by Joy K

This is a variation of the Little Britches Universe, modern day with Vin, JD and Ezra as children. This is the eighth story in this universe. It follows "Running Blind". You can find the entire series here.

Chris reached over and turned off his alarm. The small body next to him snuggled closer, seeking warmth. Sometime during the night one of the boys had joined him, but he had slept through the arrival. Even in the dark room it was easy to tell which boy it was simply by the feel of the pajamas. Silk pajamas. The silk pajamas Ezra had received less than a week ago from his mother.

It surprised him that Ezra had willingly come to his room, let alone climbed into his bed. He wondered if Ezra's stomach was bothering him, or if he'd had a bad dream. He put his hand on Ezra's shoulder and shook him gently.

Green eyes popped open, widened in fear, calmed, then showed his embarrassment as he realized where he was. "Why am I in here?" he asked.

"I don't know," said Chris honestly. "Are you feeling all right?"

Ezra thought for a moment. "My stomach is fine."

"Did you have a bad dream?"

Ezra frowned and shrugged. He didn't know why he was in Chris's room. He didn't want to be a bother and now he had, and he didn't even know he was doing it!

"It's all right," he assured, seeing that Ezra was upset.

"I don't know why I'm here. I'm sorry I disturbed your sleep," Ezra said quickly.

"Relax. It's all right," said Chris, but Ezra scrambled out of the bed and hurried down the hall to his own bed.

Chris sighed. He still didn't know what had brought Ezra to his room, but at least he'd only been embarrassed and not frightened by being there. In their early days at the ranch all the boys had been afraid of being alone with the men, but Ezra had seemed even more afraid than the others. There were concerns about past abuse, but as time passed the boys were gradually learning to trust.

So maybe Ezra coming to his room, no matter the reason, was a good thing. Chris sighed again and climbed out of bed. Time to start the day.


"Ow! Ezra" JD growled crankily, rubbing his sore knee that he had just banged into Ezra's bed. "There's not enough room. Put it away."

"There's plenty of room," Ezra snapped back. He didn't want to put his bed away. He couldn't explain why, because it wasn't that difficult to fold up the roll away bed, latch it and push it to the side of the room, but it just bothered him. He didn't want to make JD and Vin mad, but he didn't want to put away his bed either.

"It's in the way," JD complained.

"Go play outside," Ezra countered.

"I don't want to," said JD.

"Well, I don't want to put it away," Ezra argued, sitting squarely in the middle of his bed.

JD slapped Ezra's book out of his hands in frustration. The book landed on the floor and the two boys glared at each other.

Ezra was about to retort, but seeing JD's hands planted firmly on his hips and remembering Buck asking him to give JD a little extra leeway with his anger, the older boy decided to keep his mouth shut.

He slid off the bed, picked up his book and left, muttering more to himself than JD, "It's my room, too."

He stomped past Buck on his way to the kitchen and out the back door.

Buck followed the eight-year-old wondering what had precipitated the frustrated behavior. He stopped and watched out the back door when halfway to the big apple tree, Sam, Larabee's old Labrador moseyed over to join the boy. Ezra slowed to let the dog catch up, then continued to the tree, brushing off the bench and sitting down in the shade. He scratched the dog's head and smiled when Sam lay down at his feet with a groan.

Buck had to chuckle at the differences between boys - and dogs - when Vin raced across the back yard with a happily barking "Dobie" on his heels. The duo lapped the yard several times, while Ezra settled in to reading his book.

"Excuse me," said JD, squeezing past Buck and out the back door. He jumped off the porch and joined Vin's game of chase.

Buck smiled watching the boys act like boys. It felt good to see them relaxed and having fun. He wished that Ezra was running, too, but the weeks since the boys had come to live at the ranch had shown that Ezra was very uncomfortable with "free play." Dr. Ashby believed that Ezra had been taught from an early age to act like a grown up, and while he may not have been disciplined for running and playing, the activity had definitely been frowned upon and Ezra's ingrained desire to please meant that he had played very little. And now that he had been free to play since living with JD's mother, he usually chose not to. He was afraid that he would "do it wrong." If it were a game with clear-cut rules, he would participate, but if you were to make it up as you go, he would find ways to avoid it.

