WARNING: Within the entirety of the story, there will be violence, language, abuse, sex, bullying, and discipline. (A/N: And because I don’t care to fixate too much on my mistakes, let it be known that Wes/Nate’s ages regarding Wes/Harris/Thad’s birth doesn’t add up really. But oh freaken well! That’s what happens when 80% of a story comes from a dream. Dreams don’t do math well! And muses don’t feel like fixing it! <<call it ‘Soap Opera Magic’ or whatever>>)

NOTES: I often write original characters into already established fandoms, or I write personal pieces that I am still plotting and planning and hoping to someday finish. There are even a few ideas I would try to publish. This story, however, is for completion. I want to write something to test the length of this idea (it’s a big one), but also my ability to create a realistic enough world. I hope not to bore, and above all I hope to entertain. Proceed with caution and honesty, please. I would love to know what you think.


I would like to point out that the above warnings I take very seriously. I'm just a writer, in my little creative corner of the world, but I am aware that certain things are quite touchy with people. This chapter, and the next, in particular had a few parts that were hard to write. I took out a few of these parts - since, while they helped me better understand my characters, they didn't do much for the story. I might add them back in later, but I thought I should point it out. I love writing this story for you all! I love the response it has received immensely! And i most certainly hope never, ever to insult or hurt anyone through this story. 

FOOLS – 8,075
Summary: Tabitha pushes an unwelcomed visit, old boyfriend in tow.



It was her birthday. At least, it was close enough to her birthday that Eli Ryder felt justified telling herself that. For the moment, the only thing that she could wish for, was to see for herself that her favorite brother was okay.

Leaving the school grounds and getting a bus to the hospital had been ridiculously easy, if a tad scary and sneaky. She had been thinking about it for the past two days – since her parents had told them all about Wes’s accident.

Eli had asked nicely to go see him. But the trouble was, they all had. And when that many of them were interested in something, it was extremely unlikely for any of them to actually get it.

Her parents sometimes sucked like that.

Naturally, Harris and Thad had each gone to see Wes twice, Harris driving them over himself. Uncle Noah stopped by after his work day, Uncle Devon worked at the hospital so he got to see him probably all of the time, and Angie was probably over there whenever she wanted.

It was the kids that suffered.

Their father had been home nightly, but he spent most of the time over at the hospital. Their mother had stopped by numerous times too. But neither wanted to take the kids because they didn’t want them to see Wes how he was.

Sneaking into the hospital room was way trickier. First, Eli knew that she would need an adult to be up in the wards, and there was any at the moment. Her plan for that was to say that she was visiting but was going to the bathroom. Hopefully, no one would think too much on it.

But the bigger problem was that she had no clue where her brother’s room even was!

Eli stood for a moment, just inside the hospital foyer. She had been to the emergency room a few times, for herself and her brothers. This time, things were going to be very different.

She wanted to see Wes, but it probably wasn’t a good idea to let him see her. Not if she didn’t want to get into any trouble.

There were two receptionist, but one didn’t seem to stay behind the desk for long. Unfortunately, she kept coming back to the desk often enough. The tricky part would be getting the other one away.

Eli glanced around, trying to get some kind of inspiration. There was a fire alarm, but she was pretty sure there was a law against that. And it wasn’t the same thing as pulling one in school. People were sick there, and they would not appreciate having to go outside into the cold for some little girl’s pranks.

Next, she thought about pretending that she was there with a parent, but that wouldn’t be such a good idea either. Chances were that with all of the times that her dad had been through, they would actually recognize him. And then there was the possibility of running into Uncle Devon.

She thought about maybe saying she needed to go talk with Dr. Lessing, but then there was the too real possibility that he would actually be there, and that would not go well at all.

So Eli stayed hidden behind a flower plotter, a huge one, and kept watching the two receptionist. Sooner or later, she thought, they would have to both step away. Sooner or later, she would get her chance.

And almost twelve minutes later, she did.

Just as Eli was getting ready to give up, she saw the second receptionist leaving. He had a note in his hand, so she could only imagine he would be a few minutes, but it was more than enough.

Eli scrambled over to the reception desk, peering over the ledge just enough to spot someone coming. The area was mostly clear. As luck would have it, the receptionists’ hadn’t logged out of the system. Typing in RYDER, Eli found that Wesley was being held in his own room on the sixth floor. She committed the number to memory and quickly deleted her query from the history before dashing away.

Not ten seconds after Eli reached the flower again, the first receptionist had returned. With a sigh of relief, Eli turned to go look in search for the elevators.


Upstairs, it was much easier to move around. Apparently, if you passed the security downstairs, people assume you know what you’re doing and where you were going. The trick was to not look lost.

Eli made her way over to 6-145. The door was slightly ajar and she moved in closer to see if it was occupied.

Her coat was a bit loud, and her heart was pounding in her ears, and her palms were sweating.

Inside the room, she could hear movement, but no talking. Eli pushed at the door just slightly, but stopped when a few inches in, it made a noise. Even with the hustle and bustle and general activity in the hospital, to her ears, the doors was loud.

