(C&B Ranch)

by Jules

Disclaimer: Obviously, I don't own any of the characters of The Magnificent Seven, no matter how much I WISH I did. They belong to CBS & whatever the production company was (looked, couldn't find)! Eventually there may be a few which are my creations, or any other new characters you may see, I most likely will let you use them though! I don't own the horse's names either. I took them from other authors. Chaucer's name, I believe belongs to Kristen.
Rating: PG-15
Classification: AU, Drama, Angst, Hurt/Comfort, Comedy
Summary: Silent, 4-year-old Ezra is the only survivor of a brutal murder/suicide by a relative. He's taken in by Chris & Buck as a foster-child on their Ranch. Will he ever talk? Will he ever accept the new clan as his own family? Will Maude ever come for him?
Universe/Series: C&B Ranch [open as soon as I finish the first story, you may un-slash it if you wish, & make Chris and Buck just friends. In which case Nathan & Vin are Chris' adoptions, JD is Buck's. Yes, I HAVE thought this out if it were non-slash too. I am that thorough in my plans. If you want to use it, please just contact me for the parameters of the universe, since all the background information I have established won't be posted yet.]
Author's Notes: Just a warning, this is my first Mag7 fic, not to mention Little Ezra.
This will be a series of stories instead of chapters. It will center on Ezra Standish. He starts the series, at about the age of four (even he isn't sure exactly when his birthday is!). Ezra's entire past, even his name, is unknown by his new caregivers. The only thing they know about him, is that the boy doesn't speak. They aren't even sure he ever has. Ezra is the solitary survivor of a horrific murder/suicide of the family he was staying with in Denver. The state has placed him with foster parents, Chris Larabee & Buck Wilmington, whom together own a successful horse breeding/boarding stable called C&B Ranch, in the nearby small town of Four Corners. During the summer they run a camp for troubled foster children on part of the acreage of their ranch. The men are involved in a long-term, committed relationship, and have three adopted sons, Nathan, 16, Vin, 12, and JD, 9, whom have lived with them for 3(JD) - 6(Nathan) years.
Thank Yous: Big thanks to everyone who helped me with this fic. My betas, who ripped it to shreds (I mean TORE IT APART! LOL!) Then helped me put it together again, as this. I was reluctant to rewrite things, but in the end, of course, my beta was completely right. And thank you for the advice about Ezra's dog. I was really flip-flopping there. Oh! A big thanks to Angie for her offering to betaing, then being willing to help with my foster care information. She was kind enough to read it over, and make sure I didn't make any gross errors. She did all this while in the midst of working on HER Little Ezra fic, Making Connections. And of course, my bestest friend Jenn, who helped me with my cop lingo. I admit, I tuned it down a bit, but it wasn't understandable by the common man (or woman!).
Feedback: Please, I want replies, I know it sounds pathetic, but I live for feedback, good or bad! Thank you all sooooooooo much. I'm a college student with classes to write papers for and a research paper/argument on gay marriage due soon, so I don't have time to respond to every review individually. But know I love and appreciate each one I get. They are put into a folder and kept forever. I cherish every one, and take note of opinions and suggestions. Sometimes, I'll even take heed to them, and include them. I love to know how you guys like the fic, and what you like about it.

Story I

** Denver, Colorado **
** August **

Police cars, corner's vans, and media filled the once quiet suburban neighborhood. Newspaper reporters clamored for interviews, demanding to know what happened, while local TV stations sent out live updates. The CSI teams bagged evidence and took picture after picture of the crime scene, while officers worked to hold back morbidly curious onlookers.

Officer Rick Taylor, a 10-year veteran on the force, had never seen anything like the scene that greeted them in the house, and he prayed to God that he never would again. A father himself, Taylor was sickened to his core by the thought that someone could lash out so violently towards his own family. When the lead investigator had called for volunteers to search the property surrounding the moderate four-bedroom brick home, Taylor was quick to step forward, dragging his rookie partner, Jeff Michaels, outside with him. As he approached an area near a big tree, he heard a muffled yelp come from somewhere above his head. Bewildered, the officer looked up to see a tree house hidden in the branches. He heard another sound, this time it sounded like puppy barking and it was definitely coming from the tree house. A dog could not have gotten up there on his own.

"This is Officer Taylor," he spoke into his radio. "I've located a tree house in the rear left quadrant of the property with possible movement, I need backup and a ladder to proceed."

Within minutes, a ladder was provided and carefully propped in the opening. Officer Michaels secured the bottom as Taylor made his slow ascent. If anyone was in there, they'd know someone was coming up. Cautiously, Taylor stuck his head into the opening, only to have his jaw drop in surprise when he caught sight of a small form huddled in the far corner.

"There's a kid up here!" he gasped in shock.

"What?!" came the incredulous replies from the officers gathered below.

"A kid!" he repeated. "A small one, too. He's gotta be younger than Derek..." he whispered to himself.

Derek was Taylor's youngest son, who would be starting kindergarten in the fall.

"Is he ok?" Michaels called up worriedly. He came from a large family and was about to become a father himself, so he had a definite weak spot for kids.

"I can't tell. He's all curled up in a ball back in the corner. He's breathing, though." Taylor crouched low to enter the rest of the way into the wooden structure. The tree house creaked at his added weight, but held firmly.

He kneeled down next to the child and noticed for the first time the black eye that had been hidden by the shadows. He cursed to himself. The kid hadn't escaped unscathed. Taylor then took note of the boy's bare feet and the abnormal shape and obvious bruising of his small right foot. His stomach turned, someone or something had broken the toddler's foot. A small lump, now recognizable as a puppy, wiggled around inside the boy's shirt and another muffled bark emitted from the creature held in the boy's protective embrace.

Gently, Taylor laid a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Kid? Are you ok, son? Can you hear me?"

The small body gave a tiny gasp and he managed to roll his head a bit. The uninjured right eye fluttered.

"Hey, good, good." the cop sighed with relief, he'd been terrified the child was badly injured... of course it was still possible that he was and he just hadn't seen the wound yet. "Are you ok? Are you hurt anywhere besides your foot?"

The child struggled to lift his head, but it was as if that simple act took too much energy.

Taylor caught a glimpse of a nasty laceration and lump on the child's forehead and cringed at the thought of a head injury.

"We're going to need an ambulance here!" he called down to his partner. "He's got a pretty bad cut and a goose egg on his forehead, and there's no way this foot isn't broken."

"It's on the way; should be here in a few minutes," Michaels replied.

"I need to pick you up," Taylor told the boy, slowly reaching his arms out. "Is that okay?"

A hooded green eye stared at the officer for several tense moments while the child obviously tried to figure out what the officer was asking. Finally, after what seemed like forever, the child lifted up one arm, the other still firmly around the squirming puppy. Taylor breathed another sigh of relief and carefully gathered the slight child into his arms, securely placing one arm underneath both the boy's legs and holding him tightly to his body.

"We're coming down," he called to his partner, then slowly started backing out of the tree house.

A large number of police and other personnel had gathered around the tree, desperate to see the small miracle hidden there, a sole survivor of a brutal scene. The sight of the small child, arm wrapped around the officer's neck, lifted their heavy hearts, after having to document the bloody death of the two other young boys who had lived and died in this house. Killed by their father's hand. The question was, who was the child? He was in none of the family photos, and none of the bedrooms were full of toys and books appropriate for a child of his age. Who was he?

The awaited ambulance wove through the sea of reporters, backing onto the lawn as close to the gate to the backyard as it could get. The paramedics jumped from their rig and ran to the backyard with their supplies.

