A Change in Plans

by Anneack

Little Britches Alternate "50s" Universe

Notes: My thanks to Phyllis and Toni for betaing this.

"What! What do you mean They've changed their mind?" Police Sergeant Chris Larabee growled.

It had only been six weeks since he had taken in two boys and been granted guardianship over them. He had expected that he and Nettie Wells from Child Welfare Services would be seeing one another as part of her regular check of the children whose wellbeing was her responsibility. He had not expected to be called into her office for a meeting this soon.

"I mean that CPS, in its infinite wisdom," Nettie said sarcastically, "decided that both boys were too much for you."

"What makes them think that?" he asked in disbelief. Mentally running through the list of things the boys had done, nothing jumped out at him as more than normal childhood mischief that any boys Vin and JD's age would get into. They had certainly not gotten into anything close to the kinds of trouble they had been in before he had taken them in.

"Chris, all I can tell you is that concerns were raised about your ability to keep a handle on both of the boys together. For whatever reason, when Mr. Morgan reviewed the situation and your petition for both boys, he agreed that they were too much and instructed me to inform you that when suitable arrangements have been made, one of them will have to go," Nettie explained. She hated this. Peter Morgan could not have been more wrong. The boys needed to be together and they needed to be with Chris. Unfortunately, as Morgan was her boss, there was not a blessed thing she could do.

"So, now I have to decide which of my boys is staying?" Chris looked at her incredulously. How could she expect him to do that knowing the kind of families the boys had been in before and that the one he gave up was likely to be going back to? Correction, how could Pete Morgan? Nettie was innocent of this outrage.

"I can't tell you how sorry I am," she sympathized.

"Do you have any suggestions on what to do?" He asked, sighing heavily.

"You can take it to the family court and repetition the court and try to change their minds about this. That's about all you can do. If you do have to surrender one of them, Vin being older and part Indian would be much harder to place and likely end up in a group home," she advised quietly. When Chris had taken the pair into his home, he had taken them into his heart as well. She had hoped that two of her favorite boys would no longer be her concern. Well, not officially; she never stopped caring about any of her children.

Chris nodded; he understood what she was saying, but nothing about giving up either of the boys felt right. He would talk to Ezra; as a lawyer, Ezra might be able to help him fight this, or at least tell him who could help him.

He would wait until he has spoken to the southerner before telling the boys about this. At least then he would have a plan on what they were going to do to fight this.

He thanked her for telling him and headed out.

Before returning to his patrol car and backing up whichever of his men was needing it, he stepped into a corner drug store to make a call. He left with an appointment to see Ezra at the house the next night.

+ + + + + + +

The two boys tumbled off the bus in the headlong fashion of a nine and eleven year old. Holding their books tight, they laughed and raced one another down the street towards the house. It was late spring and they were feeling good. Grinning, they each dove behind a tree as they neared the house they lived in.

They could just see the head of the large black mongrel dog as they each dashed to another tree, one step closer to the house. By the time they reached the front yard of their house, the dog was standing and jumping up and down in excitement.

The boys knew the game of hide and seek was on the brink of going too far and stepped out from behind the trees and headed to the house.

Both boys cringed as they saw Obi, everyone called him that even though his name was Obsidian, launch himself through the screen to get to the boys.

Seeing the hole in the screen both boys winced. Chris was not going to be happy when he got home.

"I saw some netting when I was up in the attic with Chris on Saturday. We can put that over the hole and then at least we won't get bugs and stuff in the house," Vin suggested. If they at least patched it, maybe they wouldn't get in very much trouble.

"Should we get Lucy?" JD asked. She was a high school girl and in charge today while Chris was at work. Normally Maria watched them , but sometimes Lucy did. Usually Lucy just unlocked the door so the boys could get in the house and then wandered two houses down to her boyfriend, Luther's house. They had a hunch maybe she wasn't supposed to do that, but she said it was okay and Chris said to mind her while he was gone. Besides, they would both came back over and play with them later, so it wasn't as if they were being ignored. They just had free time for an hour or so.

"I don't think she could do anything else."

"Okay," JD agreed. They would fix it as best they could and apologize when Chris got home.

Vin went up in the attic and hauled the netting down. JD grabbed some scissors and cut it to fit. Then, with JD holding it in place, Vin taped it in place. It didn't look really nice, but it would work.