Still, he was doing something he enjoyed, and that was reassuring.

Buck checked on them several times throughout the afternoon. Vin and JD had tired of running and had planted themselves under the apple tree building an imaginary town with sticks and rocks. Ezra had moved to the porch. When the younger boys moved to the porch playing a game of jumping up and down the steps, Ezra had moved back to the tree. Now the boys were back under the tree and Ezra was nowhere to be seen.

"Hey, guys," said Buck as he came out into the yard with plate of cookies. "Where's Ezra?"

Vin pointed up and Buck's heart skipped a beat when he saw Ezra sitting on a branch high up in the tree. He was leaning against the trunk of the tree, still engrossed in his book.

Buck put the plate on the bench and positioned himself below Ezra. "Ezra? We're going to have some cookies. Why don't you come on down?" he asked casually.

Ezra closed his book, tucked it inside his shirt, and with a surprising agility climbed down the tree.

Buck stayed ready to catch him if he fell, but the eight-year-old was sure footed. He hopped the last few feet to the ground and brushed off his hands.

"I wanted to go up," said JD, "but Vin said no. I just wanted to play with Ezra."

"I think it's best if you play with Ezra on the ground," said Buck, holding the plate for JD to get a cookie.

Ezra and Vin eagerly accepted the cookies as Buck offered the plate to them. He took a bite of a cookie and then said, "After we eat, we'll get cleaned up and go see Lynn."

"But Miz Nettie's not here," said Vin.

"That's okay," said Buck. "Chris left his truck home today."

"Can I ride by the window this time?" asked JD.

"Not this time, Little Bit," said Buck brushing the cookie crumbs off his hands. "We don't have time to move the seats around."

"Awww," JD complained.

"But I bet Lynn will let you play first," he offered.


Buck chuckled. It didn't take much to please JD. Vin and Ezra on the other had looked like they'd rather stay home.

"Okay, let's wash up and get going," Buck said as he stood up. The three boys followed him to the house and within fifteen minutes were on their way to town.


"And this is your room?" Lynn asked as JD showed her the picture he had drawn for her. Lynn Ashby was a therapist who worked specifically with children. She split her time between an office in the big city and a small practice in Four Corners. The boys been coming to see her for several weeks and seemed to be making good progress.

JD nodded enthusiastically, his fine black hair bouncing with the movement.

"Is this your happy picture or your sad picture?" she asked.

"Ly-nnnnnn," he said, dragging out her name as if her response were silly. "It's sad," he said pointing at the picture. "See, my smile's upside down."

"I see," she said. "And what is this big X?

JD frowned. "That's Ezra's bed. It's in the way. I banged my leg, see?" He slid the leg of his shorts up far enough to show her his bruise. "I got it when I runned into Ezra's bed. He's s'posed to put it away, but he doesn't and it's in the way so I'm sad."

"What does sad mean?" Lynn asked.

"Not happy," said JD.

"Are there other things you can feel when you're not happy?"

JD shrugged.

Lynn opened a folder and pulled out some pictures of children. "How do you think this boy feels?"

"He's happy," said JD. "See, he's smiling like somebody just hugged him or told him a joke."

"How about this boy?" Lynn asked.

JD looked at the picture, but seemed to struggle with what emotion to name.

"Or this one?" she asked.

"He's sad. He's crying," said JD. "Maybe his mama is gone because of the water."

"This one isn't smiling and he isn't crying," she pointed to the second picture. "What do you think happened to him?"

"Somebody was mean to him."

"Maybe he didn't get what he wanted?" she asked.

"Yeah. Or somebody hitted him and maked him mad," said JD.

"So he's angry?" Lynn asked.

JD nodded.

"Sometimes I get angry," she continued.

"You do?" asked JD.

Lynn nodded. "I think everyone gets angry sometimes."

"Even Buck?" the little brunet asked.

"Even Buck," she confirmed.

