"Feel free to start, gentlemen, recognizing, of course, that we reserve the right to answer. As Victor informed you earlier, there are particular areas we will not discuss."
"Ah, yes" began Williams, "The scars that you both wear. Do you mind if I ask why you do not wish to discuss them?"
"The probability of your belief in our explanations of where we received the injuries that have left their marks upon us is extremely low. Consequently, rather than deal with the incredulity that the explanations would undoubtedly be met with we have determined that it is better not to speak of it. Perhaps one day we might be forthcoming, but this is not the appropriate time or place for such a tale," said Eric.
Once again, Davis took advantage of the brief silence, "Yes, well boys," he froze briefly and swallowed audibly at the looks that garnered from the two children before continuing hurriedly, "Is there anything you would like to tell us to start off?"
Glancing at each other, they smiled slightly before Victor looked straight at them and said, "Nope." Victor smiled as he and Eric hopped off the bed they had been perched on. "If'n that's all you got to ask, we'll talk to you later on after you've had a chance to make up some questions." With that the two boys were gone leaving the two doctors looking bemusedly after them.
"I think we've got our work cut out for us with those two, but I swear I have dealt with career criminals who weren't as guarded as they are. They were playing us from the minute we showed up, and damned if we didn't fall right into it," said Davis shaking his head in admiration. "I'm going to bring out some of the intelligence and personality tests tomorrow and see how they do on those. That might give us a better idea of how to treat them, because I have to admit, right now, I'm at a loss. Neither of them have actually told us anything except that they won't talk about the scars because we won't believe how they got them. That part at least is typical of abused children being told no one will trust them. But they knew we were going to ask about the scars so on one level they must know it's wrong for anyone to have hurt them like that but on another level they seem to accept that it is an inevitable part of whatever life they have been living." Finally meeting Williams' eyes, Davis acknowledged his momentary defeat. "They are outside of my realm of experience and I am not sure how to get through to them. They have obviously been abused and no doubt traumatized by whatever happened to them, but aside from the tests I mentioned, I think it would be best if we just talked to them for now. Try to get to know them, let them set the pace. Keep them somewhere they appear comfortable. We have to get them to trust us, and I don't think either of them are going to grant us that trust easily or quickly."
The two doctors left the room and headed downstairs to report what they had learned - actually what they hadn't learned - to Matthew who was waiting impatiently at the stairs. "Well," began Matthew.
"Where are they?" said Davis.
"In their room. They don't want to be separated and asked Jo if they could share the room that Eric woke up in until they are taken to whatever pit of despair - Eric's term not mine - they are to be dumped in this time." Replied Matthew.
"I wonder why they wanted that room, there's got to be a reason for it." Murmured Williams.
"I don't think they do anything without a reason." Agreed Davis. "As for what we learned, we learned that they are extremely intelligent and extremely obstinate. They didn't tell us anything except that they won't talk about the scars because they don't think we'll believe how they got them. We made the mistake of asking them if they had anything they wanted to talk about and their reply was that once we figured out what we wanted to ask they'd talk to us. They didn't volunteer anything. Did you notice that while Eric says a mouthful - where in the hell did a seven year old get that kind of vocabulary anyway - and Victor doesn't say much of anything, when you translate Eric's words he hasn't actually told you anything more than Victor has? Damn they're like two sides of the same coin and I think it would be worth your life if you tried to separate them. I get the feeling that even as young as they are they could be very dangerous if necessary to protect themselves. If it's possible I think they should stay here. They appear to be as comfortable here as anywhere and quite frankly I don't want to see what would happen if we tried to put them in an orphanage or in a regular foster home. They sound like they have been through that before and I wouldn't place any bets on how long they would stay somewhere they felt was a prison."
Matthew nodded; he had already reached that conclusion. "Never underestimate your opponent. They look harmless, but you saw the scars. If they weren't tough as nails inside, they would never have survived. I think they keep each other going to some extent. Neither one is going to give up if it means the other one will fall with him. Jo has already agreed to keep them for now, and I have the papers being drawn up to make it legal at least temporarily. Shall we go see what they are up to and tell them?"
They headed back up the stairs as quietly as possible hoping to observe the boys for a little while at least in an unguarded moment. Peering around the doorway, they saw the two boys involved in a game of cards and while neither boy looked up or appeared to acknowledge their presence Eric's lazy drawl was heard just a few moments later, "Please feel free to join us, gentlemen." As the men entered the room, he continued, "Sheriff Matthew, Doctor Davis, and Doctor Williams, I believe you may wish to come further into the room. It is highly improper to keep the hostess from traveling freely in her own habitation."
As Eric finished, Victor chimed in with "Miss Jo, come on in. Its your place, and like Eric said, it ain't right to make you stand in the hall."
