Mean Streets

Part 10

* * * * * * * * * *

How's he doin'? Buck asked as he entered the hospital room.

Not too bad, considering, Chris said.  Sounds terrible, though.

Buck chuckled at the green-eyed glare being aimed at them from the bed.  Shaking his head, he made his way toward Vin, placing a hand on the boy's shoulder.  You're a sight for sore eyes, too, kid.  We thought you were a goner.

Vin shrugged off the hand and moved closer to Ezra.

Buck gave Chris a sideways look.

Seems Vin's a little pissed at us for telling Ezra he was dead, Chris explained quietly.

Can't blame him there, Buck said with a grin.

Et tu, Buck?

Call em as I see Buck said, winking at Vin and Ezra.

I give up, Chris huffed, flopping into a chair.

So who's this Rosie person who told off the big dog over there? Buck asked eagerly.  I want all the dirt.

Me an' Ez work for her at her diner every mornin', Vin said.  She pays us a little and makes us really great breakfast every day.

She sounds like nice lady.

She is. Vin gave him a sly grin.  You just gotta watch out for her broom.

Buck laughed.  I'll keep that in mind.

So where were you yesterday, Vin? Chris asked, hoping to change the subject.  We figured you'd be here with Ezra.

Vin looked at Ezra, unsure of how much information he should share with them.  He was starting to feel entirely too comfortable in their company, and that worried him.  Ezra nodded, sending him a look that said, what could it hurt?

I was gonna come, but MacDermott's boys were hangin' out near where I was stayin', Vin began.  Didn't feel like gettin' beat up again, so I stayed there.

They give you any trouble today? Buck asked.

Vin replied.  They moved on.

Ezra pulled on Vin's sleeve and whispered,   The doctor had forbidden him to talk, wanting him to rest his throat and avoid the respiratory stress of speaking.

I think maybe they had somethin' to do with that fire, Vin said.  Most of em took off late yesterday mornin – round ten o'clock or so.

Why didn't you leave? Chris inquired.

Three of em stayed behind, and they were all bigger n me.  He gave Chris a sideways look.  Couldn't even the odds, since you took my bat.

Good reason, Buck said.  He turned to Chris.  Kid's got common sense.

Ez said you told him the fire happened in the morning. Vin shrugged.  That building's their usual hangout, so it figures they'd have somethin' to do with it.

Like they had something to do with Digger? Chris raised an inquisitive eyebrow at him.

Vin glared at him and Ezra shrank into his pillows.

Buck warned.  Take it easy.

Chris apologized, slumping back into his chair.  I just want to get whoever killed him.

Dog with a bone, Buck muttered, heaving a melodramatic sigh.  The things I have to put up with.

Ezra shared a long look with Vin, then turned to Chris.  Mr. Larabee.

Vin took over, saying simply,  MacDermott killed Digger.   

You said that before, Chris reminded him.

Ez saw him do it, Vin added.

Buck and Chris immediately came to attention.

Is that so? Chris looked at Ezra, who nodded grimly.

That's a whole nother ball o' wax, ain't it? Buck commented.

You willin' to testify? Chris asked, doubting that would be the case.

Ezra and Vin looked at each other again, then Ezra nodded slowly.

Why'd he kill him? Buck asked.  Digger ain't never been one to inspire violence.

Vin sighed.  Ez said he was drunk when he came in.  He... he interrupted what MacDermott was doin'.

Chris and Buck both looked to Ezra, who turned away and refused to meet their eyes.

Vin squeezed his friend's shoulder supportively.  Digger started tellin' him off; said something about guns he was keeping in an old grocery store. Vin shrugged.  Guess MacDermott didn't like that, cause he pulled out a gun and shot him.

What happened to the gun? Chris asked.  We didn't find one on him.

Vin shook his head in puzzlement.

One of his minions disposed of it, Ezra said softly.

Guess we know why Digger called you, Buck remarked to Chris.

You know what old grocery store he was talking about? Chris looked inquiringly at both boys.

Ezra and Vin both nodded.

