"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe

"The boys' test results are back," Buck heard the pediatrician telling him. His heart quickened and he briefly had the irrational thought to just hang up and pretend none of this was happening. "There's no sign that either boy is infected."

"Thank you, Jesus!" Buck said, and the wide grin on his face conveyed to Chris that the news was good - JD did not have HIV.

But Buck hadn't failed to notice that there was a slight hesitation in the doctor's voice. "What else?" he asked cautiously.

"Well... it may be nothing. I am having one of the tests re-done to make sure..."

"Redone?" Buck swallowed hard.

"Not the HIV - that's pretty reliable. We'd be more likely to get a false positive than a false negative," he reassured Buck. But then he continued, "Something isn't quite right, though... nothing to worry about, healthwise, but it could raise some issues..."

"What are you talking about?" Buck wanted Two Eagles to cut to the chase, and he was concerned that he didn't. It wasn't like the man to beat around the bush like that.

"Look, this would be a lot easier to explain in person. I am going to set up a meeting. Nettie and Dr. Lowery should be here and so should the detective who is in charge of JD's mom's murder case."

Buck frowned. "What is it?"

"I'd rather wait until I know for sure. Can you be in my office at 2 pm tomorrow?"

"JD too?"

"No, he doesn't need to be here. In fact, it might be better if he's not."

"What is this about?" Buck asked again.

"Please, Buck... it may be nothing... just give me some time to make sure of what I have to tell you. Like I said, it's nothing to worry about. JD is fine. All of his blood work is perfectly normal."

Buck nodded. "Okay. 2 pm. I'll be there."

+ + + + + + +

The small family was in far better spirits as they sat down to Chris's chicken and dumplings. Chris had apologized to JD, whose ability to forgive was boundless. The tension that had been lingering all week had dissipated the instant Dr. Two Eagles had said the magic word "negative."

Buck was curious about what the doctor could possibly want to discuss with him, but that didn't dampen the mood of the afternoon. After they ate, they drove to Movie Gallery and let the boys pick out a video. Vin had been begging to see the first Lord of the Rings movie, but Nathan had cautioned Buck and Chris that it contained some rather intense scenes that might scare the boys. Even so, the events of the past few days had both of the men rethinking the importance of indulging the two little ones occasionally.

After a brief discussion to ensure that the boys understood that nothing in the film was real, Vin took the video to the counter with the five dollars Chris had given him. He wasn't tall enough to actually be seen by the cashier, who peered over the edge and smiled.

"Hi Vin," she said. The boys were regular customers.

"Hello," he said politely. "I would like this movie, please."

"Okayyy.." she looked at the title. "Is it okay for you to rent this one?"

"Uh-huh," Vin assured her.

She caught Buck's eye. "Do your dads know it's almost four hours long?" she laughed.

Vin turned to Buck, his eyes uncertain. Buck hadn't seen the movie, and hadn't realized that the original ran almost three hours - and Vin was renting the "extended version." But, he figured, what the hell. The worst that could happen was that they'd fall asleep before it was over and have to watch the rest on a school night. He nodded it was okay.

The boys enjoyed the movie, but next morning, both Buck and Chris each awoke with a warm little body in their beds, orcs, cave trolls and balrogs having found their ways into the boys' dreams. At first, Buck was guilty that he had allowed them to be frightented like that, until he realized that this was just ordinary kid stuff - he remembered curling up at the foot of his mom's bed after seeing Jaws. Not only had he been 11 or 12 at the time, they were living in Oklahoma, and he'd never even seen a beach. Over breakfast, Chris confessed to being terrorized by the flying monkeys in Wizard of Oz. Buck had a good laugh at that until Chris silenced him with an icy glare and said, "Ain't nothin' funny about those monkeys."

And it said something that both boys felt secure with their respective dads - that they trusted them to keep the monsters away. Buck shuddered though, thinking of the monster named HIV that had just reared its ugly head, against which he would have been powerless.

"I'm going to grow my hair really long, down to here," Vin announced, reaching around to indicate a spot on his lower back.

"We'll see about that," Chris said, not sure what had prompted that decision.

"Can we get a bow?" Vin asked around a mouthful of scrambled eggs.

Chris frowned. "A bow?"

"Yeah, like that guy in Lord of the Rings." Vin made the motion of drawing a bowstring and fired an imaginary arrow.

