"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe

Thursday was Parent's Day at the Montessori school the boys attended. Buck and Chris left work at noon so they could visit the boys' class. Buck had no experience with this sort of thing, and tragically, Adam had died just a couple of weeks after he'd started kindergarten, so, it was new to Chris, also.

The boys were in the same class, for the school actually had no grade structure. It was one of the reasons Mary Travis had recommended it, thinking it might be less stigmatizing for Vin, who was academically well behind where he should have been. JD, on the other hand had somehow learned to read, write and do simple math before he'd even started school. The public school they had been attending had placed both boys in kindergarten, where JD was bored and Vin was two years older than the other kids.

When Dr. Lowery had asked JD how he got so smart, JD had said his mama taught him. That didn't seem consistent with the suspected abuse. For certain, there were children who had academics force-fed to them from an early age, and were punished if they didn't meet strict standards, but, that didn't seem likely to have happened to JD. He loved to learn, and he did it to please himself, not because it was expected of him. He never teased or ridiculed Vin, either, which would have been an indication that he was badgered into acquiring the skills he possessed.

One of the boys' three teachers, Mrs. Roquette, greeted them when they entered the large, open-area classroom. JD sat - although in JD's case, that term was always applied loosely - at a table with two other children. They appeared to be doing a large puzzle that covered the entire table. Vin was with a group engaged in some sort of role play. He was wearing a white shirt with gold-striped black epilets on the shoulder and a black watch cap. The shirt hung almost to the floor and the sleeves had been rolled up several times, but Vin seemed perfectly happy wearing it, as well as the hat which almost covered his eyes.

JD spotted them immediately and began to bounce in his seat and wave excitedly.  The teacher with his group nodded that it was okay for him to go to Buck.

"Buck!" the little boy came running up, grabbing the big man's hand. "Come and see my school!"

JD's voice could carry a considerable distance, and Vin heard him and looked up. He smiled shyly and acknowledged Chris, and then turned his attention back to the notebook he was writing in, his little tongue poking from the corner of his mouth as he concentrated.

JD pulled Buck along and gave him a guided tour of the classroom.

"This is our garden," he pointed to a table crowded with rows of clay pots and styrofoam cups filled with potting soil. "We have beans and tomatoes and jalapenos. The jalapenos and tomatoes are for salsa. We got onions, too, but they have to stay in the dirt."

JD gave Buck just a couple of seconds to appreciate the plants before he pulled him along. "These are the cappertillers." He pointed to a row of small cardboard boxes. "They are going to have metamorph'sis and turn into butterflies!"

He took Buck to the table he'd been working at earlier. Buck saw that the puzzle was actually a large map of the world, with each piece being a country or group of islands. "This is the world," he told Buck. "There are seven continents, but one doesn't have any countries, see?" He held up Antarctica. "And Australia has only one country, so that one is easy. Australia is where kangaroos come from, did you know that?"

Buck pretended to be surprised. "Is that a fact?"

"I know all the continents and all the countries and all the capitals," JD said proudly.

Buck was shown the math area where JD explained why a circle was an ellipse, but an ellipse wasn't always a circle - something Buck had failed to comprehend even as a 10th grader. They visited the art area, where Buck was somewhat relieved to see that JD was no DaVinci - his paintings and animal sculptures looked very much like they had been done by a five-year-old.

Chris had quietly approached Vin and stood looking over his shoulder as the little boy scribbled figures in a spiral notebook. Vin's writing was difficult to read, but, that didn't seem to be the point of the exercise.

"What's that you're doing there?" he asked, squatting down to eye-level.

"It's my flight plan," Vin said. "This is our airport and I'm the pilot."

He indicated the play area and Chris noticed that a couple of children were dressed as flight attendants, another was selling "tickets," two were conducting "security searches" and the "passengers" were being seated in small wooden chairs that had been carefully arranged in two rows.