JD looked at the pictures of the boys and then at his drawing. "I think this is a mad picture," he said. "Is it okay I drawed it instead of sad?"

"Absolutely," Lynn assured. "So Ezra isn't putting his bed away and that makes you feel angry?"

"Yeah," said JD. "I run into it and it hurts. And it's in the way and we don't have room to play."

"Do you have to put your bed away?" she asked.

"No, that's silly. My bed doesn't fold up," said JD. "But I have to put my blanket right and my pillow."

"What about Vin? Does he have to fold up his bed?"

"No," said JD. "His bed doesn't fold neither. He just puts his blanket and pillow right."

"Does Ezra have to put his blanket and pillow right?" Lynn asked.

JD nodded. "It's our chores."

"But Ezra has to fix his blanket and his pillow and fold up his bed, too?"

JD nodded and then tucked his chin understanding what Lynn was saying. "But it's in my way."

"Can you still play in the room if the bed isn't put away?"

JD nodded.

"And you can still have fun?"

"I guess," he said reluctantly.

Lynn smiled. "I'd like for you to draw me a picture this week of something you do that's fun."

"Just one?" asked JD.

"You can do more if you'd like, but we'll just talk about one, all right?"

"Okay," JD agreed. "Is it Vin's turn, now?"

"Yes, it is," said Lynn. "Shall we go get him?"


Vin sat at the small table with a shy smile on his face.

"How was your week," Lynn asked.

Vin shrugged. "Good, I guess. I brought my picture." He slid the picture across the table and Lynn took a look.

"What a beautiful picture," she said, noticing the absence of black crayon. There were two big green trees, a blue circle in the middle and 5 stick figures, which were drawn with a dark brown crayon.

"We went to the lake," Vin offered. "It was real fun."

"That sounds very nice. What did you do?" Lynn asked.

"It was hot so we swimmed in the lake."

Lynn hid her surprise and pleasure at that announcement. She figured after the flood that it would be a very long time before the boys could be coaxed into water.

"It was kinda scary at first, but when Chris pulled Buck under the water and Buck started laughing we all helped him get Chris." Vin looked up with a sparkle in his eyes. "Me and JD grabbed one arm and Ezra grabbed the other and we all falled in."

Lynn laughed with Vin, delighted that the boys had made such a big step.

"JD got water up his nose and Buck holded him upside down and shaked him saying he had to get the water out," said Vin with pure glee on his face. "JD was laughin' so hard he almost peed."

Lynn wanted to laugh as Vin's hand clamped over his mouth and he blushed with embarrassment for saying 'pee' in front of her.

"That happens sometimes," she said. "It sounds like a wonderful day."

Vin nodded and fingered the edge of his other picture. "Do you want to see this one?" he asked reluctantly.

Lynn nodded. "I know it's not happy like the other picture, but I'd like to see what you drew."

Vin pushed the picture across the table. "It was real hard to draw."

She looked at the picture, her heart sinking slightly at the amount of black crayon in the picture. It was a good guess that it was the boys' bedroom. Two of the stick figures were on the beds. One was outside the room. "Tell me about it," she said.

"It's our room and it's nighttime. That's why it's all black."

Lynn nodded, encouraging him to continue.

"And that's Ezra," he said pointing to the figure outside the room.

"He's not in his bed?" she asked.

Vin shook his head. "He's going to Chris's room. I's afraid he's sick again."

"Did you ask him?"

Vin shook his head and rubbed a fist at his eyes frustrated by the tears that filled them. "Chris brings him back every night and puts him back in bed. I'm just scared."

"I think you should ask them if Ezra is all right. I'm pretty sure he is or Chris wouldn't put him back in his bed."

Vin nodded. That made sense. "I just don't want Ezra to go away. When he got sick I thought he was gonna die…"

"But he's all right, isn't he?" Lynn soothed.

Vin nodded. "He just has to take medicine for his ulcer until it all goes away. And it's kinda cool because we gets lots of chicken and dumplings 'cause Ezra likes them and they don't make his stomach hurt."

