by Purple Lacey

“Time for bed,” Chris stated firmly.

The groans of the two boys were accompanied by matching groans from Buck and JD as four sets of eyes looked up at him from the parlor rug where Buck, JD, Vin and Ezra had been engaged in a lively war acted out with the twins' set of toy soldiers.

“No buts,” Chris raised his hand to forestall the protests he could see forming not only on the children's lips but the adults' as well.

Buck sighed and stood up, reaching down both hands to the boys.

“He's right. Y'all need to be in bed. We can finish this tomorrow night,” Buck assured them. “You go on and say goodnight to JD.”

With dragging feet the twins moved to their new friend and exchanged goodnight hugs then preceded their two guardians to their bedroom. The men tucked the boys into bed and sat beside them for Buck's story in what had become a nightly ritual for all four.

”What's this?” Chris asked as he noticed the bit of red material sticking out from under Ezra's pillow.

“My marbles,” Ezra told him, pulling the bag out and showing it to the blond. “I didn't want to lose them.”

Buck barked out a laugh and told him, “Yep, sure don't want to take a chance on you losing your marbles, Ez.”

Ezra rolled his eyes at the man, shook his head in disgust, and gave a put-upon sigh at the man's humor.

Chris grinned at the boy's dramatics and wrapped his larger hand around the small one Ezra was using to grip the bag, squeezing gently before pushing the little hand and its contents back under the pillow.

“That's fine, Ezra,” Chris told him gently, “I'm sure JD would be very pleased to know you're taking such good care of them.”

“I got mine too!” Vin chirped and drug his own bag of marbles from under his pillow.

Chris smiled at the other child and reached over to ruffle the boy's blond hair saying, “And you too, Vin.”

“So, are ya ready for a story?” Buck asked, one eyebrow cocked in inquiry.

Two heads nodded in unison, and two little bodies settled down more comfortably in the bed as they waited for the last stage of their nightly routine to begin. Down in the alley below the open bedroom window, deep in the shadows where light from the watch fires didn't reach, a monster lurked waiting impatiently for the time he could claim his prize.


At first Ezra thought he was dreaming. In his dream he was in a boat floating along a peaceful river feeling weightless and lazy. It wasn't until he felt the rough cloth being forced between his sleep slackened lips that his groggy mind realized he wasn't in a dream but a nightmare. Ezra snapped awake with unprecedented speed, suddenly understanding Josiah's ability a little more clearly.

The darkness of the bedroom prevented Ezra from seeing the face of his captor but he didn't need to see him to know that this person meant him ill. As he started to struggle, he was wrapped tightly in a blanket that restricted his movements severely. No matter how hard he tried he couldn't get enough leverage to hit or kick the man silently carrying him towards the open window of the bedroom. The gag that had been shoved into his mouth muffled his cries for help. Ezra found himself helpless as the shadowy man threw him over one shoulder then climbed out the open window and down the ladder that he had used to gain access to the boarding house.

His captor made his way with great stealth down the alleyway beside the boarding house and stopped at the corner of the building to cast a quick look around the corner then slipped into the inky blackness of the alley that ran behind the row of buildings. He made his way along the alley for a time, and then turned a corner into another and then another until Ezra was completely lost. Then his captor stopped by a horse tied in the shadows and untied it. The man settled Ezra more securely on his shoulder them climbed onto the horse and headed out of town. Keeping to the protective darkness of the shadows he kept the horse's pace slow so as not to draw the unwanted attention of the regulator on patrol.

Once Joseph Rimmer reached the outer limits of the town he spurred the horse forward ruthlessly, wanting to put as much distance as possible between him and any pursuers before the day broke. He didn't expect the boy's absence to be noticed for several hours, giving him plenty of time to spirit the child away. Still,

he preferred to err on the side of caution when it came to his new prize. He almost glowed with his triumph. He had DONE it! The boy was his at last! He felt like laughing out loud at his great success, thrilled with the thoughts of all the money he would make this one.

Ezra began to wiggle around again in an attempt to escape until a hard palm slapped his backside.

“Stay still, boy,” the low voice warned, the implied threat clear in the growled words.

Ezra froze in terror as he recognized that voice. It was one he heard in some of his nightmares; the voice of the man that Maude had sold him to! Somehow the man had found him. Ezra thought he had found a sanctuary. He thought that he was finally safe, but here was a faceless demon come to rip him away from his new life; from his brother and his new friends. Everything he had done, everything he and Vin had been through was for nothing. Maude had won again. Tears slipped from his tightly clenched eyes and were absorbed by the blanket that covered his face.