Vin continued to explain. "We are flying to New York. That's about a hundred miles. The pilot needs to know which way to fly and how fast and everything." Vin used a straight-edge to draw a vector in his notebook, and then closed it and carefully placed it on a nearby shelf. "The flight plan goes to the airport controllers so they know where the plane is going," he explained, "in case it gets lost or something."

He then took Chris on a tour of his "plane" which was, Chris learned, a Boeing 7-1007 Superjet that carried about five thousand passengers. It had a galley that served hamburgers and ice cream, and a special hatch behind the cockpit through which hijackers could be pushed out. The "flight crew," he noted, addressed Vin as "Captain Tanner," a title that the shy little boy seemed to casually accept.

It suddenly occurred to Chris that despite his shyness and reticence, Vin was a leader. The other children saw that in him and didn't question his authority even though they easily could have. How different that scenario was from the boys' previous school where Vin had seemed to want nothing more than to be invisible.

The teacher supervising the exercise, Mr. Beidler, took a moment to explain when Chris picked up Vin's flight plan and could descern no more than meaningless scribbles.

"The idea is not what Vin writes, but the fact that he understands that some information has to be recorded - that words and numbers have meaning and are important."

Chris looked more closely at the flight plan. Vin had, in fact, labeled his vector at both ends with the words "Denver" and "Nuyork" and had indicated the distance as "100 miles." He'd also recorded the type of aircraft and how fast it flew (10,000 miles an hour) and how much fuel it needed for the trip (50 gallons). The fact that the letters and numbers were not neatly formed, and words were misspelled, didn't negate the fact that Vin was incorporating details and concepts that were fairly complex. And, he seemed to be having fun at the same time. Chris realized that Mary had been right about this school being a good place for Vin.

Other parents were visiting, too, and Buck began to feel a certain devious sense of pride in the fact that JD was apparently one of the brighter kids in the school. Mrs. Roquette eagerly showed him some of JD's work, one of which was a composition book filled with row after row of seemingly jumbled letters.

"One of our projects for the younger children is for them to write their numbers from 1 to 1000," she explained. "Apparently, JD didn't find that challenging enough, so, he opted to do it in Roman numerals," she laughed.

Buck studied the block letters more closely, and only then recognized the pattern of Is, Vs, Xs and letters he had to admit he didn't even know were Roman numerals.

"Mr. Wilmington," the woman said, changing her tone suspiciously. "JD is a very bright little boy. He notices everything..."

She was hedging, Buck could tell, but he smiled and replied, "Yup, that he does."

"I understand he made a trip to the hospital last Sunday." She leveled her eyes at Buck.

Buck pushed his hair back self-consciously. "Yeah."

Mrs. Roquette's then explained that JD had brought his clinic wristband to school for show and tell, and her tone became sympathetic. "Mr. Wilmington, does JD have AIDS? If he does, we need to know."

"Why?" Buck said defensively.

Mrs. Roquette seemed to be expecting his reaction, though. "Because if he does, we need to monitor the contact he has with other children more closely, both to protect them and him."

"And you'd need to let other parents know," Buck said accusingly.

"Yes, I think they'd want that information."

Buck bristled, even though he realized his reaction was irrational. Had the situation been reversed, he'd certainly want to know if there was a possibility, however remote, that JD could be exposed to a contagious, incurable, terminal illness. "What would happen then?"

Mrs. Roquette sighed. "Well, it happened at this school about ten years ago. Several parents withdrew their children from our program. The school almost closed."

The woman was being as tactful as a saint, but Buck was getting the underlying message: If JD did test positive, it would be in the school's best interest not to have him there. Vin might not be welcome, either.

Buck nodded. "Okay, I understand. But, he was just tested. We don't have the results back yet."

"You will let us know when you find out for sure?"

Buck nodded.

"Mr. Wilmington, I want you to understand that JD will not be asked to leave, no matter what... but the situation could become awkward for all of us. We need to be prepared."

Prepared. Buck scoffed inwardly. How do you prepare for something like that?


JD had another session with Dr. Lowery on Friday. Again, Buck watched a disturbing scenario unfold as JD was engaged in play therapy.