The three men exchanged surprised glances and moved aside to allow Josephine entrance. As neither boy had looked up, they were at a loss to explain how they knew exactly who was there or that Josephine had been waiting in the hall. Stepping further into the room, Matthew wondered why the boys were playing sandwiched into one corner of the room until it struck him forcibly that the placement allowed both to sit with a wall at his back. Watching Eric expertly gather and shuffle the cards, silence reigned until the two boys stood as one and leaned against the wall in a deceptively casual attitude. Looking closely at their stances, Matthew realized they were both unobtrusively balanced on their toes ready to move in any direction at a moments notice and he wondered where and how they had learned that trick.
"Boys, I've talked to Miss Johnson and she has agreed to have you stay here for now." Began Matthew.
"Pardon me for my abruptness, but for how long a period of time might we expect to be in Miss Johnson's care, Sheriff, and will child services agree to such a placement?" interrupted Eric.
"With the recommendations of Doctor Davis, Doctor Williams, and myself, they will agree. As for the time, I would say that depends on what kind of progress we make on your case." Replied Matthew.
"Our case? Just what do you mean by that, sir. What exactly is our case?" said Eric as he and Victor edged closer together.
"After talking to the Doctors, I am not going to turn you over to child services just to have them put you back with whoever gave you those scars you refuse to talk about, and I am not going to let them separate the two of you. We'll figure something out, and we'll find somewhere safe for you both. And if I find out who gave you those marks, they're going to go away for a long time." The last was said in a near whisper as the sheriff turned to look at the other adults in the room receiving nods in return and both Ezra and Vin were sure they weren't supposed to hear it.
"Are ya sure that's alright with you Miss Jo. We don't want to be any trouble," said Vin.
"Indeed, Miss Johnson, while we greatly appreciate your offer, we would hate to be an imposition. We are quite capable of taking care of ourselves ..." Ezra was cut off when the lady in question protested,
"Boys, I would be happy to have you stay here. It's no imposition, and its been far to quiet since my nephews left. I already asked Matthew to arrange it anyway. I've been on the foster home list for years, but since I'm single and so far away from town, I've never had anyone placed with me until now," she finished with a soft smile.
"In that case, gentlemen and madam, we thank you for your efforts on our behalf, and please be assured if there is any way in which we can ever repay you for you kindness you have but to ask," said Eric as he sketched a bow, and Victor seconded the thanks with a shy nod of his head and a slight smile.
"Well," said Doctor Williams, "now that that has been settled, it's time for you boys to get some rest. You've both got some healing up to do and the best place for you is in bed." He raised his hand to forestall the objections he knew were coming, "Don't even think about trying to argue your way out of it either. I want you to rest. I'll be back to check on you again tomorrow."
"I'd like to come back tomorrow as well, if it is alright all of you. I'd like to talk to you both some more," said Davis.
The two boys once again exchanged glances before Eric said, "That would be acceptable, and now with your leave, I believe that in accordance with our doctor's orders, we will avail ourselves of the opportunity to get some rest."
As Ezra and Vin headed for the double bed to add credence to the request to be left alone, Matthew was the first to head toward the door with the comment, "I believe we have received our marching orders, gentlemen. Shall we." Ezra and Vin exchanged glances. They needed to talk without worrying about being interrupted or overheard and while they would never actually admit it, they were both exhausted and desperately needed some additional rest. Not to mention requiring some time to attempt to adjust to the situation they found themselves in.
Josephine was the last to leave the room and looked back to see the two boys nestled under the covers. Unable to resist the impulse, she walked back over to the bed and tucked them both in with a smile and kissed them each on the forehead before brushing their hair back with a gentle hand saying, "Rest well now, boys. I'll wake you in time for dinner if you aren't up already." The shocked look from Eric and the shy smile from Victor saddened her and she wondered what they had been through to prompt such a surprised reaction to a gentle touch. Glancing back before closing the door, she was surprised to see that both appeared to be asleep already and she gently closed the door before joining the others downstairs.
Vin opened his eyes once the footsteps had faded in the distance. "Ez, what are we gonna do?"
"To be perfectly honest with you, Vin, I don't know. For the moment, I would suggest we concentrate on recovering as quickly as possible. Then we can start planning for how we are going to get home. We need to find Knight again, and we are going to need the others to do that. If he is the cause of our misfortune as I believe him to be, he should be able to reverse it." Troubled green eyes looked into equally troubled blue one receiving a curt nod in response.
"I think you're right bout Knight, Ez. I just hope you're right about the rest of it too. I sure don't want to be stuck this way," said Vin softy. "I bet that Doc is gonna come back tomorrow with a buncha tests for us." Vin smiled slightly. "I think you got the other one on the run. I about choked when you stepped on him."
"Yes, well I notice you joined me in that endeavor, so I would have to say that I believe the rousting of Doctor Grady was a joint effort." Ezra's reply was interrupted by stifled yawn.
"Guess we best get some sleep so we can be ready for whatever's comin down the road. Don't reckon with the Sheriff and Miss Jo down stairs we need to worry about setting up a watch right now." At Ezra's nod of agreement, they turned so that their backs were to each other and were asleep in moments.
