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The lunch bell rang and the children gathered in the lunchroom. JD listlessly pushed his tray along the counter, not even noticing the food on the steam table. The lunch ladies immediately noticed that something was wrong with the little brunet. Margaret, an older, grandmotherly woman, slipped around the counter and knelt near the boys.
Are you not feeling well, sweetie? You hardly have anything on your tray. Would you prefer a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Id be glad to make one for you.
JD nodded, his lower lip sticking out and his eyes brimming with tears. He was trying so hard to do what Buck told him, he didnt want Vin to be sent to another school. At least while he was with Uncle Nathan, JD knew he was safe. Letting his hand slip from the edge of the tray, he allowed the woman to guide him to a table and accepted the carton of milk she pressed into his hand. Vin slid in next to him with his lunch tray but he didnt touch it.
The lunch lady made a pair of sandwiches and carried them out to the boys. JD Dunne was a favorite of many of the staff. The child was so God-given beautiful that he was impossible to ignore and he had such a sweet disposition that he just wrapped people around his finger. Vin Tanner ran a close second in many peoples minds. It hadnt taken long for the boys story to circulate amongst the staff; most of them knew how the boy had been protecting and caring for JD while they lived on the streets. Setting the plate of sandwiches on the table, Margaret cupped each boys cheek before returning to the serving line. They always kept peanut butter and jelly around for children who didnt appear to be eating the regular lunch; it was a policy the new principal had instituted.
The CSI unit recovered six more bullets and one spent casing in the back of the store. Using laser beams, they were busy figuring out the angle of the ricochet of each shot that had hit the cinderblock walls. Any shots that intersected the area where Lawson and Roth had been standing were marked by strings. By mid afternoon, the inside of the building resembled a giant spider web.
Three phone calls later, Ezra approached Buck. He could get them before a family court judge to hear a temporary custody hearing, but not until Monday. In the mean time, he had also started a motion for Buck to adopt both boys. Roy was optimistic since there wasnt a big demand for people wanting to adopt two older boys.
They gathered at a restaurant for lunch. The men were subdued, eating in silence. No one mentioned the problem at the school, Chris didnt know where they had gone and didnt ask. Josiah left the table and headed for the mens room. Nathan went over to the counter to talk to a friend he recognized and Ezra slipped outside to take a phone call, leaving Chris and Buck alone at the table. Their eyes met and Chris turned away.
It had begun when Buck showed up at the dry cleaners, that tiny flame of jealousy inside of Chris. The harder he tried to quell the feeling, the larger the flame grew. They would be leaving work in a few hours and Buck was going to get to see JD and hold him and be there for him. Chris would be going to the ranch, alone. Despair ran a close race with jealousy. The sensation left him feeling like he wanted to crawl out of his skin. Every time he looked at Buck, the feelings surged. Finally, Chris slid out of the booth and walked out of the restaurant. He got into the Dodge and left.
The last bell rang and the children streamed out of the building to their busses and rides. The principal and the counselor had shown up to make sure that Vin and JD didnt get on the bus, accidentally or on purpose. Rain and Mrs. Potter were waiting in the parents parking lot when the boys came out of the building. Vin tightened his grip on JDs hand as he clenched his teeth. The boys approached the women and stood, almost daring them to try to separate them. Gloria opened the door of her Cooper and waited. Vin finally led JD to the car and nudged him into the seat. The boys locked gazes for a minute before the blond backed away and allowed the door to be closed. JD immediately rested both hands and his chin in the open window; his eyes filled with tears. Vin nodded at JD before turning to go with Rain to the waiting Volkswagen.
Vin sat silently on the ride home. He kept his face turned toward the window so that Rain would not see the tears. His hands were tightly clenched into fists as they rested on his thighs. He was just barely holding back the cries of anguish that were ripping through his soul.
JD sucked his thumb all the way to the condo. He pretended not to hear the questions that Mrs. Potter directed his way. Gigantic tears rolled free with every blink. His little legs were beginning to hurt from keeping them clenched so tightly against the edge of the seat. He knew he had to hold it in or they would take Vin away and he didnt want that to happen.
Laying the roses on the ground in front of the head stone, Chris knelt between the two graves. Tears flowed freely down his face. It had to be worse to lose Vin and know that he was still alive and not know where he was. At least when hed lost Adam, he knew exactly where he was and could go there anytime.
I think Id better take the watch at the ranch tonight, Josiah told Ezra as they were getting ready to leave work. Chris is less likely to try to use me for a punching bag.
If you say so. Just be warned, he has a 38 squirreled away, he threatened me with it last night.
Josiahs eyes widened at the statement. Ezra said it so calmly, almost as if Chris had threatened him with a water balloon. The older man shook his head as he gripped the southerner by the shoulder. Nathan came out of the break room and caught Buck as he was getting ready to leave.