They returned to the story they had begun in the previous session, only this time, the "little boy" was older, not a baby any more. Dr. Lowery took notes as JD told him the story of the little boy's typical day as he sat the doll in a high chair and fed it, pretended to bathe it, dressed it, read it a story... nothing traumatic or out of the ordinary.

Only when he was asked to go back again to when the boy was a baby did the story take a dramatic turn. JD seemed to become agitated as he described the home where the baby lived as a noisy, crowded place, and this time, the "crying baby" wasn't spared the wrath of "daddy."

"Stupid kid!" JD shouted, and pounded a fist into the doll. "He never shuts up!"

Dr. Lowery gently reached out and kept JD from hitting the baby doll. JD looked up at him, his eyes rimmed with tears.

"How do you think the baby feels?" Dr. Lowery asked.

JD shrugged. "He doesn't know how he feels. He's just a baby."

"Does it hurt where he got hit?"

JD glowered angrily. "Of course it does, what do ya think?... " He took a deep breath. "But then his mama came and got him, so he stopped crying then."

Dr. Lowery was confused once again. As before, JD had already paired off two adult dolls as the baby's 'daddy' and 'mommy.'

He had a hunch so he played it. "Where did the baby's mama take him?" he asked.

JD shrugged. "Dunno."

"Did they go home?"

"They went away," JD said. "Can we play Legos now?"

Dr. Lowery tossled JD's hair. "In a few minutes. I just need you to tell me a little bit more of the story, okay?"

JD nodded.

"Tell me about the little boy and his mama."

JD lowered his head. "His mama went to dream of angels," he said sadly.

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," Dr. Lowery said.

JD fished around in the toy box for a miniature Colorado Rockies baseball bat. He began to swing it like he was batting at baseballs.

"The little boy's mama likes baseball," JD said. "but one day, a bat hit her in the head and then she was hearing the angels tell their secrets, so she couldn't wake up."

Dr. Lowery raised his eyebrows. "Was the little boy there when this happened?" he asked.

JD shook his head emphatically. "No, he just had a dream about it. Then he woke up and tried to get his mama to wake up, but, she was dreaming of angels, so she couldn't."

"What happened to the little boy?"

"Oh....," JD said casually, "his brother came and got him."

Buck had witnessed the dramatic events and felt sick to his stomach. Had some bastard really pounded his fists into JD's tiny body? And JD's mother... forensic evidence indicated she had died from a blunt-force trauma to the head. A softball bat was found at the scene, but he didn't know if it had been examined as the possible murder weapon. Had JD witnessed his mother's murder?

Dr. Lowery seemed to be reading his thoughts when he left JD alone and joined him in the observation room. "I know it's not fun to watch," he said. "But, I'm getting an idea the abuse occurred very early. Somehow, he was removed from that environment and luckily was still young enough that he didn't loose his trust in adults, especially his mama. He seems to see her as some sort of savior figure."

"Did he see her killed?" Buck had to know.

Dr. Lowery shook his head. "I don't know. Chances are, if he had, he would have acted that out, rather than just telling about it, but maybe he did and has convinced himself it was just a dream - that's fairly common in children who witness traumatic events. Either way, we will have to be careful not to push him to remember."

"Why?" Buck frowned, even though he certainly didn't want JD to remember such horrific events.

"Because if it was a dream, maybe based on something JD overheard, we don't want to plant the suggestion in his mind that he really did witness her murder."

"But if he did, he might have information that could help the police solve the case." The death of JD's mother was being treated as a homicide, but police had almost nothing to go on.

Dr. Lowery held up a hand to silence Buck. "The last thing we want to do is question him."

Buck frowned. "Why not?"

"The power of suggestion is very strong in a child his age. Even older children will acuse innocent people or confess to crimes they didn't commit if you interrogate them too intensely, and it's not difficult to make a child believe he experienced something that never happened. We don't want to convince JD he witnessed his mom's murder if he didn't."

The doctor continued. "He seems to be very well-adjusted to his present situation, thanks to you and Chris... so if the issue needs to be addressed, we can do it when he's older and better able to understand."

