"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.

“Back off Larabee unless you want something to happen to your boy.”

Larabee's eyes narrowed at the threat to Vin. He kept his eyes averted, not willing to let his gaze rest on the wide frightened blue eyes opposite. Mason tightened his grip on Vin's upper arm, lifting him up so high that Vin had to stand on tiptoes to balance. Larabee's eyes were cold and hard showing no sign of the fear that churned in his gut.

“He's been trailing you all over town.” Mason held the barrel of the gun along Vin's cheek.

Vin could feel the sight digging painfully into the soft flesh under his eye. He didn't dare move. Chris would get him out of this.

“The kid might be following me 'round town, but that doesn't make him my son.”

“You expect me to believe that?”

“He's no concern of mine, other than the fact you're hiding behind him. He's a little too small to give you much protection.”

Mason growled in anger at the taunt, flinging Vin to the side to tumble in the dusty road. Larabee's hand was a flicker of motion as he drew and fired, but he was disadvantaged as his opponent already stood gun drawn. The two shots echoed so closely they sounded almost as one. Only shocked silence remained.

Clear Creek was a busy mining town with boisterous saloons and fist fights but gunfights in the main street were still a rare commodity. The timid and wary who'd kept out of harm's way now surged forward to view the grizzly outcome. Vin scrambled to his feet, unable to see Chris after his fall to the dusty street. He squirmed and pushed his way through the tangle of legs and skirts.

“No, no, le'me through,” Vin yelled, thumping hard at the backs of legs that blocked his way. Just as he finally broke through, a hand grabbed the back of his collar hoisting him backwards.

“This is no place for you boy.”

Vin wasn't listening. His eyes were glued to the dark clad body lying in the dirt, blood spreading over his chest. Vin kicked and swung angry fists at whoever held him. A vicious shake got his attention.

“Settle down boy. Doctor's got work to do so you get back to your folks.”

“No. He's my family. Let me go!”

“What's your name youngun?” Vin was released, but a heavy hand on his shoulder kept him from getting closer to Chris. The gruff voice finally had a face. A face lined and weathered by the years, broken by a heavy grey mustache and framed in thinning grey hair. Vin's attention was caught by the tin star pinned to the leather vest.


“Yes, now what's your name?”

“Vin. Vin Tanner, sir. Chris is my pa.”

“Well I know that man is Chris Larabee but Tanner don't sound like the same family.”

“Yeah he is. Chris kept me.”

“Chris? That's Mr Larabee to you boy not Chris. You shouldn't be makin' up tales and chasing after gunslingers. You'll only get yourself into trouble. Get on out of here.” Sheriff McKane gave the boy a push back toward the crowd.

Vin had another destination in mind and ducked away from the sheriff. His rushed steps ended as he dropped to his knees beside the bloody figure. He reached out to touch the still face, sure those eyes would open for him. He never found out as he was grabbed around the waist and yanked away.

“Get him out of here Thomas.” The sheriff passed the struggling child into the burly arms of the blacksmith. Thomas easily contained the struggles of the slight boy, quietly impressed by the string of curses that were falling from his mouth as he was taken away down the street.

“Take me back! He's m'Pa.”

“Said he weren't, kid. Now where're your folks, I don't think I've seen you around before.”

“We only just came in on the stage. We're goin' back home to Four Corners.”

“You'd best behave and go find your folks,” he instructed, setting the boy on his feet.

“Yes sir,” Vin grumbled. It wasn't a lie. He'd find out where they had taken Chris and go to him. Finally released, Vin ran down the alley to the back of the buildings. He needed to get back to Chris, but not along the main street. Vin was unfamiliar with this town so he was forced to retrace his steps and ended back at the scene of the shooting. The spilt blood was now just a dark stain on the dirt, disappearing under the grinding wagon wheels and churning hooves. He stopped sharply as he recalled the feel of the gun pressed to his face, the sound of the shots as he was thrown to the side. A heavy hand landing on his shoulder brought him back to the present.

“That's a morbid curiosity you've got boy.”

“Where's Chris?” Vin demanded.

Vin's eyes narrowed at the look he received. With a heavy sigh he gave in, the answer more important than the question. “Where's Mr Larabee?”

“Doc Beaumont is seeing to him.”

“I gotta go to him. He's m'pa.”

The Sheriff eyed the dusty scruffy child before him. “Where's your mother?”

“She died. JD and I came all the way west on a train. When we got to Four Corners we were supposed to get split up and go to other folks, but Chris and Buck decided to keep us.”

“So you're an orphan.” Sheriff McKane now understood the picture a little more clearly. Larabee himself had said the boy wasn't his. He didn't know the man personally, but he certainly had heard of the tragedy with his wife and son. This boy had decided he wanted his Pa to be some big hero, some famous gunslinger and Larabee fit his requirements.