Hey, why dont you bring JD and have supper with us this evening?
Are you sure thatll be okay with Nettie? I dont want to get you in hot water with her.
Let me worry about her, you just come and have supper with us. Bring Ezra with you.
The Dodge was nowhere in sight when Josiah reached the ranch. He carried the groceries inside and started supper. A couple of hours later, he heard the truck pull in and looked out the window. That Chris had been crying was plain in the swollen, red-rimmed eyes. The bow of his shoulders bespoke of the intense sorrow he was feeling.
I dont need a baby sitter, Josiah, he growled as soon as he entered the kitchen.
No, but you do need companionship. You shouldnt be alone right now. Sit down, suppers almost ready, Josiah directed.
I mean it, Josiah. I dont need you here, Chris insisted.
Then make me leave.
The Larabee glare was less hazel fire and more pain and anguish as it turned on the older agent. Josiah absorbed it and returned it in the form of gentle blue support and friendship. A compromise was reached and the two men consumed the meal.
Are we going to bring Vin home with us? JD asked hopefully as they pulled up in front of the Jacksons home.
Im sorry, Little Bit, he has to stay here but we can all have supper together and you boys can play together for a while, okay?
Buck was beside himself with worry over the way JD was when he arrived at the condo after work. The boy was curled up in a ball on the couch where he had been since arriving, according to Mrs. Potter. He hadnt said a word or shed a tear that she could tell. He had spoken a little when Buck and Ezra arrived, mostly in response to Ezras relentless barrage of questions. The southerner was giving JD what he gave them in abundance, ceaseless, incessant chatter.
The boys disappeared into the bedroom, leaving the adults free to talk. Buck made good use of the time to ask Ezra and Nathan about what the CSI investigators were doing. After a long-winded explanation, he was no clearer on the subject, but it was time to eat. Both boys filed out of the bedroom and took seats at the table. They dutifully cleaned their plates, although Buck was sure that JD was going to make himself sick.
The little brunet was forcing himself to eat when he didnt feel like it. Toward the end of the meal, JD bolted from the table and threw up in the hallway when he couldnt make it to the bathroom. Vin was right there, sheltering the tiny, terrified child as the others ran to try to help. JD looked up from the mess and into the concerned faces standing around him. Instantly, he began to shake. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he scooted closer to Vin.
Come here, JD, let me get you cleaned up, Buck said softly.
Dont let her send Vin away, Buck, Im sorry I made the mess. Please dont let her send him away! I didnt mean to JD shrank back farther into Vins embrace. The older childs eyes were beyond terrified; Vin was paralyzed. Like a trapped, wild animal, his eyes darted from one threatening figure to the next.
Buck felt as if someone had reached inside his chest and ripped his heart right out. The pain the children were projecting was palpable. Turning on his heel, he ran up the hall, through the living room and out into the front yard. With his fists, he battered the hood of the Chevy. After the fourth or fifth blow, a hand closed on his shoulder and pulled him away from the vehicle. Turning, he faced Nathan and burst into tears.
I cant do this to them, Nathan! I cant take it! It isnt right. Did you see their little faces? Theyre terrified! Of me, of all of us! Buck raged as the tears poured from his eyes.
Josiah opened the dog pen and let the puppies out. Elvis and Ringo raced around the yard, barking excitedly. Chris opened the sliding door and the puppies raced into the house before he could close the door and stop them. With a huff of disgust, he went back into the house and called for them. Ringo yipped excitedly, allowing Chris to zero in on their location. Both puppies were in the boys room. Chris scooped the dogs up and carried them back out to the deck. Instead of putting them down, he sank into one of the chaise loungers and hugged them to his chest.
After Buck and Nathans hasty withdrawal from the house, Rain took charge. She ran into the kitchen and gathered up the trashcan and the dustpan. While she was doing that, Ezra coaxed the boys up from the floor so he could pick them up and carry them into the living room. After a minute of initial tension, JD buried his face in the southerners neck and cried. Vin rested his cheek on Ezras other shoulder and reached across to pat JD on the back.
When Rain had finished with the mess on the floor, she went outside to check on Buck. He and Nathan were sitting on the edge of the porch, Nathan watching Buck while he cried it out. Slipping quietly back into the house, she poured a cup of coffee for each of them and carried them outside. Buck sniffled softly before taking the cup in one hand. Nathan took the other cup and reached out to draw Rain onto his knee.
Are the boys all right? He whispered into her ear.
Ezra has them, she replied.
By the time the three of them returned to the house, Ezra had settled both boys in one bed in Vins room. He was reciting, from memory, the story Horton Hears a Who. Vin was spooned around JD and they were sharing a pillow. Cat was tightly clenched in Vins hand and pressed into JDs stomach. Both boys were nearly asleep.
Do you think it would be all right if I left JD here overnight? Buck asked.