“NO, NO, NO, NO,” the screams he was unable to give voice to echoed in his head. “Help me! Vin! Chris! Buck! JD! Somebody! Please! VIN! HELP ME! VVVVVIIINNNNN! VVVVVIIINNNNN!”

Rimmer pulled his horse to a stop when he had traveled about a mile out of town and reached up to pull Ezra from over his shoulder and set the boy in front of him on the saddle. He pulled the blanket away from the little face and removed the gag, not wanting to take any chances on this merchandise choking. Ezra looked up at the face dimly illuminated by the starlight and tried desperately to control the fear that filled him.

His father had always told him that fear was the enemy. Fear muddled your thinking and led you to making mistakes. Showing your enemy you were afraid gave him an advantage that he could exploit. Edward Standish's lessons came back to his son now and Ezra fought back in the only way he could. He slipped the poker face his father had worked so diligently to teach him in place and stared back calmly at the man examining him like a prized thoroughbred horse. The boy cautiously tried moving his arms and legs but although there was now slightly more give to the blanket binding him, he was unable to do more that wiggle his right hand out from under the confining blanket.

“You'll do me fine,” the man crowed, “just fine!”

“If you let me go right now, my protectors might let you live,” Ezra told the man confidently, hoping against hope that he could talk his way out of this.

“Ha,” the man scoffed, “Nobody knows where you are, kid. Nobody's coming after you. Nobody's gonna save you. I'm the one you're gonna answer to from now on. You're gonna do what I tell you, when I tell you. Get used to it.”

Ezra viciously controlled the shiver that wanted to make its way down his spine at the man's words.

“They will come for me,” he said with more assurance than he really felt, "and will be most incensed with you for putting them to the trouble of retrieving me. If you return me at once you may yet escape their wrath. I fear they will not treat you kindly if you continue on your present course."

Rimmer snorted a laugh, “Damn, you're naïve kid. But don't worry, that won't last long. It never does,” he chuckled evilly and spurred the horse forward.


Vin sat up with a jerk, his heart pounding, and lungs straining for breath. The echo of the voice that had disturbed his sleep still rang in his head and he reached out toward Ezra's side of the bed and found it empty.

“Ezra,” he whispered then screamed at the top of his lungs, “EZRA!”

His desperate cries brought Chris flying out of his room and into the boys' room, Nathan and Josiah on his heels.

A crying Vin threw himself into the man's arms and told him, “He's gone! Ezra's gone!”

Chris could swear he felt his heart stop for a moment and he looked at the empty side of the bed and felt the fear start to grow.

“What happened, Vin?” Chris snapped then made a conscious effort to soften his tone, “Vin, please tell me what happened.”

“I don't know,” Vin sobbed. “I was sleepin' and then it sounded like Ezra was callin' me, screamin' at me. I woke up and he was gone! Where is he, Chris? Where'd he go? He's in trouble, I know he is!”

Chris held the sobbing boy tightly, doing his best to soothe him, needing the physical contact as much as the child at the moment.

While Chris way busy with the distraught seven year old, Josiah stepped to the open window and cautiously stuck his head out, looked around, and then, seeing no one in sight, pulled it back in again.

“Where's Buck?” Vin sniffled, “I want Buck!”

“He'll be here soon, son. You just stay here with Nathan and I'll go get him,” Chris promised.

Nathan nodded and slipped onto the other side of the bed and Chris passed the child to him and stood up, signaling Josiah to follow him from the room.

“Take a lantern and look around outside.” the worried man tersely told a hastily dressing Josiah. "Check the out house. Maybe he just..."

Josiah broke in to his leader's litany of instructions to say, "There's a ladder under the window, Chris."

Chris felt his heart drop into his stomach at the ex- preacher´s low voiced words. He had been trying to convince himself that nothing was really wrong; that Ezra had wandered off on his own for some as yet unknown but completely innocent reason. Josiah's unwelcome news ground that hope into the dust.

Chris grabbed his gun belt from his room then ran down the stairs, unmindful that he was barefoot and wearing only his long underwear and an unbuttoned pair of pants. He burst out of the front door and almost collided with JD who had heard the commotion in the quiet of the sleeping town and had run full out to check it.

“Chris!” the young man huffed, trying to catch his breath after his sprint, “what happened?”

“Ezra's missing,” blond snapped out, buckling on his guns with vicious jerks of the leather.