"No," Chris and Buck said in unison.

"How about swords? Can we get swords?" JD asked.

"No," Chris and Buck said in unison.

Both boys returned to their food without further argument, causing both Buck and Chris an unexpected pang of guilt. The little ones rarely asked for anything, and they never begged. Unlike most children, they took "no" for an answer, their harsh pasts having taught them that they could not expect to have anything they wanted.

Swords were out of the question - even if they knew where, exactly, one got them. But, Wal-Mart sold child-size bows. Maybe if they were supervised when they used them...

But before they got any further with that idea, Mrs. Potter arrived. She would clean up and get the boys dressed and ready for school. Chris and Buck grabbed their jackets and after a round of good-byes were out the door.

Things were back to normal. It was a great day...


2 pm found Buck in Dr. Two Eagle's waiting room, along with Nettie Wells and Ken Ryan, the detective who had investigated the death of JD's mom. Ryan was overweight, with thinning red hair and thick glasses and didn't look anything like a cop, let alone a detective. Buck had to remind himself not to make hasty judgments based on appearances. Like Buck, neither Nettie nor Ryan had any idea of the reason behind this mysterious meeting, although Detective Ryan mentioned that Dr. Two Eagles had spoken with the county coroner. Dr. Lowery soon joined them and asked them to follow him to his office, which had more room to accommodate a large group. Dr. Two Eagles was already there, standing in front of a large drawing pad on an easel.

After a round of introductions, Dr. Two Eagles began to write on the pad, the letters A, B and O.

"I am going to try to keep this as simple as possible, so bear with me..." he said. "There are two major antigens found in human blood, A and B. The presence of one or both of these antigens determines a person's blood type; A, B or AB. It is also possible for human blood to contain neither, which is what we call Type O. This is simplifying it a bit, but let's say everyone has has two genes which determine their blood type, one inherited from the father, and one from the mother. What your blood type is depends on which two you have. There are many possible combinations, but only two are of concern to us...

If you are type AB, it means you have inherited the "A" gene from one parent, and the "B" gene from the other, and you can only pass either an A or B gene to your children. Type "O" blood is what we call a recessive trait. The only way for a person to have Type O blood is if they have not inherited an A or B gene from either parent. Everyone with me so far?"

He looked around the room as heads nodded.

He set a folder down on the table. "When JD's blood was drawn it was typed as a matter of routine. And.... " He set another file down. "The same information was included in the tests which revealed that JD's mother was HIV positive."

The reason I called you all here is because JD's blood type is O - meaning he did not inherit the A or B trait from either of his parents. However, the woman we have been assuming was JD's mother is type AB... and she would have had to have passed either an A or B gene to a biological child."

He let that sink in for a moment, before he voiced the only possible conclusion. "The ME's office kept samples of her blood, and I had them type it again, to be sure. I also had our lab double check JD's blood type. Whoever this woman JD called 'mama' was, she could not possibly have given birth to him."

Buck took a moment to gather his thoughts and then looked at Ken Ryan, who sat back and exhaled sharply.

"Her personal effects..." Ryan began, "... she had pictures in her wallet of JD." He nodded towards Buck. "We showed them to the boy and he made a positive identification."

"What else do we know about her?" Buck asked, even though he was familiar with most of the details, he wasn't sure the others in the room were.

"Not much, I'm afraid. Her vehicle had Massachussetts tags, but they were expired. The address the car was traced to had the number of an apartment that no longer existed - a duplex that had been converted to a single unit almost 10 years ago. No one at the address recognized her. Her driver's license was issued by the state of New York. It appears to be authentic, but again, no one at the address listed knew her. We were never able to find a next of kin. If it wasn't for you guys..." he indicated Buck, and meant the rest of the ATF team as well, "she would have stayed buried in a pauper's field." Ezra had seen to it that arrangements for a proper burial had been carried out for the mothers of both Vin and JD.

"But what about the birth certificate?" Buck asked. Among Rachel Dunne's personal effects, they had found JD's birth certificate.

Ryan shook his head. That appears to be an authentic document. But, there's no father listed, and there isn't any real way to prove that the child on that certificate and JD are the same person.

"No footprints?" Buck asked. He'd often seen those on birth certificates.

Ryan shook his head. "Infant footprints are not reliable. Unlike fingerprints they often change over time. Hospitals normally use them only to ensure that infants can be identified in the nursery.

