by Jaye B.

Main Characters: All seven

Type of Story: Gen Fic

Universe: Alterations Modern

Author's Note: Still beta read by me so all mistakes are still mine...mine...mine. My beta is way too busy now. I think ya'll like this one.

Follows Alterations.

Webmaster Note: This work is still in progress, to be continued.

Four Corners Clinic
Sheriff Chris Larabee drove into Four Corner's Clinic parking area. He found a spot, parked and stepped out of his truck. He was not happy to be here so he was struggling to control his angry. He had received a call from Josiah about an incident that had happened behind Potter's Grocery. The offender was residing in lock-up while the victim had been taken here to the Clinic. That the victim was a child had him furious. His lips were pressed into a thin line while his hazel eyes grew darker with his rising emotion. The air crackled around him as he headed for the emergency entrance. Someone had hurt a child in his town, someone was going to pay.

Chris Larabee had been married once. He had had a son too. Three years ago someone murdered his wife and child in cold blood. They had killed them then burned their house down with their bodies inside. Chris had been out of town testifying at a trial in Denver on a case of drug smuggling. The investigation had started in Denver but the bust had gone down in his jurisdiction. Therefore, Buck and he had to appear and testify in court. He had received a call from Nathan to come home immediately. That period of time was the most painful time for Chris. If it hadn't been for Buck, Josiah, Nathan and the still hurt to think about it.

Now someone had beaten a child into unconsciousness in his town. This was definitely the way to win Chris Larabee as an enemy.

The pneumatic doors swooshed opened as he stepped inside and headed for the tiny waiting room. The clinic was very small with only four hospital rooms, two exam rooms, one x-ray, one operating room, one doctor and two nurses.

In the waiting room he found Buck talking to two boys. Chris stopped in the doorway and watched Buck working his charm on the youngsters. He remembered a time when Buck entertained Adam for hours...he sighed. He couldn't think about that now. Instead he looked at the children noticing that they both were thin...too thin by far. The oldest had his head down studying the floor with his long light hair hiding his face. The youngest was pushing his dark hair out of his face as he gazed at Buck listening intently to what he was saying. Runaways...that fact glared out at him. Both boys were runaways ...foundlings. Damn! That meant that the other child was probably a stray also. He would have to get child services in here...Damn!

Chris studied the older boy sitting beside the younger. He saw the thin arms, rough hands and hunched shoulders. An air of worry, tension surrounded the child. The boy suddenly stiffened as he felt the intense gaze. Slowly he looked up meeting Chris' hazel eyes. Amazing blue eyes met his, shocking him. He felt a jolt as if he was looking at a part of his soul. Old eyes were looking back at him, waiting patiently. Eyes with too much sorrow not enough happiness. Buck calling his name broke the arresting moment.

"Chris. Glad you got here."

Chris walked the rest of the way over saying, "Buck. Josiah called and said there was some trouble. What's going on?"

Buck stood up and motioned Chris to go outside into the hallway, "You boys wait here while I talk to the Sheriff. The doctor should be along in a minute."

Chris preceded Buck into the hallway turning around when he felt they were out of hearing. "Report." He was shocked to see anger in his usually jolly friend.

Buck eye's were grim as he said, "I was at Gloria's buying a new shirt for my date Friday when the smallest kid in there," pointing towards the waiting room, "came in screaming bloody murder and calling for a Vin. The other one, Vin, came running from the back room...seems he's the new stock boy, trying to sooth the young one who he called JD. He was screaming that someone was chasing them and that "Everett" was still out there in the alley. Well Vin jumps up and runs for the back door. Boy moves real fast and he was out the door before I could get there," Buck chuckles as he continued, "Boy took a broom and charge this man that was beating up another little boy. Vin got a few licks in before the perp turns and takes the broom from him. I got there just in time to stop him from using that broom on the kid. Gloria had already called Josiah so when he radioed checking to see if I was alright, I got him to get Nate over there fast. The boy called Everett was already down. Nate showed up and started working on the boy. Josiah drove up and I got him to take the man to lock up. Told Josiah not to mess him up too much, that you would want to talk to him too. I came with the two other kids here trying to get some info. Nate wanted the parents over here stat. I've been trying to find out some information but the kids ain't talking."

Chris' demeanor had darkened as he listened to Buck. "Do we know how the boy "Everett" is? How bad was it?"

Buck shook his head, "Bad Chris. He was unconscious already and Nate said that his shoulder might be broken. Bad concussion but he didn't know what other damage there might be. He was going to take him to Denver Center if Doc hadn't been in."

Chris felt his heart skip. That was bad. "Did you get anything out of the other boys?"

Buck shook his head no. "They ain't said a word after we got here. Nate asked how old Everett was and the older boy Vin said twelve. Chris...he didn't look to be more then ten at the most."

"Damn it! This wasn't supposed to happen here! Do we know why the man was attacking the child?" demanded Chris.

"No, but I haven't checked with Josiah yet either." replied Buck. "I've been here with the others waiting. Chris...they're scared. Very scared." Again Chris saw his friend expression grow angry.

"Buck..." Chris started when they were interrupted by the arrival of Doc Bowman and Nathan.

"Gentleman." greeted the doctor as he shook Chris' hand then Buck's. "I'll get straight to it. We got the x-rays back half an hour ago. The child has a bad concussion with no fracture, dislocated shoulder and a few cracked ribs. Bruises and contusions on the left side of his head also on his body. Malnutrition is also evident and I hope you got the bastard behind bars," the normal pleasant doctor growled. Anger had tempered the report. Nathan smirked behind the doctor. He had heard the mumbled threats of the normally even tempered man as he gently tended to the injured boy. He even agreed with him at one point offering to assist in whatever he wanted to do.

"Oh, yeah. Josiah took him to lock-up. Might need you later, Doc." grinned Buck. "Chris hasn't talked to him, yet."

"I'm looking forward to it. I'll be sure to have special supplies on hand just in case." promised the peeved doctor. "The boy is still unconscious. He should recover fully, but we'll be able to analysis the damage more when he wakes up. We just need him to wake up."

"Doc? What are you not telling us?" quizzed Chris. He had detected the worry and concern from both Nathan and the doctor.

The doctor sighed, "The brain is a delicate organ, Chris. He was slammed pretty hard into something. If the impact was hard enough to jolt his brain around we could be looking at major injuries here. From loss of memory, coma and even death. But like I said we won't know anything until he wakes up. There is every likely possibility that he will come out with just the shoulder and cracked ribs. I'm also worried about him being so underweight too. Malnutrition does not help in this situation. Any progress on locating his parents?"

"We think they may be runaways, Doc," replied Buck. "I haven't been able to get anything from the others."

"Others?" queried Doc Bowman.

"There are two other kids in the waiting room," supplied Buck.

"You think they could be brothers?" asked Nathan. He remembered how concerned both children had been over the other boy.

"I think I should check them out also. They are probably malnourished too." the doctor frowned. "There's something else, Chris. This boy has been abused for a long time. He has scars on his back and buttocks.'

"Scars? What kind of scars?" asked Chris dreading the answer.

"I don't know what was used but it cut into the skin enough to cause these marks. They crisscross all down his back and buttock area. Some are very old, maybe four or five years."

"Man it just gets better and better, don't it!" exclaimed Buck. He watched, as Chris' mood grew blacker at this revelation. He wondered what else could go wrong...he didn't have to wait long.

Chris took a deep breath and dreaded the next question. "What about...rape? Have you checked him out for that?" Buck held his breath waiting for the reply.

"Yes," nodded the doctor. "That was a concern of mine and Nathan's also after seeing the scars."

"It was clean, Chris. No sign of abuse in that way at all," confirmed Nathan quietly. "But it might be a good ideal to check out the other boys for abuse too."

"They ain't going to like it, Doc. They're scared enough as it is. You might have a fight on your hands," said Buck.

"Regardless, Buck, it has to be done," stated Chris. He sighed and then continued, "Okay, Doc you and Nathan check out the other kids. Buck, after they're finished see if you can get any information from them. If they still won't talk, buy them some food and sodas. You know what to do with the cans."

Buck nodded his head in acknowledgment. It was a standard practice to get fingerprints from unwilling victims and criminals. "Chris, you won't get any cooperation from the other two until they see their brother/friend."

"Yeah, I guess in their shoes I wouldn't be so trusting of adults either. Doc, is it alright for them to see the patient?"

"It's not standard practice but under the circumstances I don't see why not. They can only stay for a few minutes though. I guess I should talk to them and explain as much as I can to them." Doc Bowman dreaded the conversation. It was hard on most doctors when working with children. No child should have to suffer, children were suppose to be protected. He glanced at the Sheriff, thinking, who else should know better than someone who lost his in such a horrible way.

"Buck, call Josiah and ask him to bring the camera and a print kit. We are going to need pictures of the victim plus his fingerprints. He is the best at handling that." ordered Chris. He knew that if he or Buck did it they just might forget who they were. Especially after what the doctor said about the physical abuse. "I want to see this other boy, Doc. May I go in?"

"Yes, he's in room one. Well let's go talk to the others." said the doctor to Buck as Chris headed away to the room. He turned to Nathan, "Can you stay a little longer? I might need a little assistance."

"Sure, Doc. Just let me inform the station." Nathan headed for the reception desk where the phone was. Buck and the doctor walked back to the waiting room.

+ + + + + + +

Vin was worried and scared. When he saw the man attacking Everett, he reacted in desperation without thinking about the consequences to himself. After the deputy had stopped the jerk from hitting him, all he could think about was how bad Everett looked. He didn't look alive when he ran over to him. He had carefully touched the other's shoulder calling his name. He saw the bloody scraps on his slack face, heard his shallow breathing. It had frightened him. Everett didn't respond and then Mrs. Potter carrying JD was there. Everything happened so fast after that it had set his head to spinning. Now he was waiting in the small clinic with JD plastered to his side. The deputy who introduced himself as Buck was trying to help but Vin also knew he wanted information. He was tense and he knew his feelings had transferred to JD. He had signaled him to keep silent. He kept thinking what if Everett was dead? His friend had not moved or opened his eyes before the others had taken him away. How were they going to get away? Because it was obvious they had to leave this place now but not before Everett was well...if he had survived at all. What was taking them so long?

Then the Sheriff had come in the waiting room looking for his deputy. At first, Vin didn't know he was there. Then a feeling came over him of being watched but he still wouldn't look up or move. When he finally brought his head up to find out who was watching him, he felt a jolt run through him like he knew this person. But that was impossible...yet he knew he could trust him. The feeling was just as sure as the knowledge that the sun would rise or the stars were there in the heavens even if you couldn't see them. It was a truth to the bone. But still he kept quiet.

Now they were outside in the hallway talking and Vin turned to JD whispering, "Don't tell them anything about us, JD. We need to find out about Everett. When he is well enough we are going to have to move. It's not safe for us here anymore. Let me do all the talking."

JD's eyes got bigger as Vin explained. He nodded his head up and down as he replied, "I'll keep quiet."

Vin knew he would have to keep JD close. The boy would be brave but he was still too small and could be intimidated. One of them was already hurt. Come hell or high water he wouldn't let another one fall.

JD had never been so scared since his mother had died. He was afraid for Everett, Vin and himself. Things were never good when adults were around...though he did like the big man with the mustache and funny stories. He clung to Vin desperately trying not to cry.

Both boys watched as the black man from the alley and another man in a white coat met the sheriff and deputy in the hallway. The doctor had arrived. They couldn't hear what was being said but by the look on everyone ones face, it couldn't be good. JD scooted closure to Vin and squeezed his hand. Vin squeezed back in return. They watched as the adults talked for a long time until the deputy and the doctor came towards them. They braced themselves. Please, please let him be alright thought both children.

The doctor and Buck sat in chairs across from the boys so as not to intimidate them.

"Vin, JD this is Doctor Bowman. He's the one that is helping Everett." Buck waited for the questions.

Vin's eyes snapped to Buck. "How did you know our..." he trailed off realizing what he had admitted too.

Buck gently grinned as he said, "JD was yelling for Vin and about an Everett needing help. You answered and called him JD to get his attention. Nothing but a little deduction to figure out who's who."

"Oh." replied a subdued Vin. They would have to take better care of what they said. "How is he?"

"Everett" the doctor looked to Buck for confirmation and received it, "is still unconscious. His shoulder was dislocated. That means that the shoulder between the ball and socket had separated. We reduced the stress...uh put it back in place and strapped it down so he can't move it. This will let it heal. He also has some cracked ribs that we have bandaged. We will be able to assess his condition once he wakes up. Now do you have any questions?"

Both boys shook their heads no. Buck didn't really like what they were going to have to do next. "Can you tell us where your parents are? We need to have their permission to treat Everett and you." reasoned Buck. The Doc and Buck both saw the two kids stiffen with fright.

"Us? We're not hurt. There ain't no reason for you to look at us." declared Vin.

Doc Bowman looked Vin in the eye, "Everett is malnourished as I suspect you both are too. If that is the case, I need to give you some vitamins to boost your systems to fight off colds and infections. Please, let us help you and Everett?"

Vin sighed and bowed his head. He felt JD lean into him in complete trust. The doctor said they could get sick. He wondered if that was why JD had been so bad last winter. "These vitamins will help us?"

