"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe

Author's Note: Contains references to Dreaming of Angels by Barbretta Hayden, Drive and Pumpkin Envy by JK, Are We There Yet, by moi, and probably a few other stories as well, all of which can be found at Joy's wonderful Little Britches archive.

To the bad AOeLement chat group for their continuing inspiration and their highly successful plot bunny breeding farm.
To Judy F. and Joy for beta reading.

Size: Approx 120K

"It's Miss Nettie! Miss Nettie's here!" JD said excitedly, having gone to the window to determine who had just driven up the driveway.

JD and Vin had formed a bond with the social worker that was unusual, but then, the circumstances under which they had come into the foster care system were extraordinary, too. They were always glad to see her.

The kindly woman returned the little boys' affection, and Buck knew it, but, at the bottom line, Nettie Wells was still a caseworker, and her unscheduled visits always made Buck and Chris apprehensive. While Nettie had vowed to do all she could to keep Vin and JD with Chris and Buck, things happened, and Buck knew that the judgment of social workers often went unheeded when determining the fate of children in foster care.

So, he went to the door with feelings that were already mixed, and his gut immediately clenched when he saw the look on the woman's face. She had not come with good news.

She hid that fact well as she exchanged hugs with the two little boys. Buck winced as he noted with dismay that they were sticky with the chocolate pudding they had just finished. It was Saturday morning, and it would be tough to explain why they had been eating that instead of breakfast. Fortunately, Nettie didn't comment on it.

"You boys run along and wash your faces while I talk to Miz Nettie," he said. His eyes met those of the social worker and again, her expression confirmed that she wasn't there for a casual visit.

"Is Chris here?" she asked.

Buck felt a selfish rush of relief . It's about Vin, not JD….

"He's in the barn. I'll call him…"

Nettie put a comforting hand on his arm. "It's really you I need to talk to, Buck, but maybe you could ask him to keep the boys busy for a few minutes?"

Buck felt his knees go weak, but forced a smile. "Yeah… sure…"

He used the two-way radio they kept in the kitchen. They had purchased them and taught the boys to use them after Chris had suffered a near-catastrophic accident with a chain saw and Vin and JD had valiantly attempted to drive Chris's truck home to get help, with predictably disastrous results.

When the boys returned with reasonably clean faces, he sent them out to be with Chris and then offered Nettie a cup of coffee.

"Thanks, I could use a cup," she said, and Buck knew instinctively that she was stalling. He didn't mind. He was sure he wasn't eager to hear what she had to say.

He poured the coffee and handed her the mug. Her eyes met his, that look again. "Sit down, Buck," she said softly and then took a seat at the table.

Buck couldn't stand not knowing why she was there and cut to the chase. "It's about JD, ain't it?"

"Yes," she nodded.

"You takin' him away?" He tried not to reveal how distressing that thought was, and was secretly praying, Not that… anything but that...

She reached into her attache case and pulled out a folder. She then donned her reading glasses and appeared to be trying to decide how to share the contents with Buck.

"The accident a few weeks ago…" she began.

Buck's heart sank. Chris shouldn't have been alone out in the woods with the chain saw and two little boys. Failure to provide adequate supervision - that's what they would call it.

"I know, I know," he was almost pleading. "I should have been there. It won't happen again, we've set up a plan… bought the radios…" Of course she knew about the radios - one of them had been installed at her place a mile down the road so the boys could call there for help if they ever had to.

Nettie put her hands up. "No… no… this isn't anything you did, Buck," she sighed heavily, then rubbed her temple as if she had a headache. "I am not sure where to begin…"

Buck forced another smile. "At the beginnin' is usually best."

She closed the folder. "When JD was x-rayed in the ER, the doctor was looking for injuries he might have sustained in the accident…" she began.

JD had scraped his arm and bruised his cheek when Vin had driven the truck he was trying to drive into a tree. They'd taken x-rays and hadn't found anything broken. "Go on," he said, not even wanting to guess where this might be leading.

