by MMW

Part of the Magnificent Little Britches series

The episode, Safecracker, was written by Rick Husky, directed by T. J. Scott

Note: Many thanks to Katy for all her suggestions and help in getting this tale organized, Laramee for suggesting the series, Nancy for making it look nice and to Marnie for her excellent beta skills.

Stepping into the sunshine, Morgan Coltrane nodded to the men waiting for him. "Well, that should take care of our latest problem," he observed.

"Where are we going to find a new powderman?" one of the men asked.

A cold smile crossed Coltrane's face. "Won't be needing one," he informed, taking the cigar from his mouth and looking at it. "I know where we can find the best safecracker around and she'll be more than happy to work with us - given proper motivation," he added, a cold, sinister light shining in his eyes.

With that statement, they headed off, Morgan in the lead and the others falling into a loose formation behind him. Though they all knew of the dynamite their leader had planted in the building behind them, along with the still-alive Mr. London, these men were in no hurry as they departed. Their strides were long and even, their faces cool and impassive, their bearing relaxed. They knew they had enough time to achieve a safe distance.

As the building behind them suddenly exploded in a terrible chaos of noise, smoke, debris and fire, the men never broke stride or, in fact, reacted to the explosion. Not one of them had any attachment to the building or the man within it. He had been nothing more than a hired hand who hadn't worked out.


"Where are we?" the young blond girl asked.

Buck resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He had always thought he was good with children, especially after the past few weeks with Vin and JD. Olivia... Perhaps Olivia wasn't really a child but a changeling like in the stories his mother told him so long ago. Right now, she was surely trying his patience. This was the eighth time she had asked the same question in the same whiney, demanding tone. True, JD always wanted to know where they were going and when they would get there, but somehow his questions never grated on the ladies' man's nerves like Olivia's. "Where we're going," he replied, trying his best to keep his frustration from his voice.

"How can we be where we're going if we're not there yet?" she asked again, knowing just how far to push this man. Annoying adults while appearing innocent was one of Olivia's greatest accomplishments. It had helped her more than once in Yuma prison. Some of the people there had even given her tips on what to do and just the right tone of voice to use. Glancing toward her mother, she could see the smile on Terry's face. The one thing she wouldn't take a chance on was upsetting her mother.

Resisting the urge to "accidentally" have Olivia slip off the horse, Buck took a deep breath and explained, "'Cause we're almost there, and then we'll be there, so we're as good as there."

"But not there," Olivia complained.

Buck was doing his best, really he was, but this girl could try the patience of a saint. Clearing his throat as a means of keeping himself from saying something he would regret, Wilmington kept his eyes focused on the trail ahead, calculating how many more minutes of this torment he would have to suffer before he could get away from the small harpy masquerading as a child and find JD.

Chris stepped out of the livery, having just finished his patrol. Stretching in the morning light, he tried to judge how long it would be before Buck and Nathan returned with the prisoner. Calculating that he still had a about an hour, he decided to stop by Mary's and get Vin and JD. He would take the boys to the saloon for a glass of lemonade and so he could get a cup or two of coffee.

As he headed toward the building that housed the newspaper, he pulled out a cheroot and lit it, thinking about the job he had accepted and the role he now filled. In some regards, his job was little different than the work he had done as a hired gun. The role of peacekeeper lacked some of the prestige of sheriff, but the last thing Larabee needed was something that would draw more attention to himself. On the other hand, his reputation was one of his most potent weapons, especially when it came to avoiding fights. With the two boys they were watching now, avoiding fights had become a high priority.

When he reached the Clarion News building, he stopped to glance in the windows, hoping to catch sight of Vin and JD. He was disappointed when the front room was empty.

Knocking on the door to the newspaper office, Chris turned the knob on the door and walked into the dim building. Looking around, he failed to see sign of Mary or the boys. "Hello," he called out as a delicious odor wafted over him.

"Mr. Chris!" came JD's excited shriek from the back of the building.

Larabee winced slightly at the volume of the call, knowing it must have been almost deafening in the same room. A smile curved his lips as the sound of small, pounding feet reached his ears next. A moment later a small, brown-haired streak entered the room followed more sedately by Vin and Mary.

Drawing up just short of running into the man, JD grinned broadly and greeted, "Hey, Mr. Chris! Me and Vin was just helpin' Mrs. Travis make some cookies with oatmeal and raisins. They're almost done cooking. Can we stay and eat them? They smell really, really good and we helped and I never made cookies before..."

"Whoa there, JD," Chris advised, chuckling quietly to himself at the rapid-fire account. Glancing over at the newspaperwoman, he could see she was amused. He had been worried that the two boys would be a bother, but the blond woman appeared not to mind. Turning his attention to the small form by Mary's side, he could see Vin's eyes twinkling in excitement and welcome. Larabee's smile grew and his eyes softened at the sight of the smiling boy. "I'll tell you what; you check with Mrs. Travis and see if it's alright for you to stay until the cookies are baked and then I'll take you over to the saloon for a lemonade."

Turning on his heel so quickly he nearly lost his balance, JD turned large brown eyes up to the woman in question and asked sweetly, "Mrs. Travis, can we..."

"May we," Vin corrected quietly, unable to keep the hope and excitement he was feeling from his voice.

Nodding at his friend, JD continued, "May we stay and finish helping with the cookies?"

Mary smiled down at the cherubic face and wide eyes and knew it was impossible to say no. That conclusion was reinforced when she looked at the big, pleading blue eyes Vin had turned toward her. Smiling, she replied, "Yes, JD. You and Vin may stay to help me with the cookies. In fact, I'll even let you take some with you when you go." Looking up, she saw Chris staring at the floor, trying to hide his amusement. "I have a fresh pot of coffee on the stove as well, if you'd like a cup while you wait, Mr. Larabee."

Laughing hazel eyes lifted to meet her green ones. Having been subjected to Vin and JD's pleas once or twice himself, he knew what a lethal combination they could be. "I'd like that," he admitted. The newspaperwoman could get on his nerves faster than just about anyone or anything else, but the smell of fresh-baked oatmeal raisin cookies filled the room and overrode any reservations he had.

"Great! Come on, Mr. Chris!" JD enthused, taking the gunman by the hand and dragging him toward the back of the building. "This batch should be done soon."

Larabee had little choice but to follow.

Bringing his horse to a stop near the Clarion office, Wilmington suppressed a sigh of relief. Olivia had finally settled into silence as they approached the town, giving him a chance to get to know Terry better. He noticed the main street was busy, as usual, and raised an eyebrow at the sight of the armored wagon outside the bank. The town sure had changed since he had first arrived.

Buck dismounted and stood next to his horse, flexing his knee. His lower leg had fallen asleep during the ride as Olivia had insisted sitting with both legs hanging down one side. He hadn't thought it would be a problem when the trip started, but it was now.

As Nathan picked up the carpetbag and headed toward Mrs. Travis' office, Terry followed him, only to be stopped by Buck who reached out and placed a hand on her arm. "Oh, w-wait. I'll get that," he began, reaching out and taking the bag from Nathan, "for you, Mrs. Greer," he offered, working at being his most charming.

Nathan stopped and turned as Buck took the bag from his hand. He and Terry exchanged a look. Nathan was finding this amusing, well aware that Mrs. Greer wasn't having any of it. Terry looked somewhere between annoyed and amused, her eyes held something akin to a plea to Nathan to get her out of this.