The boys grabbed snacks from the refrigerator. Chris always put them in the same place so they knew what they were allowed to eat, anything else they had to ask. Having eaten, they pulled out their homework. If they got most of it done now they would be free to play when Chris got home.

An hour later, homework done, they ran down to the creek. It was within seeing and yelling distance of the house so they didn't have to ask to go there. Obi wasn't allowed to come since Chris thought it likely ducks or geese were nesting there and probably had young. He didn't want the dog disturbing them. Lucy would call them before too long and then the three of them, and maybe Luther too, would do something.

Before long there was a piercing whistle that brought both boys running.

Buck had come home with Chris. He had always been a frequent guest at his friend's house and was there even more now that he had the boys. When they arrived, Chris stopped and stared wide-eyed; Buck blinked and gaped. There, taped over the huge rip in the screen, was Sarah's bridal veil. Or, to be more exact, the remains of it.

"Now, stud, they had no idea what that was," Buck said quickly.

The blond took a deep breath. "No, they probably didn't since I don't think either one has ever been to a wedding. Lucy would have, though. This is the kind of thing that is supposed to be prevented by hiring someone to watch your kids while you're at work."

Buck winced; this was going to get ugly, and he did hate ugly. Thankfully, his friend was not angry with the boys. They had tried to fix the damage done by an over excited dog. However, Lucy was supposed to have been watching the boys and had evidently not been. Or at least had not been watching closely to see what they were doing and prevent it. She was the one Chris was livid with.

Coming into the house, they found it was empty.

Obi greeted them, whining.

"Well, with the dog here, the boys are probably at the creek. Anywhere else, they would have taken him along," Chris said through clenched teeth. Lucy, at least, would know to leave him a note if she had taken the kids somewhere.

Buck stepped out back and whistled. Chris would need a minute to get his temper in check.

Both boys came barreling at him, grinning.

"Buck! You should see how big the ducklings and goslings are!" JD started talking almost before they had gotten to the large man.

"They do grow fast."

"Hey Chris!" both boys greeted the blond as they followed Buck into the house.

"Sorry about the screen. We were playing hide and seek with Obi on the way home and he got a little too into the game I guess," Vin immediately apologized.

"Hide and seek?" Chris asked.

"We hide from him on the walk home, going from tree to tree and see if he can find us," JD explained.

Chris sat down.

"Boys, that's not playing; it's teasing and I do not ever want you to do that to any animal. I understand that you thought it was a game, so you're not in trouble. But you will be if I ever hear of you teasing an animal again." He looked from one boy to the other.

JD was biting his lip.

Vin nodded.

"Okay. Where's Lucy?" Chris asked.

JD looked at Vin uncertainly. Chris had said they weren't in trouble, but well...

"She gives us free time for about an hour after school. We do homework and go see the animals at the creek," Vin began.

"And where is she while you two are having free time?" Chris asked. He had liked Lucy, she was a nice enough girl and had seemed responsible. That was why he had allowed her to fill in for Maria while she was out of town. She was from Josiah's church and he had nothing but good things to say about her. It would appear they had been mistaken. Well, at least the boys hadn't come to any harm.

"She's seeing Luther. He just lives two houses down so if we need her during our free time we just go and get her. She said that was okay," JD answered nervously. Apparently, it was not okay and they were all in trouble.

Chris took a deep breath. Like most children of alcoholics, JD tended to get stressed around conflict and assumed that he was the cause of it, or at least, would be getting the blame.

"JD, I'm not angry with you. She said it was okay, so as far as you knew, it was. Her job is to take care of you boys until I get home; she wasn't doing that. She and I will work that out," he tried to assure both boys. Vin didn't get as troubled by conflict as JD, but it made him nervous. Like JD, he had often gotten the blame even if he had nothing to do with the problem.

"Boys, why don't we head to the Saloon for some dinner?" Buck asked jovially. Chris would no doubt be having words with Lucy, so best to get the kids someplace else.

"Yeah!" Both boys jumped up excitedly. They loved going to the saloon. Technically, it was The Standish Tavern and Grill, but most people just called it the Saloon in reference to its Old West motif. It was one of Ezra's many successful ventures into commerce.