"Yes. We would also like to run a few other tests to check you out." encouraged the doctor. "If there is something you don't want to do, we won't do it. I don't want to frighten you boys, just to help."

Vin turned to JD. JD looked at Vin for a moment then nodded his head. "Okay, but first we want to see Everett."

"What about your parents, boys?" asked Buck again. He already knew the answer but he still had to ask.

Vin shook his head; "We don't have any. They're dead." It was said in a flat tone. There would be no more discussion on that subject.

"Okay... come on and let's go see Everett. Now don't be alarmed about his appearance. There are a lot of machines and wires but nothing that isn't there to help him." said the doctor as he stood up to lead them to room one.

Buck stood with him, "After your check ups, we'll go and get something to eat. Does that sound good?"

Vin and JD stood to follow them, "Yeah, we're a little bit hungry."

I'll bet you are thought Buck as he followed the doctor and two kids down to the room.

+ + + + + + +

Chris had followed the hallway down to room one. He walked in and stood still. There before him was a small child with wires and tubes running into him. He felt his chest tighten as he saw the small head wrapped in bandages with more bandages down the left side of his face. He saw the small arm strapped to the too thin body. The boy had no gown on so he could also see the bandages that were also wrapped around his chest. He noticed the nose canal that gave the boy oxygen and his split lip. Chris felt the black rage rising inside of him at the helpless sight before him. He fought it down. It wouldn't do any good right now. He watched as Nurse Raine Wilson checked the boy's vitals. He waited until she was through before he asked, "How is he?"

Raine's dark brown eyes held sadness as she looked at Chris. "Holding his own at the moment." There was a flash of angry as she questioned, "Did you get the monster that did this?"

Chris nodded his head; "He's in lock up. That is if Josiah hasn't testified on his head by now. He could be on his way here."

They both chuckled. Josiah was usually a gentle giant until aroused. Nothing could arouse him more than to see injustice. Chris informed Raine, "He'll be here to take pictures and fingerprints. We'll need them for evidence."

Raine nodded her head. "Josiah will keep his cool. I know he loves children. Nathan still here?"

Chris grinned, "Yeah. He still hasn't popped the question yet?"

Raine glared at the sheriff. Chris just kept on grinning. A small smile grew, as did a blush while she replied, "It's just a matter of time. We've only been dating a little while. We'll get married when we're ready."

Chris turned serious and looked at Raine, "There are going to be some visitors. Doc is bringing them. Two other boys...Raine, we think their runaways or were abandoned."

She stiffened as Chris spoke. She looked at the little boy on the bed. "How can people do this, this...oh, how can they?"

Frustration grew in Chris as he answered; "I don't know Raine. I just don't know. The only thing we can do now is to make sure it don't happen again."

They both turned to the bed looking at the small boy encased in bandages with tubes and wires running every which way. Chris swore to himself that he would protect these children and not let anything happen to them again. Not on his watch anyway.

Waking Up

Two days. It had been two days since a boy had been badly beaten into unconsciousness behind Potter's store in the small town of Four Corners. Two days of waiting for the same child to wake up and speak. Two days of watching two other children worry about their friend as they sat by his side talking to a boy who didn't respond. Two whole days and now this. The proverbial leap from the frying pan into the fire thought Josiah Sanchaz. Josiah needed to find Sheriff Chris Larabee and report his findings.

Two days ago after locking the prisoner in jail, Buck had called Josiah from the small clinic with instructions on bringing a print kit and camera. It took all his strength and will power not to go after the man in the jail cell especially after he had arrived at the room where the victim was laying. He had come into the room where two boys were standing beside their unconscious friend. The littlest one had climbed upon a chair beside the bed holding one hand of the injured child while the oldest lad was on the other side grasping the stricken child's leg. The injured boy's other arm was strapped to his side therefore impossible for his friend to hold that hand. Tears were falling down the ashen face of the youngest boy while the older one was tight lipped and white-faced. The room was silent as the adults watched the two youngsters constantly stroked their friend. The silence was suddenly broken by the whispering words of comfort that came from the two boys. It was heart breaking to watch. Nurse Raine Wilson had stood to one side with her own tears falling with Nathan Jackson by her. The doctor was bustling around the bed checking the boy's vitals explaining what this machine was doing to the two friends. Finally the doctor had said that his patient needed his rest. Both boys were reluctant to leave but with the promise of being able to visit later, they left the room with Buck, Nathan and Doc Bowman. Nurse Wilson had wiped her tears away as she watched the others leave.

"Chris, I brought the equipment you wanted." said Josiah as he stepped closer to the bed. "I suppose you want the usually shots and a set of fingerprints?"

"Yes. Be sure to get everything. Including his back." growled Chris lowly. It had been hard for him to watch the scene that had just been before him. When he looked at Josiah, the man flinched taking a step back. Chris knew he needed to calm down before he helped Raine with moving the boy as they took the pictures. Closing his eyes he pushed his anger and frustration down. When he next opened them, he said to his friend, "Sorry."

"No problem. I'm finding it hard to deal with myself."

"Well, you both better calm down. The child needs quiet and I don't need the stress." stated Raine as she fussed over the boy.

"Did you get the perp locked-up still intact?" queried Chris as he smirked at his deputy.

Josiah sighed, "Yes. I didn't hit him if that's what your wondering. The only markings he has is what Buck and that young man gave him."

"It probably wasn't near what he should have gotten," muttered Raine. Chris and Josiah looked at each other blinking. Raine sounded pissed. She continued, "If we're going to do this, let's get it over with. The sooner the boy's body can rest undistributed the sooner he'll get well."

After taking the pictures and fingerprints, Chris had left for the office. Over the next two days Chris had parked himself in front of the man in the jail cell. He didn't say a word just glared. At first the man was belligerent in staring back silently. It wasn't long before he dropped his eyes and backed further in the cell.

While Chris might not have spoken a word, Buck had ranted and raved at the criminal. Between Buck's yelling and Chris' glare, the man had been reduced to cringing in the far corner of his cell. Josiah had almost felt sorry for him until he remembered the pictures he had taken plus seeing two children hovering over a third.

That had been two days ago. Vin and JD, the two friends of Everett, had been faithfully by the stricken boy's side every time the others would let them. They had barely spoken except to say yes or no. They still refused to answer any questions about themselves or the badly injured child they visited. Little did the others know that Vin and JD couldn't tell them anymore about Everett then what they already knew. Both boys would sit by their friend's side taking turns holding his hand while murmuring encouragement.

In a surprising turn, Chris and Buck had taken Vin and JD to stay at their place outside of Four Corners. There were no child services in this small town. The nearest office was in Denver that was four hundred miles away.

After Chris' first house had burned down, he had asked Buck to help him rebuild and run the LW ranch. The LW (Larabee Wilmington) Ranch was a spacious six-bedroom house setting on five hundred acres consisting of rangeland, forests, mountains and lakes. Deer loped with wild horses. The LW Ranch raised horses for rodeos, cattle ranchers or to sell to individuals. Also living at the ranch was their housekeeper and friend Nettie Wells, the aunt of Casey who worked as dispatcher for the Fire Department.

Nettie was a God sent to the two men. With her knowledge of running a ranch, they had survived the first few years while making a profit. Besides she was the best cook around and mother hen the two bachelors. Now she was helping Chris and Buck with three foundlings. Nettie would bring the two children to the hospital staying with them until Buck came by to get them for lunch. She would then sit by the third child until Vin and JD returned to Everett's bedside. Nettie had been shocked and angered the first time she had came into the hospital room. The small boy lying in the bed was so bruised with white bandages that seemed to be covering most of his small body. She had watched as the Doctor and Nurse had talked to the child as they ministered to his person.

Today, two days since the attack, after Buck had taken the boys to lunch, Doctor Bowman and Nurse Raine were checking the child's vitals again. The doctor had stopped his soothing chatter after looking at one of the machines hooked to the boy.

"Raine, look at these reading for me?"

Nurse Raine had obliging circled the bed to stand by the doctor. "It's changed!" she exclaimed.

"Thought so, just wanted to make sure I wasn't seeing things." he smiled.

Nettie couldn't stand it any longer, "What's going on?"

Turning with huge smiles on their faces, they both said, "He's waking up!"

+ + + + + + +

Darkness...he was surrounded by darkness. Was this his world? He was floating in the blackness with no thought or feelings. He didn't know that there was anything different. Time passed. The darkness was soon invaded by shadows and murmuring. Murmuring that he couldn't make out followed by far away voices. With the voices came feelings of pain. He had a body, a body that was letting him know that all was not well. Pain suddenly became his world. His head felt like it was exploding and it hurt to breathe. A moan vibrated through his world. Who was moaning?

"Everett?" a voice called from outside his blackness. "Everett, wake up now."

Who was Everett? As the voice called again, he wished that this Everett would answer as the pain mounted up in his body. Another moan ripped through his world. My Lord...he hurt!

"Open your eyes for us, son. Come on you can do it." breathed a voice by his ear. Son? Was he someone's son? He was so confused. Everything was spinning, hurting, disharmony was his thoughts. The voice was persistent that he open his eyes. He tried...tried and tried again. It was so hard. Finally, they cracked open letting a piercing shaft of light bringing more pain into his world. He gasped as he shut them quickly. With the next moan, he realized that it came from him. Again someone called out, "Everett? Please open your eyes again?"

Everett? Was that his name? Didn't seem right...what was his name? circled around in his head. What was his name? He knew he should be panicked but he hurt too much and that voice was calling him to open his eyes again. Slowly and reluctantly he opened them. Shadows swam before him. He couldn't focus. Shadows moved this way and that so that soon he felt sick. He felt the bile rising in his throat yet he couldn't get anything to move. He wanted to roll over to his side to throw up but all he could do was gurgle. The shadows moved faster as they reached for him and suddenly he was gently lifted to his side as he vomited. God! OH GOD, that hurts! Tears fell from his eyes that were squeezed shut in pain. Soon he was through and someone was wiping his mouth as he raggedly breathed. Someone was telling him he would be alright, just to hold on that soon it would be over. He didn't know that medication was being shot through his IV to ease his pain. He only knew he welcomed the relief as it flooded his system. He would have fallen back to sleep except they were again calling for him to open his eyes. Why? Why did he have to do this? The voices were persistent again so he opened them and this time he could make out a face.

"Everett? Can you see me? Everett?" questioned the person before him.

He tried to answer but a croak was the only response that came from his mouth. A straw was placed between his lips and he felt the cool water slide down his throat as he sucked. He got another sip before it was taking from him. Again his mouth and chin was wiped as he blinked at the person bending over him.

"Do you know where you at Everett?" asked the man in the white coat.

"Everett? Is that my name? Is that who I am?" he whispered as his eyes closed again in sleep. He drifted away before he could hear the answer. He didn't see the shock or worry that crossed the doctor's face. The pain receded as his slept.

Feeble Brained Imbeciles (FBI)

At seven o'clock in the morning, Sheriff Chris Larabee stepped across the doorsill into the front room of the Four Corners Police Office. He was answering a call from Deputy Josiah Sanchez that he needed to see him immediately. Not seeing Josiah at the front desk, Chris made his way back to the holding cells. The door leading to the cells opened before he got there as Josiah came through carrying a tray.

"Prisoner finished breakfast, Josiah?" asked Chris as he made way for Josiah to pass.

"Yes." he replied looking down at the empty plate on the tray. "I'll be glad when the Judge gets here so we can get rid of him. It's taking all my will power to not throttle that man."

Chris nodded his head saying, "I know, it's especially hard after I've come from the hospital. That's why I've stopped here first. Buck's already heading over there and Nettie will bring the boys in after nine o'clock this morning."

"How they doing?" questioned a concerned Josiah.

"Doing better though they're both worried about Everett. Doc said yesterday that he hopes the boy wakes up soon because the longer he's out after the first 48 hours, the worst his chances are," answered Chris as he followed Josiah back out to the front. "You wanted to see me?"

Josiah walked over to his desk as he said, "I have some information on the two boy's staying with you." He reached on his desk retrieving some folders. Turning he walked back handing the first folder to Chris. "Vin Tanner, age fourteen from Texas. Father unknown. Mother died when he was five. Shuffled between foster homes until he ran away seven years ago. Labeled a trouble maker by the social services though they didn't have any reports on what kind of trouble he caused. Funny thing is that a year later, the last home he was in, the man was arrested for neglect and child abuse. After the boy ran away he just disappeared. We're the first people who have ever inquired about the child."

"Seven years on the street, Josiah. How did he ever survive?" wondered Chris as he looked at Josiah. "They want him back?"

"No." said Josiah flatly. "They said and I quote 'We don't care if you send him back or keep him. We are kind of busy right now.' They hung up."

"Nice caring people there." snorted Chris disgustedly. "What about JD?"

Handing the next folder, Josiah reported, "John David Dunne from Boston. Likes to be called JD. Father died before he was born. Mother moved them to Arkansas four years ago. A year later she was killed in a hit and run accident. Boy was put in a foster home, left six months later. This time the woman in the home was arrested for child abuse. How these two met is anyone guess."

"Huh. Where the hell is the screening process for these foster parents? Somebody is not doing their job," complained Chris. "And they wonder why they run away. Anyone looking to get the boy back?"

Josiah shook his head no. Noticing that there was another folder in Josiah's hand, he asked, "What else have you got there?"