Reading the request in the lady's eyes, Nathan offered, "Ma'am, why don't you come on with me?"

Mrs. Greer looked relieved as she accepted Nathan's offer and followed him, knowing Olivia could handle Buck Wilmington.

Buck watched the blonde walk away with Nathan, a smile on his face and not about to leave. He backed up toward the horses and eventually bumped into his bedroll. Turning, he saw Olivia still sitting in the saddle staring at him with suspicious eyes. Realizing he had been left to deal with the girl as well, Buck stepped back, dropped the bag and reached up to help Olivia down as he encouraged, "Okay. Come on."

As he lifted her out of the saddle, Olivia took the opportunity to confront the man. "I seen the way you look at my mama," she accused. She had seen men looking at her Ma like that in the prison.

"I was just being friendly," Buck explained.

Olivia was not having any of it. She knew friendly and she knew other looks, too. "You going to be my daddy?" she demanded, her eyes showing her need to protect her mother, her tone betraying the hope she held that someone would someday want to be her daddy.

Buck was taken aback by the vehemence of her questions. The word daddy echoed in his mind briefly as he thought of JD and a smile fought to break out on his face. "That's not my plan, no," he replied honestly, thrown by the realization that he was already someone's daddy and he was not exactly sure how it had happened.

"How do I know?" she asked, unable to completely hide her disappointment.

"'Cause I just told you so," Buck said, wondering at the little girl's questions and hard edge. But then she had probably seen a lot in prison. His heart ached slightly that any child, even one as annoying as Olivia would have to suffer through such things, but then his thoughts turned to Vin who seemed to have just as many hard edges. Yet, somehow, Vin failed to grate on his nerves the way this little girl did.

As her disappointment turned to anger, Olivia decided to take things into her own hands. "You ain't going to marry her, you better stop looking at her the way you do. Put me down!" the girl demanded.

Bending down and placing the girl on the ground far more gently than he wanted to, Buck replied, "Fine." Then, picking up the bag he had volunteered to carry, he reached for his coat only to find Olivia standing on it. "Excuse me," he said, lifting the coat and heading toward the boardwalk where Nathan was waiting, having come out to check on him.

As Wilmington stepped way, Olivia shifted the cigar box she carried and opened it. She then placed the watch she had lifted out of Buck's pocket into it.

Stepping onto the boardwalk, unaware of Olivia's theft, Buck dropped the bag, slid into his coat and smiled at Nathan. "Six years old and she's already fixing to make some man miserable," he observed.

Nathan chuckled. "You're the authority on that," he replied.

"I tell you, women," Buck said, adjusting his coat before leaning to pick up the bag, "they got your number from the day they're born."

Nathan laughed as he turned to head into the Clarion.

"Can't wait to get my boy back from Mary," Wilmington added softly.

Nathan's smile softened as he heard Buck's words, glad JD had found the father he needed.

Reaching down to check the time, Buck stopped as he looked for his watch. "Have you seen my watch anywhere?" he asked the healer.

"Your watch?" Jackson asked.

"My watch," Buck affirmed. "It's silver... it was a family heirloom - my grandfather's. It meant everything to me..."

Chris sat at one of the tables in the saloon. He was aware of the action and the people around him, but his attention was focused on the two small forms standing on chairs at the end of the bar. Vin and JD had wanted to stand at the bar like they had seen the men do, but were too short to see over it. Not about to be deterred, the two boys had dragged over chairs and ordered lemonade.

A small smile tugged at Larabee's lips as parts of Tanner and Dunne's conversation drifted to him over the laughter and music. He could well remember the important issues from his own childhood, the same ones being discussed by the boys now. The smile faded as a pang of regret sounded in his heart at the thought of his son, Adam, who would never discuss such things.

"I don't know," Vin said sagely as he studied JD's face. "I know Henry likes his red marble best, but I think the blues are better."

"You do shoot good with the blue ones," Dunne agreed, nodding his head. "But Henry's red shooter almost never misses," the brunet observed, lifting his lemonade and taking a sip. "Sure wish I had a marble like Big Red."

Vin snorted at the thought. "Ain't the marble," he muttered with a note of envy.

"What do you mean?" JD asked.

With a sigh, the young blond turned toward his friend. "It don't matter how big the shooter is, 's just a matter of how good you are at shooting," he informed his young friend.

"But you're a good shot," Dunne defended. "You beat Henry three times out of four!"

A sigh escaped the young Texan. "I know that, JD," Vin replied. "But I'm still learnin' the game. I ain't even ever played it before Mr. Josiah bought us those marbles. I've only been playing for a few weeks. Someday, when I've practiced enough I'll get better, though."

"Yeah," JD agreed, his voice wistful as he slipped his hand into his pocket and quietly fingered his two favorite marbles. "Me, too."

The two boys stood in silence for a few minutes, contemplating the day when they would be the marbles champions in town. "You know that funny stone in Mr. Ezra's tie?" Vin asked, breaking the silence that had fallen on the two boys.

"The tiger's eye one?" JD asked, his brow furrowed in thought.

"Yep," Vin agreed, lifting his glass of lemonade to his lips and taking a sip, letting out a satisfied sigh as he settled the glass back on the bar. "I once saw a marble made out of it."

"No, sir!" JD gasped, his eyes wide and mouth open in wonder and awe. "You saw a marble like that?"

"Yep," Vin replied, trying to seem nonchalant, but not entirely able to hide the smug feeling he had at his friend's wonder and amazement.

"When? When did you see it?" JD asked, leaning closer to his friend. "Where were you?"

A small smile lifted the corner of Vin's mouth as he felt his excitement grow as he remembered. "It was before Ma..." the seven-year-old drew himself up short at the sudden pain the words brought. "It was before," he continued. "We were walking down the street in Ab'lene and there was this really big store. Ma saw some real pretty material and we went in. They had all sorts of toys in there, too."

"They had those marbles in the toys?" JD asked, his eyes growing wider in wonder and amazement. Even back east the stores never had such treasures.

"Nope," Vin denied. "I looked through all the marbles there," he admitted, before raising his eyes from his lemonade to his friend's face. "Was when she went to buy the material." Lifting his glass for another sip of lemonade, Tanner waited a few minutes before continuing on, knowing JD was hanging on his every word. Softening his voice, the Texan continued, "I was standing next to Ma, looking at the things under the glass. There was a bunch of stuff for girls where I was. Looking down the other way, though, I spotted some really great things. I asked if I could go down the counter and look. Ma said yes. I went and was looking at the pocket knives when I saw it."

"The marble?" JD asked, his voice hushed by awe.

Vin smiled a little broader at his friend's reaction. Nodding he answered, "Yeah, the marble. All laid out and resting on top of one of those fancy, soft bags. It was shining, JD, and just as pretty as could be."

"Wow," the brunet breathed. "I sure wish I could see it. I bet it shoots great."

Turning to face the bar once more, Vin lifted his lemonade. "Me, too, JD. Me, too," he agreed.

At a table behind them, Chris Larabee fought a smile as the two boys turned their attention back to the business of drinking lemonade. He had chosen the table he had because it offered a view of the saloon and the mirror behind the bar would let him see anyone coming into the building. In addition it offered him the opportunity to watch over the boys without them feeling he was hovering.