"It's hospital procedure to have a trained radiologist review all x-rays, just to make sure nothing got missed… what he found was that JD had six healed fractures, one in his left leg, two in his right arm, a hairline skull fracture and two broken ribs."

"So… he's had an accident before?" Buck frowned.

"These fractures were very old, Buck. And they were of the type usually found in infants who have been severely abused."

Buck's heart sank to his knees. He didn't know how anyone could hurt any child, but the thought that someone could do something like that to a cute little guy like JD…

"You're sure?"

"Well, there is no way to be sure… chances are, JD doesn't even remember it. But, it caused us to take a closer look at his mother, to see if there was any record of ER visits and hospital admissions that would indicate a pattern…"

Buck knew they had discovered something. It made him feel sick inside. JD was such a sweet, happy child, who appeared to have loved his mother very much. It was hard to believe that his cheerful personality could be nothing more than a defense mechanism - If I'm cute and sweet, they won't hurt me…

Nettie rubbed her temple again. "Buck, what they found caused us to review her autopsy report, which confirmed it. I don't know why no one brought it to our attention before… The medical examiner said he assumed we knew since JD was in foster care…"

She seemed to be babbling, trying to avoid something. "Nettie, just tell me what it is."

Nettie sighed. "JD's mother was HIV positive. She was in the first stages of AIDS, which means she could have been infected as long as 10 years ago."

Now Buck felt truly sick. "Oh my God…" Ten years ago… and JD had just turned five, which meant…

"Now... I've checked with my experts and it's not likely she passed the virus on to JD. He almost surely would have shown symptoms by now..." She paused, as if considering her next words.

Buck supplied them for her. "But, it's still possible that she did," he said flatly.

Nettie nodded. "Yes, Buck. Not likley, but possible." Nettie confirmed his fear.

"Oh my God…" Buck repeated himself. He got up from the table because he had to do something. This couldn't be happening. This was JD they were talking about, not some nameless waif on a poster that you could look at and pity but didn't really have to know. He turned his back to her, bracing himself against the kitchen sink. "What do we do now?" he whispered.

Nettie's tone became business-like. Buck realized that it was her way of coping with something that was as distressing to her as it was to him.

"He has to be tested. And, as a precaution, so does Vin."

"Vin?" Buck frowned.

"The two of them were alone on the streets for months, living under unsanitary conditions. We just have to be sure."

Buck nodded. "What then?"

"If he's positive, he needs to be started on a strict drug regimen as soon as possible." She studied Buck as if wondering if he understood what that would entail. She added gently, "If you don't feel you can cope with that type of commitment, then we will have to look into the possibility of JD being placed elsewhere…"

"NO!" Buck turned to her angrily. "Of course I can cope with it, damn it!" He wondered if that was really true.

Nettie smiled and continued. "I'm going to schedule some special sessions with Dr. Lowery," she referred to the therapist who saw both boys on a regular basis, although up until now, his efforts had been concentrated on Vin, who seemed to be carrying more emotional baggage than JD. "If he is positive, then he and you are both going to need some help to work your way through the changes that is going to mean in your lives."

Buck had to sit down again. Changes … like maybe never seeing JD play little league baseball, or get his learner's permit, or graduate from high school. Changes like wondering if every birthday would be his last. Changes like preparing him for a slow, painful death....

"One step at a time, Buck," Nettie said softly. "He and Vin have an appointment with Dr. Two Eagles for the blood test at 9:00 tomorrow morning. Do you want me to tell them?"

"No… no… I'll do it. I need to talk to Chris, though, without the boys around." He looked at her hopefully.

"I'll take them over to my place," Nettie said. "Casey has a new puppy I'm sure she'd love to show off."

Buck smiled. "Thanks… I'll pick them up in an hour or so."

Nettie got up to leave and Buck hugged her impulsively. She returned his embrace. They didn't exchange any words. There was nothing either of them could say.


Vin got up to get a drink of water. He had been trying to fall asleep, but his brain wouldn't stop thinking about things that had happened that day. JD never seemed to notice when grown-ups were acting weird, but Vin did. They talked to you different.