Vin peeked up at Lynn to see what her reaction was.

"I like chicken and dumplings, too," she said. "What is this?" she asked pointing to a scribbled out area on his picture.

Vin grimaced. He didn't want to think about that. "It's the books," he said softly.

"You decided you didn't want them in the picture?" she asked.

Vin nodded. "We has to start school next week. Miz Nettie is going to be our teacher."

"You like Miss Nettie, don't you?"

Vin frowned. "Of course I do. She's real nice. It's just…"

Lynn waited as Vin struggled to express himself. He would find the words, but he needed time to work out what he was thinking.

"I'm not very good at school," he admitted.

"Then it's a good thing to have Nettie for your teacher," said Lynn. "She can spend extra time with you to help you be a better student."

Vin nodded, unwilling to voice that he didn't want Nettie to see how dumb he really was.

"Since you'll be doing school work next week, why don't you bring me one of your assignments and we'll talk about it?"

"Okay," Vin said glumly. Now Lynn was going to know how dumb he was, too. Maybe something would happen and they'd have to miss their appointments next week. That would be a good thing.

"I think you should take this picture home," she said offering Vin the lake picture. "It's a special memory and you should save it, maybe hang it up or put it in a book."

Vin brightened and accepted the paper.

"I think we're done for today," Lynn said. "Shall we go get Ezra?"


Vin was the quietest of the three boys, but Ezra was certainly the most tight-lipped when it came to talking about himself. He was very good at misdirection and changing the subject, but Dr. Lynn Ashby was very good at redirecting the subject and staying on task. It was an interesting dynamic between the two of them.

Ezra had yet to give in and call her by her first name and she had not stopped reminding him that he could call her Lynn. Without realizing it, what the eight-year-old used to keep distance between himself and adults had started to become a bond with Dr. Ashby. Her consistency and non-judgment created a safe zone where Ezra could talk if he was so inclined. He had not yet talked about himself directly, but seemed to be willing to test the waters some with hypothetical situations.

He sat at the table, the perfect gentleman, straight posture, not fidgeting, but something was on his mind. He had seen Vin's sad picture with the books crossed out when Dr. Ashby put his picture in her folder with the other papers, and he couldn't decide whether to reveal Vin's secret or not. They had already talked about his assignment for the week, so he was hesitant to say anything more. But Vin was upset about school and…

"Dr. Ashby?" The silence was broken.

"Lynn," she corrected.

Ezra gave a slight huff, but grinned. Slowly the grin faded and the hypothetical question came out.

"What if there was a boy who was living with some people who weren't his parents," he started.

Lynn held her smile inside, grateful that Ezra wasn't very sophisticated at hypothesis. Clearly he was talking about himself or Vin or JD.

"Yes?" she asked.

"And they wanted him to do something, but he wasn't very good at it. He tried really hard but he just can't do it." Piercing green eyes looked at her. "Would they get tired of him - not want him anymore? Would they send him away?"

"Do the people love this child?" she asked.

"They say they do," Ezra hedged.

"Why do you think they'd send him away?" Lynn asked.

"Because he's stupid. But he's not," Ezra said. "He's very smart. He just can't do the work very well."

"Has he told the adults?"

Ezra shook his head. "But his brothers know."

"I think if they told the adults there was a problem, the adults would help him. They love him," she assured. "They chose him to live in their home. They won't send him away."

Big green eyes watched her carefully, wanting to believe her words, but not certain. She had a hunch that Ezra was talking about Vin's aversion to school, but he was also seeking reassurance that he would not be sent away for not being good enough.

"Dr. Ashby, if I tell you something will you promise not to tell anyone?" Ezra asked.

There it was. The test. Ezra was going to give her some information and test and see if she would keep her word - if she were trustworthy.

"Ezra," she said looking directly in his eyes, "You can trust me. Something you tell me is just between you and me. But if there's something that you tell me that might be harmful to you or someone else, I'll ask you to tell Chris or Buck so they can help."

