First Meetings

by Jenn

Universe: Chance Meetings AU (Old West)

Author's Note: This is a new AU I’ve created. It’s open to anyone who wants to play in it. It’s set in the Old West, with Chris and Buck as children. In this AU Ezra and Travis have never met before.

Ezra P. Standish raised an eyebrow as he saw two young boys heading towards the stagecoach. He judged them both to be five or six years old, but other than age there didn't appear to be many similarities. One was lean with sandy blond hair and hazel-green eyes. The other was a bit taller and more solid, with blue eyes and dark brown hair.

Watching them together for a moment he guessed that they were best friends and closer than most brothers. He felt a moment of sadness at the thought that he'd never been allowed to have such a friend when he was growing up.

Since he'd assumed they were meeting someone getting off the stagecoach he was a bit surprised to see them hand the driver their tickets and hurry onto the coach. A moment later he handed the driver his ticket and also climbed in. To his surprise they were the only three passengers on the stagecoach.

"Good morning, Gentlemen," he greeted them. "My name is Ezra. Might I inquire as to your names?"

Buck and Chris shared a hesitant look before answering. "I'm Buck, this is Chris," replied the dark haired boy. Something about the man made the boy trust him. Looking at him again Buck decided that it was the kindness in the man's eyes. His mother had always told him that eyes are the windows to the soul, and he felt sure that Ezra had a
kind soul.

"It is a pleasure to meet two such fine young men. Might I inquire as to your destination?"

Buck glanced at Chris who nodded.

"We're goin' to a town called Four Corners. I guess the town is shaped like a square and has four corners," Buck replied.

Ezra smiled at the child's explanation for the town's name. "Well, we shall have a long trip. But perhaps we can make it go more quickly. Have either of you ever heard the stories of Aladdin and his magic lamp or Alibaba and the Forty Thieves?"

Both boys shook their heads in the negative.

"Well, we must remedy that. I happen to have the book with me and would be happy to read it to you."

"I know how to read a little," Buck proudly informed him. "Chris can too. But we aren't very good at it yet."

"That is most impressive. However I do not believe that "A Thousand and One Arabian Nights" would be the best book to continue your learning with. So perhaps I should do all the reading this time."

"Okay," agreed Buck. "You have a nice voice," said Buck, who loved Ezra's smooth, cultured voice and accent.

"Why thank you Mr. Buck," said Ezra and pulled the book from his bag.

Buck giggled, having never been called "Mister" before. He was immediately captivated by the stories and soon even Chris forgot his grief and fear as the tales unfolded. When the stagecoach stopped in a town for them and the driver to get lunch Ezra invited the boys to come to the restaurant with him for their meal. They happily agreed.

That afternoon he showed them a few cards tricks, which Buck in particular loved, and then read more of "A Thousand and One Arabian Nights".

Eight days later the stagecoach pulled into Four Corners.

"There appears to be some excitement going on," noted Ezra as they watched a mob dragging a black man into the cemetery. They watched as a beautiful blonde woman tried to stop the violence but was roughly pushed out of the way. Having seen a man push his mother down Buck felt angery and upset as he watched, knowing he couldn't help her any more than he'd been able to help his mother.

Then two young men got involved. One had long light brown hair and a rifle. The other appeared younger. He had black hair and two ivory handled Colt pistols.

All three watchers were impressed when the man with the rifle shot through the rope and freed the man the mob had been trying to hang. Ezra let out a low whistle of amazement. Buck was impressed, and Chris thought it was the most amazing thing he had ever seen. Chris vowed that one day he would be able to handle and shoot a gun. He briefly wondered if the man would teach him, since he obviously knew how to shoot, and was very good at it.

After a few minutes the excitement seemed to be over.

Ezra looked down at the two young boys. "You mentioned that you had family here. I would be more than happy to help you locate them," he offered.

Chris and Buck looked at each other. They both realized that they would now have to tell Ezra the truth. Buck was far less worried about that than Chris. A bond had grown between Buck and Ezra during the trip and he trusted Ezra. Chris, still thinking of the events that had driven them from his home, was more wary.