The paramedics quickly noted the probable broken foot, rapid pulse, head wound, and blood loss, and agreed that it was imperative to get the child to the hospital as soon as possible. They gently pried him from the protective embrace of his rescuer and settled him onto a backboard. The child's green eye began to close as emotional and physical shock tugged him into unconsciousness. Officer Taylor stepped forward to retrieve the puppy, but even unconscious, the little one would not release his grip on the animal. Pressed for time and having no desire to inadvertently cause further harm, both the boy and the dog were loaded into the ambulance. Lights flashing and siren wailing, the vehicle rushed its precious cargo to the hospital.


Mary Travis, a social worker for the Denver area, had no idea what to do with her newest charge. The child was going to need special care once out of the hospital. He'd need someplace where he could feel safe and the media wouldn't find him. There was only one place that fit her criteria. One family who, thankfully, was still certified and on the books as an option: the Larabee-Wilmington's.

If she was going to accomplish this goal, her first plan of attack was to have a face-to-face meeting with her two old friends. She called ahead to make sure the couple could meet with her and was pleased to hear they could have her over that very day. Once seated in their living room, she went to work.

Sighing, she twisted her fingers and glanced pleadingly at the two men, knowing the effect those carefully planned 'nervous' actions would have on the softhearted ranchers.

"I'm sorry to bother you, especially on such short notice, but I have a situation."

"It's no trouble seeing you, Mary. You know you're always welcome out here," Buck assured her warmly.

"What's goin' on?" Chris pressed, unsure as to what could have Mary in such a dither.

"Well the state has just added a new child to my caseload. He was found a couple days ago, hiding in the backyard of the home of the triple murder/suicide case in Denver. I'm sure you've seen it on the news." At the men's nods, she continued. "He apparently was somehow related to the family, but no one is quite sure how, nor do they have any clue where his parents are, who they are, or if they're even alive. Honestly, we don't even know the poor child's name," she admitted, looking down into her lap.

"Why the hell not?! Was he hurt?" Chris demanded; he had no patience for people who hurt children.

"Actually, he managed to escape with some bruises, a laceration on his head which caused a moderate concussion, and some broken bones in his right foot," Mary reported.

Buck was confused; he didn't think the kid should still be unconscious if that was the extent of his injuries. "Then why don't y'all know his name?"

"The reason we don't know anything, is because he hasn't made a sound since he was found. Not a single peep. We're not even sure he can talk. According to the doctors, though, there are absolutely no medical reasons as to why she shouldn't be able to speak. They suspect that this all stems from the psychological trauma he suffered in the incident."

"Damn," Chris muttered. He hated to hear stories of traumatized children. He and Buck ran a summer camp for foster children and every summer, they heard horror stories of what their campers had been through. Every year it made him grateful that they managed to save their three adopted sons before they'd been permanently affected by the overworked foster system.

"Poor kid," Buck lamented with sorrow. No child should ever be traumatized, especially not to the point where they won't, or can't speak.

"Yes. And he's so small," Mary told them, looking into their eyes plaintively. "He's three or four at the most, and he's got the palest green eyes I've ever seen. They seem to reach into you, checking to see if you're going to hurt him too."

Buck swallowed a lump in his throat at her description.

Chris, however, had his suspicions as to the reason for Mary's visit. "What's this got to do with us, Mary?"

Mary cursed inwardly; he caught on already. She had known he would, but it was a bit sooner than she'd anticipated. She really wanted the pitiable little boy to come here, though, so she wouldn't give up. She'd just move on to the next phase.

"You see, my problem is, he's being released from the hospital tomorrow and I have nowhere to place him. I just can't put him in a group home or anything like that; the psychologists say he needs a good, stable environment while he heals if he's to have any chance of recovering from the trauma. In addition, he needs special care for a while, especially during the first week out of the hospital. Someone squeezed his foot and crushed the bones. The orthopedist says he isn't to put any weight on it at all for at least a week."

"And..." Chris prompted, knowing what was coming but wanting her to actually say what she'd been leading up to.

"Technically you're still on the books as approved foster parents, even though Vin's adoption went through almost three years ago and you haven't taken anyone in for a while. But, you're still approved due to the home checks for the summer camp. I was hoping you might be willing to take him in. At least short term," she finished optimistically.

Chris was hesitant. "I don't...."

Buck, however, wasn't, and jumped in, interrupting his lover, "Of course we'd be willing!" He knew they had plenty of room for another child, and JD had been getting really self-reliant lately. Buck was missing having a little someone look up to him and depend on him.

Now that Mary had them at least considering the opportunity, she wanted to make sure they could really do it. It was her job to make sure the child was placed with people who could properly care for him and she took it seriously.

"Are you sure?" she questioned cautiously. "A preschooler is much different than a 6-year-old. They need help with almost everything: getting dressed, going to the bathroom, going to bed, getting into a car.... They need almost constant supervision. He would also need to be able to come to you in the middle of the night, which would mean less... privacy for the two of you," she warned with a pointed look. "And this is just for a normal 3 or 4 year old."

"Are you trying to talk us out of it now?" Chris challenged, thrown by her sudden warnings.

"No, not in the least. I just want to be sure the two of you know what you'd be getting yourself into," Mary told them honestly. "I don't want to get a phone call in a few days asking me to come pick him up because you weren't prepared for the responsibility and hard work of having a preschooler. I don't want to have to uproot the poor boy again and upset him even further," Mary shot back. She took her work seriously, and the well-being of her kids meant more to her than risking upsetting a friend.

Buck held up his hands in a placating gesture. "Calm down, you two. Mary, you're right. It's best we go into this knowing what to expect before we make any final decisions. It's an injured little boy's future we're dealing with, not some... some... puppy!"

Chris nodded his head in agreement with his lover's words. He sighed, "'m sorry Mar. You just kinda shocked me when you did that complete180. It was quite a change after all that work you did trying to make us want the kid. Go on with what you were sayin' 'bout him."

"Thank you. Well, as I said, he won't be able to walk around for at least a week, and you'll need to make sure he doesn't. Walking on his foot could misalign the bones again; possibly even cause permanent damage. You'll have to carry him everywhere. His silence complicates these matters though, as it means he'll be unable to get your attention or call for you if he needs help."

"Right," Chris agreed, beginning to understand the magnitude of the level of care the small boy would need, and just why Mary was being so careful about the placement.

Mary continued, "He'll be on prescription medications for a while, including pain medications which will make him sleepy. The psychologists also warned there's a good probability of him having nightmares. We're not sure how much of the murders he saw or heard, but we do know he, himself, was attacked. His entire former residence is now labeled a crime scene, so he doesn't have any clothing. On top of all this, the investigators haven't been able to find much information at all about him. No schoolwork, which isn't that surprising considering his probable age, no signed drawings, no documents about the child. The only evidence to show that the child even exists is a short note from a woman, believed to be his mother, thanking the wife of the home for agreeing to look after her 'darling boy'. Still, the boy was never mentioned by name and the note was unsigned. The note referred to some money sent along to supplement the family's income for the added cost of the boy, and possibly payment for taking care of him." She shook her head at the idea of paying a relative to care for her son for a long period of time. What kind of mother could give up her child for so long?

Buck interrupted her musing, "We can handle his meds. We've both been on pain meds at one time or another, and JD has Adderal to take daily. Clothes are easily taken care of, too."

"We'd have buy some," Chris warned. "None of the boys were that young when we got them. JD was kind of small for a six-year-old, but he was definitely bigger than a preschooler."

"Well, hopefully, they'll release some of his things soon so you wont have to buy so much," Mary told them. "And more importantly, so he'll have something familiar. I truly doubt any of the children's things will be taken in for evidence, unless, God forbid, it has blood on it."

Chris and Buck cringed at the reminder of the grisly murders.

