Homeward Bound
(modern day AU)

by BML

Chapters 2-3 added 24 July 2007
Chapters 4-5 added 3 October 2007

Summary: Sequel to Cats And Dogs. Buck and Chris have been called to a court case in the city that involves both of them. They leave Vin, Ezra and JD in the capable hands of Josiah and Nathan out at the ranch. However, some people come to the ranch, intent on stealing the horses. In desperation, the horse-nappers instead take the three animals, hoping that by taking them far enough away they will have sufficient time to get the horses. They dump them in the wilderness of the great forest park on the other side of the city. Now Vin, Ezra and JD must rely on each other to get home.
Author's Notes: Obviously it's a take on Homeward Bound, because, let's face it, how closely does it work really? Think about it. I can only hope that I do it justice. If there's anybody out there who'd like to give me a hand with this story I'd appreciate it, sometimes I need a little extra push to get me going, I'd be willing to co-author as well, I've always wanted to try that. Anyway, drop me a line if you're interested. Please forgive that this is not the best it could be, it'll get better as the story continues, I promise.
Oh, one more thing, if you'd like to see my representation of the animals please check out my website. www.freewebs.com/bmlhillenkeene/.

Back to: Cats And Dogs

Chapter 1

Vin was napping comfortably in the afternoon sun, sprawled out in a most ungraceful fashion in the dirt beside the porch steps. JD was bounding cheerfully round the yard, happily chattering to the horses, thankfully leaving Ezra in peace. Ezra had perched himself securely on the wooden railing on the porch, his tail flicking as he watched JD.

It had been three days since Chris and Buck had left to go to the city. Ezra was the first to admit he hadn't paid the slightest bit of attention to the reason, but Vin had informed him later it was some nonsense man thing called a court. Ezra was familiar with the word, his previous owner, Maude had been to one a time or two, but beyond that, he knew very little.

He had been rather apprehensive he could admit, albeit only to himself, when Chris had left and not returned the next day, and though it had aggrieved him greatly that Vin had noticed his agitation and the way he kept glancing towards his food bowl. He was quite relieved (he would never let Vin know--though he suspected the dog already did) when Vin had assured him Chris had asked Josiah and Nathan to come over everyday to check on them.

Not that Ezra needed them to of course, after all, he was an accomplished hunter, he could fend for himself if the occasion warranted it. That he didn't want to was besides the point.

'Whas'matter Ez?' Vin asked, rolling on his back until he could fasten blue eyes on the chestnut cat on the railing.

'Nothing of any consequence.' Ezra responded, tail flicking again, keeping his eyes on JD. The pup was trying to get into the corral to play with the horses. 'I fear young JD is going to end up getting trampled if he doesn't desist his insane behaviour.'

Vin twisted his head round to look at the pup; he had grown a lot from when Vin and Ezra had met him five months ago. He was starting to become gangly, coming into his full height and weight. Vin gave a small bark of laughter at his antics. 'Maybe.' Vin responded in amusement. His ears pricked up at the sound of an engine. 'Nathan's here.'

Ezra turned his head to face the driveway. Though he didn't dispute Vin's claim that it was indeed Nathan's car, he still checked himself just to be sure. Nathan's little blue ford pulled up. Stopping scant inches from the steps of the porch. With a lazy stretch Ezra got to his feet, balancing easily on the railing, watching Nathan.

The black vet and the cat had formed a mutual dislike of each other the second they had laid eyes on each other. It wasn't anything specific really, Ezra just didn't like vets, and he supposed he was more... flighty, he supposed the word was when it came to dealing with them. Nathan was one of those who preferred his patients to stay still and let him do his job.

"Hi JD." Nathan smiled, scratching the pups ears when JD pawed at him. He pulled a Boneo out of his pocket and gave it to the dog. JD took the treat cheerfully, munching away, losing half of it to the ground. Nathan laughed and moved on to Vin, who was sitting up now, watching him, waiting for his treat, which he knew was coming. "Vin." Nathan greeted, giving the mongrel his treat and a quick pat.

Ezra watched Nathan with narrowed eyes as he ascended the steps to the front door. Nathan sighed when he saw the distrustful animal watching him. He had grown to dislike the way it seemed to be sizing him up, but after what had happened just a month ago he wasn't about to be mean to him. Not after the scene he had witnessed just ten days ago.

The red sports car pulled up, and Nathan was surprised to see Chris tense slightly, almost as surprised at the fact that a sports car of any kind had arrived at Chris Larabee's ranch. Chris hadn't moved to greet the blond woman who was now exiting the car, but he was watching her.

"Mr. Larabee!" the woman said, stepping daintily over a mud puddle, coming to stand in front of Chris. "Would you care to explain to me why my cat has somehow ended up in your possession once again?" she was angry.

