Bobby twirled the paper in his hands, watching slices of scratched graphite flash across the page. His mind was quiet, disturbingly so. His heart ached, his lungs felt crushed, and his eyes burned with tears, but his mind was empty

'This must be what it's like...' he thought, a drifting notion that came and went. '...to be lost.'

It was hard to be conscious of it, really it was too raw and harsh to understand, an emotion with no thought of understanding to go with it. Lost, probably wasn't even the right word for it, but nothing else seemed to fit; it was lost- in every extreme of it.

Bobby folded the letter closed at the resounding screech of the screen door, slipping it into his breast pocket. He then took a shaky breath, letting it out slowly, expelling all the weakness and emotion that had settled over him. It would return, it always did, but right now he had to lock it down and be the stone golem, the protector; that statuesque strength needed to fill him now for his son.

As if on cue, young Christopher shot into the room, John Ross hot on his heels. Bobby wiped his eyes and stood as Christopher let out an earsplitting scream, John Ross sending a flurry of fists at the young boy.

"Whoa!" Bobby grabbed Christopher's arm and swung him onto the couch, he then put his body in between Christopher and John Ross. "What's going on here?"

"John Ross hit me!"

"You deserve it!" John Ross tried to dodge around Bobby and land another hit on Christopher. Bobby wrapped an arm around the older boy just in time to stop his punch from hitting, but not in time to keep Christopher's foot from slamming into John Ross' face.

It was dead silent after that, a suffocating silence threaded with tension engulfed them. John Ross was livid, murderous even, and Bobby saw a lot of the boy's father, J.R., in him then.

Bobby clamped his arm down on John Ross' chest; keeping the boy from Christopher and making him face the other direction as well. "Go to your room Christopher." He kept his voice steady, no anger or any emotion at all fueling his words, he just wanted Christopher out of the way.

"But I didn't-"

"Go!"

Christopher froze his eyes wide. Bobby knew he had scared his son, he usually wasn't so coarse, but right now he didn't have the patience or even the want to be the understanding, easy-going, always listening parent. Christopher finally nodded though and ran out the living room.

Bobby's attention switched back to John Ross, the boy had been unusually quiet and still, it set him on edge. He wasn't sure if his nephew had actually calmed down or if he was going to take off after Christopher as soon as he was free.

John Ross didn't move though when Bobby let him go, he just stood there. So Bobby picked him up and sat him on the couch before crouching down in front of him, leveling their eyes; he never expected to see tears silently rolling down his nephew's face.

"You alright son?" Bobby was genuinely concerned, John Ross was a callous kid, hard, much like his father; this was more than unusual.

"Fine."

"Does it hurt?" Bobby ran a thumb over the already forming bruise on John Ross' cheek.

"No."

"Then what does?"

John Ross opened his mouth, closing it just as quickly. The tears had since stopped and now his brow furrowed in confusion. His eyes seemed to stare through Bobby rather than at him, and John Ross' right hand hung in the air for a moment hesitant to move.

Bobby's eyes widened as John Ross' fingers wrapped around his wrist, hard and firm, as he pressed Bobby's hand to his own chest, right over his heart. John Ross gave him the most straight face Bobby had ever seen, though his eyes reflected an almost obscene amount of emotion, before muttering ever so softly "This." and letting Bobby's hand go.

Bobby kept his hand against John Ross' chest, too shocked to do much else. John Ross just cocked his head to the side, like a dog- ears perked and all- waiting for Bobby to say something. Bobby had no words though, letters and sounds seemed to float around his brain, weightless, but none of them would form a word or sentence, much less an answer.

Bobby wasn't sure what he found more surprising, the fact that John Ross was being so blunt and honest with him, or the fact that he was actually supposed to be a parent here. John Ross had never allowed anyone to parent him, to be there for him. He blamed Sue Ellen for the absence of his father and his dad, well J.R., just wasn't much of a dad. Even so, when Bobby and Ann had stepped in, John Ross was as independent as ever, worlds away from Christopher though they were both kids in the same house with same toys and life.

"Christopher said I ain't worth anything. That's why my daddy ain't around and mom leaves me with you all the time. Says no one cares, that I'm alone." John Ross says suddenly, leaving Bobby's mind whirling once again. Christopher had said that? His son had said something so cold? He thought he raised Christopher better than that.

Bobby bites down on the sudden anger he has, Christopher is someone to be dealt with later, right now it's John Ross, who's given him no reason to be angry. "John Ross," Bobby lays his hands on the boys shoulders, keeping a firm hold for emphasis. "You're worth more than words can ever say. You may be your daddy's son but you're just as much mine. And just as much as Christopher's brother as anyone else could possibly be. But your daddy's a complicated man; he's got a lot of things going on. Apparently too many to take care of you, which ain't right, it isn't. But that's got nothing to do with you. And your momma just needs some help sometimes."

