"Little Britches" Universe

This story is dedicated to my horse Cody who died 10/11/01. He gave me many years of loyalty and devotion. He also loved me unconditionally, except when he was stepping on my toes.
;-) Enjoy!

If you love something set it free
If it comes back to you it’s yours
If it doesn’t it was never meant to be

Chapter 1

Chris stood in front of the stove cooking eggs as he tried to stifle a yawn. Vin still insisted on getting up early and Chris usually joined him. Except last night a restless JD had kept him and Buck awake. The younger boy had a cold and was miserable. Chris smiled as he remembered Vin sleeping through JD's nocturnal wanderings. Vin now trusted them enough that he didn't have to worry about JD constantly. Chris moved around the scrambled eggs until they were dry. Vin hated them runny. He was about to put them on a plate when Vin burst through the door.

"Chris!" he yelled hysterically. "He's gone!"

"Whoa, Vin," Chris said kneeling down to the boys level. "Who's gone?"

"Peso," Vin said with a quivering voice. "He's gone."

"What's goin' on?" Buck asked as he rubbed his eyes.

"You havta find him," Vin insisted.

"We will," Chris said quickly as he saw the tears forming in Vin's eyes. "I promise."

"Okay," Vin said wiping his eyes.

"Let's go see what happened," Chris said taking Vin's hand and going outside.

Vin led Chris to Peso's corral and Chris could see it was empty. He also saw a section of rails missing from the fence. Chris walked over and looked around. He found more than just Peso's prints in the dirt. Chris silently cursed when he realized Peso had been stolen. The other horses were in the barn since it looked like it would rain last night. Peso didn't like being put in the barn so they had built a lean to in his corral to get out of the rain. Buck came out with pants pulled over his red long johns and his boots. He walked over to where Chris was standing.

"Buck, why don't you take the boys to town," Chris suggested.

"Sure thing," Buck said when he saw the tracks leading away from the corral. "I'll leave the boys with Josiah then come back to help you."

"No!" Vin protested. "I want to go with you."

"It will be quicker if just me and Buck go," Chris said.

"Peso's mine!" Vin said as tears rolled down his cheeks.

"I know," Chris said as he crouched next to Vin. "I'll find him."

Chris watched as the tears continued to fall from Vin's eyes. Vin finally nodded and Chris pulled him into a hug. Vin wrapped his arms around Chris's neck and cried harder. Chris stood up with Vin in his arms.

"It'll be alright, Vin," Chris said as he headed for the barn. "Want to help me get Pony tacked?"

Buck smiled as Vin nodded. He knew Chris was trying to distract Vin. "I'll go wake JD."

Buck want back into the cabin and headed for his room. JD slept with him last night so that the little boy's coughing wouldn't disturb Vin. Whereas Vin was a light sleeper, Buck could sleep through anything.  So it had been decided that it would be best  if JD slept with him. He walked into the room to find JD exactly like he had left him. Buck smiled since all you could see of JD was the top of his dark head. Buck pulled back the covers to reveal the snoring JD. The cold had him congested and JD was breathing through his mouth. Buck sat on the bed and gave JD a shake.

"Come on, Little Bit, wake up," Buck said.

JD stirred and looked up at Buck with bleary eyes. Buck sat JD up and wiped his runny nose. He hated to make JD ride to town but knew he couldn't let Chris go after the horse thieves alone.

"Seepy," JD protested.

"I know," Buck said in sympathy. "But you have to get dressed so we can go to town."

"No wanna," JD protested.

"You don't have a choice," Buck said.

Buck struggled to get a protesting JD dressed. Usually JD was easy going but the cold was making him cantankerous. Not that Buck blamed him he knew JD was miserable. By the time he got JD dressed the boy was in tears and Buck was feeling just as miserable. He bundled JD in his coat as well as a blanket before carrying him out the door. Buck was glad when he saw Chris had hitched up the wagon for them. Beavis was tied to the back and Vin was sitting on the seat to the wagon. Chris was surprised when he saw JD was crying.

"What's wrong?" Chris asked in concern.

"This cold has him miserable," Buck said. "He doesn't want to go to town."

"Have Nathan check him," Chris said as he mounted. "I'll meet you at Cooper's Ridge."

"Got it," Buck said.

"You promise, Chris?" Vin asked.

"I promise," Chris said then swung Pony around down the trail left by Peso.

