to come and make it ok. But, if they came they would also be forced to take him home where the woman would be waiting to take him away from here. Ezra sat down on what was once a thousand year old tree that had fallen. The insides had been hollowed out thanks to the numerous kinds of bugs and insects that fed off the old tree. It was here that he heard his brother's calling his name. His first thought was to run toward the voices but years of habit forced him to hide instead.
Josiah and Chris followed the gelding on their horses calling out for Ezra every few moments. It was completely dark now, without the full moon and their halogen flashlights they wouldn't of had any light. The gelding that was leading them suddenly stopped and perked up his ears. He let out a soft snicker and picked up his trot. The two brothers looked at one another then set their own mounts into action.
A short distance later Chaucer stopped at the old fallen tree. He walked nervously around it, pawing and nickering. Josiah and Chris pulled up, dismounted and tied the horses to a nearby pine tree. Chris and Josiah share a withering look before Chris, with a smirk on his face, motioned with a sweeping of his arm for Josiah to go first and talk their brother out of his hiding place.
Josiah walked to the end of the log and knelt down, closing his eyes and shaking his head. "C'mon Ez. It's late, its cold and I don't know about you but I'm tired." There was no response.
Chris, feeling initially relieved was still worried and feeling tired, mad and anxious. "Dang it Ezra, this isn't helping matters. Now get out here!"
Josiah looked over at his brother with a look that clearly said, 'Neither are you'. Sitting down on the hard ground the oldest peered inside with his flashlight and saw the bottom of his brother's sneakers. Speaking softly he tried again, "C'mon Ez. I need ya to come out so we can go home." Receiving no reply Josiah kept trying. "I know you, you hate being cold. Wouldn't you like to come out so we can go home and get warm?
"No!" the one word coming from the log might have said no but the tone said the opposite.
Chaucer's ears perked up at the sound of his owner and companion. Nipping at his reins he finally managed to untie the simple bowknot that tied him to the tree. He softly made his way to the log and whinnied, pacing up and down.
"Chaucer is getting awful impatient out here waiting for you. He's waiting for you to come out and take him home and bed him down." Josiah was using the only topic that seemed to interest the boy.
"He'll be ok. He can take care of himself." Ezra didn't really feel that way about the horse but about himself. Or at least that's what he tried to convince himself of.
Josiah and Chris shared another look; they knew what the youngest was saying. Chris shifted his weight, "Ezra, he needs you" pausing for a breath Chris went on, "We need you."
The conversation went on for another fifteen minutes before the two men heard the movements of their brother crawling out of his hiding place. When he finally appeared he was dirty and the tear tracks were very evident on the finely chiseled cheeks. Wrapping his coat around his little brother Josiah lifted Ezra up on his horse, then mounted his own horse. The three rode back to the house in silence.
Arriving home Josiah took the boy in the house while Chris went to take care of the horses. Mrs. Potter met the two brothers at the door. "Well young man its good to see you again." Ezra merely nodded as he slid past her and walked indoors. "I've kept your supper out, I could warm it up."
"No thanks...ma'am" as Ezra headed for the stairs. "I'm going to bed"
"Goodnight Ezra. I'm glad you're back safe." Mrs. Potter watched the young boy trudge up the stairs before turning to the oldest. "I'll call you and let you when we set up a hearing."
"You're not taking them?" Josiah asked surprised and quickly regretted it.
"Well, at least not tonight. Believe it or not Josiah I'm on your side." The caseworker patted the muscular arm and walked to her car. She really wanted to see this family stay together.
The next several days were nerve wracking to say the least. Ezra sat on his bed for the most part with his bag packed. Vin and JD, on the other hand, refused to let their older brothers of their sight. Two days after the catastrophic interview Mrs. Potter called with the date of the hearing. It was to be in four weeks.
Those four weeks dragged by at a snail's pail. Josiah and the boys went back to school. A new routine was adapted and everyone was slowly adjusting to their new life. On the day of the hearing Josiah took his suburban and Chris drove his truck into town. Josiah had Nathan and Ezra while Vin, JD and Buck rode with Chris. Letting the boys out at school had been harder than expected with no one knowing who would be picking up the boys after school. The three oldest watched Nathan, Vin and Ezra make their way to the doors slowly. Buck turned and walked JD into his school. Slipping his hand from the smaller one he knelt down and looked into the big round scared eyes. His lower lip trembling and his small shoulders quaking slightly, the smaller one tried valiantly not to cry. "Hey" Buck rested his hands on the smaller shoulders, "Have a little faith in us, ok"
Buck was rewarded with a small nod before he found himself in a gripping neck hold as JD wrapped his arms tightly around his protector's neck.
Knowing their hearing wasn't until one o'clock Josiah, Chris and Buck spent the morning in a coffee shop talking about how they were going to convince the judge to let them stay together. It soon became time to leave and meet their destination.
After a short time waiting in the court halls they were finally called and they walked in with determination to win.
The Judge was one they had seen before. Judge Orrin Travis. An older no-nonsense man who liked the straight truth and didn't sugar coat anything.
After seating himself he looked right at three young men before him and was hard pressed not to smile. "Mrs. Potters informs me that you, Josiah, would like to become guardian of your younger brothers."
Josiah stood, "Yes sir, that is correct."
Judge Travis nodded his head, "I read that your other two brothers will be helping you out."
Once again Josiah nodded, "Yes sir."
The Judge looked right at Josiah with his sharp eyes. "You young men really think you can take care of your four younger brothers?"