As he handed the last folder to Chris, hesitantly Josiah said, "This is what I really wanted you to see about. I ran a description of the injured boy through missing persons like I did on Vin and JD. Nothing came back. Not a thing. So I ran the prints. It came back red flagged."

Chris sucked in his breath. Red flags meant that another law enforcement agency was looking for the child. "What and who?"

"The FBI and they wouldn't say what. They just said that someone would be in touch with us." answered Josiah with a twitch of his lips.

Chris studied his deputy. "Of course you didn't leave it like that."

Josiah let his smile come. "Nope. Contacted some of my old friends that stilled worked there." Here his smiled dropped. "It's bad Chris. They want him for questioning. Seems he maybe an eye witness to a multiply murder."

Damn, damn, damn thought Chris. "We got a name for the kid?"

Josiah shook his head replying, "They don't have anything. My contact said that they were running his prints through all known birth certificate databases. So far they have zilch. The boy could be Everett or not. Only he knows."

Chris rubbed the back of his neck as he closed his eyes. Damn it he thought as he murmured, "I hate working with the FBI. I hope they send us someone better than the last one feeble brained imbecile. Present company excluded of course."

Josiah chuckled. "Of course. Some of them I couldn't even work with. Also Judge Travis called early this morning to say that he would meet you at the clinic around eight o'clock this morning." Cocking his head towards the left, he asked, "What are you seeing Orrin for?"

Chris' green eyes lit up for the first time in three days as he said, "Buck and I have asked the Judge for custody of the boys if they are truly orphans. You know we always wanted to start a small boy's ranch. We've passed all the state requirements on adoption with having responsible jobs plus having Nettie as a nanny for them. We've just never looked around before now."

Josiah smiled, "Seems the Lord's supplied you with the boys, brother. You know I'll help in anyway I can."

"Was counting on it." said Chris. "I am meeting with Orrin to introduce him to the boys so he can talk to them about it. I can give him these reports at the same time. Don't like this situation with the FBI though."

"I don't think you should have any problems with that, Chris. Just might take a longer time with him until they determine if he's an orphan or not. I bet the Judge could give you temporary custody until then." encouraged Josiah.

"Yeah, let's hope so. I just hope he wakes up soon or this won't matter."

"I'll say a few prayers, brother. Everything will work out." said Josiah as he slapped Chris on the back. "Have faith."

Chris grinned, "Keep the faith for both of us, Josiah. Guess I better go over to the clinic to check on the boy and meet with the Judge. I'll send Buck over to relieve you later."

"I'll be here." replied Josiah as he watched Chris leave.

+ + + + + + +

Buck Wilmington entered the clinic whistling tunelessly as he hoped today would bring good news. He was surprised to see Doc Bowman at the reception desk making a call. "Something wrong Doc?"

"Buck! Glad you're here." said the doctor as he hung up the phone. "I was just going to contact your office. The boy woke up briefly this morning. It looks like he will be alright."

Buck whooped as he grabbed the man in a bear hug. His grin stretched from ear to ear as he practically shouted "Yes! Thank God!"

"Whoa, there Buck," chuckled the man. Then with a somber expression he said, "He's still got a long way to go and there's something else. He's got amnesia. Not surprising considering the head injury he received."

"What does this mean for him? Does he have brain damage?"

"Amnesia?" frowned Buck. "What does that mean in terms of his recovery? Will he gain his memory back?

"Hard to say at this time. He could remember everything the next time he wakes or not until much later if ever. We'll just have to wait and see. But I have every confidence that he will make a complete physical recovery. That in itself is good news, Buck."

Nodding his head, "Yes...yes it is. Can I see him now?"

Doctor Bowman replied, "Yes and you came at a good time. I'm going to wake him up again. We'll be waking him up every couple of hours now to check his progress."

"This is wonderful news. The boys will be so relieved. I got to report into Chris as soon as possible though." Buck bounced beside the doctor as they walked down the hall to room one.

+ + + + + + +

His head hurt, his chest hurt and his shoulder hurt. He just hurt. He wanted to go back into the darkness where there was no pain except someone was shaking him and calling for him to wake up.

"Open you eyes, son. Come on you can do it." the voice encouraged.

He struggled to open his eyes. He felt them move, then suddenly light pierced through the darkness. He blinked them open for a moment before he slammed them shut quickly as he moaned.

The voice persistently asked him to try again. This time his vision cleared enough for him to see a man in a white coat standing over him. The man smiled as he said, "Hello there. It nice to see you awake again."

The boy's brow wrinkled as he whispered, "Hurts."

"I know, I know," soothed the man as he brushed his brow. "You've been hurt but we'll do our best to help you through this. You're going to have to trust us to do what's best. Can you do that?"

"Yes." he breathed.

The man smiled gently, "Good, good. Now I'm going to ask you some questions. I need you to concentrate as much as you can on your answers, okay?"

The pain was evident in the dark green eyes as the child weakly answered, "Yes."

"Very good, you are doing great. Now I'm going to shine this light briefly into your eyes to check them. You just focus on trying to keep them open." He flashed it several times in each eye as he murmured calming words to the injured child. The boy grimaced as he moaned. "It's okay. I'm through with that. You're doing great."

"Tired," whispered the boy.

"You can rest in a moment, okay? Just a few questions. Can you tell me what day it is?"

Silence as the child blinked at him. A small no was his answer.

"That's okay. Can you tell me what two plus two is?" asked Doctor Bowman.


"Very good. Now do you know where you are?"


"Excellent! Okay, now one more than you can rest. What is your name?"

"My name name is...I don't know." replied the confused boy. "Hurts."

"That's alright, you've done wonderful. You can rest now. Things will be better the next time you wake." comforted the man.

The child closed his eyes as he drifted off wondering what's my name. The drugs kept him from being frightened as he succumbed to a healing sleep.

Doctor Bowman placed his stethoscope in his ears as he listened to the boy's chest checking his heart and lungs. Stepping back he scanned the monitors again. He turned to an anxiously waiting Buck.

"Well?" queried the deputy.

"He's doing better. Doesn't seem to be any internal bleeding. He has woken up twice now and more alert each time which is a good sign. His cognitive reasoning is normal. Will cut back on the medication to let him wake up more the next time."

"What about his memory? He didn't seem to know his name."

The doctor sighed, "In that area I don't know yet. But then again he's not aware enough. I really expect him to make a full recovery, Buck. We just have to wait and see about his recall." as he turned to Nurse Frazier to give her additional instructions.

Buck moved over to the sleeping child taking his hand saying, "You hang in there, son. You just keep hanging in there.

+ + + + + + +

Sheriff Larabee walked into the clinic fifteen minutes before his meeting with Judge Travis. He wanted to visit the boy before he confronted Orrin with the information Josiah had turned up.

Chris entered the room just in time to see his best friend bending over the boy whispering into his ear. The doctor was talking to the nurse. Buck turned around giving him this big grin with his brown eyes twinkling. Seeing his expression caused something to ease inside his chest. He knew there was some good news.

"Doc, how is he today?" asked Chris as he walked over.

Doc Bowman nodded a greeting as he answered, "He's woke up twice this morning. I'm expecting a full recovery, Chris."

Chris sighed and breathed, "Thank God. What about his mind?"

"Too early to tell though his reasoning is sound. I asked him a math problem which he answered. So far he doesn't know what day it is or his name but that can change as he grows stronger and more aware."

Chris frowned, "So he could gain his memory back?"

"Probably or at least part of it. I just don't know at this time. It could also be awhile before any memory returns. We just don't know enough about the brain."

"But he is going to be alright?" queried a worried Chris.

Doc Bowman grinned, "Oh yes most certainly though it going to be slow going at first, but he'll be fine. He's going to need a lot of care and patience even when he leaves here."

Chris smiled, "Thanks Doc.

Doctor Bowman smiled back, "Don't thank me. The boy is a fighter."

Chris walked over to the opposite side of the bed from Buck. He reached over to brush the brown hair back.

"He's doing better, Chris."

Chris nodded his acknowledgement. After a few minutes he said, "Got a meeting set up with Judge at eight this morning here at the clinic. Josiah found some information about the kids." Looking at Buck who was holding the boy's hand while his other rested on the good shoulder, stated, "I guess your going to stay until Nettie brings the boys."

"Yep. Those folders about Vin and JD?"

"Yes, I'll let you see them after the Judge does."

"Any problems?" asked Buck as he saw Chris frown at the folders.

Chris paused before he spoke, "Yeah, but we'll discuss it later." Looking at his watch he said, "I've got to go if I don't want to be late. Meet you later, Buck." Bending down he whispered in the child's ear, "Stay with us. Don't be running out on us, son." Chris looked one more time at the pale face sleeping peacefully before turning and walking out of the room. Buck turned his attention back to the boy after watching him leave.

My Boys

Four Corners Clinic

Federal Judge Orrin Travis walked through the doors of Four Corners Clinic on his way to meet with Sheriff Chris Larabee. He was a few minutes early. To say he was shocked when Chris had told him the reason for the meeting would be an understatement. He remembered when the Sheriff's family had died. It had been a black time. Everyone had thought they would lose the man. But he had survived because of his friend's love and support. Buck had been instrumental in Chris overcoming the tragic murder of his wife and son. Even to the point when a year ago they applied to run a boy's ranch. So Orrin was curious to see the boys who had spurred his friend to assume care of them. It was a big leap. He frowned at the meeting place though. He was furious to know that a child had been hurt. He could just imagine the mood that Larabee had been in when he'd first heard, not only Chris but the others as well. He wondered if maybe he would be coming to the prisoner's wake.

Orrin looked about the waiting room of the small clinic. He smiled at Nurse Raine Wilson who stood up as he walked forward. "Hello, Raine. How are you doing?"

Raine smiled at the Judge. "Fine. How are you and Evie?"

"We're both doing well. I'm supposed to meet Chris here. Has he shown up yet?"

"Yes, he's in room one with Buck visiting the injured child."

"How is he doing?"

Grinning, Raine answered, "He finally woke up very early this morning. Doc Bowman was pleased. He is being woken up every couple of hours."

Smiling in return, he said, "Wonderful! This is great news! I bet this put everyone in a better mood."

A small chuckle escaped from Raine. "It did Buck when the doctor told him. He twirled the man like a top."

Chuckling at the picture of Wilmington swinging the doctor, both the Judge and the Nurse heard footsteps coming down the hall. Seeing Chris approaching, Nurse Raine excused herself to check up on their patient.

Watching his friend coming, Orrin noticed a different air about him. Holding out his hand, he greeted, "Chris, how are you? Raine was just giving me the good news."

Smiling, Chris shook the Judge's hand as he responded, "I'm well, Orrin. Yes, I couldn't be more relieved. Looks like the boy is going to make it. Still might have a few complications but they're bridges we'll cross when we get to them."

"Complications? What kind of problems are we talking about?"

Dropping his smile, Chris answered, "Why don't we find us a place to talk? I'll explain everything there. I think we can use the family consultation room. Let me just tell Raine and Buck where were going."

Following, Orrin said, "I'm coming with you. I would like to see the child for myself, Chris. This would give me a better perspective I think."

Pausing in mid stride, Chris turned as he spoke, "Better warn you, Orrin. It's not pretty. He took quite a beating."

"I understand."

Both men walked into the room to see Buck sitting by the bed, softly talking to the boy who rested there. Stunned Judge Travis followed Chris forward. He sucked in his breath as he noticed the wires and tubes running from the small body. Bandages on the head, torso, arm and other places enhanced the pale features of one little boy. Orrin had seen many abused victims in his career but it always amazed him at how someone could hurt the ones who rely on them the most. Retaining his calm, even though he wanted to beat the crap out of the man who did this, the Judge stepped forward for a closer look. The face was bruised and scraped more on one side then the other. Brown hair peaked out of the bandages encircling the small head. He stood for a moment gazing at the boy. Someone cleared his throat causing Orrin to shift his focus to the person across the bed. Buck looked back at him with a smile on his face.

"Hey, Judge."


"He's doing better than he looks." said Buck as he smooth the blanket on his side. "Poor little guy has had it rough. He's still in a lot of pain but Doc's pleased with his progress."

The Judge looked at Buck's face reading the concern there. He turned to see Chris wore the same express. The child had already gotten to both of them thought Travis. Won't Evie be surprised. "Chris, let's go have a discussion."

+ + + + + + +

Vin grinned at JD who bounced like a rabbit beside him as they walked into the clinic. It was good to see his friend acting a little more like himself.

"You think Everett will be awake this time?" asked JD as he skipped over the door threshold.

"Don't know. Hope so."

"Me too." said JD as he took his friend's hand. His bounce was a little less as they headed to room one.

Nettie Wells followed the boys as they walked hand in hand. She was amazed at the patience the older child had with the younger. Nettie had fallen for the boys the moment Chris and Buck had brought them home. The two polite boys had been quiet and nothing but good as gold which had sent alarms bells ringing. She had raised four boys of her own and knew that something was wrong when children were that quiet. Besides she saw a haunted look in the thin faces. It was after they were fed, had taken baths (the little one had refused to let her help), and put to bed before she got the story. She had been furious at the yellow belly coward who had hurt these boys. It wasn't until the next day when she brought both boys to the clinic that she saw the damage done to the one called Everett. Her heart went out to the beaten boy. She had stayed with him while Buck took the boys to eat lunch, then she went for lunch when they returned.