Buck asked what they were all wondering. "If she's not his mother, then what was he doing with her?"

"Even more importantly," Dr. Lowery spoke, "who is JD? Where is his real mother and what does he know about Rachel Dunne's death?" He went on to tell Detective Ryan about the play therapy session where JD had mentioned his "mom" being hit with a baseball bat, knowing the detective had been assuming JD had slept through his mom's murder.

"You think he saw it?" Ryan said, raking his hand through his hair. "My God...he's so little... to have seen something like that..."

Buck felt an instant liking for the portly detective. He knew the man saw ugliness in every shape and form every day, and yet it still bothered him that some children saw and experienced things no human should have to endure.

Ryan looked at Buck apologetically. "I'm going to have to question him. We'll need to fingerprint him, too, so we can run his prints through the NCMEC's data base."

Buck nodded grimly. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children had hundreds of prints on file of children whose whereabouts were a mystery. It would break his heart if JD turned out to be one of them, but at the same time, there was possibly someone out there who suffered the agony of not knowing if JD was safe or even alive. He agreed to bring the little boy in for an interview, and Ryan agreed that Dr. Lowery and Buck could observe.


JD viewed the trip to the Denver police headquarters with his usual boisterous enthusiasm. Dr. Lowery made note of the fact that uniforms didn't appear to make JD nervous. Often, children from violent environments learned to associate law enforcement personnel with the bad experience of being separated from their parents. The fact that their parents might be low-life scumbags didn't matter to little ones who didn't understand that mommy or daddy was a prostitute or a drug dealer. JD knew what police were, but he didn't seem to have any negative impressions of them. In fact, he chatted happily with any of them who were willing to pay attention to him.

He loved being fingerprinted, and was more than happy to take off his shoes and socks and actually step in the ink and make his footprints, too. He couldn't wait to tell Vin he'd seen a real jail cell, even though it was only a holding area. Detective Ryan indulged him and let him go inside, where JD asked to examine a pair of handcuffs that he promptly locked around his own wrists. Luckily, his hands were small enough to slip right out of them.

"You must have learned that trick from Billy the Kid," Detective Ryan laughed.

JD's face grew uncertain. "You put little kids in here?"

Detective Ryan ruffled his hair. "No... Billy the Kid was an outlaw. He lived a long time ago. But he was real small and the handcuffs didn't fit, so he was always escaping."

"What happened to him?" JD asked.

"Well, he finally ended up paying for all the bad things he did," Ryan spared the youngster the outlaw's bloody fate.

JD nodded solemnly and looked up at the detective. "I didn't do anything bad, did I?"

Ryan squatted down to eye level with him. "No, son. You didn't do anything bad. But, I need to ask you some questions about some things that might be scary to remember. We're going to go in a little room, just you and me, but Dr. Lowery and Buck will be close by and we can call them in any time you want. Okay?"

JD nodded.

"I'm going to get a cup of coffee... would you like a soda?"

JD nodded eagerly, but looked at Buck for approval.

Buck smiled. "It's okay, Little Bit... you go with Detective Ryan and answer his questions the best you can." The big man tried his best to keep the concern out of his voice. He had no idea what memories Ryan's interrogation would stir up.

Before they began, Lowery drew Ryan aside. "Remember, don't try to lead him in any particular direction. He's an exceptionally intelligent child and he will try to guess what you want him to say. If he can't tell you what you want to know, then you'll have to accept that."

Ryan nodded. He had interrogated children before, but wasn't comfortable with it. He had children of his own and knew how impressionable they could be at JD's age.

Ryan started a video camera that would tape JD's interview and then entered the interrogation room. Once they were comfortably seated, he produced a photo that had been among Rachel Dunne's personal effects.

"Can you tell me who this is, JD?"

JD examined the photo and then looked up at Ryan with sad brown eyes. "Mama," he said softly.

"What happened to your mama, JD?"

"She's dreaming of angels. That's what Vin said." He looked downward. "I don't think she'll ever wake up again."

"I'm sorry, JD," Ryan said softly. "I know you miss her."

JD nodded. "But I got Buck now. He takes care of me."

"Did your mama take care of you?"

JD frowned. "A'course she did. She was my mama."

Ryan smiled. "JD... the day your mama... started dreaming of angels... Do you remember what happened that day?"

"I fell asleep in the car."