You willing to show it to us? Chris asked Vin.

Vin said.

Chris gave him a feral smile.  Good.  We'll just go see what MacDermott and his little friends have been up to.

Then we nail his ass to the wall, Buck said, sounding equally determined.

* * * * * * * * * *

Vin looked at the men around him, glad they were on his side.  Each of them, even the young guy, JD, wore a dangerous expression, and Vin almost had pity for anyone who crossed them.  After he and Ezra had given him the information about MacDermott, Larabee had sprung immediately into action, calling in his men and formulating a plan of attack.  It was impressive how quickly they had pulled it all together, and Vin felt a growing admiration for these men.  He had led them to the old grocery store – a dilapidated structure that had succumbed to fire years earlier – and now sat in the van, watching as they and a second ATF team surrounded the building.

Jones and his boys were inside the old store and were taken completely by surprise when the agents burst into the building.  Vin laughed aloud at the disgusted expressions they sported as they were marched outside and into the waiting transport vehicles.  He was still grinning when Larabee returned to the van.

You look awfully pleased about this, Larabee remarked as he started unstrapping his bulletproof vest.

Vin replied happily.  Good to see them bastards gettin' what they deserve.

Well, it was all thanks to you and Ezra, Larabee said gratefully.  They would have gotten away with selling a lot of dangerous hardware if you two hadn't told us about this.

Vin lowered his head, uncomfortable with the gratitude he could hear in Larabee's voice. Ain't no big deal.

It's a very big deal, Vin, Larabee said, after Vin finally met his gaze.  Guns like these can cause a lot of problems if they hit the streets.  I don't know about you, but I don't like the thought of street thugs getting their hands on automatic weapons and using em to rob people like your friend Rosie.

Vin nodded, finding he couldn't disagree.

We have to get these guys processed, so I'll drop you off at the hospital, okay?

Will you be there later?

Vin contemplated that for a minute, then nodded.

  Larabee slapped him on the back.  I'll bring some dinner.  You like Chinese?

* * * * * * * * * *

Vin was reading quietly in the chair by his bed when he awoke, and Ezra cursed himself inwardly for missing his friend's return.  He would be glad when he was well again and could stay awake for more than a couple of hours at a time. 

Vin seemed to sense he was awake and immediately shut his book and put it aside. 

Everything went well? Ezra asked quietly.

Oh yeah, Vin said cheerfully.  You should'a seen it, Ez.  Jones and the rest of MacDermott's crew were in there with a shitload of guns.  Larabee and his guys busted all their asses.

Ezra smiled, feeling a sense of satisfaction at having done something to put MacDermott and his gang out of business.

I'm kind of glad we told them about the guns, Vin said, mirroring Ezra's thoughts.  It was so cool seein' all those assholes in handcuffs.

Ezra nodded in agreement, wishing he could have been there.

Larabee said he'd be bringin' some Chinese food for dinner, Vin continued.

Frowning, Ezra tugged on his sleeve, shaking his head.

You have to go, Ezra said hoarsely.  Stay out of the system.

Ezra shook his head again.  Bad enough one of us gets put back there.

I ain't leavin', Ez.  Vin held up a hand to forestall Ezra's protests.  We're brothers, remember?  Whatever happens, we do it together. 

Ezra sighed, hating the thought of them both ending up back in foster care.  Neither one of them had a good track record with it, and they were loath to subject themselves to the vagaries of Social Services yet again.

I mean it, Ez, Vin said earnestly.  Even if they put us in different places, we can always get away and meet up at home again.

Ezra looked at him hopefully.  Would you do that?

Vin said dismissively.

What if they put you someplace nice? Ezra asked softly, then immediately regretted it.  He hated sounding so pathetic and needy, but he had finally found a friend for the first time in his life, and did not want to lose him.  It irritated him to no end that their lives were subject to the whims of some overworked bureaucrat who sat in an office and didn't know them from a hole in the wall.  He knew there were some genuinely caring people working in Social Services, but he and Vin had never had the good fortune to meet any of them.  Most of those underpaid civil servants, especially the good ones, had huge case loads, so it was no wonder that some kids got lost in the shuffle.