"Are you two sure you want to do this?" Mary questioned one last time.

"We're positive," Buck immediately answered for the both of them.

Chris hesitated, then gave a short nod. "We've been talking about taking in another foster child for a while," he conceded. "Just never thought we'd get one this young."

"True, usually you get them after they'd been in the system a while and occasionally directly from the parents, but you two are wonderful with kids, including my own Billy, and not many foster parents are willing to take in a child who will be so much work."

The two men perked up at the mention of their godson.

"How is Billy?" Chris questioned. "He hasn't been out to the ranch lately."

"That is because Billy's been going to day camp this summer. He practically collapses as soon as he's had his supper," Mary gushed. "I never get to see him during the week, so I admit I've been keeping him home with me during the weekends, but I promise to bring him for a visit soon."

"Good," Chris said, smiling. It was always great to see their godson. He was always so cheerful, and he brightened up the whole ranch when he came around. The boys loved having someone younger to teach things to.

"We've all missed having the little guy around," Buck told her with giant grin.

"He'll be happy to hear that." Mary glanced at her watch. "Oh my!" she exclaimed, lurching to her feet and making her way towards the door. The two men followed. "I didn't realize the time. I have a home inspection today and if I don't get going, I won't be finished in time to get to the hospital before visiting hours are over."


"So, we'll see you tomorrow?" Chris asked as they reached Mary's car. He opened the driver's door, allowing her to slip inside and lower the window before gently closing it again.

"Yes, around 1pm I would think. Oh, and you might want to slowly introduce him to the boys. Meeting all you Larabee-Wilmingtons at once can be a bit daunting," she said with a fond smile. "Especially for a scared, medicated little boy."

"That's probably a good idea," Buck agreed. "And we should probably slowly familiarize him to Josiah. Big man like that scares full grown adults when they first set eyes on him." Buck chuckled, thinking of the large man with an even larger heart who acted as their camp director.

As peaceful as Josiah truly was, Chris and Buck had initially hired him because of his intimidating presence. It was perfect for keeping the troubled foster campers in line. The large man had once been an FBI profiler, but he'd burned out a decade before. He'd gone over the edge, using unnecessary force to apprehend a child rapist and murderer. These days however, the gentle giant worked as a school counselor for the small school district around Four Corners, a small ranching community about 30 miles from Denver. The district wasn't wealthy and as a result, they had one counselor who traveled from building to building. Josiah spent his summers working as the director and emotional counselor for the troubled youths their summer camp accommodated.

The summer camp program had ended a week earlier, so they no longer had those extra responsibilities on their plate, and Josiah was taking the few weeks left of summer vacation to actually sit back and relax. Of course, his idea of a relaxing vacation was to work sixteen hours a day fixing up his own house.

"Oh! I almost forgot!" Mary paused shifting her car back into park. "He has a puppy."

"What?!" The two men looked at her incredulously.

"The officers found him in a tree house, firmly holding onto a puppy the family had apparently gotten just a couple weeks before. He is very attached to her. The paramedics were unable to get him to let go of it, even when the boy was unconscious. They ended up having to bring the dog to the hospital with them. It won't grow to be a big dog or anything," she rushed to explain. "He's just very attached to it, hasn't let it out of his sight. You two won't mind another dog running around here, would you?"

Chris shook his head and sighed in exasperation. "No, no of course not. Bring the damn dog, too."

"Good." Mary flashed a brilliant smile. "I told him you wouldn't mind. He's written out a list of care instructions. The words weren't spelled quite right, but one of the nurses managed to get the gist of it and typed it up for him. I'll bring them both by tomorrow. Bye guys!"

With a final wave, she was off.

The men watched her car disappear down the drive, and then returned to their large, two-story, log home.

"Thanks for agreein' to this," Buck said sincerely, kissing his lover's forehead.

Chris shrugged. "You've been wantin' to take in another one for a while now. I'll admit, I've been hesitant, 'specially after what happened with Rafe and finally having to send him to that group home."

Buck hugged his companion. "I know how hard that was for you. But we had to do what was best for the other three boys. We can't save them all and he was one of 'em we just couldn't help. The fights at school and his talkin' back to us was one thing, but when he brought those drugs into the house for JD to find..." Buck shuddered at the memory. "He didn't care when I confronted him. Didn't care that JD was playin' with that junk. That was too much for me to take."

"I know. You were right." Chris squeezed back, then pulled away slightly. "I was more angry at myself than anyone. I really liked that boy, and I thought we could reach him. Show him that we could be his family if he'd have let us, and that we wanted him." Chris clenched his fists in Buck's shirt.

"I know. So did I." Buck put a comforting hand on Chris' shoulder, unwilling to take the chance that Chris would push him away again. His lover took their failure with Rafe personally and the loss was emotionally devastating for him, causing him to withdraw into himself.

"I know. I'm sorry for being such a bastard for so long after he was gone. I had no right to treat you that way, or to take it out on you physically like I did."

"I could take the punches. I knew that they weren't really about me, or us. That's why I didn't fight back. You needed a release. I knew once the anger left and you forgave yourself, you'd come back to us. And you did." Buck kissed the blond tenderly, showing him exactly why he never left.

"I don't rightly think I deserve you most of the time, Buck," Chris murmured against the bigger man's lips. "You're so forgiving. You've forgiven my sorry ass far more times than I've warranted... but I'm glad you have. I don't know what I'd do without you. I thought about what life might be like without you in it and it's just so... empty. I've always pushed everyone away, but you wouldn't go. Didn't matter what hateful things I said, you never left my side, and I thank God for that every single day."

"That's cause, sorry ass or not, I love you," Buck told him, giving him one more kiss. "Now, we've got work to do. The kids'll start straggling in soon and I've got dinner to make. We've got some big news to share with the kids tonight."

"Sure do. 'Cause of you're damn bleeding heart," Chris grumbled, pulling away.

Buck rolled his eyes, not buying it for a moment. "Oh please! Don't even try that with me. Mary had you hooked the moment she told you he'd been hurt. You just got all worried when you found out he was little guy and tried to push the inevitable."

Chris glared at Buck, which only cause the dark haired man to laugh as he walked into the kitchen. It was going to be in interesting night.

** 7 pm **

In a true Larabee-Wilmington clan fashion, the table was covered with a plethora of food. The boys were bottomless pits, not that Buck was any better most of the time. Tonight, however, Buck wasn't eating much. He and Chris kept exchanging glances from opposite ends of the long oak table. Finally, Chris gave a nod, causing Buck to sigh in relief, he couldn't hold it in any longer.

"Boys?" he tried, but was ignored. "Boys, we've got an announcement." Still nothing.

Chris shook his head in fond exasperation, then spoke. "Quiet." Though he'd not even raised his voice, the boys instantly went silent and gave him their undivided attention.

Buck sighed ruefully, but was just glad to have their sons' attention. "Guys, your dad and I have an announcement."

Nine-year-old JD wrinkled his nose. "An announcement? Like what? Are we going on vacation?" he asked around a mouth full of mashed potatoes while his eyes lit up with excitement. "Are we Papa? Like to Six Flags, or Disney Land?!"

Vin lightly smacked the back of his little brother's head. At twelve, he was too smart to put up with such foolish behavior. "'Course not, stupid. We just spent the last two months on vacation and it's too hot to go there now."

"Don't call your brother stupid," Chris reprimanded gently.

"Sorry Dad," Vin apologized, his head lowered in shame.

"It's not a vacation," Buck confirmed. "You see, Mary came out to the ranch today...."

"Mary was here?" JD questioned excitedly.

"Did she bring Billy?" Nathan asked. Though 16, he too enjoyed spending time with the younger boy, in limited amounts at least.