Eli glanced around, wondering if it was too late for her to run for coverage. She was standing in the middle of the hallway, when the door to Wes’ room opened.

Eli’s eyes widened, fearing that she would see Angie or someone else that she would rat her out, she almost dashed down the hallway. But the dark black hair up in a bun and the bright red scrubs stopped her.

            “Hey there,” the nurse greeted with a wide, friendly grin. “You okay, sweetie?”

Eli nodded.


She shook her head.

            “Cat’s got your tongue?” the nurse mock cringed.

            “Not really,” Eli replied, her fingers twisting against the hem of her coat.

The nurse looked over her shoulder with a thoughtful expression. Eli thought about slowly backing away. Maybe the lady wouldn’t notice.

            “Are you trying to see this cutie?” she nudged over her shoulder.

            “Maybe?” Eli said, unconsciously taking a step forward. “Is he okay?”

            “Is he your husband?” the woman asked.

            “What?” Eli cringed. “No.”

            “Hm, well, I wouldn’t believe you if you said he was your son.”

            “No way,” Eli rolled her eyes. “He’s my brother. My big brother. My favorite brother,” she stressed, if maybe that made a difference.

            “You’re missing him something awful aren’t you?” the nurse sighed.

            “I really am,” Eli said, trying to hold back tears. She wasn’t going to cry. She didn’t let herself cry when her father had told them about Wesley’s accident, and she wasn’t going to cry now. She wasn’t weak, she was fierce!

            “You really shouldn’t be up here, sweetie,” the nurse insisted. “I’m thinking Mom and Dad aren’t popping up here any time soon, are they?”

            “Uh,” Eli glanced over her shoulder. “I’m here with my brother. Another brother. I have a ton of them.”

            “But Wesley’s your favorite?”

            “He really, really is,” she had to nod. “He doesn’t treat me like a pest or like a silly little girl.” Eli wiped at the one tear that hadn’t gotten the memo. “And when he stays over he takes my bed, and he doesn’t let dad get too mad about when I keep camping out under the bed. He’s just, he’s really great, you know?”

            “He sounds pretty amazing, for a big brother,” the nurse nodded. “But I don’t think your parents are going to like you seeing him like this. And big brothers kind of have an image they like to uphold, don’t they?”

            “Not Wes!” Eli shook her head. “He’s real cool, even though he has to wear a suit every day to work, he rides his motorcycle and drives Dad crazy! And most of the guys at home walk around in their underwear, and no one looks cool in their underwear.”

The nurse tried to hide her laughter.

            “I guess they wouldn’t. And not to little sisters.”

            “Okay, sometimes they’re cool, but I still really have to see him. Just for like twenty seconds!” Eli pleaded.

            “Twenty seconds? Why not five or ten?”

            “Well, I’d take a whole minute,” Eli shrugged. “But I was kind of just hoping for a few seconds at this point.”

The nurse stood silent a moment, glancing back into the room. Wes was asleep, and she was just changing in his medicine and updating his chart. Overall, he wasn’t in that bad a situation, but the tubes and bruises weren’t the kind of thing she would want the kids in her own family to see.

            “I’ll be really quiet,” Eli insisted. “And I’ll let him sleep and I’ll walk right back out. Please, please, please!”

            “A quick peek,” the nurse conceded. “And then, we are heading to the nurse’s station, and you're calling your mom or dad.”

Eli cringed. “Can I call an uncle instead?”

            “I think no, not if you want in there.”

Eli sighed, but she nodded. Her mom was going to scream and her dad was going to bust her butt, but it would be worth it.


Wes was still, and he looked a bit like a mummified version of her brother. His leg was in a cast, an arm in a slim, and scrapes here and there were covered in white bandages.

            “Ouch,” she cringed at his sight.

But he was alive. The beep, beep, beep was steady and the numbers seemed to be green on the machines, which she took to mean that everything was good. No one was yelling Code Blue like they did in the movies, so that was also good.

She wanted to wake him, talk to him and touch him, but she had promised the nurse, and the twenty seconds must have passed. She made her way slowly backwards towards the door.

            “Wesley Ryder’s room,” a woman’s voice was saying as Eli made her way down the hall towards the nurse’s station, as she had promised.

Eli frowned, looking at the couple that stood there, glaring down at the nurses there. The dark haired woman looked slightly familiar, but not enough that they would be visiting her brother. The man, on the other hand, was a complete stranger.

She walked, slowly, listening.

            “I’m sorry, only family is allowed in,” the nurse was saying.

The other nurse, the one that had seen to Eli, turned and spotted her approaching.

            “Well, that shouldn’t be a problem then,” the woman snapped. “We’re his parents.”

She had her arm tightly around the man’s arm, and turned to look adoringly at him, but as soon as she looked over at the nurses, disdain took its place.

And if there was one thing that Eli was sure of, that was not her parents!

            “No you’re not!” she snapped, going towards them faster. The nurse that had seen to Eli walked around the station and went to stand beside her.

            “Excuse me?” the woman glared down at her

            “You are most definitely not Wesley Ryder’s parents,” she crossed her arms. “I’ve never seen you a day in my life!”