"Okay, JD, you go up to Vin," Buck said as he lifted JD onto the seat.

"I got a cold," JD informed his cousin as he wiped his nose with the sleeve of his jacket.

"I know, JD," Vin said as he took off his bandana and wipe JD's nose.

Buck smiled as he watched Vin take care of his cousin. He climbed up next to the boys and got settled on the seat. JD curled up on his cousin’s lap as Buck drove off. As Buck drove he noticed Vin looking all around. He knew how much Peso meant to the boy. He just hoped Chris was able to keep his promise.

"Me and Chris will do our best to find him," Buck said.

"I know," Vin said quietly. "Chris promised."

"Who?" JD asked.

"Peso ran away," Vin answered.

"Dey find 'im," JD said.

"I know," Vin said as he held his cousin

Buck sighed when he heard the trust in both boys’ voices. He just hoped they weren't disappointed if they couldn't find Peso.

Chapter 2

Buck arrived in town and pulled up in front of the jail. Nathan saw them and walked over.

"Mornin' Buck," Nathan said as Buck climbed down form the seat. "What brings you to town so early?"

"Peso ran away," Vin answered before Buck.

"He did?" Nathan asked confused.

"Yup gonna help Chris bring him back," Buck said. "So I brought the boys to town. Also wanted you to check JD."

"Why what's wrong?" Nathan asked.

"I dot a code," JD answered.

"So you do?" Nathan smiled as he reached up to get JD. JD eagerly went to Nathan's out stretched hands. "You go on Buck, I'll watch them."

"Thanks Nate," Buck said as he untied Beavis. "We'll be back as soon as we can."

"I know you'll find him," Vin called as he climbed down from the wagon and followed Nathan.

"The steed didn't run away," Ezra commented from the boardwalk.

"No," Buck sighed. "He was stolen. There were other tracks and the corral boards were forced off."

"Let me guess," Ezra said. "Chris promised to get Peso back."

"Yeah," Buck sighed.

"You see the dilemma if Chris doesn't fulfill his promise," Ezra continued.

"Yeah I do," Buck said as he swung up on the gray's back. "But you know Chris."

"Yes," Ezra smiled. "His tenacity is well known."

"I just hope we can find Peso," Buck said. "I'd hate to break that boys heart."

"I don't envy you your task," Ezra said sincerely.

"Neither do I," Buck said as he kicked Beavis and moved off down the street.

Ezra watched as Buck disappeared around the corner. The gambler decided to check on the boys and headed for the clinic. As he climbed the stairs he could hear JD arguing. He opened the door and grabbed JD as he made a dash for the door.

"And where do you think you're going?" Ezra asked as he scooped JD into his arms.

"Way from Naffin," JD said.

"I see," Ezra smiled at JD's speech through a stuffy nose. "And why are you running away?"

"Wants me to drink somefin yucky," JD frowned.

"And you better do it," Vin scolded. "It will help your cold."

"No," JD said emphatically.

"You're being a baby," Vin said.

"Not a baby," JD argued.

"Are too."

"Am not."

"That's enough," Ezra said forcefully. "I'm afraid you’ll take the medicine. And you Mr. Tanner, will stop antagonizing your cousin."

"Anta what?" Vin asked.

"Stop teasing your cousin," Ezra said.

"I wasn't," Vin sulked.

"Come here JD," Nathan said taking him from Ezra. "This will help your stuffy nose."

Ezra could see Nathan had set up a steam to help JD's cold. He watched as Nathan turned it into a game of hide and seek to get JD to put his head under the blanket. Vin wandered over to the window and stared out. Ezra waked over and sat down next to Vin.

"I'm sorry," Vin said.

"For what?" Ezra asked confused.

"Didn't mean to tease JD," Vin said turning to Ezra.

"Yes you did," Ezra smiled. "It's what boys do."

"Chris wouldn't like it," Vin reasoned.

"No," Ezra agreed. "But he knows that every once in awhile it will happen and he won't be mad."

"Oh," Vin said and turned back to look out the window. "Can I go see Josiah?"

"If you wish," Ezra said rising. "Mr. Jackson I'm taking Vin to see Mr. Sanchez."

"Alright," came the muffled reply followed by a giggle.

Ezra opened the door and led Vin outside. They went down the steps then across the street to the church. As they walked to the church they could hear some one hammering inside. Ezra opened the door to find Josiah nailing up a board to cover the broken glass in the window.