Buck pinched the bridge of his nose. He hadn't grown up in the best of environments himself, but no one had ever beaten him until his bones were broken. "How could anyone..." his voice trailed off.

Dr. Lowery put a hand on his shoulder. "Don't let this change how you feel about JD or how you treat him," he advised. "Whatever happened to him, somehow, he's managed to heal. I think you're part of that, you and his mama."

Buck looked at the little boy, who was now happily snapping Legos together, the intense emotion of the session apparently forgotten. "He should still be with her," he said. "It's not fair."

Dr. Lowery shook his head. "No, it's not. But if he was still with her, chances are he'd have ended up watching her die before his eyes. I think fate, however cruel, stepped in at just the right time for him." He squeezed Buck's shoulder.

Buck understood then that whatever had happened to JD before, the little boy trusted him not to let it happen ever again. It was a burden almost too heavy to bear.


Dr. Two Eagles had said the lab results would take about a week. Buck had hoped that meant Friday, but it didn't happen. By Saturday, the waiting was getting to him and he was finding it difficult to put up an act for JD and pretend that nothing was wrong. Chris was better at hiding his feelings - and besides, Buck thought with uncharacteristic bitterness, it's JD we have to worry about, not Vin.

What was an already anxious situation wasn't made any better by the fact that JD had innocently told several children about the blood test, and some of them, in turn, had mentioned it to their parents.

The boys had a tee-ball game on Saturday morning and were supposed to be at the field by 11:00. At 9:00, their coach called and practically choked on his own tongue trying to tactfully find a way to say that Vin and JD weren't going to be allowed to play if they showed up. He cited injury risks, legal issues and a bunch of other crap that Buck stopped listening to thirty seconds into the conversation. Good God, JD's tests hadn't even come back yet... what was it going to be like if he tested positive?

Buck set the phone down, his gut in a knot. He was angry at the coach, but at the same time, he wasn't sure he blamed the guy. He was angry at himself, too, for wondering how he was going to feel if JD's tests did come back positive. Could he still love the little boy knowing that from then on he'd have to be meticulously careful about all those everyday 'kid' things like scraped knees and upset stomachs or run the risk of contracting a horrible disease himself? Could he still love him knowing that no matter what he did, eventually the sadistic killer virus would take JD from him.... maybe in 10 years, or maybe in 10 months? How do you love a child who is doomed?

Of course, Buck knew the painful answer to that. You gave them the same love as any other child... while all the while your heart breaks.

JD picked that moment to come running into the kitchen, the vinyl on the feet of his blue Winnie-the-Pooh sleeper acting as brakes before he could slide into Buck's legs.

"Buck, can we make Rice Krispie treats for breakfast? Who was that on the phone?  Vin can't find his T-Ball shirt..."

Buck reached down and picked the little boy up, a lump caught in his throat. The little guy had been through so much, and still he managed to laugh and smile and make other people around him feel happy just by being in his presence. Buck couldn't find his voice to speak, he just held the boy, staring at him.

"What?" JD said finally.

Buck tossled his hair. "Oh, nothin', Little Bit. Buck's just thinkin'"

"Can we make Rice Krispie treats? Mrs. Potter always lets us."

Buck frowned. "Now, JD, you know that's not true."

JD turned his eyes downward, lips in a pout. "Sometimes she does."


Chris and Buck usually fixed breakfast and ate with the boys, but even when they didn't, Buck knew full well Gloria Potter never let them have the gooey marshmallow confections in place of a meal.

"Well, she should," JD said finally.

Buck laughed in spite of his sombre mood. "I ain't sure I know how to make those," he admitted.

"It's easy! All you need is Rice Krispies and butter and smershmellows. It says on the box how to cook them."

Buck knew as a responsible adult, he was supposed to say "no" but that horrible sense of dread in the pit of his belly that told him that JD's childhood might be all the life he'd have easily overpowered his common sense. "Okay, why not?" he smiled.