“Missing! How?” JD cried.

"Josiah found a ladder under their window. Someone must have climbed in and taken him out from under our very noses,” Chris ground out. “Vin woke up and Ezra was gone. Get a lantern and go help Josiah look around. Be careful where you go. There may be tracks we can follow.”

“Do you really think someone took him?”

“At this point I can't afford to think any other way. If he just wandered off then he'll show up eventually on his own, but if he was taken then we don't have any time to waste. If this was a normal situation with a normal child, the first thing we'd do is search the town. Anyone who snatched him would know that and would be heading to a hiding place away from this town knowing this place was too small to successfully hide anyone for any period of time. But this isn't a normal situation because we know that at least two and maybe three people would love to get their hands on him, so we play it safe and assume he's been taken and act accordingly."

The two men parted and Chris headed for the saloon at an angry trot. He climbed the staircase on the back of the building that gave access to the rooms above and made his way down the dimly lit hall to the last door. Not bothering to knock, he turned the knob and shoved the door open, letting it hit the wall with a bang as he stepped in.

The loud, unexpected noise startled the two people on the bed and Chris stopped the hand that reached for the gun belt hanging on the bedpost with a terse, “Ezra's missing. Vin needs you,” before turning on his heel and exiting the room again.

Chris could hear a woman's angry protests and the sound of belongings being collected hurriedly as he exited the way he had come in. He could hear Buck's running footsteps following behind him but he didn't stop. He didn't have the time right now. Ezra needed him.

“Chris!” Josiah's voice claimed his attention and he changed direction toward the man shining a lantern in the alley beside the boarding house.

“Did you find tracks?” Chris' flung the word outs at the man.

“JD's following them. He came from the back alley and returned there after he had Ezra.”

“Let's go,” Chris ordered.

“Chris,” Buck began but was interrupted.

“You go take care of Vin, Buck. Send Nathan down to help search.”

“Chris I want…” Buck tried again.

“He needs you, Buck, more than Ezra does at the moment. Go take care of him. We don't know if anyone's planning to try for him too. You keep him safe. We'll find Ezra.”

Buck nodded and took off at a run into the boarding house.

Chris turned and followed Josiah down the alley after JD, swiftly joined by Nathan who had bounded outside as soon as Buck came in to be with Vin. They found the young man by an old abandoned building, squatting in the dirt and examining it carefully by the light of his lantern.

“JD, you find anything?” Chris asked.

“Yeah. Looks like he came down this alley and had a horse waiting here. There are no more footprints just hoof prints from here. The good news is they still look pretty fresh. He can't be too far ahead of us.”

“Get the horses ready, JD. Josiah, scare up some provisions then help JD. Nathan, get whatever you think we might need when we find him,” Chris told the men brusquely, “We ride in ten minutes.”

The men scattered, each to their separate chores and Chris stalked inside to pull on his boots and shirt, and grab his duster and hat. Buck, a now much quieter Vin wrapped around him like a limpet, met him in the hall on his way out. Chris could see the man was torn between wanting to stay and protect Vin and helping to find Ezra.

The little hiccup that Vin gave drew the blonde's attention, and Chris reached out and ran a tender hand along Vin's back and patted it gently.

“I'll bring him home, Vin,” Chris promised the boy. Buck's sorrowful eyes met his over the boy's head and the both men silently acknowledged the awful possibility that the other boy might not be alive when Chris brought him home. Buck could see the grim determination to save the child sitting in his friend's eyes and could only pray for his success. Buck didn't know what would happen to the other man if he lost another child.

Chris joined the rest of his men gathered outside the livery and took the reins of his horse from JD. He vaulted into the saddle and slapped the reins against the horse's side causing the horse to spring forward. The three remaining regulators followed. Chris turned his horse toward the spot where they had discovered the horse's tracks and began the search for the little boy, swearing this time he would not fail the child in his care. He would bring Ezra back alive or he would take his revenge on the one who dared take him, even if it took him the rest of his life to do it.

While the men were busy following the tracks, Ezra wearily looked around the trail his captor was following, trying to memorize as much of it as he could in case he got a chance to escape. They had been traveling for about two hours, their progress slowed by the same darkness that had covered their flight from town. The diffuse glow of the eastern sky as the morning sun began to rise provided just enough light to make out some of the landscape features.

Ezra repeated the silent litany that had filled his head since he had been captured, “Come get me soon, Chris. Please come get me soon!”

