by Joy K

Vin stood staring out the front window. He'd been there since things calmed down after the book incident.

After checking on JD and Buck, Josiah walked up and stood beside him wondering if he could see what the boy was looking at. "What do you see out there?" he asked.

"I'm waiting for Mr. Chris," Vin answered softly.

"I see," said Josiah. "What are you looking at while you're waiting?"

"Is it gonna stop?" the boy replied without turning away from the window.

"The rain?" asked Josiah. It had been raining all day forcing the boys to stay indoors.

Vin nodded slightly.

"Sure it will," said Josiah, "And when it does you can play outside."

When Vin shook his head, Josiah frowned. He could see the seven-year-old start to tremble. He knelt down beside him and carefully wrapped his arm around the boy.

"You don't want to play outside?" he asked.

Vin shook his head again, blinking back big tears.

"Can you tell me why?" Josiah asked softly.

"I don't want it to come," Vin whispered. He turned and looked at Josiah. "Will Mr. Chris get home before it comes?"

Josiah puzzled for a moment over why the thought of the sky clearing up would be frightening to Vin, but it came to him with gut-wrenching clarity. The day of the flood had been a bright sunny day, the first sunny day after two weeks of virtually nonstop rain.

Vin was afraid it would flood again when the rain stopped. He was worried Chris wouldn't make it home.

He hugged Vin a little tighter. "Son, Chris will be home in about 30 minutes. It's not going to flood again when it stops raining. What happened that day was a tragic event, but it is not going to happen every time it rains. And up here, we're safe from the floods, we're a lot higher than any water could ever get." Josiah paused, taking a moment to stroke Vin's hair. "Can you tell me something?"

Vin looked him in the eye, still blinking away his tears.

"Did it ever rain before that time?"

Vin swallowed hard and nodded.

"Did the sun come out?"

Vin nodded again.

"Did it flood?"

A single shake of the head.

"That's right," said Josiah. "It doesn't usually flood after it rains, does it?"

"No," Vin said softly.

"It's good for us to be aware that if it rains hard for a long time that the water could rise, but if it's just a regular rainy day we don't need to be concerned."

Vin bit his lower lip. Obviously for the seven-year-old who had seen too much during the flood, it wasn't that easy to put away his fears.

"I tell you what," said Josiah, "Why don't you talk to Chris about it when he gets home?"

Vin nodded.

"You know, I could use some help," said Josiah. "I need to get dinner started and I think everyone else in the house is napping. Could you give me a hand?"

The seven-year-old looked out the window and then back at Josiah. He let out a sigh and nodded.

Josiah smiled. "Thank you, Vin. Let's see what we can scare up for dinner." He stood and reached out his hand to the boy. He closed his fingers warmly over Vin's as the boy took his hand, knowing that the seven-year-old would rather stay at the window and wait for Chris.


Dinner was a tense affair. JD was still angry, Vin was still quiet, and Ezra was still picking at his food and eating very little. The adults tried to keep the conversation flowing and keep the kids involved but it was difficult. Several times little JD tried to bait Ezra into an argument, but the older boy ignored him pretending that nothing his little brother said fazed him. Vin watched his brothers with concern but said nothing.

After dinner, following Josiah's suggestion Chris declared that it was game night and they were all going to play together. Chutes and Ladders was the game of choice and everyone played, including Josiah and Nathan. For the most part, the game went well with JD only "accidentally" knocking Ezra's game piece off the board twice. All the boys seemed to actually enjoy the game until the very end when Ezra came out victorious.

That did not set well with JD and the five-year-old made sure everyone knew it. When Buck suggested playing another round, Ezra asked if he could go to bed, telling them he was tired. Out of instinct Nathan's hand moved to the boy's forehead checking for a temperature.

"I'm fine, Mr. Jackson," Ezra protested.

"You've got a bit of a fever," said Nathan. "Let's get your dressing changed and then you can rest."

Ezra sighed but accepted the crutches as Nathan offered them. He put them under his arms and hobbled down the hall to the bedroom, with Jackson following.

"Why don't you guys get started?" said Chris. "I'm going to check on Ezra and I'll be right back. Vin, you can take my turn for me, all right?"

