By Thalia


Ezra had been perched in his tree for over an hour when the youths finally decided to leave the park and go back home. And he sighed out of relief that he would finally be able to untangle his legs and put his feet back on earth instead of desperately grasping at this tree trunk and swaying in the wind.

He didn't even need to check his watch to know it was really very late. He snorted at his first choice. He had waited for everybody to be asleep and then waited still longer to be sure they were in the deepest rest… then, he had sneaked out of the window, down the gutter, into the front garden, without a scratch. He was after all used to these ways of leaving buildings. And now, it was finally time to be free and contact his mother so he would know where to head. She would be proud of him. He had managed to elude not only his wardens but also the clutches of The Judge. And so, with the map of the area still fresh in his mind, he had made his way through the neighborhood and had been crossing the park when the echoes of several people talking and walking in his direction had had him look in earnest for a place to hide. Not that he was yellow or something, certainly not. But he'd known very early on that it was better to be safe than sorry.

So he had climbed the sturdiest tree he could find in the area and had hid amongst the branches. And he had almost groaned out loud when they had decided to settle down a few feet away from his hiding place. Talk about luck. His first break ever since he had been caught and arrested and he was impeded by morons. Mexican morons, apparently, if his ears had been right. What the hell were they doing in this part of the district? If he recollected correctly, their district was in the south-west of town… and here they were, quietly discussing on the opposite side… about a girl that had disappeared and that one of them wanted to get back…

Then he had forgotten trying to make out their words. His thoughts suddenly were stuck on the idea that there was at least somebody who wanted that girl back. And that led him straight to thinking about this mother again. Maude Standish. Who should now be up to her fourth wedding. Or was it the fifth? Never mind, he had lost count after number three, when he had discovered that he was not wanted in any of the households his mother was heading at the time. And she had but the need of him only for hooking the mark and playing darling boy on D-day.

What better example but the situation he was in right now? So okay, he had used his knowledgeable experience as a hacker to get into the school's files… but it had been to look for the information his mother needed on her latest conquest who was also on the board of directors and stinking filthy rich to boot. The fact that he had also managed for the n-th time to pass the security measures of the system (no matter how many times they changed the passwords and codes!) had been merely the sweetest pleasure he had ever experienced. It wasn't the first time he had hacked into the system but since each time they had reinforced the security, it had ended up being more a matter of pride at being able to outsmart them than a try at looking for something. And that's when he had been caught red-handed. And of course, his mother that should have been waiting in the car, standing guard for him… had not. Which meant, she had not seen the black federal unmarked car slowly driving closer to the building. She had not been able to warn her son. She had simply been in the bathroom, freshening up her make-up and when she'd come out, she had seen them take away her boy!

Of course, it could have stopped there. She could have hired an attorney for him. The school had been looking for her. The feds had been looking for her. His pro-bono lawyer had been trying to reach her. Hell, even The Judge had been looking for her. He was after all underage. But then again, his file hadn't been any help in the matter. He had been suspected of many attempts of hacking his way into the system, but they had had no proof… until now. He could still remember the moment, in The Judge's chambers… what was his name again? Ah, yes, Travis. Federal Judge Orrin Travis. With eyes as cold as ice. And a voice that had chilled him to the bone. Even though he would have died before admitting to it or even showing any feeling on his face. Yes, he could still remember, in The Judge's chambers, when the phone had rung and his secretary had told that there was a call from a Mrs. Standish that they had been trying to reach for days now. Yes, he could still remember it as if it had just happened.

The room darkened by storming clouds. The sounds of the wind trying to open the windows. The quiet breathing of The Judge as he was looking at him, trying to look through the mask he had been harboring. His lawyer's harsh, throaty breathing, last remnants of a cold days ago. But most of all, the cold of it all. He still couldn't decide if that cold was from the outside seeping into his heart or from his heart coloring the outside. But it definitely was cold. He was cold. Had been cold ever since. Had never been as cold in his whole 15 fucking years, he suddenly raged silently in his mind. Because he could still hear his mother's voice resonating in the room, dismissing him as if he was nothing more than a burden to her. What were her words again? Ah, yes…

"My dear Judge Travis, I do love my darling boy, of course. But I was unavailable… I was on a Caribbean cruise, you see and… anyway, when your messages finally reached me, I tried to do my best to come, but there were some problems at the airport… you know, those foreign airports, nothing is as good as back home, my dear…"

"About your son, Ma'am…" The Judge had interrupted.

"Ah, yes, about my Ezra… well, what can I tell you? He was foolish enough to try such a stupid stunt… and stupid enough to be caught at it! I think he needs some time to 'think' about his mistakes, now, don't you dear? So, do what you have to do to teach him that lesson. I am mostly sure you have many ideas on how to deal with stupid young men…"

He could still remember the shock he had felt at that news… although he still wasn't sure the shock was of his mother leaving him behind one more time or finally having his doubts confirmed that he was nothing more than an inconvenience, a hindrance to be rid of at the slightest catch. He could still remember the incredulous look in The Judge's eyes as he heard those words. And the contempt that then lighted his eyes. And she had hung up, not even bothering to ask for news of her son or for The Judge's decision.

