by Jaye B.

Main Characters: Young Ezra

Type of Story: Gen Fic

Universe: Alterations Modern

Author’s Note: Thanks Niki and Twyla Jane. This is for everyone out there who has sent me such encouraging e-mails. Ya’ll shore do know had to lift a girl up. I know nothing about police procedures, medical terms or laws except what I see on TV or read about. I know nothing...nothing...nothing about any of that.


The twelve year old boy sat on top of the moving train looking forward, watching the approaching fog swallow the front cars. His clothes were wrinkled and dirty even though they looked to be of good quality. His face was pale and his green eyes wore a hollowed expression with dark circles underneath. He had grown too thin with lack of proper food in the last week. In fact, the only provisions he had was what he could scrounge from the garbage cans behind the alleys in places where the train stopped. He wouldn't search for long in case he might miss the train's departure.

He would not look back, did not want to see what was behind him. This was his way of trying to cope with the changes that had started a week ago and sent him on this journey. Oh Lord, had it only been a week he thought. He sighed as his memories returned to last week and he was once again beside his mother.

The previous week...

"Now I want you to stay hidden while I have this meeting, Ezra. They do not know about you and must not every know, sweetheart" she said as she lightly brushed his face with her fingers. "It is essential for this proposition that you keep very quite. This venture will net us a substantial amount of money. I can trust you to stay hidden, can't I?"

"Of course, Mother" he had replied and then went to hide in the secret place. It was in the bedroom closet where a small opening had been cut into the wall to the crawl space behind it. The wall would be replaced after he had crawled in and settled himself into the tiny area. It was ingenious in that he could come and go as he pleased and no one would know he was there. The seam on the wall was nearly invisible to the eye except to those who knew of its existence. The only ones who knew about it now were he and his mother.

He didn't know what the meeting had been about as he couldn't make out the words though he could hear the voices. It went on for a while then the voices were raised in anger and then he heard several very loud noises that sounded like pops. They startled him because he had never heard anything like that before. He was terrified yet he remembered that he must stay hidden till his Mother came for him. He waited as he heard the voices again and then furniture was being moved or thrown. This went on for a long time then silence.

He waited and waited and waited. After a few hours he knew something was wrong and he left his hiding place. What greeted his eyes caused him to flee and he ran until he came to the train station. He hopped the first train he could find.

Present day...

Now he had been riding for a week on top of this train, not caring where he was going. Just riding and riding, heading west. Where he would end up he didn't know and at the moment didn't care. His mother was gone and he was alone.

He pulled out the train schedule that he had stolen from the last stop to see what was out there. He knew he was going to have to find a place to recoup and find nourishment soon, but he was afraid that whoever had killed his mother was looking for him. He knew that made no sense as nobody knew about him.

The next stop was a place in Colorado called Four Corners. He would stop there for a while just to rest and eat. He knew he had to think and plan because he couldn't last much longer running blindly. Yes, he would stop at Four Corners and maybe he could make some money. Life took a turn for the worst a week ago, but he would face it and not look back. He folded the map, placed it back in his pocket, looked ahead and watched the fog again.


P> The town was not as big as Atlanta (the place Ezra had fled from) but was still a considerable size to support a post office, Sheriff's Office, grocery, Barber/Hair Salon, gas station, and several other small businesses. The rural area consisted mostly of ranches and farmland surrounded by high mountains with several lakes and rivers. It was a place bursting with untapped possibilities and resources.

In this budding metropolis Ezra found himself searching through the garbage bins behind one of two restaurants in Four Corners for any decent food scraps. He was so ravenous that he was risking capture by police in looting the trash at this time of day. He hissed in pain as he bumped his leg against the bin he was leaning into scrounging for his first meal in two days. The menu was lean causing a sigh to escape from Ezra.

He had arrived early this morning after jumping from the slowing train as it prepared to halt in this small town. He had to leap from the train before it could be searched by the railroad security and in doing so he had torn his pants plus skinned his knee and hands. It was not a good start to the day. As he pulled out a half eaten sandwich that was still in its wrapper from the bin, he wondered where he was going to sleep tonight and how he could get cleaned up. Oh, how he hated being filthy and he bemoaned his ruined clothes! His mother would find his appearance ghastly and remind him,,,sadness and loneliness filled Ezra as he thought of Maude. He carefully got off the bin (no use in causing any more injuries) and checked to make sure no one was around before he made a mad dash to the next back street. As he rounded the corner, he was suddenly confronted by an older youth that had stepped out from a hidden doorway.

"This is our turf and that is our food you're stealing." the boy growled lowly. He was taller than Ezra with long brown hair and had the most startling blue eyes in a face that was just as thin as his. He stood with an easy yet ready stance in ragged jeans and tattered sweatshirt, both of which had seen better days. His head sported a ridiculous felt hat that looked like it had come from some old western show and his shoes seemed to be moccasins. Ezra was both startled and shocked that he had been discovered and confronted by this scruffy looking character.

"Our?" questioned Ezra as he looked around the almost deserted, newspaper cluttered alley. There was no one else around but the two of them that he could perceive.

"Yeah, me and JD." said the youth. He pointed to the hidden doorway and a little boy who could not be more than nine materialized from the dark recess. The child was as bedraggled as the other. He wore a long sleeved, frayed tee shirt with threadbare-looking jeans that were already to short for him. He came forward to stand by his friend while smoothing his dark hair out of his face. The hair fell back into the kid's face. The boy's deep brown eyes looked hungrily at the sandwich Ezra clutched to his chest as he walked over to stand by the older boy.

Now both were facing him and Ezra felt intimidated by this show of strength. He recognized there was no way he could fight the older youth in his weakened state and keep the food. It did not even bother him about losing the meal...well not much anyway. No, Ezra was more worry about getting beat up by these two and he was trying to figure out what to say to escape this situation with as little pain as possible. First the knee and now this, his day is not getting any better Ezra thought.