Vin nodded and put Larabee's game piece at the start position. "What about Mr. Nathan?"

"JD, why don't you move Nathan's piece for him until he gets back."

"Okay!" JD agreed.

The game got started as Chris left the room.

"Everything all right?" he asked as he entered the boys' room.

"The knee looks fine," said Nathan as he tossed the old bandage into the garbage. "It's healing nicely, Ezra."

Nathan gently applied the antiseptic and re-bandaged the wound area. "The fever's got me a little concerned though," he added. "He's had it off and on for the past couple of weeks." He looked up at Ezra as he finished, "And you haven't been very hungry, have you?"

Ezra shook his head.

"It's probably nothing," said Nathan. "These guys have been through a lot. It's only natural that there'd be some physical effects."

Ezra grimaced at the pain in his stomach. It had been hurting off and on ever since the flood, but he hadn't said anything to anyone because he didn't want to go to a doctor and maybe the hospital. Besides, it was only a tummy ache.

"You all right?" Chris asked.

The eight-year-old nodded. "My stomach is bothering me a little, but I'm fine."

"I'll get your antibiotic, some Tylenol and some crackers," Nathan said. "You need something in your tummy when you take the medication."

As Jackson left the room, Chris sat down on the foot of the bed. "Something's on your mind," he said.

Ezra looked at him a little fearfully, but quickly hid it. He wished his mother were here to tell him what to do.

"Is it JD?"

Ezra slowly nodded. "I think it would be best if Mother came and got me," he said. "It doesn't matter what I do, it upsets him."

"Ezra, you do understand she can't come get you right now?" said Chris. He had talked with Maude last night and while he didn't believe her excuse of "passport problems" it was clear that she really couldn't return to the United States right now. He'd checked into the charges against her and figured she had another year or so before the statute of limitations ran out on the crime she was accused of and she was free to return without fear of arrest. She had been less than thrilled to find out that Chris was in law enforcement but she was stuck with Ezra's placement. She couldn't come home to sign the necessary paperwork to have him placed elsewhere. And Chris sensed she wasn't all that eager to pull Ezra away from his "brothers" anyway.

Maude Standish-Wingo was an enigma. She seemed to sincerely love her son, but checking their background had shown Ezra had been left in the care of relatives or friends numerous times in his eight years. It was hard to believe she loved him when she continually left him behind. Loved or not, being shuffled from place to place with no permanent home was no life for a little boy. And Maude Standish-Wingo would be in for a surprise whenever she did return to try to claim her boy, because Chris had no intention of letting him go back into that lifestyle.

"Yes, Sir, Mr. Larabee," Ezra said. Chris had told him his mother couldn't come and she had confirmed it on the phone with him. When he had asked her what he was supposed to do, she told him, "What you've always done, Sweet Boy. Just what your mother tells you." And she had told him she wouldn't be able to come for a while and he was to stay with Mr. Larabee. Ezra had done exactly what she taught him. He put on a brave face and refused to cry, but his heart was breaking inside.

"JD isn't angry with you, Ezra. He's upset that his mother is gone and he misses her," Chris soothed. "I know you and Vin are upset about that, too, but you're a little older and it effects you differently." Chris massaged Ezra's leg gently. "We're going to help JD get through this so he's not angry all the time. And we're going to help Vin so he doesn't withdraw so much."

"Why can't we just fix it?"

Larabee half smiled at the question. He knew that Ezra realized there was no quick fix, but Chris definitely agreed with the sentiment.

"I wish we could," he said. "I want nothing more than for all three of you to be happy and healthy right this second, but it's going to take time."

Ezra sighed.

"We're going to get through this," Chris assured.

"Here we are," said Nathan, entering the room with the medications, a glass of water and a package of crackers.

Ezra dutifully took the pills and a gulp of water. He ate a few crackers to satisfy Nathan even though he wasn't hungry. He yawned widely, quickly covering his mouth.

Both men smiled. The kid really was tired. It wasn't just an excuse to get away from JD for a while.

"Do you need some help getting ready for bed?" Chris asked.

Ezra's polite refusal wasn't a surprise to either man. It was the same as every night since he'd come to the ranch.

"All right," said Chris. "I'll check back in when Vin and JD are ready for bed."

