Cats And Dogs
(modern day AU)

by BML

Universe: Open AU -- Chris is a horse Ranch owner whose wife and son died in a fire that spread from their stables to the house. When Chris' old dog died, he went to the Animal shelter run by Josiah and found Vin, a mongrel, and wanted him immediately. The only catch was Ezra, a small chestnut coloured cat of some pure-breed or other (Chris doesn't care), who it seems Vin had a special kind of relationship with. Chris agrees to take Ezra as well even though he doesn't like Cats. That is where the adventure truly begins. Buck is the Sheriff of the town of Four Corners, JD is his new police puppy, Josiah runs the Animal shelter, and Nathan is the town vet (he also doubles as a makeshift doctor if called for).
Summary: Chris has had Vin and Ezra now for nearly three months, when a woman, Maude Standish, turns up searching for her missing prize winning cat, 'Angel Wings', and takes Ezra away from the ranch. Chris never expected to miss the irritating cat so much.
Warnings: Mentions of animal abuse. (I do not condone abuse to anyone, but especially animals and children and feel everyone should be aware of what goes on behind closed doors, it does no good to live in a protective bubble, but if it bothers you don't read.)
Author's Notes: I don't have any clue where this stemmed from, I have not watched nearly enough Mag 7 shows to know the characters well enough, I do like the fan fiction though, so I blame it for this. Lol. This is a very strange work of fiction, but I've decided to post it anyway, so forgive the insanity and enjoy the story. (I haven't got the voices right, unfortunately my attempts at American accents are hardly the greatest, so I never get the sounds right.) Oh, and I own nothing, just the insane idea.

Chapter 1

It was surprising, Chris mused, that he actually missed the cat. Before now, he would have said he was glad to be rid of it. Hell, when that woman had shown up, waving papers and pictures of her precious 'Angel Wings', her prise winning thoroughbred whatever he was cat, he had handed the cat over with no hesitation. Chris heaved a sigh. That wasn't all true. There had been some hesitation, something that made him actually read through all the papers, and look at all the pictures; just to make sure the cat there was in fact the one that had lived under his roof for almost three months now.

If he were to be truly honest, which he rarely was when it came to the cat, Chris would have to say that he hadn't really wanted to give Ezra to that woman, who had cooed and lavished such theatrical attention of the cat. But he could hardly argue with the papers that proved Ezra was this 'Angel Wings' the show cat, or the pictures.

The cat itself had surprised him; Ezra was never as docile as he had seen him the second the woman had taken him. He had been fighting Chris's hold the whole time, trying to run, but the second the woman touched him he had quietened, letting her do what she wanted. Allowing himself to be put into the cat box that sat in the boot of the flashy spots car the woman drove with no fuss at all. Hell, Ezra fought with him every time he even set the cat box down in his line of sight. Chris had figured he was just being stubborn, and he supposed he was right.

But it was those emerald eyes that stared at him just before the woman had closed the boot of the car that had him most confused. They seemed to be pleading with him, begging him to take him out of there, to take him back. Which Chris saw as odd given the cat's complacent reaction to the woman.

He was reading too much into this. He knew he was. The idiot cat had only been gone three days, and here he was trying to convince himself that it had been a mistake, thinking he had seen something in the cat's eyes. Impossible! He had imagined it. Ezra was probably living the high life, probably being pampered and getting ready for his next show.

Chris looked at Vin; the dog was lying in front of the fireplace, head resting on his too big paws, soulful blue eyes looking at him. Vin had taken to carrying round the cushion Ezra had started to lie on, as if to somehow be nearer his lost pack mate. Chris wished he could actually speak to the dog at times like this, Vin always looked as if he wanted to say something, but couldn't.

He and Vin had shared something of an instant connection. The moment he had locked eyes with the dog in the animal shelter he had known Vin was the dog for him and the ranch. Chris smiled ruefully, because of that connection he had somehow ended up with Ezra too.

Chris made his way down the corridor of dog's, looking at each one, weighing each one in his mind, hoping he would find a dog among them that he liked. His previous dog, a Labrador by the name of Easter, named by his now deceased son because they had got him at Easter, had died a few weeks ago and Chris needed a dog around the ranch.