Nathan was quick to realise that this was the woman who had taken Ezra and left him in those awful conditions, he straightened from where he had been checking the horse, intent now to hear her side of the story. If Josiah were here, the woman would already be learning the error of her ways.

Said cat was seated, looking rather tense, watching the scene from the edge of the corral water trough.

"Maybe he jus' like's it better here, Mrs. Standish." Chris replied, tone cold and biting.

"Oh, I highly doubt that Mr. Larabee, what you have done amounts to theft you know." Mrs. Standish regarded him coolly. "Now I want him returned to me immediately."

Chris looked at her for a long moment, Nathan could see the anger rising in him. Chris was not a man to let anything of his, even if it was a cat he had never wanted in the first place, be treated badly. Nathan had seen him take temporary workers at the ranch to task if they treated one of his horses wrong, so it wasn't too far fetched he would do the same for his pets.

"Lady, you are not getting Ezra, he belongs to me now. You gave up all rights when you left him stuck in a cage starving to death, while you went on holiday."

Mrs. Standish looked shocked. "Excuse me! I did no such thing!"

Chris snorted and turned away from her. "Well, I think animal services are on my side."

"We'll see about that!" she declared angrily.

Chris frowned at her. "You really think anyone would let you have Ezra back after the way he was found?"

"He has a perfectly acceptable show name Mr. Larabee, please do give him another, he'll become confused." she informed him. "And I will have you know that I left him in the capable hands of my housekeeper, Elise, who is nothing if not thorough."

"Seems to me your housekeeper didn't too a good enough job, and if you can't be bothered to ask her if she'd checked on your cat then you really shouldn't own one. And he answers to Ezra just fine." Chris turned away to look at Nathan then, making the vet realise he had just stood and listened shamelessly on a conversation he probably shouldn't have heard.

Mrs. Standish fumed at being dismissed in this fashion, but her move towards Ezra was brought short when Vin growled low in his throat from the side. With an effort, she schooled her features and turned to Chris. "I will be back Mr. Larabee to claim my cat, do not get too attached." with that she turned on her heel and stalked back to her car and drove off, tires skidding.

Nathan had thought it was rather strange that she had known to come to the ranch looking for the cat. I spoke of her knowledge of Ezra's whereabouts. He didn't think she really had any right to turn up demanding her pet back. At another time Nathan might have agreed with the woman's claim, before he had been called out to the ranch to check up on a half starved, flighty cat. If that was how Ezra was normally treated under her care then he was glad Chris had him now.

Nevertheless, even his empathy towards the cat did not make it any easier to like the ornery creature. Who was right this second watching Nathan carefully, sizing up his movements, and Nathan knew he was, all the while looking completely disinterested in him. It was a talent all cats seemed to share. It reminded Nathan why he preferred dogs, horses and even cows to cats.

Even so, he slipped his fingers into his other pocket and pulled out a cat treat, like a chocolate drop, just because he didn't get on with the cat was no reason to leave it out of his greetings. "Ezra." he said, mouth lifting in a small smile as he put the treat on the railing beside Ezra, knowing better than to touch him. He was surprised when Ezra chirruped in response, it almost sounded like a 'Thank you.'

Shaking his head, he moved to unlock the front door, disappearing inside to get the animal food to refill the bowls that were currently in the stables where the animals were sleeping the nights until Chris and Buck returned.

'How come you thanked him Ez? I thought you didn't like Nathan?' JD asked, having finished his boneo and had come up the steps of the porch to sit and watch Ezra nose the chocolate drop, half hoping it would drop so he could eat it. Ezra never ate off the ground, said it was... 'improper'... yeah, that was the word the cat used.

'Just because my self and the good vet share a mutual dislike of each other is no reason to be rude JD. After all, appearances are everything.' Ezra responded, finally getting his teeth round the treat and chewing it slowly. He had to give Nathan his due; he did always come with the best treats.

Vin frowned up at Ezra, he had heard that turn of phrase many times from Ezra, but it had only recently made sense to him. This whole 'appearances' thing was a direct result of that Maude woman. Vin just didn't know how to get Ezra to stop thinking it.

'I'll have you know Vin, that feline's are fastidious creatures by nature. Human intervention had not changed that at all.' Ezra casually jumped down from the railing to land beside Vin. Seemingly reading Vin's mind with relative ease.

'What's Fast... fast-did-e-us? What's that word mean Ez?' JD asked, bounding down the steps to join them.

'Fastidious, JD, it means clean, in it's most common usage.' Ezra explained, tail flicking, dismissing the word as he said it.

Vin shook his head. 'There's clean, an' then there's this 'appearance's' o' yours.' the dog pointed out.