When confronted by the first boy, a blank poker face (the one his mother taught him) fell into place and he managed to hold onto it. Now he used his dimple smile, held out the sandwich, and said, "Oh my, I had not realized this specific locality was held in sublet by anyone. By all means, take this small token I had liberated from its malodorous resting place and let's let bygones be bygones. I render my deepest apologies for any misapprehensions that have ensued."

There was stunned silence as both boys stared in total confusion at Ezra after his speech. Mother had always taught him that his silver tongue would be one of his best weapons to use to get out of trouble. As a confidence woman, his mother was one of the elite and had passed her knowledge as best as she could onto him in the little time they had together. Now he hoped the confusion he had created would get him out of this situation with relatively little pain.

The smaller boy called JD turned to the other and asked in bewilderment, "What did he say Vin?"

"I think he said he was sorry and to take the sandwich,,,I think." replied Vin Tanner uncertainly as he studied the stranger. When he had first noticed him digging through the trash, Vin had become angry and decided to confront the intruder. As he faced off with the smaller boy, he noticed that he looked in worse shape then they were. His clothes were torn and filthy; he looked hurt and about ready to collapse. He was much thinner than him or JD and had dark circles under his green eyes. He was the perfect poster boy for those feed the children TV programs. The kid had courage because even though you couldn't tell it from his expression, Vin knew he was scared. He could feel it in the air. In that moment, Vin realized he had just gotten as bad as the bullies that were in the orphanage he was once in. He was ashamed of himself for doing to another what he swore he would never let happen to him again. Now this perplexing boy stood before him and JD holding out the small sandwich to them and spouting out big words, all the time smiling like they were his best friends.

Vin looked down at the hand that held the food and noticed a tremble steal over it before the smaller kid composed himself. Awe heck, this one needed help just as much as they did. Now what was he going to do, wondered Vin. It took everything that he and JD could do now to try to keep just the two of them alive, much less take on a new mouth to feed. Yet, Vin knew, he couldn't cold-heartedly turn his back on the youth before him. The smaller boy was on his last legs though he was trying not to show it. Before Vin could say a word Ezra, with a quick movement, thrust the meal into the older boy's hand and turned to retreat to a safer place.

Erza thought he was going to get to just walk away without any confrontation until a hand grabbed his shoulder and stopped him in his tracks. Oh bother, he thought, almost made it. He quickly turned to face his opponent.

"Wait a minute." said Vin softly. "Why don't we share this between us? I know it's not much, but what do you say?"

"Are you sure, Vin? I mean we don't even know who he is or if we can trust him." whispered JD. "What if he tells about us, huh? What do we do then?"

"Oh, I don't think we have to worry about that, do we,,,say what is your name anyway?" asked Vin. Silence. Ezra just stared at Vin then quirked his right eyebrow up and smirked at them.

"You tell me yours first." said Ezra cautiously.

"O.K., fair enough." acknowledged Vin. "My name is Vin Tanner and this is JD Dunne." he said as he placed his hand on the youngster's shoulder beside him. JD stood a little taller as he stuck out his hand for Ezra to shake.

Ezra regarded the proffered hand then nervously took it to shake saying, "Everett Stephens." Then he timidly offered his hand to Vin Tanner.

"Uh huh,,,well nice to me you Everett." replied Vin doubtfully. Tanner had not survived this long on the streets without gaining some ability to read people. For whatever reasons the boy in front of him had, he knew he was lying about his name. Vin guessed it was because "Everett" didn't trust them. He probably didn't trust anyone after whatever had happened to him. Vin would let it slide; after all he knew what it felt like to be on the run. He had been doing it since he ran away from the last foster home six years ago.

JD's stomach growled at that moment breaking the tension of the group. Grinning unashamedly, JD asked, "Can we eat now?"

Vin chuckled and replied, "Yeah, after we see if there is anything else in the bin we can eat."

"I'm afraid that the cuisine that you hold in your hand is at the moment all that is fit for consumption from that revolting receptacle." stated Ezra.

Vin and JD both looked questioningly at Ezra, and then JD turned to Vin and said, "Huh?"

Vin shook his head, "Don't know what he said. That mouthful just flew over my head."

Ezra sighed, "I said that there is not anything else that is fit to eat in the trash."

"Well, why didn't you say so in the first place?" harrumphed Vin. "Let's go over to the cantina and see what they got. They may even have some of those tortillas that you like, JD."

"Cantina?" queried Ezra.

"Yeah, that's the other eating place in town except for the Blue Tavern and we usually get breakfast from there since it opens after noon and don't close until after three in the morning. Come on, we're running late and we can't stay in one place out in the open for too long without attracting someone's attention. Besides, I'm hungry so let's go!" said JD as he pulled on Vin and Ezra's arms still talking about where they would go after and how they could spend the night...Ezra allowed himself to be pulled along as he turned dazed eyes to Vin. He had never heard anyone say so much in one breath.

Vin just chuckled and said, "Yeah, I know."

Ezra wondered what he had let himself in for as they reached the end of the alley and peered cautiously around the corner. Whatever it was, he would do anything it was to survive. In the meantime, he would go with these two new acquaintances and find some more provisions. Maybe they would know where he could find a bath and get clean. Lord, how he hated being dirty!

Shack Sweet Shack

The three boys searched the garbage bins behind the second restaurant in town for more food. JD almost shouted out loud when he found a bag of flour tortillas that had been thrown away because they had started to mold. Instead he said, "Yes!" and showed his find to the others who gave him bright smiles and thumbs up.

"Hey, if we get some apples from that orchard outside of town tonight, we'll have a pretty good breakfast tomorrow!" exclaimed Vin as he helped JD out of the bin.

Something caught Ezra's eye as he held the food while Vin pulled JD out nearly sending both of them tumbling down. Giving the salvaged provisions to the others after they had straightened themselves out, he scrambled into the container JD had just left. In a moment he came up smiling, waving a half bag of stale chips that had been stuffed in the corner. Climbing back over to the other side, he said, "Now we have something else to go with the bountiful sandwich for lunch."

"Alright." called out JD.