There weren't many dogs in the shelter, ten at most, and so far none had caught his eye. There was a pup that could be trained he supposed, but he didn't want a pup, he wanted a dog. Pups took more time than he had available to him. All of the dogs would have to be trained to work with the horses, but he wanted one that he liked along with that.

With that thought, he came to the last kennel and looked the dog over. It looked to be a cross between a German Shepard and a wolf like dog, or possibly a husky. It had long sandy coloured fur, its body lean, a little on the thin side. Paws that seemed too big, slightly curling tail and striking blue eyes. It looked to be just out of puppy hood, a year, year and a half old at most. He surveyed it slowly, before catching it's eyes. Something clicked then in that second when their eyes met, and he knew this was the dog he would be taking home.

"Ahh, Good choice Chris."

Chris turned his head to look at Josiah. "What's his name?" he asked.

"We call him Vin, and he seems to like the name." Josiah smiled. "We found him a week ago, half starved. He's friendly enough once he gets to know you. Nathan gave him a look over, say's there's nothing wrong with him, no illnesses, complaints, injuries. Some evidence of a beating though. He shies away when you first try to get close to him." Josiah's tone had turned sad when he mentioned the beating, Chris knew the big man disliked any kind of harm being down to any creatures that could not defend themselves, animals and children being the ones he championed for the most.

"When can I take him?" Chris asked, squatting down to be eye level with the dog. He pressed his hand to the wire door of the pen and waited while Vin padded forward to sniff at it, allowing the dog to check if he was dangerous. It was just like getting a skittish horse to trust you.

When Josiah didn't answer immediately Chris looked up at him, an eyebrow raised in question.

Josiah clasped his hands in front if him for a moment before reaching up to rub his chin. "Well, brother, there's a little something I have to mention first before you think about taking the dog."

"What? I thought you said it was friendly."

"Oh, he is, and he seems to get on well with other animals. And... well, that's the thing I need to tell you. You see, when we found Vin here we also found a cat--"

Chris snorted. "I have no use for cats."

Josiah sighed. "I knew you would say that brother, but you see, Vin has taken a shine to the cat, and the cat to him. In fact, it's become almost impossible to keep them separate."

Chris frowned.

Josiah shrugged, smiling ruefully. "We don't know how he does it, but Ezra, that's the name we gave the cat, keeps unlocking his cage door and sneaking into the kennels and into Vin's pen."

Chris glanced in the pen, searching for any sign of the cat, but found none. "So?"

"Well, I'd prefer not to split them up, Vin gets rather restless without Ezra, and vice versa. I think they're probably from the same home, Vin probably believes Ezra to be part of his pack." Josiah explained.

Chris considered his friends words. "So your telling me if I want this dog I'll need to take the cat too?" he looked back at Vin, just to see if it would be worth it. Vin looked right back, tail wagging a little against the floor, head cocked to the side. He sighed. "Let's have a look at this cat then." he said, turning away from the pen towards Josiah.

Vin's short bark made him stop and turn back, in time to see a chestnut coloured cat stretch it's way out of the dog bed, flexing its claws before it padded over to sit beside the dog. It took one look at Chris, who could have sworn it had measured him up and found him lacking, before it ignored him completely, licking one paw and cleaning behind its ears.

Chris looked long and hard at the cat, but it appeared completely unruffled by his glare, Vin on the other hand seemed to take exception and barked again, clearly a warning, drawing Chris's eyes to him, the dog looked at him, shifting slightly until the cat was partially hidden behind one leg. Chris knew then that if he wanted the dog he would have to take the cat. He sighed again.

"Ok Josiah. I'll take the cat to. I suppose it could be useful, maybe get rid of the mice in the stable."

Josiah beamed at him. "Thank you brother! I knew you'd make the right choice." he left Chris at the pen looking at the two animals, wondering just what he had gotten himself in for.

And he had gotten himself into a lot. Ezra turned out to be the laziest cat in existence, all he did was sleep, eat, and sleep. Chris supposed he must have gone outside occasionally, maybe at night, as cats did tend to be nocturnal, but Chris had never seen the cat do anything other than sleep on the green quilted pillow Sarah had made when Adam had been born. Chris had been annoyed at first that Ezra had chosen that pillow to make his bed, but after a while, it had just become normal.