"I'll get the stuff!" JD practically leaped out of his arms.

Chris appeared in the doorway. "Who was that on the phone?"

Buck gave JD a cautious glance and saw that the little boy's attention was diverted by his quest for 'smershmellows' in the pantry. "It was Brian Newton, the T-ball coach.... he said JD and Vin can skip the game today." He wasn't able to keep the bitterness out of his voice.

JD turned around. "But I don't wanna skip it," he said.

Buck sighed. If there was a condition opposite Attention Deficit Disorder, JD had it. He noticed everything, even when he appeared to be focused on something else, and Buck should have known he'd hear his remark.

Buck found himself at a loss for words. The boys enjoyed being part of a team. It gave them a sense that they belonged, and were 'as good as' the other kids.

Chris glowered at Buck. "It's okay, JD, you don't have to skip it."

"Chris, do you think it's a good idea to force the issue?" Buck said in a soft voice.

"They're going, and they're playing," Chris said flatly. Without another word, he headed for the laundry room to see if Vin's missing shirt was there.

Buck had misgivings, but he knew that if push came to shove, Chris could be very... persuasive. He hoped there wouldn't be a need to bully Brian Newton into letting the boys play. Newton was a smallish, nerdy guy who sold used cars for a living. It would be no contest.

+ + + + + + +

A few eyebrows were raised when they showed up at the field, but no one said anything, and Vin and JD didn't suspect that an attempt had been made to keep them out of the game. Buck fished in the athletic bag they'd brought along looking for the sunscreen. Vin didn't really need it - it would take more than the hour of morning sun they'd be exposed to during the game to bother him. JD, though, had very fair skin and could acquire a nasty burn in minutes if he wasn't coated with the stuff.

Another mother was applying the protective lotion to her little girl when she discovered the bottle was empty. Buck offered her theirs, and she looked at him as if the bottle contained plague before replying with a cool "no thank you."

Fine, Buck thought let your little brat barbecue. How dumb could some people be? He remembered a woman who worked at the Federal Building who refused to donate blood for fear of contracting AIDS. Buck couldn't figure that one out, either.

Despite their small size, both of the boys were good athletes. Vin had a deadly accurate throwing arm and probably could have played regular Little League if he'd been old enough. JD's short little legs carried him around the bases with remarkable speed - he was probably the fastest runner on the team. And unlike most of the other children, both of them took the simple game seriously and kept their eye on the ball, so they were good fielders and reliable batters. They also both knew they were good, so having to sit out the game on the pretense of giving the other kids a chance to play didn't wash with either of them.

"Robbie sucks," JD said bluntly when the ball rolled uncaught between the legs of the first baseman, who had probably never caught anything in his short life but a cold.

"Now JD, that isn't how we support our team mates," Newton told him, and then turned and applauded, shouting, "Nice try, Robbie!"

"It wasn't a nice try!" JD protested. "He didn't try at all... YOU SUCK, ROBBIE!"

"JD, be quiet," Vin urged.

"I wanna play. This is boring!"

"JD, if you can't be polite, you are going to have to go home," Newton said gently.

"Might as well," Vin mumbled to himself.

Chris appeared suddenly next to the coach. "Ten minutes left in the game. I think it's time you let 'em play," he indicated Vin and JD.

From his seat in the bleachers, Buck didn't have to hear the conversation to know what was being said. The boys had sat on the bench for the first 50 minutes of the game's alloted hour, and now, Chris was staring down Brian Newton. The coach looked like he wanted to protest, but he buckled under that Larabee glare.

He sent Vin and JD out onto the field.

Around him, Buck heard softly murmured remarks. Nothing he could make out clearly, but once again, he didn't have to hear to know what was being said.

The game ended with Vin snagging a grounder in center field and tossing it to JD who tagged the runner out at second base. It was a spectacular play for such tiny little guys, and the crowd momentarily forgot whatever gossip they'd been sharing and offered an appropriate cheer. Vin ducked his head and blushed while JD reveled in the attention, doing his five-year-old version of a victory dance around second base.