Lifting his cup to his lips, he took a sip of coffee, wishing it were something stronger. He was just about to return his cup to the table when a motion by the door drew his attention. Surprise rose as he watched a strange young girl in traveling clothes enter the saloon and start looking around. It was one thing for the boys to be in here with him watching; it was quite another for an unattended young girl to come in.

As he was about to approach the child, the gunslinger heard Buck calling out and coming closer. A moment later, Wilmington and Jackson came through the door. Larabee was surprised again when Nathan began scolding the girl.

Rising from his seat, he took a quick look at the boys and saw Vin and JD were watching him. Standing slightly behind the girl, Chris waited for an explanation of this unusual situation.

Buck must have read and understood the question in Chris' eyes. "You said it would be a quick pickup," he accused. "This is the package we ended up with."

"Prisoner's a female," Nathan added.

"I didn't know," a stunned Larabee informed. Then the full impact of the situation hit him. He was told it was a simple prisoner pickup. He had sent two of his men into a situation without enough information. A lack of information could get a man killed. His mouth settling into a firm line, Chris determined he needed to talk to Mary Travis about full disclosure.

Buck, upset about the position he had been put in with the prisoner and tired of watching Oliva, complained loudly, "So what are we, boys? Damn baby-sitters now?" He instantly regretted the words as he caught sight of JD and Vin standing by the bar. The devastation on Dunne's face was mirrored in Tanner's emotive blue eyes. Mentally berating himself for his thoughtless words, Wilmington quickly crossed the room to assure the two waifs who were coming to mean the world to him.

Seeing his friend head toward the boys and knowing they would be in good hands, Larabee set out to talk to Mary Travis.

"Hey," Buck greeted, stepping up next to JD, well aware of the wide, hurt eyes being leveled at him by the two boys. "Sorry about that," he apologized, knowing he had hurt the boys, but not sure how to make it up to them. "Just that watching other peoples' kids ain't always an easy thing to do."

"We're other peoples' kids," Vin offered softly, his eyes and quiet observation nearly undoing the ladies' man.

Growing serious, Buck met first JD's and then Vin's eyes as he informed, "No you're not. You might not have started out as ours, but you're ours now and there's nothing more wonderful than watching out for your own." He was rewarded with a huge smile from JD and was ready when the small arms were thrown around his neck.

"And you're ours, too, Mr. Buck!" JD declared, reveling in the feeling of acceptance and warmth, taking the words at face value.

Vin's gaze met Buck's. The mustached man could feel Vin searching his eyes, almost his soul, to determine the truth of the statement. The blue eyes slid toward the door where Chris had exited just a few minutes before. When Tanner's light blue met up with Wilmington's dark blue eyes once more, the rangy peacekeeper could see the reservation and doubt that lingered behind the acceptance. With an inward sigh, Buck could only hope that in time that doubt would disappear.

Smiling at the boys and disengaging Dunne's arms from around his neck, Buck scooted JD's chair over a little and wiggled between the two boys, nodding for a beer to be brought to him. "So, what have you two been up to this morning?"

From his card table, Ezra had been watching the scene unfold below. The appearance of the young girl failed to startle him, after all, children seemed to be drawn to saloons, but Buck and Nathan's information had surprised him. It was dangerous if not downright deadly to enter a situation you knew little about.

Still, as his coworkers seemed to have everything under control, he turned his attention back to the game at hand, making a mental note of the young girl, Olivia, if he had heard right, approaching his table.

"Are you going to deal those cards or are you going to get a real job?" the lout across the table taunted.

Standish was well aware the man had been cheating and was just waiting for the right time to reveal that fact. "I don't need to work, my friend," he replied coolly. "I get paid every time you boys sit down to a game." Dealing out the cards, he waited and watched. As the hand progressed, he clearly saw the man cheating. What surprised him, however, was the fact that Olivia seemed to be aware of the move as well.

When the betting was finished, Ezra laid out his cards. "King high," he announced.

"Ace high," the lout announced laying out his own cards with a smug smile.

"Well, my, my. Fortune is indeed smiling upon you today," the peacekeeper observed, knowing the time had come to expose this fraud for who he was.

Olivia became more agitated as she saw the man reaching for the pot. "Nope," she denied. She may not have any qualms about picking up the occasional shiny trinket, but cheating at cards could get you killed. She had seen it in prison. "He's palming cards."

"I know," Ezra assured, his eyes never leaving his prey, knowing this was the most dangerous part of exposing someone and praying there would be no gunplay, not with so many children present.

"You saying I cheated?" the accused asked, his body tensing, ready for action.

Though his attention was focused on the man across the table from him, Ezra was also aware of Buck, Nathan, JD and Vin all turning toward him. He registered Vin pulling the slingshot out of his back pocket and Buck straightening in order to free his gun and allow an easier pull. With any luck, the situation would not devolve into gunplay.

Hearing the man's words, Standish knew he had no choice but to respond. "Not at all," he assured the cheater. "I'm saying you cheated badly." He knew he would have to continue to justify his accusation. "The queen I dealt you is tucked neatly in your right boot," he elaborated.

Fear shot through the accused man. He knew what happened to cheats and there was no way it was going to happen to him. Rising, he reached for his gun.

Ezra was faster.

The derringer sprang into Standish's hand and was neatly aimed at the cheater in question.

The man stared at the small gun pointed at him and briefly thought of finishing his move for his own gun. The sound of two guns cocking behind him drew his attention away from the gambler. Glancing over his shoulder he saw two men aiming their guns at him and a longhaired boy with a slingshot ready to fire. It was the voice of the gambler that drew his attention back to the situation at hand.

"I detest an amateur," Ezra spat, a look of disgust on his face. This clod had not only cheated badly, but he was now endangering the lives of three children. There could be no quarter given for such an offence.

Turning back, he decided to get out while he could and informed, "Well, I'll be taking my leave now." The guns trained on him never wavered as his friends also rose from the table to leave. Still, he just had to find out what had given him away. "Tell me," he asked. "How'd you know?"

His stomach rolling in disgust at the man before him, Ezra simply informed, "Lessons will cost you extra. Good day."

Satisfied that the man had gone, Ezra replaced his derringer, surprised at the speed with which Buck crossed the room.

The ladies' man stopped by Olivia and knelt down. "What are you doing?" he demanded as the girl dropped the partially smoked cigar she had picked up. "You damn near got us killed, girl," he informed, picking her up and physically carrying her away from the table. He was going to have a talk with Mrs. Terry Greer and set a few things straight. Taking care of JD and watching over Vin was one thing - they were boys and Vin pretty much watched over JD as it was. But Olivia was something else entirely. Tossing the small blond to Nathan with a command of "Hey, Nathan, take this", he stormed out of the saloon and headed out to find Terry Greer.

Nathan caught the small form the ladies' man had tossed his way and gently set Olivia on the floor.

Vin and JD watched the new arrival with equal parts curiosity and wariness. This girl had upset Buck, Chris and Nathan and almost gotten Ezra hurt. She could not be good news, but, on the other hand, they did not know any other girls their own age who came into the saloon.

"Why doesn't he like me?" she asked, shaken by the rough handling she had just endured.