Vin knew something was wrong when Buck had told them they had to go see Dr. Two Eagles tomorrow... Sometimes, they went to see him when they weren't even sick, but, they always knew about it several days ahead of time, and they never did stuff like go to the doctor on Sunday. Sundays, they usually did something fun, like play miniature golf, or go to the movies, or have a barbecue at Uncle Nathan's.

He heard Chris and Buck talking, but he didn't understand what it was about. He pulled a paper cup from the dispenser next to the sink . Buck had gone to Wal-Mart that afternoon and bought it, and told them they had to use the paper cups instead of their SpiderMan glass. Vin liked the Spiderman glass, but the paper cups had Star Wars on them, so they were pretty cool, too, and he liked the way when you pulled one out of the dispenser, another one popped up to take its place.

When they heard the water running, Buck and Chris stopped talking. A moment later, Chris was in the doorway of the bathroom.

"You okay, Vin?" he asked.

Vin nodded. "Just thirsty," he said, tossing back his water.

He filled the cup one more time, and then Chris walked him back to his bed. He climbed onto the top bunk and crawled under the covers, clutching Cat close. Chris tucked the covers around him. "You go to sleep, now, hear?" he said softly. Vin nodded. Chris knelt down beside the lower bunk and tucked JD in, too. He didn't say anything to him, since JD was asleep, but Vin sensed a sadness in the normally gruff man.

"Is somethin' the matter, Chris?" he asked. He already knew something was. He just wanted to see if Chris would tell him.

"No, Vin. Everything's fine. Go to sleep now."

Vin sighed. He didn't know why grown-ups lied. They weren't very good at it.

+ + + + + + +

"Help!" JD screamed, even though he was laughing at the same time. Only JD could do that.

He had been trying to reach his shoe under the bed and had lowered himself head first into the space between the bed and the wall and then gotten stuck. Only his bare legs and Mickey Mouse briefs were visible. Vin tried to pull on JD's legs to extricate the younger boy, but he couldn't get enough leverage, and when his arms slipped, he bumped his head on the top bunk. He was about to go get Buck when JD toppled over sideways, his legs landing with a soft thud as they hit the carpet. Finding himself completely under the bed, he quickly crawled out from beneath it, shoe in hand.

Vin rubbed his sore head and went back to getting his own clothes on. He pulled out a clean pair of jeans and his favorite red tee-shirt. He noticed JD had put his shoes on before his pants and was now trying to work the legs of his jeans over his shoes. JD was real, real smart, but sometimes, he did dumb things because he was little.

Vin knelt down beside him and helped him work the tight fabric over his shoes. Vin thought back to the conversation he'd overheard between Chris and Buck the night before. JD was a good speller, he knew, so he asked him, "JD, what does H-I-V spell?"

JD thought for a moment. "Hive?" he said hopefully. He didn't think that was right though. He was pretty sure that word needed an 'e' on the end.

Vin shrugged. "I just heard Buck spelling that word when he was talking to Chris, about how come we have to go see Dr. Two Eagles today, even though it's Sunday."

JD looked apprehensive. "Joey Sena went to the doctor and got medicine and then he got hives... they were big red spots all over that were itchy."

Vin frowned. He took some medicine once that made him have itchy red spots. He was real sick and couldn't breathe and had to go to the hospital.

"You boys almost ready?" Buck appeared in the doorway.

Vin turned quckly. "I ain't goin'!" he said, trying to will his voice not to crack.

Buck came forward and tossled his hair gently. "You have to go, li'l' pard, sorry."

"I don't wanna get hives!" he said stubbornly.

Buck frowned. "Vin, what are you talking about?"

"I heard you an' Chris sayin' we have to go to the doctor for H-I-V. That spells 'hives.'"

Even though Buck's gut clenched, he couldn't help but smile. "Vin, nobody is going to give you hives. I promise. Chris and I were talking about something else." He left no opening for Vin to argue when he quickly added, "Now get ready... and maybe we'll have time to go to Pistol Pete's afterwards."

