"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe

The cowboy looked down to see what he had stepped on at the same moment that JD looked up with mournful eyes. The cowboy moved his foot and watched the little boy pick up the remains of his smashed hotdog, staring sadly at the mush in his hands.

"I'm sorry, son," said the cowboy.

JD sniffed. This was the first time he ever remembered buying something with his own money and now it was smashed. It was totally flat. It didn't even look like a hotdog anymore. His prize was totally wrecked, but he'd eaten worse with Vin when they lived in the warehouse.

"Let me buy you a new one," said the cowboy. "Where's your folks?"

"We're going to eat by the hop-sital tent," answered JD, still staring at his hotdog.

"Well, come on," said the cowboy. "Let's throw that away and get you a new one." He took hold of JD's arm and steered him toward a nearby trashcan. "Toss it in."

"No!" gasped JD. "I buyed it with my own prize."

"Son," said the cowboy kindly, "It can't be saved." He nodded toward the can.

JD shook his head. "No. It's mine."

Fortunately, the cowboy was a patient man and realized something greater than a hotdog was at issue for the child. He decided to get the replacement hotdog, take the boy to his folks and let them handle it.

"Well, let me buy you a new hotdog anyway."

"Okay," said JD as he walked with the cowboy. JD wasn't afraid of the man. Vin's training of not to trust adults was beginning to fade away as JD learned to trust Buck and Chris. They weren't on the streets anymore and this man wasn't trying to get something from JD. He had smashed JD's hotdog and just wanted to replace it. JD's tummy growled. If the man bought him another hotdog, he would have two!

When they finally made it through the long line and reached the counter at the snack bar, the cowboy convinced JD to let the man behind the counter put both hotdogs in a sack to make it easier for JD to carry. The cowboy whispered something to the man at the counter, who smiled and nodded in response. The cowboy passed the smashed hotdog to the man at the counter and JD scrutinized the other man's movements as he put JD's prize hotdog in the sack. Then the vendor set the bag lower where JD couldn't see and switched it for another sack. He handed it to the cowboy who in turn, passed it to JD.

The cowboy offered JD his hand. "Come on, son. Let's get you back to your folks." He was concerned that it had taken so long to get through the line. The boy's family would be worried by now.


"Wait!" Vin ran for the doorway of the tent as Chris left.

Nathan caught him by the arm before he could escape into the crowd again.

"Let go! Let me go!" cried Vin as he pushed at Nathan's hand, trying to loosen his grip.

Nathan pulled the struggling seven year old into a hug, lifting him and carrying him back inside. "Shh, Vin. They'll find him."

Vin stopped struggling, his fear of being grabbed and his distrust of adults eclipsed by his overwhelming need to be held and assured.

Nathan rubbed Vin's back, holding him tightly. Chris had left reluctantly, obviously wanting to comfort Vin himself, but knowing that his law enforcement skills were critical in helping to find JD before he could be taken from the grounds if indeed he was snatched. Nathan wanted desperately to help find JD as well, but he had a commitment to work in the medical tent. As he felt Vin's body shudder with sobs, he tried to convince himself this really was the most logical way to handle the situation.

"I only wanted to stay with Chris," whispered Vin, rubbing an eye with his fist.

"I know you did, Vin," said Nathan, "but it's best that you wait here with me so we can help JD when he gets here."

Vin shook his head. "No... I didn't mean it..." Vin choked out as the sobs began again.

Nathan pulled him back into a hug and kissed Vin on top of his head. "What didn't you mean?" he asked.

"I wished it was him," replied Vin, looking up at Nathan with tears trailing down his cheeks.

Nathan had no idea what Vin was trying to say. He assumed Vin meant he wanted to search for JD with Chris when he said he wanted to stay with Chris.

"What do you mean, Vin?"