"Buck doesn't hate you," Nathan assured. "He just doesn't like to see children and ladies in danger and you, young lady, were in a lot of danger." As the big eyes blinked up at him, the healer continued, "You need to learn to stay out of trouble before you get hurt, or get someone around you hurt."

The young Miss Greer blinked, comparing what the man had just told her to what she had learned growing up. She was not used to being around men like these and was not entirely sure how to take the advice she had been given. Deciding to think about it later, she turned her attention to the two boys standing nearby.

Seeing the three children staring at each other, Nathan made introductions. "Vin, JD, this is Olivia. Olivia, this is Vin and JD." He was about to say more when Marcus Wilson approached him, wanting to discuss his wife's condition. She was about to have their first baby. Turning toward the children one last time, Jackson instructed, "Vin, JD, you watch Olivia. Play something." He then left the saloon.

Vin and Olivia eyed each other suspiciously, trust was not something either had in abundance and it was not easily earned. JD stood a little closer to Vin and waited, willing to take his cue from the older boy.

Staring at the blonde girl Nathan had left with them, Vin figured she was about his age, maybe a little younger, but older than JD. As he took in her appearance, his gaze returned to her eyes and Tanner read the suspicion and scheming in them. It was the third thing he saw, though, that helped him decide to be nice to her. The third thing he saw was fear and that was something he understood far too well. The fear triggered within him a desire to protect this girl. "You want to go outside and play?" Vin asked, trying to think of something the girl might enjoy.

Olivia had spent the time eyeing the boys. The little one, JD, seemed to be just was he was, a little kid. The older one, Vin, he was different. He looked like he understood her better than she wanted him to understand. "I wanna see my mama," she informed, deciding her mother would be far more preferable to spending time with these boys. The older one might be alright, though she was worried he would catch on to her collection of pretty things. But she did not understand little kids like JD.

"Fine," Vin agreed, figuring that would probably be the safest place for the girl. Turning slightly, he tilted his head toward the door. "JD. Olivia." He reached the batwing door and held it open so the two younger children could walk outside and then followed them.

As the trio left the saloon, Vin and Olivia both quickly scanned the street, Tanner for danger, the girl for marks. "There's my ma," she informed the boys heading down the boardwalk toward the lady in question.

Vin frowned and began following the girl, noting how she clung to her box. He would have to take a look at it later. Spotting Chris on the other side of the road, he turned toward JD and Olivia informing, "JD, I'm going to talk to Mr. Chris for a minute. You take Olivia to her mom." Chris would know what was going on and more about the prisoner transport that seemed to have all the adults worried. Hopefully the man in black would also be able to tell him how long they would need to watch the girl.

The young brunet was about to protest when he spotted Buck talking to a pretty blonde lady. "Okay," he agreed, hurrying along beside the younger Greer.

JD and Olivia continued down the boardwalk where they saw Mrs. Greer talking to Mr. Buck.

They were just crossing between two buildings when several other men approached the couple.

Unconsciously slowing, Olivia watched the new men closely. She did not like the way one of them stood so close to her mother. She realized then that the way he was standing was very different from the way the prison guards or even Mr. Wilmington had stood near her mother and it made her shiver.

Puzzled about why they were stopping, JD looked over at his companion before turning his attention to Buck. He gasped when he spotted the men and the pretty lady coming toward them. A small whimper escaped him when he saw the gun near Buck's face and saw the man he thought of as his papa shake his head. He knew what that meant and exactly what to do, Buck, Chris, Vin and the others had told him a lot of times.

Though fear coursed through him, Dunne quickly grabbed Olivia's hand and dragged her into a nearby alley, ducking down to hide behind a barrel. He could feel his heart pounding hard in his chest. Tears begin to form as Buck came closer and JD heard one of the men mention horses. They were taking away his Buck!

All the young brunet wanted to do was leap up and run after the man who had come to be the center of his world, but knew he was not supposed to be seen. When he felt Olivia pull on his hand he turned and shook his head, tugging her to stay down.

"Where's your little girl?" the mean man with the cigar asked Olivia's mother as they stood at the end of the alleyway where JD and the girl in question were hidden.

"She's being taken care of out of town," the safecracker lied easily, keeping her daughter safe her paramount concern.

"Don't play me for a fool," the man hissed, gripping Mrs. Greer's arm hard enough to make her gasp in pain. "I saw her with you at the newspaper office."

Knowing Olivia's life was in danger, Terry insisted, "Well, she's gone now."

"Put her on a horse," Morgan ordered in disgust. He would find out where that whelp was and when he did, he would have the key he needed to control the recalcitrant cracksmith.

"We heading South?" one of the men asked.

"Purgatorio," Coltrane confirmed.

"And him?" another asked, poking Wilmington with his gun.

A cold smile appeared on the leader's face as he took in the protective stance the man in question had taken up near Terry. "Bring him. He might prove useful."

Biting his lip so he would not cry out, JD was unable to stop the silent tears that fell from his eyes as he watched Buck get on a horse and ride off with the bad men and Olivia's mama. As soon as they were out of sight, he sprang up and ran to his only other source of comfort, not caring if the girl followed. "Vin! Mr. Chris!" he cried, speeding across the street.

Chris knelt down and caught the small form in his arms, hugging the boy tightly to him and hushing him as the tears and trembling began in earnest. He and Vin had been talking when they noticed the men approach Terry and Buck. Though they had both watched carefully, neither could make out what was happening on the other side of the street.

Vin stood close to Chris, leaning against the blond man. He watched as Olivia stopped a few feet away, easily reading the fear and tears in her eyes at what had just happened. Though he was worried about Buck, he felt drawn to offer what comfort he could. Leaving Larabee's side, he stopped close to Olivia. "It's going to be okay," he assured.

The girl looked at him, doubt evident in her eyes. She had heard too many lies in her short life, seen too many things, to believe so easily.

Tanner understood what he saw there, but the fledgling faith he had developed in Chris and the others gave him the strength and assurance he needed to comfort the girl. "Mr. Buck won't let anything happen to your ma and we'll have both of them back here before you know it," he offered, allowing the girl to read the truth of his statement in his eyes. He tensed and looked up as a hand came to rest on his shoulder, relaxing when he saw it was his pa... Mr. Chris, he mentally corrected.

"I will bring Buck and your mother back," Larabee corrected. "The three of you will stay with Josiah, Nathan and Ezra in the church where you'll be safe," he instructed, his tone brooking no argument.

Olivia and JD immediately nodded their agreement, but Vin would not be so easily swayed. "You're going to need someone to watch your back," the boy argued.

"Vin," the gunslinger cautioned, his tone a warning. He really did not need to have this argument - again - though the stubborn set of the boy's jaw informed him that was exactly what he was about to get.

"There's lots of them," the boy argued. "You need Mr. Ezra, Mr. Josiah and Mr. Nathan here to watch Olivia. But you need someone to watch out for you, too. I can do that," he insisted.

"No," Chris commanded authoritatively. Seeing his command had only escalated the argument, the blond turned to JD and asked, "Would you and Olivia go to the church? I need to talk to Vin."

Hazel eyes grew wide as JD's eyes darted from the man to his friend. Vin had told him what happened at the orphanage when someone "talked" to him. He did not want Mr. Chris to talk to Vin like that.

Puzzled by the fear he read in JD's face, he reiterated, "I just need some time to explain to Vin why he can't come along."