He looked at her for several moments, considering her words carefully. "Vin won't tell them because he's embarrassed," Ezra confessed. "He thinks he's stupid, but he's not. He just has a hard time with schoolwork and Mrs. Wells is going to start tutoring us next week. At school I could help him with his work and nobody knew, but Mrs. Wells will know since she'll only have Vin and JD and me."

"Perhaps that is a good thing, Ezra," Lynn said. "Mrs. Wells is a very caring person. When she sees the problem, she will work with Vin and help him so it isn't so hard." She watched Ezra's expression to see if he was willing to consider her answer. "And I think if Vin talked to Chris about it, he would be very supportive and encouraging, and that would help Vin know that Chris loves him and doesn't think any less of him because he struggles with school. Just as Chris doesn't think any less of you because of your ulcer, or any less of JD because of his messiness."

Ezra half grinned at that. JD sometimes was like a tornado leaving a mess in his wake.

"I won't talk to Chris about this, but I really think you should if Vin can't. We all want Vin to feel good about himself and to be successful." Lynn smiled reassuringly. "I'll encourage Vin during his sessions and you can talk to Chris, and together we can help Vin."

Ezra nodded. For Vin, he could do it.

"Is there anything else we can talk about today?" Lynn asked.

Ezra shook his head.

"All right," she said, standing. "Then let's go back to the waiting area and as soon as Chris's session is over I believe you'll be heading home?"

"I didn't know Mr. Larabee was having a session today," Ezra said, joining her on her way back to the waiting room. "He didn't mention it."

"I had a cancellation today, so I had some extra time," she explained.

That seemed to satisfy Ezra. "Do you make him draw pictures?" he asked with a grin.


"Gentlemen, I'm glad you could meet on such short notice." Lynn's receptionist had called Chris after JD's session to see if he could come on short notice after one of her clients had cancelled.

"It wasn't a problem," said Chris, "But I have a feeling you're going to present us with one."

Dr. Lynn Ashby smiled at the two men sitting across from her desk. "Something revealed itself in the boys' sessions today that I think we need to address before it becomes an issue. What are the boys' sleeping arrangements?"

"They're all three in the same room," Buck offered. "They refused to be split up when they first came to live at the ranch."

Lynn nodded. It was understandable that the boys would hold on to each other when they were thrust into a new home after the traumatic events of the flood and the loss of JD's mother.

"To be more specific," she said, "Where do they sleep?"

Chris frowned slightly wondering where the question was leading. "JD is on the bottom bunk, Vin's on the top bunk and Ezra's on a rollaway bed, although they often end up in each other's beds."

"We keep hoping with time that they'll start staying in their own beds," said Buck.

"They probably will," Lynn agreed. "Why a rollaway?"

"I had the bunk beds when Adam…" Chris closed his eyes and took a deep breath calming himself before continuing. "Adam always wanted to have a friend sleep over, and we figured we'd have more kids, so we brought the old log bunk beds in from the bunk house. When the boys arrived, we needed a third bed, so I borrowed the rollaway from a neighbor. It was just temporary and it's convenient because we can move it out of the way so the boys have room to play."

"Picture a little boy," said Lynn. "He's just lost the person he trusted most, the woman who cared for him. He's not sure he'll be able to stay with his new brothers, because there is no blood relation. His mother fled the country without him. No matter how much he believes she loves him he still knows she left him behind." She paused and looked at the two men knowing they were deeply concerned for all three boys. "Now he's in a strange environment where he doesn't know who he can trust, if he'll be allowed to stay, how long he can stay. He doesn't know when or if his mother is coming back for him. He's afraid to make attachments because he's afraid he'll lose them. What does a rollaway bed say to this little boy?"

Chris cursed as he realized the implications.

"We didn't intend…" said Buck.

"I know you didn't," said Lynn. "It's just something you need to look at. A thing as simple as a rollaway bed could reinforce for Ezra that he is temporary. He is inconvenient. He's not worth the expense of a permanent bed."

This time Buck cursed.

"I meant to get another bed," said Chris. "How bad did I screw up by waiting this long?"

