Pain-filled green eyes worked their way through heavy lids to focus blandly on the silent figures that surrounded his bed. He laid as still as possible trying both to avoid aggravating the already increasing pain level and so as not to disturb the wondrous apparitions that had taken residence in his consciousness. He knew they couldn’t be real and he figured he had finally begun to lose his mind.
Deciding that he could care less at this time if he was going crazy, he took a moment to memorize ever feature on the first figure. The boy was slightly older than him, with long curly brown hair and features that were beginning to mature with age. Ezra felt a jolt of recognition, realizing he had met this young man before. He sighed in wonder as his usually sharp mind slowly put the missing pieces together and identified his childhood hero. Sure the boy was older now, but Ezra realized his mind would have created the changes too. It just made sense that his hero would be older than him. Feeling safer than he had in many years he absorbed all the small nuances he could of the slumbering figure.
Once he had his fill he focused on the next figure and his sharpening mind quickly identified his Uncle Buck. He smiled wistfully as he remembered the fun times he had with the gregarious man. Like with his hero, his mind had adjusted to the aging of the man. Ezra wondered why they were all sleeping in his newly created world, but figured he would learn how to adjust that in time. He ached to reach out for the comfort his Uncle would bring him but held back afraid he would disturb the carefully constructed illusion and leave his world emptier than before.
It was with great expectation that he turned towards the last figure and could barely contain the joy of finding his father sitting at his bedside. His jade eyes locked onto the figure as a silent tear tracked its way down the bruised and swollen face. He couldn’t contain the desire to reach out for that parental affection and prayed everything wouldn’t disappear as the whisper-soft word “Dad” filled the silent room. When the figures remained within his realm he slowly relaxed and let consciousness fade. He couldn’t help but pray that when he woke again that his apparitions would still be present.
Chris woke slowly to the whispered word, wondering if he had imagined his son calling for him. As he looked at the small figure sleeping soundly in the oversized bed he figured it was just his mind playing tricks on him. Looking at his best friend and son still sleeping just confirmed that he was hearing things, but after five days of waiting for his son to regain consciousness it would be a surprise if he wasn’t hearing things.
He barely remembered the first day in the humid city, just the rush from the airport to the hospital where he had been hold up ever since. He sighed guiltily when he considered his actions of the last few days. He knew it wasn’t his friends fault, but he couldn’t seem to stop lashing out at them every time one of them would bring up the question of why they never knew about Ezra.
Taking a deep breath, he considered Vin and the hurt confusion he had seen in the boy since finding out about Ezra’s existence. He knew the boy was worried about his place in his life now that Ezra had been found and Chris knew he had done nothing to help alleviate those fears. He made a promise to himself to do that this morning when the boy woke up. They’d go out this morning, have a good breakfast and he spend some time reassuring Vin of his place in his life. He was a bit nervous about leaving Ezra’s side for the first time but he also had Vin to think about too. It wasn’t like he was abandoning his son, Buck or one of the others would be here and they could contact him if anything happened.
He had tried to get Josiah, Nathan and JD to return back home, but they seemed just about as stubborn about staying. They were really good men and wasn’t surprised by their behavior. They had been instrumental in helping to clean up the mess with the step-father and school system. He knew that by the time they left the city that town would never be the same again.
Chris frowned when he thought about the man that had put his son into the hospital. He had learned over the last few days that Ezra had been a visitor many times to different hospitals, clinics and private physicians in the years he had been missing. He wondered how it was that no one had considered his abuse before. He owed a great deal to the young Miss Tenant and her brother and his partner as well. From the report he had heard on Maude, it was a wonder that Ezra wasn’t killed.
Robert Bizworth was on his way to a psychiatric facility. Within an hour’s time of being in custody he had attacked another prisoner. Unfortunately for Mr. Bizworth he chose the wrong person to attack. By the time the guards were able to separate them Bizworth had sustained numerous injuries. When his lawyer found out he had suspected foul on the part of the law enforcement, after all prisoners had been known to be beaten by revengeful officers; it certainly wouldn’t be the first time it happened. However, when Bizworth tried attacking him as well he quickly changed his tune and proceeded to get paperwork together for the man to be evaluated by a psychiatrist.
Chris had not been pleased with the insanity card being played, but there was little he could do about once the doctor’s diagnosis was verified by an additional two psychiatrists. In all accounts the doctor’s agreed the man’s mind snapped when he discovered the swindle his wife was pulling on him. So it was the murder of Maude and the attack on her son would never be brought to trial. That however didn’t mean that those sane and knowing of the problems would be held unaccountable. The list was growing longer by the day and each where being charged as accessories to child abuse, assault and battery on a minor, and murder of Maude Bizworth. Chris had tried to throw everything he could at the individuals responsible, not caring that he was coming across as a vindictive bastard. In his book any one of those people could have prevented this tragedy from happening. From the staff that worked in the estate to the administration at the private school, the list was long on those being charged both criminally and professionally. Most of the staff at the private school would not only lose their jobs and face prison time, but would never be able to work in a school system again.