Several hours later, Matthew went up to wake the two boys for dinner as they had slept through lunch. Opening the door, he shook his head at the site in front of him. Even in their sleep they were protecting each other, and he wondered at the arrangement of the covers that seemed to be bunched in the middle of the bed between the two. Walking to one side of the bed, he reached a hand out toward Eric and was totally unprepared for the result. With lightning quick reflexes, Victor was out of the bed, and Eric had in one smooth motion blocked his arm hitting a nerve with enough force to numb his hand completely. Eric followed that move by bringing his arm down and to the side and rolling over the bunched up covers to join Victor on the other side of the bed. They ended up shoulder to shoulder in the corner of the room facing outward toward the perceived threat. Muttering an oath under his breath, Matthew stayed where he was and waited for the two boys to recognize where they were and who he was. What in the hell had happened to these two? Damn, the last time he saw reflexes and reactions like that had been in a former Navy Seal.
After a moment, Eric shook his head slightly and stepped forward and nodding at the arm that Matthew was still absentmindedly massaging said, "Please accept my apologies, Sheriff. After all of your assistance, I did not mean to react so discourteously to your presence. If you would permit me," Eric had approached cautiously and motioned toward Matthew's arm. Curious Matthew held the arm out and received another shock when he felt two small hands expertly massage various pressure points removing the lingering numbness. Victor he noticed, had remained a few steps behind his brother and was watching everything with a wary eye ready to react to any threat -- real or perceived. Having just received one example of what the boys were capable of Matthew remained very still until Eric finished.
"Thank you, Eric, and it's alright. No permanent damage. I shouldn't have come in without letting you know. Next time, I'll be sure to knock, OK, and I'll make sure the others know to announce themselves. We wouldn't want anymore accidents now would we. Jo's waiting for us, if you are ready for dinner." He smiled before leading the way out of the room. Given their mannerisms, he didn't even consider suggesting that they precede him. He really didn't want to explain to Jo how they managed to tumble down the stairs because they were trying to watch their backs, and he was sure that if one fell the other would fall with him before he would let go.
Watching Matthew descend the stairs, Ezra and Vin followed the Sheriff downstairs exchanging glances. They knew their actions were going to end up being reported to Davis, and while Ezra was sorry for attacking Matthew, neither he nor Vin could afford to fight the reflexes that had saved their lives so many times -- they were too critical to their continued survival.
Pleading continued exhaustion, Vin and Ezra retired shortly after a thoroughly enjoyable dinner with Jo and Matthew. The table conversation had primarily revolved around what the two boys favorite meals were, whether they were allergic to anything, and what activities they enjoyed as Jo tried to learn more about the two new and unexpected additions to her household. Not that they learned much beyond the fact that the two boys were about as opposite in their likes and dislikes as it was possible to be with a few exceptions. Matthew left shortly after Eric and Victor retired for the night with the promise to return in the morning. This left Jo wondering where her two current houseguests had come from. They certainly didn't behave like any children she had ever been around before. Judging from the reactions Matthew had warned her about, she wasn't sure she wanted to know what had happened to them.
Despite staying up late the previous night discussing their options, Vin was up early as usual. Ezra and Vin had after a great deal of debate decided to bide their time until they were fully recovered and had a chance to prepare for the trip home. They would only be able to convince their associates in person, and they couldn't very well send for them. Without the opportunity to inform the others of what to expect there was no way to set up a convincing cover story. Matthew was convinced they had been abused and they had already announced that they were orphans. The first was unavoidable and the second had seemed like a good idea at the time. Consequently, they had decided that the first order of business was as in any undercover assignment gathering as much information as possible and preparing an escape route.
From Jo's perspective, yet another difference between the two boys was brought forcefully to her attention that morning. Victor was up with the sun and the ensuing "discussion" as he convinced his brother to join him was interesting to say the least. From the sounds coming from the room, Jo concluded that Eric was reluctant to get up and proceeded to inform Victor of his feelings. Knocking on the door, she cautiously opened it and was greeted with the site of a bleary eyed Eric firmly ensconced in the bed apparently involved in a heated dispute over the blankets with Victor. The impromptu tug of war came to an abrupt end when the article in contention separated. Watching in dismay, Jo saw both boys tumble off opposite sides of the bed and entered the room to find Eric in possession of the blanket, Victor in possession of the sheet, and the two boys glaring balefully at each from the floor on opposite sides of the bed. Fighting the laughter that threatened, Jo decided that she would gladly sacrifice a blanket or two for the chance at seeing the two behaving like regular children instead of miniature adults.
