"Little Britches" Universe

Disclaimer: No infringement is intended in regard to The Magnificent Seven, owned by MGM and Trilogy. No profit is being made from this activity.
Thanks: To J. K. Poffenberger and S Berry, the originators of the Little Britches Universe, who have kindly opened it for all of us to play.

Buck leaned over trying to see what the boys were working on. Vin and JD were carefully printing, trying to keep the lines straight. Buck couldn't see all of it, but he could make it his name there. He listened in on the debate, trying to discover the topic without disturbing them.

"You gotta put it in front of his name. You can't just leave it off. That's takin' lib'tees," Vin insisted.

"What's a libatee?"

Vin shrugged. "It's just what Mr Ezra calls it."

At Chris' curious look Buck moved back and quietly explained. "I think it's time to talk to them about the name thing."

Chris and Buck had discussed the way the boy's still retained Mister when addressing them. They both felt that it was too formal now that they'd settled into their permanent home. Buck had raised the question of addressing them as Pa, but he had done so very tentatively. Chris was sure his friend would be delighted to be addressed that way but was holding back for Chris' sake. Chris had considered it, but the pain that still came at the thought of a different boy's voice calling him that was something he didn't think he could yet bear.

Vin and JD sometimes dropped the Mister themselves though the boys hadn't ever raised the issue. Chris had to admit that he'd taken the easy path and ignored the matter. He thought that perhaps as neither boy had known their own father, they hadn't even considered the option themselves.

"Boys, come over here a minute," Chris called. Vin and JD exchanged glances at the serious tone, but moved over to where Chris and Buck were.

"Buck and I have been discussing something recently that concerns you two." Two faces looked up expectantly and perhaps a little concerned. "We feel that you've been with us long enough that you don't have to keep using Mister with our names."

Vin locked his eyes on the scratch on the tabletop in front of him, his jaw clamped shut. He held his breath against what might be next.

"Just Chris or Buck is fine," Chris explained.

Buck looked at the two silent boys. "Is that all right with you JD? Vin?"

"Sure Buck," JD nodded happily, his problem solved. Buck was a little disappointed that JD didn't seem to think there was another option, but he understood that perhaps JD wasn't really looking to replace something that he'd never had to begin with.

"Vin?" Buck prompted.

Vin looked up and nodded sharply. "'kay. Can I be excused to see to Peso for the night?"

"Yeah, sure Pard," Buck replied.

Buck raised his eyebrows as Chris allowed the boy to slip out of the house.

Vin disappeared out the door and straight to the barn. Peso snorted in greeting, but for once Vin ignored his friend. He took refuge in the darkened barn as he leaned against the inside wall, his knees collapsing as he slid down with a shuddering sigh. He drew his knees up and wrapped his arms tightly about them. He couldn't tell if he was relieved or disappointed. He didn't even know if he could have called Chris, Pa. And if he did, what about Buck? It wouldn't be fair because he loved them both. It didn't matter now because it hadn't been offered. He tilted his head back to rest against the rough timbers. Life had been going well. No, he didn't need to change anything but it still felt like he'd just lost something.

Buck watched as Chris let Vin leave. Buck had discussed this with Chris and had agreed with the decision, but the disappointment still bit deep. Buck couldn't help himself and grabbed JD up into his lap for a hug. JD knew something was wrong as Vin had left so quickly, but he couldn't see that anything bad had happened. JD had received enough hugs from Buck to be familiar with what they meant. This was a sad hug.

"Why are you sad Buck?" JD asked, not hesitating at all with the name.

Buck knew he couldn't explain, not without hurting Chris. "I'm not sad JD." Buck didn't want to upset the boy.

"Yes ya are. Ya jus' gave me a sad hug."

"I have sad hugs?"

"Yep. You got lots of different one. Are you sad like Vin is sad?" JD persisted with his topic.

"I think I probably am."

"Should I be sad too?" JD offered, sure he'd missed something here.

"No you shouldn't. Vin and I will be just fine."

"Are you sad about the Pa thing?"

Buck sat back a little, surprised at the question. Chris was equally surprised.

"We can't have two Pa's 'cause that's confusing, and it ain't fair to have to pick one. Vin didn't know what we should do. But I think you can be Buck and Chris and still be both my Pa's. I'd like that even better cause I'll get everythin'," JD grinned patting Bucks chest.