Ezra looked at him for a long moment. 'Perhaps.' he conceded.

Their conversation was cut short when Nathan re-emerged from the house with two brands of dog food and a box of cat food, which Ezra had unfortunately had to agree to, Chris was hardly a connoisseur of the better brands of cat food, and was hardly going to go out of his just because Ezra preferred it. It was better than nothing. And to be fair Chris had started buying the more reliable brands in Ezra's opinion, basic, but reliable.

In fact, since his emancipation from Maude's home Chris had been unnervingly nice, letting him get away with things that, before his incarnation had, at the very least, gotten him yelled at. Not one to let the opportunity pass him by Ezra had of course used it to the fullest extent, but he was still wary. After all, removing a collar was far easier than putting it on.

"Now." Nathan said, sitting JD's puppy food to the side and looking at the three feasting animals.

'What would be the chances of Nathan now mentioning our recent nightly ritual once again?' Ezra asked, looking up from his food bowl at the dogs.

JD paused just long enough to look over and say. 'Ain't betting with ya.' and turned back to his dinner.

Ezra wrinkled his nose a little, why were dogs so messy?

Vin huffed a small laugh. 'Hell Ez, o'course he's gonna tell us.'

'One would believe we were incapable of understanding.' Ezra said, nibbling at his food, sitting back up and crunching one of the little nuggets while he watched Nathan ready the, by now, much expected speech.

"Now, Yosemite will be here this evening, I expect you to be good and get in here when he tells you to." Nathan said. A long time ago, he might have felt foolish for talking to animals like this, but since becoming a vet, it was part and parcel of his daily life. Sometimes explaining calmed the animal he was working with down, he didn't reckon they could understand him, but it didn't hurt any.

'We know Nathan.' JD yipped cheerfully, having finished his food disturbingly quickly, it was wonder he hadn't choked.

'Indeed we do.' Ezra agreed, crunching on another nugget. 'Why do humans feel the need to repeat things multiple times?' he asked wonderingly.

'Heck Ez, I reckon it's 'cause you never do as you're told the first time.' Vin grinned at him, teeth bared for an instant before vanishing.

'My dear canine friend, we feline's live by an entirely different set of rules. We don't have to do what we are told, we do what we wish.' With that, Ezra turned from them and jumped onto one of the horse stall doors, leaving half his food untouched, ready for later should he want it.

JD looked over at him. 'You're full of it!' he proclaimed.

Ezra just shook his head.

Nathan left soon after, needing to get back to the surgery in case of a patient. Leaving the two dogs and the cat to their own devices until Yosemite returned that evening to see to the horses in Chris' absence.

'Hey, Ez.' Vin said after a while, not looking at the cat, but towards the tree's behind the corral.

Ezra frowned at the dog's intense stare and looked himself. 'What?'

JD crept over to them from the corral, where he had once again been trying to get in to see the horses. 'Do you see him?' the pup asked, taking a place beside Vin.

'He's back.' Vin confirmed.

Ezra huffed a sigh, emerald eyes scanning the trees before he finally saw what the dogs had. 'How many time's is this he has been here?,' the cat asked, eyes narrowing.

'Was here this morning too.' Vin mentioned.

'What! And you did not think to inform us?' Ezra demanded.

Vin shrugged. 'He weren't doing much, just standing there like he is now.'

JD looked from each of his friend to the man hiding in the trees. 'What do you suppose he wants?' he asked. 'It can't be good if he just stays over there, can it?'

Ezra and Vin shared a look, partly amused, a short while ago JD would have believed everyone innocent, thankfully he knew better now, his training finally taking root it seemed.

'I do wonder what he intends.' Ezra said.

'Nuthin good.' Vin said.

The man the three animals were looking at, had turned up the day before Chris had left, he hadn't done anything, just stood, hidden in the trees, watching the ranch. He had come again the next afternoon after Chris had left, and again the day before. Now he had visited twice in one day. There had to be some reason for it, and Vin had a feeling it would be bad. Unfortunately there was no one around that they could tell about the mans presence. If Chris had been here, Vin was sure he could have somehow made him understand. But as it stood, only they knew of this man.

Ezra huffed another little sigh and curled up on the railing of the porch again, warmed nicely by the sun. 'Well, there does not appear to be much we can do about the ingrate.'

'I'm going to have a check round the ranch.' Vin told him.

'Don't let me keep you.' the cat responded with a yawn.

JD bounced beside Vin. 'Can I come?'

'Sure pup.' Vin smiled.

When the two dogs had gone, JD arguing that he wasn't a pup and Vin laughing at him, Ezra opened one eye and looked at where the man was standing in the trees, he was starting to get a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach, and he didn't think it had to do with what he had just eaten.