He took comfort from the memory of the night that Chris had found them in the barn loft and had held him and said, "You just rest and don't worry. Buck and I will take care of you both, and won't let anything happen to you." Chris had given his word that he and Buck would take care of him and his brother and they had. Ezra just knew that Chris was going to save him. Chris had promised, so he'd come. It was that simple. Ezra had profound faith in that thought. It was the mantra he used to keep his fear at bay. Chris would come and Ezra just had to hang on until he got there, and do his best to help Chris find him.

“We're there,” Joseph informed Ezra cheerfully as he veered his horse to skirt a small rockslide that had fallen across the trail. The man pulled the horse to a stop in a small natural clearing and climbed down from the saddle. He reached up to pull Ezra down. He set the still blanket-wrapped child on the ground with his back to a rock. He was careful to avoid bruising the child in anyway, not from any desire to keep from harming the boy himself but so as not to damage his merchandise. His customers liked to put their own bruises on their toys.

“When my friends come for me they're probably going to kill you,” Ezra tried once again. “You still have an opportunity to take me back to town now and just walk away.”

Grim laughter greeted his words.


The regulators easily followed the tracks from town. The freshness of the tracks made it simple until the trail crossed a rock table and disappeared altogether. The men spread out in different directions trying to pick up the trail again but couldn't find a trace.

“It's no use,” Nathan's forlorn voice broke the silence, “All the trails from this point on are rock ones. There's nothing to leave a print in.”

“We ain't giving up!” Chris growled at the younger man as he swung around to face him with his fists clenched in rage. “Ezra is depending on us. We're not letting that boy down, do you hear me!” The volume of his words rose until he ended the sentence in a near shout.

“Nobody said anything about giving up, Chris,” Josiah put a restraining hand on the leader's shoulder.

Chris tried to shrug off the hand that restrained him but Josiah merely tightened his grip. Chris was a bundle of dynamite just waiting to blow and Nathan's words were like a match to a fuse. He had spent the whole time they were searching berating himself for allowing his guard to drop and thereby putting Ezra in danger. He should have been more careful. He had miscalculated badly, believing that no one would dare try for the boys while they were in the boarding house surrounded by the regulators. He had misjudged the kidnapper all the way around and now Ezra was paying the price. Ezra had trusted him to protect him and Chris had let him down. That thought burned at Chris' gut like a red hot poker. The thought that they might not find Ezra in time or at all sliced at the gunslinger's heart.

“I'm sorry, Chris,” Nathan said as he hastened to reassure the angry man facing off with him. “I didn't mean it to sound like we should give up. I'm just frustrated, that's all. I want to find that boy as much as you do.”

Josiah kept his hand firmly on Larabee's shoulder as he said, “We all are, brother. Nobody's giving up yet. We'll keep looking until we find him.”

A shaken JD stepped back from the older man's anger and turned away leaving the healer and the preacher to calm their leader down. He had been waiting all through the long ride for someone to say what he knew everyone must be thinking: why hadn't he seen the man before he had made off with Ezra? It was what he had been asking himself ever since the discovery that Ezra was gone. It had been his turn at patrol. It was his responsibility, his fault that Ezra was missing. Ezra would be tucked up in his bed right now if he had been doing his job right.

The weight of the guilt lay heavily on the young sheriff's shoulders and was slowly crushing the life from him. If Ezra wasn't found in one piece JD knew he'd spend the rest of his life mourning the child and berating his own stupidity. There could be no forgiveness for so great a sin as his.

JD blinked the shimmer of tears from his eyes, staring down a rocky trail damning himself for his presumed incompetence when the light from the lantern swinging forgotten in his hand caught his eye as it flashed off something down the trail…something that stood out as unnatural in the ragged and dusty land. JD moved his lantern again and watched the light once again reflect off the thing that had caught his attention. Following a hunch and praying harder than he had ever prayed before in his life, JD move up the trail and bent to pick up the small object that had garnered his attention.

Chris, Nathan, and Josiah were all startled by the sudden loud whoop their youngest member let loose and they spun around to see the grinning man holding something up over his head for them to see. All three rushed to his side hoping for some good news.

“Way to go, Ezra!” JD enthused, and the others came closer. “Come on guys, we gotta go this way.”

“How do you know it's that way?” Chris questioned gruffly, afraid to get his hopes up.

JD grinned and handed him his discovery. Chris had to swallow hard against the lump that welled in his throat at the small glass sphere in his palm.