"Before that. Where were you going in the car? Do you remember?"

JD shook his head.

"Where did you live? Did you have a house somewhere?"

JD shook his head again. "We did, but we were moving on. That's what mama said. We were driving in the car for a long time."

Ryan nodded. "What did you do that day?"

JD looked at him uncertainly.

"Was it something that scared you?" Ryan asked softly.

JD shook his head. "No. We went to the park. There was a picnic, so we went to eat. They had fried chicken and macaroni and hamburgers and Coke and chips and chili beans..."

"Sounds like a lot of food," Ryan interrupted the menu recitation.

"Yup," JD patted his stomach. "Mama said I was going to pop if I ate any more, but she was just kiddin'. People don't pop if they eat too much, they just frow up."

"Sounds like you had fun."

"Yep. They had games and stuff, and I played them all. So did mama. She played baseball with the grownups."

"So your mama knew the people at the picnic?"

JD figeted with his soda.


JD looked up with a guilty expression. "We only pretended to know them so we could eat."

Ryan nodded that he understood. "Did you need food?"

JD shook his head. "No.We had food in the car. But it was just peanut butter an' crackers an' milk powder. And the picnic people, they had lots of food. Mama said they'd never eat it all, so it was like we were helpin' 'em."

Ryan smiled. "I'm sure you were. So you had a good time?"

JD nodded enthusiastically. "But we had to leave, because mama got hit with a bat."

Ryan leaned forward. "Someone hit your mama?"

JD nodded. "Right here." He pointed to the side of his skull. "It made her get a headache, so we had to leave."

"Do you remember who it was who hit her with the bat?" Ryan kept the emotion out of his voice as he envisioned a young homeless mother crashing a picnic and maybe making some psycho redneck mad enough to belt her one.

"It was a man. I don't know his name."

"Was he white? Or black?"

JD giggled. "People are brown."

Detective Ryan frowned. "Brown?"

"Yeah," JD pointed to his arm. "Some are light brown, some are dark brown, some are medium brown......"

"Okay, I understand," Ryan laughed. "So was he... light brown, like you, or dark brown, like your friend Nathan, or maybe medium brown like Dr. Two Eagles?"

JD thought it over. "Like me."

What color was his hair?

JD shrugged.

"Do you think you'd know him if you saw him again?"

"I dunno. Maybe."

Buck looked at Dr. Lowery who was scribbling something in a notebook. "What? What is it?"

Dr. Lowery continued to write. "I'll tell you later."

"JD... I don't want this next question to be scary, but it might be, okay?"

JD nodded.

"This man, did your mama say anything to him?"

JD shook his head.

"Were they fighting?"

JD shrugged again. "Mama was mad her head got hit."

"What else can you tell me about this man?"

JD studied Ryan's face. "Like what?"

Lowery shook his head, knowing that JD had already given Ryan all the information he had, but was ready to make something up if it would please the detective.

Ryan looked in Lowery's direction, and nodded, indicating he realized this.

"Was he short?" he asked JD.

"Ummm... maybe."

"But, maybe he was tall?"

JD's eyes flitted around the room. "Yeah, I think he was tall."

Ryan smiled. "Okay, enough about him. What happened after you left the picnic?"

"Mama had a headache so she took some pills. She said I had to stay in my carseat. If I did, we'd get some ice cream after she took a nap."

"Did you stay in your car seat?"

JD looked downward again. "No."

"Why not, JD?"

"It was a long time. It was dark and then it was morning and I needed the baffroom real bad an' I was crying. An' then Vin came because he heard me crying. Vin said it was okay for me to get out of the car an' we went to the gas station to use the baffroom."

"Did you go back to the car?"

JD nodded, tears welling in his big dark eyes. "But mama was dreaming of angels, so Vin said I should kiss her and then go with him. He said she'd come to get me when she was done dreamin' but it might be a long time, so I couldn't stay there. Vin knew this because his mama was dreamin' of angels, too, and he was waitin' for her, but it was so long he didn't remember how many days."

He sniffed and Ryan handed him a handkerchief to blow his nose.

JD looked up at him again. "People don't usually wake up from dreamin' of angels, do they?"

Ryan pinched the bridge of his nose, self consciously dabbing at his own eyes and hoping to hell he wasn't about to say the wrong thing. "No, JD. Usually, they don't."