Seeing his friend rouse from another night of sleep brought him out of his contemplative mood. “Morning Buck.”
“Any change?” Buck asked as he stretched and tried to adjust his body from the cramped positions he had been in for the past few days.
Chris just shook his head negatively. “I need to talk with Vin, you mind staying with Ezra till we get back?”
“No problem, will ya bring back something decent to eat? If you weren’t a patient before you got here, just eating that stuff will be sure you’re one after.”
Chris cracked the first grin in nearly a week with his friend’s comment. “Yeah we’ll bring you back something. Let me get Vin up and going, I want to be back for when the doctor comes in for the morning check up.”
Chris went to wake Vin up but saw the two cerulean eyes watching his advance. He could see the worry that the boy tried to hide, but Chris felt his heart drop as he realized just how much he had left the boy in doubts.
Well he would take care of that this morning and help Vin see just how important he was to him. “Come on Vin, let’s go grab some breakfast.”
It was a few hours later that a relieved Vin found himself alone in the hospital room with his new brother. Breakfast with Chris and their subsequent talk had reaffirmed his place in Chris’ life. He hadn’t realized just how worried he was that Chris would no longer want him now that his real son had been found until Chris had started to alleviate his worries. Now feeling secure in his position within the family once again he began to think about his new role as big brother.
Sure he had stayed in foster homes with other kids, some younger and older, but this was the first time it would be permanent. He wanted to be the best big brother Ezra could ever have. He had seen a lot of abuse in his days, even experienced it himself, so he was prepared in some ways to help his brother deal with the trauma. Vin promised himself he would be the strong shoulder the kid could cry on when things would catch up with him.
So deep in his thoughts he didn’t realize he was being watched until a soft southern-tinted word traveled his way. “Hey your awake!”
Vin watched the eyes that returned his stare with equal parts wonder and curiosity. Seeing the smaller boy lick his lips he jumped from his chair to help him get a drink. “Here have some water.” He had to take it away when Ezra was on the verge of choking from drink too fast. “Sorry Ezra, but ya gotta slow down. Don’t want it to come right back up.”
He laughed a bit at the amazed expression on the kid’s face. He wondered why the kid was looking at him as if he was some rare jewel.
“Are you real?”
“Course I’m real,” Vin laughed at the silly question. He figured Ezra must have gotten knocked pretty hard on his head; kid just wasn’t making all that much sense.
“My hero, you always show up when I need you, and then disappear before anyone can see you,” the boy filled in painstakingly slow, trying to get the older boy to understand.
“We’ve met before?” Vin asked curiously, he didn’t remember meeting him before but couldn’t help but wonder if maybe he had.
Ezra shook his head affirmatively before replying, “first time was at school, I’s being bullied,” he finished tiredly, his words starting to slur together.
Vin’s eyes widened in enlightenment, remembering the small boy he had protected on the playground so many years before. “That was you?”
Ezra smiled but it was easy to see the boy’s energy levels were dropping fast. “Name?” he asked blinkingly trying to keep the sleep at bay.
“Vin,” he smiled at the younger boy. He watched as the kid tried out his name before falling into a deep slumber.
When Chris had returned to the room after his meeting with the doctor he couldn’t believe he had missed the first moments of his son’s return to consciousness. He knew he should never have left the room. Vin had filled him in on the conversation he had with Ezra, short though it might be. He couldn’t help but be amazed by the story. He could barely remember Ezra’s story of the boy he dubbed his hero. At the time he and Sarah had believed it was only Ezra’s imaginary friend and the way for their son to deal with many of the changes in his life. Now though, to know that the boy was real and now his big brother really had Chris amazed.
Chris suddenly smiled as he caught the first glimpse of green eyes staring at him with gamut of emotions flickering through them. The final emotion was identified as a deep want to be held and loved; it was an expression he would never forget in his son’s eyes. He quickly gathered the boy into his fold, praying to never be separated from him again. He felt Ezra cling as tightly to him as humanly possibly with silent tears soaked his shoulder. “Oh God Ezra, I’ve missed you so much,” he felt his own tears travel down his chiseled jaw.
“I’m sorry Dad, so sorry,” he heard his son chant over and over. In return he offered words of comfort to the boy as they both released years of pain and emptiness. It wasn’t long before Chris felt his son’s body relax into his hold and slumber; but for Chris it was a long time before he released his hold on his son.