Matthew arrived shortly after breakfast with Davis and Williams in tow. Grady was not present but a muttered aside indicated that his absence had been a hard won victory. After a brief examination by Williams, Davis managed to convince the boys to talk to him again. He had planned to start with some of the more traditional intelligence tests and was brought up short when Eric announced, "Really, Doctor Davis, if you feel the need to test our intelligence, I would suggest you use something other than this particular test. It has been shown to be notoriously unreliable. Not to mention the fact that as Victor is dyslexic, this particular test would hardly be accurate when applied to him. I am sorry for telling, Victor, but you have already had enough people telling you that you're unintelligent --despite the evidence to the contrary -- simply because you failed to perform adequately on their tests. I see no reason to allow that travesty to continue when I am in a position to prevent it. The mere fact that you have not been diagnosed is negligence on their part not a lack of intelligence on yours. The indications are all there for anybody that bothered to pay attention." Eric's tone was scathing until the last sentence when he turned to face his brother and repeated his apology earnestly, "I am sorry for revealing this information, Victor, but I will not allow anyone to belittle you ever again, not while I can prevent it. You are one of the most intelligent people I have ever met." Davis watched Victor closely during this discourse and saw various emotions from embarrassment, shame, anger and fear flicker across his face before stunned amazement settled there at Eric's last statement.
"Ya really think so, Eric. I ain't very good at book learning and stuff. Can't hardly read and I don't write to good either." Vin was unable to hide the hope in his voice.
"You merely process information differently than most of us do. That does not mean that you are less intelligent or less deserving of respect and had you been properly diagnosed, I am sure that you would have excelled in those areas as you have in others." Ezra paused briefly before continuing. "I've done considerable reading on the subject. I can help you, if you'll let me?" uncertainty colored Ezra's voice as he knew he was treading on dangerous ground with his friend. Vin had always been extremely self-conscious of his lack of formal education and had obviously believed the cretins who insisted he was less intelligent than his classmates.
The anger that was evident in Ezra's eyes at the way his friend had been treated left Vin stunned. He knew Ezra wouldn't lie to him about something this important. "You'd do that for me, Eric? I ain't never asked before because I thought maybe you'd be embarrassed. I mean, you went to them fancy schools and all and I ain't hardly made it through the regular ones."
"Not having the opportunity is hardly the same as not being capable, and you, Victor, are more than capable." Hearing the complete certainty in his friend's voice began to heal a part of Vin's soul that had been broken for so long he was barely aware of the injury anymore. Ezra Standish, one of the most intelligent, if not the most intelligent person he had ever known, thought that he - Vin Tanner -- was smart.
"Thanks, Eric. I'll take you up on that offer someday, if'n you don't mind." Vin let his eyes convey his thanks, and Ezra nodded in response and smiled slightly unable to speak so great was his relief that his friend had believed him and accepted his offer. Even after three years with Team 7, Ezra still found himself wondering when the past would repeat itself, and he would be left alone again. Having never experienced the friendship and loyalty Team 7 showed to each other before in his life, he was still surprised at times when his overtures of friendship tentatively placed in front of the others were accepted.
Davis had listened to and watched the by-play between the two boys in utter silence and complete bewilderment. There were entire conversations going on with just a few words and looks and there was obviously an underlying meaning to what had just happened, but he was damned if he could figure out what it was. Hoping that he would be able to salvage something from the day's activities, he decided to start with a different intelligence test. He then proceeded on to the ink blots, word association, and the story pictures that were to be used as a starting point to describe the situation you thought was taking place. After a thoroughly frustrating morning, the only conclusions that Davis had come to was that the two boys were extraordinarily intelligent, stubborn beyond belief, extremely cautious and defensive, and complete wise asses with a penchant for practical jokes. Finally conceding defeat, Davis left the boys to their own devices and went downstairs.
"Well," said Jo who was waiting at the bottom of the stairs with Matthew and Doctor Williams. Matthew and Williams took one look at their frazzled friend and started laughing.
"Its not funny. I'd like to see you two deal with them. Good Lord. In a nutshell, they are both very intelligent - possibly genius level, although confirming that would take some additional tests. Also, considering everything they must have been through, they appear to be surprisingly well adjusted. Other than that, I would advise you against turning your backs on them," said Davis with a slight smile and shaking his head.
"Just what do you mean by that?" inquired Doctor Williams. "Do they have problems with aggression? Some of their reactions are obviously conditioned reflexes like their reaction to Matthew yesterday, and I don't think I even want to know what has happened to them to cause those. But do you think they are dangerous?"
"Hell, yes they're dangerous, but only if they're threatened. As far as unprovoked attacks go, the only ones they've made have been to my sanity, and I can't even really say those weren't provoked." Davis said with a slight smile. "They laughed at the ink blots. Gagged at the children's music tape I put on and got into an argument about what to listen to. Eric insisted on classical while Victor insisted on classic rock and they spent half an hour debating the merits of each before compromising on a Jazz/Blues station. Eric gave me a novel when asked about the theme pictures while Victor gave me answer's like, 'They're fightin'. Word association was even less successful. Hell, not all of Eric's answers are even English and half the ones that were I'm going to have to look up, and Victor point blank refused to say anything after announcing that it was ridiculous to think I could tell anything about him by playing stupid games. Finally, I decided to try art and got the paints out and asked them to draw some pictures. They apparently found that incredibly insulting and decided to let me know."
"What did they do?" Matthew was intrigued now. It wasn't often someone got the better of Davis.