Josiah took a deep breath realizing the time had come to lay it on the line. "Your honor, I realize that none of us have parental experience. But I ask you what parent does when they have their first child? I know we are bound to make mistakes, as any parent does. And we won't do everything the way some else might do it." Josiah looked at his brother who gave him slight encouraging nods. "I can tell you that taking away the boys won't solve problems but instead create new ones."
The Judge merely lifted his eyebrow and silently motioned for him to continue.
The oldest licked his lips. "We know these boys. We know what they need, how they behave and what they respond to. Take Nathan...this is his last year in school. Taking him away from the only home he has known for the last four years will only distract him further from his school work. As his counselor at school I can tell you right now he has a very good chance at a scholarship to a University. It wouldn't do him any favors removing him from us."
Josiah stopped for a moment before continuing. "JD needs security and Buck provides that better than any of us. He also needs a place to run off his abundant amount of energy. You have to watch his sugar intake and know when he's about to do something that could land him in trouble. As for Vin, he's usually quiet. Most people would take this as a sign of passive rebellion but it's just his nature. He also needs help with his reading without crushing his self-esteem. You also, have to keep on your toes because of his love for practical jokes." Josiah smiled slightly. He had no doubts that the judge had been informed of the kid's penchant for getting into trouble at school for some of his more notorious jokes, especially the one involving the principal's truck. Josiah thought about that one, Vin had been grounded for a month and then was put on strict probation by his parents.
Vin had decided that the principal's old truck could use a little overhaul. So he had popped the hood, intending to only pull one spark plug wire. It was at that moment Ezra had appeared at his side. Vin, who was already nervous, was startled and had yanked not just one wire but a handful. Dad had to pay the mechanical bill and Vin had repaid him in chores. He also, received detention for three weeks. After that Vin had left the principal alone but others were still subject to his pranks.
Josiah looked up to find the Judge watching him and could have sworn he was fighting back a smile. Judge Travis finally asked about the last one, "What about Ezra? You really think you can handle the boy? From what I've read he's got emotional problems and gets into trouble quite often at school."
Josiah took a deep breath. " Yes, Ezra has problems but more or less than the other two. His problems just come out in a different way. The kid needs a pat on the back and a kick in the pants, most of the time simultaneously. He needs reassurance and boundaries. Mostly he needs to be wanted, he hasn't had much of that in his life."
The oldest let out a long breath and once again looked directly into the Judges' eyes. "I know its not very orthodox but these kids need us," motioning at himself and his brothers, "and we need them. We're a family and we want to stay that way." The big man sat down and felt Buck's hand on his shoulder.
The judge smiled. "Your right, its not very orthodox but I'm willing to give it a try." Seeing the bright smiles that appeared on the three faces before him he held up his hand. "This is a trial period. You will still be subjected to visitations from Mrs. Potter and if there are any major problems the boys will be removed from the home. I hereby grant you temporary guardianship, Josiah."
The judge gently banged his gavel and left the room. Josiah, Chris and Buck could have let out a whoop instead they quickly left the building, the school bell would be ringing in a short time and they had brothers to pick up and take home.
Nathan's teacher understood the importance of this day and for that reason let him leave class early so he could go across the street and pick up his little brother. Nathan, crossing the street looked expectantly for any recognizable vehicle, not seeing one he walked into the Elementary school and waited outside JD's classroom. When the release bell rang the black haired boy came out last, dragging his feet. Upon seeing Nathan he looked expectantly and received a small shrug. Placing his hand in the older hand they walked towards the door. Wanting to go through them yet dreading what was waiting on the other side.
Nathan was the first to spot the suburban and the three brothers leaning against it. Giving his brother's hand a squeeze, after catching JD's eye he nodded in the right direction and watched as the nine-year-old sped off as fast as his legs would carry him. Nathan jogged up to the group. Buck was holding a very happy JD. The look on their faces telling him all he needed to know. Now they just had to wait for the Jr. High bell to ring.
When the second bell rang Vin walked slowly to the water fountain, their usual waiting place. Ezra finally appeared and looked around for Nathan. Vin spoke up quietly, "I heard he went across the street to be with JD." The brown haired boy nodded his head and turned towards the door with Vin right beside him.
The five brothers waiting outside started getting anxious. Furtive glances were thrown back and forth between four of them. They all had the dreaded feeling that the two might have flown the coop again. JD popped up. "There they are." Four heads turned to where the finger is pointing. They watch the figures slowly plod out the doors, walking like doomed men.
"Hurry up guys!" JD yelled, immediately getting a reaction from Vin. The tall lean boy's head popped up and scanned the area, quickly locating the five figures waiting for them.
"They're here!" Vin elbowed his brother and took off running, stopping and turning to his brother who was still walking slowly. "C'mon Ez. We're going home."
Vin ran ahead leaving the last one to walk the rest of the area by himself. Upon arriving at the group he looked up at Josiah with his piercing green eyes. "We all going home?"
Josiah nodded and grabbed his brother into a big bear hug, "We sure are, Ezra."
Leaning back Ezra eyed his brother one more time "For how long?", he asked, suspicion flowing from him.
Enfolding him back into a hug Josiah ruffled the fine brown hair. "Till you're old and gray."
JD piped up with usual enthusiasm. "Can we stop and get ice cream?"
Buck tousled the black hair. "That sounds like a good idea. A little celebration wouldn't hurt."
The seven headed to the appropriate vehicles and headed home.
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