Chapter 2

Night fell slowly, in all the shades of sunset, leaving the three animals in the barn/stable with the horses. Yosemite, a regular ranch hand at the Larabee ranch, lived in a small house the next field over. Close enough to be of assistance should he be needed, or to watch the ranch should Chris be called away. The task of see the horses put back in their stalls, fed, groomed and mucked out fell to him and his son when Larabee was out of town. Ensuring the two dogs and the cat were inside when they locked up was just an extension of that task.

JD had settled down immediately in his basket, curled up and asleep within seconds, leaving Vin and Ezra awake, speaking quietly in the shuffling of the horses.

'Go to sleep Vin.' Ezra said, for what felt like the twentieth time.

Vin looked at his friend, frowning. 'I can just as easy watch too,' he pointed out.

'That is no doubt true, but I'll be awake all night anyway, you know that. Unless you do not trust me?' Ezra injected just the right amount of hurt into his tone.

Vin was immediately guilty. 'Aw Ez, I didn't mean it like that. But fine, you wanna watch all night, you watch all night. Wake me if anything happens.'

'Excellent!' Ezra smiled, letting Vin know clearly he had just been played. 'I shall inform you immediately should anything occur.'

Vin shook his head in amusement. 'Wily as a coyote.'

'I refuse to be compared with something of such obvious canine relations,' the cat stated primly, tail flicking up as he sauntered towards the ladder to the hayloft. 'Now, a fox I may accept under duress.' that was said with an amused colouring to it.

'Whatever Ez.' Vin's teeth flashed again in a quick grin as the big dog settled himself down to sleep.

It did not take the cat long to climb the ladder to the hay loft and make his way round the scatterings of hay to the little hole he had discovered that lead to the outdoors. Exiting the barn/stable through this hole, and jumping the short distance from there to the top of the doors of the building. It was a long drop from the top of the doors to the bottom, without a lot of room to manoeuvre. But Ezra had become rather adept at this over the months at the ranch.

He had first discovered this hole and tested it as an escape route soon after arriving, once he was freed of the obligatory two weeks inside the house any cat must go through to become used to their new home and family. Why he had needed an escape route was debateable, and not something he had ever informed Vin of. In that first month he had every intention of leaving once Vin was settled and he was sure Chris would not mistreat him.

But something had kept him here, past that first month, when he could have left and no one would have cared. The little paw shaped licence brushed his fur at his chest. Now he had a reason to stay. With a single, graceful leap he jumped from the top of the doors to the fence of the horse corral. There was a little scrabbling to save himself from diving head first into a mud patch beside the horse trough, but no one had seen his less than perfect landing, so it was fine. He jumped the rest of the way to the ground and because his solitary patrol of the ranch.

Normally he would do no such thing, but something was going to happen, he could feel it, Vin could feel it; and while he could easily lay aside his own misgivings, chalk them up to his overly suspicious nature, he did not doubt Vin's. So he was on the lookout for anything suspicious.

He began his journey on the other side of the corral, near the tree's, where the man had stood that very afternoon. Turning back towards the ranch, around the back of the barn to the house, around the back of it until he reached the porch. He settled himself on the railings, where he had spent most of the day. It had become one of his favourite spots on the ranch, from here he could see the driveway, the barn and the corral, monitor all comings and goings in the house and know exactly where all the humans were at one time.

He sat in the silky blackness, out here was nothing like the city, there it was all lights and noise, even where he had once lived there was always the sound of traffic, and the lights on the streets. It was more peaceful here, a little unnerving at first perhaps, but quaint and peaceful. Ezra had grown to like it after a time.

The quiet engine of a vehicle shattered this peaceful quiet, and Ezra was on his feet in an instant and looking at the twin lights coming up the driveway, higher up that Chris's truck lights, so he knew it wasn't anyone he would recognise.

It seemed as if his an Vin's feelings had been right. Now to wake the dogs, hopefully if they made enough noise Yosemite would hear and do something. Without stopping to think he took off towards the barn, leaping up onto the corral fence as the doors of the vehicle opened and closed, and the humans within started to speak. He had managed to climb his way to the top of the barn doors when he finally registered what they were saying.

"That f-ing cat'll wake those damn dogs up on us!"

"Don't worry, we can shut the dogs up right quick."

"But they'll have got the horses worked up on us. More of a chance we'll get caught."

"We can take care of any nosy buggers while we're at it. Don't worry so much."

Ezra barely made it to the hole in the hayloft by the time the men had reached the barn doors. He darted to the ladder. 'Vin!' he called down.

The dog appeared at the bottom of the ladder, having awoken when the car doors slammed shut, but he waited to hear Ezra's news first, it was better to know what they were dealing with. 'Who is it?'