"They thanked me for my time. I didn't realize what they had done until Eric shook my hand and Victor clapped me on the shoulder." Davis held out a hand that was covered with paint before turning to reveal several small blue and red hand prints on his once white shirt. Matthew started laughing as he headed up the stairs to check on the boys.
Matthew found the two boys in the bathroom washing their hands. "Happy with yourselves?"
"We merely felt that we had been subjected to sufficient testing for the day, although we are sorry about Dr. Davis' shirt. I do hope that the cleaners are able to remove the stains properly. The paints were water based so I would not expect that there would be a problem with it."
"You looked at the paint composition before deciding to do that." Matthew was incredulous.
"Of course. We wouldna done it if'n we thought it would trash anything. We were tired of the tests and were just havin a bit of fun. I mean, he wanted us to paint -- it ain't our fault he didn't really specify what we should paint. Sides, it should wash up O.K. Eric said as how the shirt was cotton so it shouldn't have to be dry cleaned or anything." Victor grinned as he finished his explanation of their actions as Matthew started laughing.
"Well, I have to admit, you two definitely keep things interesting. Are you ready for some lunch?"
The two admitted to being hungry, and once again followed Matthew downstairs to the kitchen to find Dr. Davis wearing a t-shirt as Jo applied copious amounts of detergent to the once white dress shirt he had been wearing. Dr. Williams was hiding a grin and was actually setting the table for what was apparently turning into a group meal. Somewhat shamefacedly, Vin and Ezra apologized for painting Dr. Davis and were rewarded with a quick smile.
"That's OK, boys. I should have known better." he paused to look at some papers before continuing, "I was being more than a bit patronizing."
The days that followed fell into a routine of sorts as the boys recovered. After spending the mornings being tutored/tested by Dr. Davis, they were for the most part left to their own devices. No one wanted to push the boys for fear they would feel threatened enough to run. Matthew was continuing his hunt to try to find out who they were, and Dr. Williams was monitoring their physical recovery. Davis was trying in vain to get them to really talk to him and regularly left the morning sessions shaking his head and swearing at the two stubborn and closemouthed boys who seemed to take great delight in pushing his buttons.
After the morning's lessons and tests, Eric and Victor would spend some time together as Eric assisted Victor with his reading skills. Eric and Victor were recovering quickly and when Dr. Williams finally yielded to their repeated demands to be allowed up and about another difference between the two boys became evident. After lunch, they boys would go their separate ways for a few hours in the afternoon when Eric would ensconce himself on the couch reading while Victor took to exploring Jo's property. Physically they were almost completely healed, and Dr. Williams' visits had turned into just that -- visits. Intrigued by the two children he continued to stop by just to talk in the hopes of discovering something that would help positively identify the boys. Despite Matthew and Davis' best efforts, they had been unable to locate any missing persons reports matching the boys' descriptions, and Matthew was getting increasingly frustrated.
The boys had been there for almost a week when things came to a head. Nobody had realized the extent of the grudge that Doctor Grady felt at being bypassed and discounted by a couple of children and they were unprepared for his actions. Waiting until Matthew and Davis were on another case, he showed up at the house with a court order authorizing the transfer of Victor and Eric to a state run facility. The documents were legal, and while Jo knew the judge that had signed them probably had the best intentions, he had obviously not been given the full story. Judge Edwards was a good man and would never knowingly endanger a child, and Jo was sure that he was going to be extremely unhappy once he knew everything. Unfortunately, while that would probably allow her to get the children back, it did not give her any immediate recourse to deny the transfer.
Ezra was distracted from his book by the sound of cars pulling up. No one was supposed to come out today as Matthew, Davis and Dr. Williams had all mentioned previous commitments. With the caution that was ingrained after years of undercover work, he approached the window to see who was arriving and was surprised to see Dr. Grady, a uniformed officer, and two men dressed as orderlies. Whatever Grady had in mind, it didn't look good. Shaking his head at the look on Jo's face when she read the sheaf of papers Grady handed her, he began a strategic retreat. If he could get to the woods and meet up with Vin, they could regroup from there. While roughing it in the wilderness so to speak wasn't his idea of a good time, he knew his partner had sufficient expertise that a day or two outside while the weather was mild wouldn't be a problem to anything except his wardrobe. Allowing the curtain to fall back into place, he headed for the window. He could hear yelling downstairs and did not want to risk going downstairs to the backdoor. The house was old and he and Vin had already tried out various means of escape from "their" room. Honestly, Dr. Williams couldn't really have expected them to stay in bed for two whole days when they first arrived.
Ezra had just left the window and was on the roof when he noticed movement in the field to the right and realized that his partner was heading back to the house oblivious to the situation unfolding. Hearing the door to the room he had just left open and Grady's voice raised in anger, Ezra knew he didn't have time to make a clean escape. He did not have his partner's skill in the woods and without more of a head start than they would have the two of them together would leave a trail a blind man could follow. However, Vin on his own would be the next thing to invisible given any lead whatsoever on his pursuers. In a split second, Ezra made his decision. The freedom of one of them guaranteed was a better bet than the possible freedom of both. Besides it was his fault that they were caught off guard. He should have been paying more attention to his surroundings. Such a lapse was unforgivable during an undercover assignment, and he should have continued treating their current situation as such an assignment. But, he thought shaking his head ruefully, it had been nice to have a taste of the childhood his real life had denied him.