"I heared Chris and Buck saying they were going to separate us." Vin picked at Nathan's watchband, not daring to look at Nathan. "I know JD needs Buck, but I don't want to go... I want Chris to be my family." Finally the tearful blue eyes met Nathan's gaze. "I wished it was JD who had to be separated and now he's gone!" Vin cried.

Nathan groaned inwardly at the mournful words, knowing that Vin fully believed he'd wished JD away. And worse, that Vin had misunderstood the words and thought that his protectors wanted to send one of the boys away.

"No, Vin. It's not your fault that JD is... uh... lost." Nathan struggled for words. He didn't believe in giving anyone false hope. He couldn't guarantee Vin that JD would be found, but neither would he allow the boy to believe that JD was gone because of his wish.

"But I wished..."

"No, Vin," Nathan interrupted. "You may have wished to stay with Chris, but there is nothing wrong with that, and it's not why JD is lost. And whatever you think you heard, Buck and Chris are not trying to take you and JD away from each other. They would never do that." Nathan pulled a tissue from the box on the table beside them and wiped Vin's eyes. "If you heard what I think you did, you misunderstood the conversation."

Hopeful blue eyes scanned Nathan's face. More than anything, Vin wanted to believe that he had heard wrong, that Chris and Buck didn't want to separate him and JD, and most of all he wanted JD back.

"Let me ask you something."

Vin nodded, awaiting Nathan's question.

"Do you want JD to be with you every minute of every day?" Nathan asked.

"I like JD," answered Vin. "He's like my brother."

"I know you like JD, but that's not what I asked," said Nathan patiently. "Do you want JD with you every minute of the day?"

"Will it help get JD back?" Vin asked anxiously.

Nathan smiled and stroked Vin's cheek with his finger. This wasn't working. He and Vin were on different wavelengths. Vin's mind was totally caught up in JD's disappearance and his own guilt.

"I had a little brother. He used to follow me everywhere," said Nathan.

"Like JD?"

Nathan nodded. "I loved my brother very much, but sometimes I liked to do things by myself. Without him. Do you understand?"

Vin nodded. There were lots of times he wanted to be by himself, especially to have Chris' undivided attention.

"Buck and Chris have been trying to find ways to help you and JD do things without each other to help you get ready for school. When school starts, you won't be able to spend all day together."

"Why not?" asked Vin with a protective edge to his voice.

Nathan smiled sadly. He was proud of the fact that Vin was so loyal and so protective of JD, but they had all hoped that Vin would let go of some of that responsibility and remember he was a child.

"Well, Vin, schools divide students up by grade levels, mostly based on their ages. You and JD would be in different classes because you're different ages," explained Nathan.

"But who's going to take care of JD?"

Nathan shifted Vin in his lap, buying himself some time. Dealing with 'Vin logic' could be very frustrating. He was pleased, however, that Vin stayed snuggled in his embrace - a huge step for the seven year old.

"Well, JD's teacher, Buck, Chris, you and all of us will help, but JD will learn how to take care of himself, too."

"He's too little," said Vin.

Nathan chewed on his lip wishing Chris was here and that he was looking for JD. He quickly set aside those thoughts, realizing that Vin depending on another adult was an important step.

"Do you know how to tie your shoes?" asked Nathan.

"I got boots on," said Vin.

Nathan chuckled. "Yes, but when you wear your sneakers, you tie them. Right?"

Vin nodded.

"How did you learn how to tie them?" asked Nathan.

"Mama showed me." Vin looked Nathan in the eye. He knew that Nathan was trying to help him understand something, but he didn't know what JD being gone had to do with tying your shoes.

"She showed you, but then you had to try it on your own."

Vin nodded.

"And it was hard sometimes, wasn't it?" asked Nathan.

"Yeah. It taked me a long time to do it, but I did," agreed Vin.

"But you would have never learned if your mother didn't let you try."

Vin frowned slightly. He still didn't know what tying his shoes had to do with JD.

"Vin, you need to try things, and JD needs to try things or else you'll never learn to do them."

Vin nodded. He could understand that.