A uniformed officer took JD to see a real police car while Ryan conferred with Buck and Dr. Lowery.

"I was afraid we wouldn't learn too much," Ryan said. "About all we know that we didn't know before was that JD's mother was killed by a white male," he snorted. "That narrows it down to around 50 million suspects."

Dr. Lowery flipped open his electronic notebook. "I could be mistaken," he began, "but I don't think JD actually witnessed her murder."

Buck frowned. "You heard him say the guy hit his mom with a bat!"

Dr. Lowery put up his hand defensively. "I know... but it was the way he said it. Children who have witnessed acts of brutality often don't even remember the incident, and when they do, it isn't something they can easily talk about. JD was almost casual about this guy hitting his mom."

Buck's gut tightened. "You don't think he saw something like that so many times that he's... uh... what's the word?..."

"Desensitized?" Dr Lowery provided. "No, I don't think that at all. JD does not exhibit violent behavior himself, which he likely would if he had grown up in that sort of environment."

"He bit Vin a couple of days ago," Buck said.

Dr. Lowery raised an eyebrow. "Why?"

"They were fighting over some toys."

Dr. Lowery smiled. "Well, that certainly isn't something that should be encouraged, but biting is pretty common in young children. Now, if he snuck up on Vin when he was asleep and bit him  with no provocation, I'd be concerned, but from what I have seen, JD is a remarkably well adjusted. Naturally, he has some issues as a result of being orphaned and living on the streets, but, I don't think he's developed a violent pathology as a result. Neither has Vin. I am pretty sure that both boys were loved and nurtured by someone, even if they didn't have much."

Ryan was raking his hair again. "I don't know what to think. The autopsy findings stated the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the skull, which is consistent with being struck by a baseball bat.... And there was bleeding into the brain, enough to indicate that she probably lived for a few hours... But...."

"What?" Buck prodded.

Ryan shook his head. "It just occurred to me what's bothered me about this case from the start. Killing someone like that... in my experience, it's usually done in a fit of rage, and the victim is usually struck repeatedly, even after they're dead. But, the autopsy didn't find any other injuries. Just that one fatal blow."

"What does it mean?" Buck said.

"I don't know," Ryan shrugged. "I have some things I need to check out. I'll give you a call in a day or so to see if we get anything back from the NCMEC."

+ + + + + + +

JD was unusually quiet on the way home. They arrived at the ranch with an hour to spare before the school bus would drop Vin off, and well before Chris would get home from work. There were chores that needed to get done, but Buck sensed that the session with Detective Ryan had left JD troubled.

He settled into one of the two big recliners in the den and turned on Animal Planet, hoping that the little boy would want to join him.

JD accepted the unspoken invitation and climbed into Buck's lap, resting his head against the agent's broad shoulders.

After giving the child a few moments to collect his thoughts, Buck gently stroked JD's thick, black hair."What are ya thinkin' about, Little Bit?" he asked him.

"My mama," JD said softly.

"You want to tell Buck about it?" Buck said softly.

JD sniffed. "I wish she didn't go to sleep that day. If she didn't go to sleep, she woudlnt'a' started dreaming of angels."

Buck drew the little body closer to him. "JD, sometimes things just happen to folks. Ain't nothin' they coulda done or shoulda done that woulda changed it."

"She shoulda wore a helmet," JD said.

Buck frowned. "A helmet?"

"Like me an' Vin wear when we play T-ball."

Buck hesitated before asking the next question, for fear of what emotion it might invoke in JD. "JD, the man who hit your mama... Was he trying to hurt her?"

JD shook his head. "No. He was trying to hit the ball."

Buck felt suddenly relieved. Had the death of JD's mom been an accident? As tragic as that was, Buck hoped it was true, and that JD would not have to live with the knowledge his mother - or the woman he considered his 'mama' - had been taken from him by an act of violence or cruelty.


Shortly after 9 pm, there was a soft knock at the front door. It was Detective Ryan. Vin and JD were already in bed and sound asleep, as was Chris who had gone to bed early because of a 6 am meeting the next morning. Even so, Buck was careful to move to the den which was the room furthest from the bedrooms.

His heart sank to his belly when Ryan placed a photo of a dark-haired baby with big brown eyes and a cherubic smile on the coffee table.