            “And who are you to say anything?” the woman spat out, taking to releasing her hold on the man and taking a step instead towards Eli.


            “I think we should all remember this is a hospital,” the helpful nurse stopped Eli with a hand on her shoulder. “And people are trying to rest here.”

            “And I want to see my son!” The woman slammed her hand and her slender purse clutch on the counter. “What you’re doing is illegal!”

Behind the woman, Eli could see the other nurse making a haste call, most likely for security. The man, also noticing the notion, walked over to his – whatever the yelling woman was.

            “Hey, babe, I think we could come back another day,” he started to take her by the shoulders.

            “Don’t!” she snapped, turning to shove him away. “I won’t be told anymore when I can and can’t see my own son!”

            “He’s not your son!” Eli yelled back.

            “Sweetie,” the nurse at her side whispered to her ear. “I think it would be better if you don’t speak. We won’t let her pass, but you’re not helping.”

Eli nodded. The man grabbed the shrieker by the elbow tugging her towards the elevators.

            “Let me go Samuel!” she groaned. “I have every right to be here!”

            “Not like this you don’t!” he insisted. “My apologies.” He looked over at the nurse closest to them, but he had his hands full trying to keep his grasp on the woman.

Eli let herself be guided over to the nurse’s station, where she was safely away from the woman’s reach. She watched as the man, Samuel, tried to calm her. The elevator doors opened and two security men appeared.

            “Please Stan, Al, take those two down to the reception,” the other nurse stated to them. The two guards nodded and stood to the side as the loud woman was led into the elevator space by the man.


Eli frowned.

            “You okay, sweetie?” the nurse asked her.

            “It’s Eli,” she replied. “And I have no idea who that crazy woman is, well, maybe I do, but she’s not supposed to be anywhere near regular human beings. She’s clearly crazy.”

The nurse gave her a soft smile.

            “I think it’s a good time to call Mom and Dad, don’t you?”

Eli shrugged. If anything, at least her dad would be able to keep those two away. Because if Samuel meant anything, Eli might have just met the man that Wes’ middle name came from.


Nate Ryder met was met with a sad looking Devon and a slightly teary eyed Eli as he entered the family room on Wes’ floor.

            “I can’t believe you,” he groaned.

From his side, Emma sprung forward and pulled Eli into her arms.

            “You crazy, foolish girl!” she murmured into Eli’s blond hair.

            “Sorry, Mom,” Eli said, her hands resting in her pockets as her mother fawned over her. Eli’s thoughts were miles away.

            “Sorry Mom?” Nate scoffed, closing the door behind him. “That’s the best you have?”

Eli turned her teary eyes up to him, and frowned.


            “There’s more,” Devon stood up. He kissed Emma’s cheek and went to stand beside Nate.

            “More what?”

            “More that happened,” Devon explained.

            “Is Wes okay?” Emma straightened up, her eyes wide in fright.

            “He’s fine,” Devon held up his hands. “It’s not about Wes.”

            “It is, though,” Eli sighed. “isn’t it?”

            “What is?” Nate turned to his friend.

            “Uh,” sighed Devon. “Can we have a moment?”

Emma frowned but she nodded. Taking her daughter by the hand, they sat back down on the couch.

            “Sure, it’ll give me a moment to give my one and only daughter a piece of my mind.”

But where she would normally spring up in her defense, Eli just sat with her head hanging low and her body motionless.

Emma looked at the guys, but Devon just held up a hand to stop her.

            “We’ll be right outside,” he said instead.

Nate followed Devon out into the hall. He was worried sick about Wes, and the thought that one of the other kids had managed to slip away like this was making his head spin. And of course, it would prove to be Eli, their rebellious spirit. There was nothing sugar and spice about that girl, she was full throttle, whatever she did.

            “What is it?” he asked as soon as the door closed.

            “Tabitha,” Devon stated.

If there was one thing that Nate did not think would be said, that would be it.

            “What does she have to do with anything?” Nate scoffed. “Jesus, Dev, you know I hate even talking about her.”

            “She was here, Nate,” Devon reached forward and gripped his shoulders. “She was here, yelling at the nurses to see Wes.”

            “What the fuck!” Nate glared. “How did she even –

But he knew, and if Devon’s shrug meant anything, he knew too.

            “Damn my mother,” he muttered.

            “She means well,” Devon insisted, patting his cheek. “She just can’t phantom her little girl as an unworthy person. Can you? If any one of your brats actually turned out to be a real, honest to God asshole?”

Nate scoffed. Devon barely cursed, but when he did, he made it count.

            “I can’t see them ever turning like that, but I know what you’re trying to say.” Nate passed a hand through his hair, gripping it tightly at the top as if that would be enough to snap him into reality.

            “You’re likely to go bald before that helps,” teased Devon.

            “Seriously though,” sighed Nate. “If just one of my sons even thought about treating someone like Tabitha treated Wes, her son, I would wipe the floor with them.”

            “You would’ve called the cops years ago, I know. But Wes, he’s not six years old anymore.”

Nate glared at him. He turned, looking into the family room through the small window in the door. Eli was staring back at him. His heart pounded loudly on his chest.



