Where Home Is At

by Angela B.

Seven Brothers AU

The last three weeks had almost ripped the six brothers apart emotionally and physically. Chris had waited patiently for all of four days. After the phone call from Ezra though he had stormed out to the barn. All the others knew to leave him alone. The upside Josiah thought was that the blond got three days work accomplished in that one day. As the days wore on his temper grew thinner. Screaming fights between the three oldest became commonplace, although they usually had the courtesy of taking most of them outside. A week and a half had gone by since Era’s disappearance when Chris got out a map and outlined places he thought would appeal to Maude, packed his bags and told them he was going looking for his brother.

Josiah could see Buck was torn between going with the blond and staying home. The oldest solved the problem by packing Buck’s bag for him.

"He needs you," Josiah explained as he handed the bag over. Buck had nodded gave a quick goodbye and headed out the door.

JD had cried almost all that time and Vin had hidden his fears, or so he thought. Before he left Chris took the youngster aside to explain what he felt he needed to do. Vin had understood, had wanted to go but the offer was gently refused. Chris needed him at home.

Nathan and Josiah took their brother’s need to go out and find the missing family member with understanding and a small part of jealousy. They, too, wanted to be able to actively search for Ezra but knew they were needed at home. They knew Chris’ desire to save this family was so hugely affected because in his words, "He had failed his first family." Chris had been away at camp when his parents and younger brother died in a house fire.

+ + + + + + +

After a little more than a week of searching different cities within a two hundred mile radius the two brothers came home empty handed and disheartened. They would have liked to stay out longer but money was a problem. The other two factors were the two youngest brothers. JD’s plea not to get stolen too ripped at Buck’s heart and Chris’ undoing was when Vin had whispered an acknowledgment over the phone that he missed the older blond. After they came home they all tried to get back into their old routine but it was not the same without the seventh.

Standing at the bedroom window with his forehead pressed against the pane Ezra watched his mother enter the car and leave, never looking back or waving goodbye. She had said it would only be a couple of days but the boy knew better, he would have to depend upon himself to emancipate himself from this living arrangement. Mr. Greerson would only wait so long for Maude to return before realizing he had been had and left with a child. Of course Mr. Greerson would then feel obligated to call Social Services, which would place him in one of those horrid holding places that was filled with other older children that no one wanted. He didn’t want to spend the next four years living like that. He decided he would stay put as long as he felt it was possible then leave, he would figure out what to do after that.

Three days later a very angry Mr. Greerson met him at the doorway to the living room. The red faced gentleman was towering over the small boy, "Where is your mother, Ezra?"

"I have no inkling where my maternal parentage might be at this particular moment, sir," Ezra replied with more bravado than he felt.

Grabbing the thin forearms Jake Greerson leaned down and stared hard into those green eyes, "I want to know where she is and how to get a hold of her right now!"

Ezra fought to keep his blank face in tact, " Mr. Greerson, I do abhor violence to my person and therefore would tell you the information you seek if I had it within my power to do so."

Seeing that the boy was probably telling the truth the older man cursed himself. Not only had he nearly been scammed out of half his fortune the low-life of a mother had left her son behind for him to deal with. The older gentleman called upon a servant and issued an order to take the young boy back upstairs and keep an eye on him until further notice. He needed time to think about this new revelation. No doubt he would be summoning someone from some children’s services to his home but before he did that he wanted to talk with his lawyer. No one, if he could help it, was going to find out the very rich and supposedly smart Jake Greerson was taken in by a con artist.

The two voices inside his head were screaming at each other so loudly he could hardly think straight. One voice telling him he should make a run for it and call home. The other voice demanding to be protected from harm and reiterating that he was once again on his own and no longer had home to go to since he had run away from them.

Sitting on the bed the brown haired boy sunk further into himself and let the other side of him come shining through. The persona that could get him out of any situation deemed harmful. His green calculating eyes watched the servant looking after him flip through the channels for something good to watch. Ezra quietly slid off the bed and tiptoed to the bathroom. Standing on the narrow rim of the bathtub he pushed with all his might to raise the window. That done, the next obstacle was the window screen. He couldn’t very well kick it out place. For one, he couldn’t get his foot that high and two; it would surely make enough racket to alert others of his impending escape.