"Thomas Shane O'Leary, age 13 months. Disappeared from a day care center in Brockton, Massachussets 4 years ago. It was believed to have been a custody dispute - the father doesn't have the child, but there is... or was...reason to suspect he was with the paternal grandparents in Canada... There's footprints on file, but like I said, those are usually difficult to match. We ran them against JD's and the result was inconclusive. But, JD's the right age and... well, you can see the resemblance for yourself. Plus the car tags and driver's license are evidence that Rachel Dunne was from the New England area."

Buck swallowed hard. "So where do we go from here?"

"A DNA analysis for Tommy's mother is already on file. We'll run a comparison with JD. If it's a match..." his voice trailed off.

"And if it isn't?"

"Then we're back to square one. We're also running a DNA analysis on Rachel Dunne's blood, to see if she's at least related to him somehow. But, JD's fingerprints don't match any of the children in the NCMEC's data base, so we narrowed it down to the missing children we don't have prints on. From there, we narrowed it to the age range, sex, and physical description. Really, Buck...., " Ryan paused. "If JD is any of them, he's Tommy O'Leary... and if he's not Tommy, then we still don't know who he is, or how he came to be with Rachel Dunne.... If that was really her name."

Buck frowned. He hadn't thought of the possibility that JD's "mama" was not who she said she was.

"We're going through the NCIC looking at every Rachel Dunne we can find. If one of them has gone missing, then we might learn something.... Oh, one more thing..." Ryan pulled a folded piece of paper from his jacket pocket and handed it to Buck.

"It's a report of a 911 call that was dispatched to Washington park last May."

Buck read the document. Dunne, R. - female, age approximately 25-30, struck in the head with a bat during a softball game. Refused treatment.

Buck's heart sank. There were any number of reasons she could have refused to let the paramedics take her to the hospital. No way to pay the bill was probably one of them. No one to take care of JD was another. The incident had also probably drawn attention to the fact that she and JD did not belong there at the picnic.

He it had even entered the young woman's mind as she lay down to sleep off her headache that she was going to die, right there in her car, alone with her child? Buck doubted it, and somehow, that made her story even sadder.

It seemed likely that Rachel Dunne had never been told she was infected with HIV. According to the hospital that had run the test on her, she had come to the ER complaining of stomach pains. There was no record she was ever seen there again, and no prescription drugs were found with her. Would she have done things differently had she known?

"So," Ryan sighed, "it looks like her death probably wasn't a homicide after all. At least JD will have that to hold onto."

Buck nodded absently as Ryan said his good-byes. He felt numb and cold. The waiting game was starting all over again. The numbing fear that he might lose JD to AIDS had been replaced by the heart-wrenching possibility that he might have to turn JD over to people the little guy didn't even remember. Maybe the same people who had hit a baby hard enough to break his tiny bones.... People who might have killed JD if he had stayed with them.

Even though it went against all of his law enforcement instincts, he discovered himself toying with the idea of just taking JD and running. Inez had family in Mexico - and he was sure she'd put him in contact with someone if he explained the situation to her. Getting across the border would be no problem for him as a federal agent, if he could do it before anyone suspected he was leaving the country. Even by car, they could be in Mexico in less than 12 hours....

Common sense took over and he decided to wait out the results of the DNA test, but in his gut he knew that there was no way he'd turn JD over to anyone just because some stupid test said they deserved to have him, no matter what they had done or might do to him.

Nope, no way in hell.


There was another week of waiting before Buck would know what the future held in store for him and JD. During that time, he prepared himself for the worst, and tried to prepare JD for the possibility that he would be separated from Vin, only to realize that the consequences of doing that would be devastating for both boys.

In many ways, the boys were closer than brothers. Vin's sessions with Dr. Lowery revealed that the little boy believed he maybe could have prevented his mom's death, that somehow, he hadn't cared for her like he should have. He transferred that guilt to an almost overwhelming sense of responsibilty for JD. JD was his anchor, his reason for continuing to survive in a situation that must have seemed hopeless to the 7-year-old.

There was also now evidence that JD was not entirely the happy tot he appeared to be. If Vin was happy, JD was happy. If Vin wasn't, then JD wasn't either. It wasn't due to the fact that they were close, but rather it seemed almost as if the smaller boy took his emotional cues from the older one, as if he were afraid to experience his own feelings.