Don't matter, Vin said, sensing his friend's distress. I already have a family.  Don't want another one.

He looked at Ezra thoughtfully.  Would you leave a good place?

Ezra nodded without hesitation.

Startled, Ezra stared at his friend for a moment, then said shyly, I have all the family I need, too.

Vin grinned at him.  So, it's a plan, then.  He stuck his hand out and he and Ezra shook on it.

* * * * * * * * * *

Outside the door, Chris leaned against the wall, lowering his head as he tried to process what he had heard.  He had not meant to eavesdrop, but when he heard voices coming from the room, he stopped beside the open door to let them finish before he intruded.  What he heard, however, stunned him.  The fact that these boys would rather live together on the streets than separately in good foster homes told him volumes about the strength of their friendship.  It also told him how little they trusted in the system that was supposed to take care of them. 

The conversation in the room appeared to be finished, so, pushing off of the wall, Chris forced a smile onto his face and stepped into the doorway.  Anybody hungry?

Vin is always hungry, Ezra said, eyeing the bags Chris was carrying.

I thought you weren't supposed to talk? Chris said, arching an eyebrow at the boy.

Ezra rolled his eyes at him and Vin laughed while Chris pulled out the cardboard containers and set them on the rolling table at the end of the bed.  Paper plates, plastic utensils, and cans of soda soon followed.

Dig in, Chris said, scooping out a healthy portion of chow mein for himself.

Vin looked at the containers, dishing out a little of everything for himself, and some sesame chicken for Ezra, who bypassed the plastic forks in favor of the chopsticks he and Chris had ignored.

Chris was impressed by the dexterity the young southerner displayed, manipulating the chopsticks as though he had been doing it all his life.  You're pretty good with those things, he commented aloud.

Ezra shrugged, gracefully taking another bite.

So Ezra, did Vin tell you about the bust?

Ezra nodded.

Thanks to you two, we got more than five dozen guns off the streets, Chris said.

Yeah, along with a bunch of scumbags, Vin added smugly.  We definitely ain't gonna miss those bastards.

You boys did good, Chris reiterated, determined to make sure they knew how valued their contributions had been.

Vin said quietly. 

Chris stifled a laugh as both boys flushed with embarrassment and concentrated more intently on their food.  The three of them finished their dinner with minimal conversation, laughing when Ezra gleefully, yet politely, refused his usual hospital meal.  After they were done, Chris cleaned up while Vin and Ezra flipped through the channels on the television.  Familiar music caught his attention and Chris realized that Star Wars was showing on one of the channels.

Hey, Ez, Vin said.  Have you ever seen this?

Ezra nodded.  Mother only allowed me to watch educational television, but I saw it once at my uncle's house.

Mr. Larabee had this on tape at his house, Vin explained.

It's Chris', remember, Chris reminded him.

Yeah... Chris, Vin said hesitantly.

While the boys watched the rest of the movie, Chris watched them.  The strength of their friendship was evident in the silent way they communicated, saying more with their eyes and gestures than many did with words.  Also obvious was the wariness that flared every time someone walked past the open doorway.  It troubled him that kids their age had been forced to learn such traits.

The movie was over and Chris decided it was time to head for home.  Tossing a sideways glance at Vin, he said, I'm headin' out now.  I'd feel better if you'd come out to the ranch with me tonight, Vin.

Ezra looked at Vin, a flat expression on his face. 

Vin met his gaze and smiled, then turned a resolute blue-eyed gaze toward Chris.  Sorry, sir, but I want to stay here with Ez.

Visiting hours are over at eight, Chris pointed out.  They won't let you stay after that.

I know, Vin said.  But I got some jobs I have to do.  I missed a lot of work already this week, so I need to do some catchin' up.  Sides, I promised to tell everyone how Ez is doin'.

Chris pursed his lips and stared at him thoughtfully.  I could make you go.  I am your legal guardian at the moment, you know.