Dammit, he did miss the little bugger!

Chapter 2

Vin lay in front of the fire, his paws crossed, resting on the green cushion that Ezra had, until recently, occupied. Vin couldn't understand why Chris had let that woman take Ezra; it was obvious Ezra hadn't wanted to go. Ezra hadn't told him much about his owner, but Vin had gotten the impression that he didn't enjoy her company very much. The very fact that the cat claimed to have escaped her was evidence enough to Vin that Ezra shouldn't have been given back. It was at times like these he wished he could talk to Chris; tell him he was worried about Ezra.

Ezra had been part of Vin's pack for a long time now, over six months in hums terms he thought. He thought the cat funny, with his obsession with being clean, his continuous complaints. But even so, he liked the cat, enjoyed his company (when he wasn't complaining). After all, Ezra had helped him get away from his other owner, the man who had taken a stick to him more than once for nothing Vin could possibly think of.

Vin missed Ezra, missed the way he was always riling Chris up be doing something the man didn't like, like pretending to scratch the furniture, or deliberately walking all over him when he was sitting on the couch, or going up on the surfaces, or blocking the view of the TV, or just sleeping in Chris's favourite spot. Vin had been afraid the first few times. He had seen humans angry before, knew humans could and would hurt them if they did something that displeased them. He had tensed the first few times when he saw Chris becoming angry at the cat. But when Chris did nothing more than push him aside, lift him to the floor, or yell at him, Vin had started to relax.

Vin didn't want to hurt his new human, but he wouldn't let Chris hurt Ezra like he had been hurt.

Heaving a mournful sigh Vin settled his head comfortable on his folded paws, looking at Chris. He knew the human missed Ezra to. He wondered where the cat was now, if he was ok. If he would be able to escape again. He could remember clearly when he had first met the wily cat.

'You know, sitting there looking depressed is hardly going to help your situation, now is it?'

Vin looked up at the sound of the voice, it wasn't often animals came to the junkyard, and even if they did, most didn't stop to talk to him. He searched for the owner of the voice, and was surprised to find it belonged to a chestnut furred, emerald-eyed cat, that was perched daintily on the top of the chain link fence that circled the yard. 'What?' he asked, cocking his head to the side, eyes watching the cat's tail flick from side to side.

'Why don't you emancipate yourself?' the cat asked instead.

Vin blinked, confused by the odd sounding words, they were not words his owner had ever used. 'what?'

The cat sighed dramatically, leaping gracefully from the fence to land with a soft thump on the ground beside the big dog. 'Why don't you just leave.' he translated.


The cat made a disgusted face. 'Does your vocabulary only extend as far as repeating my last words and 'What?'. it is a complete waste of intelligence, which I had hoped you possessed. But I suppose, your being of the canine persuasion would greatly diminish any such intelligence. Where I not in need of a bigger creature to accompany me I dare say I would not have stopped." the cat sighed again. "Well, it cannot be helped it seems." he started to move away.

Vin blinked again at the torrent of words, before it hit him that the cat was leaving. Vin didn't want him to leave, he had been alone for a long time now. Not even his owner had much time for him nowadays except to yell at him and take a stick to him. 'Wait!' he yipped, pouncing forwards. 'Don't leave. What did you mean, why don't I just leave?'

The cat turned back, a calculating look in his eye. 'Just that. It is obvious that your master does not treat you well, so why do you stay?'

Vin considered this for a minute. 'He's my owner, I can't leave him.'

'Why not?' the cat persisted. 'if my owner, if I had one, which I do not and never shall, treated me as your master does you I would have emancipated myself a long time ago.'

Vin looked at the cat, he didn't look like any street cat he had ever seen, didn't act like one either. So Vin guessed he was lying about not having an owner. However, he did think that the rest was true; the cat had probably left his owner.

'I have a proposition for you.' the cat interrupted his thoughts.

'What's that?' Vin asked.

The cat rolled his eyes at him, sitting down and beginning to clean his ears slowly. 'I have an offer for you, a trade of sorts.'

'Yeah? What?' Vin asked, suspicious.

'I shall release you from this prison, and from your master, if you agree to accompany me through some of the rougher territories of this great city.' the cat told him.