JD had two more sessions with Dr. Lowery that week, and during both of them, a darker side emerged. He obviously remembered the abuse he had suffered, even if it was only on a subconscious level. And he really did seem to view his 'mama' as his saviour, a feeling he had transferred to Vin. Because he clearly loved the woman, whoever she was, it would be difficult to address the fact that she might have simply taken him from his real parents. His emotional attachments to her, and to Vin and to Buck as well, would all be ripped apart if he was reunited with his biological family. Without the continued support of someone like Dr. Lowery - which there was no assurance he would get - he might not survive the experience and still be the same reasonably well-adjusted child that he was.

That broke Buck's heart. In his mind, he had created a checklist of things that would fit into two suitcases, and he'd mentally mapped out the quickest route to El Paso, the nearest border crossing to Denver. In the meantime, he had a friend at the FBI run a background check on Tommy O'Leary's parents. Neither of them had a police record of any kind, and there were no hospital records on Tommy that indicated abuse. The suspicion that Tommy's disappearance was actually a parental abduction stemmed from the fact that their divorce had come about due to an extra-marital affair - Tommy was living with his mother and her new lover at the time he disappeared. Anything could have motivated his father to remove him from that environment, from concern for the child's well-being all the way down the list to plain old jealous revenge.

It occurred to Buck that if JD wasn't Tommy, there were still troubling questions to be answered. Had JD's father known or cared that JD was missing? Had he even known JD existed? And what about JD's mother? Why hadn't she filed a missing child report on him? Had she entrusted him to Rachel Dunne, or simply abandoned him somewhere? Or worse, traded him for drugs or money to buy them? Was she even alive?

There was just no way for Buck to know what kind of people he'd be turning JD over to - and he had to know.

Vin sensed something was wrong. He was a quiet and well-behaved little boy, but during that week, he seemed to be walking on eggshells, going out of his way to be helpful and obedient. Buck knew that if JD were taken away, Vin would think it was because of something he did, no matter how hard they tried to explain it to him.

On Friday afternoon, Buck tried to put his bitter thoughts aside as he sat in his comfortable recliner with two warm little bodies snuggled up on either side. He had taken the afternoons off from work every day that week, so that he could pick up the boys from school and spend time with them before Chris came home.  The night before had been especially tough. After much soul-searching, the two men had decided to sit the boys down and prepare them for the worst, but when it came down to the wire, they weren't able to do it. God only knew how they would break the news to them if JD had to leave. Buck had made a choice to avoid the issue until they absolutely had to confront it. If these were to be their last days with JD, he wanted to fill them with as many happy memories as he could, not only for JD and Vin, but for himself.

It was raining again, so they had decided that it was a good day for a story. Ezra, with his own unique brand of wisdom, had given the boys a copy of Rudyard Kipling's Captains Courageous. Buck and Chris at first thought it was too advanced a story for the little guys, but they'd become quickly enthralled with the tale of a young boy whose life is dramatically changed by a misfortune that turns out to be the best thing that ever happened to him. This was the second time reading it. Ezra had said it was his 'autobiography,' and as Buck had gotten further into the book, he was fully able to imagine Ezra as the arrogant and spoiled little Harvey - and he wondered what and who had made the big difference between the man Ezra had become and the one he could have been. Yes, the southerner was still arrogant and spoiled, but he was like a boiled egg - all the good stuff was inside a perfect, but fragile shell. He wondered if, in their own ways, JD and Vin also saw a bit of themselves in the boy in the book - rescued from the brink of death and then thrust into an entirely new way of life with men who didn't have to care about them, but did.

They had taken a break for some hot cocoa when the phone rang. Buck was in mid-pour with a kettle of boiling water and could only stand by helplessly as two sets of little feet stampeded towards the phone.

JD got there first. "H'llo? Who's this?"

"JD!" Vin reminded him of his manners.

"Oh... I just meant, hello," JD corrected himself.

JD listened intently while the caller spoke and then wordlessly dropped the phone and came running towards Buck. About halfway there, he turned around, went back to the phone, picked it up and said "One moment, please," before dropping it again. "BUCK! IT'S FOR YOU!" he shouted from three feet away.

Buck had almost become accustomed to the sense of dread he felt as he picked up the phone. So many days of bracing for bad news did that to you. It was Detective Ryan.

"Hi Buck..." he said.

Buck felt his gut clench, because Ryan's tone of voice revealed nothing. "You have the test results?" he asked softly?