“Ezra's leaving us a trail to follow,” JD's joyful voice informed them as the other men stared down at one of the marbles that JD had given the boy that very morning. “We just gotta look for more marbles!”

Chris finally looked up from the marble in his hand. He unbuttoned the pocket on his shirt, carefully placed the marble inside and re-buttoned it then stared at the JD for moment.

“Good work, JD,” he said and slapped JD on the back. “Now let's go get our boy.”

The four men mounted their horses with a renewed sense of hope and purpose and headed down the trail, swinging their lanterns to and fro as they hunted for more of the little glass spheres. They found the next one where the trail split into two. It was lying in the middle of the right fork and Chris hopped from his horse to pick it up and place it in his pocket with the other one. They made faster time once they realized that Ezra only dropped the marbles when the paths veered or changed so they were able to surge ahead down each trail until they came to a new place where a decision had to be made. There they would stop and search for more marbles. The bitter despair that had fallen on Chris' heart when they had lost the trail lightened more and more the heavier his pocket grew with marbles.

Josiah held up his hand suddenly and motioned for quiet.

“What is it?” Chris murmured as he joined the older man who had stepped from his horse and was bent over at the waist examining a scraggly looking plant that was valiantly trying to grow in a cleft of the rocky hillside by the trail. One branch of the plant had been bent back and broken and all could see the beads of fluid that were seeping from the plant's broken stem.

“This branch is broken, and couldn't have been done more than five minutes ago. We're getting close, Chris,” Josiah whispered.

Chris nodded his agreement and whispered, “We leave the horses here and go on foot from this point.”

The men secured their horses and drew their weapons before beginning a quiet advance up the trail. Each man was tense with readiness, and their eyes constantly scanned the area looking for possible ambushes or additional clues. All four men silently prayed that they would be in time.


The eastern sky was a pallet of pinks, purples and blues as Buck stared out the open window of the boardinghouse, but his weary eyes never noticed the beauty of the pre-dawn sky. He leaned against the headboard of the bed and held a now sleeping Vin across his lap, the boy's head resting in the crook of his neck and shoulder. Guilty thoughts flitted through the gunman's head as he stroked a large hand over the sleeping boy's hair and pulled the quilt covering the boy higher around his little shoulders. He hated that Ezra had been taken. He worried for the boy's safety, and prayed the others found him soon, but he couldn't help the tiny voice in the back of his head that rejoiced because it hadn't been Vin who was taken. He hated himself for the thought.

Buck loved Ezra. The child was a complex amalgam of worldly- wise adult and mischievous little boy. He constantly flabbergasted Buck with the depth of his insight into human nature and his knowledge of the way the world worked, and then turned right around an shocked him by being completely ignorant of the typical, ordinary things of childhood. Buck delighted in teasing the boy and watching those little eyes roll in exasperation. He felt honored that the little one that suspected the motives of most everyone he met had decide to gift him with his trust. Somehow Ezra had snuck up and stolen a piece of his heart when he wasn't looking, and now Buck was terrified about what might be happening to the boy.

But Vin was safe, that little voice whispered, Vin was still here. Buck despised himself for making the distinction between the two boys but had to acknowledge what his heart insisted was true…Vin was special to him. Vin was his; had been his from the first moment Buck had seen the child lying so still and pale in the dirty loft of the broken down barn. Something about the little orphan with the scarred back and love of pranks and jokes had reached deep inside the gunman and plucked a chord on his heartstrings. When they were together there was a harmony in his life that had never existed before, a silent kind of music that lifted his spirit and gave it wings. He had seen the reflection of his feelings in Vin's eyes whenever the boy looked at him. They belonged together.

Buck angled his head to look at the sleeping boy held in his arms and smiled sadly. Vin and Ezra belonged together too. The boys, although raised apart, were incredibly close now. You rarely found one without the other somewhere nearby. To the uneducated eye the boys seemed to be complete opposites, but he had come to understand that they complemented each other. What one lacked the other possessed in a perfectly balanced relationship of mutual need and support. Buck knew the loss of his brother would shatter Vin, and Buck didn't think anyone, not even he, would be able to put Vin back together again if that happened. The thought terrified Buck.