Vin nodded his head in agreement. "Now let's go and eat lunch. Then we'll rest before we go get the apples tonight." suggested Vin.

"See, Everett, we have to go after dark so the owner won't see us. There's a cabin out at the place we found. It is just outside of the town limits. We'll also have to find him a bed, Vin," said JD as he looked at his best friend. Vin nodded in agreement.

"What I really want after we eat is a bath. I hate my clothes being soiled and my hair...well I need to bathe and the sooner the better." I really hate being so sullied thought Ezra.

"You're in luck," said Vin. "The cabin has a lake by it and that's were JD and I swim and clean up."

"Yeah, me and Vin raided the trash at the Bluebird Motel and found lots of soap and half filled little bottles of shampoo. You know the ones they put in each room and people use only a little bit and the soap is where they only used it once. We also found several towels there and behind the grocery store we found a box of washing powder they had thrown away because it had gotten wet and half the powder had hardened but we took it because it was perfectly good to use. I know we can find him a blanket at the old church because" JD drew a deep breath to continue but Vin jumped in.

"Whoa, slow down and breathe JD. Let's finish this conversation at the shack. Everett is looking a little peaked there. When was the last time you ate, Everett?" asked Vin as he studied the pale boy.

If Ezra hadn't been feeling so weak and not been distracted by JD, he would not have said, "Two days ago after the last..." he stopped when he realized what he had said and what he was about to reveal. He did not trust these two yet, beside they were probably in a worst situation and he did not need anyone's pity. His mother would be appalled if she were alive...if she were alive he thought sadly.

Vin and JD were both looking at him with shocked expression. They remembered when they had been without food for that long. They knew that as soon as Ezra had eaten, his body would demand that he rest. So it was back to the shack before anyone could eat.

"Well, I think it time we got back home and out of sight. The patrol car and the locals will be gathering in the restaurants and we don't want to get caught." said Vin softly as he took the lead.

They skirted behind the main street and headed outside of town. About two miles, three fenced fields and forty minutes later they came to a small lake. It was beautiful with trees surrounding three quarters of the lake and no roads going in or out. Vin guided the others to the tree line and beyond: inside a little ways they came to a broken down hovel.

The run down hut had once been a hunting cabin that was obliviously abandoned. Most of the windows had been broken, the roof was a rusty tin affair with holes and the porch had almost no slats left. Outside and behind the shack was an old water pump that still worked. Or so JD informed Ezra as Vin led the way inside. The interior looked a lot better than you would have thought. The cabin had been small and only contained two rooms. You could see where the boys had swept clean the trash and clutter from the front room combination kitchen. The kitchen had an old pot belly stove and two cabinets while in the only bedroom there was a small fireplace. The place had been a gold mine to the boys when they first found it and to Ezra, while it didn't look like the accommodations he was use too, it felt like a safe haven.

After a very brief tour, they sat down to eat. Vin cut the sandwich into three equal portions and gave the other their share. Then they split the chips that Ezra has found and JD went to the pump to fill three of the glasses that Vin had found at the cabin when they first arrived. Old newspaper scrounged from the hotel bins were spread out and used as place mats. The boys dug into their feast.

Despite his gnawing hunger, Ezra found he could only eat half of his meal. His stomach had shrunk and he had always been a light eater. Now he looked down at what was left of his meal and then he looked at JD. JD had wolfed down his sandwich and was now almost through with his chips. Vin had taken his time knowing that this food would have to last until supper.

"Mr. Dunne, would you want the rest of my meal?" queried Ezra as he pushed his leftovers closer toward the boy.

JD looked over at Vin to see if this would be okay. At Vin's nod, he said, "Thanks Everett." as he took the food and started munching away. Ezra sat back to wait until they were finished.

Vin smirked and pointed to one of the cabinets. "There are towels, soap and shampoo in that cabinet if you want to take your bath now. We'll share our bedding with you until we can find you some."

Ezra nodded as he got up, opened the cabinet and retrieved the necessary items. He then went out to the lake to find a spot to bathe.

Not far from the cabin Ezra found the perfect spot. It had a clearing that went right up to the water and was surrounded by trees with a scattering of bushes to hang his clothes on. He noticed where there were several different size rocks close at the water's edge and he was curious as to their arrangement. He was astonished when he figured out that this is where JD and Vin washed their clothes. Ezra really wanted a bath now but he knew he also needed to wash his clothes; he quickly undressed and started to clean them. He took some of the soap and dunked his shirt in the water and began rubbing vigorously. After his shirt was washed he hung it on a bush and then washed his underwear and pants to hang out to dry while he took a long anticipated bath.

The water was a little cool but it felt so good to wash his hair and the rest of him. He took a little longer in the water until his fingers puckered and the rest of him wrinkled. He grimaced in pain as he cleaned out the cut on his leg as best he could, followed by the scrapes on his hands. He then got out and dried himself off, wrapping the towel around his waist. He picked up his still wet clothes and headed back to the cabin. The clothes could dry just as well there as at the lake. Ezra felt a whole lot better. He had had food and was now clean. For a day that had started out so lousy it now looked ten times better.

In the meantime, Vin and JD had gathered up the newspaper, empty bag and wrapper to throw away. They then went into the bedroom to get the bedding arranged.

"Why are we getting the bed ready, Vin? We're not going to sleep until later, right?" asked JD.

"We may not be going to sleep JD, but Everett will. Remember how we felt after we had gone so long without food before we got here to Four Corners. I know you can, as it has only been a couple of weeks. Remember we both went to sleep? I'm betting the same thing will happen to him too." replied Vin.

After arranging the bedding, the boys went outside to wait for their new friend. It wasn't long before they saw Everett returning to the cabin in just a towel carrying his clothes. JD started sniggering as he saw Ezra and grinned at Vin. Vin was grinning too until he saw the cuts, bruises and scraps on the other boy's hands and leg. The leg looked like it had a nasty bruise and cut.

"JD, go get the iodine we found out behind the grocery the other day. And bring me one of the clean towels. Come on over here and let me take a look at that Everett. Looks like it needs tending."