Buck looked up at Ezra. "We. . . we lied. We ain't got no family here." Once he'd said it Buck looked down, not wanting to see the anger and disappointment in his new friend's eyes.

Ezra knelt down on one knee so that he would be at their level. "Buck, I'm not mad at you. I've told a few lies myself in the past. Can you tell me why you came here if you don't have family here?"

"No, we can't," Chris quickly answered.

"I see. That is unfortunate. I would like to help you, if you'll let me."

Buck looked at his friend. "We do need help, Chris. We didn't ever think about what we'd do once we got here."

The blond boy remained stubbornly silent.

Ezra stood up and looked around. At the far side of town he saw an old church and decided to take the boys there. If nothing else the priest might know of a way to get the boys fed and sheltered until something more permanent could be arranged. Ezra refused to let him self dwell on the question of why making sure these two boys were safe and cared for mattered so much to him. Especially Buck. Not that he didn't like Chris, but he also felt the bond that had formed between himself and Buck.

He'd been happy that he would be in the same town as them, and was certainly not unhappy about spending more time in their company. He told himself it was simply because he loved children, not because these two boys were special to him. It didn't work. While he was an expert at lying to others, Ezra was usually very honest with himself.

"I see a church at the far end of this street. Why don't we go there?" he suggested. You will be safe there," he added, having gathered from things they'd said on the trip that safety was important to the boys.

"That sounds okay," agreed Chris. More than once his mother had told him about church and Sanctuary. He felt it would be a good, meaning safe, place to go.

Together the three of them started down the road to the church. Ezra allowed himself a smile when he felt a small hand take his. He gave Buck's hand a gentle squeeze and held it in his own as they walked.

Hearing footsteps approaching Josiah looked p from where he was working on one of the old church pews. "Welcome Brothers," he greeted as a well dressed man and two boys entered the church.

"Good afternoon. Are you perhaps the priest on this church?" inquired Ezra.

"Not really. But I may be able to help you, if that's what you're asking."

"It is," confirmed Ezra. "These two young men were on the stagecoach that just arrived. It seems that they have no family here, and are in need of food and shelter."

"We got a little money left to pay for it," offered Buck. Despite the man's large size Buck liked the man, figuring he must be a "Man of God" as his Ma had called them if he was in church on a day other than Sunday.

Josiah smiled at the boys. "Well, I think we should be able to figure something out. My name is Josiah Sanchez."

"How neglectful of me. I am Ezra P. Standish. This is Buck and Chris," he said, indicating who was who. "They have not yet given me their last names."

Chris scowled but, as usual, remained silent.

"Chris Larabee, and Buck Wilmington," he said, causing Chris to scowl at him. Used to that, he ignored it.

Just then more footsteps could be heard approaching. Looking back at the door Ezra and the boys saw the black man that had almost been hung and the two men that had saved him enter the church.

"Hello, Brother Nathan."

"Josiah, I'd like you to meet Vin Tanner and JD Dunne. They just saved me from a lynching."

"Lynching?" Josiah asked, concern clear in his voice.

"Didn't you hear all the noise?" asked the young man with black hair.

"I've been hammering things together, and haven't heard much of anything until a moment ago when I finished with the hammer," Josiah said. "You okay, Nate?"

Nathan nodded. "I'm fine Josiah. Don't go feelin' guilty 'cause you didn't hear. It isn't your fault. Why don't you introduce us to you guests?" he suggested, mostly as a way to change the subject.

Ezra stepped forward. "Ezra Standish, at your service. These young scamps are Buck and Chris," he told the three, again indicating which boy he spoke of.

"Your sons?" asked JD.

"Unfortunately, no. We simply were on the stagecoach together," Ezra explained.

"He was hoping I might be able to help find them somewhere to stay as they don't seem to have family here," Josiah added.

"Then what are you boys doin' here?" asked Vin, being careful to keep his tone gentle.

