Hospital Stays

by Angela B.

Seven Brothers AU

Disclaimer: I don’t own the characters and never will.

Note: This is an open AU

This follows What Could Go Wrong, but completely stands alone.

Thanks to Chris and Libby for beta reading this for me.

Just about everyone in the household had been afflicted with the illness. It started out with symptoms of the ordinary cold, but by the time it had its victim in its grasp, the person would swear it was some new viral strain of death. The only one not showing any signs of infection was Ezra. Josiah and the others knew that this particular brother hid any signs of illnesses well, though. For some unexplained reason he refused to admit if something was wrong with him. The time he fell and dislocated his shoulder, he had gone several hours before anyone noticed the child favoring his other arm. Then it had been like interviewing a criminal before Ezra admitted to the injury. For this reason all of them kept a closer eye on their accident prone brother, waiting and watching for the symptoms to occur.

Ezra felt like road kill. Even though that thought made him shudder, it seemed appropriate to use in this circumstance. He had tried valiantly to ignore the slow decrepitating of his insides. He had muffled the cough that rattled his ribs and pretended he was fine. He knew the others were watching him and he was not going to let them know he had finally caught the dreaded illness; it was a necessity to keep it hidden. He knew firsthand what happened when he became sick: he became a burden and unwanted, so he faked wellness for as long as he could.

Nathan had gone to sleep before Ezra had, simply because no one could outlast the brown-haired boy. Though he was worn out sleep eluded him. Once again Ezra felt the cough building up in his chest and turned over to muffle the sound into the pillow. He was feeling worse by the moment, but his long-ingrained instincts kept him from speaking up. Nathan rolled over at that particular moment and heard the strange sound coming from below.

Hanging his head over the side of his bunk he asked, "You ok, Ezra?"

Ezra for his part could only nod. The cough was not letting up and he couldn’t get the words out. Finally taking a deep breath he rushed, "Fine." He had long ago learned that it was imperative to lie when it came to the question of his health.

Nathan jumped down onto the floor and watched in stunned silence for a moment as his brother gasped for air before stepping out into the hall. Knowing there was a good chance he would wake up the younger ones, but not seeing an alternative he hollered for Josiah.

"Josiah! Ezra’s sick," he called, before returning to his brother’s bed.

Kneeling onto the floor he listened to his brother gasp for air. Gently clasping Ezra by the forearms he helped the younger one into a sitting position on the side of the bed. Rubbing the bony back, he could feel the immense heat radiating through the pajama top and was relieved when all three older brothers appeared in the room.

Ezra flinched at the kind response, but let it be. He couldn’t label the feeling that washed over him at the tender care his brother was showing him at that moment, but he wouldn’t buck at it right now. It kinda felt nice.

Josiah sat down on the bed and took over the role of rubbing his brother’s back as another coughing spell took hold. While Josiah tried to help Ezra past the spell that had him gasping for air once again, Buck left to retrieve the recently much-used thermometer. When he returned Buck saw that Chris was sitting on the other side of Ezra with a trashcan, just in case. Walking up to the bed he knelt down and looked at his very sick little brother.

Holding the thermometer in his hand he softly asked, "Hey, Pard. Why didn’t you tell us you were sick?"

Regaining his breath Ezra turned his teary red eyes toward his brother, "I am not sick. I merely had a small coughing fit and Nathan, being the worrier he is, hailed you from your sleep needlessly," Ezra stated emphatically. The look on his face tried to dare his brother to argue with him and failed miserably.

Turning his eyes towards Josiah he re-emphasized his view, "I am not ill."

Spying the thermometer Ezra began shaking his head back and forth, "That is truly unnecessary. I have already given you an explanation, I don’t require my temperature to be taken." The stress in his voice could be heard clearly and the closely guarded mask cracked, showing wide green eyes filled with fear.

The voices woke Vin and JD, who cautiously traveled down the hall and stopped at their brother’s door. Looking in they watched in sympathy as Josiah and Chris held Ezra still while Buck placed the thermometer in his brother’s ear and quickly and gently took the temperature. The whole time Ezra announcing the procedure unnecessary and the thermometer an age-old devise of torture.

Seeing the registered concern on their brother’s face Josiah asked quietly, "Well, Buck?"

Looking up into the gray eyes Buck turned the thermometer for Josiah to see for himself as he told the temp, "It’s over 101."

Chris let out an expletive that has his younger brother flinching. "I am not that sick, Chris. Honest," Ezra said softly, imploring green eyes fastening onto his older brother.

Chris saw the fear Ezra was fighting hard not to show and felt an inner instinct to protect his younger brother rise up inside of him. Guilt at causing his brother to flinch and feeling the need to defend himself had Chris apologizing. "I’m not mad at you, Ezra. I’m worried. There’s a difference," the blond explained.