Making his decision in an instant, Ezra abandoned any pretense at stealth and rose to his feet waving his arms to catch Vin's attention before shouting, "Vic, Run!" and motioning back into the woods. He had barely gotten the warning out before he felt a hand grasp the back of his jacket and drag him forcefully back into the room he had just left. Twisting in his captor's grip, Ezra found himself staring into Dr. Grady's face. Raising his arms, Ezra slid out of the overlarge jacket and hit the floor in a controlled tumble before rolling to his feet and taking off in a dead run. He felt a hand grab his upper arm, and his flight came to an abrupt halt when he felt his shoulder dislocate at the strain. Emitting a strangled gasp, he looked up at the young officer who had prevented his escape who was staring down at him in horror.
"Oh God, kid. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you."
Ezra heard the approach of another person and fought to control the pain that was radiating from his arm. It hadn't hurt this bad in a long time. He felt someone kneel next to him and he slowly turned his head to see one of the medical attendants looking at him and speaking softly as gentle hands determined the extent of his injury. A shout from outside startled everyone involved and Ezra instinctively pulled away from the source of his pain. The sudden movement caused the bones to grind together with a sound that made the adults cringe and sparked a bolt of pure agony that jolted through Ezra stealing his breath and leaving unconsciousness in its wake.
Vin was unaware of what was transpiring until he was halfway across the backyard on his way to the house and saw Ezra on the roof signaling frantically. He saw Ezra motioning back toward the trees and a muffled "run" before his partner was pulled forcefully back into the house. He turned back to the woods and ran when he saw Dr. Grady and someone dressed as a hospital orderly come out the back door and begin shouting for him to stop. Although it went against the grain to abandon his partner, he realized that one of them had to maintain their freedom and that Ezra would be to put it bluntly "pissed" if Vin screwed up the chance that he had been given. Once he reached the woods, he began to circle around so that he would be able to see the front of the house. He was devoutly wishing for his rifle when he saw an unconscious Ezra carried out of the house and placed in the backseat of one of the official looking cars parked in the driveway.
The young police officer who had carried Ezra outside settled him gently in the back seat before returning to the house, and Vin waited cautiously for a few minutes before approaching the two cars. He gently shook Ezra but got no response. Damn, Ez was really out of it. Determined not to be separated from his friend, Vin popped the trunk and used some of the medical tape he found in the first aid kit to cover the lock before climbing in. He could do this. He repeated the chant over and over as the trunk closed in around him. Focusing on Ezra, Vin was able to just barely control the panic that threatened to overwhelm him. After what seemed like an eternity, he heard Jo yelling at the men as they approached the cars. He heard movement in the back seat and a muffled groan from Ezra before he felt the car start up and drive away. The trip to the hospital seemed to last an eternity to Vin, although he was relieved when he finally heard his partner's voice as Ezra slowly regained consciousness and used the quiet southern drawl as a lifeline. As long as he had a focus, the walls didn't seem to press in so badly.
"Where is my brother?" Ezra questioned his captors. At least, he thought, they had seen fit to put his shoulder back in place and strap the arm so the pain was manageable.
"We'll have to come back for him. We lost him when he went into the woods, but I'm sure he's OK. Don't worry, you'll be back together again soon. We won't let anything happen to him," said the young officer showing an endearing naivete from Ezra's perspective. He highly doubted that the he and Vin ending up together was high on Grady's list.
"If Victor has gone into the woods, you won't find him unless he wishes to be found." Ezra smirked at the glare that was shot into the back seat as Grady turned to look at him. One of the two orderlies was driving the car. Grady sitting in the front seat and the young police officer, whose name was apparently Patrick Allen sat in the back seat with Ezra shooting remorseful looks at him.
"And, just what makes you think that we won't be able to find him? What can you tell us about what he might do? You don't want anything to happen to him out there by himself do you?" said Grady trying unsuccessfully to act concerned about the missing boy.
The young officer on the other hand seemed beside himself at the thought of a little boy out in the woods by himself and kept shooting anxious glances out the window and patting Ezra absentmindedly on his uninjured shoulder.
"I am afraid, that I am unable to answer any of your questions as far as what Victor's actions might be. If you want him, you'll have to find him yourself. I have the utmost confidence in his abilities and will not betray him to the likes of you." Vin listening in the trunk shook his head at his partner. Damn but the man could be irritating.
"Just what do you mean by that?"
"Obviously you are a coward. You waited until the Sheriff and Doctor Davis were both otherwise occupied in order to come forcibly remove two children from their legally appointed guardian."
"Dr. Grady, you said you had all the papers and had OK'd it with the Chief?" Ezra feared the young officer sitting next to him was either going to hyperventilate or was going to be ill and attempted to avert the impending disaster.