“Well yeah, I guess, but I got a new family now. I gotta see Chris!” Vin pleaded.

Sheriff could see the boy was upset by the morning's events. He had to see Doc Beaumont anyway to find out what Larabee's chances were. Shot in the chest like that was always bad. He'd take the kid with him and maybe he'd drop the whole thing when he realised his hero would bleed like everyone else.

“Follow me.”

Vin trotted along after the old sheriff, elated that he was finally going to see Chris. They stopped in front of a neat white clapboard house on the next block. The sheriff pushed the front door open and entered a parlor that was furnished as a waiting room.

“Ma'am,” he greet, doffing his hat.

Vin realised a woman had just entered from the hall at the other end of the room.

“You're here to ask about the new patient?” Mrs Beaumont asked brusquely.

“Yes ma'am. His name's Chris Larabee.”

“My husband is just setting up to operate. He's lost a lot of blood and he may not survive the procedure.” She turned her head at the sharp gasp. “Who is this?”

“No one. He just got mixed up in the shooting Ma'am.”

“Well sickrooms are not for children. Take him away and don't bring him back.” She dismissed them both and returned to assist her husband.

“Come on kid.”

“I want to see Chris.”

“Doctor's looking after him. You can't see him now so get on about your business kid.”



“My name is Vin, not kid, not boy, not youngun.”

“You've got a smart mouth on you kid and it's going to get you into a lot of trouble. Now move along and leave Mr Larabee alone. You want to pick out a Pa, go take a look at a banker, or maybe Earl at the mercantile. He's a reliable man with a steady job.”

“I got a pa, and it's Chris.” Vin was frustrated at not being believed. “You ask him,” he demanded.

“He's in no fit condition for questions and he already answered that question in the street. He said you weren't his son and that you've been trailing around after him.”

“He didn't mean it!” Vin was ignored as Sheriff McKane ambled off back to the jail. He intended to go through the wanteds in case Larabee's fallen opponent appeared.

“He didn't mean it! He didn't!”

The Sheriff ignored the angry denials as they faded off behind him.

Vin slid down the wall of the house and wrapped his arms around his knees. He rested his head on his knees, whispering to himself. “He didn't mean it.”


Vin finally moved when the door to the Doctor's house opened. He recognised the disapproving gaze from the Doctor's wife. He'd seen it on some of the people in Four Corners.

“Is Chris okay? Can I see him?”

“Chris? Don't be so disrespectful child. You should address an adult properly. It's Mr Larabee to you.”

Vin tried to squeeze in, but was stopped sharply by a hand in the center of his chest.

“Where do you think you're going? No children in the sick room and certainly not dirty ones. I don't want you disturbing Mr Larabee.”

“He's gonna die?”

“My husband is a skilled Doctor and it appears he will live. He's very ill and needs to rest.”

Vin looked down and realised he'd never cleaned up after his tumble in the street. He'd clean up if that would get him in to see Chris. “I'll clean up Ma'am.”

Vin hurried to find a relatively clean horse trough. He rinsed his face and scrubbed at his hands, dragging wet fingers through his tangled locks to try to bring them to order. He looked down at his dusty clothes but swiping at them only seemed to add to the brown streaks. When he'd done the best he could he returned to the Doctor's home. He'd seen the Sheriff walk right in, so he sucked up his courage and turned the door handle. It creaked stiffly but swung open.

No one was in the front parlor so Vin stepped quietly down the hall he'd seen used in his last visit. He tried the door at the end and found it opened easily. The room smelled odd, with cabinets lining the walls and a narrow table in the center. He could see shiny medical instruments, some like Nathan's, but the room was a lot fancier than Nathan's clinic.

Vin moved further into the room and saw a small alcove at the far end with a bed. There lay his prize. He crept over, careful not to disturb the man who lay so still. Holding his breath he reached out and lay small fingers against the pale cheek. The breath escaped him in a surge of relief as he felt the warm skin under his fingertips.

Chris wasn't dead.

Intent on the man before him, Vin failed to hear the door open.

“Get away from there!”

Vin spun around at the shrill demand to find the doctor's wife glaring at him.

“Look at you, trailing all kinds of dirt in here.”

“I cleaned up.” Vin yelped as his ear was grabbed and twisted, pulling him toward the outer room.

“William! William!” The doctor appeared slowly at his wife's strident call.

“This boy was pawing the new patient. You should go and make sure he hasn't done anything to ruin you good work.”

“I didn't! I just wanted to see him,” Vin tried to explain.

“You were told not to come back here. I'll have the sheriff deal with you if I find you here again.”

Vin was thrust out the doorway and stumbled down the front steps, the door slamming shut behind him with a resounding thud. Vin turned on his heel and with a determined stride and a deep scowl he went in search of the telegraph office. He would wire Buck and this would all be straightened out.