"I'm not sure you have, Chris," Lynn said reassuringly. "But it could become an issue for Ezra and I'd like to head that off if we can."

"I'll buy a bed this weekend," said Chris. "We'll figure out someway to make everything fit."

Buck nodded, already trying to rearrange the furniture in his head.

"How are things going otherwise?" Chris asked.

"I see improvements," said Lynn. "Each of the boys is moving forward in dealing with his losses…"


Most of the afternoon had been consumed by the boys' therapy appointments, a follow up visit for Buck with his orthopedist for his ankle, and some grocery shopping. When they arrived home Vin and Ezra helped carry in the groceries, but as soon as he was free, Vin was racing around the back yard. JD and the dogs were chasing him, all feeling the need to run after being cooped up for so long.

Buck walked down the hall to look for Ezra. He peeked into the boys' room and smiled. Ezra was sitting on the floor in the middle of the room. That itself was unusual, but he was also playing with an army of toy cowboys and Indians, something Buck had never seen him willingly do. Vin and JD could sometimes coerce Ezra into playing, but this had been self-initiated.

Buck watched for as long as he dared without disturbing Ezra, then quietly stepped back, intending to close the door. But his movement caught Ezra's attention.

The boy looked at him and then hastily started cleaning up the toys. "Mr. Wilmington, I was just cleaning up these toys," he said.

"No, that's okay, you can keep playing," said Buck.

"I was just picking them up," Ezra insisted, putting the cowboys and Indians into the shoebox the boys stored them in.

Buck's heart sank with the realization that the moment was lost. Ezra couldn't go back to playing. He had to be the little independent man - the one who wasn't a burden and needed no one.

"It will take me just a minute, and then I can help you prepare dinner," Ezra said, putting the lid on the box and carrying it over to the closet.

Buck wanted to shout, "No! Play. Please just play," but he couldn't. "I appreciate your help," he said sadly. "I'll be in the kitchen."

He left the doorway fighting his emotions. How could they help Ezra be just a little boy?


Dinner was a loud affair with everyone chatting about his day. JD regaled them with a tale about the bugs he and Vin had found under a board near the barn. Vin told them about Peso running in the field. Buck talked about running into a lady with the shopping cart and Ezra told that Buck gave her his phone number. Chris told them about farmer Hinton's hog which had gotten out and blocked traffic on the old highway.

After dinner they played Chutes and Ladders before getting ready for bed. The boys were tired but it still seemed to take forever to get them tucked in.

"How'd your doctor appointment go today," Chris asked as he settled into his recliner with a sigh.

"I'm good to go," said Buck. "He finally cleared me for full duty starting Monday." It seemed months ago that he stepped in a hole while searching for Ezra and injured his leg, but it was really only a few weeks. A few weeks too many for an active sheriff's deputy.

"That's good. It'll be great to have you back full time." Chris replied flipping the channel on the television. "How'd it go here today?"

"It was an interesting day," Buck hedged. "Made me wish Monday wasn't four days away."

"Are JD and Ezra still bickering?"

Buck nodded. "It's not as bad as it was, but they seem to get on each others' nerves a lot." They both knew that the constant daytime friction between the boys was because they were struggling to cope with the flood, the loss of JD's mother and the absence of Ezra's. "Funny how that friction disappears at night," Buck added.

"Nothing like a bad dream or a little insecurity to make the tension disappear," Chris agreed. They both had seen the boys willingly comforting each other at night, the disagreements of the daylight hours forgotten. "I just hate that it has to."

Buck nodded. "Watching them the last couple of days made me think that maybe it's time to split the boys up. They need space. Ezra needs to be away from Vin and JD."

Buck cocked his head toward the doorway, then got up and checked the hall. "Thought I heard something," he explained as he sat back down. He didn't see the bathroom door close and didn't know one of the boys was up. "Anyway, as I was saying, Ezra spent the better part of the day trying to be away from Vin and JD. He'd go off on his own, and pretty soon they'd find him. He'd move off somewhere else. He ended up near the top of the apple tree."

Chris raised his eyebrows. "Ezra?"