She had asked Nurse Wilson if there were any books around. She thought she would read to the boy so he wouldn't feel alone. She knew it was silly but Raine assured her that on some level the patient would probably hear. After awhile of reading 'Kidnapped', Nettie looked up to find Vin and JD watching her. For the first time, one of the boys asked a question.

"Do you think he can hear you?" voiced Vin.

"Nurse Wilson seems to think so. She says that sometimes people aren't really totally unconscious. It lets him know he is not alone."

She had moved aside so the children could continue their vigilance. As she passed Buck on her way out to eat, he bent down and pecked her on the cheek whispering, "Thanks Nettie."

Blushing, she smacked his arm. "Go on with you now. Let me get out of here before you get all mushy. I'll be back to relieve you in an hour."

"Take you time." smiled the Ladies Man.

Yesterday had been the same except the boys had taken to heart that their friend could somehow hear them. She hoped today would be better.

"Good morning Mrs. Wells, Vin, JD. How are you doing this morning?" asked Raine. Fine echoed from both boys as they stood before the nurse's station.

"Is Buck here?" inquired JD. He had really grown to like the tall deputy. He told the most wonderful stories at bedtime. JD liked where he was staying but he always remembered that they would have to move on when Everett got better.

"Yes. He's waiting for you. Mrs. Wells, could you stay for a moment?"

Nodding her agreement, she shooed the boys on to the room. Nurse Wilson waited until both boys had walked through the door and it had shut.

"I just thought I would give you the good news. Everett woke up this morning."

"Oh how wonderful. Praise the Lord! The boys will be so happy. How did Buck and Chris take it?"

A chuckle proceeded, "Buck actually whooped and twirled the doctor around. Chris was a bit more subdued but you could see he was pleased."

"I bet he was. He doesn't like to show it but he has been worried for the child. He and Buck both have been pacing with anxiety over this situation. Did you hear that they are planning on taking the boys in?"

"Yes, Nathan told me. We both think it's wonderful. Just what you and they need, Nettie."

"It sure will liven up the place a bit. I better get on in there. Thank you for telling me, Raine."

"My pleasure. Oh, Judge Travis is talking with Chris in the family room. Doc Bowman will be down in a little bit to wake the child up again."

"We'll be ready." nodded Nettie as she proceeded on to the room.

+ + + + + + +

Judge Travis had read over the files that Chris had given him. He sat contemplating the situation. Finally he looked up at Chris, "I can see your concern, Chris. It's inexcusable what these children have been through. I commend Josiah's research skills. I also agree that these boys need a good home to stay in. Your boy's ranch would be the next logical step since the foster home system didn't work for them. And there is nothing stopping that since the same foster systems aren't eager to get them back. You know how over worked they are. The only problem I see is with the boy named Everett. You have nothing on him and the circumstance with the involvement of the FBI sheds a different light on his case. You also don't know if there are any relatives looking for him. Having said all that, I know you didn't ask me here for my legal advice. Just why did you call me?"

Smiling, Chris said, "You know me too well, Orrin. I not only want your approval but I want you to sign a court order giving me custody of Vin and JD with temporary custody of Everett. At least until we find out for sure if there is any other family. Then if there is no one else, we can get full rights."

"The state Judge can do that for you Chris. Why do you want me?"

"Because the boy's foster homes cross the state line. Anything that crosses state lines becomes federal. Beside the FBI want Everett. I'm not trying to obstruct their investigation but protect the child. You know how single track they can be. They would be so worried about closing the case that they would forget that he's just a child. There are also the complications I mentioned before. This way they would have to deal with Buck and me."

"Hummm...that would make it in the Federal jurisdiction. But what complication are you talking about?

Sighing, Chris explained, "Doc told us the boy has amnesia. He can't remember his name or where he is. His speech is fine, his thinking is cognizant, he just doesn't know his name or how he got hurt. Doc doesn't know when or if he'll recover his memory. That's why I want custody, Judge. They would totally ignore the boy's feeling or rights to close their case. Now I know not all agents are like that but the ones we tend to get are feeble brained imbeciles. I can't or won't let this boy be hurt anymore. That's all there is to it."

"I have no problem with this, Chris. I would be happy to have the papers drawn up provided that is what the boy's JD and Vin want. As concerning Everett, since he is unable to voice or understand his options right now, you could be made his guardian until this situation is resolve. Then depending if there are other relatives, I don't see why you couldn't have full custody like the other two. Have you talked to the boys about this?"

"No, not yet. We wanted to wait until I got your opinion first. That's one of the reason I wanted to meet you here. You could see the boys and talk to them."

"Fine. Shall we get started?"

"I'll get them now." said Chris as he stood up and walked toward the door. It was suddenly opened by Nettie Wells who said, "Chris, Buck sent me. He's waking up."

Four Corners Sheriff's Office

Josiah was at his desk when two men walked through the Four Corners Sheriff Office door. He immediately recognized them as FBI agents. You couldn't miss the clothes or the attitudes sported by both men. Chris was not going to like this. One of the agents was Michael Barber, a smug SOB who thought that he had power over the local police. Josiah kept his face blank as he addressed the men. "Can I help you?"

Flipping open their badges, both men presented their identification. Sneering at Josiah, Agent Barber said, "Yeah, this is just a courtesy call. We're informing you that we've come for the boy that you did a search on. We'll be taking him to the head office in Denver today."

"I don't think so," growled Josiah as he stood up. His anger had grown at each word that had spilled from the insolent man. "The boy is in the clinic and has been unconscious for two days. The Doc won't let anyone move him much less let you interrogate him."

Both men had stepped back from the towering man before them. Josiah had spoken softly which made his words all the more menacing. "Sheriff Larabee is over there now. You can try to make you case with him to talk to the boy when he wakes up, but I guarantee that you will not be taking that child anywhere. That is if you suddenly have the guts."

Agent Barber had tried to interrogate Chris about his family's murders. He tried to insinuate that Chris had done it even though he was four hundred miles away in the presence of a courtroom full of people. Only Buck had not let Chris kill the man. Needless to say, Agent Barber was removed from the case and given a formal reprimand on file. He hated Four Corners and their local law.

"This is a federal case and we will do what we see fit and not be ordered by you local bumpkins." snarled Agent Barber. The reference to his last encounter with Larabee had him boiling mad.

Josiah had leaned over his desk placing his hands in the middle of it, his face a mask of disgust as he growled lowly, "As I said, you can take it up with the Sheriff, Barber."

Both men had taken another step back from Sanchez as he got in their faces. Agent Key did not like the way things was shaping up. If what the deputy said was true, there was no way they could move the boy. He really didn't like the way his new partner was acting. Agent Key had just been promoted to the office in Denver and this was his first field investigation. But even he knew you had to be careful when dealing with civilians especially children. He wished he had had more time to check out his partner.

"We'll see, Sanchez. Your Sheriff is out of his league on this one. We have jurisdiction and we will take the boy today! You can count on it!" said the pompous man as the agents turned and left the building.

"Don't think so." said a grinning Josiah. He just wished he could be there to watch as Chris straightened out the federal agents. It just wasn't fair. The only exciting thing to probably happen today and he was stuck watching a prisoner.


He heard voices. Voices he recognized as friends. Oh but his head hurt. He wished it would ease up so he could think. For how long the pain pounded in his brain, he didn't know. Slowly he realized that he was becoming aware of his other senses. His hearing improved as he focused on someone that was speaking to him. Vin! That was Vin! JD? JD! A sense of panic hit. JD was in danger! His breath quickened which cause his ribs to hurt. Not good...that was not good. He moaned. That was even worse. The vibration sent out caused more pain not only in his head and ribs but his shoulder as well. Rats! That shoulder was out again.

"Everett. Come on Everett, time to open them eyes." said a new voice. He frowned. He didn't know that voice yet he did know it. He heard the new voice say, "Nettie, go get Raine and the doc. He's coming around again."

"Right away." another new voice said. Again he knew it but didn't remember where he had heard that voice. Owww...thinking hurt. Yet his mind didn't shut up. He heard JD's voice again, such a comfort.

"Come on Everett. Please wake up. Me and Vin need you to wake up." pleaded JD.

Oh bother, guess he would have to open his eyes. Vin and JD sounded concerned. He paused at that new thought. Someone sounded was such a new feeling. Not even his own mother had...pain filled him as everything came rushing back. His hiding, finding his mother, his fleeing, the train ride, finding Vin and JD, the shack and finally being terrified for JD and the beating. Between the pain, the drugs, his weakened condition, Ezra had lost control of his emotions. A small whimper sounded from his lips as tears started to spill. A sob broke out. Oh no, he must get control! But the tears kept coming.

"Hey, now. It's alright. Shush...are you in a lot of pain?" questioned the new voice.

"Everett?" queried Vin's voice. A hand was place on his shoulder. Vin's hand. It helped to strengthen him. He quieted a little bit. "Please open your eyes. It's alright. I'm here and JDs here. You're safe. Please open you eyes."

"Here now. What's going on? Excuse me Buck." Ezra remembered that voice. That was the doctor. Now snatches of his previous consciousness played out. How he couldn't remember his name, where he was. He just knew he was in a hospital.

"Everett? Can you hear me?" asked the doctor's voice.

"Who?", was all he got out before a small cough escaped. Ribs protested and he moaned again. He had meant to say who was talking?

"Take it easy. Just breathe shallowly. Calm down. I'll give you a minute." said the doctor voice. "Nurse Wilson, get the sedative ready just in case. Vin, JD will you please wait over there out of the way? I'll be just a minute." He exerted all his control to calm down. He needed to listen to the conversation going on around him. He knew he had to gleam as much information as he could while they thought he was struggling to wake up. One of his many lessons had been on knowing what was going on around him before making his presence known.

"What's going on, Doc?" inquired the new voice.

"Let's give him a minute to fully come around, Buck." So that other voice was Buck. The doctor continued, "He obviously still doesn't know who he is, but that is to be expected. It's still too early for any sign of restored memory."

"Nettie, maybe you better go find Chris." stated the Buck voice. Now who was Chris? Wait! Did he say memory loss? They thought he had memory loss...hummm...this could work to his advantage. The question now was how much had he lost. Maybe he could gather more if he opened his eyes. But that was going to hurt.

"It's okay son. Can you open your eyes?" It was the doctor again. Just as he was about to comply, a new voice sounded.

"We'll take it from here, doctor. Everyone clear out. This is a federal case and this witness is in our custody." ordered the new voice.

FBI! Oh no, he most definitely was not talking to them thought Ezra. Mother had warned him to always keep quiet when dealing with the Feds. He heard yelling and then more yelling. Everyone was too loud, it hurt his head. He heard parts of phases like 'My patient', 'will be moved today', 'over my dead body' and several others. Then a new voice cut through all the others. His eyes blinked open as he heard, "Silence. What the hell is going on here?"

+ + + + + + +

Vin was furious. At first he had been afraid when two men in suits had appeared at the doorway of room one. Everett was coming around causing everyone to hover over him. The doctor had been sent for and arrived. Then Nettie went to get Chris. She hadn't left but a few minutes when the two men came in. The first words out of the first man's mouth had sent a fear through him. FBI were going to take his his brother away. Then the doctor and Buck both started protesting. JD had scooted closer to Vin as he whispered, "If they're here for Everett, are they going to take us away too?"

The fear that JD voiced caused Vin to become angry. No one was going to hurt or take away his family! Vin grabbed JD and moved to the bed. Buck, the doctor and Nurse Raine had formed a line between the two men and Everett. Vin got close to the bed to lay his free hand on his friend's shoulder. Chris' voice broke through the shouting as he felt the shoulder flinch. He watched as green eye's blinked opened showing confusing as they wondered around. Pain radiated from Everett's opened eyes. Pain and confusion. Vin looked at the others as silence fell over the crowd. He said, "Doctor Bowman, he's awake."

Doctor Bowman looked at Chris, "You got this? I need to see to the child. Hello, Orrin."

"Doctor." said the older man behind Chris.

Chris' eyes blazed at the two agents. He never took his eyes off the men as he said, 'Go ahead, Doc. We'll handle this."

Vin moved out of the way as Nurse Wilson moved to his side of the bed to assist the doctor. Vin looked at JD who was standing a little behind him now. He had never seen Chris' nor Buck's faces so cold. Buck actually had his hand on his gun.

"Back off, Larabee. The boy is in our custody and we're moving him to Denver now." sneered one of the federal agents.

"Uh, Mike. I don't think that's a good idea. He's obviously in no condition to be moved. Wouldn't..." stopped the second agent as the other turned on him.

"Shut up, Al. I'm the senior agent, I do the thinking. The boy is going to be moved to Denver within the hour. Get him ready, doctor."

"He's not going anywhere and especially not with you, Barber." came the cold quiet response from Sheriff Larabee. His lips were in a straight line. A sure sign he was about to attack and Buck was no better in his stance.

"You're out of your jurisdiction Larabee. This is a federal case. He's ours and there is nothing you can do about it," taunted Agent Barber. Agent Al Key thought his partner didn't have the brains of a worm. Anyone could tell the Sheriff and his deputy were tense, ready to strike. Agent Key decided the only thing he could do was to see that his temporary partner (he was definitely asking for a new one) didn't get himself killed.

Chris spoke in a deadly voice that sent shivers down Key's back. "The boy is in my custody as his guardian. You...are...not...taking...him...anywhere!"