Vin pushed the door to the telegraph office open, the bell tinkling as he entered.

“Mister, I need to send a wire to Mr Buck Wilmington, Four Corners.”

“A dime for the first five words, penny each word over.”

“I don't have the money now but it's urgent. Buck'll pay when he gets here.”

“Pay me later,” the operator scoffed. “Come back with the money or ask the sheriff if it's so important. Next.”

Vin was nudged aside. He checked every pocket just in case a coin had miraculously appeared. A cough from above had him raise his head, just to see the telegraph man point to the door.

Yeah, get out. Wasn't like he hadn't heard that before.

Vin set out in search of the Sheriff. Buck needed to be told and the telegraph man had said to ask. The jail was easy to find but it stood empty. This town was new to him, but knowing the ways of Four Corners he went in search of the saloon. Vin could see three saloons on the main street and decided to start at the busiest looking one. Voices and music spilled out the doors. Vin jumped back as those same doors flew open and two men staggered out throwing poorly aimed punches. His search was over as the Sheriff appeared after them.

“You fools knock it off. Now!” He fired a shot in the air to make his point, separating the drunken brawlers.

“Sheriff, I need you to wire Four Corners for me.” Vin interrupted knowing the telegraph office wouldn't stay open much longer.

“What the hell are you doin' here. You get yourself into the middle of every brawl on the street. Get on home.”

“I need you to send a wire, or lend me a dime and I'll do it, please!”

“I'm busy. You want money you earn it. Now get out of here!”

The sheriff ignored him, herding his prisoners back to the jail. Vin gnawed at the inside of his lip in frustration, scowling at the departing man. There wasn't time to get a job before the telegraph office closed. Vin regretted ever setting foot in this town. He had wanted to stop because sitting so long in the rattling coach had started to make him feel ill. Chris had agreed to stop over night at a hotel and take the morning stage on to Four Corners.

Vin returned to the Doctor's house, hoping to visit with Chris and ask him for the money. He braved the front door again only to find it wouldn't open. Apparently they closed up this late in the day. Vin knocked as hard as he could, his knuckles smarting at the impact with hard timber. The door didn't open but the curtains in the side window twitched.

“Ma'am? Doctor? Please I need to see Mr Larabee.” Vin kept knocking until his knuckles were bruised. The door suddenly swung open. The dreaded woman was there again.

“ Mr Larabee needs to rest and you're only going to disturb him carrying on this way.”

“Please Ma'am, he's my Pa. I need to see him. I need to ask him for money to send a wire.”

“Well I never. Trying to get money from an ill man.” The door came crashing shut in his face.

The telegraph office was due to close and Vin was getting desperate. He went to the back of the house hoping to catch sight of Chris. The windows at the back of the house were a little too high, so Vin found a small crate and dragged it under the first sill. The room looked like the one he'd seen earlier, but there was no sign of Chris. He clambered down and dragged the crate to the next window. He ducked down as voices came through clearly.

“It looks like that fever is taking a hold William.”

“Nothing we can do m'dear but try to keep him cool. I've cleaned the wound as best I can. He seems a healthy man so he should be able to fight this.”

Vin waited until the voices were gone and tried to pry the window up. It wouldn't be stealing. Chris would give him the money if he could. The window was heavy but his small fingers found a grip and he strained to lift it slowly and smoothly. He slid in quietly, tiptoeing to Chris' side and stopping for a few precious moments to touch the face before him. He saw Chris' traveling bag and gunbelt sitting on a chair. He quickly removed the coins he needed but then he hesitated at the gun. At home the gunbelt was always hung securely and within reach. Chris wouldn't like it to be sitting on the chair to be knocked to the ground. Knowing Chris would take more care, he lifted the belt to hang it from the bed post.

“Put that down!”

Vin was startled as the iron hand of Mrs Beaumont gripped his arm and dragged him out to the front room.

“Have you no shame?” she demanded, shaking him by the same arm. “William, send for the Sheriff. This boy was stealing Mr Larabee's gun.”

Vin tugged at the bruising grip but the woman refused to release him.

“Please ma'am, I wasn't stealing. I was just moving the gun. Please, I need the money to wire home.”

At the mention of money the iron grip on his arm moved to his wrist and his fingers were pried open, the coins falling to the floor.

“Mrs Beaumont, I hear you have some trouble?” The Sheriff had been passing when the Doctor had called to him.

“I want something done about this child. He was in Mr Larabee's room taking money. I only just got there in time to stop him from taking the gun.”

The sheriff heaved a sigh at the sight of the kid who'd annoyed him all day. “I'll see to him Ma'am. You wont be bothered again.”

McKane grabbed a fistful of Vin's collar and pulled him out the door.