"We're just staying here a while," Chris told him. "That was a great shot you made," he added, hoping to distract the adults.

Vin recognized the ploy, but smiled anyway. "Thanks, Cowboy."

Chris glared at the man, he didn't like strangers calling him by a nickname.

The adults were all surprised by the power of the glare, coming from such a young boy. Josiah looked at the faces of the other men; usually a child attempting a glare would cause the men to smile, but they were all serious. He decided that if the boy was capable of a glare like that at his young age, he didn't want to see what the adult version of that glare would be.

"It's getting to be dinner time. Why don't we all go get some food in us? Then we can worry about finding the boys a place for the night," suggested Josiah.

At dinner Buck sat by Ezra and Chris quickly slid into the seat between Buck and Vin. He wanted to stick close to his friend, but he also somehow felt safer being near Vin. He thought maybe it was because he'd seen how well the man could shoot. And right then Chris desperately wanted to feel safe.

As the meal was almost done Ezra spoke up. "Where might one get a suitable room in this town?"

"I'm staying in the boarding house across the street. It ain't fancy, but it's clean and a decent price," Vin answered.

"I'm afraid I must leave you gentlemen and see to getting a room for the night."

"We could get a room there for tonight too," said Buck. "Just like we did in the towns on the way here. We still have some money." He didn't want to admit it aloud, but Buck wanted to stay near Ezra.

Having heard that Vin was also staying at the boarding house, and sure he would feel safer sleeping that night if Vin was close, Chris agreed with the idea. "Good idea, Buck."

"Well, it costs too much money for you boys to do that long term, but for tonight it might be the best thing," Josiah said.

The next day the five men and two boys ended up eating breakfast together. Just as they were about to leave Judge Orrin Travis entered the Hotel's dining area. He looked around then headed over to their group.

"Mr. Jackson?"

"Yes, that's me," replied Nathan.

"I'm Judge Orrin Travis. Territorial Judge for this area. My daughter in law Mary told me what happened yesterday. I just wanted to make sure you were alright, and assure you that I am not one who condones or will turn a blind eye to the kind of thing those men attempted."

"Thank you, Judge."

"I'm guessing that you two are the ones Mary said saved Mr. Jackson," he said, looking from JD to Vin, whom Mary had described to him.

"Yeah. But it wasn't a big deal," said JD. Vin just nodded his head in acknowledgement.

"I was hoping I might have a chance to talk to you gentlemen, if you have the time. All of you, I think," he added, looking at Nathan, Ezra and Josiah as well as Vin and JD.

Ten minutes later they all took seats inside the church. Travis looked at the boys, who had been curious and followed the men. "I'm not sure this is something young boys need to hear."

"We're almost six years old," Buck informed him with more than a little childish indignation in his tone.

A shadow passed through the Judge's eyes as he thought of his dead grandson Billy, who would have been the same age if he hadn't been killed with his father.

"I think you may want to speak with them, Judge," said Ezra. "They arrived here yesterday on the same stagecoach I did. Once here, they admitted that they have no family here, having told me otherwise during our trip. We have been trying to figure out the best way to . . .care for them. They have been less than forthcoming about the reason that they left their home and traveled here."

"I see. Well, you boys might as well stay then," he agreed then looked at the men. "This town doesn't have a sheriff, or anyone else to keep the peace or protect the people. I was wondering if you gentlemen might be willing to take the job."

"Sounds good to me," replied JD, loving the idea of being a lawman.

Josiah looked at Nathan. "I don't think it would be right to let the kid, uh, sorry JD, the young man, do this job all on his own."

"No, I guess not. I'm in if you are."

"We're in," Josiah told Travis.

"Reckon I wouldn't mind helping out," was Vin's answer.

They group all looked at Ezra. "I had not planned on staying in Four Corners for an extended period of time," Ezra replied.