"Sometimes, you have to try things without JD, and he'll have to try things without you. But that doesn't mean you are separated forever," said Nathan.

"But I like doing things with JD!" protested Vin. He didn't want anything to do with something that would separate him from JD.

"Every thing? All the time?" asked Nathan pointedly.

Vin hesitated. He liked JD a lot, but he didn't always want him around every second.

"And what about JD? How many times have you heard him say, 'Let me do it'? My little brother said that all the time, and you know, he did need to do things on his own. But that doesn't mean we didn't love each other."

Nathan smiled at Vin and wiped the fresh tears that were starting to trickle down his cheeks.

"But I need JD," said Vin softly.

Nathan gently pulled Vin's head to rest on his chest. "I know, Vin. I know." He stroked Vin's back in small circles. "You and JD need each other. Buck and Chris need you and you need them. We all need each other." Nathan leaned his head down to look into the blue eyes. "We will always love each other, but as we grow, our relationships change. You won't always 'need' JD the way you do now, and JD won't always 'need' you the way he does now, but that doesn't mean you won't love each other and watch out for each other." Vin appeared to be thinking over Nathan's comments, but he didn't seem convinced. But how could he be, when he wasn't even sure JD would come home?


"Do you see your family?" the Cowboy asked JD as they stood in the walkway near the arena fence.

JD swallowed hard. He was starting to get worried. They had gone by the medical tent once already, but there was no one at the picnic table where they were going to eat, so they tried to find JD's seat in the stands. There were so many people and everything looked the same. He just couldn't remember where they had been sitting.

"I want Vin," said JD with a sniff. Vin would help him. He would know how to find Buck.

"Hey, now. Don't you worry. We'll find them." The cowboy took one more look around. "Let's go back and check the medical tent one more time."

"Okay," sniffed JD. "I want Vin."

The odd pair made their way to the medical tent a second time, this time the man decided to check inside.

Nathan looked up as the tent flap opened and a cowboy entered with JD in tow.

"JD!" screeched Vin, jumping off Nathan's lap. He ran to JD and crushed his friend in a hug.

"Vin," squeaked JD. "You're squishing me."

When Vin didn't let go, the older boy's emotions combined with JD's own worries. JD realized that he had been lost and he really was scared. With no reason to be brave any longer, JD began to cry.


Buck was the first man to the tent after hearing the announcement requesting JD's family to meet him at the medical tent. He stepped from the brilliant sunlight into the tent, letting his eyes adjust to the difference in brightness.

"Nate?" he asked when he didn't spot the boys. Chris hurried into the tent followed by Ezra and Josiah, all responding to the loudspeaker announcement.

Nathan nodded his head to the corner hidden by the equipment cabinet. Buck's hands clenched as he saw the two boys huddled together. JD was sitting across Vin's lap with his face pressed against Vin's thin shoulder, hugging his protector for all he was worth. Vin had his arms wrapped around JD tightly and was sporting a glare that warned everyone to stay away.

Chris swore under his breath. Between the daycare episode and today's events, they were scoring pretty low on the building trust issue.

"JD?" Buck called softly.

JD's head popped up and he turned his face to look for Buck, but no one missed the fact that he still held on tightly to Vin. His little heart wanted to find security in Buck, but Vin was still his stronghold.

"Vin got losted," said JD.

"Oh, he did?" responded Buck.

JD nodded.

Vin glared.

"I couldn't find him. I couldn't find Mr. Ezra." JD's words were telling the story, but his expression was begging for Buck to tell him that it was okay and that Buck wasn't angry.

"The cowboy squished my hotdog, but he buyed me a new one and now I gots two!" The sad eyes cried out for Buck's approval.

"It's all right, JD," said Buck as he crouched down. "I'm just glad you're okay."

JD nodded. "Vin's okay, too."