Suspicious and confused green eyes sought his older brother’s face for confirmation. "I’m really not that sick, " Ezra said softly, trying to ease the sorrow he saw in his brother’s eyes.

Looking away from Ezra before he caved, he stood up and quietly announced, "I’m going to go change and get the truck warmed up."

Turning to Josiah, panic began taking hold as Ezra restated, "Josiah, listen to reason, I implore you, I am not so sick that I require a trip to that odious receptacle of disease and malady."

Walking out of the room Chris saw for the first time Vin and JD standing there, worry and concern etched on each small face. Resting a hand on each shoulder he guided the two back to their room, offering reassurances as they went. "Don’t you two worry, Ezra will be fine." Giving the two a quick smile he put them back to bed and left to get on some appropriate clothes.

Josiah ran his hand through his brother’s sweat-soaked hair and tried to find the right words to comfort Ezra. "Ezra," he started slowly, "You’re sick and that is no crime. We just want to make you feel better." Looking into the glassy green eyes he continued, "It’ll be ok, Ez." Josiah stood and laid a hand on Buck’s shoulder before leaving to change his clothes, also.

Buck had moved into Josiah empty spot and took over rubbing his brother’s back, feeling every bone. His heart hurt for the small fourteen-year-old beside him. He knew, like all of them, Ezra had had a rough life. "That doc will have you feeling better in no time, Ez. Just gotta go with us on this one, ok?" Buck said, as continually combed the other’s hair with his fingers.

Turning to the big brother sitting there, Ezra knew he could get Buck to listen to him. The older jovial sibling was a pushover. Sometimes. "I do believe you. Now please believe me. Please, Buck, talk some sense into those two. I will recover from this, I will. I promise."

The normally jovial man could have smirked as he realized Ezra had tried to turn the ‘trust’ table on him. "Sorry, Pard, but I agree with them. We got to get you to the hospital," Buck said as he continued to rub the small back.

Ezra didn’t want to go the hospital, he knew what happened to sick little boys when they were taken there. Without warning Ezra scooted backwards, until his back was flush with the wall. The emotions changing from fear, to anger, to annoyance, and back to fear raced across the fine features of his face, as he emphatically stated, "No I refuse to be subjected to the trials and errors of incompetent wanna-be physicians. I am not goi…" Another coughing attack chose that moment to hit, effectively ending Ezra’s tirade and negating his point.

Buck reached out and pulled the coughing boy out from his secure place and sat him on his lap. Rubbing the back he encouraged Ezra to try and take some breaths. For his part Ezra firmly believed he was about to cough up his stomach, diaphragm and any other organs located in the vicinity.

A few moments later the coughing subsided and Buck silently wiped away the tears flowing down the red cheeks that Ezra insisted were caused by the coughing. Nathan had taken up the place left vacated on the other side, holding the discarded trashcan. During the coughing spasm the senior was pretty sure the coughing that had turned to gagging was going to result in undesirable effects. He had watched the byplay between the two and silently promised himself that after he became a doctor and treated sick children he would remember how terrified his brother was at this moment.

Nathan couldn’t help but wonder though why Ezra was being so adamant that he wasn’t sick when it was so obvious he was. "Hey, Ez. Look at it this way, at least you won’t have to go to school tomorrow," he said, in an attempt to relieve the intensity that filled the room and to calm his brother down. All he received was a very small smile as Ezra limply rested against the massive chest, his strength waning from all the coughing and arguing he had been doing.

Josiah reappeared and lifted Ezra up into his arms and was slightly alarmed when there was no argument forthcoming. Thinking that Ezra simply had no strength left he didn’t know that Ezra had simply resigned himself to the outcome he knew would befall him. Ezra could not help the downward spiral of emotions he felt.

Nathan and Buck stood, and Buck removed the comforter from the bed and wrapped it around the thin hot body. The three trouped out into the yard and Josiah walked on towards the passenger side of the black truck. Buck stepped forward and pulled the door open. Josiah, with Ezra still in his arms, maneuvered into the seat and Buck then closed the door. Sitting his brother between the two of them Josiah buckled his brother in and eased the tired body into his arms as another coughing spell erupted. Chris put the truck into drive and headed out the driveway, driving faster than normal. Buck and Nathan walked back into the house. Both of them were sympathizing with the Chris and Buck, who would have to deal with a sick and most certainly cantankerous Ezra.

Being late at night the emergency room was at a lull. Chris and Josiah heaved a relieved sigh, knowing the quicker they got Ezra in to see a doctor the better. They were shown to cubicle and the nurse pulled the curtain as Josiah laid his wheezing brother down on the narrow bed. The nurse, talking vibrantly to an uncaring Ezra, began arranging the oxygen mask over the delicately formed face. Ezra, being Ezra, immediately yanked it off and gave his best glare at the shocked nurse. Though the glassy stare did the trick as the nurse backed off, both older brothers were aware it was nowhere near the full ferocity it usually held.