"I am fine, Mr. Tanner. You needn't bother yourself." Ezra did not want to be a burden to the others. "It's just a small cut and scrap, just minor really. Nothing to be concerned about."

"Infection can set in pretty fast out here if those are left alone for too long. You don't want to have to go to the clinic when you're on the run. Besides its just a little iodine and should kill any germs that are already there. Come on into the cabin and let's take care of those "minor" injuries. Won't take but a minute." said Vin as he grabbed Ezra's arm and pulled him into the house and through to the bedroom. He pushed a protesting Ezra down onto the pallet that had been made while JD brought the medicine in. He ignored the "Mr. Tanner I don't need" as he proceed to examined the cuts and scrapes.

"JD, better get the spare clothes out for Everett. He can't just nap in that there towel." stated Vin. Ezra hissed as the iodine was coated on his scratches.

"OW! That stings! Besides I do not require any additional apparel. I can perfectly sleep...wait just a minute! I'm not going to slumber now. My clothes need to be hung up and besides I'm not sleepy," replied Ezra as JD came back with a pair of sweat pants and a tee shirt.

"Uh huh." murmured Vin as he finished applying the iodine. "We need to rest before we go to the orchard for those apples tonight. It'll be best to get there a little before midnight."

"But I'm not," Ezra said as a big yawn interrupted his reply. He blinked as he suddenly felt very tired. He knew it was because he had started to relax around these two and for some reason he was beginning to trust them. Well, at least to watch his back at the moment. His hunger abated and feeling clean for the first time in a week, Ezra just realized how exhausted he really was.

Vin noticed the yawn and Ezra's eyes blinking rapidly. He unfolded the spare clothes and helped him get into them. "Don't worry; we'll hang up your clothes for ya while ya take a rest. Now take off your shoes and crawl in and move to the other side." Ezra was feeling exhausted now and just nodded his head and crawled into the bed. Within seconds he was sound asleep.

JD just grinned and shook his head. "Think he'll sleep until sundown?"

"Probably longer than that." said Vin as he grabbed Everett's clothes and went into the other room.

"Noticed his clothes?" asked JD.

"Yeah, their good quality. Think he came from money." replied Vin as JD helped him hang the clothes up. "Make sure to hang them so there's little wrinkling. I'm betting he's fussy about his 'apparel'".

"Wonder why he ran away?"

"Not our business. He'll tell us when he's ready. Just like he'll tell us his real name when he trusts us. I know one thing though; something bad had to have happened to him to make him run."

"Everett is not his real name? Why would he lie about that, Vin?" asked JD. "I mean it's not like we could or would tell anyone. We're on the run too!"

"It has to do with trust, JD. He don't trust anyone at the moment. I'd said that he's never really trusted anyone in his life or else he would have had someone else to go to instead of running away. It could also be there is no one else. We won't know 'till he's ready to talk to us so don't be asking him a lot of questions about his past, okay?"

"Yeah, okay." sighed JD sadly. "Sometimes the world stinks, Vin."

Vin hugged JD briefly as he said, "I know kiddo. The world is a rough place but we'll get by. We'll help him to get by too. All of us will make it as long as we stick together. Now let's go find some sacks to carry them apples in. With three of us, we should be able to carry enough to last for a few days."

It was well past sundown, going on 8 o'clock by the time Ezra started stirring from his "brief nap". JD and Vin had spent the time doing a few chores in preparation for that night. They gathered firewood and filled the water jug in the kitchen. They went back into town after the lunch crowd had left and found some flour sacks out behind the grocery store with a busted half bag of sugar. After getting back from their "shopping" trip, Vin made JD lay down to rest. Protesting vigorously but quietly, JD settled down and soon went to sleep.

After JD drifted off, Vin got Everett's clothes and sat down to mend them. Vin had been traveling the last several years and in doing so, he had acquired the ability to sew his own clothes. Picking up discarded thread and needles and finding clothes in garbage heaps, he had assembled a traveling sewing kit that he carried with him everywhere. It wasn't long before he had mended the torn pants.

JD woke up before Everett, so they waited patiently by playing a game of pick up sticks. Vin had whittled with his pocketknife a set of sticks for them to play with last winter and it was one of their favorite games to pass the time. They quickly picked them up and put them away when they heard a moan from the other room. Vin motioned JD to stay in the kitchen while he checked on the other boy. He cautiously opened the door and saw Everett thrashing on the bed in the throws of a nightmare. Vin quickly went in the room to rouse the distraught boy and heard him whisper, "no mother, no". He reached over and lightly shook Everett's shoulder to wake him up.

Ezra was startled awake by a hand shaking him and shot out of the bed and flew across the room. He thought who ever was chasing him had found him; then he realized it was just Vin. He cursed silently as Vin looked at him questioningly but was grateful when he didn't ask for any explanations. Lord, he hoped he had not embarrassed himself.

"Ya ready to go? Your clothes are dry," said Vin as he watched Everett fully wake up. He had noticed the terror that had briefly crossed Everett's face when he first woke up. He was glad that he had made JD stay in the other room, as he would surely have started asking questions.

Ezra felt better then he had in days. He realized that he was hungry again as he followed Vin from the bedroom and got his clothes. He was surprised that they had been mended and he looked at the others silently asking for an explanation.

"Thought you would like not having so many holes in them." informed Vin.

Ezra smiled and said, "There are no boundaries for the appreciation I hold for this act of kindness, Mr. Tanner. I do abhor not looking my best."

JD leaned over to Vin and asked, "Did he just say Thank You?"

"Yep," replied Vin.

"Thought so."

"I'll be ready in a moment, gentlemen."

Ezra quickly changed into his clothes then the boys grabbed the flour sacks and headed out the door. One hour later they were climbing over a wooden fence that encircled the orchard.

"Quietly now, JD you start picking the apples off of the ground. Be sure to just get the good ones. Everett, how about we climb this tree here and pick some. That way we'll have the picking spread out and hopefully no one will notice." whispered Vin.