Buck nodded and opened his arms to JD in invitation. His heart twisted as JD pulled toward him slightly, but Vin didn't let go. JD settled back against Vin. It was clear that JD would not go to Buck unless Vin let him go.

Vin struggled with himself, so afraid to lose JD. He had come too close. He could feel JD wanted to go to Buck. He knew deep down inside that Buck was the best thing in the world for JD, but he was so scared of what would happen if he let Buck and Chris take over. Would JD need him anymore? Would JD want him anymore? Was Mr. Nathan right?

Vin felt JD pat him on the back, offering JD style comforting. Knowing what was best and trying to squelch his fear, Vin released his grip on JD. He couldn't suppress the loss he felt as JD got up and moved towards Buck.

Buck watched the battle rage in Vin's body language. As JD ran to his arms, Buck saw Vin's hand reach as if to pull him back, then it dropped limply to his lap. Buck squeezed JD tightly watching the wistful look on Vin's face. He kept JD wrapped in one arm and opened the other to Vin.

"You too, Vin," he said softly.

It seemed a painfully long time as Vin slowly stood and moved toward Buck. He let the big man wrap his arm around him and hold him.

Observing the whole scene, Chris squeezed Ezra's shoulder, reassuring the southerner that no one blamed him for what had happened. Ezra looked at him appreciatively, but his countenance still showed his guilt and anger with himself. Giving Ezra's shoulder a pat, Chris walked over to the trio near the corner. Vin didn't like a lot of hugging, unless it was his idea, and it was clear he was letting Buck hug him, but he wasn't returning it. Chris smiled as Vin's arms slowly wrapped onto Buck and held him. Chris rested his hand on Vin's head, smoothing his hair, and when Vin looked up, Chris gave him a reassuring wink. The arms that had wrapped onto Buck moments before, now latched onto him. He picked Vin up and rested him on a hip, giving Vin both a semblance of space and of security.

"I'm hungry!" JD's announcement was greeted by chuckles. The proclamation declared an end to the crisis.

"Me, too, Little Bit," agreed Buck. "Let's find our hotdogs."

Josiah and Nathan helped Ezra gather up the hotdogs and drinks from the table where they had been hastily dropped when JD disappeared. Carrying the food to the picnic table outside, Ezra somberly distributed hotdogs and drinks to each man. He sat down on the bench next to Vin who was staying close to Chris.

"Hey! Where's your hotdog, Vin?" asked JD. "Did ya eat it already?"

Vin shook his head and leaned against Chris' arm. He didn't know where his hot dog went. He figured he must have dropped it when JD disappeared, but he didn't remember, and he wasn't about to go looking for it 'cause that's how JD got lost. He was disappointed that he had lost his prize, but he wasn't very hungry anymore anyway.

"You can have mine, Master Tanner," said Ezra. "I seem to have lost my appetite."

Ezra slid his hotdog towards Vin, but Vin shook his head and pushed it back. Nobody else was going to go hungry because of him.

"Wait!" exclaimed JD. "I gots two, Vin! My one that got squished and my new one. I share!"

All the men cringed as JD opened his bag. Though the boys had eaten from the trash when they lived on the streets, there was no way that they would let them eat a hotdog that had been on the ground and stepped on.

"Hey!" JD gasped in amazement. "Hey look!" He placed one hotdog on the table and reached for the other. "It's not smashed anymore!" He held up the hotdog, showing them that the hotdog was not squished. He looked around, searching for the cowboy that had bought the new hotdog for him, but the man was long gone. "Here Vin." JD shoved the hotdog across the table to Vin, while he continued to admire his miracle hotdog. "How'd he do that, Buck?"

"I don't know, JD, but I bet he meant for you to eat it," said Buck with a wink.

JD nodded as he took a big bite.


There was some discussion on whether or not just to head home after lunch, but everyone wanted JD and Vin's memories of the rodeo day to be good, not the trauma of JD being lost, so the decision was made to stay. The early part of the afternoon consisted of several "senior" events for the older teens. There would be one more event for each of the "mini's" and "pee-wee's" before the pro riders entertained the crowd in the evening.