Josiah carefully replaced the mask as Chris grasped one of the smaller hands. Josiah followed in the same form when the mask was properly in place. Josiah whispered, "C’mon Ezra, there’s no need to strike out at the nice lady. She is only doing her job."

Josiah couldn’t quite understand every word of his brother’s reply, but instinctively knew it was not nice and chose to ignore it. Time passed and Ezra began breathing easier with the aid of the forced air. A young man, startling both older brothers, abruptly pulled the curtain back. Chris guessed he was about the same age as Josiah. Looking at the small white cart the man was holding Chris ducked his head and tightened his grip on Ezra. Seeing the phlebotomist arrive Josiah did the same thing. Ezra, feeling the extra pressure being applied to his arms opened his eyes and saw the man standing beside his bed, preparing to take his blood. Out of inner self-preservation the young boy stiffened, but said nothing. After the procedure was finished Ezra glared at both his bothers, then closed his eyes and retreated inwardly.

He couldn’t explain the fear he harbored or the disappointment he felt. A couple of weeks ago, he thought he had proved himself to be of some worth to this family. Now, they were going to take this opportunity and bail out on him. Ezra retreated further into himself. If that’s how it was going to be, he could handle it. He had taken care of himself before and could again.

It was some time before an actual doctor appeared at the curtain of the small cubicle. Walking inside he noticed the small boy appeared to be engulfed by the bed, sleeping as whom he assumed were his brothers, stood on either side. He had already read the chart noticed an older brother was listed as guardian.

Striding up to Josiah with his hand held out he said, "I’m Dr. Chandler. I understand Dr. Hannel is your regular physician."

Josiah shook the proffered hand and nodded, giving a welcoming smile. "Yes. Unfortunately the doctor knows us quite well."

"Well, I shall inform him in the morning of what has transcribed tonight and he can take over the boy’s care," Dr. Chandler informed the two. "But, for right now your brother here has a elevated temperature and it is still rising. I think it is best if we admit him and begin giving medication intravenously."

Josiah began to agree while Chris was nodding his head in acceptance. Josiah and Chris had both loosened their grips on the younger brother, an error they were about to learn. Ezra had been dozing lightly when the doctor had come in. Without opening his eyes he had carefully listened to the doctor and his prescribed methods for getting him better. At the mention of a hospital stay Ezra could no longer be silent. A loud, "NO!" erupted from the bed-ridden patient as Ezra leaped off the bed and made a run for it.

The sudden yell had startled all three adults and no one was quick enough to grab one of the thin arms as the boy jumped away from them and ran out into the hall. Josiah and Chris recovered quickly and gave chase. It didn’t take many stride to catch up and literally tackle the smaller boy. Taking the boy to the ground, Josiah subconsciously made sure Ezra was tucked into his body as they fell. Kicking out his legs in an attempt to loosen himself from Josiah’s grip Ezra inadvertently kicked his other brother in the chest as the blonde reached for the small legs. Undeterred Chris, without further thought, grabbed the struggling legs and clamped them down.

"Calm down, Ezra," Josiah whispered loudly, "It’s alright."

At the same time as Chris was issuing his own order, "Stop it, Ez."

"No, it’s not," Ezra ground out, fighting for all he had. HE wouldn’t stay here, bad things happened at hospitals. They just didn’t understand.

Looking up at Josiah with the most heart-wrenching expression the oldest had ever been on the receiving end of, Ezra broke one of his own commandments and begged, "Please Josiah." Turning and giving the blond the same look he repeated, "Please Chris, I’ll get better I promise. Please don’t make me stay. Please!"

Neither Chris nor Josiah knew how to handle this new turn in events. Ezra had never asked them for anything. They both understood now just had desperate their brother had become if he was begging. It took all their resolve not to give in to their brother’s pleadings and take the boy home. Struggling to an upright position, still holding tight to their brother Josiah removed one arm and began combing his fingers through the wet brown hair, while tightening his hold with his other arm.

"It’ll be alright, Ezra. I swear," Chris promised.

Nether noticed the doctor bending down next to them until Chris realized the man was injecting Ezra with something. "What are you doing?" the blond asked sharply.

After gulping a couple of times at the glare he was receiving he answered, "I gave him a sedative to calm him down."

"Don’t. Ever. Do. That. Again," Chris replied in a low and threatening voice, "Without consenting one of us first. Do you understand?"