Deciding that sounded better than a "talk", Dunne reluctantly agreed. He and Olivia had just started on their way when he remembered what he had overheard. "Oh! Mr. Chris!" he called. "That bad man said they was going to Pur... Purga..."

"Purgatorio," Olivia supplied, looking at the man.

Chris had been watching the two children head off toward the church, when JD had turned to give him that news, but he had not missed the way Vin paled at the name of the town or slight tremor that shook through his body. Reaching out, he laid a comforting hand on the slight boy's shoulder, only to feel Tanner jump at the contact. "Thank you. You best get on there," he advised, making sure they were on their way before turning his attention to Vin.

As he took in the still pale color and the raw fear in the blue eyes, Larabee scanned the area for a place they could sit and talk. Seeing a table with two chairs a few buildings down, he took Vin's hand and drew the boy along beside him, sitting in one of the chairs and coaxing Tanner into the other. "You want to tell me about it?" he asked softly.

In his travels, Chris had heard a lot of tales about Purgatorio, how it was an outlaw town, how no lawman would come within a bullet's distance, how every wanted man in the territory made their way through there... If even half of what he had heard was true, he was in for a rough time, but none of that explained Vin's behavior.

Swallowing several times as he tried to work past his fear, Vin eventually turned his eyes up toward those of the man he thought of as 'Pa'. He trusted Chris and knew the man would never hurt him, but he also wanted the gunslinger to think well of him and was worried what the man in black would think of him after he told his tale and found out he was scared of stories. It was Larabee's gentle touch as he brushed the Texan's bangs out of his face that decided the boy. Taking a deep breath, he dove into his tale. "When I was traveling with the hunters, I heard a lot of stories. Some of them were true, some of them I knew were made up, or at least I thought they were. Irish Jim had supposedly been to Purgatorio and cheated some men there at poker, but got out alive." Large blue eyes rose to meet steady hazel ones. "I thought he was just making it up," Vin admitted.

Chris shifted closer, sensing the boy needed his strength to get through this story.

"The men I was with split up for a while. I went with Missouri Pete. Irish Jim and the others went some other way." Leaning into the man next to him, Tanner continued his tale. "We got caught up trading with some Indians and spent an extra day or two on the way to meet them. When we got near to the place we were supposed to camp, we heard guns firing and shouts. Missouri Pete told me to stay hidden with the horses and mules while he went to look." The child's head came to rest on the strong, black-clad arm even as his voice dropped to a whisper. "Missouri Pete wasn't afraid of anything, not bears or charging buffs... When he came back, he was white and he was shaking. There was no color in his face and I knew something really bad had happened. I thought it might be bad Indians, but when he got on his horse, he told me that Hell had gotten Irish and the others and that Purgatorio had its revenge."

Slipping his arm around the boy, Larabee offered what comfort he could. "That's not going to happen this time," he assured.

The boy's face looked up at him, pale, frightened and with an iron determination most men lacked. "Because I'm going with you," Vin declared softly, his voice laced with steel.

"No," Chris countered. Seeing the argument rising in the blue eyes, he smiled slightly and tried to lighten the mood. "Mean as that place is, sounds like if you stuck around too long you'd be deader than a beaver hat." 

"I'll take that chance," the seven-year-old averred, fear and need warring within him.

Chris sighed, obviously his attempt to lighten the situation had failed. "I won't," Larabee replied softly, his voice betraying the feelings he tried to deny. "When I get down there, Buck will be watching my back and you will be here protecting JD and Olivia." Seeing the protest forming on Vin's lips, he continued. "I need you here with them, Vin. Nathan, Josiah and Ezra are good, but they don't understand kids like Olivia. You do. While they're watching out for the men, you need to be watching Olivia to make sure she doesn't put herself in danger."

Not happy, but finding no flaw in the logic, Vin pursed his lips. "Like I do with JD?" he asked, realizing what Chris was telling him.

"Yes, like you do with JD," Larabee replied as he wondered how he would win an argument with a teenaged Tanner when the boy was already mule-stubborn at seven or eight. Shaking off that random thought, Chris rose from his chair. "Let's head to the church and I'll tell the others the plan."

"Fine," Vin agreed, reluctantly as he stood. "But I don't like it," he informed, a blue glare angling up at the man in black.

Chris could not stop the small smile that tugged at his lips. It felt good to have someone worrying over him and someone to worry over. "Neither do I," he admitted honestly. "But it's what we need to do." Then turning, man and boy walked side by side to the church.

Unconsciously quickening his pace, Dunne broke out into a smile and slipped his hand into his pocket to once more touch his favorite marbles. He slowed again when he found his pocket empty. Stopping, he looked down toward his pocket as if questioning whether or not his hand was really inside of it.

Frowning, JD checked his other pocket and then turned both pockets inside out.

"What are you doing?" Olivia asked, puzzled by the boy's actions.

"My favorite marbles are gone. Have you seen them?" the brunet asked anxiously.

"What's a marble?" Olivia asked, hoping she sounded sincere.

JD's jaw dropped open in shock. His eyes grew impossibly wide and he could do nothing but gape at the young blonde. "You don't know what marbles are?" he asked when he could talk again. Shaking his head, he found there was no way he could fathom such a thing. Tucking his pockets back in, JD frowned and continued on his way.

Olivia just shook her head, wincing and glancing down at her cigar box when JD turned away. She followed after the smaller boy who was shaking his head and muttering questions to himself about how anyone could grow up and not know about marbles.

The three children and three adults had been sitting in the church for several hours trying to pass the time. Vin and JD occupied themselves with helping Josiah sort out his nails and boards while Olivia played card games with Ezra.

Eventually, Mrs Travis brought them dinner and everyone took a break to eat.

When he finished his meal, Tanner decided it was time to check out their situation and make sure everything was alright.

Looking around the small church, Vin saw that everyone was busy eating and talking. He was worried about Mr. Chris and Mr. Buck, but he had other business to handle. Specifically, he needed to have a serious talk with Miss Olivia Greer. Earlier, on the street, he had seen her slip her hand into JD's pocket. It was only when he reached the church and discovered JD's marbles were missing that he suspected what she had done. His suspicion was confirmed when he saw the girl slip one of Ezra's cards off the table and slide it into her cigar box.

Taking the opportunity to talk while everyone else was busy, he slid closer to the girl and warned, "I know what you are. You stop taking my friends' things and give back what you have."

The girl turned toward her accuser, her face showing nothing but innocence. "Don't know what you mean," she bluffed, somehow knowing this boy would see through what so many adults had not.

Tanner was not buying it. "Your secrets in your box are what you pick from people's pockets. You return JD's marbles and Mr. Ezra's card and I won't tell Mr. Chris and the others what you did."

Staring into the blue eyes, Olivia knew she had been well and truly caught. She also was aware that Vin had left her no loopholes about returning the things she had taken. If he told the adults and then her mother found out... Looking down at her box, another thought crossed her mind. Tanner had never said she could not just take the things again. "Fine," she agreed with a huff. "I'll give them back. Stupid stuff anyway."

The small Texan frowned slightly. He was happy that Olivia was going to give the things back, but he kind of felt like he forgot something. Oh well, he would figure it out later. Right now, he wanted to get another cookie before Mr. Josiah and Mr. Nathan ate them all.