“God damn it kid, don't you have someplace to be?” The Sheriff demanded marching Vin to the jailhouse, one hand firmly attached to the collar of his shirt. “You're theivin' from a man in his sick bed and I've got a ruckus going on in the Red Garter.”

Vin was stunned as his plans fell apart and help was pushed further away.

Sheriff McKane shoved Vin into the cell and slammed the door shut. It wasn't the best solution, but it would keep the kid out of his way for a while. “This is just a reminder of where you're heading. A night in jail might have you changing your ways.”

Vin backed away from the door as it clanked shut.

The Sheriff ignored the stricken look on the boy's face. Some lessons needed to be learned the hard way. Knowing he'd be busy tonight he spooned out some of the runny beans onto a tin plate and ladled fresh water into a cup. He unlocked the door and set the items down on the floor.

“You brought this on yourself. I'll let you out in the morning and I want you to be on your way.”

Vin eyed the unappealing food, not in the least hungry. However, he knew better than to ignore food when he wasn't sure where his next meal was coming from. He crouched down near the plate and forced in two spoonfuls. He throat tightened refusing to accept anything more so he put the spoon down and pushed the plate away.

“Gimme a drink!”

Vin cried out in shock as the lump of blankets moved in the cot on the other side of the bars. A gnarled hand reached through and grabbed his forearm.

“Let go!” Vin yelped as he was jerked up against the bars.

“Juss' one more…” Vin saw a flash of yellowed crooked teeth before quickly turning his head to try to avoid the fetid breath. He pulled his arm away sharply, relieved that the drunk let go.

Vin moved away from the side bars and tucked himself into the corner where the two solid walls met, thankful his cell was on the end. He drew his knees up and wrapped his arms around them He tried to think of Chris and how good this trip had been, but all he saw was Chris laying in the street with blood all over his chest as those words kept echoing.

He's not my son, he's just trailing around after me.

He hadn't meant to annoy Chris. He did follow him around but he just liked to be near him. He sniffed trying to swallow the tears then lowered his head to his raised knees, shoulders shaking in silent sobs.

Vin had given up on sleeping and kept a watch on the pile of blankets in the other cell until dawn. Finally the key turned the lock with a clunk and door opened.

“How is Chr…Mr Larabee?”

“Wouldn't know. You stay out of the Doc's way.”

“He's from Four Corners. Have you wired them?” Vin demanded.

“You stay out of this business. I've got wire's out to nearby town's to trace any kin.”

Vin wasn't convinced that the Sheriff would actually reach Buck. He was determined to get the money he needed and the only way was to find work. He ignored his growling stomach and searched out the early morning businesses. He decided to start down near the stables. Every town had a busy livery with opportunity for work.

“Mister, you got any work needs doing?”

“Full hired kid.”

“Just a few hours work is all I need.”

The livery man looked around and considered his plans for the day. “A nickel if you clean out those six end stalls.”

Vin set to work quickly at the promise of money. Mucking out stalls was familiar work but this stable was much dirtier than any other he'd ever seen. He had to make a number of trips outside with a full barrow but they were finally cleaned, swept and fresh straw laid.

The man flicked the nickel to the boy and settled back for a leisurely morning.

Vin soon found that starting at the stables had been a mistake. He was now dirty and smelly and found convincing prospective employers to be even more difficult.

Thomas watched as the boy passed down the side of his workshop again.

“Any luck?” he called having watched the boy hunt the alleyways for employment.

“Got a start,” Vin replied. It was already noon and he needed another nickel. He'd never get the wire sent at this rate. Thomas took pity on the gloomy boy who seemed to have lost all of yesterday's fight.

“I've got some jobs need doing here.”

Vin brightened a little at the offer.

“I need to sharpen that pile of tools but they need to be cleaned first. You can get all the mud and muck off them.”

“I can do that,” Vin agreed.

“Fill this bucket at the pump out back, then use that wire brush hanging by the stack.”

Vin returned with his filled bucket and picked up the heavy metal scrubbing brush working his way through the pile of shovels, picks and mattocks.

Thomas watched as the boy scrubbed furiously, racing through the work.

“No extra for doin' em quick.”

“Need to be done before the telegraph office shuts.”

“Well, why don't you go now and come back for this later.”

“Need the money from the work to pay for the wire.”

Thomas shrugged and left the boy to his work. He handed the coins over willingly as he looked over the clean wet stack an hour later.


Josiah frowned over the request in the telegram. Chris Larabee had either found trouble or trouble was trying to find him. Josiah knew that Chris and Vin were on their way home and Clear Creek was on the stage line so he took the risk and responded. He asked the telegraph operator to find him when the reply came back. He'd wait to tell Buck until there was more definite information.