Looking about Ezra found in the back of one of the drawers a small pair of cuticle scissors. Standing back on the rim he meticulously cut along the edge of the screen, cutting as high as he could reach. Finally having cut the bottom and both sides he pushed the screen up out of his way with one hand and clasped the edge with his other. Poking his head out he scanned the sides of the house looking for an easy escape route. Of course with his luck there wasn’t one. He wasn’t dumb enough to think he could jump two floors and not hurt himself so, that only left one option. Instead of going down he would go up. He couldn’t do it now in broad daylight, too much of chance to be seen by the gardener or the other numerous yard people, he would have to bide his time until tonight.

Slipping out of the bathroom he slid back onto the bed. If the servant had noticed his long absence the man never said anything. He settled down on the bedspread and began watching the TV program. It was one he had never seen, an old black and white one with a talking horse named Ed. Both voices expressed the same opinion, ‘Oh brother this guy was hard up for entertainment.’

He had waited all day for someone from Social Services to show up but no one came, for once their slowness counted in his favor. A kitchen helper bought his food up on a tray and came to retrieve it thirty minutes late. Mr. Greerson had paid two visits to his room demanding to know the same information he inquired about earlier. Ezra’s intuition was telling him this man could turn off that sweet enduring old man routine in a heartbeat and become something Ezra had no desire to meet. He had lived with those types before and had not come out the winner.

Night finally descended and Ezra had been left to himself. Of course he had heard the discreet locking of his door but paid no heed to it. Once the deep darkness settled in he would make his escape. Finally, midnight rolled around and the young lithe boy once again stepped up onto the rim of the tub, this would take strength and agility and careful planning. Ezra retrieved the tiny scissors and finished cutting out the screen across the top, holding the screen with one hand as he cut. After it came loose he tugged the big piece of screen back into the bathroom and laid it on the floor. Standing back up on the tub he grasp the window sill with his fingers, then climbed the bathroom wall using the tips of his shoes until he was up far enough up to be able to extend his arms fully. Sticking the top half of his body out the window and using both hands he twisted his body around until he was in a sitting position on the thin window frame. Sweat rolled down from his hair and into his eyes. Fear allowed a person to be stronger than one normally was, it was also a great motivator to succeed.

Now that he was sitting on the sill he glanced around and noticed that lady luck may not have completely have abandoned him. Having a corner room the rain gutter happen to be placed right there by the window. Ezra mentally kicked himself for not noticing this earlier. He could go down instead of up. Reaching over with one hand he tested the durability of the pipe. He smiled, the guy wasn’t a cheapskate Ezra would give him that. Grasping the pipe with one hand he leaned over until he could let go with the other hand and grasp it also. He eased the rest of his body out the window and hung for a moment by the sheer strength of his arms. He bent his knees and placed both his feet against the pipe and monkey walked his way down. He concentrated on going slow to minimize the noise as much as possible. By the time he hit the ground thirty minutes had passed since he had begun his release. His arms screamed in pain at the abuse and his fingers bled from the number of tears they had received form both the window and the water drain.

The back yard was an acre long but provided the best escape route. Coming to the fence at the back Ezra sighed when he realized he would have to climb a tree, crawl out onto a limb then swing himself into high enough arc so that when he let go he would land on top of the brick fence. With more fortitude than he felt he began the process. Climbing up to one of the higher limbs he scooted out onto it as far as he dared then grabbing hold of the rough bark, he swung his body down and began pumping his legs to get the momentum he needed going. When he figured he was at the right spot he screwed his eyes shut and let go. Relieve flooded through him when he felt his feet, then his knees hit the solid form of the wall. He had no choice this time but to jump. Once again he clutched with his fingers and dropped his body over the wall, dangling in the air he let go and hoped for the best. His feet slipping out from under him, he fell on his backside but felt relieve when he realized nothing was broken.

Getting to his feet he began walking with no real clear idea where he was going or what tomorrow held. For now the knowledge that he was out of that place was enough. He had been on his own before he wasn’t worried. ‘Liar’ the voice popped up and said. Stupid voice.

Life at the ranch had taken on a surreal feel to it. Routines were back in place, chores done, Josiah and the boys went back to school. Everything was the same but not. Phones were kept ever handy. Someone always stayed near the house. Meals held around the table no longer held the same liveliness it once did. Laughter was not as frequent as it once was. Nightmares and arguments became more frequent with Vin and JD.

Schoolwork suffered and neither would go inside or leave their schools without an adult escort. Having the high school and junior high in the same block Nathan became Vin’s shadow at school whenever possible. Josiah walked the youngest across the street to his classroom in the morning and picked him up in the afternoon.