"Good morning Mr. Sanchez," Ezra called.

"Brother Ezra," Josiah said as he turned. "And Vin. What can I do for you?"

"Mr. Tanner wished to see you," Ezra said.

"Isn't that nice," Josiah said as he came and sat in one of the pews.

"I shall leave you two to your visit," Ezra said. "I believe a bath is calling me."

Vin sat next to Josiah as Ezra left the church. The preacher sat quietly, knowing Vin would talk when he was ready. The small boy sat swinging his legs just staring into space. Josiah got comfortable and waited.

"Josiah," Vin said.

"Yes, Vin," he said with a smile.

"Why did God make Peso run away?" Vin asked. "I thought Peso liked me."

"I don't understand Vin," Josiah said.

"When I went out to feed Peso he was gone," Vin said look up at Josiah with tears in his eyes.

"I'm sorry, Vin," Josiah said as he pulled the boy onto his lap. Vin laid his head on Josiah's chest and let the tears fall. "I don't think God intended to make Peso run away. He made Peso a free spirit. This isn't the first time he's broken out of his corral."

"It isn't?" Vin asked sitting up and wiping his eyes.

"Nope," Josiah smiled and handed Vin his handkerchief. "Last time it took Chris two days to find him."

"Chris promised he would," Vin said. "But I was wondering if God might help."

"If you asked Him I'm sure He would," Josiah said.

"How?" Vin asked.

"Anything that brings you closer to God should do the trick," Josiah said.

"Can I go back to Nathan's now?" Vin asked. "JD has a cold and I better check on him."

"Alright," Josiah smiled and stood up.

He took Vin's hand as they left the church. They walked across the street and Josiah greeted some of the town’s people as they walked by. Josiah took Vin up the stairs and over to the clinic. They opened the door and Nathan hushed them as they walked in.

"I just got him to sleep," Nathan whispered.

"He gonna be okay?" Vin asked.

"Yeah he'll be fine," Nathan smiled.

Nathan walked over to Josiah and they began to talk. Vin walked over to the bed and pulled off his boots before climbing on the bed. Nathan was about to scold him but Josiah stopped him. They watched as Vin crawled under the covers and moved closer to JD. The younger boy snuggled up to his cousin and Vin closed his eyes.

"Worrying about your missing horse sure can tucker out a fella," Josiah smiled.

"That and getting up at the crack of dawn," Nathan smiled.

"He still doing that?" Josiah asked.

"For the most part," Nathan said. "Chris finally asked Vin why he does it and found out that his mother used to like the sunrise."

"I suspect that's when she had to get up for work," Josiah smiled.

"Probably," Nathan agreed.

"Well guess I'll get back to my repairs," Josiah said.

"What did Vin want?"

"He asked if God would help find Peso," Josiah said.

"Couldn't hurt."

"Not with that jug head it couldn't."

+ + + + + + +

"Damned, jug head, where are you?" Chris asked to no one unparticular.

They had been searching for the horse thieves for most of the day. Whoever these guys were they were smart. The trail had ended at some rocks forcing them to radiate out in a circle hoping they would pick up a trail. So far they found noting. Buck was willing to admit defeat but he knew Chris wasn't, Chris didn't want to go back and tell Vin he couldn't find Peso.

"We'd better head back," Buck said.

"No, we keep looking," Chris argued.

"It'll be dark soon," Buck said. "We can start again tomorrow."

"You know as well as I do that those horse thieves will be well gone by tomorrow," Chris said angrily.

"I know," Buck conceded. "Nothing we can do but send out wires to the surrounding towns telling them to be on the look out."

"I can't go back and tell Vin I couldn't find him," Chris said quietly.

"I know that too," Buck sighed. "He'll understand."

"Will he?" Chris asked angrily. "That boy’s life has been one disappointment on top of the other. I should never have promised him."

"You did it to make him fell better," Buck said. "Not to hurt him."