Buck, who had been sitting with Chris and listening, was instantly on his feet and moved to stand in front of Ezra. "You're leaving?" Ezra looked down at the boy, and saw that he was fighting back tears. Ezra couldn't remember a time when anyone had been near tears at the thought of him leaving, and the sight melted his usually well-guarded heart.

"I . . . I suppose I could stay for a time," he said. Buck suddenly broke into a smile and reached to hug Ezra, giving him all the thanks he needed. Ezra lifted Buck into his arms for a hug, and Buck then remained seated on his lap. Ezra looked at the Judge. "I suppose that since I will be staying in this local I would be willing to work with the others to keep the peace."

Feeling left out now Chris moved closer to the group, and stood near Vin. Seeing the action Vin lifted Chris into his lap. Even so, he was a bit surprised when instead of trying to climb back down the boy settled against him. With Vin's arms around him Chris felt truly safe for the first time in over a week.

"Thank you, men. The pay is five dollars a week, plus room and board."

They all nodded their acceptance.

Now that the town was taken care of Travis turned his attention to the boys. "All right, boys, why don't you tell me what happened."

Chris and Buck looked at each other. "He's a Judge, Chris. We gotta tell him."

"I know," said Chris before falling silent again.

Used to how quiet his friend could be, especially when he was hurt or sad, Buck took a deep breath and began the story.

"At the end of winter everyone in town started getting sick. They called it the endfluza"

"Influenza?" asked Nathan.

"Yeah, that. My Ma got sick. So did Chris's Mom and Pa. They died." Having said that Buck stopped and blinked away a few tears. Ezra gave him a reassuring hug. Vin also hugged Chris, feeling the tension in his small frame.

"My Ma and Sara, Chris's big sister, were good friends. She said I could come and live with her, Chris and Adam, Chris's baby brother. That went real well for a while. Then the day before we met Ezra we went inta town. When we got back the house . . . it was burned down. And Sara and Adam. . ." Buck fell silent, not wanting to say it.

"They'd been burned down too?" asked Josiah in a gentle voice, using the same wording Buck had.

Buck nodded and wiped away a few tears. "The neighbors were gone over ta the next town so we hid in their house that night. The next mornin' we found the money Sara had kept hid and went inta town again. We got tickets to the stagecoach and met Ezra. Then we came here."

"Why did you get on a stagecoach? Didn't you have other friends and family there in town?"

"Nuh-uh. Not by then. The endfluza had got them too."

"And I was . . . I thought that maybe the bad person who'd burned the house might still be there. That they might find us."

The men all shared a knowing look. Chris, and no doubt Buck as well, had been scared. They all understood that Chris wouldn't want to admit it, even if he had more than enough reason to be scared.

"And you don't have any idea who might have burned the house?" 'And killed your family,' Travis silently added, but didn't say aloud.

"No. Everyone loved Sara. And Adam was barely two, everyone loved him," Chris answered.

"How old was Sara?"

"She'd just turned 17," Chris answered.

Orrin decided that he would later ask Ezra the name of the town and see if there was anyway he could make sure a quiet investigation was done. "Well, now you're here we need to figure out what to do with you."

"Are ya gonna send us back?" asked Chris, trying, but failing, to keep the fear out of his voice.

Vin tightened his hold on the boy a little to try and comfort him. No matter what the Judge said, Vin knew in his heart that he couldn't let the boys, especially Chris, be sent back into danger. At that moment he made himself a vow to keep Chris safe.

Orrin was quick to reassure him. "No. I don't think that would be a good idea until we learn more about the fire. I think it would be smart to keep you here, where you're safe. But. . . you still need guardians. Someone to look after you, like your sister did," he explained.

"Can Ezra be our guardian?" asked Buck.

"Or Vin?" Chris suggested.

Travis looked at the two men. "Well, if they're willing, I don't see why not."

Both men were shocked at the idea and soon lost in thought.

Ezra had always loved children, but never really considered that he would have one of his own so soon. He wasn't sure if he was ready for that kind of responsibility. Especially for a child who had been through what Buck had. Then he was aware that Buck had turned in his arms and was looking up at him. Seeing the hope in those eyes he found that he couldn't disappoint the boy he'd somehow bonded with. He would ensure that Buck had the love that he had missed in his own childhood.