"Would you kids be quiet and let your Papa talk?" Chris growled, frustrated with how long the announcement was taking.

"Sorry," the boys chorused.

"It's ok. Thing is, Mary's got a new boy on her caseload, and she's asked your dad and me to take 'im in."

Silverware clattered to plates, and eyes flicked back and forth between their two fathers.

"A new kid? You serious?" Vin demanded.

Chris inwardly winced. The boys had also been hurt when they'd finally had to send Rafe away. Vin in particular had been affected. He'd withdrawn into himself for months before they got their son back. He really hoped they were doing the right thing for all of them.

"Completely," Chris confirmed. "But he's not like you guys were before you came here. For one thing, he's only three, or four. They're not quite sure. And he was hurt bad by the people he was staying with. They were killed, but he made it by hiding in the family's tree house."

The boys' jaws dropped.

"Mary says he ain't talkin', at all. Not a single word," Buck continued. "And his foot is broken, so he's gonna need your Dad and me to carry him around for a while, 'cause he can't put any weight on it."

"Wow, that sound's really serious," Nate, their budding doctor, commented.

"Yep. Mary said he's real scared too, and that she thought we would be the perfect family to take care of him, at least until they can find out if he still has some parents out there somewhere."

"We could do that..." Vin hedged, not sure if he liked the idea that the boy might have family of his own out there. He didn't know if he wanted to open himself to a new little 'brother' only to have him taken away as soon as his family was found.

"That's what we thought," Chris agreed. "There is one major issue though... they can't figure out what his name is. He ain't talkin', and there ain't anything in his old home to identify him."

JD wrinkled his nose. "He doesn't have a name?"

"Nope. Not one he's tellin', at least. But Mary will be bringin' him, and his puppy, to the ranch tomorrow 'round one."

"Puppy?!" younger boys asked at once, looking back and forth with large, eager eyes.

"Yes, puppy." Buck raised both hands to forestall the dozens of questions he knew the boys wanted to ask about the dog. "Mary says he hasn't let the dog out of his sight since they found him. But, it's his puppy, boys. Besides, don't you three have enough critters runnin' round this ranch? If I remember right, we got about five cats..."

"Eight," Chris corrected.

Buck's lips quirked in a smile, "Eight cats, two dogs, JD's got an iguana in his room, there's a family of owls up in the hayloft, and each one of you has your own horse."

The boys blushed. When he put it that way....

Chris smiled over the small heads towards his lover. Buck always had a unique way of making the boys realize when their heads were gettin' a bit too big.

"So you three will be need to be on your best behavior tomorrow. He's gonna be real shy and skittish. We don't want to scare him any more than he already is, you hear me?" Chris warned.


"Got it."

"We won't," JD promised.

Chris nodded his head. "Good."

"Oh, one more thing," Buck remembered. "Nathan, you're the only one with extra room. Do you mind if we put him there? Vin's room is the smallest, and as everybody knows, JD talks in his sleep. Do you mind him sleepin' in the bottom bunk in you room?"

Nathan shook his head. "No, 'course not."

"Thanks. If he's going to be sharing your room, we'll also have to rely on you to help keep an eye on him. He's gonna need help getting' to the bathroom and doin' pretty much everything else. Mary said his pain pills will be knocking him out most of the time, and since he's not talkin', we ain't gonna know when he needs help. In fact, we need all of you to help us keep an eye on him," Chris instructed, looking at each son individually.

JD nodded enthusiastically, thrilled to be included. "I can do that! I can play with him, too."

"Shouldn't be too hard," Nathan admitted. "He won't be moving around too much."

"Don't mind keeping him company none," Vin said seriously. "Don't seem like he'll be real noisy at least," he added with a smirk.

Chris rolled his eyes, while Vin's brothers' snickered. Buck just grinned at his life-mate, shaking his head. Those were his boys!


The next day came quickly, yet not quickly enough for the anxious family.

One o'clock in the afternoon found Buck Wilmington anxiously bouncing on his toes, craning his neck in an attempt to see farther down the road.

"Would you quit your bouncing?!" Chris growled for the third time in less than half an hour. Each time Buck would stop bouncing only to substitute it with pacing. Some minutes later, he'd think he spotted something down the road, stop pacing, and the bouncing would start up again. It was a vicious cycle, and it was beginning to drive Chris nuts.

Ten minutes later, Chris was just about to yell again when Buck stopped bouncing on his own.

"I see Mary's car!" he called out, his face beaming with excitement.

This news caused Chris to jump out of his seat and stride over to stand next to his lover. "'Bout damn time," he muttered, revealing his own pent up anticipation.

Buck grinned at Chris. He knew he hadn't been alone in his excitement, but getting his long-time partner to actually admit it was always a challenge.

"JD and Nathan are up in their rooms, Vin's in the study, practicing his reading," Chris reiterated, more from the desire to say something than from any real necessity to pinpoint the boys' locations.

They had worked out how to introduce their new addition to the family the night before, and had decided that introducing Vin first would be the best option. Their middle son's low-key nature would hopefully be seen as non-threatening, plus, the one o'clock arrival time coincided perfectly with Vin's summer study schedule. It would help the boys' first encounter seem happenstance, and not so obviously planned out. Or at least, that's what the adults were hoping.

Taking deep breaths, the two men braced themselves for what lay ahead, and walked out the door into the day's heat, ready to meet the newest member of their family.


Mary let her SUV roll to a stop near the front porch of the Larabee-Wilmington home. She looked back supportively at her groggy charge, who was just waking after having fallen asleep during the long ride from the hospital. He blinked sleepily at her from his car seat, rubbing his eyes with his little fist. Mary unbuckled herself, opened her door, and then gracefully slid out of her seat, unlocking the passenger doors on her way out. Closing her door, she waved to the two approaching men and walked around the car to the back passenger side.

"Hello boys. Sorry I'm a little later than expected, the nurses had a hard time letting this one go," she told them with a smile. "Hi sweetie," she spoke softly to the bleary-eyed tot as she leaned into the back of the SUV to unbuckle his belt. "Did you have a nice nap?"

The boy narrowed his eyes suspiciously at her, but that was the extent of his response.

With a practiced hand, Mary easily undid the complicated harness system holding the child in place. All the while, she spoke to the frightened child in a soothing tone. "The gentlemen behind me are my very good friends, Buck and Chris. I told you about them at the hospital, remember?" She didn't wait for a response. "You're going to be staying with them, at least for a little while."

Buck stepped up behind Mary, a wide grin splitting his face as he looked down at the little boy. He immediately fell in love with the child sleepily looking up at them, with his pale green eyes and sleep tousled strawberry blond curls. Inwardly, he cringed at the sight of the swollen, black left eye and stitched cut on his right forehead. Buck found his eyes locked with those of the child, captivated. He could now understand Mary's statement of the day before. The boy's gaze truly seemed to be examining him, judging whether he was safe or not. Buck wasn't quite sure, but he thought the boy might have found him trustworthy, because Buck thought he saw some of the tension in the tiny body release.

"Do you mind if Buck here picks you up?" Mary inquired softly. "He's lots stronger than I am, and I think it would be safer for you if he carried you." She laid a hand on Buck's bicep, giving it a teasing squeeze.

Buck gave the boy what he hoped was a reassuring smile. The child's eyes flickered back and forth between the two, finally settling on the tall man. Buck took this to be a sign of acquiescence, then gently reached in and gathered the small child into his strong arms. He was careful not to jostle the boy's injured leg, colorfully encased in a turquoise and blue fiberglass cast.