Chris became quieter; the fight seemed to have left him. He had failed to protect a family member once again. Nathan was looking fatigued all the time. Without his talkative brother in the bunk below sleep seemed to elude him. Josiah felt like a hunk of his heart at been torn out and put through the garbage disposal. Buck missed the way his brother would talk incessantly about a book he was reading. They simply missed the one person that could fill the hole created in their family.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra crawled out of his hiding place; he was dirty, hungry and tired. He had been on the streets for only three days but to the small boy it felt like a lifetime. It was all he could do to get up in the mornings and scavenge for food. Shelter at night was an alley and during the day he walked the streets endlessly. Stopping meant attracting attention from grownups and other bigger street kids. The kind Ezra knew he didn’t want to attract. The voice in his head had started out as a low rumble and grown into an urgent whispering, ‘Find a shelter’

Ezra stopped before the catholic run shelter for runaways. Well that was what he was wasn’t he, a runaway. He had run away from the only real people that had ever bothered to love him, he had run away from Mr. Greerson and he had tried to run away from himself. He tried to bury himself in the belief that he didn’t care anymore, that life didn’t matter. Would have probably succeeded too, if it weren’t for that nagging little voice that wouldn’t shut up.

John Tate had seen a lot of kids pass thru the shelter in his twenty-three years of volunteering here. He could spot what kind of runaway stood before him in a blink of an eye. There were those that had run off for minor reasons, just needing to get away for awhile, those that had good reason to run from their previous living conditions and those that ran away just to test their parent’s love. The small brown haired boy that had stood outside the building for over an hour before taking the halting steps to come in puzzled the man. The kid was dressed in fine clothes, suggesting a rich kid but the look of those same clothes told him the boy was no stranger to living off the streets. The few words he did speak reflected a higher learning establishment than those found around here, but the kid’s humbleness and ever searching eyes reflected schooling of a different kind, the kind that kept a person alive.

Eli, the name the kid had given, had taken a shower after his arrival. John showed him to his bunk and Ezra laid down, curled up into a tight ball and began rocking himself back and forth ever so slightly. This told John something not very nice had happened to the boy and probably recently. He had refused the meal offered at noon but instead offered it to a younger child. To John the thin quiet boy could use every morsel of food he could get his hands on. The kid was one big contradiction.

John Tate stood in the doorway of the large dorm room where the boys slept. His eyes staying on the lone figure, the boy had arrived with absolutely nothing. For as long as he could remember children had been showing up here with very little, but still most had something, a backpack, a sack, or something containing some article of worth to them. The ones without any articles had nothing for one of two reasons. Either other kids had robbed them on the streets or their departure had been so swift they had not had time to gather anything up. In the man’s eyes the kid fit the latter profile. Whatever had happened had occurred swiftly and had sucked the life right out of those big green eyes and small body.

Ezra declined breakfast. He just wanted to lie on his bunk and stop existing. He had started to call the ranch several times that first day after he affected his escape from the elderly man but cowardice and fear of rejection kept him from completing them. How nice it would be if life was like the movies, the happy endings where families come back together and everyone lives happily ever after. But, he had learned a long time ago life was nothing like the movies, well the feel good kind anyhow.

He had tried to refuse lunch but the man that had showed him in yesterday insisted he had to eat or leave. Ezra knew it was a bluff to get him to partake of the offered food and had actually managed to swallow half of what was on his plate. After lunch he went back to the bunk and curled back up. The cold he felt in his bones would not leave despite the fact that the room was actually quite warm and he was under the covers.

He could feel someone watching him but didn’t sense danger, slowly he cracked an eyelid open and found a boy about seventeen sitting on the bed next to his watching him. The boy reminded him of Nathan’s caring nature.

"Something I can do for you?" Ezra asked, the annoyance heard clearly in his whisper.

"Just making sure you’re ok," the other one replied. "Sometimes kids come here really sick," giving his shoulder a weak shrug and a lopsided grin that reminded Ezra of Vin, "for different reasons."

"I’m Tom by the way and you are…?" the other one stated nonchalantly

"Eli" he said flatly.

"Sure," the lack of belief in his voice coming out clearly. Another shrug of his shoulders.

Ezra studied the boy carefully. He reminded him of what JD might look like when he got older or a younger Buck; black hair, open face, friendly, flashing dark eyes and an air about him that made him seem harmless.