Dr. Chandler could only nod as he made a mental note not to handle anymore of this family’s cases and certainly not without backup. Chris and Josiah sat on the floor rocking Ezra as the medicine kicked in. The last words to slip from their sick brother chilled them. "I’m sorry I got sick. Please don’t leave me," Ezra whispered, before falling into a heavy sleep.

+ + + + + + +

Chris had called home after getting settled in the ICU cubicle, letting the others know they were going to keep Ezra overnight. The darkness of the room was lit dimly by the light radiating from the machine feeding the IV fluids into the prone body. The breaking of day was only a couple of hours away. The upper portion of Ezra was ensconced in a plastic tent. His breathing had become more labored as the fever rose and the lungs struggled to inflate fully. The one thing the doctor had done right, in Josiah’s eyes, was to write down an order allowing them to stay with their brother.

As the two sat on either side of the bed they watched their brother strain to catch his breath. The coughing had a wet sound to it and both men knew that wasn’t good. Dr. Chandler was looking into the possibility of changing the formula of prescribed medications. Josiah rubbed a hand over his weary eyes before looking over at Chris.

"What would have mom and dad have done if they were here?" He asked tiredly, wiping his tired eyes.

"I don’t know," Chris answered simply, staring down at his motionless little brother.

The boy could be a thorn in one’s side or his silent helper, just the way Chris liked him. Most outsiders thought Ezra and he hated one another. That belief came from the times and the ways they could get into verbal battles resulting in almost knock down drag out fights, but the truth was both brothers cared deeply for the other. Each knew exactly what buttons to push and where the line was and neither one ever thought about stepping up to that line, let alone crossing it. Chris would walk through hell for any of his brothers, including the one lying on the bed, gasping for air.

"He might not have reacted that way if I had done something differently," Josiah continued, absently tightening is grip on the small hand he held.

"Why does he does he do half the things he does," Chris responded, with a half smile.

Looking at each other they answered in unison, "Maude."

+ + + + + + +

The night had been long, rough and tiring. A nurse had bought Josiah and Chris some orange juice and a couple of muffins around dawn. They looked up when the door opened once again, expecting the doctor to be making is rounds. Instead, Buck and Nathan walked in. The four exchanged silent greetings.

"How did ya’ll get in?" Chris asked, knowing that allowing Josiah and he alone were bending the rules, much less letting two more of them inside the room.

"Nurse said it’d be ok if we made it quick," Buck answered, with a smile.

Chris could only nod and imagine his charismatic brother’s charm had a lot to do with them being let in. He then asked, "Where’s JD and Vin?"

Nathan answered this time, "They’re in the lobby. We only stopped by for a minute on our way to school."

Buck had walked over to the head of the bed and slipped his hand underneath the tent and taken Ezra’s small hand in his. Glancing down at his sick brother he hesitantly inquired, "How’s he doing?"

Chris answered, "The fever is still going up, but not as quickly as it did last night. Pneumonia has taken hold and is making it harder for him to breathe. Dr. Chandler isn’t sure why. Thinks it’s because he has a weak immune system." Chris’ smirk told the rest of them exactly what he thought of that genius conclusion.

"I’m sorry, guys. I should have noticed something was wrong sooner," Nathan apologized.

Josiah shook his head before letting out a small chuckle. "Nathan this wasn’t you’re fault. As far as being guilty, you’ll have stand in line for that one." Watching his brother, who would some day become a doctor himself, he finished his line of thought, "And it takes all of us to watch out for him. Let’s face it, he doesn’t swim with the same strokes as the rest of us."

After a few more minutes Buck left to take Nathan and the kids to school with the promise he would be back shortly. Dr. Hannel would be coming in, replacing Dr. Chandler. Hopefully Dr. Hannel had better suggestions. At the very least they would be dealing with a physician they were familiar with and trusted. As it turned out, Dr. Hannel wanted to stay with the prescribed procedures for a while longer.

+ + + + + + +

As the day dragged by there was a routine of sorts set up. It was evident that the sick child was becoming somewhat disoriented. Although he was quite weak, he would try to dislodge his covers then flail his hands about in an ineffectual attempt to escape the oxygen tent, all the while stating he was not sick. One of the older brothers would then attempt to settle him down and replace the covers, which would bring on the pleading not to be left. It had become a monotonous cycle that Josiah, Chris and Buck began despising. A little after lunch, when Buck and Chris both made the maneuver together pacify the patient, Buck noticed Ezra became complacent easier. He suggested that the next go-around two of them contain Ezra. Sure enough when two "ganged" up on the smaller boy, Ezra calmed down immediately. The three of them began rotating in a manner in which two of them were holding the fidgeting hands at all times. It worked, and the routine subsided.