'Some humans, they're after the horses!' Ezra told him breathlessly, creeping carefully, but quickly down the ladder.

Vin growled. 'We can't let them have them! They're Chris's!'

'Guys?' JD asked, creeping up beside them, the men were doing away with the lock on the barn door quickly.

'They're going to hurt you an JD if you get the horses worked up.' Ezra hissed at Vin, ignoring JD at the moment.

'We can't just do nothing!' Vin growled back.

Ezra's hackles rose as he became angry, was the dog set of getting himself killed?

'Go if you want Ezra.' Vin told him and turned back to face the door. 'JD, tell the horses to make as much noise as they can, we have to get Yosemite's attention. We can't let them take the horses.'

JD looked from Vin to Ezra before slowly nodding. 'Ok Vin.' he turned and started yipping at the nearest horse, who had joined the others of his kind in watching the three men enter the stables warily.

"Shit, the damn dogs have started!" one of the men cursed.

"Don't worry, we'll sort them, just start getting the horses loaded up." another said, teeth showing in the darkness as he smiled nastily.

Vin placed himself between the men and the horses, teeth bared and growling angrily. 'You aren't getting in!' was his statement, easily read by his actions.

JD had stirred most of the horses into making as much noise as possible and had moved back until he stood beside Ezra, unsure of what to do now, watching Vin.

One of the men swung out with a thick stick, Vin barely managed to dodge it, he pulled back, growling growing deeper and more threatening, he dodged the stick again. The third time he managed to catch the end of the stick, wrenching it out of the man's hand, shuffling about to try and keep all the men in his line of site.

'Vin!' he heard JD bark a warning, but too late he noticed the fourth man that had entered, hefting a board of some kind. It struck his head with a sickening crack and he fell. He struggled weakly for a moment, trying to get back to his feet, but his legs gave out on him and he dropped, lying motionless.

Ezra had watched in growing horror the fight before him. He couldn't understand Vin's need to stay and protect the horses, sure he had spoken with one or two, but they were hardly the most important animals in his life. Chris could always get more horses. He could only ever get one Vin. Ezra himself felt no such attachment, he was a cat, cats did not protect their owner's things. They stayed out of such things. He flinched when he saw the man hit Vin, moving forward before he could stop himself and actually think. With an effort he did stop, considering their options.

'JD, we need to get out of here.' he told the shocked pup, knowing he couldn't comprehend the attack. 'We need to get help. Can you do that?' he asked, butting his head at JD, trying to ignore the approaching figures.

JD blinked at him, eyes wide and frightened. 'Ez... Vin...'

'I know JD, but we must escape or they'll do the same thing to us.' Ezra explained. 'When I say, run, run to the nearest house and get help.'

JD shook himself. He was a police dog, he could do this. 'Ok Ez.' he said, though the words were shaky.

Ezra warily watched the approaching humans, biding his time. 'Run!' he hissed, darting forward and through one mans legs, distracting him long enough for JD to get around him and streak out the door. Ezra would also have made it, had one of the men not managed to grab hold of his tail just long enough to yank him back and pull him up.

"Git after that damn dog, can't have him waking the neighbours." the man struggling with Ezra said, and the other man raced after JD. Ezra howled in protest, hissing as he dug his claws into the man, trying to make him let go. "Damn cat," the man muttered, looking around the barn, eyes alighting on a feed sack. Gripping Ezra bruisingly in one hand, pinning him under his arm, he emptied the sack.

Ezra's struggles intensified, but the man's grip was unyielding. With a final, almost desperate yowl Ezra was thrust into the sack, the ties pulled closed before he had the presence of mind to try to escape. The man made two quick knots to hold the sack closed and laughed as he left the stable, going to the truck, where one of the others had dumped Vin, he tossed the sack down beside the dog, grinning nastily at the muffled hissing that followed the initial yelp of pain.

The man who had took off after JD returned, hauling the young dog behind him, JD was dazed, struggling weakly. He was quickly forced in with the other two animals, and the door slammed shut. Already two of the ranch horses had been loaded into the back of the horse truck that had pulled up behind this one.

"That man who was here this evening looking after horses was looking over here. Reckon he's called the cops on us."

"Crap, tell the fellas to leave the rest of the horses, we'll git them again. Now that we've taken care of the dogs."

"What we gonna do with them?"

"Dump 'em somewhere, it'll be no problem getting the rest of the horses, especially if the fella that owns the ranch is off searching for his guard dogs. You did say he was real fond of them."

"Looked to be."

"That's good then. Pack up and lets get outta here before the cops show."

Barely five minutes later the ranch was silent again, save for the worried mutterings of the horses. It would be another hour before the deputy of Four Corners showed up, and it would be the next morning that anyone noticed that Vin, Ezra and JD were missing.