When dinner was finished, Josiah settled everyone down and started a story. It was a really good one and all three children were fascinated by it. The tale he told was a long one and before the end, JD was sound asleep on a pew. Olivia and Vin were still awake.

Needing to visit the outhouse, Vin stood to leave the church. Stepping to the door, he was surprised to find it was dark outside. The watch fires were being lit and he noticed Mr. Nathan walking down the other side of the street making a patrol. Deciding that was a smart thing to do, Vin decided to make a patrol of town when he was finished with his current need. Walking down the steps and around the side of the church, he failed to notice the two men across the street.

Having finished his self-imposed patrol of the town, Vin stepped back into the church. He was puzzled by the lack of noise until he noticed that everyone was asleep. As he moved toward the center of the room where he had last seen Olivia, his eyes grew wide in shock as there was no sign of the girl. "Olivia!" he called out.

The sleeping men and boy all jerked awake. Guns leapt into Josiah and Ezra's hands while a knife found its way into Nathan's.

Mouth dropping open and eyes growing wide in shock at his reception, Tanner managed to squeak, "Don't shoot!"

"Sorry, son," Josiah soothed, placing his gun beside him on the floor and reaching out to touch the boy's arm and reassure him. He frowned slightly when he felt the Texan flinch, but then saw the shock that remained in the blue eyes and realized how badly they had scared the boy.

Shaking off the last of his fear, Vin asked, "Where's Olivia?"

All three men immediately rose to their feet and began looking around in a panic. "Olivia!" Ezra called.

There was no response to the call and the church was quickly searched. When no sign of the girl was found, the three men headed toward the front doors of the church and out into the street, still calling for the girl.

JD stumbled over to Vin, still rubbing his eyes. "Wha's happenin'?" he asked around a yawn.

"Dumb girl went wandering off on her own," Vin grumbled, as he tried to think where she might have gone. It took him only a few minutes to figure out a few places to look. There was an old barn just to the back of the church and it had a horse collar that made a nice swing. "Come on, JD," Tanner instructed, determined to do the job Mr. Chris had assigned him and keep Olivia safe.

Stepping out into the night, Vin led them down the alley that would lead to the barn. He was not expecting to run into two men carrying the girl. "Hey!" he called out, "You let her go!" Without a thought to his own safety, Tanner attacked the man holding Olivia.

The element of surprise was on his side. He managed to get the younger Greer free and called out "Run!"

He watched Olivia and JD take off running and was about to follow, when one of the men grabbed him. The other soon caught Olivia and lifted her. Strong hands clamped over their mouths kept the two children from crying out for help, but Dunne was far enough away that they could not get him too.

"Help!" he cried out as loudly as he could. "Mr. Ezra! Mr. Nathan! Mr. Josiah! Help!" Then, having given the warning, he headed back toward his friends. "Let them go!" he shouted, pounding his fists on the leg of the man holding the still struggling Olivia.

"We don't need this," the man growled, kicking his leg out and sending JD flying. As soon as he was free, he took off through the empty barn and toward the back of the hotel where a room waited for them.

When the man had kicked his leg out, JD had gone flying down the alley and into the side of a crate. When he came into contact with the solid surface, JD's head hit the unyielding wood. Turning to sit on the ground, he felt something wet on his forehead. Reaching up, he brought his hand down and shrieked when he saw they were covered in blood.

It was only moments later when three sets of pounding footsteps entered the alley, their blood having turned to ice at the child's scream.

"JD!" Ezra cried, seeing the small, form sitting on the ground. Stopping beside the boy he dropped to his knees and reached out. He gasped a moment later as a small body hurled itself into his arms and began wailing.

"Let me look at him," Nathan advised, worried about the blood and possible injures. He reached out and tried to pry the small form off of Ezra's and was startled when he met resistance. "Come on, JD. Let me have a look at you so I can help you get better."

"He's right," Ezra encouraged. "You know Nathan is very good at making people feel better. Remember how he helped Buck at the village?"

A loud sniffle sounded as JD pulled himself away from Ezra and allowed himself to be given to Nathan.

Nathan blinked at the boy and the blood covering his small face and hands as well as that which had been left behind on Ezra's formerly pristine, white shirt. Knowing head injuries bled completely out of proportion to their severity, he settled the boy on his knee and pulled out a clean handkerchief. "You're alright, there, JD," he soothed, wiping away the blood and searching as best he could for the source of the injury in the dim light of the alleyway.

"They got Vin," Dunne sobbed, still not completely calm.

"We'll get him back," Josiah assured.

Finally finding the miniscule cut on JD's forehead, Jackson smiled. A little bit of pressure should handle the bleeding. Of course, the boy would have a nasty bruise for a while, but the wound looked small enough to have caused no real damage. Still, he would feel better if he could get JD somewhere safe and with more light. "I'll bring him back to the church, you all go see if you can find Vin and Olivia," Nathan advised, his voice relaxed and confident.

Ezra and Josiah felt some of their fear abate at the healer's tone of voice. Though both men wanted to wait until JD was settled and Nathan had done a full check-up, they knew that there were still two children in danger. Turning and heading down the alley, they saw the marks of a scuffle in the dirt, but lost the faint tracks in the dark of the empty barn. When they exited out the other side, they realized the ground was too hard to hold a footprint even if there had been sufficient light to see them.

Unhappy at their fruitless search, the two men headed back to the church. When they stepped into the building it was to hear a grumpy JD protesting that he was fine. The new arrivals exchanged amused looks.

"You're not going to go out looking," Nathan admonished. "You hit your head and have a tiny cut. You need to rest here."

"But the bad men took Vin and Olivia," the small brunet protested, shifting as he tried to sit up.

Jackson rested a hand on JD's shoulder, holding him in place.

Moving closer to the pew where the boy was lying, Ezra looked into the trusting eyes of the child as he informed, "We did look for them, JD."

"But the bad men were already gone by the time we got there," Josiah finished, standing next to Ezra and resting a hand on the conman's shoulder, knowing exactly how much it hurt the other man to tell young Dunne the bad news since his own heart was aching.

"But we'll get them back," Nathan interjected, deciding they all needed a boost of confidence. "I'll stay here with JD, you two go search for Vin and the girl."

"Howdy!" a familiar voice called out.

Spinning in place, the others found themselves face to face with Buck.

The rogue's smile faded quickly as he saw the tiny form around whom they had all been gathered. Charging across the room and shouldering his way between Ezra and Josiah, he sat down and gathered JD into his arms. "What happened?" he demanded, glaring at the three men.

"Long story," Ezra muttered.

"He'll be fine, Buck," Nathan assured. "He just needs to stay still. JD just has a bump on his head and may have a bruise or two tomorrow."

Looking into his boy's bright eyes, Buck was comforted by the emotion he saw there.

"Where's Chris?" Josiah asked, noticing the gunslinger had failed to appear.

"With the gang... On his way to rob the bank," Buck informed, running his hands over JD to reassure himself that the boy really was fine.

"What?" Nathan exclaimed, shocked.

"A long story," Wilmington replied with a wry grin. The grin faded as he looked around the church and noticed that Vin and Olivia were both missing. "Where's Vin?" he asked, worried about the boy who meant almost as much to him as JD.

"With Olivia and the bad men," JD supplied as he rested his aching head on the strong, broad chest.