Ezra realized the boy was still talking, "Some are physically sick, some mentally and then there those that are so emotionally overwhelmed they get physically sick."

Without missing a heartbeat he analyzed the boy on the bed under the covers. "You. Well, if I was guessing I’d say something mighty overwhelming happened to you."

"Go away!" Ezra whispered harshly turning over and dismissing the boy. He didn’t want to hear what that other one had to say about him.

"You got the wind knocked out your sails so hard you can’t think straight. Probably don’t want too, either. You did right picking this place. Other shelters don’t let you stay during the day but the ones that run this shelter are different." Tom didn’t stop talking, didn’t dare. He had been where this kid was and then the only thing that kept him from falling over the edge into oblivion had been John Tate’s voice.

Ezra listened as Tom held a one-sided conversation. Listened as he told about himself and how he wound up here and why. For the next couple of hours Tom talked on and Ezra listened, hanging on to that voice like it was his last lifeline.

After awhile Ezra turned back towards the speaker and eventually began answering a question here and there. At first they were nothing specific or important, just everyday questions. Answers to questions like favorite sport, which was horse riding; favorite food, Chinese; family, once; etc. Slowly Ezra told the other boy certain facts about his life, just enough for the kid to get a basic idea. He mentioned his brothers and the small ranch. Ezra understood what the kid was doing; he had learned to ply information from others when he was very young. He knew Tom would report all pertinent information back to the adults but he didn’t care. That little voice kept insisting that if they found out about his home and brothers that everything would be ok. Ezra fell asleep in the late afternoon listening to Tom’s voice and holding on to a sliver of hope that things would turn out alright.

Ezra dreamed his brothers came for him. Josiah, Chris, Buck and the others made a big celebration out of his returning. There was cake and balloons and lots of laughter and hugs. Ezra woke slowly from his dream believing that when he opened his eyes they would all be sitting on the other bunk waiting for him to awaken and be whisked back home. Cracking one eye open only a slit width his heart sank, as he saw nothing but an empty bunk.

The brown haired boy refused to eat that day despite the threats and warnings. After that initial shower he hadn’t felt the desire to take any more. He languished in his bunk as the day slowly slipped by he realized no one would be coming.

Only one scenario ran through his mind. Josiah and the others had been informed of his whereabouts and they had declined to come and claim him as one of them.

+ + + + + + +

Jake Tate was having a dickens of a time locating the right person to answer his questions. Tom had gotten the kid to open up some, enough to reveal he had been living with an adopted family in small town in a neighboring state. The problem was the kid hadn’t given a last name. So he had called the town’s police station, who had been very helpful, providing not only a name of the only missing child in their records but practically a family history on all seven boys. The questioner was finally able to get the dispatcher/ clerk to give a name to verify this information. He had asked the woman not to contact the family until they could verify that the child in question was actually the missing child from her town. She readily agreed knowing how much it would upset the boys if word got out they had found Ezra and then it turned out not to be him.

Now for what seemed the hundredth time he was trying to get hold of one Judge Orrin Travis. Once the Judge could verify that the child he had did rightfully belong to this family then they could contact the tortured family and put things back together.

Tom had been on the streets since he was thirteen, had lived at the shelter until he was sixteen. At that point he went to work for the shelter and earned enough money to get a small apartment that he shared with two other guys in the same boat. Tom was good at reading people and he read that little boy last night pretty well. When he spoke of the adopted family a small light came into his eyes, his voice became a bit stronger and he didn’t give any warning signs that life had been bad there. When asked how he wound up in these parts the light went off, the voice got smaller and he almost cried when he said, "Stupidity."

It was almost suppertime and Jake was on hold, again. Twiddling a pencil between in fingers he was startled back to reality when an older man’s gruff voice answered at the other end, "Judge Travis. How can I help you?"

Judge Travis’ secretary had informed him upon the close of the day that a man, from a shelter was needing to talk to him about one of his possible cases but wouldn’t go into anymore detail.

John Tate sat up, relieved to finally get a hold of this man, "Yes sir, my name is John Tate and I’m with the Children’s Shelter here in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Sir, I believe we may have a child here that was reported missing from your area. He hasn’t given us his full name but did give us a town. The police dispatcher there told me your town had only one missing child and that you arranged for the adoption of this child over a year ago."