Vin thought of the bounty on his head. His greatest worry was that someone trying to get him might hurt Chris, who'd already suffered enough. He also worried that if Chris became truly attached to him, and he was killed, Chris wouldn't be able to recover from another loss, not having already suffered so many . Then Vin looked down into eyes that seemed much to old for a six year old, and his resolve crumbled.

No matter what happened in the future, Chris needed him now. And he'd already made a vow to himself to protect the boy. He reasoned that would be easier if he was the boy's guardian.

"I would be honored to be Buck's guardian."

"I'll take good care of Chris."

The men all smiled as Buck and Chris each gave the men holding them hugs.

"Where did they stay last night?" Travis asked.

"They stayed in the room between mine and Ezra's," answered Vin.

"That sounds like a good, secure, arrangement. I'll add the money for their room and board into the money for your rooms and board." The Judge knew that giving money to take care of the boys was unusual, but he thought of Billy and knew he'd do everything he could to help the two boys who'd been through so much. If it meant explaining himself to those who'd appointed him to be Judge he was willing to deal with that. He was not willing to deal with seeing those boys suffer any more if he could prevent it, and paying for their room seemed the least he could do.

"That is most kind of you," Ezra told him.

"Thanks," was all Vin said.

"I need to get to Eagle Bend tomorrow, so I'll be leaving now. Ezra, Vin could I have a word with you first. Alone," he added looking at the boys still in their arms.

The boys reluctantly climbed off their new guardians laps and watched as the three men went outside the church.

"What town are the boys from?"

"They boarded the stagecoach in Hannover," Ezra informed the Judge.

"Okay. I know Judge Thorton, who's the Territorial Judge of that area. I'll have him do a quiet investigation. I take it you'll keep a close eye on those boys until we know what happened to the sister and brother?"

"Of course," both answered at the same time.

"I got in late last night, and hate leaving again so soon, but there's no avoiding it I guess. I'll see you men in a couple weeks."

"Safe travel," said Vin.

"Good day to you, Sir," Ezra said.

They watched as the Judge left then went back into the church.

Two days later they all ate breakfast together for the third day in a row. Without anything being said it had become a habit in only a few days.

As they finished Chris caught Vin's attention. "Do you think you could teach me how to shoot as good as you?"

"Well, a rifle is pretty big. Maybe we should start you with a pistol, like JD has," Vin suggested. He was perfectly willing to teach Chris how to hold and aim a gun, but had no intention of letting the boy anywhere near any bullets. And if they chose a small pistol, the kind most adults wore as a concealed weapon, it wouldn't be too big for the child to handle easily. Thinking of concealed weapons he glanced at Ezra's forearm. He felt sure the gambler had a small gun strapped there.

Ezra noticed Vin's look and when Vin looked up he met his eyes and gave him a small smile of acknowledgement.

"That sounds like fun," exclaimed Buck. His mother had never let him around guns, and he had consequently developed an interest in them, for the simple reason that they were forbidden.

"There's an open field behind the church. You can go there," Josiah told them. He didn't like the idea of letting the boys around guns, but at least this way he could keep an eye on things. Looking at Nathan he could see that he was thinking along the same lines.

Once they were all in the field behind the church, Ezra removed his jacket. He then removed his small derringer from its arm holster, also removing the bullets from it. He handed Vin the gun and slipped the bullets to JD, who put them in a pocket. Both young men were impressed with the slight of hand, they doubted the boys had even seen the bullets being removed or given to JD.

Vin handed the gun to Chris and a moment later let out a low whistle. The boy seemed to instinctively know how to hold and handle it. "Have you ever had a gun before?" he asked.

"No. Pa wouldn't let me near his," Chris informed him, keeping his attention on the gun in his hands. He lifted it and sighted down the barrel, just as he'd seen his father do.