"Yeah," Chris said wearily as he turned Pony back towards town.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah kept an eye on Vin where he sat on the boardwalk. Vin was at the edge of town waiting for Chris. He'd been there since waking from his nap this morning. Ezra asked why he thought Chris would be coming from that direction. Vin just shrugged and continued watching. They hadn't been able to get Vin to eat anything all day. JD certainly had no trouble. After his nap JD was feeling much better. The steam had cleared his congestion enough that he was hungry enough for both of them. When JD realized what happened he was upset also. Josiah suspected JD was more upset that Vin was sad then Peso being gone. JD had sat with Vin for awhile but the boy’s usual rambunctiousness got the better of him. Nathan kept JD amused while Josiah watched Vin. Josiah took a sip of the coffee he was nursing when he noticed Vin stand up. Josiah looked down the block and saw two riders coming. He could see that they hadn't found Peso. Vin realized it also and Josiah could see his disappointment. Chris saw Vin standing at the edge of town waiting. Buck saw him also and sighed.

"Want me to tell him?" Buck asked.

"No, I'll do it," Chris said.

Chris steered his horse towards Vin and dismounted. Vin bit his lip as Chris walked over to him. He hoped Chris had brought Peso back to the ranch before coming to town to get them. Buck stopped by Josiah and dismounted. They watched as Chris put his hands on Vin's shoulders and told him the truth.

"You promised!" Vin yelled as he shook off Chris's hands and ran down the boardwalk.

Ezra happened to be walking out of the mercantile when he saw Vin running away from Chris. Vin saw Ezra and ran to him for comfort. The gambler picked Vin up and gave Chris and apologetic smile as he walked down the boardwalk with the crying boy.

"Damn," Buck cursed.

"Buy you a drink?" Josiah asked as Chris walked over.

"Make it a double," Chris sighed.

They went into the saloon and took their usual table by the wall. Josiah went to the bar and got a bottle and three glasses from Inez. He took them back to the table and poured them each a generous amount.

"Yours wasn't the only ranch hit," Josiah said. "Tompkins came in this afternoon to report one of his horses missing."

"Damn," Chris sighed.

"Looks like we have a rustling ring working the area," Buck commented.

"They're gonna be sorry when I find them," Chris growled.

Buck glanced at Josiah and they knew Chris meant every word. After a few drink Josiah took them to get some dinner. Nathan joined them with JD but Ezra couldn't convince Vin to eat. Dinner was a quiet affair and they ate quickly. Buck decided to head home to take care of the other stock. JD wanted to go with him but Buck said he had to stay with Chris. He promised he’d be back in the morning.

When it was time for bed Nathan said the boys could stay with him. JD needed another dose of medicine, which seemed to make him sleepy anyway. JD said goodnight to everyone and went with Nathan. Vin stood with Ezra as Chris came over to say goodnight. When Vin saw him approach he turned and ran after his cousin. Chris sighed and watched him go.

"I'm sorry, Chris," Josiah said.

"It's my fault," Chris commented. "I should never have made that promise."

"It's what grownups do," Josiah smiled.

"Mr. Tanner will get over it," Ezra predicted. "He's not really mad at you. He's just disappointed."

"I know," Chris sighed. "He's had so much disappointment in his life. I just wish I didn't have to add more."

"Don't be too hard on yourself, Chris," Josiah said.

"Sure," Chris scowled. "I'm beat. Gonna head for bed."

Josiah and Ezra watched him leave. Ezra wished Josiah a good evening then headed for the saloon. Josiah headed back to the church and planned on saying a prayer.

Later that evening Vin woke with a start and looked frantically around the room. He was confused when he didn't recognize the room in the dark. As he woke up more he remembered he was at the clinic. JD was sound asleep next to him and he seemed to be breathing easier. Vin looked over to the next bed and saw Nathan was asleep also. Vin chewed on his lower lip when he realized how mean he'd been to Chris. He wanted to go to him but didn't think Chris would want him now. Vin decided he had to find out and slipped out of the bed. He quietly pulled on his clothes. When he was dressed he picked up his boots and walked to the door in his socks. Vin quietly opened the door and went outside. He pulled the door closed and silently made his way down the stairs. The fires that were used to light the streets were no longer burning and Vin waited as his eyes adjusted to the dark. When he was ready he pulled on his boots and walked across to the boarding house. Vin peered in the window but didn't see anybody. He cautiously opened the front door and slipped quietly inside. Vin knew Chris's room was on the second floor and he started up the stairs. When he got to the second floor he looked down the hallway and saw it was empty. Vin walked to the third door and tried to open it. He was relieved when the doorknob turn and he pushed the door open.

"Chris," Vin whispered as he moved closer to the bed.