Chapter 3

Vin came awake slowly, his head pounding, feeling a familiar rise of sickness well up inside him. His master had taken the stick to him hard this time. With a whimper that was too quiet to be heard he moved. He had learned it was better to move himself to somewhere else I n the junkyard when he woke after a particularly bad beating. His master was less inclined to go looking for him. He'd suffer for it later, but it was better than laying here waiting for the bite of the stick again.

His nose twitched suddenly, and he was confused. There weren't any trees near the junkyard, the only smell was the metal and the rot of the yard, and sometimes the fuel for the cars. This was different. With great effort he managed to open one eye, only to shut it immediately, whimpering again as the light hit it harshly.

Ok, what had happened?

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

'Why don't you emancipate yourself?'

'I have a proposition for you.'

"What's his name?"

"So your telling me if I want this dog I'll need to take the cat too?"

'Some humans, they're after the horses!'


Vin shook himself, winching when his head throbbed painfully. 'Wha?' he managed, teeth gritted, pushing the wayward memories back, now he recalled exactly what had happened. He forced his eyes open again, squinting against the light and peering round. His eyes lit on JD, who was sitting nearby, watching him with great relief.

'Wha'happened?' he asked hoarsely.

JD took that as permission to come closer, until he was right beside Vin. 'One of the men hit you, put Ez in a bag and locked us all in a truck. I don't know where we are Vin... But it doesn't smell like home.'

Vin looked at JD, the pup was scared, and understandably so. This place wasn't home, wasn't anywhere the pup was familiar with. He looked around again. They were surrounded by trees, so many that he couldn't see where they stopped. Why ha the humans gone through all the trouble of dumping them out here? Slowly his mind came back on task. 'Where's Ez?' he asked, surprised that the cat wasn't close by.

JD padded away from him, towards a brown sack, nosing it. 'I can't get it open.' he confessed.

Vin got to his feet slowly, winching again as a fresh stab of pain lanced through his head, it was almost worse than any other beating he had acquired. The top of the sack, around the knots was wet from where JD had tried to work the knots loose. 'He alright?' he asked slowly, not liking the utter stillness of the sack.

'Can't smell any blood, and he moved a little while ago.' JD reported, looking to Vin for some kind of guidance. 'What do we do?'

Vin huffed a sigh, settling himself down beside the sack he eyes the knots. JD had actually done a good job of working them loose, but it had obviously taken time to get this far. 'First off we get Ez out, then we plan to get home.' he worked his teeth into a gap in the knot and pulled gently, working it so it loosened some more.

It took a good ten minutes before he managed to undo one of the knots. The second knot proved more difficult. Fifteen minutes later he lost his hard won purchase on it when Ezra moved, reacting to his confinement instinctively, and violently, before Vin and JD's voices got through to him and he calmed.

'Vin? JD?'

'Here Ez.' JD confirmed as Vin went back to undoing the knot. 'We'll have you out in no time.'

They both heard, and at once pretended they didn't, Ezra's indrawn breath of relief. Ezra had been even more obsessive about not being trapped in spaces he could not easily extradite himself since he had returned from Maude's dubious care. The two dogs knew the cat didn't show his weakness often, and that it would only embarrassed him should they draw attention to it.

Finally Vin pulled the knot loose. 'All set Ez.' he said.

A quick flurry of activity and Ezra had worked the top of the sack open enough to escape its confines. He darted around Vin, coming round his other side to hiss at the bag as f it were a living thing. Then he turned away from it, and the dogs to compose himself. It took a long moment before he realised they were in a clearing of some kind, far away from civilisation. It was even more secluded than the ranch.

'Would either of you like to explain to me exactly what happened, and why we are seemingly...' he blinked as he realised he really had no way to adequately describe where they were. 'lost in the wilderness' perhaps 'in a place devoid of civilisation' was another; 'stuck in a f-ing forest' was a third option. 'Where are we?' he finally asked, looking round at the endless rows of trees.

Vin moved u to stand beside him, looking at the trees. 'We don't know yet.' he said.

Ezra looked up at him, biting back a sigh. 'Well, what do we do pray tell?'

JD joined them. 'Well...' he trailed off, looking at his friends. 'Shouldn't we try to find out where we are?'

'We are in a forest f some kind JD, what more is there to divulge from our present location?' Ezra asked, exasperated, and fully willing to admit he was at a complete loss. The ranch was as much of the country as he had ever hoped to deal with. The journey to Four Corners with Vin in the first place notwithstanding, as it had been forced upon him in a way.

Vin however had taken JD's suggestion more seriously. 'That's a good idea.' he nodded, and JD swelled a little with pride. Vin glanced round. 'Ez, how 'bout you climb one of them trees and get a good look around.'