Vin was not the only one who would be shattered if something happened to Ezra Buck acknowledged to himself. Ezra had stolen the heart of his oldest friend and single-handedly poured the life back into the man that Buck had almost given up hoping would ever start truly living again. It was as if Ezra was handing Chris back the scorched and broken pieces of himself one by one and helping Chris glue them back in place. Chris was laughing more, drinking less, and was once again finding contentment in the simple things of life, and Buck knew the thanks for that could be laid squarely at one chestnut-haired, emerald-eyed imp of a seven-year- old's doorstep. If something happened to that child now…if Chris couldn't get him back… Buck shuddered to think of what that would do to the leader of the regulators. Buck feared there would be no pulling Chris back from the edge this time if that happened. The man would self destruct for sure.

“Please God, if you're listenin',” Buck prayed softly, “watch over that boy and bring him back to us in one piece.”


Chris froze and motioned his men to do the same as they heard the sweet sound of Ezra's voice say, “When my friends come for me they're probably going to kill you. You still have an opportunity to take me back to town now and just walk away.”

Chris felt his knees start to grow weak with relief that the boy was still alive then made an effort to pull himself together so he could finish this. He couldn't afford to let go until the job was done. They still had to get Ezra back safely.

Chris could hear another, deeper voice laughing grimly before answering Ezra's statement.

“I keep tellin' ya, boy, there ain't no one coming for you. You're on your own! It's just you and me now.”

Chris silently slipped around the last curve in the trail and surveyed the scene before him, Josiah, Nathan and JD following close behind. Ezra and a tall, gangly man were in a small clearing about twenty feet from the regulators. Ezra, wrapped from chin to toes in a blanket, was sitting with his back to a rock and facing down his captor with a look of smooth confidence. The regulator swiftly scanned the boy for injuries, and Chris felt his heart cry out in joy at the sight of the boy alive. Chris caught the barely perceptible flinch the boy gave at the man's next cruel remarks.

“Nobody's gonna come huntin' for you. Nobody's gonna save you. Nobody cares! Got it?” the man finished, stepping closer to Ezra and looming over the child with his hands on his hips.

“Well Nobody must be me then,” said Chris with a deadly growl as he stepped farther into the clearing with his gun drawn and pointed at the villain, “Because I came hunting for him, and I care. YOU got it?”

“Chris!” Ezra shouted as he saw his guardian standing with a gun pointed at his tormentor, Nathan, Josiah, and JD standing by his side with grim faces and drawn guns.

Ezra's eyes filled with tears that began trickling down his cheeks. He had come! Chris had come to take care of him just like he promised he would. The wonder of that filled Ezra.

“NO!” Rimmer cried spinning around to face the intruders, not seeming to see the guns pointed at him. All he really saw was losing his Holy Grail again. “You can't have him! He's mine!”

“Wrong again,” Chris' low, viciously cold voice told him, “He's MINE.”

“NOOO!” Rimmer cried, reaching out and taking a step toward Ezra only to stop and stare in confusion at the patch of red that was suddenly blossoming on his chest. He looked in disbelief at the grim faced man holding the smoking gun then his eyes rolled up in his head and he collapsed in a heap on the ground.

“Ezra!” Chris cried and took off at a run across the clearing, absent mindedly holstering his gun as he ran. The blond threw himself on his knees beside the kidnapped child and pulled him into his arms with an exhalation that might have been interpreted by some as a sob.

Ezra wiggled and squirmed trying to get his arms loose so he could reach for Chris but the blanket still impeded his movements. Chris pulled back enough to notice the boy's gyrations and quickly stripped off the blanket, throwing it carelessly to one side.

“Ezra, are you all right?” Chris asked urgently as the boy threw himself back into Chris' embrace.

“I knew you'd come,” Ezra cried with his face buried in his savior's shoulder, his little hands grasping tight handholds of the man's black shirt. Tears of relief and reaction began moistening the shirt immediately. “I told him you'd come for me. He didn't believe me, but I knew! I knew!” the boy sobbed.

Chris stroked the child's hair down with a trembling hand and tried to blink away the moisture that suddenly gathered in his eyes. The man reached down and raised the little face so he could determine for himself the boy really was alright as he whispered brokenly, “Always, Ezra. I'll always come for you. You're never going to be on your own again. I swear to you!”

A single, shining tear managed to escape from the man's hazel eyes and run down his face to drop from his chin and meet with one flowing from the little boy's emerald ones. Together the two tears intermingled and slid down the little cheek until they were absorbed by Chris' lips as he gave Ezra a tender kiss on his tear-washed cheek. Pulling the boy closer, Chris sat rocking him in the middle of the dusty clearing, both man and child oblivious to everything but the comforting presence of the other, as the dawn broke around them with quiet splendor.


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