Both boys stiffened and Chris was hard pressed not to laugh at the twin glares being fired in his direction. 

Chris continued, I won't do that as long as you promise to be here again tomorrow.

Vin looked to Ezra, who, after staring hard at Chris, nodded to him.

Vin agreed.

I'll see you then, Chris said, nodding at them before leaving the room. 

Vin had done just as Chris had expected after overhearing their earlier conversation.  In a way, he admired the boy for sticking to his principles so vehemently.  He had seen the flicker of doubt on Ezra's face when he had asked Vin to come home with him.  From what he had seen in the boy's file, Ezra was used to being abandoned and probably could not help but expect it, even from his closest friend.  Both of them had lived a life fraught with pain and betrayal, so it was no surprise that their trust had to be earned.  Chris wondered if he would ever be deemed worthy of that trust... and why it bothered him so much not to have it. 

* * * * * * * * * *

What did Travis have to say? Buck asked when Chris entered their office.

He's very pleased about the MacDermott case, Chris replied, a hint of a smile lighting his face.  Jones gave up MacDermott's supplier, hoping to get a break on their sentence.

How likely is that? asked Nathan.

Not very. Chris snorted.  One of the others fingered Jones for the fire.  Apparently, MacDermott's crew was fighting amongst themselves over who was going to take over now that their boss was in jail.  Jones decided to eliminate the competition.

Buck said, shaking his head.

I'm glad we could get the whole pack of them off the street, JD said.

Amen, brother, Josiah agreed.

We have a new case to start, too, Chris continued.  So, don't get too comfortable resting on your laurels.

My laurels need the rest, Buck said with a smirk. I had a very strenuous night.  Denise is a real...

Save it, Buck, Chris interrupted with a long-suffering sigh.  He handed his old friend some paperwork.  Take a look at these files and start getting ready.

Yeah, yeah, Buck said, disappointed that his friend didn't rise to the bait.

I'm going to run by the hospital for a bit, Chris stated.

Mind if I go with you, Chris? JD asked. 

  Chris grabbed his jacket and started down the hall, JD following on his heels.

Tell em we said hi, Buck called after them.

* * * * * * * * * *

Ezra was alone in the room, playing solitaire on his tray table, when Chris and JD entered.

Hi Ezra, JD said cheerfully.  You look better than last time I saw you.

A sarcastically arched eyebrow was Ezra's only response.

You feeling better today? Chris asked, shrugging out of his jacket.

Ezra replied in a soft voice that wasn't as rough as it had been the day before.

That's good.  Chris looked around the room.  Where's Vin?

He went to purchase a beverage, Ezra replied, not looking up from his cards.

JD looked at Chris, who shrugged helplessly.  He didn't know what was causing the boy's less-than-social behavior.

Ezra stared at his cards for a few minutes, then sighed and gathered them up, apparently giving up on his game.  The two agents watched in awe as the young man proceeded to shuffle the cards with blinding speed.

Hey, that's cool, Ezra, JD said, impressed with the teenager's ability with the cards.  Where'd you learn to do that.

My mother taught me, Ezra replied blandly.

Can you show me how to do it?

Ezra's eyes widened in surprise at the request, but then he nodded slowly. 

Chris settled into a chair and watched Ezra attempt to teach JD how to shuffle the deck of cards.  It was an entertaining sight, since his agent did not seem to have the same level of dexterity as the teenager and spent most of his time picking cards up off of the floor. 

This isn't as easy as it looks, JD grumbled, tossing his amused boss a dirty look.

I know it isn't, Chris said with a smirk.

JD tried another complicated shuffle – one that Ezra had executed effortlessly – and sent the entire deck of cards flying through the air.  The cardboard squares were still floating to the floor when Vin walked into the room carrying two bottles of soda. 

Vin grinned broadly.  Ez teaching you to shuffle?

JD said with a sheepish sigh.

Ezra grinned at him smugly, accepting the soda Vin offered to him.

Show off. Vin chuckled and sat down next to the bed.