'Ya want me to go with ya through the city so ya won't get attacked by nothing?' Vin guessed. The cat nodded. 'But ya can't let me out, my owner'll get mad.'

The cat looked at him, considering. 'The man beats you, hurts you, calls you names, and yet you wish to remain here?' he inquired quietly. 'there are many humans out there who would take much better care of you than the man here, who would not beat you, or starve you. Would it not be better to seek out such people, to find a loving and caring home where you can be unafraid?'

That was what got Vin, he found himself picturing it, maybe somewhere in the country, surrounded by animals, a nice warm fire to lie beside, like he could remember from when he was a young pup. He would like that. 'And ya'd help me find this family?'

The cat drew himself up straight, preening slightly. 'But of course.'

Vin trusted he would. 'All right then. How so we get out?'

He had been amazed by Ezra's ability to unlock the gate and let him out. They had travelled together after that, through the city and out here to the country, until they were caught by Josiah. Vin was glad they had been, because they had then come to live with Chris, who had treated them well. But now Ezra was gone, and he missed his friend, his pack mate.

Chapter 3

Buck arrived up a week after Ezra had been taken, brining his puppy along with him so he could work off some of that boundless energy. He was surprised to find Vin laying on the porch of the house, looking rather depressed, the dog was always on the move, not in the hyperactive way of JD, but he never just lay there, watching, like he was waiting for something.

"Hey Chris!" Buck called, seeing his friend in the corral with the horses. He left JD to make his own fun. The puppy loved playing with Vin and Ezra. Well, he supposed he would just have to make do with Vin now seeing as Ezra had been taken by his real owner.

"Buck." Chris called back, raising a hand in greeting.

"Vin still depressed over losing the cat?" Buck questioned.

Chris glanced towards the house, where JD was bouncing around Vin, trying to spur the older dog into some kind of action. "He's been like that all week. He'll come out of it eventually."

"Yeah, not to worry pard, he'll forget all about Ezra in a while." Buck looked around. "Bet you're glad to get rid of him though. You never did like cats. I remember Sarah's used to drive you round the bend."

Chris gave a half smile. "Yeah, it did." he didn't mention the fact that he too missed the cat, still, even after a week.

"You need any help here?" Buck asked.

"Sure, grab a lead rope, gonna try and break Star over there, could use the help."

"Sure thing Pard, be back in a minute."

'Hey Vin, wanna play? Is Ezra here? I've gotten faster; I bet I could catch him now if I tried. Do you think I could? Vin, don't you want to play? Do you wanna go exploring? See the horses? Vin?' JD yapped breathlessly, bouncing merrily.

'Ezra's not here JD,' Vin told him quietly.

JD stopped bouncing and looked at his fried for a long moment. 'Where is he?'

'Gone, his old owner came and took him away.'

'But why? Doesn't Chris own you now?'

Vin didn't answer, but he did get to his feet.

'Vin, is something wrong?' JD was being trained to notice when something was wrong with things. It was all part of his being a police dog.

Vin shook his head slowly. 'I don't know. I just have a bad feeling is all.'

'About Ezra?' JD asked, cocking his head to the side in curiosity.

'Yeah.' Vin sighed, looking at the pup. 'Come on, let's go see the horses.'

'Oh Yeah!' JD enthused, bouncing again, racing ahead of Vin, running back to him and running ahead again, yapping happily, his worry melting as he played, surely Vin must be wrong, Ezra was fine.

Chapter 4

It was two weeks later that Chris found the bag he forgotten held the cat collar he had gotten for Ezra. He had gone into town a few days before Ezra had been taken to pick up the collars and licences for the two animals. He had put it off for too long already. He had put Vin's on as soon as he got back to the truck, the dog having come into the town with him. Ezra's remained forgotten; it had slipped his mind when they got home.

He couldn't make himself throw it away though, even if it would have been the easiest thing to do. With a sigh he looked over to where the cat's bowls for food and water still sat, waiting for Ezra to come back so they could be filled again. He put the collar back in the bag and put it in the bottom drawer in the kitchen cabinets, a place to forget about it.

When he turned he found Vin watching him, they shared a look. "I know Vin, I miss the little devil too."