Vin was torn... he loved Pistol Pete's. They had good pizza and best of all, they had a Big Game Hunter video game. Vin was really, really, really good at Big Game Hunter. His initials were with the top 10 "sharpshooters" with the big kids. He decided to believe Buck that he wouldn't get hives from the doctor.


JD would eventually have a series of tests to determine the extent of the phyiscal abuse he had suffered as an infant, but for today, he and Vin would get a routine examine followed by a blood test for HIV. Determining whether or not he was infected with the virus was their primary concern, the rest could be dealt with at a later date.

Dr. Two Eagles checked ears, eyes, noses, and throats, thumped on each boy's chest and listened to his heart and lungs. With his usual frown, he recorded their heights and weights. JD was a good weight for his height, even though he was tiny for a five-year-old. Vin was 6 inches taller, but weighed only 3 pounds more than the younger boy. The doctor wasn't displeased, however. Though small, both boys had grown since he'd first seen them, and they appeared to be thriving in the care of their ATF-agent foster parents.

He held out a plastic jack-o-lantern full of lollipops. He kept it year-round, even when it wasn't Halloween season, and the kids never seemed to notice, let alone mind. Two little hands dove in for the offered treats. JD picked a grape Jolly Rancher sucker while Vin selected a cherry Tootsie Roll Pop. Normally, getting a sucker was the cue that they were free to leave, but this time, Dr. Two Eagles kept them both sitting on the examination table. He had decided to forego the newer HIV test that gave immediate results, since he felt more secure with the more tradional test, and would have used that as a backup, anyway. He had two plastic hospital wrist bands on his clipboard and he attached one to each boy. Vin's was white, but JD's was bright yellow, with a small biohazard symbol on it.

"What are these for?" JD asked.

"Well," Dr. Two Eagles began, "They are to tell the lab who you are. We are going to have Buck and Chris take you there to draw some blood. Is that okay?"

JD nodded uncertainly. "Okay..." He could draw blood, but that was gross. He'd rather draw horses.

Vin shook his head, emphatically. "Don't wanna!" Vin had been to the hospital before. He knew what they were going to do.

Chris sensed the little boy's panic. He scooped Vin into his arms, both to reassure him and to keep him from bolting. He refrained from making promises that it wouldn't hurt, because most likely it would. "You'll be okay, Vin. I'll stay with you."

Buck picked JD up. "You'll call with the results?" he asked Dr. Two Eagles.

The doctor nodded. "As soon as I have them."

Dr. Two Eagle's office was actually located in Denver Children's, so all they had to do was find their way through the maze of corridors to the lab.

Buck set JD down at the check-in desk. "Is this were we draw the blood?" JD asked.

"Yes, it is," the receptionist smiled.

JD had expected to see some paints or markers, but, there wasn't anything like that.

Chris set Vin down and immediately, the boy tried to pull away. Chris kept a firm hold on his hand, even when Vin tugged so hard he ended up almost sitting on the floor. "No! I don't wanna get a shot!" Vin screeched. "Let me go!"

Chris looked at the receptionist apologetically, and then picked Vin up again. He expected the little boy to kick and scream, but instead, Vin buried his head in Chris's shoulder as if to hide from the inevitable. Chris's heart ached at the thought that the child had already resigned himself to the fact that someone was about to hurt him, and he was helpless to stop it.

"We're gonna get shots?" JD asked, his lower lip trembling.

Buck knelt beside him. "JD... they have to take some of your blood to see if it's healthy. They have to use a little needle to do that."

JD's lower lip turned downward in a pout. "Okay," he sniffed.

Unfortunately, the boys' anxiety wasn't eased by the fact that there were several patients ahead of them so it looked as though they'd have to wait. There was a small play area with some toys, but Vin wasn't interested. Chris sat down with Vin in his lap and the boy didn't budge.

JD however, was easily distracted by a box of Lincoln Logs. There were two other children in the play area, and JD, being his usual gregarious self, introduced himself and joined them. It was only a short time, though, before Buck saw the mother of one of the children leaning over to say something to the other child's mom. She was pointing out the yellow band on JD's wrist.