"We're mighty glad to be havin' you stay here with us," Buck greeted kindly. "Our boys are real eager to have another little brother round here. JD's all excited 'cause it means he ain't the youngest anymore."

Chris smiled softly at the sight of his big 'tough' partner, melting in the presence of the petite little boy. He could see why Mary was so protective of the boy; he looked fragile in every sense of the word. He found it impossible to understand how anyone could have harmed such an innocent looking child.

Mary was just pleased to see her young charge complacently resting in the arms of his new caregiver. She had half-feared the boy would panic upon meeting them due to the horrific actions of last man who'd been responsible for his care.

With tears of joy shining in her eyes, she turned to Chris. "Would you mind getting the pet crate out of the other side? One of the nurses at the hospital brought it in for the puppy. I also printed out some information about the specific breed from the Internet. One of the investigators managed to find its certificates of breeding. It's a purebred clumber spaniel, with apparently prize-winning parents," she informed him wryly.

Chris' eyebrows shot up. It sounded like a very expensive dog. All they'd ever had around the ranch were mutts and usually they'd just wandered onto the property and had no owners. Their current dogs weren't much, just a female mutt they'd named Mickey that had wandered in a few years before, and a boarder collie mix Vin and Nathan had picked out at the pound six months after Vin had come to stay with them, which the boys had ended up naming Ranger. The two dogs lived happily with the ranch's foremen in an onsite dwelling attached to the stables, built to ensure constant care for the horses. Chris had a feeling this dog was not the type to be kept out in a stable or barn.

Nodding his head, Chris circled the car and retrieved the medium-size plastic crate from the other back seat. He peered in through the metal door to find a small, fluffy, white puppy staring back at him, its head cocked in curiosity. It wore a brown, leather collar adorned with tags that jingled softly as the dog lost interest and went back to chewing on the small, rawhide bone it held between its front paws.

"There's some puppy food in the back, apparently it's on a specific diet from the vet. But everything else you need to know, he's written down for you," Mary told him as Chris rejoined Mary at the back of the car. At Chris' incredulous look, Mary explained, "His reading and writing skills seem to be very advanced for a child his age. The boy did a pretty good job."

Chris frowned, "Don't you have anything else to call him yet?"

Mary shook her head. "Nothing's been cleared up on that end, and I really don't want to give him a name that isn't his own. Officially, he's John Doe, as is protocol. I hate typing that as much as you hate hearing it, but we just haven't found anything. I'll leave it to you and Buck to come up with some sort of nickname to call him in the meantime," she instructed, opening up her trunk.

Though the notion that no one could figure out this kid's name disturbed him, Chris knew Mary was right and he and Buck would simply have to figure something out. With his free hand, Chris scooped up the bag of premium puppy food and went to join his husband and their new boy by the porch. Buck was sitting on the top step, the child cradled in his arms, murmuring softly into his ear.

Buck had just finished telling the little one all about the three boys he and Chris had adopted and the horse ranch they ran, when he glanced up and spotted Chris coming towards them. "And the blonde man walking over with what looks like your puppy and its food is my husband, Chris," he told the boy, jerking his head in the blonde's direction.

The tot's good eye darted over to look at the approaching figure. As Chris came to a stop next to them, he could feel himself being intensely scrutinized by the suddenly anxiety-filled bundle in Buck's arms. After several long moments with everyone on edge, the boy seemed to relax once more, calmly reaching out with one hand to stick his fingers in the opening of metal grill of the crate. A corner of the child's mouth flickered upwards when the puppy began to eagerly lick the tiny fingers. The two men thought they saw hints of a dimple on his cheek, but before they could be sure they had seen anything, the expression was gone and he'd pulled back his fingers.

"So, that's your puppy huh?" Buck questioned softly, giving the boy a subtle squeeze. "He's mighty cute."

The boy looked up quickly, a frown on his face, and shook his head no.

Buck's heart leapt at this first real sign of interaction with the boy, "No?" he asked, trying not to let his excitement show. "Not cute?" he teased.

The little boy scowled at him.

Chris smiled at the tot's response, catching on to what the boy was saying. "Oh, you mean he is really a she."

The small head turned to glance and Chris, then gave a perfunctory nod.

Mary's heart was pounding with joy. He was interacting with them! She'd just gotten all the paperwork out of the car and was close enough to witness the little 'conversation'. Clearing her throat of its lump, she just managed to make her voice sound normal when she spoke up. "That's right. And she's very cute for that matter, and sweet too."

The three turned to look at her and she smiled in return "Shall we go inside?" She gestured to the door. "It's very hot out here today."

Buck flashed her a grin. "Sure is! Day's like today makes me really glad somebody invented air conditioning."

Chris led the way, but paused as they reached the door and jerked his head at Mary. "Could you open the door? We seem to have our hands full."

Mary laughed cheerfully. She had managed to get the two to carry everything except her leather attaché case. "I'd be happy to!"

The four gratefully entered the house, their small charge closing his eyes blissfully at the nice, cool air. The cast on his leg was hot, especially in the summer heat. Plus the bright sun had made his constant headache pound with new intensity. Inside, it was much more comfortable.

Mary watched the pinched look on the boy's face fade away. That was another reason for her suggesting they go inside. She had noticed him squinting and how his face had contorted as if in pain the longer he was out in the sun. It was another problem of the child's silence. One had to watch him very closely for signs of discomfort, because he couldn't tell them. Plus, he seemed very reluctant to let anyone know how he truly felt. The nurses had an awful time trying to figure out when they needed to administer more pain medications because the boy seemingly refused to give any sign of it. It was only through careful observation of his pallor and subtle expressions that they had any clue what he was feeling. Mary made a mental note to inform her friends of what tells to watch for as soon as she had a chance.

She glanced down at her watch. The doctors had told her that he was due for another dose of pain medication at two, which was about 30 minutes away. She looked up and smiled at the small group before her. "Well, I see you three have gotten acquainted, but there's someone else you need to introduce Chris and Buck to, sweetie," she said, with a nod to the crate. She opened her attaché case and began to dig through the papers. "I know you worked hard on your list. Would you like me to give it to them?"

The boy held out his hand.

"Oh, you want to go over it with them?" she asked, pulling out the typed pages. The nurse who had typed it up for him had done a very nice job. She'd even put a large title on the document.

The men smiled down at the boy, who impatiently held the printed papers in his hand. The three adults sat down on the couch with the little boy and Buck in the middle. Buck had adjusted the boy so he was sitting on his lap now, instead of cradled in his arms. Tiny hands held out the paper so everyone could easily read it.

Molly's Care Instructions

"So, her name's Molly, huh? That's a nice name," Buck complimented.

"Actually," Mary spoke up, "her registered name is Molly Malone, but it just says Molly on her tags."

Chris read the first rule aloud.
"1. Molly is fed twice a day. Breakfast and dinner.
 Measure out
 1/2 a butter dish of puppy food, put in bowl.
 Get 1 cup of water, add to dish.
 Heat in microwave until food is soft.
 Do not feed Molly from table.
 If given any scraps, put into a dog dish on her mat, after dinner."

"That sounds like a very important rule," Buck stated solemnly, seeing the little boy stare at them expectantly, as if to make sure they understood. "We'll make sure everyone in the house knows it and follows it."

Chris nodded his agreement, then went on.
"2. Molly must be played with lots during the day.
 At least one hour of outside play.
 She must be given things to chew on, or she'll be bad."

"Stuff like her rawhide?" Buck asked, getting a nod of confirmation. "We'll see to it."

 "If not played with, she needs to be taken on a long walk."

Mary had read the information on Molly's breed, so she was able to explain why the rule was so necessary. "Clumber spaniels are very active when they're puppies. They need lots of activity to wear them out, but they calm down and become very sedate dogs when they get older. Also, they're chewers, so you'll need to make sure there are lots of things appropriate for her chew on."