Chapter 5

Almost a week later found Chris and Vin in the city for some supplied needed for the ranch that they couldn't get in Four Corners. The shopping trip had been successful; everything was now loaded up in the truck and waiting to transported home. Chris had decided it would probably be best if he walked Vin a little before they started the long journey back to Four Corners.

That was how they came to be in a fair uptown residential area. Chris had been looking at the houses and their elaborate gardens and shaking his head in amusement. People with money never ceased to amaze him. Thus far, Vin had been walking beside him, not pulling at his lease, though Chris knew he hated it. All that changed suddenly, and Vin ripped the lease from Chris' relaxed grip and took off hell for leather towards a house hidden behind a row of bushes, granting privacy to the owners. With a curse, Chris followed.

Vin had been shocked when he had caught the scent; he had frozen for a moment, considering his options, before deciding that he couldn't let the chance pass. Not if there was any hope at all that he was right. So he took off, surprised when he felt no resistance, but not really caring. He dived through a hedge, bounding up the immaculate lawn until he reached the house. He paused for a moment, hoping the scent would return. He sniffed the air for a few more seconds before bounding round to the back of the house, jumping up at the small window so he could see in. the window opened at the top, too small for a person for fit through, and grilled, that was where the scent was coming from. In there.

He peered into the room, trying to make out what the objects were in the shadows. Finally, he spotted the moving shape, and with a joyful yelp, he cried. 'Ezra!'

He watched in some concern as the cat shaped shadow moved, almost teetering on his feet. 'Vin?' came the small response, paws pressed against the wire mesh of the cage he was in, claws curling round the metal.

"Vin!" Chris said, his tone scolding as he reached the dog at the window. "What do you think your doing?" he picked up the end of the lease and tugged to get Vin to come with him. Vin didn't budge. Just looked at him, then back at the window, and back at him. "You want me to look inside?" Vin nodded. Chris stifled a sigh. "If I do will you come with me?" Vin seemed to consider this, but the dog nodded again.

Chris berated himself inwardly, having conversations with a dog. But he looked anyway, letting his eyes adjust a little until he could make out what was in the small room. It appeared to be an empty room at first, but upon closer inspection he noticed the wire mesh cage on the far side of the room. His eyes went wide suddenly when he heard a faint 'meow', a pitiful sound, and finally registered the smell wafting through the grilled window.

It smelled like a litter tray that had been left for far too long. He looked in again, closer this time, trying to see if the cat in the cage had a way out, but couldn't see any. That pitiful 'meow' sounded again, and he could see the cat pressing itself against the wire, almost like it was trying to get out, to com to the window. To convince them to help.

It went straight to Chris's heart, it was too shadowy to see what the cat looked like, but he would hate to think what would happen if he left. If someone found Ezra in this pitiful state he would hope they wouldn't just leave. Chris pulled out his cell phone and called the operator for the cities local animal protection services. Leaving Vin for the moment, he went round the front to give them the address and asked them to hurry. Agreeing to wait until they arrived.

Almost an hour later a van pulled up, a young woman and a man exiting and joining Chris in the sidewalk outside the house. Vin pacing restlessly on the end of his lead in front of Chris. Chris lead the two animal service people round the back of the house to show them the cat, and was glad when they agreed with him that getting the cat out was a priority. They thanked Chris after getting his story and told him he could leave if he wanted.

That was exactly what Chris was intending to do, but Vin refused, sitting down at the porch of the house and not budging an inch, no matter what Chris said, did or threatened. He just received a look. Finally he sighed and waited. Watch animal services ring the bell a number of times and getting no reply before going to speak with the neighbours, who informed them that the owner of the house had been away on holiday for about a week and wasn't expected back for another ten days at least. A few phone calls later and they had permission to enter the house and save the cat from what was most likely going to be certain death.

Chris waited until the woman emerged from the house carrying the cat, it as wrapped in a towel that hid it from view. "There, now you know it's going to be fine. Can we go now?" he asked the dog.

Vin looked at him again, not believing Chris hadn't figured it out. He got to his feet and pulled Chris towards the woman and the cat. Chris heaved a sigh.

"Excuse me Ma'am, but Vin would like to see the cat."