"I'll catch up with you there, I need to talk to Lucy," Chris told the boys. The look he gave Buck was thanks enough.

Chris was heading to Luther's while the boys piled into the cab of Buck's pickup. He was wearing a scowl that Adam as a four year old had dubbed his 'grrrr' look. Buck hurried around to the driver's side. It had certainly been an eventful half hour.

+ + + + + + +

Buck and the boys sat down in their usual booth. He tried not to look disappointed that Inez, the manager of the establishment, had not been free to take their order like she usually did. As much as he loved the ladies, there was something special about Inez. Sadly, so far he had not even gotten a date with the saucy Mexican. In the meantime they were enjoying a flirtatious battle of wits.

The boys sighed wistfully as they saw a Harley and an Indian motorcycle pull up in front of the eatery.

"Don't even think about it, boys," Buck advised, grinning. Something told Buck as soon as they could drive, they would be begging Chris for motorcycles.

"They're really cool," JD informed him.

"They're really dangerous," Buck countered.

"I'd rather have Peso," Vin said quietly.

"Peso?" Buck asked.

"He was my horse. Grandpa was going to keep him for me even when he had to sell off the rest of the stock cause he was gettin' sick," Vin explained.

"You had your own horse? Where is he now?" JD asked.

"Don't know, Grandpa probably had to sell him after I left," Vin said sadly.

Buck tried not to smile as he saw Chris nod slightly from behind the boys. He had heard.

"My aunt and uncle have a ranch just out of town. We'll see about finding a special horse for you to ride there," Chris said, joining them.

"Me too? JD asked quickly.

"Both of you," Chris assured him.

"He wouldn't be mine, like Peso was," Vin said.

"No, it wouldn't be the same," Chris sympathized, "You might find yourself liking that horse, too, though."

Vin gave a slow smile. "Thanks."

"When can we go and see the horses?" JD asked excitedly.

"This weekend," Chris promised.

Vin recovered quickly, and both boys started chattering and asking questions about the ranch and its horses. They found out that Chris and Buck both had horses out there and helped in the breaking. Ezra boarded a horse there as well. Josiah and Nathan didn't own horses, but they had ones they borrowed and rode.

Silence descended as the food arrived.

"You boys remember Nathan's wife, Rain right?" Chris asked them.

They both nodded.

"She's going to be watching you tomorrow after school," Chris informed them.

"She makes great cookies," Vin commented.

JD rubbed his tummy in agreement.

"After that is my day off, and then Maria's back," Chris finished.

"We're real sorry about the screen. We tried to fix it good enough to keep the bugs and stuff out with that netting," Vin apologized.

Buck coughed, almost choking on his beer.

Chris took a deep breath. "I appreciate that you tried to fix it. From now on, though, if something is not yours, you need to ask before using it; even if it's in the attic."

Two heads bobbed in acknowledgement and understanding.

The four smiled as Inez approached.

"I was wondering if the boys would like to see some kittens? Bitsy had a litter a few days ago," Inez offered.

Excitedly, the boys followed after her.

"Are you ever going to tell them that wasn't netting?" Buck asked.

"They didn't know and feel bad enough. The responsibility was Lucy's; since she wasn't there like she was supposed to be," Chris said taking a bite of his steak.

"What'll you do about it?" Buck asked.

"The dress was Sarah's mother's, the veil she had gotten. It was being saved for our daughter," Chris said, closing his eyes.

Buck sighed. Sarah had been pregnant with when she died. They both thought it was a girl.

"I'll see if Josiah knows of any brides in his church that could use a dress, and a veil that needs some repairs," Chris said finally.

"I'd guess there'll be at least one woman in the church that's getting married and will really appreciate getting it," Buck responded.

Chris nodded. He had his memories and pictures of his and Sarah's wedding. It was time to let the dress go.

Dinner over and Inez thanked, the foursome headed back to the house. Ezra arrived and took charge of the boys while Chris and Buck headed off to the rest of their double shift.

+ + + + + + +

"Do you have any homework tonight?" Ezra asked after he had read off spelling words and quizzed on state capitols.

"No, we finished it up this afternoon," JD replied.

"Well done. What fascinating new things are you learning at school?"

"We each have to do a report on a state. JD picked Massachusetts, I'm doing Oklahoma," Vin replied.