After the game, there were refreshments and without being told, JD apologized to Robbie for telling him he sucked. Buck noticed a few parents keeping a watchful eye out that Vin and JD didn't share food or utensils with anyone, but the morning appeared to have been saved from disaster and the boys left the field in high spirits. Buck wondered if they would always be so lucky.

He doubted it. If the test results came back positive, JD was no longer going to be a cute, charming, bright little boy to those parents. He was going to be The Kid With AIDS. And while it was extremely unlikely that Vin could have contracted the virus from JD, he would be stigmatized, too. Guilt by association.

As the two little boys climbed into the SUV, Buck couldn't help but remember how they had looked the first time he'd seen them. JD, barefoot and wearing shorts and a teeshirt that were so filthy it was impossible to tell what color they had once been. He was covered in grime from head to toe and it had taken the ER people almost two hours to thoroughly bathe him and untangle his matted hair. Vin had looked much worse, close to death from an infected wound caused by a drug dealer's stray bullet. Chris had thought he was dead.

They'd come so far in just a few short months. It just wasn't fair that all of that might be taken away.


Sunday there were still no test results. They had planned to take the horses out, which was a treat that the boys always enjoyed, but when it had started raining around 6 in the morning and by mid-afternoon still showed no signs of letting up, it was obvious they would have to cancel those plans.

Vin pretended to understand, but, he was seven, and deep down, he resented it that adults couldn't control the weather. JD pleaded that they should just put on rain coats and go anyway, not hearing Chris when he explained that the horses didn't have rain coats and probably wouldn't enjoy being taken out.

Finally, both of them conceded it was a lost cause. Buck sat reading the Sunday paper while Chris checked on the chicken and dumplings he was making for Sunday dinner. It was the only thing the ATF team leader could cook without opening cans or boxes, but the boys loved it, and it was a good day for a hearty meal.

Vin and JD had pulled out the extravagantly massive set of Legos Ezra had given them.They built a brick residence for their "torkus" - a hapless terrapin they'd found wandering in the desert who was now a pet, apparently content to endure indignities such as being boxed in by plastic bricks in return for abundant free food. There were enough blocks there to make any number of things, but when JD decided to make a fire engine, he quickly ran out of red ones. Vin had used red blocks in the race car he was making, and JD asked for them.

"No way. I'd have to take my whole car apart to get them out."

"But I neeeeeeed them!" JD whined. "I can't use another color."

"Use white," Vin shrugged. "Some fire engines have white on them."

"I don't want it white. I want it all red."

"Too bad," Vin huffed.

"Give them to me, Vin, pleeeeeeeeeasse."

"Quit whining."

"I'm not whining. Pleeeaase give me the red ones."

"No. Take them out of the torkus house."

"But that's his home."

Vin sighed, exasperated. "It's just a pretend house, JD. He won't care if you wreck it."

JD was apparently done negotiating. He simply reached over and grabbed Vin's car and began to dissassemble it.

"HEY!" Vin tried to grab it back.

Chris and Buck normally let the boys settle their own arguments, but this time, Buck could see that that intervention might be necessary.

"JD, give Vin back his Legos," he said.

"But I neeeeeed the red ones," JD pleaded his case.

Vin tried to grab the car from him, but JD refused to let go.

"JD..." Buck used his warning voice, which, as was often the case, went unheeded. JD's mind was firmly focused on those red Legos.

The boys were evenly matched for strength, so a tug-of-war ensued that JD realized he wasn't going win.

Suddenly, there was a piercing wail that could not be mistaken for anything but what it was - a child screeching in pain.

Buck quickly put his paper down as Chris came running in from the kitchen. "What happened?"

"He BIT me!" Vin cried, holding the fingers on his right hand with his left.

JD knew he'd stepped over the line. Too late, he tried to make amends. "Here Vin, you can have your car back. You can have my Legos, too!" He pushed all of the Legos on the floor in Vin's direction.