"Thank you," said Ezra. "Good night, Mr. Jackson." The eight-year-old picked up his crutches and hobbled to the bathroom. His makeshift pajamas - a tee shirt and baggy sweat pants loose enough to fit over the knee brace - were on the bathroom counter waiting for him.

Chris and Nathan walked back to the great room to finish the second round of Chutes and Ladders.

+ + + + + +

An hour later Vin and JD had gone to bed. Buck had retired about the same time, worn out from the stressful day. Josiah, Chris and Nathan had stayed up and talked about the boys for a while.

Josiah had arranged for the boys to visit Dr. Lynn Ashby, a therapist who worked specifically with children and their families. She split her time between an office in the big city and a small practice in Four Corners. Families from all around the rural part of the county found it more convenient to take their children to Four Corners rather than the long drive into the city.

Everyone was looking forward to getting the boys started in therapy. Josiah had been a big help, but children weren't where his education had focused. They all wanted the boys to have the best help available.

It was after midnight before they wrapped up their discussion. Josiah and Nathan were just about to leave for the bunkhouse when a blood-curdling scream sounded from the boys' room.

In a heartbeat all three were down the hall into the room. Chris turned on the light. JD was sitting up on the lower bunk bed looking confused. Ezra was standing on the bottom rung of the ladder on one leg, his injured leg dangling in the air. Vin let out another scream from the top bunk.

Chris scooped Ezra off the ladder and handed him to Nathan to prevent the boy from hurting his leg. Then he turned his attention to the seven-year-old caught in a nightmare. As he pulled Vin off the bed into his arms he could hear Ezra telling Nathan to put him down.

"Vin. It's all right. It's just a dream," Chris soothed, trying to get the boy to wake up enough to relax.

Instead of settling into the comfort, Vin struggled against Chris's hold.

"No - no - no!" he said as he tried to push Chris away.

"Relax," Chris soothed. "It's just a dream."

A thrashing elbow caught Chris on the bridge of his nose causing him to see stars and loosen his hold. Vin struggled free and scrambled onto JD's bed.

"Ezra!" Vin yelled.

"It's okay, Vin," said Ezra. "I'm right here."

All three men winced as the eight-year-old took a step on his injured leg before crawling up on JD's bed with the other two boys.

"He's going to hurt his knee," Nathan hissed out.

"Let them be," said Josiah. He put a hand on Chris' shoulder and squeezed sympathetically. "They don't know us well enough, yet."

Chris nodded, gingerly touching his sore nose. The boys were seeking comfort from each other, just as they had done since the flood, and likely before. He was certain that there had been bad dreams before this night, but it was the first time any of them had screamed. He felt a little disappointed that Vin had refused his comfort, but it was more important that Vin felt safe. Hopefully with more time the boys would trust the adults for comfort.

"What's up?" Buck asked softly as he hobbled into the room on his crutches. He'd heard the screams, but his injured ankle made it difficult to get down the hall. No one needed to answer his question. He could see the three boys huddled together on the bed. Apparently JD wasn't mad at Ezra when he was scared.

"It's a mite crowded in here," Buck added, "And I don't think it's helping them."

Josiah nodded. "We'll let you guys handle it."

"Watch Ezra's knee," Nathan warned. "It's getting bumped too much."

Chris nodded and sat down on Ezra's bed as Josiah and Nathan left the room. Buck thumped Chris's leg with his crutch. "Scoot over."

The two men sat quietly watching the boys begin to settle. They could hear Ezra speaking softly to Vin, trying to calm the frightened boy. It was a few minutes before they heard him say, "Do you think you can go back to sleep now?"

"Sleep in my bed," said JD. It was both a request and a demand. The youngest boy was obviously distressed.

Vin nodded and lay down on the bed. JD squirmed in between Vin and the wall. Ezra looked warily at the two men before stretching out on the bed as well, situating himself protectively between Vin and the edge of the bed.

Three boys on one twin bed was crowded. Concerned that Ezra might fall off the edge and damage his already injured knee, Chris stood slowly and stepped toward the bed speaking softly as he moved. "I'm just going to get the safety rail. Don't want you to fall out."