Nate closed his eyes. He had kept all contact from his sister away from his kids. Emma had met her once, before they were even engaged, and it wasn’t by choice. David understood his stance, and he had made certain that their interactions, if rare, with Tabitha wouldn’t intercept with Nate’s. it wasn’t like Tabitha was around for holidays, or that she remembered birthdays.

            “Fuck,” Nate groaned. Devon’s hand was once again on his shoulder, gripping him in silent support.

            “It gets worst,” Devon said.

            “What the hell!” Nate snapped, looking over at him. “How could it possible?”

            “Okay, I’m just going to say what I was told, and yeah-

Nate closed his eyes, taking a deep, deep breath. It did not have the slightest of calming effects on him.

            “Oh God, what now?”

            “Well, okay, I spoke with the nurses, when I went to get Eli.” Devon worried his lip.

            “That’s a bad habit,” Nate poked his lip. “I’ve already got three of the kids copying you.”

Devon tried not to smile, but the fact that the kids looked up to him still made his heart flutter. It wasn’t always easy for him, being gay wasn’t a big deal to the Ryders, or his own family thankfully, but a lot of the world wasn’t sharing of the same sentiment. It had taken him years to feel comfortable walking beside his boyfriend, and the thought of having his own family was just starting to pipe up in the back of his mind, where he had tried to bury it long ago.

Nate’s kids, the way they took to him, looked up to him. It made the world seem brighter and lighter and gave him hope.

            “I’ll try and keep that in mind.”

            “Spit it out doc,” Nate said, leaning heavily back against the wall.

            “Tabitha brought someone with her. Someone she was insisting that, along with herself, were Wesley’s parents.”

Nate frowned. Again, he had not expected that.

            “Eli said she called him Samuel.”

Nate groaned and rubbed at his face. Of course, it could always get worse. Had he not yet learned that in life?

            “You’ve got to be kidding me?”

            “I can’t be sure,” Devon held up his hands. “But that’s all I know.”

            “That guy was like way older than her to begin with!” Nate gripped. “Fuck! I thought she ended it with him ages ago.”

            “Maybe they met back up?” Devon shrugged. “Maybe she’s into guys names Samuel?”

Nate rolled his eyes.

            “As long as it has a penis, my sister could be found attached to it,” he shook his head.

            “Damn, dude,” Devon grimaced. “Remind me to stay away from her. And keep Jeremy away too. Yikes. I can’t imagine talking about my own sister like that.”

            “You’re an only child, and I’m the better of your two brothers,” Nate grinned, but he soon sighed.

            “Four, if I count Noah’s two brothers.”

            “Then, with that logic, Tabitha would be your sister as well.”

Devon cringed. “God, how did this conversation take such a wrong turn?”

Nate grinned for another instant, but again, the reality of the situation hit him.

            “I can’t believe her.”

            “Eli isn’t taking it all well either,” Devon sighed, all trace of humor gone from his voice. He remembered how shocked Eli had looked when he went to gather her. How she had buried her face against his chest and cried silently, something this particular little girl was not known for.

            “I can only imagine.”

            “I think she’s afraid of losing Wes,” Devon confided.

            “Did she say that?” Nate frowned, looking up through the window again.

            “Not so much.”

            “Did Tabitha say something?”

            “I don’t think so. The nurses didn’t say anything.”

Nate groaned. Anything to do with Tabitha was sure to cause him a foul time.

            “What do I do, Dev?” he groaned. “I don’t want her anywhere near my family. Wes is mine.”

            “I know,” Devon stopped him. “But maybe, he really is old enough to decide Nate. Just, support him.”

            “You know I will,” Nate looked over his shoulder at him. “I can't think of anything that boy could do that I wouldn’t support him. I just, I don’t think I can handle it.” Nate scoffed and shook his head. He wiped a treacherous tear, wondering why this hurt him so much.

            “You know,” Devon stood beside him, leaning against the wall and staring at the bare wall across from them. “There’s nothing, literally nothing in the whole world, that can be done or said that will make Wesley think less of you. That man, he could be the president, pope, and a rock star combined, and he’s still not the man that raised him. You raised a good, smart kid. Don’t doubt yourself.”

Devon wrapped his arm around Nate’s shoulder. Nate stood, deep breath, silent tears, and breaking heart.


Eli sat quietly. That was rare enough for her. Emma was trying to talk to her, but Eli was focused on whatever her dad and uncle were talking about in the hallway.

            “Sweetie, what is it?” Emma frowned, brushing away some of Eli’s blond strands from her face.

Eli glanced at her mother briefly.

            “Eloise,” sighed Emma. “Please, just talk to me.”

Eli shook her head. She didn’t want to talk about that man or the woman. Especially the woman.

Eli had known for years that Wes wasn’t actually their father’s son, the truth of his parents wasn’t talked about but they had all heard things through the years. And they had heard about their father’s sister, Tabitha.

Could that loud woman be their father’s sibling?

Her mother’s siblings lived a bit far away, but Eli had met them all. Emma had two older siblings and two younger ones, making her right dab in the middle. Eli knew a thing about being in the middle, but unlike her mother she didn’t have any sisters. And if what she saw from the girls in school and her father’s sister, she certainly didn’t want any.