It wasn't a long wait. A reply from Sheriff McKane listed Larabee as injured during a street shootout and under the care of the local doctor. Vin wasn't mentioned so Josiah took that as a sign that the boy hadn't been injured.


Nathan looked up from his notes where he was taking a few spare moments to further his studies. Josiah handed the telegram over.

“I don't know the town or the doctor.”

“I'm going to give Buck the news. I'm sure he'll want to ride out and gather our wayward lambs.”

Nathan was already packing a bag. “He'll probably need help to bring Chris home.”

The pair took a sombre ride out to the ranch.

Buck looked up as his visitors arrived.

“Buck, where's JD?”

Buck knew that tone. “What's happened Josiah? Oh God, Chris? Vin?”

“Now calm down Buck.” Josiah laid a reassuring hand on Buck's shoulder. “Chris was shot but a doctor's looking after him. He's alive. He's in a town called Clear Creek.” Josiah turned the stunned man back toward the house.

“What about Vin?”

“There was no mention so he must be fine.”

“Buck, I'll ride out with you, check on Chris and we can bring them home if he can travel.”

“Thanks Nathan.” Buck dragged a hand across his eyes. “JD,” he sighed.

“I'll take care of him Buck,” Josiah offered.

“I'll pack my gear. Nathan?”

“I'm ready to go when you are.”

“JD! JD!”

“Comin' Buck!” The yell had come from the direction of the barn. “'siah, Nathan!”

JD's excitement ended suddenly at Buck's next words. “JD I have to go away for a few days.”

“No, I wanna come too!”

“You can't come this time.”

“But Vin went with Chris to look at those horses. It's my turn,” he pleaded.

“I'm not going for horses JD. Chris got sick and Nathan and I will go and bring him home.”

“But I can still help. Please!”

“JD, we'll be back before you have time to miss us.”

“No Buck, I miss you now.” JD's tears rolled down his cheeks. “Don't leave me!” JD clung to Buck's leg knowing if Buck left he'd be alone. No Vin, no Buck, no Chris.

Buck pulled the limpet from his knee and crouched down. “I promise I'll be back and I'll bring Chris and Vin with me.”

“You swear?”

“I swear.”

“You spit swear?”

Buck spit into the palm of his hand and solemnly held it out. JD repeated the action and clasped Buck's hand, his smaller hand easily engulfed.

“Now you mind Josiah and be a good boy for him. Josiah, the stock?”

“I'll speak to the Rawlins boys. Don't worry about anything. Just bring your family home.”

Buck packed in record time, bundling the still teary JD into Josiah's arms before riding out with Nathan.


It was late, but Vin finally had his telegram sent. He took a moment to consider his next step. Buck probably wouldn't receive his telegram until tomorrow and then another day for travel. Vin sighed at the thought of the empty days ahead. The streets darkened and the noise from the saloons drifted down into the back alleys. Vin was curious at the entertainment, lights and music of such a busy town but old memories of other unfamiliar darkened streets kept him close to Chris in the only way possible. He returned to the back of the doctor's house and settled himself on the crate under the window.

Vin sat in the darkness and considered his options. There was no denying what Chris had said and he didn't lie. Now that he knew how Chris felt he decided it wasn't fair to keep pushing himself forward. Vin tried to recall if any particular thing he'd done had seemed to upset Chris. No, he'd just rushed things and crowded Chris. Vin briefly considered running away but decided that was just stupid. He'd never been so happy since his Ma had died. Even in the beginning when he kept his distance, before he was sure of his new family, he'd still been happy. That would be the best thing. He'd go back to the way things were before he'd asked for too much from Chris.

Vin found he couldn't really sleep, napping only for short periods before he'd become uncomfortable and wake again. He couldn't bear to leave the crate. There might be a wall between them, but this would be the closest he could get to Chris in this place.


Buck and Nathan broke camp early and were on their way to Clear Creek just as the sun cleared the horizon. Nathan had tried to reassure Buck, but with little information there wasn't much he could say that was encouraging.

Finally a mileage marker appeared at a well-worn crossroads. The mines appeared to lay to the north and the wider trail continued on towards town. Buck picked up the pace now that his target was within reach. He stopped the first person he saw as they entered the town.

“'Scuse me Ma'am,” Buck asked politely with a tip of his hat. “I'm looking for Dr Beaumont.”

“Just turn left at this corner then it's the third house on you right.”

Buck and Nathan nodded politely and set their horses in the direction indicated.

“Regular boom-town,” Buck commented as he dodged around the many wagons.

“Town this size should have a proper doctor Buck. That's good news for Chris.”

They stopped at the third house and knocked on the front door. Rather than the doctor, they found themselves facing a stern looking woman.

“Yes, may I help you?''

“We're looking for Chris Larabee Ma'am. We received a wire that Dr Beaumont was looking after him.”