Buck had to laugh at the simple truth. He gave JD another quick hug, which set him off giggling, as he recognized the happy hug. Buck put JD down with a gentle pat on his rear. "Lets go find us some dessert in the pantry."

Buck turned back at the kitchen and saw Chris staring at the front door. "I think Vin might like a hand with Peso," Buck suggested.

Chris followed the suggestion and went out to the darkened barn to search out Vin. Peso appeared to be alone but was standing to one side of the stall, interested in something over to the left. Chris finally spotted the small hunched figure by the wall.

Chris moved to the wall as well and slid down to sit shoulder to shoulder with Vin, pleased he didn't try to move away at the contact. Chris rested his head back against the wall, mirroring the posture of the figure beside him.

"JD says you've talked about this."

"JD says a lot."

"It's my fault that we're holding back on the name, but it doesn't mean I don't love you that way. We haven't really talked about any of this."

"Ya don't like to."

Chris was surprised at that. It was true but he didn't think he'd been so obvious in avoiding the topic.

"I don't know what havin' a Pa should feel like," Vin continued. "Maybe what you and Buck are is different to me. Maybe a Pa isn't better."

Chris could hear all the uncertainties.

"Ya been a Pa before and maybe you didn't like it, or maybe you liked it so much it just wouldn't be as good with JD or me," Vin suggested.

Chris rested his head back against the wall. Didn't like it. He had lived for the role and knew some part of him had died when Adam was taken from him. He knew it wouldn't be same, but it wasn't meant to be. Adam, Vin and JD were all so different. He suddenly realized how long he'd been sitting in silence when Vin started to move.

Vin scrambled to his feet and patted Chris's bent knee as he went by.

"We can wait and change things later. I'm used to waitin' for things."

Chris grabbed the small hand as he moved away and instead drew Vin closer. "Buck's your Pa, and I'm your Pa in every way Vin. It's just the damn word I'm having so much trouble with."

Vin wasn't sure what power the word held. He'd never actually said it to someone. Chris wasn't sure if it was a challenge or a question in the solemn blue gaze, but he silently agreed to it.

Vin put his hands on the broad shoulder and leaned down to the man still sitting before him. Close to his ear, in the quietest of whispers that is was almost just a breath.

"Pa." Vin was wide-eyed at actually hearing the word pass from his lips.

Chris shivered at the passing of warm air by his ear, the sound which grew to be more the just a simple word. He clamped his eyes shut against the sudden rush of emotion, at both the loss of one and the promise of another. Vin felt the shiver under his hands and backed away.

"We'll wait, Chris"

Vin went back to the house, stopping at the front door to take a deep breath and collect himself. He could hear JD and Buck's voices coming from inside, the slip of light cast from the fireplace in the main room pushed under the door at his feet. He didn't feel like going back inside yet, so he settled down on the top step of the porch turning his face up to the blanket of stars above him.

Chris still sat in the barn, ashamed of his selfishness and cowardice. He was holding tight to what remained of Adam, and that was bound to his role as a father. That one word from Vin had opened the door to a whole world he had decided he would never enter again. In all the time the boys had been with him, he'd refused to look hard at the future. Now he wasn't prepared and was hurting the others with his delay. He shoved himself to his feet and headed back to the house.

Chris saw the figure huddled on the steps. He didn't like to see Vin out here knowing how much the cold bothered him. Chris settled down on the step next to Vin.

"It's a little cold to be out here."

"Yep." Vin moved a little closer to Chris seeking the extra warmth. A shiver ran through his slight frame, even with the extra protection from his heavy coat.

Chris pulled the boy up onto his lap and hugged him close to his body. Vin curled into the warmth, wrapping his arms under the coat and as far around the strong body as he could reach.

Chris was surprised as Vin stayed content that way for some time. He remembered JD's reaction to Buck, hoping Vin could feel the apology in his embrace.

"Do I have different hugs?" he was compelled to ask.

"No, you've only got one."

"Oh." Chris was rather disappointed to hear that. "What sort is it?"

Vin tried to think of a word but he didn't know the right one for all the things he felt.

"Safe. Warm. Home." Chris felt the bony shoulder rub against his ribs as Vin shrugged. "It's a Chris hug."

Eventually Vin pulled away and Chris stood, helping Vin to his feet as well.

Vin reached out and stopped Chris' hand before he could open the door. "Name don't matter none. I don't see how it could get any better."

Chris lay a hand on Vin's shoulder. "I think we can give it a try." Chris pushed open the front door and ushered Vin back into the warmth and light.

The End

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