"Might I inquire as to just what you intend to do with me, sir?"
"I'm taking you to the hospital. That's where you should have been taken in the first place. After that, we'll let the courts decide, but I am going to recommend that both you and your brother go to the state hospital for treatment." Replied Grady.
"And just what kind of treatment do you believe we are in need of Doctor? Given that you have had minimal contact with either of us, how do you justify what is obviously a personal vendetta of some kind? Is it truly my brother and myself that you have your quarrel with or is it the Sheriff and Doctor Davis who have unjustly earned your animosity for whatever imagined slight they may have perpetrated against you.'
Listening in the trunk, Vin was not surprised to hear a muffled grunt and a resounding slap. Ezra excelled at inciting violence in the mildest individual when he smirked at them and made some supposedly casual comment that cut like a knife. What was surprising was the shocked voice of the young officer, "Ow, Dammit, Doctor Grady, what do you think you're doing? You don't have any call for hitting the kid. Are you alright, kid? He didn't get you did he?"
Vin heard his partner's reply and read the underlying shock that colored the words. "I'm quite unscathed, sir, thanks to you. Unlike yourself." Ezra had rarely been defended as a child, and he tentatively reached out to the red patch showing on the man's arm. "Why did you do it?"
"What do you mean, why did I do it? Kids aren't ever supposed to get hit like that, no matter whose doing it? Jesus, kid, what the hell have you been through?" the young voice trailed off and Ezra was once again shocked into speechlessness when he was gently pulled into a hug and heard the young man whisper, "It'll be alright, kid. Just hang tough, OK. I'll watch out for your brother, and I'll make sure the two of you are alright. I didn't know about Grady, but I'll make sure the sheriff finds out what's going on as soon as I can."
They arrived at the hospital and Ezra was removed from the young man's protective hold by the two orderlies that had been driving the cars. Ezra surmised from the presence of the four adults and two vehicles, that Grady had intended to keep the two boys separated during the trip to the hospital and he was exceedingly relieved that his partner had made his escape successfully. Glancing around, he realized that Patrick had departed to locate his chief, and that he was alone and at the tender mercies of the two behemoths that were holding his arms and the unpleasant Dr. Grady.
Ezra did fine until he actually got to the hospital doors and the sight and smell triggered a fight or flight response. He didn't have any of the team here with him this time, and hospitals were dangerous places to be on your own. At the doors, he dug in his heels and glanced back over his shoulder in search of an escape route just in time to see the trunk of the car they had arrived in open slightly. Shit, if anyone turned around now Vin was going to get caught. With that thought in mind, he proceeded to throw a truly spectacular fit. With his good arm, he elbowed one of the men holding him in the stomach, brought his heel down on the instep and then kicked the other one in the back of the knee, before continuing the movement and kicking Dr. Grady squarely in the stomach. At least, he told himself, that was what he had aimed for. He had forgotten the height difference and his actual target ended up being somewhat lower than intended. Unfortunately, by this time his original target had somewhat recovered from the blow to the stomach, at least enough to catch his arm and prevent his escape. Sensing movement behind him, he attempted to turn around and had only a moment to register the doctor who was standing with a syringe in his hand before he felt the prick of the needle and darkness took hold. Forcing his head around, he caught a glimpse of the car with its trunk firmly closed, and he succumbed to the drug he had just been given secure in the knowledge that his partner was both safe and close by. He wasn't alone, and Vin would be coming for him as soon as the opportunity presented itself.
Vin had seen Ezra escorted to the doors of the hospital and seen him glance back over his shoulder and register the open trunk before all Hell broke loose. Fighting the impulse to go help his partner, he knew that Ezra was providing the distraction he needed in order to get safely out of sight, he took advantage of the opportunity glancing back once to see his friend collapse after being injected with something. Damn, he circled around the hospital looking for an alternate entrance so that he could get inside and find out where Ez had been taken. By tonight, the drugs they had given him would have worn off and they would make their escape.
Vin had made it inside and had discovered a new avenue open to him as he was now small enough to maneuver through the air ducts without undo difficulty and without feeling so closed in that his claustrophobia took over. Listening to Grady once he had located the SOB's office, he had discovered where they had put Ez and he was currently watching his partner through the grill to determine the nurse's routine. Looking down at his friend, Vin shook his head in consternation. Ezra's left arm was strapped to his side to support the injured shoulder, his ankles and his uninjured arm were restrained and there was an additional restraining strap across his chest. Damn, Ez was going to panic when he woke up.
It had been late afternoon when Grady and company showed up at Jo's house, a move that was obviously designed to prevent any action being taken until the next morning. A lot could happen overnight, and Vin was determined that no additional harm was going to befall Ez. He was distracted from his thoughts when he spotted movement in the bed below. Shit, Ez was waking up. Vin prayed silently that his friend didn't hurt himself any further once he realized he was strapped down. Seeing his friend's sluggish movements and the obvious attempt to maintain control, Vin tapped lightly on the grate hoping to attract Ez's attention.