“I'll get my husband for you. Please wait here.”

Buck grimaced at Nathan at the very cool reception. He relaxed a little as a more genial white-haired man appeared, adjusting wire-rimmed spectacles.

“Gentlemen, come through. I'm Dr William Beaumont and you are?”

“Buck Wilmington and this is Nathan Jackson. How is Larabee?”

“A very lucky man there. He must have been turning when the bullet struck. He was shot in the chest but it was a very acute angle, missing the lung entirely but breaking two ribs on entry and exit.”

Nathan breathed a quiet sigh of relief at that news. The Doctor waved them through to the room where Chris lay sleeping. Nathan automatically started to check Chris then pulled back not wanting to cause any offense.

“Has he been conscious?” Nathan asked.

“Fever picked up last night but it wasn't too bad. I'm keeping him quiet with laudanum just to keep those ribs settled for the moment.”

“Can we take him home?” Buck asked Nathan, turning his head to include the doctor in the question.

“It's a long journey Buck, and overnight in a wagon,” Nathan warned.

“If you keep him quiet and flat, don't jostle him too much it's possible. Is it important?” the doctor queried.

“If he's going to be laid up he'd be safer on home ground. Nathan here's a healer. He'll make sure Larabee's well cared for.”

Buck left Nathan and the doctor to discuss the medical requirements and went in search of suitable transportation. Mrs Beaumont showed him to the door, but Buck had one last question for the woman.

“Do you know where Vin would be?”


“A boy. About eight, so-high,” Buck indicated with his hand. “Longish hair, big blue eyes.”

“Oh yes, I recall the boy.”

“So where is he now?”

“I haven't seen him this morning,” Mrs Beaumont replied truthfully. The patient was being prepared to move and the child wasn't her concern. If the child was part of this group then it had been an honest mistake and it was the Sheriff's business to sort out. “I suggest you speak to the Sheriff. I saw him last in his care.”

“Thank you Ma'am.”

Buck looked the town over just in case Vin was in sight. He'd wouldn't be far from Chris, but Vin had already been here two days. He might have found other things to do if Chris was out of danger. Buck went in search of the Sheriff.

Sheriff McKane greeted the newcomer, pleased to know that Larabee would be on his way even if it was in the back of a wagon. The Sheriff described Mason but Buck didn't recognise him. Larabee had made a number of enemies during the years when they'd lost touch. His head shot up when McKane told him that a boy had been used as a hostage to get the drop on Larabee.

“A boy? Vin?”

“Vin Tanner. Yeah that's the kid. He's a real handful.”

“Mrs Beaumont said he would be here.”

“Oh no, he's out. Keeping out of trouble I hope.”

“You don't know where he is?”

“I'm a busy man and that kid can handle himself.”

Buck decided to ignore the unhelpful sheriff for the moment and find Vin himself. Vin was resourceful but this was a busy town. He returned to the doctor's house to recruit Nathan's help in the search.

Vin came running from a side street before Buck made it to the front door. Vin had been elated at the sight of the familiar steeds tied in front of the doctor's house and had waited for them to reappear. It was a full day earlier than he expected and he couldn't keep the relief from his voice as he saw Buck approaching.

“Buck! Buck!” Vin slowed his steps, the burst of energy not taking his tired body far. “Did you see Chris? Is he gonna be all right?”

“Yeah, he'll be just fine. Nathan's in there now.” Buck could see how relieved Vin was at the news. He probably hadn't really believed the word of the strange doctor. “We'll take him back home tomorrow.”

“And me?”

Buck smiled at the odd question. “Well I guess we'll just have to take you as well. Can't leave you cluttering up this place,” he teased. Buck didn't get the grin he expected. Vin just nodded quite seriously in agreement his eyes still fixed on the doctor's front door. Buck ignored Vin's distracted state, understanding how difficult the last few days must have been.

“Chris will need a nice comfortable ride, so lets go find us a wagon. Do you know where to get one?”

“I'll show you where the livery is.”

Vin stayed in the background as Buck inspected a number of spare wagons, haggling back and forth over fittings and price. Eventually he was satisfied and handed over the money. The team for the wagon weren't a good pair, but they were sound enough for the journey. Nathan and Buck would tie their own horses on behind.

“We have to stop overnight anyway, so we're going to leave today and get into Four Corners before dark. Do you have things to collect Vin?”

“No, my stuff is with Chris.” Vin would be happy to finally have a change of clothes again.

“Okay. Let's get these nags hitched and back to Nathan.”

Vin stayed out of the way as Chris was carried out by Nathan and Buck and lain gently in the cot set up in the back of the wagon. The covered wagon was well sprung and would protect Chris from the elements for the journey home.

Nathan looked it over, surprised at it's good condition. “You rented this?”