The woman looked at him in confusion, and Vin, but seeing what looked like an earnest expression on the dogs face she said. "Will he hurt it?"

Chris shook his head. "No, Vin gets one surprisingly well with cats. We had one for a while. I know it sounds insane, but he won't let me leave until he's seen it."

The woman smiled. "Well, I suppose he did help save its life, poor thing was living in a cage with barely enough room to fit the litter tray, basket and food and water bowl. I'm surprised the poor thing lasted as long as it did." she unwrapped the towel a bit, allowing Vin and Chris to see the small cat properly.

Chris froze, before shaking himself. "No..." he murmured. "Can't be." there must be dozens of chestnut cats. He looked at Vin, who was staring at him eagerly, urging him to realise the truth. Chris reached out, gently stroking the little ear. Two big emerald eyes opened and looked at him. "Good God." he breathed.

"Sir?" the woman asked.

"That's my cat." he said, hardly loud enough to be heard.

"Sir?" the woman asked again, having heard the words, but not understanding them. "Your cat? But you told us you didn't live here."

Chris looked at her. "I don't. four months ago, I found Vin and Ezra at our Animal Shelter in Four Corners, a month ago a woman came, claiming to be Ezra's real owner; she had papers, pictures of him at shows and the like. Couldn't fight that, had to give him back. Didn't know he was here, didn't know what she'd done to him. But that's my cat." he told her, it was very obvious from the growing fury in his eyes that he was telling the truth.

"We'll have to take him with us to be checked by the vet, but your welcome to come to the shelter with us, we should be about to give him back to you then. If you still want him."

Vin barked at the idea that they didn't.

"Oh, we want him all right." Chris echoed.

Chapter 6

Chris drove carefully back to Four Corners, keeping one eyes in the rear-view mirror that was angled to the backseat, where Vin was curled around a sleeping Ezra. The vet at the animal centre had checked the cat over carefully, and Chris was glad to hear that there were no broken bones or other injuries, but the cat was weak from lack of food, and dehydrated. He had a list of things he would have to do to make sure Ezra got well again. He'd be making a trip to Nathan tomorrow though, just to be absolutely sure there was nothing more serious he had to worry about.

Pulling up into the ranches driveway, he pulled the car to a stop just beside the house. He got out, opened the back door, and carefully lifted Ezra out, though awkward he was glad he hadn't used a cat box, he'd been trapped in small cages for too long already. Ezra mewled a little but settled quickly. Closing the car door after Vin got out he made his way into the house, Vin slinking ahead of him. When he reached the living room he found Vin sitting beside the couch, having already put the green quilted cushion on the middle of the couch, leaving enough room for Chris on one side, and Vin on the other. Chris carefully set Ezra down on the cushion, smoothing down the ruffled fur before going back outside to unload the truck. Vin climbed onto the couch and curled up, watching Ezra sleep.

When the unloading was done, and the horses seen to, Chris returned inside, stopping in the kitchen to fill Ezra's bowls, which still hadn't been moved, and taking the into the living room. Normally he would never think of having the animal's food in there, but this was a one-time thing, just until Ezra was strong enough. He set the bowls on the floor beside the couch and sat down, reaching over to scratch Vin's ears, letting him know he had done a very good thing today without saying the words.

He turned on the television, muting the volume and just watching the pictures. It was stupid, but he didn't want to leave Ezra on his own tonight.

Vin remained awake, Chris had dozed off at an awkward angle, one he would probably feel in the morning, but Vin had stayed awake, not taking his eyes off Ezra, watching the slow rise and fall of his thin chest. He was immensely glad that Ezra was back with them, and saddened by what had happened. How could his owner have just left him like that? Didn't she care that he might have died? If they hadn't have been there today he might have done.

Vin noticed the shift in breathing almost immediately, noting the slight hitch of breath as Ezra became aware that he was somewhere else suddenly. 'Ezra?' he asked, nudging the small body with his nose lightly, hoping to offer some comfort.

'Vin?' came the small reply, almost a whisper.

'Yup.' Vin nudged him again. 'You ok?'

'm'fine' Ezra mumbled slowly.