How could a sister be so different from her brother?

            “Eloise Natalie Ryder,” Emma stressed. “You talk to your mother right now!”

Eli sighed. She already knew she was going to be in trouble for leaving the school and getting herself over to the hospital and going to see Wes. Wesley hadn’t even been awake, and it was barely worth it to just see him there, but she had seen him. And the nurse had said that he was doing better. He slept a lot, but Eli couldn’t blame him. He was in the hospital after all.

It was a completely different story to have to witness that crazy woman.

But, overall, as Eli sat there thinking and huddled into her mother’s loving and worried side, she realized something too. Had she not been there, had Eli not done that laundry list of ill-mannered deeds, had she not been at the hospital when she had managed to be, that woman, that crazy loud mouthed woman, would have been allowed in to see Wes.

And then what?

            “I’m sorry,” Eli said, wiping a tear that fell from her eyes as she tried to tightened them shut and in doing so close off her fears.

            “Oh, baby, I know, I know,” Emma hugged her.

Emma Ryder was no fool either. She knew that something more had occurred. Eli wasn’t known for being so quiet. And even if she was caught red-handed, the girl would argue her case until she was blue and red and green and purple and blue again.

And then, obviously something had made Devon take Nate off to the side. Her husband would tell her afterwards, he had to because she would certainly insist, but for the time being she didn’t know.

As the door opened and she got a look at her husband’s face, Emma stood up and her heart started to worry.

            “What happened?” Emma asked as she stepped into Nate’s welcoming embrace.

            “Wes is fine,” he whispered back. “Dev had to go back to actually working,” the tease was soft and barely heartfelt. The smirk he gave her didn’t reach his eyes.

            “What happened?” she asked again, softer this time, wondering if she should be worried instead for their daughter.

Nate looked over at Eli. The little girl was staring intently back at him, and her sweet little eyes begged something of him that he couldn’t give her.

Denial. He too felt it, but it was as true and plain to anyone that cared to think.

Wes was not his son, not in the one way that didn’t matter. He didn’t have the boy’s blood running in him, not like a father. They did share blood, and through the one person that connected them that neither man liked to think about.

Tabitha. So easily she slithered in and out of their lives at her whim and content.

            “Eloise,” he sighed. Emma turned to look down at the girl too.

            “Daddy,” Eli stated, her voice soft and cute in a way that he often didn’t associate with her.

There were a couple of things he wanted to say.

First, he was mad at her. She was so smart and fearless and daring, sometimes he didn’t see her actions coming. He should’ve known that she would try to see Wes, she loved him so very much in that Wes was maybe the only of the boys who hadn’t ever turned her away for being a girl, the one in the family – including himself and Emma, sadly – that she had never had to prove herself to. Wes never told her she wasn’t being a lady, or that girls shouldn’t do something or anything to that extent. Wes went out of his way to make her feel included and appreciated for being herself.

But he had had his son so much in his mind, he had let the others, temporarily as it may be, slip from his mind.

Could he really blame the girl? He would have done the same, more even, if someone had kept him away from his son. From any of his kids.

            “Wes is awake now,” he found himself saying instead. “You want to go see him?”

            “Is that wise?” Emma was saying, even as Eli gave off a soft smile and a single nod.

            “She’s already seen him at his worst,” Nate shrugged. “Might as well get to talk to him."

            “Can I?” Eli stood up slowly. She was well aware of how far she had already crossed the line that day. If Emma said no, she wasn’t going to fight it.

Emma was a good, no a great, mother. She had always been there for her, and for all of them. And for Wes too.

            “Okay,” Emma nodded, glancing from Eli to Nate. “For a bit.”

They turned to the door, Emma opening it, and Nate holding it open for his two girls to pass. As Eli went by, he reached down a place a stinging swat on the little girl.

Eli reached back and cringed, but she didn’t complain as she saw her father’s tired, warning look.

            “Sorry,” she stated instead, turning to follow Emma down the hall.


Wes was sat up and smiling at his nurse when they entered. He smiled at them when he spotted then, and frowned before scoffing and shaking his head when he saw Eli.

            How do you do it? he asked the girl with a raise of his eyebrow, motioning her over with his hand.

            “I missed you,” Eli said, coming to stand at his side, taking his hand. She wiped another traitor tear and tried to put all her feelings aside but for joy and love and all good things.

Wes reached for her cheek, patting it before he tugged at her hair a bit.

            “I snuck away,” Eli muttered, by way of explanation. “And got here and found out where you were to see you.”

Wes rolled his eyes. He glanced over at Nate, who had taken up the seat bedside. Emma was walking around the room slowly, needlessly tidying up.

She felt useless, nervous. Wes frowned.

            “I wasn’t the only one here today,” Eli said.

            “Don’t,” Nate hissed, reached instinctively to smack her backside again.

Eight kids, and it was much more of an instinct than he liked to acknowledge.

Wes frowned. He used his hold on Eli to tug her beside him onto the bed. He turned his gaze on Nate once Eli was seated.