Ezra was in a different place and time. There, he was lost and alone, in an endless room, surrounded by only whiteness, a dark figure haunted the background. The presence scared him and made him feel vulnerable; he had the ominous feeling he had to get away from the danger lurking out of his sight. He struggled to get away, but felt like he was weighed down. It wasn’t until the feel of hands and the voices from far away did the feeling of safety return.

That evening Buck, Chris and Josiah came to a rotating arrangement concerning their other brothers. It was agreed that Josiah would take the night off and go to the ranch. He went and picked up the others at school and headed home. It was a quiet and solemn evening.

The night brought no changes at the hospital. Buck and Chris took turns staying awake, so one could always be watching over Ezra. Before Josiah could deliver the others to school the next morning and make it back to the hospital Dr. Hannel made his rounds. The young dark-haired doctor walked into the room soberly. The somberness that replaced the usual cheerful attitude alerted Chris and Buck to the coming bad news. The reports the doctor had received that morning did not bode well for the small fourteen-year-old. Standing at the foot of the bed he met Chris and Buck’s eyes with a fixed look. "I have the new tests results and I have to honestly say they worry me."

He paused and waited for the two young men to process the new information before continuing, "His fever rose again during the night and from the x-rays taken earlier I can see that his right lung is becoming filled with fluid."

Without seeming to be affected by the words Chris spoke first, "What are our choices?"

Dr. Hannel shifted his full attention to the tall blond, and was once again reminded how much more mature this young man was compared to others of the same age.

"Well, for the lungs your options are limited. I really suggest you let us perform a procedure where we tap the lung, which in essence we stick a long needle attached to a syringe into the lung and basically suck the fluid out. As for the high fever I think an ice bed and a different set of medicines is appropriate."

Dr. Hannel finished his explanations and stood silent waiting for Chris and Buck to come to a decision. As a doctor he could only tell them what was best. He couldn’t, and with this family wouldn’t, tell them what to do. Seeing the imperceptible nods Buck and Chris gave each other, the doctor could only wonder at this family’s ability to silently communicate with one another. As their family doctor he had witnessed this phenomenon before, mostly it had occurred between the tall blond and the young twelve-year-old Vin, but on other occasions it happened with the rest of the boys.

Chris finally spoke. "Alright Dr. Hannel, you do what’s best." Then his voice becoming less friendly he added, "But you do everything possible to minimize the pain. He’s had enough in his lifetime."

The doctor nodded and left the room. A short time later he came back with the necessary medical supplies to perform the lung tap. After seeing the needle and knowing what was going to happen, both brothers wanted to exit the room as fast as possible, but instead held steady and stayed in the room, standing against the far wall. They had made a pact and they weren’t going to break it over something as small as a needle being injected into their brother. Even if the needle was going into the lung. Ezra for his part had become completely oblivious to the happenings to and around him.

After the lung tap nurses bought in several large bags of ice and placed them strategically around the little boy, who now had two IV’s running into his system. The fever had dehydrated Ezra severely. The young boy, who so often acted like an old adult, continued to mumble, the only word they could plainly make out now was a call for his mother. The pleading voice sounded so soft and fragile that Chris was near his breaking point. Buck again reminded Ezra that his mother wasn’t there, they were. In response Ezra muttered something that they could only guess its meaning.

Chris couldn’t take another round of the verbal merry-go-round. Taking Ezra’s hand in his hand he used the other to smooth back the soaked brown hair as he whispered harshly in his brother’s ear, "Ezra! You listen to me. You are a good kid and you’re not alone!" Ezra quieted down for a couple of hours and then began again. Another ritual began.

Josiah returned to the hospital later that morning after taking care of some critical paperwork and informing the school he would be taking an indeterminate number of days off until Ezra began improving. He could tell when he walked through the door the news wasn’t good. It would be a rocky couple of days in front of them.

Along with the procedures, a new regimine of medicines was given. Two days later it was a relief to them all when Ezra’s immune system began responding positively. The fever had slowly descended and Ezra became, if not coherent, at least intelligible. They knew he was doing better when the escape attempts resumed.

Ezra could only discern the white room he was trapped in. The ominous shadows became the strangers from his past, who had tried to take him away. The panic of abandonment and being taken by strangers grew stronger as the memories became clearer.

During one such feeble attempt Josiah asked nonchalantly, "Where you going, Ez?"

Ezra, without looking at the speaker, replied, "Go, before they take me away."

Buck, becoming worried at this statement, stepped up closer to the bed asked the obvious question, "Who’s taking you, Ez?"

Still fighting the blankets the younger boy responded tiredly, "Strangers. Maude forgot."

Chris, seeing the fight in his brother lessening, leaned in and asked quietly, "Where are you living, Ez?"

An exhausted response came as Ezra nestled back down in the blankets, his attempted getaway sapping what little strength he had built up. "Columbus," Ezra replied.