Vin jumped back as Chris bolted up in bed. Chris grabbed his gun and pointed it towards Vin. He held the gun steady as his eyes adjusted to the dim light. When he realized who was standing there Chris lowered his gun.

"Jesus Vin!" Chris said exasperated. "What are you doing?"

"I'm sorry," Vin said and started to cry.

"It's alright," Chris said as he holstered his gun and went to Vin. "I didn't mean to scare you."

"Not that," Vin said as he continued to cry. "Sorry I got mad. I just wanted Peso back."

Chris smiled as he gathered Vin in his arms. Vin hugged Chris tight and babbled that he was sorry he made Chris sad and maybe if he had checked the fences before going to bed Peso wouldn't have gotten out. Chris picked Vin up and carried him over to the bed. He sat down and held Vin as he continued to cry. When Vin finally cried himself out Chris grabbed a handkerchief from the nightstand and handed it to Vin. Vin took it and blew his nose.

"Feel better?" Chris asked and smiled as Vin shook his head no. "Do you want to talk about?"

Vin shook his head no and Chris knew he wouldn't get any more from him. Chris pulled Vin's boots off and settled back in the bed. Vin cuddled against Chris as he pulled the covers over the both of them. Chris hugged Vin tight and kissed the top of Vin's head. He couldn't believe how much it meant to him that Vin wasn't mad at him for not finding Peso. Chris had racked his brains trying to figure out how to make it up to the boy. He knew he wouldn't stop looking for the horse thieves. He would have told Vin about that thieves but the boy had been too upset. Chris settled back and continued to rub Vin's back. He smiled as Vin sighed and drifted off to sleep. Chris lay for awhile trying to figure out where the horse thieves might have gone. He came up with a few possible places when he drifted off to sleep.

Chapter 3

Chris stretched lazily as the early morning sun streamed through the window. Suddenly he sat up and looked around. Vin was gone. Chris threw back the covers and grabbed his clothes. He hastily pulled them on, stamped his feet into his boots and strapped on his gun. Chris grabbed his hat as he raced for the door. He thundered out the door of the boarding house and stopped on the street to look around.

“Chris!" Nathan called from across the street. He carried a bleary eyed JD as he headed for Chris. "Vin's gone."

"I know," Chris said. "He was gone when I woke up."

"When you woke up?" Nathan asked confused.

"Vin came to my room very early this morning," Chris explained.

"When did he sneak out?" Nathan asked exasperated. "I never even heard him."

"Want Vin," JD complained.

"So do I," Chris said.

As they were talking Buck rode into town. He stopped by Nathan and Chris and dismounted. Buck took JD from Nathan as they explained that Vin was gone. Josiah saw them all together and knew something was wrong. He quickly joined them and learned the news. Josiah agreed to go wake Ezra while the others began the search. Buck hefted JD higher on his hp as they divided the town to be searched.

"Buck," JD said taping Buck's shoulder.

"Not now JD," Buck said gently.

"But, Buck," JD insisted. "Why Vin on top of the church?"

They all looked to the roof of the church. Sure enough Vin was perched by the bell tower. Chris cursed and ran down the street. As they were making their way to the church Vin stood up and began to walk along the roof beam. They watched in horror as Vin lost his footing and slid down the roofs.

"Vin!" Chris screamed as he ran faster.

Buck couldn't believe what happened next. Hampered with JD he wasn't able to move as fast. He watched in horror as Vin came to the end of the roof and caught the edge with his hand. This gave Chris just enough time to get under him as he let go. Buck sighed in relief as Chris caught him.

"What do you think you were doing," Chris said angrily as he held Vin.

"Trying to get Peso back," Vin said quietly as he rubbed his hand.

"On the roof of the church?" Chris asked.

"Easy, Chris, let me check him over," Nathan said.

"Tell me why you were on the roof," Chris said calmly as Nathan checked Vin.

“Was asking God to help," Vin said and winced when Nathan touched his shoulder.

"On the roof," Josiah said surprised.

"Uh huh," Vin said and hissed as Nathan found a few splinters. "You said if I was closer to God he would listen. The church is the tallest building."

Chris glared at Josiah. "Hold on Chris," Josiah smiled. "Vin misunderstood me."

"That's obvious," Chris scowled.

"Don’t be mad," Vin said. "I was only trying to help."