Chris grimaced to himself as he read the next rule, a future expensive rule.
"3. Molly needs to be taken to the groomer's every 6-8 weeks.
 Her fur needs to be brushed weekly or whenever she gets into burrs or stuff."

Buck glanced into the crate, taking note of the dog's silky fur, and realized the necessity of the grooming.

"4. If Molly chews on your hand or scratches at the door, it probably means she needs to go out.
 She will not bark to let you know she needs to go potty.
 Any accidents that happen because you ignore her are your responsibility to clean up."

"That's a very important one," Mary told them, smirking. This was one of the reasons she wouldn't let Billy have a puppy. She did her duty cleaning up such things when Billy was in diapers. She wasn't about to clean it off her floor or pick it up from the back yard. Not without a three-foot-long handle, at least. A dog could wait until Billy was old enough to clean up after it himself.

"5. No yelling at or hitting Molly.
 It makes her have accidents."

"Submissive urination," Mary explained. "Clumber's are easily trained, but don't react well to 'heavy-handed discipline'," she explained, mainly for Chris's clarification. "They're really smart and eager to please, so they're easily trained, but they don't respond to harsh commands. They're really friendly and good with children, they're just wary around strangers. Anyway, Molly's pretty much house broken, as long as you pay attention to when she tells you she needs to go outside. Her ability to hold it for long periods of time isn't very good right now."

"Got it," both men proclaimed, knowing how important this was if they wanted a clean household. They returned their attention to their new charge.

"Well, those sound like some very good rules," Chris told the boy. "We'll make sure everyone follows them. In fact, we'll post this right up on the bulletin board, so everyone can see it."

"Now, how about we let Molly out of her cage, does that sound like a good idea to you?" Buck asked, giving the boy a gentle squeeze.

Green eyes lit up with excitement. The hospital, while reluctantly letting the puppy stay with him in his room, despite regulations, had made the puppy stay in the cage, except for when a kind nurse would take Molly on walks every couple hours to relieve herself.

Chris easily unhooked the latch on the crate, and watched as the puppy eagerly dashed out. Molly immediately jumped up onto Buck's leg, trying to climb him to get to her reaching boy. Chris lifted the puppy up on the couch with amusement, the white bundle of fur jumping right onto the preschooler, licking his face fervently, her entire body quivering with excitement. Small arms wrapped around the dog, burying hands into silky, white fur.

The three adults happily watched the joyful reunion, the two men very glad they'd agreed to take the small child and his puppy.

A large yawn escaped the boy, and the grown-ups realized they'd better move things along. Mary had warned the men their new charge would be sleeping a lot these first couple days. The medications on top of his body needing to heal itself, wore him out.

Chris lifted the puppy and set it on the floor, where it happily sat down, staring up at her human in adoration.

"Why don't we introduce you to our boys, now, buddy?" Chris suggested, brushing a blond curl off the boy's forehead.

The child stared at him apprehensively.

Buck made the decision for him, repositioning him into his arms once again to allow him to carry the boy with one arm, and stood up.

"How about I take you on a small tour first. Let you know the lay of the land," Buck suggested. "This here's the great room," Buck said, nodding to the enormous room they were currently in with high ceilings and log walls. Overstuffed couches and chairs were comfortably arranged about the room. Knick-knacks, horse paraphernalia, and cowboy gear were littered about, making it all look very warm and homey. "That's the main fireplace, and to the far left is the eating area. The kitchen shoots off of there, to the back, through that swinging door over there, and those shutters also open to the kitchen. We got lots of windows, cause we like to be able to see our land."

Chris shook his head at his lover's speech. He, too, was proud of their home, but only Buck would try to sell it to a toddler.

"The stairs over here lead up to the four bedrooms, three baths, and an attic above that," Buck continued. "Those doors along the wall near the stairs lead to a closet, the den, and the study. I think Vin is in the study. He should be in there now. Vin has dyslexia and has to spend a lot of time practicin' his reading, even in the summer, if he wants to stay on top of his studies." Buck explained as they walked over to a closed, heavy wooden door next to the massive split-log staircase. Buck knocked once, then opened the door with his free hand. "Vin? You in here?"

"Yeah Pops," a low, soft voice answered from across the room. "Just readin' some comics in peace. Finished practicin' a little while ago and decided to take advantage of the quiet."

A thin boy stood up from a long, dark red, leather couch positioned in front of a small fireplace, tossing a comic down on a nearby coffee table. The room was decorated nicely with a large double-sided oak desk, which accommodated two PC's, one on each side of the desk, with matching black lamps. Shelves of books lined the walls, interspaced by two bay windows with padded benches positioned beneath each. Leather and oak chairs graced both sides of the desk, and oversized brown leather chairs flanked the red couch.

The boy in the room, Vin, had golden brown hair, cut short, and brushed back off his tan face. He gazed over at his father and the small boy nestled in one of his arms. He hadn't seen a kid that small since he was still in foster care.

"Hey," he greeted the new arrival with a nod. "'m Vin, the second, well, third youngest now, in this place."

Pale green eyes stared back at him, well, a pale green eye, Vin noticed. The other eye was dark and almost swollen shut. Vin inwardly cringed at the familiar signs. He'd gotten a few of those himself before coming here.

"I'm just giving the kid here a little tour of our home," Buck told him.

A little puppy came scampering in the door behind him, sliding to a halt at Buck's feet, craning its head upwards.

Vin smirked. "Who's the little critter?"

Buck and the boy glanced downward, the sight causing the adult to chortle. "Well, that there would be the little pard's puppy, Molly. She's a purebred spaniel. Your dad's tacking up a list of rules about her onto the bulletin board. The little guy made them up for us."

"Hyper thing, ain't she?" Vin questioned as the puppy danced at their feet, begging for attention.

"Mary says she'll calm down when she gets older. Apparently, they're just really hyper when they're puppies. Oh, and they're chewers, so you might want to keep anything you hold dear in your room, with the door shut," Buck advised, giving a warning nod to Vin's comic and thinking of all the things the boys had cluttered about in the great room.

"I'll make sure everythin' gets put away," Vin promised, sticking his comic into his back pocket. "Mind if I join you on your tour?"

Father and son turned to their visitor who studied Vin for a moment, then shyly shook his head.

"That mean I can come?" the preteen asked softly.

The toddler turned pink, then nodded his head yes. The trio walked out of the study, Molly prancing along behind them.

Vin opened the next-door and led the way in to the combination den and entertainment room.

"This is where everyone congregates on Saturday mornings, rainy days, and during the winter." Buck swept his free arm out, showing off the large room, which had a fireplace exactly opposite to the one in the study. They shared a chimney.

The den/entertainment room was large, with a giant, flat screen TV, and home entertainment center at the far left end. A comfortable-looking, overstuffed green couch was positioned in front of the TV, with two oversize love seats perpendicular to each side of it. Immediately in front of the entrance, sat a beautiful pool table and a rack of pool cues hung on the wall near the door. The far wall had a large bay of windows, adorned with heavy drapes, which, when closed, could create the perfect movie theater environment. To the left of the fireplace was a mini bar area, with a fridge and cupboards filled with snacks and drinks. Alcoholic beverages were in a highest, locked cupboard on the adjacent wall. To the right of the fireplace, was a wall of shelves, filled with board games, cards, puzzles, and other quiet time activates. In front of the fireplace was a large, round poker table, which was accommodated the whole family for board games as well as the occasional impromptu poker game.

This room saw almost constant activity. It was only due to their new arrival that one or more of the boys weren't there at that moment.