I heard you were pretty good with the cards, Chris commented.  Got picked up for gambling once or twice?  He waited, wondering what reaction his statement would produce.

Ezra stiffened uncertainly, looking to Vin for support.

Ain't easy for a kid to make enough money to survive, Vin said in a grim voice, favoring Chris with a look that told of one who had seen far too much in his young life. 

Gambling is preferable to most of the alternatives, Ezra added matter-of-factly.

A horrified look crossed JD's face, but Chris nodded knowingly.  There weren't many choices on the streets, especially for kids their age.  You're right about that.  He was pleased to see the tension in their thin frames ease slightly.

Would you gentlemen care for a game of chance? Ezra asked politely, a hint of challenge in his voice.

Chris grinned.  Don't mind if I do.

Deal me in, JD said confidently.

With an elegant flourish, Ezra dealt out a hand.

* * * * * * * * * *

I'm out, JD said disgustedly, tossing his cards on the table.

Having already folded, Vin leaned back on his elbows, watching the last two players from his seat on the foot of Ezra's bed.  Larabee was a decent player, but Ezra was better.  Grinning, he watched his best friend prepare to take the blond agent down.

I call, Larabee said calmly, studying Ezra over the edge of his cards.

Ezra's face, passive throughout the game, lit up with a dimpled smile.  Straight flush.  He spread his cards on the table in front of him.

Beats my two pair. Larabee sighed, acknowledging defeat. 

Good job, Ez, Vin said, pleased that his friend had made such a good showing against the two agents.

You're pretty good at this, JD said.  Who taught you to play?

My mother, Ezra answered, averting his eyes.

Larabee said doubtfully.

Ezra replied.  Mother made a rather good living at the poker tables.

Vin watched the two agents' faces, understanding their skepticism.  It had been hard for him to grasp, as well.  His memories of his mom were difficult to reconcile with Ezra's description of his mother.  In his mind, mother' meant hugs, cookies, and soft-voiced comfort – not the gambling lessons, poker chips, and emotional blackmail that had been Ezra's experience.  After everything he had seen and heard in his life, Vin still found it hard to understand how any mother could simply dump her own child the way Ezra's mother had done.  Finding out the other boy had been abandoned had gone a long way toward helping Vin to understand his friend.

Hey, we'd better get back to work, Chris, JD said, sensing a need to change the subject.

Larabee glanced at his watch and grunted.  You're right.  We've taken too long a lunch break already.

JD chuckled.  Buck's probably taking advantage of it to go and sweet talk the new clerk in the file room.

Smirking, Larabee replied, We better get back there and rescue her.  He looked over at the two boys.  I'll see you two later?

Vin nodded, meeting the agent's expectant gaze.  Larabee smiled, and then followed JD out the door.

Somethin' wrong, Ez? Vin asked, noting the faraway look on his friend's face.

Ezra shrugged.  I am just contemplating what will happen once I am released from this facility.  It is unlikely that Mr. Larabee will leave us to our own devices, and I'm concerned as to where we will be forced to go.  I doubt they will simply allow us to return to our lives, now that we have come to their attention.

Vin frowned.  Dunno, Ez.  Larabee is a decent guy.  Maybe we can ask him to work somethin' out for us?

Ezra said, doubt evident in his voice. 

Don't worry, Ez, Vin said confidently.  Everything will be fine, you'll see.

Ezra nodded at him, but Vin could see that he was still uncertain.  After all they had been through lately, it was understandable that he would be reluctant to trust in a positive outcome.  Vin wasn't entirely certain himself, but he didn't want to worry his friend.  Ezra had enough on his plate already. 

Have you finished those history chapters? Ezra asked, trying to distract himself from thoughts of their eventual fate.

Vin said proudly.  Finished chapter three last night.

Good lord, Ezra moaned.  At this rate, you will surpass me.

Sitting up straighter, Vin favored his friend with a grin.  Ain't too often I can outdo you in school work.

Enjoy it now, my friend.  As soon as I am out of this place, I will leave you in the dust.