Might make things harder tomorrow night, Nathan offered.
Most of an hour later, Ezra lifted JD from Vins arms and carried him from the room. The little blond nodded to the southerner at the door before rolling over toward the wall. Buck came to his feet and accepted the sleeping child, pressing a kiss on the dark hair before sitting down with him.
Vin knows that JD is going to be all right. I had a long talk with them about the situation. Theyre still confused about the difference between being good and allowing their feelings to show. JD was so stressed about being good that he made himself eat more than his little stomach could tolerate, hence the vomiting. Vin only wants to be allowed to continue to see JD, hes terrified of being permanently separated from him, Ezra explained.
Silence descended as the adults considered what Ezra had said. Nathan and Rain had dealt with other children who acted out after being placed in foster care but they had never seen children so emotionally devastated by it. Buck glanced at the clock and slowly came to his feet with JD.
We should go. See you in the morning? Buck asked Rain.
Yes, Ill bring him to school. Do you want me to stop by and pick up JD?
If its not too much trouble. I think itd be easier on them.
If JD wakes up, give him some soup or something light to eat. It isnt good for him to go to sleep with an empty stomach, Nathan advised.
After the puppies were shut back into the pen, Chris went to the refrigerator and brought back two bottles of beer. He and Josiah sat on the deck and watched the sun set behind the mountains. Josiah left Chris alone on the deck and got ready for bed. Chris wandered in around midnight and crawled into bed. He tossed and turned for a long while before sleep claimed him.
When the alarm went off in the morning, Chris glared at it. He had finally fallen asleep and felt like someone had blown sand into his eyes as he ground his fists into them to bring the room into focus. He could smell coffee and biscuits and heard the shower running in the other bathroom. Catching a quick shower, he headed for the kitchen.
Josiah had wakened at sunrise and started breakfast. While the coffee was brewing, he stood on the deck and plea-bargained with God. He didnt want anything for himself, he didnt even pray for the good of the world as he normally did, instead he prayed for the boys. Although he trusted that God wouldnt give them more than they could bear, it seemed wrong to put them through this so soon after everything else. When a particularly beautiful beam broke through the early morning clouds, he felt he had gotten an affirmative answer.
The team arrived at the office and looked at the preliminary reports from the CSI unit. They were still reasonably sure that the bullet that killed Roth had come from Chriss gun. They had accounted for all but one of his shots. It didnt necessarily mean that he would be charged with anything, it was still possible to rule it as a justified shooting in light of the circumstances. There was a phone call for Buck around mid morning that he took in the conference room.
Ezras stepbrother, Roy, called to say that he was filing the paperwork for Buck to adopt both boys. He had applied for an attorney to be assigned to the children as their representative in court. Because of the unusual nature of the petition, Buck was going to have to pay for that attorney out of his own pocket. There was also a required psychological examination for both the boys and himself. Buck wrote down all of the information and thanked Roy profusely for his help. It was the first hopeful feeling Buck had felt since the whole mess began.
The boys did well at school on Wednesday, in spite of JDs clingy, whiny attitude. He had thrown up again after breakfast. He managed to keep down the cookies and milk from his morning snack, but lunch had not stayed down. By mid afternoon, the little brunet was showing the wear and tear of the situation. As he reached to dip his paintbrush in the same jar as another little boy, the jar tipped over, spilling red paint all over the table. It was too much for JD and he curled up in the corner, rocking back and forth as he sucked his thumb and whimpered.
Mrs. Potter was advised of the situation when she picked him up from school. On the way home, JD complained of a stomachache. As soon as they reached the condo, he curled up on the corner of the couch and fell asleep.
Vin was quiet and withdrawn on the ride home. He did respond to Rain when she asked him about his day, but his answers were monosyllable. She noticed that Vin was rubbing the bridge of his nose and she asked him if he felt all right, he told her that his head hurt.
Chris sat in his office, staring out the window. He could feel his veneer of control slipping away once more. More than anything, he wanted to get drunk and kick the spit out of somebody, just to blow off steam. Judge Travis said that there was every reason to believe he would be cleared on the shooting in a few days but every day apart from Vin was eating a hole inside of him. He opened his desk drawer and looked at the bottle he kept there for special occasions. Like a sirens song, it beckoned to him. He could almost feel the burning sensation the liquor would make as he swallowed it. He could almost feel the complete loss of control that would come with its burning embrace.
Slamming the drawer, Chris stormed out of his office and into the break room. He felt like Godzilla was destroying Tokyo inside of his skull. Tossing back four Tylenol, he washed them down with a swig of cold coffee. There were donuts on the table that Buck and Ezra brought them in that morning. Just the thought of eating made him feel sick and he turned from the sight of food.