Buck, hearing Ezra’s reply, leaned over his struggling brother and stroked the porcelain-like cheek with his index finger. He reminded his brother of his whereabouts. "No, Ez. Remember, you live in Four Corners now? Remember, with Josiah, Chris, Nathan JD, Vin and me?"

For the first time in four days the Ezra sounded coherent, as he asked, "Buck?"

Relieved his brother recognized his voice he continued to stroke the cheek. "Yeah, Pard, it’s me. You're safe now. You aren’t going anywhere."

Turning his head, Ezra acknowledged the brother standing by his bedside and give a soft contented sigh. Finally stopping the fight against the sleep that beckoned him, Ezra closed his eyes as a sliver of a small graced his face. They had stayed.

Josiah stayed that night alone with Ezra since he showed signs of improvement, little as it was. Chris and Buck picked up the other four at school and headed home. Both older brothers expanded on how grateful they were that the other three had allowed them to spend so much time with Ezra. That night Chris and Buck made an extra effort to spend quality time with the youngest two at bedtime, reading a story to them both and tucking them in, amongst the halfhearted protests. Vin and JD, for their part, understood the reason and didn’t hold any animosity against any of them.

After putting Vin and JD to bed Chris called an old instructor from his days at the police academy. The instructor had let Chris know that anytime he needed help or wanted to come back the instructor would do all he could to help him out.

Giving the man a brief rundown on how he’d been during the last six months Chris finally came to the point of reason for the call. He explained he needed to find out about a potential abandoned child in Columbus, South Carolina. He estimated the time of between six to eight years previously. He gave a general age of how old Ezra might have been and that most likely the name wouldn’t have been Ezra, but the initials might still be the same. The instructor promised to see what he could do before ending the phone call.

Taking the kids to school the next morning Chris and Buck promised that since Ezra seemed to be improving two of the older brothers would start coming home at night instead of just one.

Arriving at the hospital Chris and Buck showed up to an empty room. Panic briefly set in before a nurse showed up and informed them that Ezra had been moved to a general floor. Walking through the door of the new room they spied Ezra asleep and Josiah sitting in a more comfortable chair than the ones provide in ICU, reading a book.

"You couldn’t have called and told us they were moving him?" Chris hissed angrily.

"I didn’t have time," Josiah explained patiently. "Dr. Hannel came in and announced he thought Ezra could be moved since he had been seen improvement in the last twenty-four hours, and the next thing I know they have a gurney in the room ready to transport him up here. We just got settled a few minutes ago and I knew you would be here shortly so I didn’t call," Josiah finished. Seeing his brother still seething he offered a weak apology, "Sorry."

Meanwhile, Buck had chosen to ignore the railings of his two brothers and walked over to his sleeping brother. The tent had been replaced by the oxygen mask and the well-built man noticed his frail little brother still rasped as he breathed, but it was nowhere near to the extent it had been. Continuing to ignore Josiah’s explanation and Chris’ glare he gave Ezra his full attention.

Chris was about give Josiah his thoughts on said apology when his cell phone rang. Walking out into the hall so as not to disturb his sleeping brother Chris answered his phone.

"Chris," he answered, the hostility he still felt towards Josiah seeping into his voice.

"And good morning to you, too," the other voice snapped back.

"Sorry Captain," Chris offered, then straightening up he asked, "Did you find out anything?"

Fifteen minutes later Chris walked back into the bigger hospital room looking like a raging bull without anyone to take his hostility out on. Josiah and Buck immediately knew who was going to be taking the brunt of their brother’s anger. Wisely they remained silent until Chris was once again in control of his emotions and able to speak without screaming or hitting the walls.

"That was an instructor for the academy. I called him last night to see if he could help unravel Ezra’s mutterings about being taken." Seeing he had his brothers’ full attention he sat down heavily in one of the chairs and hung his head, running his fingers through his hair. "I now know why Ez doesn’t like hospitals," he said, sounding defeated.

Neither Buck nor Josiah said a word as they waited for Chris to find the right words to tell them what he had found out. Softly, Chris began telling the story he had learned over the phone.

"When Ezra was six he was already placed in a boarding school. He apparently became sick and the school notified Maude. She told them she couldn’t come because of a business deal and left the school to handle Ezra’s illness," Chris paused, working his fingers angrily.

Standing up he walked to the window and gazed out without seeing. "Ezra grew worse, and after three attempts to get Maude to come with no luck, the school out-and-out demanded she come pick Ezra up and see to his medical needs. Maude picked him up and took him to the emergency room of one of the local hospitals. Ezra was diagnosed with sever tonsillitis," Chris stopped and took a couple of shaky breaths before continuing.