"Hey, let me try it, said Buck, holding out his hand. Chris handed it over and looked at Ezra. "Why do you have the gun if you don't keep bullets in it?"

"How you know there are not any bullets in the gun?" asked Ezra.

"The revolving thing that holds the bullets was empty," replied Chris as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

"You and Buck are rather young to be holding guns that are actually loaded. Maybe in a year or two we shall see," Ezra told him, while keeping an eye on Buck.

Chris turned to Vin. "But, Vin . . . ."

"No buts, Cowboy."

Vin was surprised that Chris didn't glare or scowl at the nickname. Chris was a bit surprised himself. As he watched Buck hold the gun he realized why Vin calling him "Cowboy" was different today. Last time Vin had called him that he'd been a stranger. Now he was his guardian. And since his parents and Sara had nicknames for him he figured it was okay if Vin did too. 'But no one else,' he thought stubbornly.

"Why don't you hand me the gun back, Bucklin?" requested Ezra a few minutes later.

Buck reluctantly did so, and thought about Ezra calling him Bucklin. It had been the nickname his mother had used for him, something he'd told Ezra as hey rode in the stagecoach, and he found that he liked Ezra using it. Hearing the familiar name made him feel more secure.

That night Vin looked into the boys room to check on them before going to bed. At first glance he thought all was well, then he heard a low sound from Chris's bed. He quietly walked over to the bedside. Again Chris made a sound, and this time it sounded like a word.

"No. No. No," Chris pleaded as he helplessly watched his home burn down with Sara and Adam inside. Then he felt a hand on his shoulder and a soft voice telling him to wake up.

Seeing Chris's eyes open Vin lifted the boy up into his arms and walked to the nearby chair. When he sat down Chris tightened his grip around Vin and buried his head in Vin's chest. Not sure what else to do Vin ran his hand in soothing circles on the small back. He spoke in a quiet voice, telling Chris that it was over, that he was safe, that no one would hurt him.

After several minutes Chris seemed calmer. "Nightmare, Cowboy?" Vin asked quietly, even knowing the answer.


"Want to tell me about it?"

"Fire," was all Chris answered. It was the answer Vin had expected, and the only answer he needed.

"Is this the first time you had the nightmare?"

"No," Chris admitted.

"How often?" Vin prompted.

"Ev'ry night."

Vin hugged the child closer. If he ever got his hands on the men who'd burned down the Larabee house he'd make sure they ended up with nightmares. A grim smile touched his lips as he thought of some of the ways the Indians had taught him to do that.

"You told anyone?"

"Na. But Buck knows. He woked up once when I had one on the trip here."

"Wish I could tell you the nightmares will go away soon . . . "

"But they won't," Chris finished.

"Maybe, maybe not," Vin answered, trying to give Chris some hope.

Chris was about to say something, but yawned. "Why don't you try and get back to sleep, Cowboy."

Chris again tightened his hold on Vin.

"I'll stay here until ya fall asleep," Vin promised, and Chris relaxed. Emotionally drained, Chris soon fell asleep and Vin carried him back to his bed.

After tucking Chris in Vin went to his room and spent over an hour worrying about the boy before falling asleep himself.

The next morning after breakfast Vin quietly spoke to Ezra. "Mind watching Chris for a while?"

"Not at all. Is something amiss?"

"He had a bad nightmare last night, and it ain't the first time. I wanted to talk to Nathan and Josiah about it. You might want to talk to Buck about whether he's having nightmares."

"I shall do that. Please let me know what Mr. Sanchez and Mr. Jackson recommend to help."

"I will," agreed Vin.

With the help of JD Ezra distracted the boy while Vin went over to Nathan and Josiah. "Can I talk ta you two for a minute?"

"Of course, Brother. What's on your mind?"

"Not here," he said and led them down to the jail. Once they were all seated he told them what had happened the night before, and what Chris had told him. Both men had worried expressions by the time he was done.