JD had recharged a little by the time Buck arrived home. Mrs. Potter explained about the vomiting at school and the lethargy at home before she left. Ezra suggested something light for supper for all of them. He had noticed that Buck had done little more than push his food around at the restaurant at noon. Chicken noodle soup and toasted cheese sandwiches were prepared and the three of them sat down to eat. JDs eyes immediately welled up with tears as he looked at the food.
Whats the matter, Little Bit?
This is Vins favorite meal, he whimpered.
Ezra rolled his eyes as his shoulders dropped. He had inadvertently brought more pain to the child. Grabbing the napkin from his lap, he dropped it on his plate and left the table. Retreating to the balcony off of his bedroom, he stood shaking with rage.
Whats wrong with Uncle Ezra? JD enquired.
I think he feels bad because he made you feel bad.
How did he make me feel bad? The question had come so naturally that it was like JD was more like his old self.
Well, I think its because you look like youre about to cry over the meal he made for us, Buck explained. JD thought on that for a moment before sliding out of his chair. Quietly, he made his way up the stairs to Ezras door. With his tender little fist, he knocked on the door.
Uncle Ezra? Can I come in?
Of course, JD, you are always welcome, the southerner responded by habit.
JD opened the door and crossed the room to the balcony. Ezra knelt down and studied the intense, dark eyes.
I didnt mean to make you feel bad, Uncle Ezra. Will you come back down and eat your supper? I like chicken noodle soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, too.
Unbidden tears stung the green eyes as he gathered JD to his chest. Ezra lifted the child and carried him back to the dining room. Settling JD into his chair, Ezra pressed his cheek to the top of the childs head.
As soon as Nathan arrived home, Rain sent him to check on Vin. He had been lying down since he came home from school complaining of a headache. Nathan checked him over as thoroughly as he could and found nothing. His ears looked fine and he didnt appear to be having a problem with his sinuses. Vin had already had the maximum dose of childrens pain reliever; they would just have to wait. Rain gave him a cold water bottle to lie across his forehead to see if it helped.
I think its just stress. His jaw is hard as a rock and the muscles in his neck and shoulders are taut, Rain theorized.
It could be. Why dont you get him into a warm bath and Ill see if hell let me massage his back for a little while. Has he eaten anything?
He had a banana when he came home, I wouldnt give him the medicine on an empty stomach. He said JD threw up after lunch again today. Why dont you call and check on him while I get Vin in the bath? Rain suggested.
The warm bath and massage did help a little and Rain coaxed him into eating some cheese and a small bowl of applesauce before going to bed.
Josiah suggested that Chris stay at his house that night instead of driving out to the ranch. He was trying to get him away from the constant reminders of Vin. They stopped at the Saloon for a drink and supper before going to Josiahs house. There was a ballgame on television and they sat watching it in a comfortable silence.
Thursday dawned rainy and gray, much like the way Chris felt when he woke up that morning. He could smell the coffee Josiah had made and he stretched languorously before rolling out of bed. It was the first decent nights sleep hed gotten since Saturday. Josiah whipped up a pair of cheese omelets for breakfast before they headed for the office.
Rain checked on Vin that morning. The child looked decidedly unwell. She suggested that she might keep him home from school and he burst into tears.
Please, Aunt Rain, I have to go to school! JD will be worried if I dont show up! Please? Im fine, really. Ill be good at school and everything! Please?
Nathan decided that since he didnt have a fever, Vin could go to school. He did suggest that Rain tell the teacher to call if he seemed to be getting worse. Vin forced himself to eat the pancakes she made him for breakfast. He tried to disguise the look of pain that crossed his face when the sunlight shined in his eyes.
Buck combed JDs hair, surreptitiously checking him for fever. In spite of the light supper, JD had thrown up twice during the night. When Ezra suggested keeping him home from school, the little brunet dissolved into tears.
I have to go to school today, Uncle Ezra. Vin will worry if Im not there. Sides, its the only long time I get to spend with him. Please?
JD would have eaten week-old liver rather than miss school. He wolfed down his cereal and panted through the slight heaves that his stomach was giving. By the time Rain arrived to pick him up, he was feeling a little better.
CSI had finished its investigation and was preparing its report for Judge Travis. The dry cleaners was reopened for the people to begin picking up their belongings, it would not be open for business until someone bought the place and reopened under a new owner.
Chris and the others waited on pins and needles for the verdict. They all knew he would be cleared of the charges, and then he would begin the process of getting Vin back. Nettie had promised that she would recommend that the child be returned but she couldnt guarantee it. The final decision rested with the judge.
It was as quiet as a tomb in the bullpen all morning. Only the quiet clicking of the keyboards was heard for the most part. Nathan was reviewing his reports on the last two cases theyd been on and Josiah was entering a narrative that he had put off writing for too long. Ezra was going over his expense reports, checking to see that hed been properly reimbursed. Buck had slipped out for a meeting with Roy and Chris was holed up in his office.