"When they took Ezra in for the operation Maude left the hospital. The nurses presumed she was going to grab a bite of lunch," the blond had to stop himself from punching the wall. "She didn’t come back," Chris finished quietly.

"What?!" Buck exploded, before Josiah could rest a hand on Buck’s arm and shush him.

Quieter, Buck said through clenched teeth, "You mean she just left a six-year-old alone in the hospital and walked away?"

Giving his brother a sardonic look Chris went on with the story. "Oh she came back. Three days later. When she finally showed up the police were called in to arrest her for child abandonment. They had already called Social Services and they were preparing to take Ezra to a state home," he finished.

"So how the heck did he wind back up in her care?" Josiah asked, incredulously.

Waving a hand in the air Chris began to pace, "This is Maude we’re talking about." Chris reminded them. "Apparently she gave some speech about telling a nurse she had to leave because of another family emergency and she would be back. She went so far as to say she gave the nurse a number where to contact her in case she didn’t make it back that same day."

"What did the nurse say about this," Buck asked.

Smiling a deceptively nice smile Chris answered, "Oh, Maude couldn’t remember the name of the nurse. Her being so upset and in a hurry and all." Chris let out a sarcastic smile. "She then threatened to sue the hospital for negligence on Ezra’s behalf and file against Social Services for further traumatizing her son with unwarranted threat of removal. Or some such nonsense," Chris added.

"So they let her go just like that," Buck asked, stunned.

"Apparently Maude gave them some number to confirm her story and when they called the person they did just that. The police didn’t really believe her story, but had no evidence to the contrary. My instructor says the friend he talked to did a follow-up on the case, talked to the head mistress and got he whole story. Said he also found out Ezra was back at school the day after he was released from the hospital," Chris once again sunk down heavily in the chair, indicating he was through.

Buck could only let out a low whistle. "Dang! Poor Ez. No wonder why he refuses to admit it when he’s sick."

"And why he fought so hard not to be here," Josiah added, his voice carrying the immense sadness he felt for his brother.

The three brothers sat in silence as they wondered at Maude’s actions. Josiah quietly thought to himself, that even wolves don’t do that to their young. No wonder Ezra has so many problems.

The rest of the day brought marked improvement in Ezra’s health. His temperature remained normal and they suffered no setbacks. All three were grateful things seem to be looking up. That night Chris stayed at the hospital and Josiah and Buck picked up the kids at school and took them out to eat before heading home.

Chris had reclined the chair back and lowered the back braces. After laying the chair flat he realigned the cushions, making a half decent bed to sleep on. It wasn’t like the bed at home, but it beat trying to sleep in the upright position he’d been sleeping in the last couple of days. Feeling a slight squeeze from the hand he was holding the blond roused up and saw two glazed green eyes staring at him.

Standing up and hovering over the small form he quietly said, "Ezra?"

He received a very slurred and sluggish response. "Water?"

"Sorry, pal, can’t have water yet. How about some ice chips?" Chris talked softly as he finger fed a couple of ice chips between his brother’s chapped lips.

Ezra lapped at the ice chips like a starved person. A few finger loads later Chris explained, "No more for awhile, ok? Let’s see how well you handle those." Putting down the cup he raked Ezra’s hair back off his forehead, willing his brother back to the much-needed sleep.

The blond watched the eyes closed then pop back open as if Ezra just realized Chris was standing there. "You’re still here," Ezra stated, the perplexion he felt showing in his voice and face.

Still raking his fingers through the hair he answered, "You bet. Not going to leave ya."

Ezra closed his eyes again and whispered, "Maude did."

Chris tensed and wondered if Ezra realized what he was revealing, and came to the conclusion he did. He knew the younger one was physically drained from fighting the virus and the medication they had him on might have a lot to do with Ezra’s sudden openness, but Ezra knew full well what he had said. The realization hit Chris like a freight train.

"I’m sorry pal," Chris said, softly as he squeezed the delicate hand he held.

Ezra once again closed his eyes, but instead of falling asleep he began talking. "She went to lunch and found a mark. She forgot about me until the man mentioned his own children." Ezra let out a sigh that spoke straight to Chris’ heart. "When she remembered, she forgot what hospital she had left me at. Spent half the morning calling hospitals until she found the right one."

Chris leaned over the railing and whispered, "It’ll never happen again, I promise. I’m right here and that’s the way it’s always going to be." Placing a small kiss on his brother’s forehead Chris whispered, "It’s safe now. Go to sleep."

The blond couldn’t help the feelings of hope, pride, fear and a heavy responsibility swelling up inside of him. The brother that never spoke of his past had opened up and shared a sacred secret. The enormity of the small conversation weighed heavily in the blond’s chest. Ezra had trusted him with one of lord-only-knew how many of his secrets. To Chris it felt as though a small chunk of wall had fallen down and he was being given a tiny glimpse at the person behind that wall. Chris saw that it revealed a much more shattered and scarred life than they ever figured, and for that he felt saddened.