Ezra watched him all the way as Chris tugged the bottom of the rail out from under Vin's mattress and then approached the lower bunk with the L shaped contraption. He lifted the edge of the mattress, jostling the boys slightly as he slipped the support under. The weight of the mattress kept the rail in place, which in turn kept a child from falling off the bed. The rail itself was slightly less than half the length of the bed, but that was all that was needed to keep them safe.

"Do you want your pillow?" he asked Ezra, wanting to make them as comfortable as possible.

Ezra nodded and took the pillow as Chris handed it to him.

"We're okay," Ezra said. "You can go now."

Chris didn't like the feeling of dismissal, but the boys simply weren't ready to accept his comfort.

"If you need us, come and get us," Chris said.

He followed Buck to the door, turning back just before turning off the light. He watched as Dobie, Vin's Labrador left his doggy bed and jumped up on the boys' bed. The dog curled up at the foot of the bed close to JD's feet. Sam, not one to be left out, walked over to the bed and lay down beside it.

Chris shook his head. The dog wasn't supposed to be on the bed, but three little boys weren't supposed to be terrified either. Chris turned off the light and left the door ajar so the light from the hall could filter in and give them a little more security. He was grateful that the boys would see the psychologist tomorrow. Hopefully it would start them on the road to recovery.


The next few days were a rollercoaster ride of emotions. Chris and Buck met with the therapist before the boys giving her as much background about them as they knew or had observed. Then she had individual sessions with each boy, the first session being mostly introduction and getting comfortable with her. Her schedule was full, but she eliminated her lunch break and extended her hours in order to work the boys in twice the first week.

She had invited each of the boys to call her by her first name, Lynn, rather than her title, to help eliminate any barrier. JD didn't have any problem calling her by name, and neither did Vin when he was inclined to speak. Ezra seemed to struggle with the idea, which went against one of his primary defense mechanisms - creating distance with the use of a title. All three of the boys seemed to like Lynn and she became a household name and topic of discussion from the first day.

With a shorter attention span than adults, the children's sessions were scheduled for twenty-five-minute periods, which meant around an hour and a half including breaks between sessions if they were back to back, or several trips into town if they were scheduled separately. Then there was the problem of what to do with the other boys while one was in session. And that brought up the question of childcare at home. While the boys seemed to get along with each of the men, Lynn pointed out that they needed something more consistent than whichever man was off duty that day. Having the same person with them every day would go a long way in helping them feel settled in their new home.

Chris and Buck had discussed a couple of options including a leave of absence for one of them. That idea was quickly tossed. It would only be a temporary solution and they needed to be looking long range. They discussed the possibility of Mrs. Potter, their neighbor watching the boys. It was an option, but the widow had two young children of her own and Chris was hesitant about adding three traumatized boys to her troubles.

They were still discussing the options when Nettie Wells knocked on the doorframe to Chris's office, since the door was already open.

"Come on in, Nettie," Chris said fondly. Nettie had been a motherly influence to nearly all the department, himself included. Her husband, Tom Wells had been Sheriff when Chris and Buck were rookie deputies and they had treated all the men as their family. Nettie had worked as a dispatcher for the department for several years after Tom passed, and had just officially retired a couple of years back. Even officially retired, she showed up several times a week just to help.

"Good morning Sheriff, Deputy Wilmington."

Both men laughed at the formality. Nettie smiled pleasantly.

"What can we do for you, Nettie?" asked Chris.

"I've been thinking about those boys of yours," she said, getting straight to the point.

"And?" Chris asked unnecessarily.

"And boys that age need a woman's influence. A consistent routine would help them settle in and be able to cope with their troubles," said Nettie.

"That's true," said Chris, leaning back in his chair, hoping that he was hearing what he thought he was hearing.

"And being retired and all..." said Buck with a grin.

"As a matter of fact, yes," she said. "I have a lot of time on my hands and I still have an awful lot of love to give." Nettie paused and looked Chris directly in the eye. "If you'll have me."

Chris got up from his chair and walked around to the front of his desk. Sitting on the edge of the desk he asked, "Are you sure it's not too much? They have a lot of issues to deal with beside being active little boys."

"I'm sure, Chris," said Nettie. "These old bones have a lot of life left in them and those little boys could do with some extra loving."