"By what judge were you given custody? Don't matter anyway. Only a federal judge can override our claim. You're out of luck, Larabee. You don't have anyone pulling strings to help you in this one."

"Oh, I wouldn't be too sure about that, Agent!" said the older gentleman behind Chris. "Maybe you'd better introduce us, Chris."

A cold smile twitched on his face as Larabee introduced, "Judge Travis, meet Agent Barber. Barber, I would like to introduce you to Federal Judge Orrin Travis, the judge who gave me and Buck custody of these boys as their guardians."

Vin sucked in his breath as he squeezed JD hand. They both looked at each other. Could it be true? Vin didn't know how to feel. A joy leaped in his heart at the thought of living with Chris Larabee and Buck Wilmington. They would never have to move or struggle to survive on their own anymore. JD actually was grinning at the prospect. IF it was true. Vin would wait as he glanced at his injured friend. He would wait and see.

"Yeah, sure. Pull the other one, Sheriff. I don't believe it." sneered Agent Barber.

Agent Key gulped. He knew there was an Orrin Travis on the roster as a Federal Judge. He had done his homework when he came to the Colorado office. It pays to know who the Judges are in his book. "Mike, shut up!" he snapped. "Sir, do you have any identification?"

"Yes," was the short reply as the Judge pulled out his wallet and handed the ID over to the younger man. Agent Key held onto the ID for one minute before it was snatched out of his hand by Agent Barber. But he had seen enough to know it was real.

"I'm sorry, sir but I had to make sure. I knew there was a Judge Orrin Travis on the roster. It's a pleasure to meet you." Agent Key held out his hand. As they shook hands, Key said, "So you have given custody to the Sheriff here. I must reiterate the importance of this case. Of course we won't..."

Again he was interrupted, "I'm the lead on this investigation, Key."

"Not for long, Agent Barber." growled Orrin. He had had enough. Pulling out his cell phone, he asked, "Doctor Bowman, may I use the cell phone in here?"

"Yes, it's okay." murmured the man as he softly continued his questioning of the boy. Buck stood on the other side of the bed with a big grin on his face but his eyes were still cold.

Hitting speed dial, Judge Travis waited a moment as a phone somewhere rang on the other end of his call. "Bill, this is Orrin. Listen, do you know an Agent Barber? You do, huh. Will the man is down here trying to move an injured child. You didn't know the boy was injured? Yes, pretty bad. He's been in a coma for two day and is just coming awake. I've given guardianship to Sheriff Larabee and Deputy Wilmington over the child and two others. I've told the man but he is being an ass about it. Yes there is an Agent Key here too. He's been pretty decent so far. No, he's not threatened to move the child against doctor's order. In fact, he checked my identification before he was interrupted rudely by Agent Barber. I think we would prefer if you had someone else in charge of this case. Yes, Agent Key would be fine. Also, just to let you know, Bill. You will not be questioning this boy without his guardian present. Yes, it will be Larabee or Wilmington. Thanks Bill for taking care of this matter. What? Evie? She's fine. How are Martha and the kids? College? Both of them? No wonder you're proud. Dinner this Sunday? I'll check with Evie but I don't think there should be a problem. Evie and I would like to see you and Martha again. It's been too long. I'll call Evie and get her to contact Martha but I suspect we'll be there. Thanks again Bill, bye."

Agent Key's heart had stopped when he heard the judge greet the caller on the other end with Bill. He just knew he was talking to the Director of the Denver office. He was surprised that Travis had not called the FBI Director in Quantico. He cringed as he thought that his short career was over. He brightened when he realized that he was going to be the Agent in charge. He didn't dared give any reaction in front of Agent Barber.

Judge Travis closed his cell phone before placing it in his pocket. Turning to Agent Barber, whose mouth was hanging open, he said coldly, "You are off the case Agent Barber. You are to report back to Denver immediately. Hope Agent Key is okay for a substitute?"

Agent Al Key stood almost at attention as the Sheriff shifted his gaze to him for a moment. He relaxed as Larabee turned his eyes back to Agent Barber while he replied, "He's fine, Orrin."

"Hey, wait a minute. You can't remove me from this case. Only my boss the..." he shut up as his cell phone in his pocket rang. Buck out right laugh knowing what was about to happen. A small smile crossed Chris' face but his eyes were still cold.

"Agent Barber. Yes sir. Yes sir. But...but...but. Yes sir." Agent Barber turned to his partner angrily saying, "He wants to talk to you."

Taking the phone gently but still keeping his face blank, Al answered, "This is Agent Key. Yes sir. Yes sir. I can do that. Yes sir, full cooperation. Thank you."

Handing the phone back, Agent Key said to Agent Barber, "You can take the rental car back. I'm sure that I can get another one. I'll just go with you to get my things and the files." He started heading out the door when he noticed that Agent Barber was just standing still red faced. He would most definitely do thorough checks on his next partner. "Don't mean to rush you, Agent Barber. But we better get a move on if you are going to get back in time for your meeting."

Giving everyone a glare, Agent Barber angrily left the room behind Key. As the door shut, the others heard Chris mutter, "No one messes with my boys."

Agent Barber heard chuckling in the hospital room as he walked down the hall.

Home, Home on the Ranch

Four Corners Clinic

Ezra Standish AKA Everett was gingerly sitting on the side of the hospital bed he had just spent more than a week in. He was supposedly leaving the hospital today to go stay with Vin and JD at Sheriff Larabee's home. He took a cautious breath. His ribs were still sore, so was his shoulder but at least his left arm wasn't strapped down anymore. No, now he had to wear a sling. Not to mention that his head was still wrapped like he had a turban with a bandage covering the left side of his face. He sighed gently. He had a steady mild headache that the good doctor said would pass in time. So would his sudden bouts of dizziness. Meanwhile, he would have pills for the pain and nauseous. He was in such a mess. Not only was he waiting for help to dress from Deputy Wilmington, but also he hadn't told them anything. He wasn't use to people being nice to him without they're having some kind of angle. He just hadn't figured out what that angle was yet.

Ezra shifted restless on the bed. He hugged his good arm around his cracked ribs as he stared out the window. Yesterday, he found out that the sheriff and deputy had gotten temporary custody of him until any living relatives were found. If he didn't have any then Misters Larabee and Wilmington would become his legal guardians. It took everything he had not to tell them that there wasn't any since Maude was dead. Dead. That had been brought home more to him yesterday then every. Ezra found out about the temporary custody when the FBI came to question him. The doctor had finally given his permission though he stayed in the room to monitor his patient. Sheriff Larabee as his temporary guardian had to be in attendance too. Vin and JD were visiting when the FBI showed up to talk to him.

He stiffened for one moment as he remembered the look in Vin's blue eyes on the others first visit when he was fully aware and expressed the he didn't remember them. The older boy's eyes expressed such sadness and worry. He quickly looked away then realized that that might have given him away. Thinking back over that moment, he wondered if he had given himself away. If he had, Vin didn't say anything.

He put every bit of his honed skills to work during the interrogation yesterday. He placed his woebegone innocent expression on his face. He played like he didn't remember anything about himself until he woke up in the hospital. He didn't know his name, where he came from or even who Vin and JD were.

The bad part had been when Agent Key had brought out the photographs. Photographs of the crime scene to see if they would jog his memory. He blamed his head injury on his reaction. He couldn't control his racing heart when he saw the room again. Nor what happened when picture's of the victims was placed before him. He started gasping like a fish out of water; his head started pounding...then he saw his mother. He gave a cry as a sharp pain whizzed through his head then everything went black.

It must have been for just a few minutes. He awoke to find the doctor hovering over him waving some foul smelling stuff in his face. He blinked a couple of times at the man before he could focus on what he was saying. He had assured the good doctor that he was all right then asked what had happened. Agent Key was in the corner apologizing to Sheriff Larabee who gave a good impression of being seriously upset. In fact, the man was crackling with indignation. He only heard Larabee say, "Enough. We'll discuss this outside."

Lord the man sounded deadly. Doctor Bowman asked him what he remembered before he passed out. He lied. "Agent Key was asking me questions then he was going to show me some pictures. I don't remember anything after that."

They had bought it. Doctor Bowman had patted him on the shoulder and told him to get some rest. Then he hustled everyone else out of the room except for the nurse. He had felt tired enough that he did go to sleep.

Ezra glanced around the room again before he returned to starring out the window. Now he waited for Deputy Wilmington to come help him get dressed. The doctor had already checked him out again this morning declaring him fit to leave. He didn't know what he was going to do when he got to this new place. Thank God Vin and JD were going to be there. Ezra gently sighed again as he waited.

He thought about some other visitors that he had while lying in this small clinic. First was the housekeeper Nettie Wells. Vin had taken a shine to her just as JD did. Ezra didn't know if he liked the old wizened crone or not. Her eyes were too sharp as if they could pierce through all his masks. She had the no nonsense attitude but seemed genuinely concerned for him. She brought Vin and JD in the morning then would sit with him while Buck took the others out to lunch. Sometimes Mrs. Wells would engage him in conversation but most of the time she read to him. It had been a long time since anyone had taken the time to sit with him like that. He would have to devise a distraction when it came time for him to go back to the shack to retrieve the stash of money. Ezra knew there would come a day when he would be force to leave. He was never welcomed for long anywhere and in some places he just had to escape to save his life.

Next visitor was the Deputy Josiah Sanchez. Lord what a big man. It had frightened him at first when he walked into the room until the man spoke to him in a gentle rumble. He noticed that only concern showed in the blue gray eyes of the towering man. The man had introduced himself and sat down to start talking. He conversed on different subjects throughout their tat-a-tat. He seemed honestly surprised when he started a quote in French and Ezra finished it back to him in the same language. The older man grinned as he started talking to him in Germany then Latin. The rest of their conversation was Mr. Sanchez trying to see how many different languages Ezra knew. Despite who the deputy was, as he mother always told him not to trust policemen, Ezra enjoyed their talk. The deputy stopped as he noticed how tired he was getting. Deputy Sanchez left seemly in a well-disposed mood.

Then came a visit from Nathan Jackson who he learned was a paramedic fireman in this small town. He was also the paramour of his Nurse Raine Wilson. He truly liked Raine because it seemed that she liked him. She always knew when he was really feeling bad or upset just like Vin does. She took exceptional care of him. Nathan on the other hand started fussing immediately. He looked at his chart, straightened his bedcovers, took his pulse all the while telling how he had to take better care and not give the doctors or nurses any problem. Oh, he knew the man meant well, but it was irritating and his head had started to pound again. He snapped at the man telling him he knew perfectly well how to behave in public. Mr. Jackson's gently brown eyes had looked shocked then turned into a disapproving light. He knew he was going to have to apologize soon for his abrupt behavior. The man was about to say something else when Nurse Raine stepped up asking him how he felt. Ezra had admitted that he felt unwell which cause Ms. Wilson to promptly give him his medicine to relieve his headache. She had made soothing noises, as she said no wonder with all the visitors he had had. It was too much of a strain when what he needed was rest and quiet. He had looked at Mr. Jackson with a resigned expression of acceptance that must have tickled the man. The fireman had shook his head as he chuckled until his sweetheart had turned her attention on him. She hustled him from the room as Ezra fell asleep. Oh yes, he was going to have to apologize to Mr. Jackson soon.

Ezra closed his eyes as his head started to ache again. Lord he would be glad when he was better. He hated being sick and he hated hospitals. He then thought about Deputy Buck Wilmington and Sheriff Chris Larabee his new guardians. The first time he remembered seeing Buck was when he first woke up. Those brown eyes had a sparkle of life in them. The man had smiled saying something. His mind was fuzzy on that first day. Every day since then, the deputy was there when he woke up in the morning before Vin and JD arrived with Mrs. Wells. So too had Sheriff Larabee been to visit him everyday.

Now that is something that he knew his mother would have really disapproved of. His association with the local law would have earned him a painful lesson of how to avoid the police. But the Sheriff had shown nothing but concern for him even to the point of tangling with the FBI. Oh yes, he had been informed by Vin of the business with the FBI when they showed up. He didn't know what they wanted...what could they want? Maude had not told him anything about her latest venture except to keep some folders safe for her in his hiding place. He had left everything of value back at that house when he left. He had just run into the night trying to escape what he saw.

Ezra closed his eyes to get control of his runaway thoughts. He really didn't need to think about what had happen to his mother. These thoughts were causing the pain in his head to worsen. Ezra breathed shallowly waiting for one of his guardians to come pick him up.

+ + + + + + +

A smiling Buck Wilmington walked sanguinely into the clinic in Four Corners carrying a red afghan. It had been a long nerve wracking week for Chris and him. Between their regular duties to the town, taken care of two energetic boys, the trips to the hospital visiting a third child and dealing with the FBI, it was no wonder he and Chris felt wound tighter than a cheap watch. The kids were not much better. Vin and JD had fallen into a routine of chores in the early morning then coming to the hospital to visit Everett. They would stay for most of the day, silently watching their unconscious friend as they quietly drew pictures or read. Once in a while, they would get into whispering conversations always going quiet when adults came too close. When they got home at night it was two very solemn boys, who quietly took orders to eat, take baths and then climb into bed. It got better when the battered boy had finally woken up last week to everyone's relief. Vin and JD could finally see their friend getting better. It didn't help much that the child couldn't remember anything especially concerning the FBI case. JD and Vin took great pains to tell Everett every little detail that had been going on while he had been asleep. For the injured child's part, he sat and listened asking questions every once in awhile before falling asleep. The boy's would patiently wait for him to waken again. They're spirits had lifted enough after Everett had woken so that they smiled more. The boys seemed to be relaxing around them some now.