Both boys nodded their agreement and they all started to work. It didn't take them long before they were finished and back over the fence. They started laughing when they were far enough away so no one could hear them, as their raid had been a success. JD's excessive chattering kept them company all the way back to the shack. Three tired boys returned to the shack and fell into bed asleep as soon as their heads touch down.


Three weeks later...

The sun had just started to peak over the mountains yet the sunlight had not penetrated the shack where the boys slept. Despite having a late night, Vin Tanner woke up early. He quietly lifted the covers and slip out of the pallet the three boys shared. He then crept out of the bedroom through the outer room to the outside. He sat down on the ground facing the east to watch the sunrise. The colors were spectacular with their reds, gold's and grays streaking across the sky. As Vin saw the sunrise, he closed his eyes and listened to the world. This was his favorite time of the day when JD and Everett were still asleep and he could be alone. He thought about the last three weeks since they had found Everett. Life sure had changed. That first night after they had stolen those apples seemed a lifetime ago. Slowly they had gotten to know each other better finding they had a lot in common. Everett had started to relax around them which brought about the last two nights without nightmares for the younger boy.

The first night Everett had started thrashing around as a nightmare started waking Vin up. After the reaction from that afternoon, Vin kept still trying not to startle Everett. JD slept like the dead not even stirring. Vin leaned upon his elbows to watch. After five minutes of moaning "no, mother, no", Everett sat up gasping and shaking. A few minutes went by before he calmed down and noticed Vin looking at him. Vin saw the fear and embarrassment in his face prompting a whispered; "You okay?"

Everett looked down in awkwardness, "I'm fine. Sorry for the inconvenience...and for waking you up."

Vin waited until he made eye contact with the distraught boy gaining his attention. He reached over, touched his shoulder and said, "No problem. We all have them." And that was that. They both lay back down going to sleep with a new understand between them. There were nightmares after that, but all Vin had to do was wait for Everett to become fully awake and then he would grip his shoulder in comfort. It got where Everett would reach up giving a squeeze to the hand on his shoulder in gratitude.

With his eyes closed, Vin heard the birds start the greeting of the day while the night creatures made their way back to their dens. A gentle cool breeze flowed through the trees lifting the branches and leaves in a soft touch. Vin felt the wind, listen to the rustle of tress like they were whispering secrets, feeling at peace. He felt his soul expand as he drank in deeply the joy of the world waking up and thought God was good. He stayed outside the cabin completely still, listening. After a while, he heard a stirring and knew that JD was getting up. He braced himself when JD staggered out and draped himself across Vin's back throwing his arms around his neck in a brief hug.

"Morning." mumbled JD with his eyes closed.

Vin grinned saying, "Morning. You gonna crack them eyes open or just keep walking with them closed all day?"

JD opened one eye and replied, "At least I'm up before noon. Can't say the same for Everett."

"Yep. Still would like to see them eyes opened a little wider." voiced Vin as he flipped JD over his shoulder into his lap.

"Maybe in a little while," yawned JD as he leaned back into Vin's chest. "Think we should wake Everett up?"

"Nope. You know that the mornings don't agree with him. Besides, you want to hear another lecture on why God didn't intend for us to be up before the sun hit noon? I shore don't." stated Vin.

JD snickered as he said, "Yeah. He sure does know a lot of words. Where do you suppose he got them from, Vin?"

"I figured that Everett went to some fancy school back where he came from. Least ways he's pretty smart."

"No smarter than you, Vin! You take real good care of us." defended JD.

"Thanks JD, but Everett is smarter then he let's us know. He's a quick study too. Noticed the way he has picked up on how to fish? Now he may not want to do "menial labor" as he puts it, but he still pitches in, right up to cleaning and cooking. I think he protests just because it's expected of him. Or used to...anyway, it's Saturday. Let's go get some fish for breakfast, what do you say?" asked Vin.

"Yes! But wait, what about your job?" inquired JD. "Don't you have to work today?"

"Yep, but Mrs. Potter won't be expecting me until after lunch to help clean up." replied Vin. A week after the boys had been together; Vin noticed a sign in Potter's Grocery store advertising for help. He mentioned that he sure wished that he could get that job because the money would help them get some things they would need to survive the winter. Everett had thought a moment finally saying "why not"? They had the hundred dollars that Everett won from the crap games that went on behind the Blue Tavern, why not use it as an investment in new clothes? That's what he called it, an investment. With the new clothes (which they got at the local church's goodwill store), he went to apply for the job. He was surprised when he got the job just as long as his parents gave their written permission. With a deft hand Everett wrote then signed for him a quick note getting him the job. He had his first payday last week of fifty dollars. Vin requested that he be paid in cash and Mrs. Potter, while hesitant at first, agreed. They had pooled the money with what was left of the hundred prompting a meeting about what to buy. They quickly decided that they had to be a total agreement on anything that was bought outside of the necessities.

The first thing they bought was some new shoes and clothes for all of them. JD finally had some decent clothes with pants the right length. Everett wanted a white long sleeve shirt with dress pants, but Vin pointed out that they would be ruined with all the digging in trash bins plus garbage heaps. Everett looked disgusted but conceded defeat at Vin's logic at least until they could afford not to "scrounge in compost mounds" anymore. Tennis shoes all around after they had a heated discussion with Everett who wanted a pair of dress shoes. The younger boy sighed in defeat again as Vin and JD presented the same arguments about the "compost mound" again. They got new coats for the winter as well as a few new blankets and quilts that the church had at that time. They bought socks as well as underwear spending about half of their money. Vin had made a suggestion that they buy a cooler for ice to help keep some perishable items longer, a hatchet to chop firewood for the winter and a rope to hang their clothes to dry on. During the winter they could just keep the cooler outside with their food in it.