"Hey Ez, how're feeling?" Chris asked softly, having woken up at the first small mewl of the cat. He reached out slowly, he rarely touched Ezra, the cat didn't seem to appreciate it at all when he was awake.

Ezra's eyes opened all the way and the cat was on his feet in an instant, tumbling off the couch and scrabbling away towards the bookshelf in the corner of the room, crawling behind it, all the time letting out tiny cries. 'No... Chris... No... saw me there... nonononononono... won't want me don't want me not good enough... chris... Vin..." the last two were drawn out mewls of pain and agony, and both man and dogs hearts broke at the sound, though only one could understand the words.

'Ezra...' Vin tried, creeping forward to the bookcase. 'Ezra its ok. We got you back safe, you're safe. Chris will look after you. Don't worry.'

'Won't want me not good enough sent me away doesn't want me doesn't need me sent me away sent me away to her didn't want to go had to go didn't want to... Viinnn...' Vin could see the cat shuddering, the starvation, the drugs the vet had given him, were having a bad effect on him, and there was nothing Vin could do. The dog sat up suddenly, or was there? With that thought, he ran to the kitchen.

Chris didn't bother wondering what Vin was up to; right now getting Ezra out from behind the bookcase was the most important thing. "Ezra, Ez, come one, come out now." he called, gentling his voice, bottling up the anger he felt towards the woman who had done this to his cat.

'Can't!' the cat mewled, 'you'll send me away; don't want to go back...'

Chris bit his lip, wondering what to do; he sat back on his ankles and looked at the shivering shape of the chestnut cat. He turned his head when Vin head butted his arm, to find him holding the bag that still held Ezra's collar and licence. "Vin?" he asked.

Vin looked at him as he took the bag, and nodded.

"You think this will work?" Chris asked.

Vin nodded again.

Chris sighed. He could only hope. He pulled the green felt collar out of the bag, the little paw shaped licence with Ezra's name and Chris's address dangling from it. "Ezra, come on out of there." he said, holding the collar out, not sure what to do.

'Ezra, come on, Chris has to put your collar on.' Vin told the still shaking cat.

'Collar?' Ezra breathed, voice hitching.

'Yup, one just like mine.' Vin said.

Chapter 7

Ezra looked at the collar held in Chris's hand. He remembered the day Chris and Vin had returned from a trip into town, Vin sporting a band new blue collar, a little silver disk telling his name to the world and who he belonged to. Ezra had known then that Vin had found his human, and that that human wanted Vin just as much. It had scared Ezra how jealous he got because of that.

He didn't want to be owned, not when said owners normally ignore and forgot about you. Ezra knew he annoyed Chris, at first it had been to test the waters, despite what he told himself he had grown to care for Vin a great deal, and didn't want him to have an owner like his last, so he had pushed the limits to see what Chris would do. Sure there was yelling, but not once had Chris raised a hand to either of them, or withheld food. After a while Ezra had just annoyed Chris because it made for interesting moments, seeing just how fast he could get Chris to yell and get mad. It amused him.

He supposed he should have seen it coming, when Maude showed up that Chris would be glad to be rid of the constant annoyance that he was to the man. But he had hoped that maybe Chris had wanted to keep him. But the fact that Vin got a collar, and the fact that he had not--not that he wanted one--had highlighted the differences in Chris's opinions of them. And then giving him to Maude.

The trip to the city he had spent in contemplation, wondering at everything that had happened, he had thought Chris had started to at least get used to having him around, the man did sometimes absently scratch his ears (not that he liked it at all, it was undignified and fit only for dogs), and he did let him get away with sleeping on that green cushion, even though he didn't like it. But obviously, Ezra had been wrong; Chris didn't want him around at all.

He knew better than to make a fuss when Maude had left him in the cat box overnight when they got back to her big house, she would just ignore him for longer if he made a fuss. He new that. But he didn't like the cat box, he could only see in one direction, he didn't know if someone was going to kick it, if someone was going to lift it, nothing, and he hated it.

The next day he had found himself in the small back room Maude normally kept him in, it was a spacious enough room for a cat, but he didn't like it either, he never had. But all he had to do was bide his time until she went way again, he could escape then, like he had last time. He had learnt how to open doors fairly quickly, and undo latches. He was an extremely intelligent cat.