Chris nodded. "What your niece and her daughter?" he asked, speaking of the widowed wife of Nettie's nephew and her five-year-old daughter.

"When Catherine is traveling, Casey will be staying with me," said Nettie. "If it's all right, I could bring her to the ranch with me. She wouldn't be a problem."

"I didn't think she would," said Chris, "I was more concerned for you."

"Chris Larabee, this old bird is tougher than you think," Nettie chided fondly.

"Well, I don't know about the boys," Buck interjected, "but I sure could use some good home cookin'."

"I cook all the time," protested Chris.

"That's what I'm talking about," Buck said with a laugh.

Chris shook his head. "See what else you'd be taking on?" he asked Nettie.

"I've known you boys a lot of years," said Nettie. She paused and looked from one man to the other. "And I'm still willing to do it."

Both men laughed and wrapped Nettie in a hug.

"Don't you have work to do?" she asked playfully pushing them away. "I'll need a grocery budget, but we can work out the details later."

Chris took her hand in his, pulled her forward and kissed her on top of the head. "Thank you, Nettie."

She nodded. "I'll start on Monday."

The two men watched Nettie go, grateful that she was willing to take on another generation and knowing that she was exactly who those little boys needed.


Friday was another gray, rainy day and the boys were scheduled to see Dr. Ashby during the lunch hour. Chris made arrangements to take the boys to the sessions. He didn't mind giving up his lunch hour to give the boys time with Lynn.

Vin and JD played with toys in the reception area while Ezra perused a children's magazine.

Knowing that JD would be fidgety if he had to wait too long, Dr. Ashby called him in first. JD chattered away as they walked to the playroom telling her something that he had seen on the way to the office.

They entered the room and she closed the door. "Remember, JD," said Lynn, referring to the rules she had given at the first session, "You can play with anything in the room any way you want to as long as you don't break things."

"I know," JD chirped. He walked over to the toy shelf and got the bucket of building blocks. He dumped them in the middle of the floor and began to build a tower.

Lynn sat nearby quietly observing, giving the five-year-old some time to get comfortable. After he'd knocked down his tower a couple of times, Lynn moved over to the sand and water table. She took a Popsicle stick and stirred some sand around.

JD's curiosity got the better of him. He put the blocks back in the bucket and put them on the shelf, knowing that one of the rules for the playroom was to put away the toys. He trotted over to the sand table.

"What'ya doing?" he asked.

"I thought it might be fun to play with the sand and water," Lynn answered. "This is me," she said holding up a eight-inch-tall rubber doll. "I like to wade in the water," she said as she walked the doll through the pan of water giving JD permission to play with the dolls, the sand and the water by her actions.

JD looked at the dolls and picked out a boy doll. "This is me," he said. "And this one's Vin and this one's Ezra." He put the dolls in the sand, tossing Ezra a little harder than necessary.

"Who's this one?" said Lynn, holding up a eight-inch rubber girl doll with dark hair.

"That's Mama," said JD, taking the doll and putting her in the dollhouse at the end of the sand table. "And this is our house, except our house is blue."

Lynn watched as JD began to play out a story. She frequently used play therapy with children because it gave them a means of expressing their inner world. Their verbal skills weren't as developed as an adult's, so toys became their words and play their language.

JD moved all his dolls to the house and made them talk to each other. He walked Vin, Ezra and himself around the house, while the doll representing his mother was lying in the middle of the house.

"It looks like your mother is sleeping," said Lynn.

"She just comed home from tweatmen," said JD. "She doesn't feel good so she had to take her med'cine."

"Does her medicine make her sleep?" she asked.

JD nodded. Leaving the Vin doll to the side, he made Ezra and JD face each other. He wiggled Ezra as if he was talking. While he didn't vocalize the words, JD's body language spoke volumes. He scowled and stood stiffly mimicking his recall of that day.

"No, Ezra. That's bad," the five-year-old said, moving his own doll in response.

"What's bad?" asked Lynn.

"Ezra wants to go outside and play, but Mama's sleepin'."

"Do Vin and JD want to go outside, too?"