“In this town?” Buck laughed. “I guess miners come and go here so often they've got more equipment than they need. He didn't want it back so I had to buy it outright. Actually it was a reasonable price and it's already fitted out with a cot and storage. Not a bad buy really. ”

“What are you going to do with a wagon?”

“It's bound to be useful one day. Vin?”

Vin stepped over to the tailgate and Buck boosted him up into the back. Vin looked over at Chris, the closest he'd been in days.

“He's just asleep?” Vin asked uncertainly.

“I've given him something to keep him asleep,” Nathan reassured him.

“So he won't wake up while I'm here?”

“It's better if he doesn't Vin, so don't go trying to wake him or disturb him.” Vin was looking at Chris so Nathan wasn't sure he'd been heard. “Vin?”

Vin dragged his eyes away and moved over to settle on the other side of the wagon. “I won't bother him.”

His worry for Chris was eased now that Nathan and Buck were here, but still he fought sleep. He curled up in the corner of the wagon and kept watch over Chris intending to make the most of every minute he had left.


Nathan kept a watchful eye on Chris during the journey. Although he didn't like to over use the drug, the laudanum kept Chris comfortably drowsy. After some discussion he'd been convinced by Buck to push on for home through the night. The full moon provided them clear passage so they made good use of it. Buck had worried over Vin's behavior on the journey. He'd nibbled on a little food, taken some tea from Nathan and responded to direct questions, but otherwise kept to himself. Nathan reminded him that Vin was probably still in shock from the shooting, particularly as Buck had added the information that he'd been used as a hostage.

It was still well after noon when the wagon finally rolled into Four Corners. Josiah watched the approach, easily recognising the driver. He hurried his steps and met the wagon as it stopped outside the clinic. Josiah and Buck maneuvered Chris from the wagon and up the stairs into another bed. Nathan waited a moment as Vin called softly to him.

“Will he wake now he's home?”

“It'll take some time for the medicine to wear off so tomorrow will be better,” Nathan reassured him.

Vin knew that if Chris wasn't going to wake up then he could sit with him a little longer. Vin passed Buck on the stairs, not acknowledging Buck's order to stay at the clinic. Nathan and Josiah were busy gathering things so Vin settled into the chair nearest the bed.


Vin's head jerked up at the croaked question. He wasn't supposed to wake up yet.

Chris blinked slowly trying to clear his blurry vision. Every breath brought agony but he tried to hold back the groan as he recogised the small figure before him. He could see the panic and knew that Vin was about to run.


Vin started to back away with a sharp shake of his head. “Sorry, didn't mean to disturb ya.”

“Y' didn't.” Larabee struggled to get the words in order, his mind still cloudy from the drugs, his body exhausted.

Chris stretched out one hand carefully to beckon Vin closer, grimacing at the painful tug on his wound. Vin startled as heavy hands on his shoulders suddenly moved him to the side.

“Now Chris, no moving around. How are you feeling?” Nathan gathered up some new bandages and a bowl of fresh water. “I'm just going to change these dressings. Vin, you go and wait outside for a minute.”

“No…Vin wait.” But Chris was too late as Vin slipped silently from the room. His head dropped back onto the pillow. Something was wrong with Vin. He couldn't hold onto the thought as the weakness in his body dragged him back into the darkness.


Buck returned to the clinic to find Vin perched up on the hitching rail, eyes studying the ground.

“He'll be fine Vin.” Buck spoke before lifting Vin off the rail not wanting to startle him. He drew him into a hug, breathing his own sigh of relief to have everyone back home again. Vin resisted for a moment still confused with all that had gone on, but he finally weakened and lowered his face to the curve of Buck's neck. It seemed to be only a moment before he was being lowered to the ground and set aside again.

“Let's go find JD. Josiah said he left him with Mrs Potter this morning.”

Vin took a long look at Nathan's closed door.

Buck understood that Vin must be worried. “He'll be fine Vin. He just needs to rest for a while then we'll have him back home.” Buck swatted him lightly on the behind to send him on his way. Buck was surprised as Vin scooted well out of reach, frowning at the unexpected blow.

“Whoa Vin, I was just teasing.” Buck was sure he hadn't done more than pat Vin but he winced at the accusing look he received. He regretted his teasing when he knew Vin was so unsettled.

“I'll wait for ya at the livery.” Vin rushed away before Buck could apologise.

Vin sat on a hay bale waiting for Buck to appear. He knew better than to expect things to last. Chris was tired of him. He wasn't sure what to make of Buck smacking him like that. It hadn't really hurt him, but he hadn't been handled like that since he'd arrived. It definitely seemed that his time was up.

“Those appear to be deep thoughts Mr Tanner.”

Vin kept up his study of the piece of straw between his fingertips.