"I'm not mad," Chris said quickly when he saw the tears in Vin's eyes. "You just scared me."

"I'm sorry," Vin said. "I just want Peso back."

"I know you do," Chris said hugging him. "Me and Buck are going to go looking again today."

"Somebody took him didn't they?" Vin asked. "He'd be back now if he just ran away, cause he'd be hungry."

"Yeah, Vin, somebody took him," Buck said.

"Why?" JD asked.

"Because they’re bad men," Josiah said.

"How is he Nate?" Chris asked as Vin kept flinching.

"Couple of splinters, that have to come out, and a wrenched shoulder." Nathan replied.

"Alright lets get him back to the clinic," Chris said.

"I hungry," JD declared just before he sneezed.

They all laughed as Buck wiped his face and glared at JD. This set JD giggling and soon Buck was laughing with him. Buck said he'd go order breakfast for everyone and bring it over to the clinic. Josiah went to give him a hand. Chris carried Vin back to Nathan's. Once their Nathan had Chris sit on the bed with Vin in his lap. Nathan lit a candle and passed a needle over the flames a few times. Then he poured some whiskey over the end. He pulled up a chair at took a seat. Nathan took Vin's hand and held it firmly. Chris wrapped his hands around Vin when he saw the size of the splinter. Vin tried to be brave and not flinch as Nathan tried to get out the splinter. Nathan tried to be gently but the splinters were in pretty deep. Chris was finally forced to hold Vin’s hand steady. Nathan cursed when he couldn’t get the splinter.

“Ow!” Vin cried as Nathan dug deeper.

“I’m sorry, Vin, but it has to come out,” Nathan said in sympathy.

“Hold on, Nathan, I have an idea,” Chris said.

Chris turned Vin so that he was facing his chest. Vin hugged Chris tight as Nathan moved around behind Chris and took Vin’s hand. Nathan tried again and Vin didn’t seem to flinch as much. Now that Vin wasn’t looking it was easier for Nathan to work. Nathan finally got a hold of the splinter and pulled it out.

“All done,” Nathan said as he showed Vin the three-inch splinter.

“Ouch,” Vin complained.

“Yeah, ouch,” Chris said when he saw the splinter.

Buck came in as Nathan was cleaning Vin’s other cuts and scrapes. He carried a tray of food and put it down on Nathan’s workbench. They all ate heartily including JD. He was still congested but not as bad as he had been. When they were finished the boys followed Buck and Chris to the livery. Vin watched as Chris saddled Pony.

“Think you’ll find him?” Vin asked.

“I’ll do my best, Vin,” Chris said as he pulled Pony’s girth tight.

“I know,” Vin said as he ran over and hugged Chris.

Buck smiled since Vin only came below Chris’s waist. Chris ran his fingers through Vin’s hair then said they had to go. Vin stepped back as Chris mounted. He moved over to Beavis and took JD’s hand and stepped back. Buck swung up on the gray’s back and the two boys watched as Chris and Buck rode out of town.

Chapter 4

After lunch Vin and JD played with Billy Travis. Vin really wasn’t in the mood so he just watched. The town was quiet and Vin wondered where Chris was. He had a feeling deep down that he’d never see Peso again. Vin wiped his eyes as he thought of his horse. He’d never had anything like Peso before and had been so happy he finally had something to call his own. Vin sighed and looked down the street. He saw a man riding a sorry excuse for a horse. The one he was leading looked no better. Vin stared at the horse the man was leading. The horse was covered in mud and looked in pretty bad shape. But something about the horse was familiar. Vin got up and started walked towards the man. He watched as the man dismounted and tied the two horses to the hitching post. Vin moved closer and saw the white blaze on the second horse. When the horse looked up he knew him anywhere.

“Peso!” Vin yelled and ran towards the horse.

Josiah had been coming out of Potter’s store when he saw Vin race down the street. He looked to where the boy was running and watched as Vin hugged the legs of the unkempt horse.

“Hey, boy, what do you think you’re doin’?” the man asked.

“This is my horse,” Vin said with a smile petting Peso.

“Like hell it is,” the man argued. “I bought him.”

“No he’s mine!” Vin yelled.

“Now you look here,” the man said and grabbed Vin by his sore shoulder.

Josiah moved quickly across the street when he saw the man grab Vin. JD saw also and ran down the street to help his cousin. As Josiah got closer he heard the man yelling at Vin to stay away form his horse.