Both she and the other mother quickly pulled their children away from JD, who was left sitting alone and confused. He sensed he had done something wrong, but he didn't know what.

Chris glared at the two women, but addressed his comments to Vin. "You wanna play with JD?" he asked.

Vin shook his head. "I wanna go home."

Chris held him close. Vin was usually more stoic than this. Chris wasn't sure if it was a good or bad sign that he was showing his fear.

Buck was about to get down on the floor and play with the now abandoned JD when the boys' names were called, ahead of the other patients who were waiting.

Vin started to cry. "I don't wanna get a shot!"

The lab assistant smiled sympathetically at Chris. "Let me guess... he's about seven?"

Chris nodded.

She explained that was the age at which children most feared needles. "Younger ones can be reassured... older ones can accept it... but seven-year-olds... you just gotta let 'em scream," she laughed.

Vin stiffened in Chris's arms. "I ain't gonna scream," he said defiantly.

"Good boy," she patted him affectionately. She lead Buck and JD to a separate cubicle and then returned and began preparations to draw Vin's blood. She asked him if he wanted Chris to hold him while it was done.

Chris could tell Vin wanted to be brave, but, he nodded 'yes.' Chris hugged the little boy close.

"Vin, my name is Laura. Now.... I'm not going to tell you this won't hurt, because you're a big boy and you know better, right?"

Vin sniffed and nodded.

"But, I promise you, it won't hurt a lot, and it won't hurt very long, okay?"

Vin nodded again.

"You can cry and you can holler as loud as you want, but, you can't move. If you move, we will just have to start over again, understand?"

Vin nodded and sobbing, turned his head into Chris's chest as Laura took hold of his thin little arm. She tied a tourniquet around his upper arm and located a vein. Working quickly, she swabbed the area and pushed the needle into the tiny vessel. Vin's sobbing became a soft, high-pitched cry, but he didn't flinch. Laura quickly filled two vials with blood and then withdrew the needle and placed a cotton ball over the puncture wound.

"All done!" she told Vin, who turned to look at her in disbelief and abruptly stopped crying. She looked through a small bin of Band-Aids. "Let's see... I have colored ones, GI Joe... Harry Potter... bugs..."

"Bugs?" Vin sniffed.

She held up a band-aid with a scorpion on it.

Vin nodded eagerly, and Laura peeled the backing off the bandage and taped down the cotton ball. Vin wiped his eyes and in an instant looked as if nothing had happened. As Chris lead him back to the waiting room, they passed JD's cubicle.

"Look, JD!" Vin hurried in. "I got a bug band-aid!"

JD admired the scorpion. "Cool! Me too! I want one too!"

"Ya can only get one if ya' don't move or act like a baby," Vin advised sagely.

JD looked uncertain, suddenly remembering there was a reason for the band-aid. "'kay..."

Chris took Vin to get a soda while Laura turned her attention to JD. Buck figured she knew why JD was being tested, and admired the fact that she seemed perfectly relaxed with the little boy.

She frowned when she examined his arms, though.

"What's wrong?" Buck asked protectively.

Laura shook her head. "He's got really small veins. He's going to be a hard stick, I'm afraid."

"What's a stick?" JD asked. He knew what a stick was, but, he'd never been called one before.

Laura patted his hand. "It means you have cute little veins," she laughed.

"Oh," JD said uncertainly. "Are you gonna stick a needle in me?"

"Well... yes, JD, I am," Laura replied honestly. "But, I'll try to be quick. It will be over before you know it."

Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. JD calmly allowed her to stick him, the first time, but she was unable to get a sample. She withdrew the needle.

"Am I done?" JD said hopefully. "Can I have a bug band-aid now?"

"JD... I'm so sorry," Laura explained. "But, I didn't get any blood that time. I have to try again."

"Again?" JD's voice quaivered.


Buck held the little boy securely while Laura made a second attempt. He wasn't as brave the second time.

"Owie!" he cried as she stuck the needle in. "Ow. Ow!"

To Laura's dismay, the second attempt also failed to produce a sample.

"Are we done now?" JD sniffed.