            “I don’t want to talk about it,” Nate shook his head at the questioning look.

            “I wish someone would say something,” Emma sighed from behind him, leaning on the window with a frown on her usually pleasant face.

            “Not now,” Nate said over his shoulder.

Eli was playing with her hands, a sure enough sign that she was holding something in. She wasn’t even trying to not be obvious about it, which worried Wes.

He took her chin in his hand and made her look at him. Tears in her eyes. There was such a rarity of tears in the family, aside from Gabby’s baby antics and Tony’s occasional tired tantrums, that seeing the tough nugget that was his little sister made him know that whatever was happening wasn’t good.

He turned his gaze once more towards Nate.

            “Honey,” Emma sighed, standing behind Nate, she placed her hands on his shoulders. “Whatever it is, Eli already knows. And you know I’m here for you.”

Nate nodded. He knew that it wouldn’t be a surprise for Eli, but it would be for Wes, and he didn’t think it was fair for either of them to have to see him receive that news. Wes had never taken well to seeing Tabithat. This time, to think of the vulnerable position he was in, he couldn’t even scream for help or defend himself. In a way, he was worse off now than he had been as a child.

            “I would like to talk with West, alone. Please understand Em, it’s –

            “I’ll wait in the lobby,” Eli said instead, hugging Wes tightly before she started to hop off his bed.

            “I think not,” Emma scoffed.

            “I don’t want you wondering the hospital,” Nate shook his head.

            “It’s just down the hall, in front of the nurse’s station,” Eli insisted. “I know, I’m in trouble and shouldn’t be asking for anything, but” she turned to Nate, capturing his eyes. “You have to tell him Daddy. And, you guys should be together for this. I’m sorry. I know I was stupid to come like I did, but I just had to see Wes! And, well, considering, I’m not sorry.”

She said the last part towards her feet, but Nate heard her. And he couldn’t say he didn’t understand.

            “I can wait,” Emma insisted. “You guys take your time, I’ll take this one with me. I can probably drop her off with Mrs. Lawrence, haven’t seen her in a few weeks.”

            “No,” Nate sighed, shaking his head. “The brat is right.” He pulled his kid towards him and glared into her eyes. “I’m very upset with you, but I don’t like leaving them in the dark about this. I expect your butt in that chair, quietly waiting until we come get you. Got it?”

Eli nodded. She glanced at her mother and Wes alike, but Nate capture her chin for her attention.

            “No more troubles, Eloise.”

            “I’m sorry,” she repeated. Eli was too smart to fall into the particular trap of promising her father her absolute obedience. For one, if she saw that woman again, it wouldn’t be pretty.


Emma stared out of the window of her bedroom, glaring at the vast darkness in front of her.

It had been a few hours since she had left Wesley’s room. She had left Nate there, had collected Eli with a hug and had driven them both home instead. She sent the girl to cleanup around the house, a task that would likely take hours, she knew from experience, and took her cellphone into the laundry room.

Then she proceeded to call Jenna Ryder.

Looking back, Emma probably shouldn’t have done that, but what she truly wanted to do – call Tabitha and arrange to have her head served on a silver platter – was quite beyond her grasp. Especially since she didn’t have a means of contacting her husband’s bitch of a sister.

God! To think that her amazing, loving, funny and caring husband was related to that evil woman. How David and Jenna could have bore that thing into the world!

She had ranted. Jenna had barely gotten a dozen words in herself and Emma was only waiting for Nate to find out. He would not be happy. But Emma couldn’t apologize for what she had done. She loved Wes so much, all of the boys! But she had fought so hard for Wes’ affection, had envied the bond that Nate had with Wes, because it was just the two of them. Harris and Thad had each other and they had Angie as well as Wes and Nate, but as much as all of them loved Wes, he was always going to be the closest to Nate.

She loved Nate so much, and Harris and Thad had been babies, that they had pretty much taken instantly to her, but Wes had had his own opinions of her. Looking back, she had to shake her head at all of the times she had left the Ryders with tears in her eyes, wondering if it would all be over, because that boy had placed salt into her coffee or had had Thad release crayon hell all over her paperwork.

Wes had been clear about his feelings towards her, but she was glad that they had, eventually, changed.

But in the beginning, talk of Tabitha was still around.

Emma never met her, but she could still recall how quiet Wes was after his last visit with her.

It was, as usual, unplanned.


July 23, 1995

            “Why can’t she tell me before hand?” Nate had groaned as he told Emma the next day. She had stopped by to get coffee with him, a Sunday ritual of sorts that they had picked up on the last two months of their dating. But Nate had been dressed in his pajamas still, and she could hear the two little ones behind him.

            “I’m sure your mother didn’t mean to upset you guys,” She had tried to take his hand, offer support, but Nate didn’t even notice. He was pacing just outside his door. He had tried to let her off with ‘Today’s not good’, but Emma had insisted on knowing more.

Nate scoffed. “She is the one that insisted we visit her more weekends. And I told her last weekend that I would more than likely be there Saturday. I knew Dad wasn’t working and the kids and I had a completely free day, but when I get there, Tabitha is sitting there like she owns the place, Mom serving her coffee and cookies and she’s just flipping the channels like it’s nothing. And the moment she sees him.”