"And we're learning about blood. It comes in types. The school nurse came in and typed us so we found out what blood type we had!" JD added excitedly.

"Indeed. And what type were you?" Ezra asked.

"B negative. Do you know your type?"

"AB positive," The man replied. He had been typed when he enlisted in the Army and it's intelligence division during the war.

"How about you, Vin?" Ezra asked.

"I'm type O," Vin told him.

"It would appear that we cover all three blood types," Ezra grinned to his charges.

When the boys ablutions were seen to and they had retired to bed for the night, Ezra sat in the easy chair and pulled out his briefcase. Before opening it, however, he got up and went to the phone.

"Mrs.Wells? Ezra. My apologies for calling at this hour. Would you by any chance have a copy of Mister Dunne's Birth Certificate or health file? ... The lad's fine, I was merely looking into options in regard to some difficulties Mister Larabee is facing." Ezra explained.

Ezra swallowed a sip of his coffee. "I'm needing to find out his mother's blood type and what hospital he was born in."

"Type O, very interesting. Thank you," Ezra beamed as he hung up the phone.

Quickly he dialed another number. "Nathan? Ezra. Jack Dunne was treated at your hospital once was he not? Yes, I thought he had been. Do you by chance have his blood type on record? If you could call me tomorrow with it that would be most helpful. If my hunch proves to be accurate I'll let you know what this was about," Ezra assured him before disconnecting the call.

"Jack Dunne, if you have the same unique blood type as JD, then my mother is a philanthropist," Ezra muttered.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah yawned and stretched as he got up. Most of his notes were ready; now he just had to get them in the right order for Sunday's sermon. Well, as it was nearly midnight, that would have to wait at least until tomorrow.

In the corner, he glimpsed the bridal gown that Chris was donating to the church to be given to a bride in need. Well, there were plenty of those. He would let Mrs. Conklin know about it in the morning and she would be able to see that it got to where it was needed.

Walking through the sanctuary on his way from his office to the rectory where he lived, he saw a shape in the shadows, laying on the pew.

He did occasionally get people in this late. Some of them needed a place to sleep (they generally ended up in his guest room) or were troubled and in need of his assistance. Walking over he looked down and took a deep breath.

"Vin?" He shook the boy's shoulder.

"Hi," Vin wiped the sleep from his eyes.

"Hello. What are you doing here at this hour? Is JD with you?" Josiah asked.

"No, he's at home. I, um, I need, I want to, can anyone get sanitary from the church?"

Josiah sat down and then stared at his young friend, trying not to laugh "You mean sanctuary?"

"Yeah, that," Vin nodded. "I heard or read something about folks claiming sanctuary in the church."

Josiah nodded slowly. When Chris got hold of him, the kid just might be needing that. The blond was likely half crazy by now.

"Why are you needing a refuge?" Josiah asked.

"I, I had to get up earlier tonight and I heard Ezra and Chris talking. Chris can't keep me and JD both. I figured if I left, then JD could stay. So I came here until I could figure out where to go next," Vin explained.

"Vin, it's good of you to be willing to sacrifice for JD like that. But, it's not your call. Chris loves and wants both of you and he WILL find away to keep you both, and if he can't find one then Ezra will," Josiah assured him.

"But, they won't let him. Just like they wouldn't let Grandpa. He knew he was getting sick, so he was making plans for me to stay with Kojay and Chanu but they wouldn't listen when he told them that and they made him give me to my uncle," Vin sniffed.

Josiah reached over and hugged the lost child. This was the first time he had ever mentioned his family and friends on the reservation.

"We'll figure something out, but before we do anything, we have to call Chris before he mobilizes the entire police force to find you," Josiah instructed, standing up.

Vin got up and allowed himself to be guided to the priest's home.

Josiah got Vin some cookies and a glass of milk. It was late for a snack, but he remember when he was a boy that his mother said they could solve almost anything. Back then they had seemed to be able to.

Picking up the phone he called Chris.

Blocks away the blond was glaring at Ezra. "What is this?"

Ezra sighed. He had been afraid his friend might see that. "It's a petition for guardianship. As you well know I abhor gambling and so leave nothing to chance. Should the worst befall us and one of the boys have to leave, I will request and very likely receive guardianship of him myself," Ezra explained.