"Yeah, but they's not supposed to. Only with Mama." JD moved the Ezra doll and the JD doll so they faced each other again. "We's not supposed to," he said moving the JD doll. "But I'm the boss. Your Mama won't wake up for a long time," the Ezra doll replied. "Shh, Ezra. You's too loud." The JD doll was stomping in place. "Your Mama don't wake up when she takes the med'cine even if I'm loud. See?" JD's voice got louder as he said the Ezra doll's words. "I'm the boss. We's goin' outside to play. We'll come back before your Mama wakes up."

Lynn watched as JD moved the three boy dolls outside of the house, leaving the mother doll lying in the middle of the house. He danced the boys around as if they were playing a game of tag. Having an idea of what had happened to the boys and that JD was reenacting it through play; she jostled the table slightly causing the water to slop over the side of the pan onto the sand.

JD looked at the water. "Woosh! Woosh!" he said. "Look at the water."

The Ezra doll stomped on the sand. "Climb high," he said.

The five-year-old looked up at Lynn. "Can you make the water go?"

She nodded, reaching over and tipping the pan spilling more water on the sand.

"I go home and get your mama!" the Vin doll said as JD made it swim in the water to the dollhouse. He left Vin there and went back to the other two dolls.

Lynn continued to pour water on the table, assisting JD with his scenario. He put JD and Ezra on top of a pile of sand. "Climb up the slide, JD," he said as he moved them to the top of the pile.

Leaving them for a moment JD ran over to the doll box and picked another boy doll. This doll he placed face down in the water and swam it downstream.

"What's he doing?" asked Lynn.

"He's swimming really fast." JD twirled him around in a circle and then swam him past the house and dropped him off the end of the table. "Ezra won't look at him. I telled him the man was swimming fast, but Ezra wouldn't look."

"How are they going to get off the top?" Lynn asked.

JD picked up the Ezra and JD dolls and made them fly through the air. "They's flying in a hello-copter. Go get Vin," JD added. He flew the dolls over to the house, put them in one hand and picked up Vin with the other. "Where's Mama, Vin?" "She can't come." He flew the boys away and circled around the room with them.

He came back close to the table and stopped and hugged all three dolls to his chest. "Is it time for lunch?" he asked Lynn. "I'm hungry."

Lynn smiled. "It's getting close," she said. "If you're done playing, why don't you go ahead and put the toys away. I'll clean up the water."

JD put the boy dolls in the box, before going to the other end of the table and picking up the boy doll that had gone swimming. "Lynn," he said, "He's wet."

"Thank you, JD," she said accepting the doll from him and drying it off with the hand towel. While she was busy JD went to the other end of the table near the dollhouse and moved some things around.

When they were finished, Lynn escorted him to the waiting room returning him to Chris's care. She returned to the playroom to straighten up before her next appointment. It was then that she confirmed what she suspected. JD had taken the doll representing his mother with him. It was hard for a five-year-old to hide a doll successfully, and she was right, it had been a little rubber leg poking out of his jacket pocket.

Lynn knew that JD had taken his mother figure to keep her close to him and keep her safe. He missed her and he was trying to come to terms with her absence. His session had also shown that JD harbored some anger towards Ezra, blaming him for making them leave, not so much the house, but his mother. While it wasn't logical, JD thought if they had stayed with his mother, she would be alive. The most likely scenario was if they had stayed, they would all be lost. But that was for another session somewhere down the road.

She finished straightening the room and went back out to the waiting room. She walked over to JD and crouched down next to him as he was playing with some cars.

"JD, can we talk for a minute?" she asked quietly so JD would know the conversation was just between the two of them.

JD nodded.

"I was cleaning up the room and I can't find the mother doll," she said softly. "I don't know where she is. Do you know where she is?"

JD looked down guiltily. He put his hand over his pocket and pushed the doll deeper.

"Tell you what," said Lynn, "You hang on to her for now."

JD looked up in surprise. She knew he had the doll.

"Bring her back when you think she'll be safe with me again."

"Okay," JD said softly.

Lynn smiled at him. "I think it's Vin's turn now."

"Yep," JD said. "Vin. It's your turn!"

Lynn stood and smiled at the seven-year-old. He stepped forward and took her hand as they walked down the hall to the playroom.