Vin could tell the boy was a bit taken aback by the room. He'd had the same reaction when Chris had shown it to him the first time. It took ages for Vin to accept that his new parents really meant it when they said he could come in here any time he wanted and use what ever he wished, as long as he never touched the liquor. He'd been reluctant at first, but Nathan had taken him under his wing and brought him here to play games often in those first couple weeks. He'd also dragged Vin to the cozy room every Saturday to watch cartoons while they ate cereal on the couches. Buck would often stumble in around nine a.m. on those mornings, collapse on the couch next to them, and steal bites of cereal. Chris was always up by 6, though, already working in the stables, taking care of the horses, but sometimes he would join the group as well. Vin had slowly warmed up to the men, but eventually latched onto Chris's quiet nature, and taking pleasure in Buck's over-the-top exuberance.

Molly was eagerly exploring the whole room. There were so many new sights and smells. No one really noticed her until she got a big whiff of the ashes in the fireplace and began sneezing repeatedly. The noise had caused everyone to jump, then Buck and Vin to laugh once they realized what she'd done.

Vin scooped up the puppy and scratched her head. "That is just one of the reasons you shouldn't be playing around there," he scolded the dog gently.

"I think the necessity of a bath would be a bigger reason," Chris' voice sounded from the doorway. "White dogs and soot and ash do not mix," he told them, walking into the room and firmly closing the glass doors of the hearth.

Green eyes blinked tiredly at the blonde.

Chris' visage softened. "I think you better hurry with your tour or you're going to lose your audience."

Buck looked down and, upon seeing his sleepy little charge, had to agree.

"Mary is setting out the papers we're going to need to sign, and she told me he's going to need some pain meds in..." Chris glanced at the bar clock on the mantle, "fifteen minutes."

"Fifteen minutes," Buck repeated. "Got it."

Chris shook his head, lightly ruffled the strawberry blond curls, and then went back out to join Mary so she could tell him some of the necessary care instructions.

Buck turned to Vin. "I guess we'd better get this tour goin' again."

Vin smiled back softly, then led the way out of the den and up the staircase, Buck following close behind. Molly determinedly hopped up after them, stair by stair.

The second floor was arranged in an L-shape, with a large balcony all along, which overlooked the great room. The first door at the top of the stairs led to the attic, which mainly served as storage for the family's accumulated 'junk' and Christmas decorations. To the right of that was the door to the bathroom for Nathan's - and soon to be the little boy's - room. Next to that, was the large bedroom itself. Buck decided to save it for last. He looped around at the top of the stairs to the right, and went all the way down the hall to the other end of the balcony. JD's room.

"This door leads to our youngest adopted son's room, JD. He's nine and has lived with us since he was six. His momma got really sick, and picked Chris and me to adopt him when she passed on," Buck informed the boy before knocking on the door. "JD? It's me. I got someone here I'd like you to meet."

The heard an excited squeal and a crash, which caused Buck and Vin to wince.

"JD's a bit of a slob," Vin whispered. "Enter his room at yer own risk."

Buck gently cuffed the back of Vin's head. "He does the best he can. Not all of us are neat freaks like you and Nate."

Vin simply grinned up at his father. Neither noticed the small boy vigilantly watching this interaction with intense interest.

The door to the room was thrown open, revealing a short, black-haired, brown-eyed boy, panting, eyes bright with excitement. His room was painted red and white in honor of JD's favorite team, the Boston Red Socks. Posters of Boston sports teams and players decorated the walls, and a black, iron day bed was pushed up against the wall, a Red Socks comforter lying messily in the center of the bed.

"Hi! I'm JD! Dad and Papa said you were coming today, but I was starting to think you were never coming! Wow, you sure are small. Hey! Is that your dog? Papa said you had a puppy. What's its name? It is nice?" JD gushed in a single breath.

"JD, breathe," Buck instructed. "Sorry kiddo, he tends to ramble when he gets excited."

"Do not," JD protested.

Vin merely raised an eyebrow at his brother, a habit he'd picked up from his dad.

"To answer your questions, yes, that's his puppy. Her name is Molly, and she's very nice, just a little scared of strangers."

JD kneeled down and held out his hand, allowing Molly to sniff it. JD would later claim it was his loveable personality that caused Molly to immediately start licking his hand, Vin would steadfastly tell everyone that it was just because of the peanut butter and jelly still on JD's hands from lunch an hour earlier.

Buck sent JD back into his room to clean up whatever he'd knocked over, then continued on his tour.

Vin waved to the next-door. "This is just JD's and my bathroom. You and Nathan will share the one that's next to your room. It's got two sinks, too, and a big ol' tub." He stopped in front of the next door, opening it. "This here's my room. As you can see, I keep it pretty neat." Vin showed off his small, tan room, decorated in all things old west. He had an old fashioned quilt laid on his brass bed and pictures of horses decorated his walls. A lasso was tacked up over the head of the bed and several riding trophies adorned a self.

"Vin picked the smallest room because he wanted to make sure he'd always have his own room," Buck explained with a playful wink.

"I like my privacy," Vin said simply.

Buck smiled at his son, knowing the true reason behind the room selection. Vin's room was last on that length of wall. Perpendicular to it and furthest from the stairs, was the door to Buck and Chris's room.

Buck opened the door to his own bedroom, knowing how important it was to get the tot comfortable with every part of the home. "This here, is Chris and my room."

The room was at the corner of the house, allowing for windows on two walls, which they'd taken advantage of to give the men an unobstructed view of most of their property as well as the mountains a few miles in the distance. Heavy drapes allowed them to block out the light when they were sleeping, but the rest of the time, the beautiful room was lit with natural light. Their king-size bed had an ornate headboard made of tree branches woven together. Antique dressers complimented the bed, and a large TV sat in one corner. To the left of the entrance to the bedroom was a door that led into the men's shared walk-in closet. The door next to that led to their master bath, which featured two sinks, a whirlpool tub to sooth away aches and pains of ranch work, and aseparate, oversized shower.

"You can come in here anytime you need us, day or night, as long as the door is unlocked. Don't be scared of waking us up, because it's our job to take care of you and we won't get mad. Even if it's just because you had a bad dream, you can come and get one or both of us."

"They're dads, that's what they're supposed to do. It's in the handbook or something," Vin explained reassuringly. He was easily able to detect the younger boy's discomfort with the concept.

The boy stared at Vin suspiciously; evidently trying to discern the truth in the words, but the older boy just gazed back calmly, his face completely honest. Eventually, the child nodded his understanding.

Buck's heart nearly burst withthe pride he felt for his middle son. He'd been worried for several moments there, that their newest charge wasn't going to acceptthe fact that they were telling him the truth. Vin had managed to sense the boy's hesitations and, with a few simple words, convince him that it was ok. On top of which, he managed to get one of the preschooler's rare visible responses.

Buck closed the door to the master bedroom, boosting the small form in his arm up a bit from where he'd sipped lower.

"This next room will be the one you're going to share with our oldest son, Nathan. Nate has the largest bedroom in the house, next to the master bedroom, so we thought it would be best for you to share with him," Buck explained before opening the door.

Nate looked up from the anatomy book he was studying at his desk, to see one of his fathers, his brother, and what appeared to be the new kid. Nathan felt anger well up inside of him as he took stock of the visible injuries. The kid had definitely been knocked around.

The boy, meanwhile, was tiredly taking stock of what was to be his new room. The room was larger than both JD's and Vin's by several feet. It was painted a dark blue and was very neat. A set of bunk beds sat along the wall to the right, with the desk Nathan currently sat at right under the first large window at the back of the room. On the other half of the backwall was another, larger window with a long bench seat under it. A hefty bookshelf stood next to that window. The top shelf held text books and books on anatomy. The next held large novels. The next coupleof shelves held a plastic scull, art projects, and other odds and ends. Below that were elementary level books. Finally, on the bottom shelf rested a collection of children's books. On the far left wall was a set of dressers, and in the corner to the right of the door, a padded rocker-recliner and reading lamp.