Judge Travis sucked in his breath, had someone really found Ezra? The kid has been missing almost a month now and hope of finding the boy had diminished significantly. The boy had called once but not anymore. Life would be wonderful if it was Ezra.

"Mr. Tate, I could fax you a picture of the missing child then you could confirm or not whether this is the boy we’ve been looking for," Judge Travis yielded to the hope that it would be confirmed.

"That would be great sir." John gave the fax number and both men stayed on the line as it was sent both hoping for the best. "Judge Travis I have just received the fax and I can confirm that the child we have here at this facility is indeed the missing child."

Judge Travis let out a gush of air and smiled deeply, "If you give me your address I will contact the family now and I figure you can expect them on your doorstep first thing in the morning.

+ + + + + + +

Buck stepped out onto the porch and called supper. Vin and JD raced towards the house, cat calling and shoving as each tried to be the first to reach the house. Vin, with his long legs had the distinct advantage over his younger brother but to make the race equal he shortened his strides.

Josiah and Chris came out of the barn, smiling at other the two’s playfulness. It felt like it had been forever since laughter had graced the place. They still missed their brother but the older ones knew for the sake of the younger ones life had to go on.

The food had been passed and the plates filled when the phone rang, Buck rose to answer "Hello. Oh hi Judge Travis."

All talk stopped and five heads turned at once. It wasn’t like the Judge called them much but it was kind of late in the day for a call anyways.

Buck broke out into a smile and let out a whoop. Turning to the ones watching him he gave the news they had all been holding their breath to hear. "They found him! They found Ezra!"

Turning back to the phone the tall man began peppering the Judge on the other line with questions. "You sure it’s him? He’s alright? Where is he?" grabbing a piece of paper and a pencil he jotted down the address, "Yeah. Yeah we can be there by morning, no problem. Ok. Thanks Judge, bye."

Hanging up the phone he picked up the bouncing youngest brother and swung him around. "What’d you say we go get that brother of ours?"

"Yeah!" was the only response he got before JD struggled out of his arms and ran for the door. Turning back around he noticed the others were still hugging and clapping each other on the backs, "Come on, let’s go!" he demanded.

Josiah stopped his celebrating and scooped JD up, "Hold up pal. We got to pack a few things and make sure the animals will be taken care of while we are gone and a few other things before we can leave."

"Besides," Buck broke in, "It’s only a five or six hour drive and the place closes for the night anyway. So we can’t get him until the morning."

Nathan volunteered to help the two youngest pack while Buck packed his and Chris’ suitcase. Chris called Mrs. Potter to see if her son could look after the animals for a couple of days. When she heard the reason why she guaranteed her son would look after them. Josiah called the principal at home and let him know the good news and that he and the boys wouldn’t be at school for a couple of days. The principal had no problems with making arrangements to cover Josiah’s work. Two hours later they piled into the large suburban and headed down the road. They would arrive before morning but figured they would get a motel room and sleep for a couple of hours. They would be there when the doors opened in the morning.

The coordinator, Rick Talbott, had seen the blue suburban parked out front when he unlocked the doors. At first he thought someone had broken down but after counting heads he quickly figured this was the family he was told to be expecting. They seemed to be arguing until the tall blond haired young man made some kind of small unseen gesture. After that the rest came to a quick halt. The blond seemed to say something that had decided the argument because right after he was finished speaking him, and whom the coordinator assumed to be the legal guardian, came striding up to the door leaving a dark haired man and an older teenager out beside the vehicle with two smaller children.

As the two men entered Mr. Talbott met them and extended his hand, "You must be here for Ezra," smiling a knowing smile, "Or as we know him Eli."

"Yes sir," Josiah replied and made the quick introduction of Chris.

"Those must the rest of his brothers?" Rick made it more of a statement that a question.

When the Judge had called him last night he had been given a little run down on the family’s background. They certainly seemed different from one another but the Judge had informed him that this family was a tight knit family.

"Yes," Chris looked the man right in the eyes, "Thought it best not to overwhelm Ezra right off the bat," he said. Nodding his head back to waiting group. "They can get a little excited and overpowering at times."

Rick Talbott nodded his head in agreement. These brothers knew this little one well. The last thing Ezra needed was to be overwhelmed anymore than he already was. The coordinator informed them of Ezra’s depression and lack of eating. Chris muttered under his breath that he would personally fix that problem. The coordinator only smiled, this was a man to be reckoned with and had no doubt the boy would soon be eating, one way or another.