Everett had gone to the local lumber yard and asked for any defect wood that they would not be using. He persuaded them to donate the unused wood if for anything else but to get rid of it. With the wood they fixed the shutters on the cabin, the roof, and holes in the walls, the cabinet doors and the table. Now the shack would be dry and warm during the winter in addition they had already started stacking wood for the fire place and pot belly stove. Vin knew it would take a lot of wood to survive the cold winters of Denver, but they had several months to get prepared. They had gotten fishing wire and hooks to fish the lake. Vin showed both boys how to fish with just the line and no pole. Now JD and Vin headed toward the lake with line and bucket to catch breakfast.

Ezra woke alone in bed panicking for a moment until he realized where he was...the cabin with his new friends. He stretched looking out the window noting that it was still early in the morning and if the routine was the same; Vin and JD were fishing. He grinned at the consideration of them for not waking him. It was Saturday after all thus this was the day he could have a lay in. He lay there thinking about the changes that had happened. Memories flowed through his mind as he pondered his new life.

In the last three weeks they had made a better existence for themselves. They went from runaways living hand to mouth on scraps, to a roof over their heads and earning money. Howbeit the roof took a lot of patching up and Vin was only earning fifty dollars a week, still they were getting by. He knew Vin would be upset if he knew how much money Ezra really had stashed away. He only let them know of the hundred dollars he had won from the first time he gambled in Four Corners. Vin thought he was occasionally playing craps behind the Blue Tavern when in actuality he played every weekend for several hours. He could only get by with this because Vin worked now.

Ezra days during the week were now spent by scouring through the city for food or other odds and ends to survive in the morning, doing chores at the cabin in the afternoon and again searching through the city at night for anything else to further better their lives. It was endless cycles through the week with the same on the weekends except at night. Friday and Saturday nights for him were spent gambling behind the Blue Tavern by playing craps or doing the Monte Shuffle with his cards. He had made close to a thousand dollars in the last two weekends, walking a thin line, balancing his wins so that the well wouldn't go dry. Last night he thought he had gone over the line when he had again won most of the money.

Ezra disliked cheating. He did not need to cheat to win. Even as young as he was, he knew he was good at gambling. He loved the calculations of numbers and manipulation of odds. The thrill of the cards was the reading of the other player's faces, gauging if they were bluffing or not, winning because you can play the game better then others. The game was using your judgment and abilities while the reward was winning. Last night one of the players at craps had been cheating.

Ezra had arrived at the usual time and watched for a little bit before playing. He noticed one of the rollers; a Carl Horn had switched the dice for a loaded pair. Carl was a drifter making his money from handy man jobs. He had come to Four Corners hoping to make a few extra dollars and found the craps game. He had been doing well until Ezra showed up. After watching for a while, Ezra made his move. He placed his bets when he knew the dice had been switched again. When he saw the cheater switch back to the loaded dice, he placed his bet on the player. He started taking half the winner's pot and soon the charlatan was getting angry. The swindler finally lost his temper as Ezra collected his winnings once again.

"You're cheating somehow, kid!" he said as he grabbed Ezra by his arm. He started shaking him as he screamed obscenities about frauds and con artist while the rest of the crowd tried to stop him. Just when Ezra thought he was going to get hit, Tiny the Blue Tavern bouncer interfered. The noise had gotten so loud it garnished the attention of the huge man causing him to leave his post to investigate. He snatched Ezra from the hands of the miscreant. Roughly pushing Carl away, Tiny demanded to know what was going on at the same time saying, "We don't hurt kids here!"

"He's cheating somehow. I want to know how because no kid should be able to win all the time." sneered Carl. "No one is that lucky."

"Did anyone see him cheat?" asked Tiny as he looked around at the others gathered there. Ezra discreetly kept silent.

"I don't see how he could of as he didn't roll the dice once tonight." answered one of the regulars. "He was just placing bets all night."

"He didn't touch the dice at all?" inquired Tiny. When the responses were negative, he turned to Carl and said, "If he didn't touch the dice, how could he cheat?"

"I don't know! Why don't you ask the little snake?" snarled Carl.

"Well, kid, did you cheat?" asked Tiny of Ezra.

"It was not I who was being dishonest in their dealings with everyone. Mr. Horn has been swindling the crowd all night long." replied Ezra.

Carl laughed out loud saying, "Yeah, right! He's lying to save his hide."

"Well, I don't know about that. You've both been splitting about even in your winnings? How has he been cheating?" asked Jim Henderson, one of the regulars, of Ezra.

"Mr. Horn has a pair of loaded dice in his left jacket pocket. He's been switching dice for most of the night."

"Is that so?" said Tiny as he turned to a pale Carl. "Let's see what is in your pockets. You had better hope that there are no dice there or you'll be banned from here. You know how we feel about cheaters."

Carl Horn had tried to weasel his way out but in the end they found the dice. As punishment his winnings were taking from him and he was banned from any other games. In their polite way, the crowd informed him that it would be to his advantage to leave town and never come back.

The double dealer glared at Ezra before he turned and walked away. After he was gone, Tiny warned Ezra to watch his back.

Ezra was very careful on his way home last night making sure he was not followed. Home, he thought as he laughed silently, whoever would have thought this shack would be considered a home. Mother would be so appalled.

Sounds of Vin and JD's returning abruptly cut off his musings as the others trouped back with breakfast. Ezra got up and went to stoke the fire in the other room. The nights were cool so the boys always had a fire going in the pot belly stove besides the one in the fireplace. He took one of the pots to fill up with water from the old pump outside to do his morning absolutions. Ezra hated being dirty so he tried to clean up as best he could with what he had. He was in no position to bathe everyday like he had when,,,no...he wasn't going to tread those memory paths again.

Ezra instead thought about his relationship with Vin and JD. He had never been around other children his age or even close to him. His mother had lectured him on being useful and how he didn't have time for childish things. This was the first time he had spent so much time getting to know others in his peer group. He found it strange at first because he didn't know how to interact with those around his age, but Vin and JD just seemed to accept him as he was. He found himself relaxing and enjoying their time together; like when he was learning to fish or helping repair the cabin. He knew he would never like digging through trash heaps but in truth, he had lived in worst conditions in very expensive homes.