Vin laughed, knowing his friend was teasing him.  In truth, he was glad that Ezra was comfortable enough to pick on him.  It had taken a long time before the guarded southerner relaxed enough to participate in any kind of brotherly joking or horseplay.  To be fair, Vin himself had rarely let down his guard to that point either, but he and Ezra had forged a bond built equally on shared hardships and triumphs, and it had become natural to think of the other boy as his brother and to treat him as such.  That Ezra felt the same way made it even better.

Gazing fondly at his friend, Vin said, Lookin' forward to it, Ez.

Grinning, Ezra dealt out another hand of cards and the two boys settled in to play, pushing their fears away for a little while.  There would be plenty of time for worry later.

* * * * * * * * * *

A grin spread across Buck's face as he stood in the doorway to Chris's office, watching as his friend stared out the window, absently twirling a pencil in his fingers.  If he had not known the other man so well, he would have assumed that there was something of interest out the window that had captured his attention, but to Buck, it was apparent from the look on his friend's face that his thoughts were elsewhere.  Shaking his head, he stepped further into the room.

Earth to Larabee.

Chris jumped, dropping the pencil in surprise at Buck's interruption of his ruminations.  Dammit, Buck.

Buck rolled his eyes, the grin still firmly in place.  Ya know, with as many times as you've said that, maybe I should change my name to Dammit Buck'.

Smart ass, Chris growled.  What do you want?

Buck's demeanor changed and he said in a serious tone,  You were thinkin' about them boys again, weren't ya? 

Chris opened his mouth to deny it, then sighed and admitted, Yeah.  Been thinking about a lot of things.

You taking them to your place?  Buck guessed.

Shooting him a dirty look, Chris said,

Buck snorted.  Don't give me that, Chris.  I've seen the look on your face whenever you talk about them.

Chris glared at him for a minute, then slumped back into his chair, running a frustrated hand through his hair.  I just don't know if I'm doing the right thing.  Travis already worked it out so both of em can come out to the ranch til MacDermott's trial, at least.

And, I'm not sure if it's the best thing for them.  Chris looked earnestly at Buck.  They're doin' pretty well on their own and I don't want to ruin things.  Besides, what can I possibly offer a couple of  teenage boys?

This, Buck sensed, was the heart of the problem.  For some reason Chris didn't understand, he wanted to help the two boys... but he was afraid.  After he had lost his wife and son, it had taken a long time before Chris had let anyone close to him.  He was still a bit uncomfortable around children, yet here he was, offering to take in not one, but two boys. 

Chris, have you thought about why it is that you want to help them? Buck asked softly.

Chris admitted.  And the answer is, I don't have a clue.

You said you saw something of yourself in Tanner, Buck began.  Maybe you're just ready to let someone into that heart of yours, and someone you can understand and empathize with is a good candidate.  Those two boys need someone to look out for them, regardless of how well they've been able to survive out there.  Maybe you want to help them simply because you can.  Buck shrugged.  Ain't nothin' wrong with wanting to help someone out of the goodness of your heart.

Chris snorted at that.

You forget, pard, I saw you with Sarah and Adam, Buck said gently – he knew he was treading on sensitive ground.  You might be Badass Larabee' to most folks, but I know you have a much bigger heart than you like to admit.  Maybe even big enough to open it up to a couple of stubborn teenagers who could use a little caring and kindness in their lives.

Chris pondered his words, then let out a sigh.  Aw hell.  There goes my reputation.

* * * * * * * * * *

The late morning sun streamed through the blinds, making patterns on the floor and illuminating dust motes that danced in the air.  Ezra sighed, then fidgeted in another attempt to sit comfortable on the edge of the bed.  His ribs hurt too much to allow him to slump, but sitting up straight was irritating the ache in his shoulder and back.  Looking at his watch, he frowned, wishing the doctor would hurry his promised return.  He had had enough of the hospital and was anxious to return to his home.

He'll be back in a few minutes, Ez, Vin assured him, grinning at his friend's agitation.

I do hope so, Ezra replied.  I would like to spend some time at the library today.