It was a very nice room,one which any kid would be glad to have.

Nathan stood up and nervously wiped his hands on his pants. "Wow, I must have lost track of time." He looked directly at the child in his father's arm. "Hello, I'm Nathan, in case you don't already know. Dad said you're going to be sharing this room with me." The boy simply stared at him, causing Nathan to swallow nervously. "Um, I'll be takin' the top bunk, especially with your leg like it is. I put fresh sheets on the bed, and... well I guess that's it...." he floundered.

Buck grinned and gave his passenger a little bounce. "Nathan wants to be a doctor when he's older. He studies everything he can get his hands on about medicine. He's kind of the nursemaid of the house, taken care of everybody when they get sick. He's real good at it, too."

Nathan blushed. "I'm just a volunteer right now, but I'm going to work as an EMT through college to get some hands-on experience before I start med school."

The little boy simply sighed and wearily laid his head against the large man's chest, drained and aching from the long day.

From below, the group heard a couple yelps and looked down at Molly.

"Oh, sorry," Vin apologized with a smile, realizing the puppy was feeling ignored. He crouched down and scratched her behind the ears. "And this, Nate, is Molly. She'll be your other new roommate."

Nathan looked to his father in alarm, but Buck just scratched the back of his head sheepishly.

"Um, I might have forgotten to mention this to you... the kid here doesn't let Molly out of his sight if he can help it. Mary says she's pretty much house broken, as long as you let her out as soon as she says she has to go."

Nathan inwardly groaned at this news, but didn't let the expression on his face falter. Before anything else could be said, Chris came in, carrying a medicine cup and a glass of juice.

"Time for his meds," He stated, studying the youngster's face. Just like Mary had warned, the boy was looking peaked and his face looked pinched. "Hey buddy, the doctors sent this home to help with the pain. Every six hours we can give you more if you need it."

Buck took the cup and held it to his passenger's lips. "Bottoms up. The sooner this goes down, the sooner you start feeling better."

The boy sighed and wrinkled his nose in disgust, but opened his mouth to accept the medication. The cool, sweet apple juice wiped away all traces of the bitter medicine.

The child's heavy eyes lowered of their own volition, the late hour, new place, and meeting all the new people had sapped away his energy.

Buck laid the toddler down onto what was to become his bed and covered him with lightweight blankets. Molly was placed on the bed next to him and immediately a small hand searched her out and petted her soft silky fur. With a final sigh, the boy drifted off.

The Larabee-Wilmingtons' softly snuck out of the room. They shut the door gently behind them and agreed to come back to check on him every thirty minutes. Vin left to read his comics in his room, and the displaced Nathan decided to watch a movie in the den. Chris and Buck, however, still had paperwork to sign, and instructions on the boy's care to receive.


Mary walked them through the paperwork as quickly as she could. They were already familiar with everything, so it didn't take nearly as long is it did the first- or even second-time for parents.

"Alright, that's it. Everything is now official," Mary told them with a sigh of relief, putting away her files.

"Thank God," Buck moaned. "I was starting to get writer's cramp."

"That's 'cause you never do any paperwork," Chris ribbed.

"Hey, we both know if we want the paperwork done right, you'd best do it. I, on the other hand, handle all the face-to-face dealings. The work gets done and everyone stays happy that way."

"I'm not that bad dealing with people."

"Yes you are," Mary and Buck said as one.

Chris glared.

Mary ignored him and moved on to the other issues. "I covered most of the medical issues with Chris; his medication schedule, next doctor appointments, and such. You two must remember though, if he seems to be acting at all strangely, like he's dizzy, can't focus on things, orhas extreme sensitivity to light, you need to take him back to the hospital. The doctors were almost positive it was just a mild concussion, but it's better to be safe than sorry. If he's still herewhen he gets his cast off in six weeks, you'll need to see that he gets the appropriate physical therapy, but the physical therapist will cover that when the comes around. The stitches will be coming out soon, but until then, remember, you can't get them or his cast wet."

"We know Mary. We've dealt with broken limbs and stitches before."

"A reminder never hurts," she told them stubbornly.

"Ok, ok. Anything else?" Chris questioned.

"Um... not that I can think of right now, but I'll be calling for weekly updates, and if I manage to find anything else out about him, I promise to call as soon as I can. Oh, they have confirmed that the husbandof the family he'd been staying with had been high. Apparently, he was a recovered drug addict who'd quit about 15 years ago, before their first son was born. However, he must have slipped, because he failed a random drug test at his job a month ago and was immediately let go. The detectives speculate that he must have attacked the boy and his family in a drug educed rage, and once he came down and realized what he'd done, he killed himself." Mary shook her head sadly.

"Damn. I can't imagine what life must have been like for the poor kid in that house for the last couple months," Buck murmured.

"And they haven't figured out where the kid's mother is yet?" Chris questioned.

"No sign of her yet. The phone records of the last six months or so didn't show any calls from unusual numbers, but they're only just starting to go over the family's financial records. Maybe they'll get lucky and catch a break there," Mary suggested hopefully.

"I'm not sure if it would be a good or bad thing to find her. I mean, unless she's in hiding or something, there ain't no good reason to take off and not contact your son for months," Chris growled.

Mary nodded her head in agreement. "I know, but we don't know what her reasons might be. Speaking of sons, though, I've taken the rest of the day off, starting at two, so I have to be getting on my way. Billy and I are going to the aquarium. He wants to see the sharks."

"Sounds like a good time," Buck agreed.

"I hope so," Mary told them smiling. "Oh, here are the those printouts on Clumber spaniels. Browse through them if you want. Don't hesitate to call me if you need anything, you know the numbers."

"Sure do," Chris confirmed, standing up.

"I'll just see myself out. Tell our boy I'll be around to see him next week."

"Will do," Buck promised. "Bye Mary."

Mary turned to go, then spun around once again. "Oh! I almost forgot. I'll be leaving that car seat I brought him in on your front porch. You'll need it to drive him around in. As you know, it's state law that he be in one until he's four years old or 40 pounds, then he graduates to a booster seat until he's six. I know he's probably around four years old, but considering how small he is, I think the car seat will be more appropriate than a booster seat."

"Thank you for that Mary. We really appreciate it," Chris said sincerely, safety was always paramount in their home.

"It's my pleasure. His safety means as much to me as it does to you. Well, bye, guys. Good-bye, Nathan," she called softly into the den on her way past, mindful of the napping child at the top of the stairs.

Mary walked out the door, closing it firmly behind her, a smile on her face. She unloaded the car seat, and left it on the porch, right next to the door. This was a good thing, she thought to herself, a new start for the Larabee-Wilmington clan.

With a hopeful heart, Mary Travis headed back to Denver and back to her own son. She just prayed this would work out for everyone involved, and that they would manage to discover something about that little boy soon.


On to: What's In A Name?

If you enjoyed this story, we're sure that Jules would love to hear from you.

All information about Clumber spaniels was found on the net. At: Wikipedia, American Kennel Club, and the FAQ at

Please, I want replies, I know it sounds pathetic, but I live for feedback, good or bad! If you have any questions, or anything you'd like to point out, feel free to e-mail me! I always answer questions. And I'm more inclined to respond back to positive reviews, if there's a specific scene you enjoyed, or a line you loved. I like to know what people enjoyed about my writings. A writer is always improving himself or herself.

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