"Yeah, I know. Didn't seem like Ezra, but he was pretty agile getting down." Buck ran a hand through his hair. "Of course JD wanted to climb it and I had to tell him not to."

"And Vin?"

Buck shrugged. "He didn't seem all that interested in it. I told Ezra I thought you should decide if he was old enough to be climbing the tree."

"Gee, thanks," Chris said sarcastically.

Buck chuckled. "Well, if it's any help, he was very sure of himself with his climbing abilities and I don't think it will be a problem as long as we keep JD out of the tree."

Chris sighed. "Easier said than done. We really do need to think about making more space for the boys. That bedroom is crowded and Dr. Ashby is right about Ezra needing a permanent bed. It never even crossed my mind that he could be interpreting the rollaway bed as meaning he was disposable."

"Hey, Pard," Buck soothed, "You can't know everything. Just gotta deal with it as it comes."

Chris nodded, laughing softly. "I think I remember telling you that a time or two."

Buck stood up and moved to the hallway door again. "This time I'm sure I heard something."

He looked and saw Ezra exiting the bathroom, eyes reddened as if he'd been crying.

"Everything all right, Ezra?" he asked.

"I'm fine," was the terse reply.

"Is your stomach bothering you?" Buck persisted.

"No," said Ezra. "I'm tired."

Buck frowned slightly. Chris had a knack for getting the boy to tell him what was wrong, but Ezra wasn't talking. "Well, if you need anything, just let one of us know."

Ezra nodded and slipped into the boys' bedroom.

"What was that about?" Chris asked quietly.

"I don't know," said Buck. "But, I have a feeling it could be a long night."


Ezra crawled in bed hiding his tears with his forearm. He was going to talk to Mr. Larabee about Vin's problem with school like Dr. Ashby had suggested, but now it was obvious she was wrong.

Seeing the door open slightly, he pretended to be asleep. They couldn't talk to him if he were asleep. He felt someone tuck the blankets around him and kiss him on the side of his forehead.

"Good night, Ezra," Chris said as he quietly left the room.

Ezra sniffed as tears began to roll. Doctor Ashby was wrong. Mr. Larabee wouldn't keep him if he wasn't good enough. They were sending him away and there was nothing he could do about it.


Chris rolled over in bed and groaned softly when he looked at the clock. It was almost four in the morning. It was later than usual, but Ezra had just made his nightly pilgrimage into his room. When would either of them get a full night's sleep again?

"Are you okay, Ezra?" Chris asked.

Ezra nodded but climbed into Chris's bed anyway. "Vin's talking," he mumbled not aware of where he was or what he was saying.

Chris shook his head. Ezra would be mortified if he knew what he was doing. And although Chris wished his sleep wasn't disrupted he was happy that Ezra was subconsciously seeking him out. Dr. Ashby believed that his nightly walks were probably a combination of Ezra abdicating the responsibility of being the protector for Vin and JD, and a little boy seeking security. She saw the visits as an unconscious desire to trust Chris to protect him and the other boys.

Quietly Chris climbed out of bed and walked to the boys' room to check on them. The illumination of the Shrek nightlight gave just enough light to see that JD had commandeered Ezra's bed. He didn't need the dim glow to hear the snores coming from the little boy.

"Ya gotta stay with me, Dobie. They'll come for us."

Vin's words were loud and urgent.

"No! No! No!"

Chris moved quickly to Vin's bunk wanting to dispel the nightmare.

He rested his hand on Vin's shoulder. "It's all right, Vin. It's just a dream."

Vin jolted away and scrambled over against the wall.

"Easy, Vin," Chris soothed. "It's me. You were having a bad dream."

Vin stayed still for a few moments while the cobwebs of sleep cleared. When he realized Chris was there, he moved back to the middle of his bed and lay down.

"You okay?" Chris asked.

Vin nodded sleepily. He peered over the side of the bed. "Where's Ezra?"

"He's in my room," said Chris. "I'm going to bring him back as soon as I get JD back in his bed."