Because of the rain, the classes had to be kept inside at recess. Vins headache had been getting progressively worse all day. He had poked at his lunch, eating almost nothing. It was too hard for him to write because of the glare of the florescent lights on the white paper. When he had gone to the resource room, the teacher let him lay down instead of working on the lessons because he felt so bad. Every time they suggested that he be sent home, however, he pleaded and begged to stay.
JD was no better. As soon as hed gotten to school, he lost the battle with breakfast. Vin had followed him into the bathroom and comforted him after he had thrown up. Both boys turned down morning snack and JD, like Vin, only picked at his lunch. Since it was still looking dark and ominous outside, the teacher decided to keep them in for that recess too.
Agent Alison picked up the phone at her desk. She had been almost relieved to be on desk duty; it gave her a chance to catch up on her reports. Everyone in the office was talking about the forlorn look that the members of Team 7 had been wearing. They all knew that the caseworker had taken Larabees ward away from him and that Buck and the other child had moved out. Even in a building as big as the Federal Building, bad news traveled fast.
The call was from the garage. She had not signed in the gray sedan when she brought it back after the dry cleaners debacle. Puffing up her cheeks, she blew softly through her pursed lips as she rummaged on the desk for her copy of the report showing that she had signed the car in when she brought it back.
Hey, tell Walt that I had to run down to the garage for a minute. Theres some problem with one of the cars. She called to the secretary as she headed for the elevators.
At the garage, Tory tapped her foot angrily as the technician looked for the paperwork.
Heres the problem, you have the wrong unit number. I had 605, not 506, Tory told the older man. 506 is a piece of junk Chrysler, I had the gray Ford.
You had the Ford! Did you fill out a damage report on it?
Damage? What damage? She asked. The tech motioned her to follow him.
The man pointed at the bullet hole in the rear quarter panel near the door. He flipped through the sheaf of papers on the clipboard to show her where she had initialed that the car was undamaged when she took it out. Tory knelt down and looked at the hole. She remembered that her car was parked in front of the Plymouth that was destroyed at the scene.
Have you recovered the slug? She asked.
Hell no! Id have to cut into the frame to get it. That car still has a few good years on it. They wont take it out of your check or anything, whats it matter? He asked.
It matters a lot. Larabee lost his kid because they think he killed the civilian. If thats his bullet in there, it could prove he didnt do it!
While the other children were playing in the classroom, Vin and JD were curled up in the beanbag chair asleep. Dalton and Kendra were playing nearby. The two were stacking the wooden blocks, building a tall tower. Accidentally, Dalton bumped the blocks and they toppled over, unfortunately onto Vin.
The little Texan was feeling horrible. His head ached all the way to his shoulders. When the block tower landed on his aching head, it was the last straw. With a shriek of pain and rage, he jumped up from the beanbag chair and shoved Dalton.
Because Vin had never been to school before and because of his learning difficulties, he was older than all the other kids in the room. He was also a few inches taller than the tallest of the other kids. When he pushed Dalton, the boy fell back against the shelves that separated the reading area from the rest of the room. Kendra jumped up and began to scream, as little girls do.
Pandemonium broke out in the classroom for a few minutes. Some of the children, thinking Kendra was playing, began to scream along with her. Two of the boys began to run around excitedly tagging everyone and upsetting some of the little girls.
With his head pounding, Vin looked around the room. Only one word came to mind, bad. Vin knew that this would be the event that got him taken away from Uncle Nathan and Aunt Rain. He would be moved to another school and would not see JD again. As despair washed over him, Vin ran from the classroom.
It took two hours to secure a requisition for the bullet to be removed from the Ford. Tory paced anxiously as they came to cut into the car. It took only a few minutes to secure the slug. A CSI agent was there to take possession of the bullet for testing.
Buck and Nathans cell phones rang at almost the same time. Chris looked up from the conference room table where they were going over some new policy paperwork at the two men as they excused themselves from the room. Bucks voice carried though and his words cut through Chris.
What do you mean hes missing? Have you looked out the window recently? Its a freaking deluge out there! Have you at least got JD?
Chriss heart leapt into his throat. Vin was missing from the school! He came to his feet along with the others. Nathan stepped back into the room.
I have to leave. Rain just got a call from the school
You had Vin? These past few days, when Ive been going out of my mind worrying about who was taking care of him and you never said a word! Chris bellowed.
Mrs. Wells thought it was for the best. Im sorry, Chris. Do you want to come?
All five men piled into two vehicles and raced to the school. The police were already there. Nettie was just getting out of her car when the Dodge slid into the parking lot. Chris jumped out and started for the building only to be called back.
Mr. Larabee, may I have a word with you?
Chris wheeled on the woman with a murderous look in his eyes. His barely contained rage rolled off of his body in sheets like the pouring rain. He glared at the older woman carrying the black umbrella.