"Where are the bad men?" Buck asked, unable to keep all the venom and fear from his voice. He was afraid for the children and what might happen, even while anger at men who would take children burned within him.

"That we don't know," Ezra informed.

"We were about to go looking again when you came in," Josiah added.

"Then let's go," Buck ordered, rising and settling JD on his hip, taking great comfort from the weight and warmth of the small figure on his side.

The four men headed out into the night, Nathan and Josiah taking one side of the street while Buck, JD and Ezra took the other.

In a small room in the hotel, two children sat on the double bed. Vin was keeping a wary eye on the two men and doing his best to stay between them and Olivia. Neither child had come quietly. The two men had run into some difficulty in getting them up into the room. Once inside the room, Vin had done his best to attack the kidnappers and make an opening Olivia could use to escape. He found himself thrown against the far wall for his trouble and then one of the men grabbed the girl. Protesting, Tanner swore he would behave and wait quietly, but they needed to leave Olivia alone. So far both children were unharmed.

For her part, Olivia was trying very hard not to show how scared she really was. In an attempt to keep distracted she opened her box and began looking at her treasures. It took only a few minutes for Tanner to notice the change and take in the contents of the box. "Hey!" he exclaimed. "That looks like Mr. Buck's watch, and aren't those Miz Travis' letters? You better give those back."

Angry with herself for having gotten caught looking at her treasures, Olivia reached out to close the box and informed her young protector, "They're in my box."

"That don't mean they're yours," Vin informed, frowning at the girl. Looking up at her, he continued, "You don't take things from friends and people trying to help you out."

"I didn't know they were helping when I took them. Besides, Mr. Buck was lookin' at my ma like he wanted to be my pa," Olivia informed, still not happy about the way Mr. Buck had treated her mother.

Vin shrugged. "Mr. Buck's always like that with ladies."

"Well I don't like it," the young Miss Greer stated, lifting her box onto her lap to make sure it was safe.

"They're coming," hissed the man by the window.

"Remember it's just for show," the other said, keeping his attention on the door.

Moving from the open window toward the bed, the man grabbed Olivia by the arm and dragged her toward the window. Seeing his friend being manhandled and remembering Chris' very specific instructions to protect her, Vin leapt off the bed and grabbed a hold of the man's arm, pulling against it and screaming, "You let her go! You let her go!"

The second man in the room quickly crossed over and drew the young terror away from his friend, allowing everyone outside a clear view of the girl.

As they rode into town under the cover of darkness, Morgan asked smugly, "Where's your kid?"

Terry looked at him, noting the change in the tone of the question. Something in her told her that Olivia was in danger, but in case she was wrong, she would bluff. "She's somewhere safe."

"You sure about that?" Coltrane asked, pulling his horse to a stop.

Since entering town, Chris had been scanning the streets and spotted Josiah and Nathan right away. He searched the shadows and eventually spotted Ezra, Buck and JD. His stomach clenched as he realized he did not see Vin.

That thought barely had time to formulate when the shrill cry of "You let her go! You let her go!" sounded out into the night and Larabee's heart froze. That was Vin's voice and the fact that it was suddenly silenced stole his breath. He had left Tanner here because it was supposed to be safe. Now not only was Olivia in Coltrane's clutches, but Vin was as well and there was no reason for Morgan to keep his boy alive. Chris could not lose another son!

That thought brought him up cold. Adam was his son. Adam was his boy. Vin was... Vin was an orphan who seemed to have attached himself to the gunslinger for no reason. Chris tolerated the boy's attention because he respected the grit he saw, the character the child showed and knew that Tanner deserved a chance to reach manhood, to be a man who would make a positive difference, certainly not because Larabee cared for him, loved him, and already thought on him as another son.

The blond gunslinger was ripped from any further thoughts along those lines as Mrs. Greer spoke, "Morgan, please, you don't have to include..."

"Terry... don't make me kill you," Morgan interrupted without the least bit of warmth in his voice. "Not in front of your daughter. You don't do your job, I will. Now, let's go."

Chris shot one more look at the hotel window and then turned to look at Ezra and Buck. Even in the dark, the silent message was clear - get Vin and keep him safe. He turned his attention to the role he needed to play as soon as he saw Buck nod in agreement. Tanner and Olivia would soon be in good hands.

"Sit there and shut up, kid," the man who had been restraining Vin commanded as he threw the boy onto the bed to which Olivia had been returned. "Our orders are to make sure the girl is unharmed. She's going to be returned to her mother as soon as we take the bank."

"And then we're traveling down to Mexico," the other bandit informed, stepping away from the window to stand at the end of the bed. "I'm sure we'll fetch a nice price for you," he commented, his voice dripping evil as he reached out to finger some of Vin's hair.

The boy felt a wave of revulsion sweep over him and pulled away from the man, causing both outlaws to laugh. When he had been traveling with the hunters he had heard stories about what went on in Mexico and the fact that kids were sold into slavery down there. He did not want that to happen to him. He would just have to wait until he had a chance to get both he and Olivia to safety.

A small movement from Olivia caused Vin to turn toward the door. His eyes grew wide as he noticed the dancing light and the smoke curling under the door. He turned his attention away from the fire and waited for the men to act.

It was only another moment or two before they did.

"What the Hell?" one of the men asked, turning toward the door.

"What?" the other asked.

"Fire!" the first man cried, throwing open the door and seeing the small blaze right outside their room. Reacting before he could think, the outlaw began to stomp out the flames, an action that was cut short by the appearance of a gun in his face. He was pushed back into the room as the hiss of water poured on a fire sounded in the hall.

In the room, the second man went for his gun.

"I wouldn't. Toss it!" Buck advised stepping closer to the man, his gun now aimed directly at him as Ezra took over the care of the first bandit. The peacekeeper locked eyes with his foe and waited. He knew this man was just waiting for an opening and with the lives of Vin and Olivia riding on his ability, Wilmington knew there would be no opportunity.

Moving so he could see the children while still keeping an eye on his target, he felt anger at the fear he saw in both sets of eyes. No child should be terrorized like this. He suddenly found himself hoping that his prisoner would try something just so he could shoot the man. A flash of something silver caught his attention and he turned his head toward the bed.

Thinking that Wilmington had given him an opening, Coltrane's man went for his gun. It was a mistake.

In the blink of an eye, Buck lashed out with his gun and knocked the man unconscious. "I said, I wouldn't," he hissed at the unconscious form. Putting his gun back in its holster, he settled on the bed and lifted the silver object that had caught his attention from the cigar box Olivia carried. "I believe this is my watch, young lady," he observed, seeing Olivia hang her head as she realized she had been caught.

Before the mustached man could grill the girl further, Ezra spoke up. "I do believe we should be going. Our assistance will be needed outside shortly."

Vin's head snapped around to look at Ezra. "Mr. Chris came back?" he asked, already knowing the answer.

"With the gang. They are in the bank and just waiting to make sure you are safe before acting," Standish informed.

"We'll give them the same signal that these two gave the gang," Buck said. "I'll stand with Olivia by the window then head down to help." Turning to see Vin already standing and heading toward the door, he instructed, "No, Vin. You will need to stay here with Olivia and JD and guard the men."

"But you could take them to the jail now and then I could help," Vin said, needing to see Chris as soon as he could, needing to help.