It had already been a long day for two little boys, and adding the excitement of the events and the trauma of JD's adventure, Vin and JD were leaning heavily on Josiah and Ezra in the warm sun by mid afternoon.

Josiah smiled as JD yawned and lifted his arms to Ezra, asking to be held. Without hesitation the southerner took the boy into his arms and held him close, needing JD's unconditional affection more than anyone knew. JD laid his head on Ezra's shoulder with a sigh. Moments later his only movement was the steady rise and fall of his chest as sleep took hold.

Josiah chuckled as Vin started to nod off, jerking his head up and blinking, trying his best to stay awake. Neither boy was back to his full stamina yet after living on the streets. Both of them were gaining strength daily and actually beginning to fill out some, no longer looking malnourished. Vin was pronounced healed from the bullet wound that had nearly cost his life, but he still favored his side when he was tired. The seven year old yawned widely.

"Why don't you rest for a few minutes, Vin?" asked Josiah. "I know you're seven, and you don't take naps, but you want to be ready to go for your last event."

"I'm not tired," said Vin as he blinked and yawned. He looked at Josiah and saw the raised eyebrows and knew Josiah didn't believe him. "Okay, I'll rest a little while," he conceded. "But I'm not taking a nap."

Josiah smiled as Vin yawned again, and leaned his head on Josiah's arm. Despite the crowd noise around them, a few minutes later, Vin lost the struggle to stay awake and slid down until his head was resting on Josiah's leg, his thin body stretched out on the wooden bench between Josiah and Ezra. Vin twitched, perhaps in a dream or from the noise around him. Josiah reached down, brushing the hair away from Vin's face and gently rubbing his temple. The simple act drew a deep sigh from Vin as he relaxed.

About a half an hour later Chris and Buck came back to join their family, having finished up their "duties" for the day. Two events remained for the little guys, and then the professionals would take over. Both men smiled at the scene before them. JD was dead to the world and the shoulder of Ezra's new shirt had been christened by the slight drool of sleep. But more importantly, the look of guilt was gone from the southerner's face. It seemed that JD's nap had done some healing for Ezra as well.

Vin's cheek was resting on Josiah's thigh, and his arm hung limply over Josiah's knee having settled on his makeshift bed. Josiah nodded a greeting to Buck and Chris as they sat next to him on the bench. Vin moved restlessly, and they watched Josiah's large hand gently caress away the distress.

A man behind them whistled shrilly, cheering on a rider in the senior event. Both boys jerked awake as their nap came to an abrupt end. Buck grinned as JD lifted his head from Ezra's shoulder and he waved at Buck and Chris. JD leaned back on the shoulder again and patted Ezra's back.

Vin sat up quickly and rubbed his eyes. He saw Chris smiling at him. "I wasn't takin' a nap," he defended. "I was just restin'."

"So I see," said Chris. "Are you two up to one more event?"

"Yeah!" said JD, climbing off of Ezra's lap and trotting over to Buck. He looked back at Ezra, then turned to Buck and motioned him to lean closer so he could whisper. "Do I has to play now?" Everyone smiled at JD's attempt at whispering. People two rows back could hear him clearly. "I think Mr. Ezra needs me to hug him some more."

Ezra smiled at the comment, only slightly embarrassed. "Master Dunne, I think if you gave me one big hug, it will do... for now."

JD grinned and trotted back to Ezra and hugged him tightly.

"Okay, Little Bit," said Buck. "Our turn!" He took JD by the hand and they walked to the center of the arena.

"This should be interesting," said Chris. Vin had walked over in front of him and Chris pulled him onto his lap.

"What are they going to do with that stuff?" asked Vin.

"That's a gunny sack, a feed bag. They each put one leg in it and try to run to the post and back," explained Chris.

"JD's too little," said Vin.

Chris shrugged. "Maybe Buck's too big."