I just wanted to say Im sorry. We should never have put you and the boys through this.
It was not at all what he expected to hear and it staggered Chris. As the shell of rage shattered, he could only nod to the woman before turning and running into the school. Buck was right on his heels. As soon as they neared the office, a dark haired blur detached from the cluster of adults and hurled itself at Buck.
Da! Da! You have to find Vin! Hes runned off 'cause hes ascared that Mrs. Wells is gonna take him away! Please dont let her take him away, Da, please?
Buck was soaking wet from the few moments he had been standing outside. JD wrapped his arms and legs around him, absorbing the water without care. While the rest of the team listened to the principal explain where they had and hadnt had time to search, he moved to the stairway and sat down, burying his face in JDs shoulder and thanking God that his foster son was safe even as he prayed for Vin.
He was cold and wet and sick. Vin pulled his knees up and wrapped his arms around them. The bus stop shelter only kept the driving rain from getting to him; the wind blew quite a bit of the cold rain in anyway. His head was hurting so badly that he could hardly see. He wasnt sure where he was, he had run blindly from the school building and had not paid attention to which way he was going.
A deep roll of thunder caused the little blond to look skyward. A series of flashes lit the dark clouds and he shuddered. A car whizzed by and the tires splashed more water up into the bus shelter. Vin drew himself up into a tighter ball and curled his head down onto his knees.
The school building had been searched from top to bottom. Chris had even gotten on the PA system and pleaded for Vin to come out if he was hiding. Ezra had gone out to drive around the neighborhood and Josiah had borrowed Bucks truck for the same reason. Every police car was being directed to look for the little blond boy. An Amber alert was issued in case someone would find him and try to spirit him away.
Buck and JD had been moved to the Nurses office. JD was vomiting again, on an empty stomach. In between the dry heaves, he begged for them to find Vin. Nathan had gotten a ride home to wait with Rain, who was nearly hysterical with worry. The team medic was distraught over losing Vin. When he reached his house, the power and phone lines were down. Cell phone service was spotty at best. It was not the best conditions to be looking for a frightened, scared little boy.
A woman walked into the police station and asked to speak to someone about something shed found in her sons coat pocket. The lieutenant took the woman to his office to talk.
My name is Althea Simms. I picked my sons letter jacket from the dry cleaners yesterday, you know, the one that was all shot up by the police? Well, when I checked his pockets, I found this.
The woman held out a sandwich bag, in the sandwich bag was a bullet. The lieutenant leaned forward to examine it more closely. The disfigured mass of lead had dried blood on it.
May I keep this, Mrs. Simms?
Of course. I just didnt want to throw it away. I thought it might be important.
Yes Maam, very important. Thank you.
Agent Cavanaugh peered through the microscope. On one side was the test-fired bullet from Agent Larabees service weapon, on the other was the bullet retrieved from the Ford. They were identical. There was no blood on the bullet, proving that it hadnt passed through anyone before coming to rest inside of the car. He looked at the report he had been working on and tossed it in the wastebasket. He would have to go over the evidence again, but he was certain that Agent Larabee was not to blame for Mr. Roths unfortunate death.
While he was rewriting his report, his technician walked in with another bullet. It had dried blood on it.
Where did you find this?
A woman walked into the police station and said she found it in some dry cleaning she had at that store. Get this; the pattern matches the gun taken from Lawsons gun. He must have spun around when he was hit and pulled the trigger.
Get Judge Travis on the phone
Buck had finally taken JD to the hospital. They had to do something to calm him down and stop the dry heaves that were wracking his little body. The emergency room doctor gave him a shot that helped him to relax so they could examine him. A blood test showed that his body chemistry was all off. He was dehydrated and exhausted. They started an IV to get him re-hydrated and moved him to a room. Buck paced up and down in the small, semi-private room. Power was out all over the city along with phone lines and he couldnt use his cell phone in the hospital. He was helpless and frustrated.
The Jag rolled slowly down the street. Ezra peered out every time the wipers passed. He had been driving in an ever-increasing spiral around the school building. Every few blocks, he would encounter Josiah in Bucks truck doing the same thing. Cell phone service was spotty and they couldnt reach Chris at all.
When he couldnt reach the judge by phone, Agent Cavanaugh got on the elevator and headed for the judges office. This was news he preferred to deliver in person anyway. When the elevator stopped between floors, he was trapped.
The storm was reaching its pinnacle when Vin startled awake. His head was still pounding something awful and he was sick to his stomach. Thoroughly soaked, he was cold and shivering. A loud roll of thunder was accompanied by a brilliant flash of lightening. Vin screamed as the giant tree beside the bus shelter exploded. A large limb careened toward him and, like a deer in the headlights, he was paralyzed with fear.