Buck had stopped outside the hospital room where Everett waited for him as he thought about what his boss and partner had told him. Yesterday, according to Chris, had been very frustrating. Tensions ran very high when Agent Key showed the boy some pictures of the victims. The Doc called a halt to the questions when Everett passed out, then he pulled the others from the room to chew them out. Doc Bowman felt he should have been informed of the photographs. If he had seen them, he would have told them that the child was not ready for such gruesome shots. Chris sounded amused as he told about the contrite Agent Key's apology and that it would not happen again. Doc then informed them that the boy would heal but he didn't know how much of his memory he would recover to the dismay of the FBI. The Doc suggested that they give the lad a few more weeks preferably a month before they questioned him again. The boy was obliviously not well enough besides he needed to concentrate on getting his strength back. Agent Key had sighed and nodded his agreement. He then went to report to his Director what the status was. Later last night, Key's had called to say that he was called back to headquarters to start a new case but that he would check in after a few weeks on Everett. Agent Key hoped for some good news then.

During the past week, between the Sheriff's Office and the FBI research, there had been no other information about the child and no one had come forward to claim him. No birth certificates, any school, anything. It was as if the boy did not exist. They didn't even know if Everett was his real name. Buck shook his head to get rid of these wearisome thoughts and placed a smiled on his face as he pushed the door open.

"Well hello there Everett, ready to get dressed and out of here?" queried Buck as he looked at the boy that sat on the edge of his bed holding his ribs. He surveyed the bruise that had turned different shades of purple, blue, green and yellow under the bandage that graced the lad's head as he placed the afghan on the end of the bed. It looked a lot better than the bloated red laceration that was there before. The swelling was down. You could see both of those startling green eyes...eyes that held weariness in them. Damn, thought Buck. Vin and JD had the same look. Not so much in JD but these other two had the weary looks of caged cougar cubs. The look of guardedness and distrust from someone so young broke Buck's heart. No child should have that look he thought. He was brought back to the present when the boy said very quietly, "Yes, please." The child's voice did not have much volume since he was breathing shallowly because of the ribs. Buck winced; he knew what broken, cracked and bruised ribs felt like. You didn't work this long in law enforcement without finding out what it was like.

Buck nodded his head and smiled as he walked over to help Everett get dressed. It took a little fancy maneuvering, pausing as the sweat beaded the boy brow so he could catch his breath to regain his strength, before they were ready to go. Buck noticed that Everett looked pale, ready to lie down and rest again. The child was squinting like the light hurt his eyes. He probably had a headache. The doctor said he would be prone to these over the next few weeks. How sever Doc Bowman didn't know. Buck turned to the door as it opened. Nurse Raine Wilson walked in smiling pushing a wheel chair. She had papers and small packets in one of her hands.

"Ready to go?" she asked as she walked over to them pushing the chair up to the end of the bed. Handing the papers to Buck, she said, "These are his discharge papers plus some instructions on what complications to be on the look out for. These," she said as she gave the packets to him, "are pain pills and antibiotics. The instructions for their use and side effects are also with the discharge papers. If the symptoms get too bad, Doctor Bowman says to bring him right back." Looking at the child, she crossed over to him and bent down to look at his face. "Everett? Everett, look at Me." coaxed Raine to the pale faced boy who was breathing shallowly.

Ezra raised his head trying to mask his pain. He didn't want to stay in the hospital any longer. Not that the doctor or nurses hadn't taken good care of him, no, he just didn't like feeling helpless or trapped. He knew he hadn't fooled anyone when the nurse asked, "How bad is it? Your headache, how bad? And don't tell me that you don't have one." she scolded as he opened his mouth. More gently she said, "I can tell by your squinting. Now be honest, please, I only want to help. Is it like an aching pulse or 'you want to throw up' pounding?"

Ezra grimaced at the descriptions but they were accurate, especially the throw up one. He really felt nauseous and dizzy. He didn't think his legs would hold him up; really he just wanted to lie back down and sleep. Looking into the gentle brown eyes of the nurse, Ezra decided to tell the truth even though his mother would have disapproved. "Pounding," he whispered with a swallow.

"Thought so." Turning to Buck, Raine shuffled through the packets in his hand until she found the one she wanted. Tearing it open, she shook two small white pills into her hand folded the packet to keep the others inside and put it in Buck's shirt pocket. Smiling at the concerned man, Raine turned to walk over to pour water from the container on the table nearby. She then went back to the hurting child holding out the pills and glass of water. "Take these." Seeing the distaste cross the boy's face, Raine encouraged, "It's alright. They may make you sleepy but it will take away the pain. Your headaches will gradually lessen but until then, these will help."

Ezra looked at the pills then the nurse. She waited with patience for the child to make up his mind. Ezra sighed again as he reached for the medicine because his head really did pound. He quickly swallowed them with the water then handed the glass back to the nurse. Every the gentleman, he said, "Thank you."

Smiling, she patted the boy's knee. "Your welcome."

Buck grinned in gratitude. Then with a twinkle in his eyes, Buck wiggled his eyebrows at Raine saying, "You know, a pretty woman such as yourself in that uniform just about makes me wish that I was in that bed instead of Everett. You sure you want to stick with Nathan? If he doesn't pop the question to you soon, would you consider going with me?"

Raine smiled at Buck's teasing then laughed out loud when the boy rolled his eyes in disgust saying, "Oh please spare me."

Secretly Buck was happy with the child's response; it was the first real child like expression the boy had shown. Buck turned shocked eyes to the boy, playing up his astonishment, "What? I'll have you know that there are plenty of women who find me irresistible."

"Really? Pray tell, what is amiss with them?" questioned Ezra as he gave his most innocent look to the deputy. "Have they poor judgment or taste?"

Laughing outright, Buck said, "You're just lucky I can't tickle you right now."

Ezra looked properly horrified before it turned into a yawn. His headache was lessening as were his other pains and he was sleepy. He blinked several times at them before saying, "Excuse me."

"I guess on that note, we'd better get going." spoke up Buck as he walked over to the small boy. He carefully reached out and picked up the child who was practically falling asleep. He turned to place him in the wheelchair that Raine had pushed a little closer. Buck retrieved the red afghan then placed it over the boy's lap. He gently tucked the corners down as the woozy boy relaxed in the chair. A small-saddened smile was given to Raine as Buck said, "Anything else we need to know before we leave?"

With a nod, Raine replied, "The medicine he just swallowed will cause him to sleep for a few hours. He should only take those no more then three times in a twenty-four hour period. That was his first dose for today. One of the other packets contains another painkiller he can take every four hours. It is not so potent but will knock the pain down a few notches. Doctor Bowman would prefer that he take those. Only give him the first pills when he gets as bad as you just saw him. He's to take the antibiotics every three hours. I gave you enough to last for two days. You will need to get those prescriptions filled before they run out. If he gets a fever, don't hesitate to call. Doctor Bowman will make a house call, as he really doesn't want him moved around that much. At least not until his ribs heal a bit more. The doctor will be out every other day to change the bandages. He's not to take a bath or shower but you can wash him, just be careful of his dressings." Padding Buck's hand, she continued, "Don't worry, Buck. You know all you have to do is call and we'll help anyway we can. I mean that. You or Chris can call Nathan and me if you need a break or for anything."

Flashing a dazzling smile, Buck responded, "Yeah, I know and thanks." Looking down at the pale boy who was trying his best to stay awake, Buck said, "Come on little partner, let's get you home."

+ + + + + + +

Nettie Wells went to the living room of the LW ranch house to check upon Vin and JD. She grinned as she saw both boys by the window looking out waiting for Buck's pick-up truck to come down the driveway. Today was the day that Everett was coming home and for the past hour the boys had been watching, whispering to each other as they waited. She had come in half an hour before ready to ask them if they wanted anything to eat or drink. They were allowed to eat anytime they wanted as both boys were way undernourished. They were still way to thin and she had stocked up on more groceries for when Everett came home. That child needed to gain weight for sure. Both boy's had jumped when she spoke startling them from their constant vigil. She had stifled her chuckles as the boy's followed her to the kitchen. For a little while they had sat at the counter in the high stools (Vin had to help JD up), eating some homemade chocolate cake and drinking milk. They had talked about what to fix for Everett's first meal that night after he came home. The boy's had openly discussed what they thought he would like. It seemed to Nettie as they talked that the injured child was a finicky eater or there may be something else wrong. She would call the doctor to check on what he could eat and if there was anything else she needed to know. They had finished their snack going right back to the front window waiting on their friend.

Nettie had rarely witness such devotion especially from children so young. She guessed it was born from mutual desperation and survival. It saddened her to think that these children had been thrown out to fend for themselves in the world. Oh, she knew how cruel and senseless the world could be, how man could just throw life away. Hadn't she lost all her sons and her husband? All she had left was her niece. No, Nettie was not blind to what the world was capable of doing, but that didn't mean she had to like it. She also knew how wonderful people could be. Just look at Chris and Buck and how they had taken these boys to their hearts. JD would listen then laugh at Buck's outlandish stories. Buck could usually get a smile out of Vin too. JD was so full of life he was exhausting. The youngest boy liked Larabee even though Chris didn't talk much. Chris had smiled a lot more lately while watching the antics of the children.

Now Vin was more like Chris, quiet. Those two hit it off right from the beginning. The fourteen seemed to have a rapport with the black clad lawman. It was almost as if the two could read each other's mind. While Chris was quicker with his temper, Vin was the calmer of the two. He watched and thought things through waiting for the truth to reveal itself. Nettie had gathered all this from the interaction of the four for the last week and a half. Now the boy Everett was a different kettle of fish.

Everett had had his brains scrambled so what the child was like before was anybody's guess. What Nattie had observed was a boy in a lot of pain and confusion to began with. After he fully awakened, the child's face took on a transformation as he tried to hide himself away. That boy was distrustful of everyone but Vin and JD. Nattie couldn't blame him after what she had seen of the scars on his body. Nattie was brought from her contemplation with a shout from the front room.

"They're here. They're here Nettie." came JD voice.

She quickly hurried out of the kitchen as she heard the two boys scrambling for the front door. "Now hold on a minute there Vin and JD. Remember what we discussed this morning?"

Vin stopped inside the door he just opened. You could hear the truck as it made it way up the driveway. Grinning that lopsided smile of his, Vin said, "We know to take it easy, Nettie. We know he won't be up to much for awhile at first. We're just eager to see him especially out of that hospital." Vin had an affinity with Everett on hating hospitals.

"Yeah, this will be the first time we get to see him today." piped up JD. He had missed his friend.

Both boys had been terrified when they first had seen their friend at the hospital. From the way he looked, they thought they were going to lose their brother. For they did consider themselves brothers at this point. JD and Vin had taken Everett into their hearts as well as their lives. Now all three were going to be together again.

While they had been talking, the truck had pulled up to the front of the house. Buck checked on his sleeping passenger before he got out of the car. He could see the door open and Vin standing with his back to him.

Buck walked up the steps on the porch with a quiet greeting, "Hello the house. Where's the welcoming committee?"

"Here Buck, here!" shouted an excited JD as he raced out the door and into Buck. Vin just rolled his eyes at Nettie as she shook here head. So much for taking it easy, they both thought.

"Whoa there little one," said Buck as he bent down to hugged JD. Holding the boy away from him after the greeting, Buck told him, "Now you going to have to tone it down Little Bit. Everett is asleep in the truck."

Vin followed JD out of the house with Nettie behind him. He grew worried at first when he didn't see his friend. Had something happened that would cause the delay of Everett's release? Then he relaxed at Buck words. Looking at the cab of the truck, Vin could now see his friend sound asleep with his head leaning on the window.

Buck stood back up as he looked at both boys. Not one to lie, Buck reported, "They gave him some strong pain pills before he left the hospital because he had a bad headache."

Seeing the concerned look on Nettie and Vin's faces prompted Buck to quickly add, "Now don't worry. Remember the doctor said he would have these migraines at first then they would gradually go away as he healed. He'll sleep awhile then wake up feeling much better."

Vin asked, "Can I sit with him until he wakes up? He needs someone there he trust when he wakes up."

Buck looked at Vin for a moment, thinking. "I believe that's a good ideal, Vin." Looking down at JD, Buck said, "And JD can come back to town with me. I have to check in with Chris and get Everett's prescription filled. How does that sound, Little Bit?"

"Yeah! Can we stop at Mrs. Potters' store and get some ice cream for dessert tonight?" Turning to Vin, JD continued, "I know Everett doesn't like chocolate like we do Vin. Do you think he would get better a whole lot faster with some vanilla? Can we get some Vanilla Ice Cream, Buck?"

"I don't see why not," replied Buck as he ruffled the boy head. "Let me get Everett settle in his room while you get ready. Vin, you want to give me a hand?"

JD had whooped then turned red as he ducked his head to quietly say, "Sorry."

Nettie chuckled as she in kind replied, "Let's get you ready to go."