Vin smiled and shook his head. "They're gonna fall down."

"Maybe," said Chris, "but that's part of the game."

The whistle sounded and the race began. Buck and JD ran about four steps before tripping on the bag. They fell into a heap, laughing. Buck helped JD up and situated their legs back in the burlap sack. He laughed as JD grabbed onto his leg, wrapping both arms around it.

"Go Buck, go!" JD yelled.

JD's feet never touched the ground as he rode Buck's leg for the rest of the race. The pair collected their prizes and Buck walked back to the stands with a giggling, black haired appendage on his leg.

"Howdy, boys," he said to Ezra and Josiah. "I think I'd better go see Nathan and get this lump removed from my leg."

"Hey, Buck!" protested JD. "It's me!"

Buck laughed. "So it is!" He scooped JD into his arms and tickled him.


Vin and Chris had already gone to the far end of the arena for Vin's last event. Like JD's event, it involved an adult and a child together. Vin was excited to find out he would ride Chris' horse with him, but Chris saw the frown of concern when Vin heard the rules and what he had to do.

"Are you all right with this, Vin?" he asked.

Vin looked at the rope in the middle of the arena. It was hanging down from a cable that crossed the arena. He wasn't sure he could hold on to it long enough, but he nodded anyway. He wanted to do this special thing with Chris.

"What if I fall?" Vin asked.

"You just do your best Vin. If you can't hold on, just let go. I'll come get you either way." Chris could see the uncertainty in Vin's eyes. "Hey, Cowboy. It doesn't matter to me if we win or not. It just matters that we do this together... you and me."

Vin smiled.

"Ready?" asked Chris.

Vin nodded. He waited for Chris to mount, then held up his hands. Chris lifted him up and sat Vin in front of him on the saddle. They would watch six teams before it was their turn.

Vin watched what the other boys did during the race. They rode as fast as possible to the rope in the middle of the arena. They grabbed the rope and held on, hanging from the rope as their partner raced the horse to the end of the arena, around a pole and came back to collect them before racing to the finish line. The game was called hangman for good reason. Some boys were successful hanging, some weren't.

"We're up," said Chris. "Are you ready, Cowboy?"

Vin made sure his cowboy hat was on tight, then nodded.

"All right," said Chris, as he guided his horse to the starting line.

"Go, Vin!"

Chris and Vin both grinned, not at all surprised that they could hear JD through the crowd. He had a distinctive voice and had called out just at the right moment.

"Here we go," said Chris.

They raced to the rope, Vin grabbing for it before they even reached it. He clamped on tightly with both hands and wrapped his skinny legs around the rope.

"Go!" said Vin.

Chris raced away and Vin felt himself slipping. He squeezed his fingers tighter around the rope, trying to ignore the sinking feeling of watching Chris ride away. It was the same way he felt when Chris left him at the daycare center. But Chris was coming back for him.

Vin slipped another inch down the rope. He tightened his grip, but he couldn't hold on much longer. His arms were tired and his side was aching. He knew he was going to fall.

"Chris!" The cry slipped out before Vin could stop it.

And suddenly Chris was there. "I've got ya."

Vin could feel Chris' strong arms wrap around him, lifting his weight from the rope.

"I've got you, Cowboy," said Chris, settling Vin onto the saddle and racing towards the finish line. "Always."

Vin relaxed into Chris' grip, relishing the feeling of Chris holding him and the security his words offered. He no longer cared if they won the race. Chris had caught him. He had claimed Vin as his, and there was no better feeling in the world than knowing Chris wanted him.


The boys had played cowboys all evening long, running around on their stick horses in competition with each other. They had chattered non-stop through dinner about all the fun they had at the rodeo, continually recounting the events of the day. Though the day hadn't gone quite the way Chris and Buck had anticipated, it had been a good step forward for the boys. The sun was starting to go down when Buck took JD and Vin out to the barn to 'help' him bed down the animals for the night

Chris was enjoying a few moments of peace. Since two little boys and Buck Wilmington came to live in his home, silence was a rare occurrence. He settled into his recliner and browsed through the newspaper. A smile turned up the corners of his mouth when less than five minutes later he heard the familiar squeak of the back screen door.