"Ta be honest, I'd be more surprised, and more worried, if there weren't any nightmares. It wouldn't be normal not to after what those boys went through, 'specially Chris. I'm guessing Buck'll have a few nightmares of his own, but not as intense or frequent," said Nathan.

"But what can I do ta help him?" Vin wanted to know.

This time Josiah answered. "Just be there for him, Vin. Help him feel safe again, and loved. Comfort him after the nightmares. Then the nightmares might eventually go away."

"But there's nothing to help him now?"

"Just talking about it might help. It's not good to keep that kind of emotion inside. Especially for a child."

"Unfortunately Chris ain't much of a talker."

"Do you know if Buck is having nightmares?"

"No, but I warned Ezra that Chris was, and he's gonna talk to Buck. At least Buck will be more likely to talk about them," Vin said, thinking of the child's nearly endless chatter.

Just then Buck and Chris came running into the jail, with JD close behind them. Chris immediately ran to hide behind Vin and Buck ducked behind Josiah. "We're playing tag, and JD's 'it'," Buck told them happily. "I was 'it', but I gots him," he proudly continued.

"I do believe the game is over," drawled Ezra as he walked into the jail.

After several seconds, Buck and Chris came out from behind the chairs. "Than can we play another game?"

"I was going to the stables to see if there were any acceptable horses for sale. Would you care to join me?"


"Can I go too, Vin?"

"I'll come too," Vin answered.

"I'll come to the stables with you. I've got to get out on patrol," said JD.

Once at the stables JD saddled his horse and left for patrol. Vin and Ezra found the stable master Jeremy Holt. Vin had already met him, and introduced Ezra.

"Jeremy, this is Ezra Standish. He's lookin' for a horse."

"Well, you're in luck I got a couple good ones right now."

The boys trailed behind as the group headed out to the corral to look at the horses. Ezra was immediately impressed with a sorrel colored Thoroughbred.

Holt saw where Ezra was looking and handed him an apple. "He should come over for this."

Holt's prediction proved right and the horse quickly headed over once Ezra held the apple out.

Vin noticed hat Chris looked away from the scene, and took a couple step over to him.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothin'," Chris quickly answered.

Vin said nothing, just knelt on one knee and looked at Chris.

After a minute Chris relented. "Pa used to get our horse to come by doin' that. Sometimes he'd let me hold the apple."

Vin drew Chris close for a quick, reassuring, hug.

Wanting to distract his friend from his memories Buck spoke up. "Could we get a horse? Or even just a pony? Chris and I could even share."

That drew Ezra's attention from the horse. "I don't think so, Bucklin. Maybe . . . "

"In a few years," Buck finished. "But Chris and I can both ride," he assured the adults. Not wanting to bring up more bad memories he didn't mention that it was Chris's father who had taught them. Nor did he mention that they'd only been allowed to ride an old, gentle mare in the Larabee corral, with Chris's father in close attendance.

"I have no doubt that you are both excellent horsemen, but also too young to have a pony of your own," declared Ezra.

"Ezra's right on this," agreed Vin.

"But you will no doubt have plenty of chances to ride with Vin and myself," Ezra offered as consolation. "So what is this beauty's name?" asked Ezra as he returned his attention to the horse.

"Don't rightly know. That'd be up to you."

"Very well then, hello Chaucer."

"Chaucer?" asked Buck.

"Yes, Buck. He was a famous author a very long time ago. I'll read you some of his stories once you are older."

"I'm sure gonna be busy when I'm older," Buck muttered.

The three adults smiled. Vin took the boys to meet his horse, Peso, while Ezra finalized the deal and bought Chaucer.

The group ended up at the Saloon for an early lunch. While Vin and Ezra would never allow the boys into the Saloon in the evening, it was quiet at lunchtime, and therefore allowed.

Once they were done eating the boys wandered out onto the sidewalk, promising not to go far. Vin and Ezra took seats by the window so that they could watch the boys. There main reason for letting the boys go out was that Ezra wanted to hear what Josiah and Nathan had said about the boys nightmares.