Chris picked Vin up and looked at his hand. On his middle finger, two tiny teethmarks at the base of the nail were welling with blood.

"Goddammit JD!" Chris cursed - and he was so mad that JD was afraid to remind him that he wasn't supposed to cuss. "Buck, you keep him the hell away from Vin. If he's going to act like this he can't stay here!" The harsh words horrified Chris even as he spoke them. It was one thing to loose his temper with adults, but these little boys...

Chris's mind fumbled madly for an apology, for words that could make right whatever damage he'd just done to the fragile trust the boys had managed to learn.

Not that words would be heard... JD had started to cry, too.

Buck picked the younger boy up and locked eyes with Chris and for one of the few times his life, Chris was out-glared and averted his gaze. Buck didn't say anything. He didn't have to.

"I don't want JD to go," Vin cried. "He didn't mean to!" The desperation in his voice underscored exactly what Chris feared... That Vin was thinking 'If they can get rid of JD, they can get rid of me, too.' God only knew how his thoughtless comment had affected JD.

Buck drew the little boy close and stroked his hair. "It's okay, Little Bit, Buck's got ya and he ain't lettin' you go nowhere."

Chris turned away, ashamed. "C'mon, Vin, let's go take care of your finger," he said softly.

+ + + + + + +

Chris held a cold compress against Vin's finger until the throbbing stopped and then applied an antibacterial ointment and a band-aid. While he was still mortified by what he had said to JD, he couldn't help thinking how the simple first-aid measures they had taken for granted before now seemed like pissing on a forest fire. Even if Vin tested negative - which he almost surely would - if JD was positive, the fact he'd bitten Vin would mean the older boy would now have to be subjected to repeated testing - if he hadn't, in fact, just been infected.

Chris felt sick to his stomach, partly because he knew he blamed JD for something that in no way could be the little boy's fault.

Vin was quiet and subdued. He'd quit crying the instant Chris had said JD would have to leave. Chris knew he was terrified that he'd meant those ugly words.


Two big, blue, tear-filled eyes looked up at him.

"Vin, I'm sorry. What I said to JD wasn't very nice. I was mad because you were hurt, and I didn't mean it."

"Okay," Vin said softly, but Chris knew it wasn't okay.

He pulled Vin onto his lap, and was disheartened when the little boy stiffened in his grasp as if he didn't want to be there.

"Vin, I'd never do anything to hurt you or JD, you have to believe that."

Vin nodded, but Chris knew he wasn't getting through.

"Vin, do you remember when you smashed JD's jack-o-lantern?"

Vin hung his head. "Yeah."

"After you did it, wouldn't you have done anything to take it back?"

Vin nodded. JD had been so proud and happy about his pumpkin and Vin had smashed it just because... because... well, he didn't really know why he had done it. But Chris was right. As soon as he saw how sad JD was that his pumpkin was wrecked, he wished there was a special clock that you could turn back to before you did something stupid and not do it.

Chris wasn't sure where to go from there. He and Buck had decided to wait and see if it was necessary before sharing too much with the boys about what could happen if JD did harbor the lethal virus.

"I just didn't like seeing you hurt," he said simply. "I got mad and said something before I thought about it how it would make JD feel. I'm sorry if I scared you."

Vin looked at him. Chris had long marveled at the fact that the shy little boy was one of the few people who dared to make eye contact with him.

"I think ya need to tell JD that, not me," he said softly.

Chris nodded. Vin was right.

He took the boy by the hand and they returned to the den. JD was nestled in Buck's lap, still sniffling.

Chris knelt down beside him and touched his cheek. "JD, I didn't mean to yell at you."

"I don't wanna go away," JD sobbed.

"I didn't mean that, either. I just don't want you and Vin hurting each other, okay?"

JD wasn't ready to acknowledge that maybe he had done something wrong, too. He hid his face in Buck's shirt.

Chris sighed. How could he have been so stupid?

He was trying to think of his next words when the phone rang.

It was Dr. Two Eagles and he asked for Buck.

Chris's hands were unsteady as he handed the phone to his friend.