Vin followed Buck to the truck as the other went inside. He held the door open as his sleeping friend was lifted out. He quickly shut the door softly then raced to open the front screen door holding it as Buck carried Everett inside. His little brother still looked pale with all that bruising but at least he didn't have all those tube and wires attached to him anymore. Vin quickly opened the boy's bedroom door so Buck could place his precious burden down. After seeing that the child was properly settled, Buck left Vin alone with the sleeping boy.

Chris and Buck had originally thought to give each of the boys their own room. But after the first night when both kids had woken up screaming from nightmares then the only way they would go back to sleep was if they were in the same room...well that decided that. All three boys were in the one room but each had their own bed. Vin wanted his under the window for fresh air while JDs was close to the door. For some reason neither man could fathom, Vin told them Ezra like to sleep with a solid wall at his back. It wouldn't be until the boys had been there awhile before the significance of their choices would become clear.

Nettie watched Buck drive off with a happy chatting JD in the front seat. Shaking her head wondering at how life could change at the drop of a hat, she went into the kitchen to call the doctor about the injured child's meal and to start supper.


Josiah looked up to see who had come in the door of the Sheriff's office. His face broke out into a grin as he watched an exuberant JD latched like a limpet on Buck's back. It gladdened his heart to see the boy's youthful optimism. JD was a happy child with more trust that he should have had after his ordeals. Not like Vin or Everett. Vin was a teenager who had seen more in his young life then that he should have ever had to experience. It left him weary and cautious. Everett was a few years younger but no less distrustful of adults then Vin. It was a puzzle with the green-eyed boy though. His cloths were of the best quality even though ragged by the rough use while on the run. His speech was that of the best boarding school education money could by. All three boys seemed to have turbulent beginnings as evidence to the scars on their back. Josiah saw red ever time he thought on what he had seen. That JD could retain his happy outlook on life was a credit to the love of his mother.

Sanchez said, "Well hello Deputy Dunne. I see you have caught yourself a real bad criminal. Ready to lock him up?"

JD giggled. "It Buck Josiah, not some criminal."

Josiah and Buck laughed at the boy's infectious chortle. Buck asked, "Is the big dog around?"

"Yep, right here." replied a smiling Chris from the doorway to his office. He had gotten up from his desk the minute he heard Josiah's greeting.

"Hey, Chris!" waved JD from Buck back. He then proceeded to report what they were doing in town. "Me and Buck came to get Everett's medicine filled while Vin is staying with him at the house. Buck brought him home but he was asleep because he had a headache so they give him some pills to help him with the headache. So we had to be quiet but I kind of yelled but I apologized. Then Buck asked me if I wanted to come to town which I did so here we are."

Chris found himself holding his breath as JD rattled off why they were in town. He suddenly had to breathe as his lungs felt like they were going to explode. How that boy could talk so much with one breath was astounding. He must have the lungpower of a dolphin swimming under water. But looking at his jolly partner, Chris knew the boy had the same outlook on life as Buck.

Chris gave Buck a worried look, "Headache?"

Swinging JD off his back and putting him down, he looked at Josiah saying, "Mind watching Little Bit for a moment while I talk to Chris?" Getting a nod, Buck said, "JD, I got some important business to discuss with the boss. Now you stay with Josiah, okay?"

"Sure, Buck. Josiah knows some interesting stories too. Not like yours that are about girls" here the boy wrinkled his nose in disgust. "No, Josiah tells stories are about other people and places. I like the one about the Peru tribes who belief in Senti...Sentin...what's the word Josiah?"

"Sentinels." replied Josiah as he opened the little swinging door in the half wall that separated the desk from the rest of the room. He grinned at the confused looks on both of the men's faces. "Just a little archeology lesson I had in college long ago. Actually got to go on a dig and meet the people in Peru. Was quiet an experience."

Chris, Buck, Nathan and Josiah were a knit tight group who protected the area of Four Corners. They spent much time in each other company on and off the job. The like each other and since the boys had come into their lives, Josiah found himself spending time telling them of his experiences around the world.

Both men shared a look before they turned going into Chris' office and shutting the door.

"There more to Josiah then what he's told us, Chris. I never knew he went to Peru."

"I'm sure there a lot that we don't know." agreed Chris as he sat down at this desk. With a worried tone to his voice, Chris asked, "All right. Now what is this about a headache? Is Everett all right?"

"Yes, Chris. He was just wore out and tired. Raine gave me his prescriptions and the instructions. The boy was so anxious to get out of there he was already up on the edge of the bed waiting for me. I don't think he likes hospitals all that much." stated a smiling Buck.

Chris snorted, "Who does? Vin with him?"

"Yep. Plopped himself right down beside him. Planning on staying with him until he wakes up. Seeing how much pain Everett is still in and the worry on the others faces kind of makes me wish that idiot was still here instead of on his way to the county seat for trial." stated Buck.

"I think it was a good move to get him out of here. Tempers were starting to flare and the man was scared. Don't know why," said Chris with a feral grin.

"Yeah, right. Just like it snowed last 4th of July too. Seriously Chris, I think its going to be very rough the next few weeks for everybody. I just hope there won't be anymore bad news for awhile. I think we could use the quiet."

"I agreed, Buck. Thank God for our friends."

+ + + + + + +

Meanwhile, in Denver a call was made to a mob boss named John Anderson telling him the location of a certain witness to his most recent crimes. No mention was made to the witness loss of memory.


John Anderson, former Colonel of the US Army, stared at his phone with a small smile. Funny, he thought, what irony that the information he needed came from the same source that was trying to thwart his operations. Life was like that as he again wondered at the paradox of the world.

He had served his country faithfully through the Persian Gulf War and the few skirmishes afterwards. He left the service before the 911 bombing occurred or he would still have been in the service running his scams milking all the dough he could. He had retired before he could get caught. For you see, Mr. Anderson ran his own criminal organization. In the service, he ran trading scams on parts and ammunitions while dealing with the black market in selling the scammed materiel. After he left (because it was getting too hot) with a few of his lackeys, he settled into the same kind of business. It was surprising how much demand there was for the type of services he could offer. He still had his Army connections not to mention his overseas black market friends. That was until he got involved with a certain dead Mr. Ryan and his friend.

He was furious with the slip up in his organization that had allowed particular documents to fall into the wrong hands. Anderson had yet to figure out how the blackmailers had gotten their fingers on those papers. After he had dealt with Ryan and his beautiful accomplice, his men under his supervision had torn the place apart. They had found no trace of the documents. He had had concerns about them surfacing in the hands of the FBI or local police office but after a few weeks, that had not happened. He figured that the blackmailers had stashed the papers somewhere without telling anyone about them. This made perfect sense considering the greed that the cons had shown. Anderson still kept feelers out for any information about the murders just in case something came up. It paid off. He now had information about a possible witness to the crimes even though the papers had not been mentioned. He was assuming that his surprising informant didn't have access to such facts.

Anderson figured his organization was getting sloppy if there had been a witness around and they didn't notice...that he didn't notice. But now there were two of his men on the way to see about this so called eyewitness. His underlings were instructed to find out about the witness and the papers. If no papers were in existence, find out if the witness knew anything. Anderson then instructed his men to make periodically reports to him and to call frequently for instructions. They were not to do anything without his orders. After a few more moments of consideration, the man finally decided he had better get back to running his business. Time was money.

+ + + + + + +

Vin Tanner was very patient. At an early age he had learned to wait. Being so close to nature most of his life had taught him that things eventually headed your way...rabbits, squirrels, birds, and deer...all of them. Therefore he could wait for his friend to wake up from his drug induced sleep for a few hours. Vin sat and watched Everett as he lay in the bed in their room at the L&W ranch. He had been there an hour before Mrs. Wells had come into the room herself.

"Vin, he could be asleep for awhile. Why don't you come to the kitchen and have a snack. You can check on him after that."

Vin looked at the housekeeper and in a small voice said, "I don't want him to be alone. It isn't a good thing to wake up alone. Someone needs to be here in case of the nightmares."

Nettie Wells could not imagine what type of terrible dreams these children could have. She looked at the injured lad laying in the bed wondering. She nodded as she said, "I know sweetheart but it still could be awhile before he wakes. What do you say about coming to the kitchen anyway? You can check on him every thirty minutes. I really could use your help with preparations for dinner."

Vin hesitated as he looked at his friend. He thought for a few minutes chewing his bottom lip before he made up his mind. Nodding his head in agreement, he rose from his chair and walked to Everett's side. Bending down, he whispered in his ear, "You're not alone. I'll be right back. Nettie just needs my help. I promise. You're not alone, Everett."

Turning he smiled at the housekeeper as he said, "Okay, I'm ready."

Nettie did not know what the boy had whispered into the sleeping child's ears but guess that it was reassurances. Hopefully it would be enough.

An hour later and after Vin had checked on his brother for the second time before going back to the kitchen, Ezra's hand twitched as he started to dream.

He was sitting in the proper manner on his mother's bed as she dressed for the evening. He had both his legs off the bed crossed at the ankles while his back was straight. Ezra had painfully learned at an early age about manners and appearances. He watched as Maude expertly applied her make-up. His mother always was appropriately attired for whatever occasion she had planned. This evening was no different. He looked at her blond hair as she pulled it back, noticed her eyes were a pale green with the eye shadow she was wearing and admired the evening outfit she had on. There was no doubt that Mother was the prettiest woman around. He waited patiently being sure to keep his expression bland. Finally his mother stood as she finished, turning to her son.

"Well, Ezra dear boy. Do I look presentable?" asked Maude as she smoothed out any pseudo wrinkles in her skirt.

Assuming the appropriate facial expression, Ezra answered, "As always Mother, your appearance is perfection. But I thought you had a business meeting here tonight. By your attire, I assume you going out for your meeting?"

"No son. The meeting will be here as planned. Mr. Ryan and I will be dining out afterwards." Maude Standish turned to check her appearance one more time. Mr. Mark Ryan was her business associate in this little endeavor. It was his information that he wisely brought to her to set up the arrangements, a very profitable deal for both of them. The other party that would be at the meeting had balked until certain papers had been presented. Maude smiled at herself pleased with the way things were going.

Turning back to her only child, she said, "We will be leaving straight for dinner after the conference. Now you have everything I gave you?"

Nodding, Ezra said, "Yes, Mother. All the folders are already secreted away in our hiding place. I only have to obtain some water and my book before I hide also."

"You have enough snacks?"

"Yes, Mother."

"Excellent. Now remember not to come out until I come get you. But just in case the evening with Mr. Ryan last a bit longer, do not come out until after midnight. Do you understand?

Nodding again, Ezra repeated, "Don't come out until after midnight unless you get me before. I'll remember Mother."

Bending down, Maude gave her son a rare hug before gentling pushing him toward the closet. "Now get what you need Ezra and get into the hiding place. Be extremely quiet."

"Yes Mother," he replied as he gathered the book he wanted to read and water. He paused at the closet then went to his room to retrieve the only present his mother had ever given him. It was a stuffed black jaguar with blue eyes. He felt foolish carrying it because he was nine and didn't need such things. He was too big but this was his only present and Maude always cautioned him never to lose it. Therefore he kept it with him even in their hiding place.

Ezra saw his mother smiled pleased that he had remembered the toy. He hurried back to her bedroom and into the closet.

Maude always shopped around for the perfect accommodations. The place had to have certain features. One such feature was a hidey hole or at least a possibility to make one. In this house, Maude made a few adjustments without the owner's knowledge or consent. The hiding place was a small hole in her bedroom closet big enough for Ezra to crawl through into a small room. The room was actually a space between the walls that had at one time probably been use to store nonessential household goods. The original door was sealed up so the opening was put in the closet. Maude had cleverly constructed the opening so it was almost invisible. You would have to know where it was before you would find it. A small hook was used to pry the small door open. Inside Ezra had already put a pillow, blankets, a walkman to listen to, snacks and a reading light. The files that his mother had giving him earlier were there also. A black cloth was also inside to cover the door so the light wouldn't shine through at night as Ezra read.

Ezra stood at the opening ready to go in when fear suddenly hit him. He frowned as he felt himself crawl inside. He had never felt the fear before. Why now? As the opening closed, Ezra found himself outside his body watching. He knew! He knew what was coming! He tried screaming at the boy who calmly prepared to read the night away maybe later listening to music over the walkman. NO! Mother must be warned. GET OUT! MOTHER! MOTHER! Ezra tried to scream for his mother but the nightmare continued.

Ezra's body twitched as he dreamed. He started moaning as he became frantic in his struggles. They increased as he once again crawled out of the hiding place to find his mother. His mouth opened in a scream as Vin burst through the door.

Vin had been helping Nettie prepare supper. He would stop almost every thirty minutes to check on Everett. Nettie would watch as he left then when he returned back into the kitchen. Vin would give a shake of his head to let her know Everett was still asleep. Nettie was telling Vin about Casey her niece when Vin's head shot up. Suddenly he rushed out of the room just as she was about to ask him what was wrong. Worriedly Nettie dried her hands then followed the boy. She had just stepped out of the kitchen when she heard the scream. Her heart stopped. Lordy!

She rushed to the boys room stopping in the doorway to find Vin perched on the bed with a thrashing Everett. Vin was whispering to the distraught child with his hand on his shoulder.

"Easy Everett," soothed Vin. "Easy, you're safe. Wake up now. Come on wake up."