Ezra blinked at him very slowly, then looked from him to the surrounding trees and back, very slowly. 'Surely you jest.' he stated, though he knew the dog did not.

Vin just looked at him. 'You're the only one that can climb trees here.' he pointed out slowly.

Ezra heaved a sigh, and didn't bother arguing the point, besides, he would like to get back... to the ranch, yes, the ranch... as quickly as possible. 'Fine, but if I am decimated by hoards of savage squirrels I lay all the blame at your feet, Vin, and you must live with the consequences.'

Vin laughed, winching as the pain in his head made itself known again, but he managed to ignore it. 'No squirrels are goin' to attack you Ez.'

'Oh, really? And you have had dealings with the rodents have you?' Ezra drawled, bordering on a slight hiss, sarcastic mostly. 'I will have you know that I have spent more time than I care to think about getting 'attacked' as you so quaintly put it, by the creatures. I assure you, my canine friend, they are indeed capable of decimating me.'

He could hear Vin laughing at him the whole way up the tree. It took some careful manoeuvring to gain purchase on the higher branches, that shook in a most terrible fashion. Balanced precariously he peered out through the leaves and surveyed the land surrounding them. And he did not like what he saw one bit.

Chapter 4

Chris was angry, absolutely furious that anyone had dared come to his ranch, steal his horses, and kidnap his pets. But if Chris was furious, Buck was apocalyptic. The fact that the dogs and cat’s disappearance hadn’t even been realised until late the morning after the horse stealing, had shattered any hope Buck had once had in his deputy officer.

It wasn’t that JD was expensive, or that the training had taken a long time and a lot of effort, though it had. It was the fact that JD was missing, and to Buck, JD was like his best little doggy friend, and that he hadn’t known for over a day that the dog was even missing.

Chris didn’t bother to even try to calm his friend down, and neither did Nathan or Josiah, knowing Buck would do so himself once he had worked the frustration out of him. But know that they knew about the missing animals, they didn’t know where to find them.

None of them dared voice the idea that the horse-nappers had killed the three animals, though it was a credible possibility. Nathan, Josiah and Buck had all noticed the change in Chris since he had gotten Vin and Ezra; he was a lot less sulky, and a lot easier to be around. Buck joked it was because he got all his sour feelings out while he was yelling at Ezra; it was one thing they could thank the cat for. And that Vin was like a silent stabilising companion, not like Easter, who had really been Adam’s dog, a child’s dog. Vin was definitely an adults dog.

Everyone around town liked little JD, Buck told anyone who’d listen that the pup was a great pick up thing. All the ladies wanted to stop and say hello to darling little JD, which left them wide open to any advances made from his handsome owner. But Buck loved that dog.

All they could do was look and hope they were ok. And get the people who had done this.

Chapter 5

The three animals soon reached a river. After the rather disheartening news of their whereabouts from Ezra, who had been unable to see anything but trees and mountains in all directions, Vin had chosen a direction and started off. But all three were hungry, and hurting. So when they reached the river they were glad to stop.

JD was splashing about in the water, trying to catch a fish, but only succeeding in scaring them off.

'You won’t catch one like that pup.' Vin told him easily, chewing away on his own fish on the bank.

JD looked over at the older dog and bared his teeth in a slight scowl. 'Well how did you get yours?' he asked finally, splashing about a bit more, hoping to catch one.

'Ezra.' Vin responded.

JD looked over in surprise. 'Ezra?'

Ezra looked over, sighing in exasperation. 'I am a cat you know. I am fully capable of catching a fish.' The cat was perched on a fallen log that was half in the river, a small pile of fish beside him. 'You can have one if you truly wish to,' he offered, seeing JD’s pleading look.

JD bounded over and took the largest on of the three Ezra had beside him and took it to the bank. 'Where’d you learn to fish Ez?” the pup asked curiously.

Ezra looked over and shrugged elegantly. 'There was a fish tank at one of the places I resided for a time. I was bored one day and just decided to see if I could catch the fish in the tank. The lady of the house was not best pleased, apparently they were prize winning fish.' He huffed slightly, his nose jerking a little towards the sky as he spoke. 'They didn’t taste prize winning,' he added.

Vin looked thoughtful for a moment. 'When was this?' he asked.

'Long before you and I met Vin.' Ezra responded, turning to eat his own fish.

JD was the first finished, and bounded over beside Ezra. 'Ez, could you catch me another one? I want to see how you do it!'

Heaving a sigh, that if one didn’t know him, would have sounded very put upon and caused anyone else to immediately apologise for unconvincing the cat, but JD did know him, so he ignored the sigh, knowing Ezra would do it. Ezra sauntered further down the log and peered in the water for a long moment before his paw shot out lightening fast and swept out a fish, which he batted behind him and towards JD.