Laura looked at Buck apologetically. She hated when this happened.

"One more time, JD," she said.

JD pulled his arm close to his body. "No!"

Buck expected Laura to try to talk JD into cooperating, but she didn't. She gently reached for his other arm. "Let's try this one," she said.

To Buck's surprise, JD cooperated. Somehow, the little boy knew instinctively that Laura was trying her best not to hurt him, and managed to forgive the fact that she already had.

To everyone's great relief, as soon as the third needle was inserted, the attached vial began to fill with blood.

JD watched, fascinated. "How much blood is that?" he asked.

"Oh... about as much as is in your little toe," she laughed. "We don't need too much."

"How much blood do I have in me?"

"Hmmm.... almost as much as a big milk bottle," she explained.

Buck could see JD thinking that over and coming to the conclusion that he would still have plenty of blood left.

When she finished, she placed a cotton ball over the puncture. "Think you can hold that there for me?" she asked JD.

Buck made a move to place his finger over the cotton, but she stopped him. Her eyes made contact with Buck's and conveyed the unspoken message Not without gloves... She placed JD's fingers over the ball and then placed his sample into a small styrofoam container along with Vin's. She taped it shut and then affixed a biohazard symbol and a small sticker with the letters 'HIV.'

Buck felt his heart sink, but JD's attention was on Laura, who was holding up the bandaid bin. "I think we need three, one for each stick," she said. "What do you think?"

JD agreed with a solemn nod and then picked out three of the colorful bandages.

As Buck stood up, Laura handed him a small plastic bag with some literature inside.

"Here's some information on pediatric HIV... It will answer some of the questions you might have about where we'll go from here, depending on the lab results."

Buck nodded. He felt numb inside. This can't be happening to JD, he thought again. He could barely keep his voice from breaking when he looked down at the little boy and forced a smile. "Ready for Pistol Pete's?" he asked.

"Yeah!" JD bounced. "Good-bye, Miss. Laura," he told the technician. "Thank you for the band-aids."


Two days later, the boys had a scheduled appointment with Dr. Lowery, the psychologist who had been working with them. In view of the recent evidence revealed by JD's x-rays, he decided to spend an extra hour with JD alone and to take a new approach with the little boy.

As he usually did, Buck watched the play therapy session through a one-way glass. Nettie was observing this time, also.

At first, they talked about JD's visit to the hospital three days before, and discussed how some children had to take medicine when they weren't sick, just so they would stay healthy. JD mentioned a classmate who required regular insulin injections, and Dr. Lowery used that to get him to talk about the idea of being subjected to a strict medication regimen. JD seemed to accept the possibility far more casually than an adult would have, which didn't surprise Nettie. Children, she had discovered, could be remarkably adaptive and relilient.

After their discussion, Dr. Lowery began the play therapy session.

"Okay, JD, today we are going to make up a story. Would you like to do that?"

JD nodded eagerly. "What kind of story?"

"Hmmmm... " Dr. Lowery pretended to think. "How about a story about a little boy?"

JD laughed. "Like me?"

"Well... maybe this little boy is a little bit younger than you," Dr. Lowery suggested.

"Okay..." JD agreed. He liked visiting Dr. Lowery. They had fun, usually.

Dr. Lowery put two dolls on the table in front of him. They were naked, and JD looked at them curiously. One of them was a boy. It looked just like him. The other one, though... it looked different. It was missing its 'privates' as Buck called them.

Well... not missing them, exactly. They were just.... different. JD picked it up and studied it. "Is this a girl?" he asked. He knew girls were different from boys, but whenever he had asked how, nobody would tell him.

Dr. Lowery answered him, though. "Yes, it is. Would you like for our story to be about a girl?"

"No way," JD put the female doll aside and picked up the boy doll. "He needs clothes."

Dr. Lowery pushed a box full of doll clothes towards JD.

Nettie explained to Buck, "Often, children who have been sexually abused will re-enact that abuse with anatomically correct dolls."

Buck's gut clenched. He was sure he wasn't ready to witness that.