“Is there a problem?” Josiah asked.

“Yeah this urchin tried to take my horse.”

“Peso’s mine!” Vin yelled as he hugged Peso’s leg.

Josiah took a closer look and Vin was right it was Peso. The horse was in a sorry state. Not only was he covered in mud he had various cuts and scrapes along his rump and sides. Peso obviously hadn’t gone willingly.

“Look here mister I have a bill of sale for this horse,” the man said handing Josiah a piece of paper.

Josiah looked at the paper and sighed. “Vin come away,” Josiah said.

“No!” Vin argued. “He’s mine!”

“Vin,” Josiah warned.

“No, he’s mine!” Vin yelled. “Chris gave him to me!”

“I know,” Josiah said calmly. ”We’ll figure something out. Now come over here.”

“I hate you!” Vin yelled and ran away. JD looked at Josiah then ran after his cousin.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Jenkins,” Josiah said as he read the name off the paper. “Boy lost his horse and yours looks like him.”

“It’s alright,” Jenkins said. “I understand.”

“Can I ask where you got him?” Josiah asked.

“Might nosy ain’t ya?” Jenkins asked as he walked towards the saloon.

“You realize that is Peso,” Ezra said.

“I know but what can we do?” Josiah said. “He has a bill of sale.”

“As does Chris,” Ezra commented. “I also believe this gentleman can lead us to the rustlers.”

“So do I,” Josiah agreed.

“I think I'll see if he is interested in a game of chance,” Ezra smiled and walked towards the saloon.

Josiah turned back to Peso and patted him on the head. “Don’t worry you’ll be back with Vin in no time.”

Vin ran into the barn and hid behind the pile of hay. He sat in the corner and pulled his knees against his chest and cried. After a few minutes Vin heard JD calling him but didn’t answer. He didn’t want to see anybody. Finally JD went away and Vin tried to decide what to do next. He knew that was Peso tied up outside and he wasn’t gonna let that man take him. If he took Peso that would make him a horse thief and he would have to run away. Then Chris and the others would hunt him and throw him in jail. Vin decided it was worth it if he could get Peso back. He would wait until tonight.

JD walked out of the barn and saw Josiah standing by the horses. He didn’t understand why that man had Peso. He decided to ask Josiah and walked over to him.

Josiah,” JD called as he pulled on the preachers pant leg.

“Yes, JD,” Josiah said as he turned to him.

“Why didn’t you let Vin take Peso?” JD asked confused.

“It’s complicated,” Josiah said as he bent down and picked JD up.

“Why comp-i-cated?” JD asked.

“Well you see that man paid for Peso,” Josiah said.

“So did Chris,” JD said.

“I know,” Josiah smiled. “That’s why it’s complicated.”

“Oh,” JD said biting his lip. “So can Peso come home with us so Vin not be sad.”

“Not right now.”

“When Chris and Buck get back?”

“We’ll see,” Josiah sighed.

Ezra had no trouble engaging the owner of Peso in a card game. He let the man win a few hands to gain confidence then Ezra slowly started to beat him. The card game had drawn a few spectators with nothing better to do. Ezra looked at his hand then over to his opponent. The man had only a few dollars and Ezra figured he was desperate and might be willing to wager for the horses. Jenkin’s had made the last bet and Ezra decided to up the stakes.

“I’ll see you five dollars and raise you thirty,” Ezra said as he pushed the money forward.

“Thirty!” Jenkins swore. “I only got ten dollars here.”

“Do you have anything else of value?” Ezra asked.

“Yeah, yeah I do,” Jenkins said as he pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. “I got me this here horse. Cost me twenty dollars.”

“Show me this horse,” Ezra said.

“He’s right outside,” Jenkins said.

Ezra followed Jenkins out the door. They stopped on the boardwalk and Jenkins pointed across the street.

“See the black?” Jenkins’ asked pointing.

“That creature covered in mud?” Ezra asked scornfully.

“I know he don’t look like much,” Jenkins said. “But wash him up and you should be able to sell him.”

“Alright,” Ezra said reluctantly. “If I must.”

They went back inside and Ezra sat down by his cards. Jenkin’s picked up his hands then threw the bill of sale on the table after he wrote on it that the horse was now Ezra’s. When Ezra nodded that he should throw down first Jenkin’s smiled.