Out on the wooded sidewalk Chris and Buck looked at the horses loosely tied to the hitching post in front if the Saloon.

With a gleam in his eyes Buck looked at his friend. "Ya know, if we borrowed one of these horses we could show Ezra and Vin what good riders we are."

Chris thought about it for a moment then smiled himself. "Then they might let us get a pony." He loved the idea of having a horse of their own. And he also missed riding, which he had loved, but not been able to do since fall. Buck was also thinking of how much fun they'd had when Mr. Larabee had taught them how to ride.

With nods to each other they walked over to the hitching post.

"This one," said Buck, pointing to the smallest of the horses.

"Yeah," agreed Chris.

"I wanna ride first," Buck said.

"Okay. You get on then I'll unhitch him." Chris didn't mind going second since that would mean Vin would be out of the Saloon in time to see him. He wanted to impress his new guardian with his riding ability.

Buck managed to climb on the horse, which was thankfully well behaved and allowed Buck's climbing without moving much.

At Buck's nod Chris unhitched the horse. Sensing it's freedom the horse neighed and moved into the street. Looking out the window Ezra and Vin saw the small figure on the horse and hurried outside, swearing under their breath.

Buck hadn't considered that with their plan he wouldn't have the reins, and therefore would have no control over the horse. He grabbed the saddle horn as the horse bucked slightly. The horse turned and was about to head out of town when Vin approached, talking softly, and reaching for the reins. The horse reared again and Buck barely managed to stay on. Vin moved closer and grabbed the reins, Ezra hurried forward and lifted Buck from the horse, hurriedly moving back out of the way as Vin calmed the horse and led him back to the hitching post.

Thankfully the man the horse belonged to was, even at the early hour, passed out drunk in the bar and knew nothing of the boys "borrowing" his horse.

Ezra set Buck down and with the horse tied up again Vin joined the other three. Buck was still clinging to Ezra, not yet over the scare he'd gotten. Chris quickly latched onto Vin.

After several long minutes the boys had calmed down. Vin looked at them. "What do ya think you were doing?" he demanded, his lingering fear making his tone harsher than he'd intended.

"Just borrowing the horse to show you that we could ride," Buck explained, then paused for a moment. "Didn't work to well did it?"

Ezra couldn't help the slight rolling of his eyes. "No, young man it did not."

"We're sorry," Chris told them.

"Sorry wouldn't have kept Buck from getting' hurt. Or the Judge from taking you away from us if he thought we couldn't keep you safe," Vin told them, trying to convince the boys of how serious things could be.

Chris, already pale from worry for his friend, lost what little color was left in his face at the thought of being taken away from Vin. "He wouldn't do that, would he?"

"Not for this," Vin reassured him. "But if stuff like this happens a lot and one of you does get hurt, he might have to. You boys gotta mind us." While Vin was worried about the possibility that they would be found unfit guardians and lose the boys, he also didn't think he could stand to see Chris hurt, or Buck. He met Ezra's eyes and saw that their thoughts and fears were the same.

"Vin is correct. We are not your parents, but we are your guardians. That means it is our job to keep you safe. If we are to do that, you need to obey us as you would have your parents. Also, besides you getting hurt there is another danger in what you did. Stealing a horse is considered a very serious offense."

"But we weren't stealin' it. Just borrowin' it," Buck told him.

"I understand that, but the owner might not, Buck. You two need to stay away from other peoples horses."

Vin nodded his agreement with what Ezra had said.

"We will. We'll be good," Buck promised.

"We'll do what you say," Chris said.

Vin and Ezra exchanged skeptical looks. They had no doubt that at the moment the boys meant their promises, but these *were* young boys, they would get into trouble. Satisfied that they had made their point Vin and Ezra led the boys away.

After a minute Vin spoke up. "You do realize that this means it will be even longer until you get a pony of your own?"

"A punishment to fit the crime," noted Ezra with approval.

The boys groaned, but didn't protest, knowing it would do no good.

The next few days past fairly quietly as Buck and Chris were on their best behavior.