"JD and Olivia will need you here," Ezra added, hoping to prevent an argument and keep the boy safe.

"I can take care of myself," Olivia informed, tired of always having someone watch her.

"I'm sure you can," Buck said, his voice letting her know that he was not pleased at her response. "But the fact remains, you, JD and Vin will stay in this room guarding these prisoners until we return, is that clear?"

Not seeing any way out of it, the two children nodded and offered up reluctant, "Yes, sirs" to him.

Exchanging exasperated looks, Buck and Ezra moved quickly to secure their prisoners and then Buck left to get JD. Within moments he returned with the small brunet who immediately ran to Vin and threw his arms around his friend.

"Vin!" Dunne squealed. "You're alright."

Embarrassed by the overt display, Vin squeezed JD in a quick hug and wiggled out of the younger boy's grasp. "Yeah, I'm alright, but we gotta stay here and watch the prisoners," he informed his friend.

"Alright," JD agreed, excited to have another important job. Mr. Buck had already put him in charge of dumping water on the fire to put it out, now he was going to watch the prisoners.

The two adult peacekeepers exchanged amused looks as Ezra turned and headed outside, wanting to be in a better position to help once the gang was done at the bank.

Buck moved back toward the window and waited. Soon he saw movement by the bank and motioned for Olivia to come over. The two stood in the window as Chris and Terry looked up.

Having met Chris' eyes, Buck quickly moved from the window and headed outside to help with the situation. He could already hear gunfire.

With the two adults gone and the two prisoners securely tied, Vin was unable to contain his curiosity any longer. Moving to the window, he looked down at the street below. He could see Mr. Buck taking care of a bad man on this side of the street and saw Mr. Nathan knock someone off a horse. Further down the road, Mr. Josiah punched one man and then took a rope and lassoed another. Mr. Ezra was busy covering two men who were standing in front of him and Mrs. Greer was behind a wagon wheel.

What caused fear to creep into his heart and paralyze him, however, was the sight of Mr. Chris standing in the street, no cover in sight, firing at the gang's leader who was firing at the peacekeeper's leader from the back of a horse. "No," Vin whispered, feeling sick. His throat closed and he was unable to free any further words as the man on the horse started getting too close to Mr. Chris. Soon he would be too close to miss.

It was with a huge sigh of relief that Vin saw the rider fall off his horse and lay still in the street. Not caring that he was supposed to be watching the men in the room, Tanner took off running, one thought and one thought only in his mind and heart. Get to his pa. Get to Chris.

Chris stood in the street staring down at the man who had dared threaten an innocent girl, who had terrorized both Olivia and Terry Greer and had dared to take his s... take Vin from him. The sound of the hotel door bursting open drew his attention away from the body in the street and he looked up to see two small forms headed straight for him and a third heading off toward Buck.

"Olivia!" Mrs. Greer greeted opening her arms and hugging her daughter close.

Vin pulled up short, standing and staring up at Chris, relieved that the man was safe, and upset about the chance he had taken standing in the open to fire at the bad man.

Larabee looked down at Vin, wanting to pull the boy close and make sure he was really alright, but wanting to scold him for getting captured and putting himself in danger.

Their stand off was interrupted when Terry, holding Olivia close, stepped up and laid a hand on Chris' arm. "I don't know how to thank you," she said, overwhelmed by all that had happened and for all these men had done for her.

A kind smile spread across the weary gunslinger's face. "Just do right in your new life," he advised, patting the small hand and leaving the newly arriving Mary to deal with the Greer family. Turning, he saw Vin was still staring at him.

"You shouldn't have stood in the open like that," Vin accused. "You could have gotten hit. You could have gotten ki..." his voice broke in a gasping sob on the word before he managed to regain control and finish, "... killed."

Reading the very real fear in the blue eyes, Chris knelt down in front of the boy and rested his hands on the slender shoulders. "But I didn't," he replied softly. A part of him wanted to tell Vin that he would never take chances like that again, but he knew it would be a lie. Larabee would do whatever was necessary to achieve the right outcome, even if it meant losing his life. "I'm here for you now," he said aloud adding silently, and always.

Vin swallowed back the tears that threatened and nodded his head, not trusting his voice. He knew Chris would take chances and understood why he did it. He even agreed with it most of the time, but that did not make the reality any less scary.

"Why don't we get you ready for bed?" Chris said, not knowing what else to do at the moment. He was still too wound up from the events of the day to think clearly. When he received no response from the boy, he sighed, stood and turned Vin toward the boarding house. They met Buck and JD on their way and the quartet entered the building and made their way toward their three rooms


Mary, Terry and Olivia stepped out of the Clarion office while Chris, Buck, Ezra, Josiah, Nathan, Vin and JD came from the restaurant. All seven had gone to breakfast and were now going to say goodbye to Terry and Olivia.

"I'm sure we'll be fine," Terry said as she stopped in front of the stagecoach that would take her and her daughter to Bitter Creek.

"I know you will," Mary agreed. "Bitter Creek's not that far off. I'll be checking your progress from time to time."

"Well, we'll look forward to it," the former cracksmith agreed. "Thank you so much for your kindness," she added, her words sincere.

Goodbyes were said all around and Ezra, Josiah and Nathan all headed off in different directions. JD found something interesting on the ground and Mary and Chris were talking. Vin said goodbye to Olivia and reminded her what they had talked about with regard to her treasures. The girl gave a resigned sigh and then moved toward the stagecoach with her mother.

She was about to board when Buck came up and spoke with her. Vin could see his friend did not like the way the rogue was speaking to her, but it was the honking of her nose that was the final straw. Honestly, this time Vin could not find it within him to blame her for her actions.

As Buck moved back to stand beside Chris, Tanner moved forward and had a quiet word with Olivia. When they were finished, he stood beside Wilmington, a mischievous smile on his face, one that Larabee saw. Seeing the hazel eyes question him, the Texan only smiled wider and shook his head slightly.

Not noticing the silent communication going on around him or the smile on the boy's face, Buck bragged of the act he and Chris had put on in Purgatorio, "Well, good thing I play dead so well but to tell you the truth, Chris I think I could've handled that situation myself."

While Buck was watching the stage, Chris had been looking at Vin and caught the sudden fear in the boy's eyes. Smiling to let Tanner know everything was fine and not to worry, he was satisfied when the child's shoulders relaxed. As Vin turned and assured JD that nothing was amiss, Chris turned his attention back to his long-time friend. Larabee just shook his head at the outrageous boast. "I should have shot you while I had the chance," he growlingly teased, making sure both boys knew he was joking.

Seeing the stage begin to move as the driver urged the team onward, Vin knew it was the right time. "Hey, Mr. Buck?"

"Yeah," he replied looking down at the boy by his side. He was met with a huge smile and twinkling blue eyes.

"What time you got?" Tanner asked, struggling to contain his giggles.

"It's... uh..." Buck began, searching for his watch. Looking around in disbelief, he spotted a small hand dangling the object in question out the stagecoach window. "Hey!" he called out. "You... hey!" he called again, beginning to run after the conveyance. "Come back here! Come back, young lady, here!"

Vin found he could not hold back his laughter any more and it came pouring out of him. His laughter was soon joined by JD, Mary and Chris' as they all watched Buck try to catch up with his missing watch.

Next: Witness