“Ezra, you ever wanted something real bad but you can't have it, but what you've got now is good, it's just not as good as the thing you can't have?”

Ezra carefully plotted the twisted course of words. “I believe you are describing 'settling for less'.”

Vin nodded. Less. That was definitely what it would be.

“While I have been faced with situations such as you describe, I have found that it is never wise to settle. If you know there is something better, then do all in you power to attain it.”

“And if I can't?”

“Well, what is this thing? Perhaps I can assist you to attain this goal.”

“It's not something I can just go and get. I think I had it, and a lost it.”

“You think you lost it? That was perhaps a little careless.”

“I reckon,” Vin nodded in agreement.

“Do you know where you lost it?” This time Vin just shook his head in reply.

Ezra suddenly realised that Vin hadn't looked at him the entire time they'd spoken. “Mr Tanner? Mr Tanner, look at me when we speak. Vin?”

Vin finally raised his head to meet Ezra's steady gaze. “What did you lose?”

Vin only met his eyes for a moment then turned away at the question, his teeth gnawing viciously at his lower lip. Ezra put a hand to the boy's chin and turned his face back.

“What did you lose Vin?”


Ezra thought he'd misheard the whisper. “What?”

Vin pulled his head away, jumping to his feet and running for the door. He only succeeded in crashing straight into Buck and bouncing back to the floor.

“No running off Vin, we're ready to go.” Buck moved to help Vin up but he had already scrambled to his feet, brushing his clothes down.

“Problem Ezra?” Buck asked of Vin's skittish behavior.

“Perhaps.” Ezra knew that Vin Tanner didn't ask idle questions. “I believe I will undertake some further enquiries into the matter.” Buck moved aside as Ezra left appearing a little distracted.

“Vin! Vin!” Vin brightened at the sound of his name being called so impatiently. JD let go of Bucks hand and threw himself at his cousin knocking them both to the ground.

“I'm gonna see Chris!”

“Not yet. You can't disturb him,” Vin replied seriously.

“We'll see him tomorrow JD, as long as you behave and are quiet.”

Vin's breath had left his chest. Tomorrow JD could see Chris but he couldn't. Vin tried to be glad that JD was still secure. Somehow only he had fallen out of favor.

Buck made use of the new wagon, delivering the boys back home in comfort. He felt like he'd been in the thing for days and was looking forward to his own bed.

Dinner proved to be a trial with JD too excited to eat now that Buck had returned, and Vin too tired and worried to eat. He hustled them off to bed hoping to settle them with a story.

Buck awoke later unsure of the disturbance. He didn't hear a voice calling so it wasn't JD. It sounded like movement, so it was probably Vin.

Buck stepped quietly to the doorway and watched as a shadow moved around the larger room. As expected, Vin was heading for the rocker, but he stopped beside it. Buck heard the quiet creak as it was set in motion. The slight motion of the empty chair and the still figure beside it was just a little too eerie for Buck. He was normally hesitant to intrude on Vin's moods but he couldn't just watch this.

Buck moved over to the boy and stilled the chair. He kneeled down to eye level. “Vin, I promise he'll be home soon.”

Vin studied the face before him not really listening to the words. Buck was looking at him all worried, just like he always did. Vin reached out and rubbed a fingertip over the frown lines in Bucks brow.

Buck grabbed at the wandering hand and pulled Vin a little closer, confused by what was going on. Vin blinked at the movement realising Buck really was here. Buck saw the change in those eyes, that odd wariness returning.

“Vin, what are you thinking? Help me out here kid. Chris'll kill me if he comes home to find you like this. ” Buck tilted his head toward the now still chair. “Do you want to sit with me for a while?”

Vin shook his head in silent refusal.

“How about if you sleep in Chris' bed tonight.”

Vin looked toward the darkened door on the other side of the room then back to Buck's face. Buck could see that the idea appealed, but Vin was already starting to refuse.

“I won't tell him if you won't.”

Buck saw the shiver run through the slight frame and led him over to Chris' room. He lit the lamp and set the wick burning low to save them both stumbling around. Buck lifted the covers and Vin scrambled in, dragging one of the pillows around to hug it to his chest.

“Try to sleep Vin.” Buck pushed a lock of hair aside and pressed a soft kiss to Vin's temple. Buck stopped at the boy's room to ensure they hadn't disturbed JD. The younger boy had kicked the covers loose again so Buck straightened them and also lightly kissed this young face.

Buck returned to his own bed rubbing at his eyes to relieve the ache behind them. Buck was a man of words and it hadn't gone unnoticed that Vin had spoken none. He wasn't always sure how to deal with Vin. He hadn't really given any thought to what it would be like if anything happened to Chris. Chris was the one with the parenting experience. He hoped Nathan was right and Chris would be back home soon.


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