"Well, in a way.... When Boston PD pinned him to the wall, Tommy O'Leary's father admitted the boy is in Saskatchewan."

Buck let out breath he wasn't aware he'd been holding. "So, JD isn't him?"

"The Canadian police are verifying that the boy in Saskatchewan is Tommy O'Leary, but, yeah, it looks like it's not JD. Also, the DNA test on Rachel Dunne came back. She's definitely not his biological mother..."

"And?" Buck knew there was something Ryan wasn't telling him.

Ryan sighed. "The forensic people were thorough with this one. Guess the little guy kinda got to everyone here..."

Buck smiled. JD could do that.

"They ran his DNA test against the national data base. There was a paternal match."

Buck's heart sank. "So you found his father?"

There was a pause. "There was match to three DNA samples on file... taken from three different rape victims. The perp has never been caught, so we don't know who he is."

"Oh my God," Buck whispered. He looked over at JD who was trying to pour an entire bag of miniature 'smershmellows' into his cup of cocoa. What kind of hell had this tiny little boy endured in his young life?

"I guess on the positive side," Ryan began, "it's a virtual impossibility that he'd ever get custody of JD, even if we do find him, and if we look for him, it's going to be so we can lock him up and toss out the key."

Buck's heart fluttered in his chest. "So what you're saying is..."

"That JD stays where he is."

A grin spread across Buck's face and for perhaps the first time, he truly realized how heartbroken he would have been had the news been different.

He thanked Ryan and hung up the phone just as JD attempted to press a small mountain of mini-marshmallows into his mug of hot cocoa, which caused the liquid to overflow the brim.

"JD, yer makin' a mess!" Vin scolded.

JD watched the puddle of cocoa spreading across the table and looked up at Buck with big dark eyes that betrayed a hint of fear.

Buck had seen that look before, and it hurt to know that something deep down inside JD told him that if he made mistakes - if he cried, or was too loud, or too active, or just plain too much trouble, he'd be hurt. How hard Rachel Dunne must have worked to have brought out the bright, funny, happy little boy inside JD. Whatever 'crime' she may have committed in order to become JD's 'mama' - well, God bless her for it.

Buck laughed and tossed JD up on his shoulders and spun him around, saying, "Looks like ya need a bigger mug, there, Li'l' Bit!"

Vin sighed. No matter what JD did, Buck thought he was cute.

Unexpectedly, Vin found Buck's strong arms around his waist, too, and he hugged both boys tight. "Did ol' Buck ever tell ya he loves you guys?"


Chris had come home early from work after Buck had called him with the good news. They  had taken the horses out for a late afternoon ride and then had grilled hamburgers on the barbecue for dinner. Afterwards it was bath time and then they decided to let the boys stay up until they fell asleep since there was no school the next day.

Buck didn't even mind that they want to watch the epic-length Lord of the Rings movie again. What the heck, it was a good movie.

Chris sat with his head against the back of the sofa, snoring softly. Vin was curled up on the couch covered in an afghan with his head resting on Chris's leg, sound asleep.

Buck sat in the recliner with JD nestled comfortably in his lap, filling his arms with warmth. He could feel JD's strong little heart beating against his chest and with each breath came the scent of baby shampoo, the fabric softener Mrs. Potter had used on his Winnie-the-Pooh pajamas, and the smell that was uniquely JD.

Buck's thoughts were invaded by the horror stories he'd seen and heard as a cop. Kids beaten, tortured, abandoned and even sold into slavery by the people who should have loved and protected them. He looked at the little sleeping boy in his arms and wondered if, had fate not intervened in so many ways, JD would have been just another statistic. Another kid brought to an ER with fatal injuries, or to die from an untreated illness, or to have his very soul destroyed by being used in ways no child should even know about, let alone experience.

Rachel Dunne had been able to give him little else, but she had saved him from that. She wasn't dreaming of angels - she was an angel, and Buck was sure she still watched over them both.

It nagged at him though, that somewhere, out there, JD's real mother could very possibly still be alive. Did she know what had happened to him? Did she care? Was she looking for him? Or was she the one who had hurt him?

He sighed, readjusting the sleeping bundle in his arms. He gently kissed the top of JD's head and wondered, "Where did you come from JD? Whose little boy are you?"

JD sighed and stuck his thumb in his mouth, and Buck realized that he already knew the answer to the second question....

You're mine.