Josiah had shown the coordinator the proper papers then the two were led down the hall and shown to the dorm room. Most of the boys that slept there were already gone to breakfast, the scant rest were getting ready to leave. The two men couldn’t help but feel scrutinized and their brother envied, after all someone had shown up to take him home. Josiah looked over at Chris as they both squeezed in between the bunks and squatted down by the bed their brother was curled up in.

Ezra was dreaming of his brothers again, a pleasant smile graced the pale face making the dark circles under his eyes a little less noticeable. He was home in his own bed; Josiah was calling him to get up. He didn’t want to go to school he just wanted to lie here and relish the feel of his brother’s hand brushing his hair back and listening to that deep comforting voice. That voice sounded so real, so tangible Ezra refused to open his eyes and stop the dream.

"Come on Ez. It’s time to wake up." Josiah turned towards the blond and smiled weakly, worry showing in the gray eyes. Ezra had always been difficult to waken but it seemed to be taken longer than usual.

Chris readjusted his squat as best he could his knees were killing him. In his most older brother authoritative voice he spoke harshly "Ezra! Get up!"

Ezra jerked awake at the stern voice. Thinking for a moment he was home and expecting a wall to be at his back the younger one jerked back at the surprise of having two faces appear so close to his. His backwards movement led to him falling off the bed. Chris and Josiah were on their feet and around the bed in seconds. Deciding, almost in unison to stay further back they stopped at the foot of the bed between bunks.

Squatting back down they watched the scared green eyes try to focus and the mind try to process what he was seeing. Finally in a voice that seemed too small for the boy he asked, "Josiah? Chris?"

Opening his arms the oldest nodded and said assuring, "Yeah Ez. It’s us." Then beckoning with his fingers, "Come here."

With a leap of a puma the small thin boy lunged into his oldest brother’s arm. Throwing one arm around his neck and clutching a handful of shirt, while his other arm automatically struck out and grabbed it’s own handful of black shirt. Ezra buried his head into the crook of his brother’s neck and held on for everything he was worth. Praying this moment never ended, that he never woke form this dream.

The two brothers almost lost their balance simultaneously when Ezra threw himself at them but managed to keep on their feet. Now all they had to do was sit and wait and enjoy this moment for as long as it lasted. Chris reached up to the hand that was clutching the v-neck of his shirt that wasn’t buttoned and managed to slip the choking grip into his own hand.

After several minutes Josiah managed to pull Ezra away from him and stare into the green eyes he had missed so much. Ezra’s defenses were completely down and all the emotions that they normally would never see shone through like a war torn soldier who had seen to many battles. Josiah cringed at the helplessness and sorrow that were held in those eyes. Chris could see that more scars had been added to his brother’s accumulation. Whether they would ever discover the source of those scars was yet to be discovered. But, Chris knowing his brother, figured for the most part the answer would be no.

Josiah smiled into that thin pale face with complete joy. They could overcome whatever new scars had been added, would plump the way-to thin frame up a bit and wait for the paleness to wash away along with the blackness under the eyes. There was nothing they couldn’t fix in or on their brother now that they were back together. Each brother as an individual was strong in their own right but as a unit they indefensible.

Letting his feelings show thru his gray eyes he spoke softly, "I missed you Ezra."

Chris, using his hand to gently turned the boys head toward him added, "Me, too. We all did." Continuing to lock eyes with his brother, he said, "I’m ready to go home, aren’t you?"

Ezra could only nod in agreement. The little pessimistic voice was crying incredulously ‘They came’ while the other voice shouted jubilantly. They did care, his family really cared. No matter how big of a mess he had made of things they had came to take him back where he truly belonged.

"Hey, I got to go sign some papers, ok." Josiah could see the head beginning to shake no.

"Chris is going to stay and help you change into some fresh clothes then we’ll get out of here. OK?" Josiah talked softly, never losing eye contact.

Ezra looked from Josiah to Chris and back to Josiah and then nodded ever so slightly. "Ok then. I’ll be right back." Josiah finished. Standing up he ruffled the grimy brown hair. Maybe a shower first would be best.

Chris stood up and immediately recognized the fear in those green eyes that watched him so intently. "Just getting your bag, Ez," as he reached around to the other side of the bed and produced the small duffel bag.