Nate glanced towards the open door.

            “I shouldn’t leave them alone like this.”

            “Then don’t,” Emma walked over and took his head. She knew he was hurting, betrayed by his mother and his sister. His father had been out, but Nate had said he hadn’t been happy when he got home either.

Nate wouldn’t say what his sister had said to them, but it couldn’t have been love filled words, that was for certain.

Emma kissed the tip of his nose.

            “Come on,” she tugged him by the hand, ignoring his questioning frown. They entered the small house, Harris running to her, pleased to see her. Thad, holding onto the couch for stability and grinning his few teeth at her. He was going to be one soon, and she couldn’t believe how quickly the boy had grown.

Wes was nowhere to be seen.

            “You don’t have to stay,” Nate sighed. He looked like he hadn’t slept, and the dishes piled up in the sink and the breakfast disarray still on the table let her know that the ‘super-dad’ was most definitely not feeling his best.

            “I know,” she turned, trying to offer her widest, warmest smile. “Let me.”

He smirked. Nate’s eyes were tired, but they were filled with love. Maybe even for her.

He leaned down, and she rose up to her tip toes and kissed at his lips, her soft cheeks touching against the stubble he hadn’t shaven off that morning.

She had cleared off the kitchen for them, and Nate had gone to get the two little boys bathed and dressed for the days.

It was an hour later when she realized that she hadn’t seen Wes that morning. Emma was looking for him when she heard what she had to call annoyed crying from the hall closet.

Opening it, she was met with a seated Wes, his face in his hands muttering at himself.

            “Hey,” she spoke softly, kneeling down beside him. “I was looking for you.”

            “Please, leave me alone,” the boy muttered, wiping at his eyes.

She had never seen him like this. Emma glanced down the hall, could hear Nate with the other two. He had to know that Wes was upset, and he was probably giving the little boy his space. Nate was good like that, but Emma

Emma just couldn’t leave a thing alone.

            “Do you want to talk about it?” Emma had crouched down, offering a smile and getting a glare in return.

            “No,” If looks could kill.

            “Are you sure?” the question felt stupid as soon as it left her lips, but as much as she wanted to know just the right words to say, she was going to have to deal with the words her brain dealt her.

            “Go Away,” Wes groaned. He reached forward, his smaller hands on her shoulders giving a mighty push until she fell backwards into the hall. Then he grabbed the door and slammed himself back into the small space.

“Ah!” shrieked Emma at the treatment, her but, head and back each hitting with a heavy thud. Her head had actually hit the opposite wall, since the hall wasn’t actually too wide.

“Emma!” Nate yelled in surprise. He had both boys in his arms, but he quickly placed them safely on the ground as he made his way over to her. “Shit are you okay?”

“Just a bit surprised,” she frowned, sitting upright. Her writs had scrapped on the ground, but it was just a minor rug burn if at that.

“What happened?” Nate asked as he gently helped her up.

“Uh oh!” Harris chirped. “Broke a butt!” and he burst into giggles. “Broke a butt butt!”

Thad giggled, bouncing on his own diapered butt-butt at his brother’s little new song.

            “Guys!” Nate tried to stop them, but it was more pointless than anything at their ages. Thad had the good graces to at least look at him as he talked, but Harris kept on going, singing “Butt Butt!” with a little wiggle to his hips as he marched around the cheering infant.

            “I’m fine, really,” she smiled at him.

            “That kid is going to be the end of me,” Nate groaned, glaring at the white closet door.

            “I’m sure yesterday was very stressful,” offered Emma. “I should’ve done as he asked and left him be.”

            “No,” Nate shook his head. “That’s not a good reason to go around attacking people.”

            “Nate,” Emma sighed. “He didn’t attack me.”

            “Don’t defend him,” Nate snipped, but his tone was enough that Harris even stopped his song-and-dance routine.

Nate noticed the change and closed his eyes with a sigh.

            “I’m sorry.”

Emma wasn’t sure which one of them said it first, but they shared a slight laugh at it.

            “It’s alright, please just let it go,” Emma insisted.

            “He shouldn’t treat you, or anyone like that. Especially you.”

            “I’m sure seeing his mother wasn’t a-

            “SHE’S NOT MY MOTHER!” Wes shrieked from inside the closet.

The loud, seemingly bodiless yell started the two toddlers and Thad even toppled himself over in fright. He started to sit up, but instead turned on his belly, aimed his big-eyed wonder at them and burst into heart-felt tears.

Which then had Harrison kneeling over and trying to console him, as his own whimpers started.

All in a matter of two seconds.

            “Damnit Wesley!” Nate groaned, moving towards his two youngest.

            “DAMNIT WESLEY!” the eight year old yelled back, yanking the closet open harsher than he had slammed it shut. “I’M ALREADY DAMNED!”

He rushed over, through the living room, and straight out the door, his bare feet slapping against the hard ground echoing in Emma’s ears.

            “Fuck!” Nate groaned, trying to pry Thad from his face.

            “I’ll get him!” Emma offered.