"Let's pretend that he is a very little boy," Dr. Lowery suggested. "He's just a baby."

JD nodded. "Okay... he's a little baby. He needs a diaper..." There were miniature disposable diapers in the box, and JD found one and then awkwardly but effectively diapered the doll. Then, he put a small teeshirt, pants and socks on the 'baby.' "There!" he said when he was done.

"Very good," Dr. Lowery praised him. "Now, what can you tell me about this baby?" he asked.

JD thought for a moment. "He's a bad baby. He cries too much."

Lowery's voice was noncommittal. "What happens when he cries?"

JD shrugged. "Nothin'. It just gets people ag-er-vated."

"What people? Tell me about them." Lowery presented JD with another set of dolls, a man, a woman, a police officer, other children.

JD selected the man. "Here's the daddy," he said.

"What does he think about the baby?"

"He cries too much. Can't you make that kid shut up?!... That's what he asks the mommy."

Buck's heart dropped, as JD calmly picked up the 'mother' doll. "Babies are 'sposed to cry,.... that's what the mommy says."

"Go on," Dr. Lowery encouraged.

JD proceeded to act out an argument between the man and woman that ended with the "daddy" going to get the baby. JD stopped at that point. "I don't wanna do this anymore," he said.

"But, you haven't finished the story," Dr. Lowery said, his voice nonjudgmental.

JD shrugged.

Dr. Lowery didn't press him, but JD picked up the baby doll and spoke to the doctor in a reassuring voice. "His mama came and got him, anyway," he said.

Dr. Lowery frowned and pointed to the female doll whom JD had identified earlier as the 'mommy.' "Isn't that his mama?"

"No," JD said. "An' I don't wanna play this anymore."

"Okay," Dr. Lowery said. "Look on the shelf and see if there is something else you'd like to play with."

Dr. Lowery's doll shelf had interesting stuff on it, JD knew. It wasn't like a regular toy shelf. There was a box on it that had hospital stuff, like shot needles and casts and crutches for the dolls. JD pulled out the pretend shot needle and told doctor Lowery about his blood test.

"Did that frighten you?" Dr. Lowery asked.

JD shook his head. "I wasn't scared. I just didn't like it."

Dr. Lowery directed his attention back to the baby doll. "What about the little boy in our story? Did he ever go to the hospital?"

JD appeared thoughtful for a moment. He pulled a cast from the box and slipped it over the doll's leg. "There!" he said, apparently pleased with himself.

"What happened to his leg?" the doctor asked.

JD shrugged. "Dunno. Guess he broke it."

"Can you tell me how?"

JD shook his head. "He's just a stupid baby."

As Buck watched, JD casually tossed the doll aside. Buck literally cringed. Dr. Lowery explained to JD that he was going to leave for a few minutes but that he'd be back, and that JD should continue playing by hismelf.

He came out to join Buck and Nettie in the observation room. JD flitted about the room for a few minutes, checking out the other toys, but then, as they watched, he returned to the doll he had thrown aside earlier and gently put it back on the table. He sang softly while he undressed it and replaced its clothing with a sleeper, then tucked it into the doll crib.

"What's it mean?" Buck let out his breath.

Dr. Lowery shook his head. "He didn't tell me enough, unfortunately... I doubt he was sexually abused, so that's some consolation."

"How can you know?" Buck frowned.

"Children who have been sexually abused often know more than they should. If you noticed, JD seemed a bit bewildered that the anatomy of the female doll was different from his own, and the way he handled the doll... diapering it, dressing it... it was all appropriate to the situation. I didn't get a feeling that he wanted to tell me anything in that respect."

"What about physical abuse?" Nettie asked. "The broken bones?"

"Well, obviously something happened to him," Dr. Lowery said. "The x-rays are proof of that. It's possible that he doesn't want to remember it, but, it's just as likely from what I saw that he can't remember, or that he was just bored with the game. One session usually doesn't reveal everything.... but, I'll try in the future to see if he'll open up a bit more."

Buck nodded but couldn't keep one bitter thought from entering his mind. If he has a future.