The door closed with a bang and booted feet pounded across the kitchen floor, running in his direction. He lowered the paper expecting JD to bounce into the living room at any moment with some exciting story about the barn.

Chris hid his surprise as the older, quieter of the two boys ran up to his chair.

"Mr. Chris... Chris... Ya gotta come see!" Vin exclaimed excitedly. "Come on, Chris!" The seven year old tugged at Chris' hand.

Chris smiled and let the newspaper fall to his lap. In his rare display of excitement, Vin was forgetting his formality. Even though he had been given permission to call Chris and Buck by their first names, Vin had continued to call them Mr. Chris and Mr. Buck. His therapist told Chris that it was partially manners, but mostly a defense mechanism. Vin was keeping them at a distance, protecting himself emotionally, by using the formalities. Somewhere inside Vin felt if he got too close, he would just lose them and get hurt again. That simple revelation had given Chris a new insight into his undercover agent, who had relied on the same defense. But in the past week Vin had started to call him Chris more frequently, or he had until the daycare difficulties. Now it looked like he was pushing past the defense mechanism.

"Come on! You have to hurry," insisted Vin, bouncing from one foot to the other.

Chris stood, letting the newspaper slide to the floor as Vin clasped his hand and pulled him towards the back door. He was curious what 'wonder' had brought on such excitement in Vin. None of the mares would foal soon. The cat wasn't expecting. Maybe Buck had stepped in something and Vin thought it was funny?

Vin led him to the backyard. Neither Buck nor JD was in sight. Vin pointed at something in the distance.

"Do you see it?" he asked eagerly.

Chris scanned the horizon. They had discovered early on that Vin had keen eyesight, able to spot birds in the foliage, or other things long before the others could see them. He wondered what Vin had spotted this time. Chris shaded his eyes from the blinding sunset as he tried to pick out Vin's 'treasure,' but the light was too bright. He simply couldn't see what Vin was seeing, but he didn't want to dampen Vin's excitement.

"What do you like best about it, Vin?" Chris asked, hoping for a clue from Vin's answer, and not willing to admit that he couldn't see whatever it was. He sat down on a boulder as Vin leaned against him.

"It's gold!" said Vin in a reverent voice. "Everything's gold. Do you like it?"

Chris was slightly humbled by the words, feeling a little foolish that he was so busy looking for some little thing, that he was missing the most obvious, the sunset. Vin was right. The mountains were outlined in gold and a rich glow caressed the grassy fields.

Chris put his arm around Vin. "I like it a lot, Vin," he said softly.

Vin turned towards Chris, beaming. "Mama said it only turns to gold when everything is perfect." His eyes searched Chris' face. "It's perfect now?" he questioned.

Chris squeezed the seven year old, hugging him close. He thought about this new family - two orphaned boys and his best friend of countless years. Chris knew there would be more problems, struggles, and 'adventures' with the lively little group, but he winked at Vin with a nod. This was as close to perfect as it could get.



I think about this term, and what it's all about?
Well it's reaching deep inside when your wife has turned you out.
It's gettin' bucked off every bull that you've seen;
Going hungry, and telling yourself "I'm not starvin', just lean".


It's watching your friends go to the county fair;
And staying behind, cuz the fence is in need of repair.
It's knowing what's wrong, and doing what's right;
Though it means you're going home alone tonite.


It's what makes a cowboy tell it straight;
It's being in pain, and calling your gate.
It's having nothing, yet having it all;
It's brushing off the dust and knowing how to fall.


It's a spirit tried and true;
Like a guardian angel, it'll see you through.
So when you're down and things look rough;
Look deep within yourself, and