Chris had been out walking, looking for Vin. His voice was hoarse from calling the childs name. Cold rain mixed with the warm tears that rolled down his cheeks. Suddenly, unexpectedly, he found himself in front of the church where he and Sarah had been married. An urge, like nothing hed ever experienced, drove him into the building.
It was dark inside the small church. The only lights came from the candles near the altar. Like a moth to the flame, Chris was drawn to the front of the church. When his shin struck the communion rail, he fell to his knees. From that position, he made his impassioned plea.
Please God, I know youre out there with him. Keep him safe. Hes just a little boy and I love him. Josiah always says you never give us more than we can bear but right now, Im about at my limit. I just want him back. I need him.
A moment later, a loud roll of thunder was accompanied by a brilliant flash of lightening. There was a horrendous explosion outside of the church. A tree limb blasted through one of the stained glass windows, the one depicting the little children being brought to Jesus. Chris jumped to his feet and ran from the building.
Ezra turned the corner slowly. He had seen the lightning strike the ancient tree and had watched it as it slowly surrendered to gravity and fell onto the bus shelter. He winced when the limb also perforated the window of the small church building. Suddenly, a man ran from the church. The headlights of the Jag caught him just long enough for Ezra to recognize Chris.
An inexorable draw caused Chris to approach the bus shelter. The lightweight metal supports were groaning under the weight of the tree. Another flash of lightning illuminated the area briefly and Chris gasped. Vin was curled up on the bench! Without a thought for his own safety, Chris ran for the child. His hands closed on Vins little arms and the boy panicked. Kicking and screaming, Vin was afraid for his life. Another pair of hands gripped Chris and hurled him out of the way, just as the bus shelter collapsed.
Guiding the blond man to the Jag, Ezra opened the rear door and carefully eased them inside. He closed the door and ran around to the drivers door. Just then, the red Chevy came around the corner. Ezra waved his arms before running to the open window.
Weve found him! Im taking them to the hospital. Will you let the Jacksons know?
Praise God! Josiah exclaimed. Ill go by and bring them to the hospital. I dont know if you got the message, but Buck had to take JD to the emergency room, so theyll be there too.
Isnt this how we all started anyway? Ezra commented wryly before running back to the Jag.
How is he, Mr. Larabee?
Hes cold and shaking. Please hurry, Ezra!
They arrived at the emergency room just as the storm fell apart. The dark clouds rolled away and the rain stopped. Chris climbed out of the Jag and looked up at the fading light. A single ray of sunlight shone through the clouds before vanishing. A weak smile crossed his face as Vins eyes opened and he looked up. The joy and trust engendered in that gaze infused Chris with strength.
Vin was given a thorough and complete exam. The doctor diagnosed the headache as being a stress-related migraine. He administered a very mild muscle relaxant to loosen the tension the child was holding in his shoulders. A warm water bottle was placed at the nape of his neck and Chris rubbed the childs back in gentle circles. They wanted to keep him overnight for observation and put him in the room with JD.
Agent Cavanaugh was startled when the first face he saw when the elevator doors opened was the man he had been going to see when he was trapped. Judge Travis was leaving the building to head over to the hospital, having just heard that Vin had been found.
Judge Travis, I was coming to tell you that we know without a doubt that Guy Lawson killed William Roth. They found Agent Larabees bullet imbedded in the side of one of the other agency cars that was on the scene.
Thats the second best news Ive had all day. Why dont you join me for a little ride and you can break the good news to Larabee in person, Travis invited.
Nathan and Rain followed Josiah to the hospital after calling Mrs. Wells to let her know where Vin was. They all arrived at the same time, from different directions. Ezra caught Nettie and prevented her from going into the room.
Before you go in there, I want you to know that Chris is with Vin and hes going to stay with Vin. I have already contacted Vins attorney and he has given his permission.
Vins attorney? I dont understand, Mr. Standish, since when does Vin have an attorney?
I made a few phone calls and Mr. Wilmington has applied to be appointed the boys legal guardian until the adoption is final. Vin was appointed an attorney to look after his interests.
Netties eyes widened as she absorbed this latest twist. Shed had no intention of making Chris leave the boy, even if it meant losing her job. Instead of asking the questions that would keep them in the hallway for a very long time, she nodded.
Very well then, may I go in and see Vin?
The small hospital room was crowded. Chris was lying on Vins bed, rubbing the boys back as Vin lay draped across the blond man. Buck was lying on JDs bed with the dark haired child similarly draped across his chest. Josiah and the Jacksons were crowded around the room, smiling at the contented looks on the faces of the four in the beds.
Judge Travis stopped at the nurses desk to find out what room Vin Tanner was in. Getting the number, he took the CSI agent and they headed up. Nettie Wells and the Jacksons were just coming out of the room when they reached the corridor.
Judge Travis, what are you doing here? Nathan asked. He deliberately spoke loudly to warn the others.
You may want to step back in and hear this with the rest of your team. I would be correct in assuming that the others are in there with the little ones?