Vin frowned.  Don't know if that's such a good idea.  You still ain't up to doin' your regular stuff.

Ezra bit back a sarcastic retort, knowing his friend was right, but distinctly unhappy about it, just the same.  Sighing wearily, he said, I am extremely tired of being ill.

I hear ya, pard, Vin said with a sympathetic smile.

Both heads turned at the sudden entrance of Chris Larabee into the room.

Hey, guys, the agent said with a smile.  I hear you're getting out of here today, Ezra.

That is correct, Mr. Larabee, Ezra replied, trying not to show his surprise – or his dismay – at the blond man's presence.

The hospital called me this morning to let me know, Larabee explained.  I wanted to talk to you about what happens from here.

His stomach tightening, Ezra met Vin's gaze, exchanging silent reassurances with his friend.  They had discussed all the potential outcomes to their situation, and had formulated plans to deal with any that might occur, but it did not entirely dispel their worries.  They both had enough experience with situations suddenly turning bad to be entirely complacent.

I arranged it so that the both of you can stay with me, at least until MacDermott's trial, Larabee said, eyeing them expectantly.  It's up to you, but the alternative is whatever foster care Social Services can find.

How'd you manage that? Vin asked.  Social Services folks usually ain't too accommodatin'.

Larabee gave them a broad grin.  My boss used to be a judge – still has a lot of clout.

Vin gave Ezra a searching look, then turned to Larabee.  Can we talk about it first?

  Larabee stood and started for the door.  I'll go grab a cup of coffee and check on your release papers. 

Vin waited until he had disappeared out the door, before turning to Ezra.  So, what d'ya think?

Ezra pondered the question for a moment.  They had discussed the possibility, but did not expect it would actually happen, so they had not spent much time considering what to do if it did indeed become an option.  He asked tentatively, You said Larabee was... nice?

Vin said with a nod.  Him and the rest of his guys were pretty cool.  Treated me okay.

Ezra absently picked at the blanket on the bed as he considered Vin's answer.  You feel we would not be mistreated if we were to accept Mr. Larabee's offer?

He's a good guy, Vin said thoughtfully.  Can't explain it, but I just got a feelin' he cares... ya know what I mean?

Ezra nodded.  Vin was usually a good judge of character and his feelings had often proven true.  If Vin trusted Larabee, that was good enough for him.

Vin looked at him inquiringly.

Ezra gave him a weak smile.  I believe we should accept Mr. Larabee's offer.

Me too, Vin agreed.  Beats the hell out of Social Services or juvie.

I find it encouraging that he asked for our consent, Ezra said thoughtfully.  He could have simply demanded that we go with him.

Yeah, I noticed that.  Vin shrugged.  He's definitely not like any of the cops we're used to.

I'm not certain I'll enjoy this new living situation, Ezra said, a hint of doubt in his voice.

We'll still have our place to go back to if it don't work out.  Vin dangled his key to their apartment in front of his friend.  And Rosie and the others will help us if we need it.

Ezra allowed.  Things are much better here than anyplace else I've lived, and I don't wish to lose that.

You won't, Ez, Vin assured him.  I promise.

Ezra lowered his head, giving his friend an embarrassed nod.  The friendship and reassurance Vin offered warmed him inside and he wondered if that was what it felt like when someone cared about you.  If it was, Ezra decided he rather liked it.

A light knock on the door preceded Larabee's return.

Okay if I come in? Larabee asked, poking his head inside the room.  At Vin's nod, he continued inside.  Have you made a decision?

Ezra looked at him, surprised at the honest concern he found in the man's eyes.  Perhaps Vin's feelings were on target once again.

Vin answered, noticing his friend's preoccupation.  We decided to give it a try.

Larabee said with a grin.  I've got Ezra's paperwork and medication, if you guys are ready to blow this joint.

We are indeed, Mr. Larabee, Ezra replied.

In that case, Larabee said, escorting the two boys out the door,  let's go home.


NOTE: I will be writing more in this AU, and have already started on the sequel, so stay tuned!