JD however, did not catch the fish that shot his way, and ended up chasing it up the bank away from the river, it managing to just evade his jaws whenever he snapped for it. It flopped for quite a fair distance before JD suddenly butted into something. Moving back and shaking his head in surprise he was surprised to see that he had hit something big and furry. Something that had his fish He noticed instantly.

'Hey!' He barked, jumping a little, not knowing what this thing was, but not liking that it had his fish. 'Get your own fish!'

'JD!' Vin yelled, barrelling into the pup just a sharp clawed paw took a swipe at him, sending the two dogs sprawling into the long grass around them. The bear JD had antagonised, albeit unintentionally, roared angrily and stood up on its hind legs, sniffing the air for them.

Ezra watched from his place on the log and gave a sigh. The bear could easily smell the dogs, and had dropped back down onto all fours and made its way towards them. From his spot he could tell that Vin was keeping JD still, waiting for their chance to get away cleanly without being followed. Which Ezra knew wasn’t going to work unless something distracted the bear.

Which left him he supposed.

Jumping daintily back to the bank from the log he took a moment to line himself up and then he was gone, in a blur of motion, leaping as he got close enough and landing on the bears back, digging his claws in. His distraction worked. The bear turned, rising up and roaring again.

Ezra dropped to the ground. 'Come on then you great tub of lard, let’s see just how fast you can run!' Ezra turned and moved away, looking almost as if he was dancing, a few steps back, swish of the tail, bound forwards, then back farther, gaining the bears full attention with his movements. The bear made a growling sound, deep and rumbling, angry, but whether at what Ezra had said or because the cat was taunting him; coming just into reach and back out again.

If Ezra had not been expecting the sudden charge by the bear he would have been dead. Luckily he had anticipated such a rush and took off like a shot, followed by the lumbering bear. What he hadn’t expected was for the lumbering bear to actually be very fast on its feet. He dashed round a tree and took off in another direction, hoping to lose it in the trees. Hoping Vin and JD had enough sense between them to realise he was acting as a distraction in order to give them time to vacate the area, and that he would meet back up with them one he had managed to lose the--

He skidded to a stop, claws scrabbling for purchase as he suddenly found himself on rock, and heading towards a ledge. He hadn’t realised there was a cliff here. Pausing for only a second he took in his options and decided going back would probably be the wisest thing. He turned, his lip curling into a hiss when he saw the bear just behind him.

Now to really see you fast you are. He thought to himself and sprang between the bears legs, narrowly missing the swinging claws that just grazed his side, slicing his collar neatly off. But he didn’t take the time to worry about this. Back in the trees he chose the nearest and scaled it quickly.

He waited in one of the upper branches, breathing heavily and hoping that bears couldn’t climb trees. he watched it as it snuffled around the base of the tree, peering up through the branches to look at him. Slinking into the offered shadows Ezra looked around for an escape route. Before long he had noticed that one of the branches crossed over one from the next tree. Balancing carefully, tail erect, the tip quivering as he walked to make sure he didn’t topple over, he crossed to the next tree and set about finding another set of braches that crossed over.

As his journey through the treetops progressed his confidence grew phenomenally until he was jumping from branch to branch. When he saw the river he carefully climbed down and made his way through the trees, following its course until he caught sight of the dogs. Taking a moment to make sure his fur was perfect and his tail had no stray twigs in it, he sauntered out of the trees towards them.

'Ezra!' JD yipped, bounding over to him.

'JD,' he chirruped in response, coming to sit between the dogs, a self satisfied look on his face when Vin looked at him curiously.

'Wha’ happened to the bear?' Vin queried.

'I took care of it,' Ezra said smugly.

'Lost yer collar too,' Vin pointed out quietly.

That gave Ezra pause, as he realised that he had indeed lost his collar. This could prove a problem later on he was sure. Finally he just shrugged, in that way that only cats can, and stretched, affecting a tone of dismissal. 'I never cared for collars anyway. Far too restricting.” he looked around. 'Where to now?'

'Across the river I think.' Vin answered, letting Ezra’s earlier comment pass, knowing it mattered a great deal, but that Ezra just didn’t want to think about it.

'Across the river... wonderful!' Ezra beamed happily. He liked the water. 'You could both do with a wash,' he teased. Approaching the water and wading out into it.

'Not fair Ez!' JD complained. 'I had a bath only last week!'

Vin didn’t bother taking the bait; by now very used to Ezra’s teasing ways.

The river was crossed without incident, thankfully. And three animals continued on. Each hoping they were travelling in the right direction; that they were indeed heading towards home.

To Be Continued

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