Chris stood by Vin for another moment, quietly observing the seven-year-old.

"Are you sure you're all right? Do you want me to stay for awhile?"

He watched as Vin's eyes searched out Dobie resting quietly on the dog bed.

Vin nodded. "I'm okay."

"All right," Chris said. He turned to Ezra's bed, scooped up JD's limp body and put him back in his own bed. Pulling up his blankets and tucking them in, he leaned over and kissed JD's forehead. Rising up, he bumped the back of his head on the top bunk.

"Ow," he said softly, rubbing his head.

"You okay?" Vin whispered.

Chris smiled and reached over and tucked Vin's blanket a little higher.

"Yes. I'll be back in a few minutes."

He retrieved Ezra and carried him back to the boys' room. Ezra was no heavyweight, but in his totally relaxed state, he was an armful. Chris tucked him into bed.

"He's been doing that a lot," Vin whispered.

Chris moved over to Vin. "What?"

"Going to your room. You been bringing him back 'most every night."

"He feels embarrassed when he wakes up in my bed, so when I'm sure he's all right, I've been bringing him back to bed," Chris answered softly. "I didn't mean to wake you."

"I's worried he was sick."

Chris smiled. The little green-eyed protector had his own protector. "He's fine. Do you want me to stay a little while?"

Vin smiled shyly and nodded.

"All right. You snuggle in there and get some sleep. Sweet dreams, Vin."

"G'night," Vin answered and obediently closed his eyes.

It was only a few minutes before the seven-year-old was fast asleep. Chris slipped quietly into the hall.

"You're good."

Chris jumped at the unexpected voice. "Thanks a lot," he said sarcastically. "Now you've got my adrenaline going. I'll never get back to sleep."

Buck chuckled and slapped Chris on the shoulder before heading back to his own room.


Something was up, but he wasn't sure what. Buck wished it was Monday already so he'd be back to work full time. It had been raining outside forcing the boys to play in the house for the morning. All three of them were edgy and bickering. Buck knew that part of their problem was the rain and the underlying fear that another flood would come. They had made progress, but the fear still manifested itself on days like today. And part of it was simply that they were confined.

Ezra was still doing his best to avoid Vin and JD. He was moving room to room to be by himself, or so it appeared. He was watching a video in the living room, sitting on the floor by the couch. When Vin and JD came in and flopped down on the floor, he got up and sat on the couch for a few minutes before leaving the room altogether. His lingering glances back at the television indicated that he would rather be staying.

When the video finished, the boys went in search of their 'brother' and Buck followed. Ezra was in the boys' room, playing on the floor, but as soon as the other boys entered and asked to play, he said, "I'm finished anyway," and picked up a book and sat cross-legged on JD's bed to read while Vin and JD picked up where Ezra left off with the toys.

Buck frowned. The furtive glances from the eight-year-old told him that Ezra would rather be on the floor playing with the boys. Observing the boys, his eyes took in the room as well. Ezra's bed was folded up and tucked neatly in the corner. None of the regular clutter that tended to litter the floor of the room was visible, except that which peeked from under JD's bed.

He looked at Ezra, certain that he had done the tidying up of the room. It simply wasn't in Vin or JD's nature to think about cleaning their room on their own. They had to be prompted to remember. Ezra, on the other hand…

What Buck wasn't certain of, though, was what instigated the behavior this time. Ezra had been obsessively cleaning up after the boys all morning, almost to the point of being frantic when they made a mess. For the past week or so Ezra had been stubbornly refusing to put away his bed and they had let it go. It was a point of contention between Ezra and JD, but neither Chris nor he had thought it an issue to pursue. Folding up the bed was simply a matter of a little extra space in the room. Was Ezra trying to make more space? Maybe he really was feeling closed in by the proximity of the other boys and needed his own space.

Of course, he could be wrong and it could mean something totally different. You never could tell with Ezra.

"I'm going to make lunch, boys," Buck said. "Maybe after lunch it will be dry enough to play outside."

Who was he kidding? Even if their shoes got a little wet, he was sending the boys outside after lunch.