Bobby let out a harsh breath, well that didn't sound as good as it sounded in his head, or maybe it did, he'll never know. John Ross didn't respond though, hardly even made a move to acknowledge the fact Bobby had even said anything to him. So...maybe it wasn't good.

"Why?" John Ross said finally, his small brown eyes finally focusing on Bobby for the first time.

"Uh well...sometimes moms and dads are just really-"

"No. Why do you care?"

"Why wouldn't I?" Bobby let out a small laugh; Christopher was never like this, never asked so many questions, and never made things so awkward. Or at least when he did, Bobby could just let Ann take care of it. "John Ross, you're my nephew, almost my son. But more than that you're a good kid, a great one. Of course I care how can I not?"

John Ross let out a frustrated sigh, his nose scrunching up in thought as he threw himself back against the couch in a huff. He gave Bobby a hard look, amusement tugging at the corner of his mouth.

Bobby just shrugged; he wasn't very good at explaining this. "Look, John Ross. You either believe me or you don't. Either way you're family, that's all there is to it. You're welcome here anytime. "John Ross finally let a smile break through, his eyes looking a tad mischievous. Bobby smiled back, that didn't go so bad. "Why don't you go and play now alright? And remember what I said, yeah?"

John Ross nodded, hopping off the couch and throwing his arms around Bobby's neck for a brief second before dashing out the room. It happened so quick Bobby almost didn't believe it, his first unforced hug from John Ross-shocking. But he's pretty sure he even heard a proclamation of love in there too so he's shocked but happy and content to believe it did happen even on the off, slim, chance it didn't. "Put some ice on that cheek!" Bobby called after him, hoping the boy heard him, even if he had, John Ross wouldn't listen.

Bobby stood, still smiling and not ashamed to say a little proud of himself. "Parenting is hard." He whispered to himself. Well duh, he knew that. But no one ever tells you really how hard. And on the topic there's still Christopher to consider. Saying hurtful things like that aren't only wrong, but they're just the kind of thing to start a lot of fights, and Bobby rather keep his son from being the brawler he had been only a few years ago.

Shouts reach his ears; the patter of small feet and the floor shaking beneath his feet tell him that John Ross has found Christopher though. He's almost worried, but then there's laughing and Bobby thinks that a firm talk with his boy can wait until later. The boys are in a better mood and so is he, and Bobby's not inclined to bring that mood down any. It's been too long since he's felt this...happy? Yeah, that's the word for it.

"Well at least one of my boys has some talent for raising children, we'd be pretty hopeless if you didn't." Bobby turned slowly, a smile of another kind creeping up on his face and a small laugh escaping him.

"Wasn't too bad then Mom?"

"Not too shabby at all son."

"Yeah, ha, wish I could believe that. I got nothing on you."

"Hmm, you're right there. But you're doing fine Bobby. You're all that boys got at the moment."

"Don't say that mama."

"I'm just saying what's true. I love J.R. you know I do but-"

"Mama let's not talk about this right now." Bobby interrupted her quietly, his eyes pleading. Miss Ellie hesitated for a moment, maybe a little shocked that her son had interrupted her but she let it go at the look in his eyes, he was hurting.

"Why don't you go son. You haven't seen her in a few weeks, I'll watch the boys."

"Oh no mama I can't make you do that." Bobby couldn't deny his heart lifted a little at that chance, but at the same time there was no way he'd let his mother do his job. He wasn't like that.

"Excuse me! No one's making me do anything. Now I'm telling you to go. I shouldn't have to tell you again." Bobby couldn't stop the involuntary gulp, or the step back he took away from his mom at the threatening tone in her voice. He may be a grown man but his mother was still his mother, and he still had immense respect for the woman, doing anything she asked. And she could still beat him black and blue given the chance, so trying her patience was not something he was keen on. "Go and see that girl Robert James Ewing and you better go now."

His mother had her hand up in the air, finger pointing in his direction and wow he felt like a kid again. Maybe he should just go, not argue, he needs a break from the kids anyway right? Besides he's parenting for four here, covering the parts of two fathers and two mothers, that's not the easiest thing ever.

The tapping against the oak floor brought his eyes up and his mind out of its revere, his mother was tapping her foot impatiently and her eyes had a knowing glint. Damn, he wish he could hide things from that woman sometimes, being read like a book isn't ideal.

"Alright mama I'll go." Bobby leaned in and pecked her cheek a grin already spreading on his face, yeah he needed this.

"Take as long as you need." Miss Ellie straightened up his collar, a soft smile on her lips before waving him off. Bobby grabbed his jacket and the keys to his truck, letting the door slam shut behind him.