Ezra completed his toiletries in time to help cook breakfast of fried fish, sliced oranges, and bread with butter. After eating the boys cleaned the dishes and prepared to go to town. Little did they know that things would change for them again this day.

After arriving in town the boys split up. Vin went to the Potter's store to work while JD and Ezra went on their daily scavenger hunt. Both boys carried garbage sacks because they never knew what they would find on these outings. First they went up the street to the local clothing stores looking through tossed sacks in garbage bins for anything that could be of use. Then it was on to the lumberyard, salvage yard, restaurants and finally going back to meet Vin at the grocery store. They were excitedly talking about the treasure they had found at the salvage yard, an old large tin wash tub. JD and Ezra had moved the prize to outside of town so they could pick it up on their way home. They had left the sacks that were filled with the food they found behind the eateries inside the tub. Now they were on their way to meet Vin behind the store. The boys tried to always meet where no one saw them.

As they went down the alley that was behind Potter's store, Ezra noticed a grim faced Carl Horn coming towards them. He quickly grabbed JD and pushed him down the connecting smaller alley saying in a desperate whisper, "Run JD, get out of here now!"

"But why?" questioned JD as he turned to Ezra. "What..."

"Just go JD! Now!" urged a desperate Ezra as he watched the scowling man suddenly run towards him. JD startled, stood for moment until he saw the angry man rushing at them. Terror overcame him as other memories flooded his mind from another time, he turn and ran screaming, "Run Everett!"

A feeling of protection then determination filled Ezra as he heard the panic in JD's voice. He would not let anything happen to JD because of him. He knew this was entirely his fault. He backed away from the fuming man as he charged closer and closer. He dodged the first lunge at him running in the opposite direction of JD. Twice more he eluded Carl grabbing for him before the enraged man got lucky. At the third swipe, Ezra slipped on a puddle of water tripping in front of the incensed man.

Carl snagged his arm hauling Ezra around to face him as he said, 'Got you, you little weasel! I'm going to teach you a little lesson for last night! You'll regret every crossing me!" He then swung hitting Ezra in the face rocking his head to the right. Swinging his arm back around, he backhanded Ezra on the left side of his face.

The first hit stunned Ezra while the second one made him dizzy. He knew he had to get away before Carl could beat him any worse. He kicked at the man's knee slamming it with enough force to cause him to briefly let go as the man howled in pain. But Ezra was to dizzy to make a-get-away. The effort only enraged the man more so that he picked Ezra up and threw him into the brick wall. Ezra was unconscious before he hit the ground. He didn't feel his shoulder dislocate or Carl kick him in the ribs, cracking them before help arrived.

JD had run hell bent for leather toward the only person he knew would protect him. He looked over his shoulder expecting Everett to be behind him. Instead he saw his friend dodging the big man. He ran out of the alley onto the sidewalk and straight to the store where Vin worked. He burst through the door screaming, "VIN! HELP VIN!"

Vin was in the back room sweeping when he heard JD's frantic call. Mrs. Potter was at the counter returning change to a customer. At he boy's abrupt entrance, Vin raced out from the backroom catching JD in his arms. "What? What's wrong, JD?"

"He's chasing us! He's chasing us...Everett's still out there! Help him, help him!" cried JD terrified. Vin looked up frantically searching for Everett hoping he would run through the door. Mrs. Potter and her customer both started heading toward the distraught child when Vin set JD down before him saying, "Where? Where JD, where?"

"In the the alley behind the store!" hiccupped JD as he was crying openly now.

"Stay here!" said Vin as he ran through the backroom for the alley door. Unlocking the door, he threw it open just in time to see the man pick up Everett and throw him into the wall. Looking around for some kind of weapon, he seized the broom he had be using and charged the man kicking Everett yelling, "HEY! GET AWAY FROM HIM!"

Carl turned at the yell just in time to get smacked in the face by the broom. Throwing up his arms trying to protect himself from the thrashing, Carl stumbled back from the on slaughter of the enraged youth. Seeing that it was just another child; he grabbed the broom as it swung at him again jerking it from the others hands. Taking the broom, Carl turned it upon the youth intending to beat him with it. On its downward arc from his swing, a hand caught the broom then wrenched it from his grasp. Carl turned to attack the latest intrusion to his fun and came face to face with one of the law enforcers of Four Corners. He looked into the blazing blue eyes as the grim faced man snarled, "We don't hurt kids in this town!" Then he saw stars as the dark haired mustached man drew back his fist striking Carl twice before letting him fall to the ground stunned. Buck Wilmington grinned in satisfaction as the assaulter rolled on the ground in painful confusion. He reached down and flipped the guy over onto his back and expertly slapped the cuffs on.

In the meantime, Mrs. Potter had called the Sheriff's Office after her stock boy and her customer both ran out the back. After informing the Sheriff's office of the emergency, Gloria Potter turned to the sobbing little boy left standing alone in her store. She gathered the trembling child in her arms trying to sooth him as she headed out the back.

When Vin had seen the other man spin the attacker around, he knew the officer would take care of everything. He ran to his fallen friend praying that he was still alive. He knelt beside Everett noticing that his shoulder looked funny and blood ran down from a split lip. Also, his face was scraped with blood pooling on the ground from the side of his head.

"Everett? Everett"? softly called Vin as he stroked his friend's head. He felt the knot on the left side of Everett head where he had hit the wall. He was worried now as there was no response from the pale bleeding boy. A shadow fell over the boys causing Vin's head to snap up. He positioned himself to defend his fallen friend as he didn't know who it was. He looked up into the calm and assuring eyes of the Deputy Sheriff of Four Corners.

"Easy now, kid. Just want to check out your friend here. Let me see him, okay?" placated Buck Wilmington. He could see that the other boy was seriously hurt and in need of immediate medical attention. Just then the police radio on Buck's shoulder crackled.

"Buck, you read me, Buck. Gloria just called here saying there's some trouble over there. You alright? Over!" came a tense voice from the radio.