            “No it’s fine, I will,” Nate was saying, but Emma was already running out the door in hot pursuit. Besides, it didn’t look like Thad or a leg clinging Harris were letting go any time soon.

She caught the back of his green shirt two floor down and took off.

Emma then found the eldest little Ryder at the corner of the street, his head looking both ways, not to cross but likely trying to pick a route. There was only one other person on the street, and they kept on their own way, looking past Emma and not caring for the little kid he had just three paces back walked past.

            “Wesley!” she yelled out, hoping to catch his attention.

Wes did glance back, but he had no intentions of going back, especially with her. She wasn’t even pretty! (According to Wes.) He had no idea what his dad could possibly see in her, and he didn’t care. He didn’t need a mom. Not now, not ever.

            “Go away!” Wes gripped his hands into fists. “Why do you keep getting in the way! Why can’t you just leave and not come back!”

Seemingly decided, Wes took off towards the her left, thankfully not quite taking to crossing the street, but still going about it in a way Emma knew his father would not be pleased with.

            “Wes, please! Can you stop running off from me!”

Wes glanced back over his shoulder and seemed to pick up speed. Emma forced her legs to keep moving. At the next corner, Wes turned again. Maybe his plan was to run around the block. It was a pretty large block, it could help cool him off.

But definitely not here. Emma wasn’t dressed in running sneakers. She had flat, cute shoes, thinking that they might take the kids out with them when she had thought that they would be heading out.

Wes glanced back again, glared, and seemed even faster! Where did this kid store his energy?


            “Go AWAY!” was her usual reply.

Sad to say, Emma lost sight of him at the next turn. She tried to keep up, but he seemed impossibly fast. She had though that she was a decent runner, but this kid – with his kid energy and all – was taking her for nuts.

            “Please, please, please!” she insisted, moving forward in the vain hope that she would catch up to him.

They were coming up to the front of the apartment building, and Emma wished he would just stop.

When she finally caught up, Nate was there, sans Thad and Harris and hands gripping tightly at Wes’s thrashing form by his biceps.

            “Knock it off!” Nate groaned, giving his eldest a bit of a shake.

            “Look at you!” the boy was yelling. “You’re just as pathetic as her! You’re no better than her! How could you be! You’re the same!”

            “Wesley! Stop it!” Nate insisted, not heeding into his cries at the moment.

            “Nate?” Emma started to say.

            “Can you watch those two?” Nate said instead, finally noticing her. “I’ll be a bit.”

Emma barely gave a nod, and then Nate gathered Wes up, carrying him back to chest against his hip, made off towards the end of the block and Emma could only imagine where else.

She groaned and rubbed at her face, taking barely a second before she turned to the propped open door and to the two kids waiting alone.



            “Do you want to say something?”

 The room was silent, which was rare with both Nate and Wes there, awake.

Wes looked at him and rolled his eyes.

            “I mean, you can write it out,” Nate offered.

With his jaw recently wired shut, Wes found that even frowning hurt. He hissed and then brought a hand up to his forehead. He must be developing a headache.

            “I know,” Nate sighed, reaching for Wes and rubbing at his hair softly, to not disturb any bruises or his concussion. “I’m sorry, I didn’t even want to tell you. But I wanted you prepared in case she tried something like this again.”

Wes growled in his throat.

            “Trust me, I don’t want her around here either.”

Wes leaned back into his pillows, the soft touches against his head doing little to stop a few memories slipping in.

At the mere mention of Tabitha Ryder, Wes could call back on the scent of days old dried alcohol and smoke against the sticky-sweatiness of the long-haired brunette that shared his and Nate’s eyes. He could feel the pinch of inch-long nails against his baby-soft skin. Hear the laughter as he fumbled whatever he had been holding to the ground because glass had been tossed at a wall just to see him flinch.

No, there were no maternal, loving memories to be attributed to Tabitha Ryder. Not for the past twenty-six years, and certainly not now, out of the blue, when he was at his lowest.

            “The nurses know not to let her anywhere near here,” Nate told him, stilling his hand for a moment. He hadn’t mentioned the many more than mention of Tabitha being there with a friend. After all, the father role was taken, as far as he was concerned.

Wesley glanced at him and then glanced back down at the magazine in his hand. He wasn’t reading it. He had seen a few of the articles there before, and he was interested in a few cases that the magazine referenced, but nothing that couldn’t wait. Still, his mind was elsewhere altogether.

Tabitha had wanted, demanded even, to see him. Why?

            “Rest up,” Nate patted at his cheek. “While you still can. I still expect you and a few of the kids out back this weekend setting up a garden space.”

Wes rolled his eyes, thankful to Nate for trying to keep the talk norm, but he was tired and angered and there was nothing he could do at the moment. He wasn’t a child, so there wasn’t anything that Nate could do either. That had probably been his grandmother’s thoughts, probably. But neither had thought about whether Wes even cared about that man.

Truthfully, Wes didn’t think of him, he just knew that he was much older than Tabitha. If he heard more, he could probably make out that the ‘friend’ Tabitha had been with was this man, but that would have been even more confusing.

Not that things with Tabitha ever made sense.