"Why don’t we get you cleaned up, ok?" Taking the trembling hand, he led the boy to where he assumed the showers were located.

Stopping outside of the shower stall, "I’ll wait right here for you." Chris offered but the other one made no move to enter the stall.

Chris sighed inwardly and began to think he was going to have to actually enter the shower with his brother. It was bad enough the boy hadn’t said any more three words since their arrival but the look the kid was giving him was breaking his heart. So much fear and sadness filled those eyes. Ezra finally slipped his hand out of his brother’s and entered the shower stall. Chris had never been one to talk much but figured this was a special case. His brother needed to hear his voice as confirmation he was still standing there.

Not ten minutes had passed when a cleaner and definitely better looking Ezra exited the shower. Chris pulled the clothes from the bag and handed them to his brother, the silence was getting to Chris. What had happened that had shut the boy up completely?

Ezra was having a problem digesting this new twist in his life. The small voice that kept telling him his home was with his brothers was screaming for joy. It had been right, they had come. But, the other voice was whispering caution. Nothing in life was free. Nobody did anything out of the goodness of their heart. The two voices went to war again and all Ezra could do was not break the enchantment he felt he had fallen into.

Chris picked up the dirty clothes from off the floor. "Want them?"

Ezra could only shake his head, if he did anything more or spoke to much he would wake himself from this dream. A dream where two voices were going at it inside his head for dominance.

Neither Chris nor Ezra were demonstrative people. They showed their caring through different methods other than touching or hugging. Chris, because after his family died he had shut down and was still learning how to open back up to people. Of course Vin in his quiet way helped to further that process than most realized. Ezra had been taught early on not to show emotions. They were a weakness his mother had said, something people would take advantage of and manipulate.

As the two started to walk out of the dorm room Chris looked down at the small fourteen-year-old clutching his hand. He was two years older than Vin but was just about the same size as nine-year-old JD. Chris suddenly stopped and lifted his brother up into his arms before either one thought about what was happening. Chris smiled when he felt those slender arms slip around his neck and the soft downy hair brushed against his cheek as Ezra laid his chin to rest on the muscular shoulder. This was the best feeling either one had had in a very long time.

Josiah came out of the office and looked down the corridor. He smiled as he saw his tougher-than-rawhide brother carrying his "I-don’t-hug" brother. Those two made quite a pair and kept things lively. It was going to be good having that again.

The two men walked out the door and were inundated with yelps and hollers. Putting Ezra down both men watched as his two younger brothers tackled Ezra. Both were clamoring and tussling to be the first to welcome him home. Ezra stared wide-eyed at his brother’s behavior. He wasn’t sure what to do, he had thought about what it would be like if he came home but it wasn’t like this. Ezra was finally rescued, almost, when Nathan stepped forward and grabbed him in a brief hug. The two had a rough beginning but were pretty close now.

"Hey Ez." Letting go the senior stepped back a little, "Bedroom’s been pretty quiet with no one below me talking in their sleep." A large smile still firmly in place, he had definitely missed his roommate and brother and it showed.

Ezra hadn’t recovered from the shock of being tackled by his two brothers, then Nathan. He wasn’t prepared when Buck stepped forward and yanked him up into his arms. The big brother wrapped his arms tightly around the slim waist and held on for a very long moment.

Buck whispered in Ezra’s ear, "Home is where the heart is Ez. Your heart belongs to us and don’t you ever forget it," he said, giving his brother a quick squeeze before turning and carrying his brother to the suburban.

The remaining five followed Buck, most of them talking at once, the two youngest being the loudest. The return of their lost one making each of the others more vocal than normal. Jake Talbott watched the brood crawl into the vehicle and smiled. It wasn’t often he got to see such happy reunions but the ones like today made working here worth the pain and sorrow other days bought.

JD and Vin climbed over into the back seats and buckled up. Chris climbed behind the wheel and Josiah took the passenger seat. Buck placed Ezra securely between him and Nathan. Ezra watched the scenery pass by as Chris headed for the interstate, listening to JD and Vin talk about all about what had happened while he was gone. The annoying voice popped up and in a singsong way exclaimed, ‘We’re going home. We’re going home.’ Ezra laid his head over on the thick forearm of Buck’s, feeling a warm hand placed against his head. He closed his eyes as the other voice quietly said, ‘Yes we are.’ There may not be any big celebration or balloons but Ezra didn’t care he had what he wanted; six people to care about him. He had a home.


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