Buck reached up and opens his end of the radio. "Josiah, I'm fine but there's a kid hurt pretty bad. Get a hold of Nathan and tell him to get over here. Then get over here with the car for a pick up. Over."

"Roger." replied the voice over the radio.

JD had squirmed out of Gloria arms to run over to Vin. He knelt down beside him to look at Everett. "Vin, is he dead?"

"No, JD. No, he's still breathing." answered Vin as he looked up to Buck pleadingly. "He'll be okay...right?"

The town of Four Corners held many colorful characters inside the city limits and outside. One of these citizens was a retired FBI profiler by the name of Josiah Sanchaz. He looked too young to be retired, but in the life span of an agent he was an old-timer. Josiah retired to this small town in hopes of finding a refuge and to help at the local community level. He had seen a lot of sorrow, horror in his time as a profiler now he hoped to see some of the good, honorable aspects of life. In this town he thought he just may have found his refuge. Not only did he help with the churches, youth centers or the homeless shelters, but he also was a part time deputy in the town.

This was Josiah day to man the desk at the Sheriff's office while the others went on patrol. Most days were quiet with little disturbance. So Josiah was surprised when he received a frantic call from Gloria about someone chasing a kid and Buck running out her back door to check on it. Now Buck said there was a child injured and to get Nathan.

Josiah dialed the Fire Station that serviced Four Corners. The town didn't need a full fledge hospital so the small clinic provided all the medical service required. The doctor, nurses and Fire Station Paramedic took care of the town and countryside needs.

Nathan Jackson had been a big city Paramedic that moved here to get away from the stress of overwork. He applied to the city's request for a firefighter with medical knowledge about three years ago. He was their first responder in that golden hour that is so critical to saving someone's life. Josiah hoped Nathan was at the station.

The phone was picked up on the first ring with, "FC Fire. How can we help you?"

"Casey, its Josiah. Is Nate there?" queried Josiah of the fire station dispatcher Casey Wells.

"Yes. You want to talk to him?" replied Casey.

"No, just tell him there is a medical emergency behind Potter's Store. He needed over there stat. And Casey, tell him it involves a child. Buck says he hurt pretty badly."

"Will do. He'll be right there." said Casey as she hit the alarm. As she hung up she yelled, "NATHAN, EMERGENCY BEHIND POTTER'S. CHILD INVOVLED. BUCK'S THERE ALREADY."

As the doors rolled up on the fire station garage, Nathan Jackson grabbed his medical kit and jumped into the passenger side of the paramedic truck. Mr. Blevins, the police/fire station's mechanic and fireman, drove the truck out the doors with siren blaring. Within two minutes they were at the scene opening doors, pulling out a stretcher and equipment.

"What we got Buck?" asked Nathan as he ran up with his bag. Buck pointed and Nathan saw two boys hovering over a third one lying on the ground. Gloria potter was kneeling behind both boys trying to comfort the youngest while looking worriedly at the injured youth.

Nathan rushed over and drop to his knees taking the wrist of the pale boy in his hand checking for a pulse. He frowned as he found it weak and threaded. He checked the awkward looking shoulder, head and rest of the boy's body before demanding, "I need the neck brace and the back board, Frank. Buck, call the clinic and see if Doc is in. If he's not we'll need to get him to Denver Center fast. Tell him it looks like a dislocated possible fracture shoulder with concussion. I'll stabilize him here before we transport but he will have to get the x-ray ready. There may be other injuries...we'll know more after we get him in."

While Buck was calling the clinic, Josiah drove up to the scene. Stepping out of the car he noticed the anxious expressions of Nathan and Frank as they prepared to transport an unconscious child to the clinic. He saw that Gloria had drawn two other children out of the way as the paramedics worked while another man was handcuffed lying on the ground glaring at everyone. Reaching into his car, Josiah got the walkie-talkie out to call the Sheriff.

"Is this the pick up, Buck? Does he need medical attention too?" asked Josiah before he placed his call.

Buck looked over at the abuser and shrugged. "Don't know and don't care. He's the one that hurt that kid. It's up to Nathan if he wants to see him here, the clinic or at the jail."

Nathan sighed, "Frank, go take a look while I finish here. See if he's aware. If he is dazed, Josiah can take him to the clinic. If he's not, we'll be over to the jail later."

Frank went over to check on the angry man who promptly tried to kick him. He backed up and said, "I'd say the jail would be fine."

"There's you answer, Josiah. Docs in and their preparing room one. Nathan, how is he?" queried Buck as he moved over to bend down beside the medic.

"I can't say right now. Need to get him to the clinic. How old is he?" inquired Nathan to the older looking boy.

"Twelve." replied Vin.

"His parents need to be notified so permission can be given to treat him." said Nathan as he and Frank lifted the backboard onto the stretcher. "Get them over to the clinic as soon as possible, Buck."

"Will do. Josiah get that piece of scum to lock up and contact Chris. He's not going to be happy about this. And Josiah," Buck said as he looked up, watching the profiler haul the man up roughly.

"Yeah," replied a grim faced Josiah. He looked like the wrath of God was coming to visit. Buck knew what he was thinking. It was just beginning to dawn on Carl that he was now in the hand of a very large angry man.

"Don't hurt him too much. Wouldn't want you to have to take him to the clinic later. Besides, Chris probably wants to talk to him too," smiled Buck wolfishly at the scared man.

"Awwe...Chris has all the fun," grumbled Josiah as he stuffed the offender in the car.

"Josiah, just make sure Chris don't kill him. I'm gonna take these two kids and follow Nathan to the clinic. I'll keep you updated," stated Buck as he moved toward the children. The youngest quickly hid behind the oldest as both, obviously frightened, took steps back from the deputy.

"Hey, now. No need to be afraid of me. I'm just going to take you to be with your friend," quietly voiced Buck trying to sooth the kids.

Both boys were trembling as they watch Everett loaded into the truck and driven away. JD clung to Vin whispering, "What are we going to do?"

"It'll be alright, JD," calmed a shaken Vin as he prayed please God, let him be all right.

Continues in Foundlings