He had been told that the crime committed was a federal crime that could have him be tried as an adult. That is what another judge would have done, wanting to set an example for all those kids so hooked on cyberspace. But Judge Travis had told him that it wasn't his style. That he would be tried as a minor and that since his mother seemed so keen on his education, he would then remain at the Judge's discretion in a juvenile center for the first six months. If his mother was not to react in that amount of time, she would be divested of her parental rights and he would become a ward of the State.

The thought had chilled him to the bone. And he hadn't been warm ever since.

And four months already had passed, with no news from his 'loving' mother. And then, The Judge had come to him with this proposal. He had only two months left and since he had behaved from the moment he had stepped out of The Judge's chambers, his name had been put on a list of a special programme. He would spend the summer in a family of some sort. As if being on probation. His actions would color his next years until his majority. If he would get along with the family, and his mother would still not react, he would then spend the years until adulthood in foster care with the family he had been assigned. Going to school in the area. Leaving a normal life.

And then, he had met Detective Sanchez. The blue eyes looking him straight in the eyes had been deceptively soft. Just as much as the voice. Det. Sanchez had told him there, in the parlor of the juvy center that whatever would happen would be up to him. That he was a bachelor, but his partner had a family and two boys two years older than him with whom he would spend most of his time when he wasn't with him. He had told Ezra that he wasn't here to order him around and search him at every opportunity. That didn't mean that he was stupid. Just that he had decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. Ezra would have to prove Josiah had made the right decision in trusting him. Whatever he needed, he could always come to him. He would always be there. But if he chose one of the boys or his partner to confide in, he wouldn't be mad. As long as he was finding what he needed in someone of his own choosing. He wasn't a kid anymore. He would soon be a man. Now being treated as a man was up to him. Josiah wasn't there to judge or command. He was just there to guide.

And so a bargain had been struck between the two. With Ezra having no intentions of being held to it and only biding his time until he could finally be free…

And all that had driven him here, in this tree, seated above a bunch of gang members of the Mexican persuasion.

Okay, so it had also given him time to think. As if it wasn't all he'd been doing ever since he had stepped inside the judicial system on his own.

Even sitting here in the dark, he could still see the light of welcome in Maggie Larabee's eyes as she looked at him and JD. Such warmth. Such tenderness. Such love for unknown children that weren't even of her blood. And the looks the young Dunne had kept straying towards him, as if to reassure himself that he wasn't really the youngest, that Ezra was at least in between him and the two other big boys. Because they were really big boys. Impressively big boys. But definitely not bullies. It was as if they knew their size were impressive and were trying to put the younger at ease. Leaning on a wall, sitting on a step. Standing tall only when they could feel danger coming their way and more to impress their possible opponent than to scare the new kids.

He could still remember the thrill that had coursed through him when Chris had stepped in front of him as a strange boy had been leering at him, daring him to talk back at him. Him that had been alone to stand up and fend for himself all of his life was suddenly taken care of, not because he was a charge, but because this young man just didn't like bullies picking on smaller kids. Not because it was him, but simply because it was unfair. The action had rocked his already quite shaken world. He had recognized from the first this need in the two young men to protect those that couldn't protect themselves. They were caretakers. Like their mother was a caregiver. And what that made him? The only option he could find was 'cared'… for or of, he wasn't sure, but the truth was he wasn't alone anymore.

And so, once the gang left the park and let him climb down from his tree, without even any conscious thought, his feet took the way back to the Larabee house. He stopped in the shadows of the house, trying to see how he would managed to get back into the house, when he suddenly had the strangest impression of being observed. There in the shadows…

"I was giving you another half hour before I came after you," Chris said stepping from the shadows.

"How d'you know…" Ezra stuttered to a stop, unable to finish the question, an eerie feeling coming over him. Chris had trusted him to come back. He had given him a chance to work it out for himself, to do right on his own.

"I'm a Boy Scout," Chris shrugged, "been told I was one hell of a watch… guess that's something that can come in handy sometimes… You ready to go to sleep now?"

As Ezra was looking at the young man, something stirred in his chest. Suddenly, he could breathe easier than ever before in his whole life.

"Yes, Mr. Larabee, I believe I am," he smiled and followed him into the house, through the front door.

In the garden, among the trees, two shadows stepped out.

"Well, I guess that went well," said the Lieutenant.

"Even better than I would have anticipated, my friend," rumbled the Detective's voice.

"Think it'll be okay, now?"

"Don't know for sure yet, but the hardest is passed now. They know where they stand and that's a good start. The kid knows he can trust now. That's the most important."


To Street Gang IV