With another moan and gasp, Ezra tried to sit up and escape what he was seeing. Green eyes flashed open at the pain from his sudden movements. Panic eyes searched the room until they focused on a pair of concerned blue eyes. Vin, he thought. Closing his eyes in relief, he groaned as he fell back onto the bed. He clasped Vin's arm in his hand as he rode out the aching ribs that had protested at his movement. He slowed down his breathing while Vin kept speaking encouraging words to hold on, ride it out. Ezra didn't even know that Nettie was standing in the doorway watching.

Nettie didn't know if she should interfere or let Vin handle it. In the end she waited as she saw that the older boy had everything under control. She watched and wondered how Vin knew the boy was waking up or that he was having a nightmare. She brushed aside any concerns as Vin lifted up his eyes to her. She mimed coming in to help but he shook his head no. Nodding her understanding, Nettie back out of the room before Everett opened his eyes to realize that she was there. Vin obviously had everything under control. She knew he would come get her if she was needed. She stopped halfway down the hall when she realized that she trusted Vin to know what he was doing...that she trusted a fourteen old child who acted much older. For some reason this made her sad as she thought about her own now deceased sons at that age. An age when they were always getting into trouble, forever being corrected with not a care in the world except what to eat, or school, or a number of different childhood dreams. Not these boys who all acted with hesitation, fear and control. Nettie continued down the hall back to the kitchen to finish dinner.

Vin sat beside his friend as he slowly relaxed from the pain that gradually dwindled away. He leaned over to grab the glass of water that he had put there the last time he had checked on Everett. When the boy finally opened his eyes, Vin asked, "Thirsty?"

"Yes," was the tired reply from Ezra as he tried to push himself up. Vin reached over to help him. He took a few sips before lying back down. "Thank you."

"Your welcome," answered Vin as he placed the water back on the small end table. He sat watching as more color returned to his friend's face. "Feeling better?"

Ezra looked at the older boy's face. "Better? Some. The headache is not as bad."

An awkward silence fell between the two for a few moments. Finally, Vin placed his hand on the younger boy's shoulder in comfort like he had always done before when the nightmares came. Ezra looked up, paused, and then placed his hand over Vin's as he nodded his gratitude. Nothing more had to be said.

Ezra decided to look over his new surrounding as a way to divert Vin's attention and levitate his own embarrassment. He noticed that there were two other beds in this spacious room. "Are we all sleeping in here?"

Vin said, "Yep. JD has that bed close to the door while I have the one by the window. We have two Chester drawers for all of us but lots of closet space. Chris and Buck have already bought JD and me some clothes. They decided to wait for you to pick your own out after your better and can move around more." Vin got up to open the closet door and showed him the clothes inside.

Ezra looked around the room again while Vin was speaking. It was a comfortable place...better than the shack. He thought how nice it would be to live here. How nice it would be not to have to run or hide anymore. Suddenly Ezra had a dilemma. He had been carrying the burden of what he knew about his mother's death and the lie about his amnesia. He know knew that if he had confided in Vin about the trouble behind the Blue Tavern, maybe just maybe things would have turned out different. He had been thinking about this every since he had woken enough from the drugs at the hospital. He needed a friend to confide in...a friend to consult with. Vin was the closest to a friend, no a brother that he had ever had. He looked at his friend as he sat back down beside him. Could he, should he? The dream had pointed out to him that he did indeed need help. Not only the dream, but the involvement of the FBI strengthened the point of having a confidant. But if he did, should he tell Vin what his real name is? Ezra puzzled over it for a few more moments before he decided. In for a penny, in for a pound was his thought.

Vin had sat down beside Everett then waited. He could see that his friend had something on his mind. He quietly looked back at the injured boy, meeting his eyes, while he waited. He hoped that his friend would trust him enough to let him know what was going on. Every since Everett had looked away from him in the hospital room, Vin knew he was hiding something. He had a pretty good guess that Everett had gained his memory back. Oh, he believe that his friend couldn't remember anything at first, but somewhere something jarred his memories back to him. Vin hoped that Everett knew he would never betray him.

"Vin? Can I trust you? I mean really trust you?" asked Ezra as he held out his uninjured hand to the older boy.

"Sure. I wouldn't betray you. We're family," answered Vin as he took the other's hand.

"I'm very serious, Vin. You can't even tell JD. No one must know, at least not until I can fathom a solution to the dilemma that I find myself in."

Vin paused before he spoke. He wanted to comfort his friend but he was not going to give any false promises or lie. Finally he said, "I don't want to lie to you, Everett so I'll promise not to tell as long as no one is going to get hurt. That includes you too. I want tell JD either. I will give you my word on that. Will that do?"

Ezra looked at his friend. While many could spiel words (Ezra knew how to do that) and brake promises (Maude had done that), the boy knew that a promise from Vin was more precious than gold, more binding than blood. He also understood the stipulations that his friend had put on the promise. He could not fault him in worrying about the safety of JD or it seemed his new found family, but to include him? No one had every worried about his safety before...not until he met Vin and JD. Somehow those two had pulled him into their circle of family. Ezra would enjoy the feeling of belonging until he was sent away because he was also sent away. Looking into the blue eyes of Vin, Ezra said, "That will suffice."

The injured boy shifted to sit up a little more. Vin leaned forward to help. After Ezra had found a more comfortable spot, he said, "To start of with Vin, I remember. I remember everything."

"What do you mean when you say everything?"

"Everything, from the time I found my Mot...Maude dead to the time that defunct miscreant grabbed me to use as a punching bag. I mean everything, Vin."

Vin sat for a moment looking at this friend with sad eyes. He had caught several snatches of conversations the adults were having when they thought he was not around. He knew Everett had witness something but his mother's death? Vin asked, "Do your dreams have anything to do with this?"

Ezra winced, "For the most part, yes."

"Did you see her killed?" Vin inquired gently.

"No." replied Ezra. He looked away for a second, sighing before saying, "No but I found her. I suppose I should tell you the whole thing but before I do I also want to let you know that Everett is not my real name."

Vin smirked at his friend as he said, "Heck, I already knew that. I knew that the first time you told me."

"And pray tell how did you know that?"

"Just by looking and listening. Usually takes me hanging around someone a little while to get the feel of them but you was just like JD. I just knew instantly." stated Vin as he cocked his head to the side studying his friend. "Family always knows when something's not right. At least that's what my ma use to always say."

To say that Ezra was stunned would be putting it mildly. Vin considered him family just like JD? He felt as if someone had pierced his heart with joy. For one moment he though he would burst from happiness until his mother's voice reminded him that he was to be wary of things given freely. Nothing was free no matter what you heard or saw. Everyone was out for something, looking out for only themselves. Ezra studied Vin more intently as he argued with Maude's voice. Not Vin! These past several weeks he had gotten a chance to see the other two boys as they took care of each other...and him. Ezra knew a con when it was being pulled. Vin and JD couldn't lie worth a darn. Ezra knew honest people when he met them as he had moved around and was taught by the best crooks and liars in the business. He also knew that Vin's word was extremely important to him.

"So what's you real name?"

"I don't think it would be a good idea to tell you right now Vin. Not that I don't trust you," Ezra assured his friend quickly as he saw the flash of hurt. "It's just that you can't let something slip that you don't know. If the Sheriff or the FBI every thought that you might know something, they would be relentless in their pursuit to question you. I don't want to put you in that position. You knowing this much could be too dangerous if the wrong people found out. Does that make sense to you?"

"In wrong people, do you mean those who killed your mother?"


"Wouldn't it be better if you told Chris or the FBI so they can find these people before they find you?"

"I don't even know who they are or why they killed Mot...Maude and Mr. Ryan."

"Ryan? Whose Ryan?" queried Vin as he shifted in his seat.

"An associate of mother's who came to the house for a meeting. I don't know what it was about. Maude never confided in me about the nature of her business."

"Where were you then when know...happened?"

"I was in the house but I didn't see who the miscreants were," replied Ezra as he shifted on the bed. He was getting tired and his ribs were hurting again not to mention his arm. All this talking had worn him out. He yawned then said, "I'm getting a little tired, Vin."

"I'm sorry. Here I am rambling on and you need to rest. I'll go and help Nettie with supper while you get some more sleep. You'll need it when everyone gets home. Especially when JD gets back. He's been awfully worried,' said Vin as he stood up to leave. He helped Everett to get more settled on his bed before he walked to the door. Pausing at the door to look over at his friend, Vin stated, "I've been worried too. Sure am glad that you're here and on the mend."

Before he could turn to walk out the door, Ezra said, "I'm glad to be out to Vin. I've missed our nightly forages. I've even missed JD's chattering but I'll deny it if you tell anyone else.' Ezra's grin was interrupted by another yawn.

Vin smiled. It was unusually for his friend to admit how he felt to anyone much less that he missed him or her. Everett's eyes were closing in sleep as Vin walked out the door letting his friend have the last word as usually.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah slowly hung up the phone and looked worriedly at the Sheriff's closed door. The call had lasted only for a few minutes but it left him with a hollow feeling in his stomach. He didn't know how much more bad news Chris or Buck could take. Especially when Everett couldn't remember least anything to help the FBI. He quickly checked to see that JD was still sitting next to him. He smiled at the boy who had quit talking the minute the phone rang. His hopes were dashed that the child had not pickup on his frown when JD asked, "What's wrong, Josiah?"

"Oh, just some official business for Sheriff Larabee. Nothing for you to worry about." Not for the first time, Josiah wished that there were at least another deputy to sit at the phones while he reported his information to Chris. He wished Nathan or Raine or Mrs. Potter, someone he could trust, was there to watch the boy while he talked to Buck and Chris. The Lord must have heard his pray for who should walk through the front door but Nathan Jackson.

"Nathan!" shouted a happy JD as he jumped from his chair. A smile broke out at the boy's joyous greeting. Nathan opened the swing door then bent down to receive his hug from a grinning JD.

"Hello JD. What are you doing here?" queried the paramedic.

"JD," interrupted Josiah before the boy could get started. "Let me asked Nathan something first." Turning to his friend, he said, "Glad to see you. Could you watch JD for a minute? I just got a call that I need to let the Sheriff know about. It'll just be for a few minutes."

Now Nathan had known Josiah every since he had moved here. He could tell that his friend was a little stressed and worried. Nodding his head, Nathan said, "Sure. Hey, JD. You were going to tell me what you were doing in town?" Taking the child's hand, he guided him back to Josiah desk where he sat down and pulled the already talking boy into his lap.

Josiah walked through the door to Chris' office and shut it on the voice of Nathan telling JD to breathe. He found Buck sitting in the extra chair close to Larabee's desk. Both men looked up at his entrance. "Nathan's with JD so don't worry Buck."

Seeing the anxious look on Josiah's face, Chris asked, "What's wrong?"

"Just got a call from my friend at the FBI on some more information concerning Everett," stated the ex-profiler. "I had asked them to check into who might have wanted to commit them murders. You're not going to like it."

"I haven't like anything about the FBI for a long time now Josiah. Just tell us," said Chris.

"They suspect it had something to do with the Anderson mob."

"Never heard of him. Who's this Anderson character?" asked Buck.

"According to my FBI friend, he is some third rate criminal with aspirations of having his own mob. He's a real bad man who will kill anyone that gets in his way. The FBI have had him under surveillance for awhile."

"So if the FBI has been watching this guy, why didn't they pick him up after he murdered those people," inquired Buck as he sat back down.

"Apparently, the tail lost them. My contact says he suppose to say that he doesn't know how they figured this Anderson guy had anything to do with it," said Josiah. Buck and Chris both gave him a disbelieving look. The profiler smirked as he continued, "It doesn't take a genius to figure they have a man on the inside. According to my friend, they have been building a substantial case against this guy and his crew for awhile."

"Whew," breathed Buck as he shook his head. "No wonder they want to talk to Everett. It must be frustrating them to no end that he can't remember."

Josiah nodded his head in agreement. "The inside man must have heard or seen something to cause the belief that Anderson did this particular job, at least that's what my friend thinks. When the FBI heard about the slayings from their man, they descended on the crime scene shooing everyone away. Of course that looked suspicious to the locals which led to someone leaking information."

"From the locals or the FBI?" questioned a frowning Chris.

"At first they suspected the locals and still believe someone tipped the Anderson gang off. Now the FBI are beginning to wonder if they don't have one," replied Josiah.

"Damn it!" exclaimed Buck as he stood back up to pace. "If the feebies do have a leak, Anderson could already know about Everett and where he is. The kid could be in danger."

"Not just Everett but the others as well," sighed Josiah. He knew that he was about to impart some more bad news.

"What do you mean?" demanded Chris as he glared at his Deputy.

"Think about it a moment. When my contact said that there might be a leak, I asked him if they knew who their witness was. He said all they knew was that he was a child injured with no memory at Four Corners. No one but the hospital, a few FBI men and us know what Everett looks like. No one else does not the Anderson gang nor the FBI back east. There are no pictures of Everett except those photos I took; he isn't even on any list. They can't find any record of his birth, nothing. For all they know JD out there could be Everett."

Chris sucked in his breath. "Or Vin. So all three boys are in danger."

Buck looked at his old friend asking, "What we gonna do, Chris?"

A hard look came over Sheriff Chris Larabee's face as he met his best friend's eyes. In a deadly tone Chris said, "What every it takes to keep them three boys safe, Buck. What every it takes."

To be continued