“Full house,” Jenkins’s said proudly. “Kings over jacks.”

“I’m sorry my good man,” Ezra said before Jenkin’s could rack in the pot. “Four lovely ladies.”

Jenkin’s stared in shock as Ezra spread the four queens and a ten on the table. He cursed as he got up and made his way to the bar. Ezra pulled the pot towards him with a smile. He stuffed the money in his pocket and stood up. He picked up the bill of sale for Peso and headed for the door. As he stepped out on the boardwalk he saw Chris and Buck ride back into town leading two men tied to their horses. Buck had the lead of a string of horses. Ezra walked across the street to where Peso was tied and pulled at the knot. It came undone and Ezra led Peso over to Chris. Ezra could see Chris wasn’t in a good mood. When he heard Ezra approach he stared in shock.

“I believe this belongs to someone we know,” Ezra said as he handed the lead to Chris.

“How?” Chris asked.

“Damn, Ezra,” Buck scowled. “When we found these here rustlers and they said they had sold Peso, Chris was ready to shoot them. Where’d you find him?”

“I just won him in a poker game,” Ezra smiled. “From the man they sold him to.”

“He’s a mess,” Chris said as he ran a hand along Peso’s side.

“That damned horse tried to kill us,” one of the rustlers complained. “Tried to run us into a tree.”

“Serves you right,” Buck said as he pulled him off his horse and herded him towards the jail.

“Where’s Vin?” Chris asked.

“Not sure,” Josiah said as he walked over with JD. “I told him he couldn’t take Peso from the man and he ran away.”

“After he said he hated Josiah,” JD added. “But I don’t think he meant it.”

“Neither do I,” Josiah assured JD.

“Why don’t you see if you can find him,” Ezra asked. “He’ll be happy to get his friend back.”

“You’re the one, who got him back,” Chris said. “You should tell him.”

“That’s quite alright,” Ezra smiled. “I believe you'll do much better with the hero worship then I will.”

“Thanks, Ezra,” Chris said as he grabbed Peso’s rope and headed for the barn.

Chris walked into the barn with Peso. Vin was watching from the loft and cried out. Chris watched as Vin scrambled down the ladder and over to the horse. Chris handed Vin the rope and Vin hugged Chris.

“Thanks Chris!” Vin yelled. “I knew you get him back.”

“Well I can’t take all the credit,” Chris said as he ruffled Vin’s hair. “Ezra’s the one who really got him back for you.”

“How?” Vin asked.

“He won him in a card game,” Chris smiled.

“I better go thank him,” Vin said. “And I have ta apologize to Josiah.”

“Alright,” Chris said. “We can leave Peso here.”

“No!” Vin said holding the rope tight.

“Or he can come with us,” Chris smiled.

Vin smiled and followed Chris out the door. Peso followed eagerly along. Josiah and Ezra were standing by the jail with JD. Buck walked out of the jail as Vin and Chris stopped by the boardwalk.

“I’m sorry I said I hated you Josiah,” Vin apologized.

“It’s alright, Vin,” Josiah smiled.

“Chris told me what you done,” Vin said. “Thanks Ezra.”

“It was my pleasure,” Ezra said.

“Can you teach me?” Vin asked.

“Teach you what?” Ezra asked confused.

“How to play cards,” Vin said seriously. “Just in case I have to get Peso back again.”

“Don’t you dare!” Chris warned when he saw Ezra smile.

“Maybe some other time,” Ezra said.

“Let’s go home,” Buck suggested.

“Yeah!” JD yelled then sneezed.

Buck picked JD up and walked with him over to Beavis. Josiah held JD while Buck mounted then handed JD up to him. Ezra did the same for Chris then helped Vin get behind the gunslinger. When he was settled Ezra handed Peso’s rope to Vin. As he moved away Chris grabbed his shoulder.

“Thanks again, Ezra,” Chris said as he held out his hand.

“It was my pleasure,” Ezra said as he shook Chris’s hand.

“Ezra,” Vin called.

“Yes Mr. Tanner,” Ezra said moving closer to Vin.

“I love you Uncle Ezra,” Vin said as he leaned over and kissed Ezra’s cheek.

Chris smiled at the shocked look on Ezra’s face. Josiah laughed as he led the stunned Ezra away from the horses.

“Come on, Uncle Ezra,” Josiah said as Chris and Buck rode away.

The End

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