Ezra regained consciousness slowly and his first awareness was of the antiseptic smell of a hospital. His second was that he couldn't move and he struggled to remember what had occurred. He fought the restraints frantically until he finally brought the pieces together in his drug-fogged mind. Taking several deep breaths to quell the rising panic, he clung desperately to one fact that kept it from taking complete control - Vin was close by. Ezra knew he just had to hold on until Vin showed up and they would make their escape together. Slowly opening his eyes, he glanced around. He was alone in a small room that only had one other bed in it, and that one was empty. Hearing voices in the hall, he closed his eyes and pretended to still be asleep. He heard the door open and someone approach the bed and felt a gentle hand reach out and brush the hair out of his eyes before he heard a soft feminine voice say,
"Are you really sure he needs to be kept restrained. He's just a little boy and he's hurt."
"I know, but Doctor Grady said he had nightmares and had hurt himself and that restraining him was the only way to keep him safe. Besides did you see some of the scars he's got, I saw them when he was brought in, and somebody's worked the poor kid over bad at sometime in the past. I'd be likely to wake up violent if I had gone through what he has. They say he's got a brother that they're still looking for. This one, Eric, warned the other one so that his brother could get away. I guess they don't trust adults, and frankly, I can understand why. Come on, lets let the kid sleep. Maybe his demons will leave him alone for tonight. Grady said he'd be back in the morning to check on him, and the meds he's scheduled for should keep him out until then. Just follow your normal routine and call me if you think there's a problem. I'll be on duty till first shift arrives."
Once the door had closed behind the visitors, Ezra opened his eyes and cautiously looked around the room. He heard a slight tapping sound and turned his head to try to locate the source. His eyes were drawn to the ventilation duct and he was just able to make out a shape behind the screen and smiled slightly when two large blue eyes came into focus. He wasn't alone, and Vin wouldn't let anything happen to him. The nurse, at least he assumed it was a nurse that he had heard earlier would be back at some point, and they needed to learn the schedule before anything else could be done. He nodded briefly in Vin's direction before closing his eyes, giving every appearance of still being asleep depending upon Vin to watch his back.
After learning the nurse's schedule, Vin slipped down into the room. They decided to wait until around 2:00 in the morning before making their escape. Vin retreated back into the ducting and left to gather supplies for their journey, but not before he had loosened Ezra's restraints leaving them in position so that only a close inspection would reveal that they were no longer secure. He also adjusted the IV so that the next time Ezra was injected with whatever drug they were giving him, it wouldn't enter his system hiding the fact that the needle was no longer in his arm with the bandages that were around it.
At 2:20, approximately 15 minutes after the most recent check by the nurse, Vin slid out of the ducting and helped boost a groggy but conscious Ezra up into the duct work. Following the route that Vin had mapped out earlier, the two made their way to an unused storage room where they changed into clothes that Vin had scavenged earlier from the hospital laundry. He had found a surprising number of useful items during the time he spent scavenging in the hospital and had "borrowed" several blankets, some rope, food, an extra change of clothes, and a few other items that include a flashlight and first aid supplies and a couple of pocket knives. He had also managed to locate the clothes and shoes Ez had been wearing when he first arrived. For some reason, his partner had insisted that the items in question be retrieved and he had learned long ago that Ez usually had reasons when he became adamant about a request. He had laid the blankets out and divided the items into two piles before rolling them into the blankets and securing them with the rope resulting in two bedrolls that doubled as backpacks leaving their hands free. Once they were attired appropriately, it became a simple matter of utilizing the back entrance (an open window in said storeroom) that had allowed Vin access in the first place.
Vin figured they probably had a couple of hours before anyone noticed that Ez was missing and that following that discovery the first step would be a search of the hospital. That probably gave them between three and five hours depending upon how thoroughly the hospital was searched before they had to fear pursuit. He considered going back to Jo's place but changed his mind when he decided that would be the first place they would look for them. The fact that Grady had done an end run around Matthew, Jo and Davis meant that they were no longer safe there and besides they needed to get back to Denver anyway. Chris was probably ready to blow a gasket by now.
Vin and Ezra headed away from the hospital and relying on Vin's abilities in the woods they made their escape into the forest that bordered the road across from the hospital. Vin was determined to put some distance between themselves and the pursuers he knew would be coming. Sensing his partner had stopped once more, Vin turned to his friend,
"Ez, come on we gotta keep moving."
"Vin, wherere we goin?" the confusion on Ezra's face and the hesitant language clearly indicated that he was still fighting the drugs he had been given. Vin had grabbed Ezra's chart for future reference but didn't understand any of it and so had no idea how long the effects would last and settled for replying once again,
"Somewhere safe, Ez. Now come on."
Vin had lost track of the number of times this scene had been played out. Unfortunately, Ez in his current state seemed to be incapable of walking and talking at the same time resulting in rather sporadic progress. Vin afraid that between the rough trail he was being forced to take and his friends current state they would be separated had finally used some of the rope to tether the two of them together like explorers in a snow storm.