Yes sir, theyre all in there. You arent going to upset them are you?
Come and see for yourself, the judge said with a smile.
The three men moved into the room. Judge Travis smiled tenderly at the two men with the small boys they so obviously loved. He turned to Cavanaugh.
Do you want to tell them?
Thank you, Judge Travis. We concluded our investigation into the death of William Roth. You werent at fault, Agent Larabee. The bullet that killed him was fired from the gun Lawson had. We found your slug in the side of one of the agency cars.
Relief washed over Chris so strongly that he almost slid off the bed. Tears welled up in his eyes and spilled down his cheeks. He had to stop rubbing Vins back because his hands were shaking so hard. Offering out a trembling hand, Chris shook Cavanaughs hand.
We just wanted to deliver the good news in person. Well be on our way now. See you in the office on Monday? Travis asked.
Spend tomorrow getting your house back in order. Spend the weekend with your boys.
The team left at the end of visiting hours, leaving Buck and Chris with the boys. JD woke up just long enough to see that Vin was all right before going back to sleep. Soon, he and Buck were having a snoring symphony. Chris lay awake for a long time thinking about the evening. How had he gotten to the church? He didnt remember. What was the significance of the broken window? He didnt really care. The only thing that mattered was the limp form sprawled across his chest. Vin opened his eyes around midnight.
Chris? Are you all right?
Yeah, Im fine Cowboy.
Are they gonna take me away again?
No. Your Uncle Ezra has fixed it so they cant take you away and the investigation cleared me so you should be able to go home soon.
To the ranch?
Yeah, kiddo, the ranch is your home.
After letting go a relieved sigh, Vin nuzzled against Chriss chest and went back to sleep. The even rhythm of the childs breathing lulled the blond to sleep. A nurse peeked in on them a couple of times but she never came into the room. From the contented smiles on their faces, she could tell that they had all the medicine they needed. They had each other.
The boys were discharged the next morning. After going by Ezras to pick up their things and going by the Jacksons to pick up their things, they headed for home. The physical maladies that had plagued the boys were gone. JD ate and kept everything down and Vin didnt have even so much as a twinge of a headache. The men spent the day with the boys, reading to them and playing games with them. They spent an hour in the barn, grooming the mud from the horses after the rain made the corral a quagmire.
On Friday evening, while Buck was bathing JD, the phone rang. Chris answered.
Mr. Larabee, may I speak with Mr. Wilmington? Ive been calling around all day and have been unable to reach him.
May I tell him whos calling?
Mayfield Westhoff, his adoption attorney. I need to tell him that theres a problem with his application to adopt Vin Tanner.
Adopt Vin? Buck applied to adopt Vin?
Yes, a couple of days ago and it seems that there is a snarl in the paperwork. I must speak with him right away.
Ill have him call you back, Chris said as he hung up the phone.
Vin looked up from where he was playing on the floor. He caught the concerned look on Chriss face and crawled into his lap.
Is something wrong?
No, kiddo, nothings wrong. I just need to talk to Buck for a minute. Can you go help JD with his bath while we talk?
Buck came into the living room a moment later. His tee shirt was covered in JD-sized, wet handprints and he had bubbles in his hair. He was drying his hands as he sat on the couch.
Vin said you needed me right away. Whats wrong?
I just took a call from Mayfield Westhoff. He said that theres a problem with your application to adopt Vin.
Oh. Well, I meant to talk to you about that. It was just to get me the right to see him while he was in foster care. I mean, I know we needed to talk about it but Im not taking another chance on losing either one of those boys. If you wont adopt Vin, I will, Buck announced calmly.
Adoption is a big step, Buck. Have you really thought this thing through?
After what youve been going through for the past week, how can you ask me that? You very nearly crawled back into your bottle when they took him away from you. All week, youve been absolutely miserable, out of your mind with worry about that child. Do you really want to run the risk of losing him again? Is it so hard for you to admit that you love him? Hes not trying to replace Adam; you know that. He just wants to take up where Adam left off.
So you wont be upset with me if I want to adopt Vin?
Hell no! Ill be so happy for you like you cant believe!
Then you better call your attorney and find out what the problem is.
As it turned out, Ezra had filled out all of the paperwork. He had put Chriss name on Vins adoption paperwork. The lawyer was terribly confused until it was all explained quite simply. They were two halves of the same soul, Vin and Chris, and to allow anyone else to adopt him was just wrong.
Two wonderful things happened on Monday, first, Chris and the rest of Team 7 were reinstated to full, active duty and second, the judge in the family court granted them custody of the boys. Chris gained custody of Vin and Buck gained custody of JD.
The judge read the order and with a twinkle in his eye stated, Of course you know, its only temporary. At seeing the horror stricken looks on the two mens faces, he amended his statement, Until the adoptions are final.