What he hadn't expect was for Maude to be so angry that he had run away last time to take extra precautions this time. She had bought a small dogs cage, just big enough for his basket, litter tray his bowl of food, only half full at any time because she was convinced he would get fat and ugly and not win her anymore shows, and his bowl of water. She had bolted the door and twisted wire round the bars of the door so he couldn't escape this time.

The first two weeks were ok. She had fed him, changed his litter box and let him roam the small room for small periods of time. He was still biding his time. He would escape, he just needed the chance. The third week was different; he'd been left on his own, trapped in that small cage for three days without her coming to see to his needs. The next three days went the way of the first two weeks. Then she had left him again, trapped in the cage, for such a long time. There hadn't been enough food in his bowl to last him more than three days, and that was only if he ate very little. The water was a little better, but even that didn't last more than six. His litter tray was overused, and he couldn't get out of the cage and away. He couldn't understand where Maude had gone, why she had left him. Was he being punished for something? Normally if she left to go somewhere, she would at least talk about it, and ask someone else to look in on him. But not this time.

Seeing Vin at the window, he had been sure it was a dream. When Chris had appeared, he figured it was a nightmare. He was going to watch the man he had faintly hoped wanted to keep him walk away and leave him in this torture chamber. What had happened after that was a blur of noise and colour. Until he had woken up here, at the ranch, with Vin and Chris.

And he realised Chris had been forced to take him back, until Maude could be found. Because he wasn't good enough. Chris had seen his punishment, he must have realised that he was some no good cat not worth his time.

'Ezra, Ez please come out.' Vin pleaded, bringing him back from his dark thoughts.

'No.' he mewled.

'Ez please. Chris got it for you before the woman came and took you away. He just forgot about it until it was too late. Please Ez.' Vin tried again, getting agitated.


Vin couldn't think of a suitable answer to that single loaded word.

"Ez, come on out of there. It's about time you joined the family properly." Chris said softly, sure the cat wasn't going to understand a word he said, though at times he was sure Ezra understood every single thing he said, there had always been an intelligence in those green eyes that he'd never expected.

'Family?' Ezra murmured, creeping forward just a little.

"Come on Ez, that's it, just a little more, then we'll get this on you and get some more sleep. I'll even let you sleep on the bed if you want." Chris offered as an incentive. He had often believed Sarah insane for talking to the animals the way she did, but now he understood all to well the compelling need to do so, as much for your own psyche as the animals.

Ezra crept forward a little more, eyes remaining firmly fixed on the collar and the little paw licence. Finally, he emerged from behind the bookcase, allowing Chris to lift him carefully in his large hand and fasten the collar carefully round his neck.

With a faint purr, Ezra let Chris pull him close and curled up, exhausted now.

Chapter 8

The next morning found Nathan out at the ranch. He had been surprised to hear the news and agreed to come straight out. He hadn't particularly like Ezra, the cat had rubbed him up the wrong way, it was almost a mutual dislike, but he wasn't about to let the poor animal suffer. He had been thoroughly shocked when Chris told him what had happened, and disgusted than anyone would leave an animal in those conditions.

"He's alright Chris, he'll be weak for a while, the lack of food and exercise have made him ill, but he'll be fine so long as you feed him regularly and let him do as he pleases. What will you do if she come back for him?" he asked.

"She won't." Chris said. Vin growled in agreement, adding a silent threat.

Nathan nodded. "Keep an eye on him, he might catch something, it's not likely, but if he seems off colour bring him into the clinic or call me out."

"Sure Nate." Chris smiled. "And thanks."

The two men left the room and moved out to the porch. Vin padded silently over to Ezra, who was trying to look inconspicuous as he batted the paw shaped licence. Vin nudged him.

'Vin!' Ezra moved back, away from the playfully questing nose. 'Cease and desist!'

Vin sat back, cocking his head at the cat. 'Ok Ez?' he asked.

Ezra looked at him, blinking his emerald eyes slowly and he considered the question. After a lengthy pause, Ezra curled himself up into a tight ball and let out a breathy sigh. 'Yes, I believe I am.' and he began to purr quietly.

Vin's mouth opened in a smile, blue eyes twinkling.


On to: Homeward Bound (work in progress)

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