Frankly Chris didn’t want to hear how this so-called mother could leave her son, attended to or otherwise, for money. What really ate at the young blond was the fact that apparently Maude had shared her side of the story with the little boy. He tried very hard to control the anger and hate he felt for the woman swelling up inside of him.

Ezra rolled over onto his side towards his older brother and curled up. "I wasn’t scared, though," he breathed out.

The blond accepted the lie and whispered back, "Of course not. You’re a tough kid."

"Not a kid," Ezra breathed out. Chris could only smile at the response and continue stroking his brother’s hair.

Chris was surprised when Ezra’s eyes opened back up and asked clearly, "You’re not going anywhere are you?"

Chris shook his head as he said, "Like I said I’m always going to be right here little brother." He watched as the tired green eyes closed once again and was relieved when he heard the soft even breathing, signifying his brother had finally succumbed to the much-needed sleep. "Always right here," he whispered tenderly.

The next day Ezra was doing much better and that afternoon Vin and JD were allowed up in the room for a short visit. Josiah stopped the boys outside the door and reminded them they had to be very quiet. The guardian received two solemn nods before entering the room. Vin moved over to stand next to Chris and looked at Ezra lying so still in the bed. The young boy had to close his eyes to push out the scene playing out in his mind of the time he watched his own mother lying in one of these beds as she died. Chris brushed a hand through the long sandy hair.

Leaning down Chris asked gently, "You want to go back outside?"

Receiving a shaking of the head for an answer he waited for the twelve-year-old to adjust to the room on his own. JD, on the other hand, walked up to the bed and took the limp hand in his own and softly stroked the knuckles with his thumb, much like what Buck did for him when he was sick. Ezra slowly woke and saw his two younger brothers by his side. Smiles were exchanged, but no words were spoken. They weren’t needed. Buck and Chris exchanged their own smiles. They each knew that JD would be filling Ezra in on the happenings later, when he sensed Ezra was up to listening. For now it just felt right to be back together, even if it was limited.

Four days later everyone showed up to escort Ezra home. Chris and Buck, sitting in the middle seat, placed their pale-looking brother between them. Arriving home Buck picked Ezra up against the many protests his brother was expounding. Once inside the house Buck carefully laid him on the couch and went to help Josiah in the kitchen getting supper together.

Suddenly finding himself alone with Chris, Ezra cleared his throat nervously. "Um, Chris," waiting until he had garnered the blond’s attention.

"Yeah, Ez?" Chris responded as he settled himself into his recliner. Boy, it felt good to be home.

"I understand I might not have particularly been in the right state of mind for a couple of days," Ezra started, hesitantly before pausing.

Chris smiled. "Yeah, you were kind of out of it there for awhile," he said.

Embarrassment colored Ezra’s cheeks as he ducked his head and continued, "Well, I was just wondering if I should be concerned. Perhaps I might have misspoken or said things that would be better left unsaid."

The older brother looked over at his brother for a moment and understood what Ezra was saying. The fourteen-year-old did not wish, just yet, to acknowledge that he had openly disclosed a secret and wanted it to remain between the two of them. Chris smiled as he said, "You have nothing to worry about." Reaching over and ruffling Ezra’s hair against the outcry he laughed as he leaned back in his recliner and closed his eyes.

Buck and Josiah had shamelessly listened to the conversation from the kitchen. The dark-haired man turned back to his duty and asked, "We ever going to tell him we know?"

Josiah stopped what he was doing and turned to Buck, "As much as I hate to, I don’t think so." Seeing Buck’s questioning look, Josiah asked, "You think we’d ever get him to open up again if we did?" Josiah added, "It’ll just give him one more thing to worry about."

Buck said, " Guess you’re right." Pausing a moment he said, "Sure like to hit that woman."

Josiah let out a small laugh. "I’m with you there, but I think we both would have to get behind Chris in that line."

The tall dark-haired man turned and leaned against the counter and crossed his ankles. "I wonder how many other secrets he has locked up inside of him?" Buck asked aloud.

Josiah finished putting the final touches on the meal and said, "I don’t know, but I reckon we’ll deal with them as they appear."

Buck nodded his head as he helped Josiah carry out the submarine sandwiches and chips into the living room. Nathan, Vin and JD had spread a tablecloth out on the floor for an impromptu picnic. Josiah set the bowl of soup he brought in for Ezra on the coffee table, only to turn and find the boy asleep. The rest of the brothers had quiet picnic on the floor in front of the couch while Ezra slept. The knowledge that so many people now caring about him and was slowly opening up his heart allowed him to rest peacefully.


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