Chris took a deep breath. "Do you think it's going to come to that?"

"No, but I believe in being prepared for any and all eventualities. It would be criminal for either of those children to return to the lives they had. I was merely ensuring that that would never happen. I have every confidence that we will prevail," Ezra assured him.

"Thank you."

The DA gave him a two fingered salute. "Now, to refute this point here."

Chris was about to reply when the phone rang.

"Larabee. Josiah? What do you mean Vin's there?" Chris demanded.

Ezra dropped the papers they were examining and listened.

"I see, he claimed sanctuary from the church. I'll be right over and we'll get it sorted out. Thanks for calling." Chris hung up the phone and took a deep breath.

"What just happened there? Vin's taken refuge with Josiah? How did he even get out of the house without us knowing?"

"I have no idea, but I will. Can you stay here with JD?" Chris asked.

"Of course," Ezra assured him.

"I don't know how long I'll be sorting out Vin. It seems he overheard us and decided that since I wasn't going to be able to keep them both it was best that JD stay," Chris explained.

"How very noble," Ezra said, blinking in wonder.

"I can think of a few other words for this whole situation. Feel free to use the spare room if you want," Chris offered as he headed for the door.

Checking on JD and seeing that the boy was sleeping soundly, the man headed for the spare room. It looked like he was going to be here all night and thanks to growing up the son of a con artist, Ezra was a light sleeper.

+ + + + + + +

Vin looked up as Josiah entered the kitchen followed by Chris. Serious blue eyes meet green ones. He did not get up.

"Vin, we need to go," the blond told him.

"What if you can't find a way to make the court let you have us both," Vin asked.

Chris sighed.

"It's being taken care of," he assured the boy.

Vin got up. He knew that tone. The next step would be Chris physically dragging him out.

"Thanks, Josiah," he told his host.

"My house is always open to those in need," Josiah said, hugging the lost lamb of his flock.

The two men exchanged thanks and good nights as Chris and Vin left.

Josiah said a quick prayer for them.

Vin was quiet as he got in the passenger seat of the truck.

Chris settled into the driver's side.

Vin blinked when they parked. They were near a meadow outside of town.

"We need to talk, Vin," Chris told him.

Chris just saw the light brown head bob up and down.

"I understand why you ran off like that, but you may not run away. When you have a problem, you need to come to me," Chris informed him.

"I went to Josiah. You said before that if we couldn't go to you it was okay to go to one of the others," Vin explained.

"Not in the middle of the night or without telling me where you're going."

"Okay. I just didn't want JD to have to leave," Vin said quietly.

"I know, and I appreciate that. That's my problem to work out, not yours," Chris said patiently. Vin was so used to looking out for and taking care of himself that sometimes Chris wondered if he had ever had a chance to just be a kid.

"What's going to happen?" Vin asked.

"I don't know yet, that was why I hadn't talked to you and JD. Ezra and I were figuring out a way to keep you both. You need to trust us Vin. When something like tonight happens, come and see us. Talk to us. We can't help you unless you tell us when you're confused or have a problem," Chris reiterated.

"Okay," Vin agreed.

"I promise that as soon as I know if things are going to change, I'll tell you both. If you have questions, you come to me. You are never to run off like this again. Is that clear?" Chris asked, looking at the foundling that had become so dear to him.

"No more running away," Vin agreed.

Chris reached over and ruffled Vin's hair.

"Let's go home," Vin said.

"Sounds like a good idea," Chris said, not wanting to think about how early work and school was going to be hitting them both in the morning.

+ + + + + + +

The five men spread out in the living room of Chris's house. The boys were at Billy Travis's for the night so there was no chance of them overhearing the men planning how to convince the courts to let the boys stay.

"I don't know why it would help, but I found out what you wanted to know. Jack Dunne was type
O positive blood," Nathan said from the love seat.

"Well, well, how very interesting," Ezra beamed, his gold tooth catching the light.

"Why's that interesting?" Chris asked. Ezra was up to another of his tricks.

"Because JD is type B negative. His mother was type O negative and Mr. Dunne Senior is O
positive. Also young Mr. Dunne was born in July and his parent were married in January."

"Jack isn't his father?" Josiah said.

"Can't be," Nathan replied. "Both parents being type O, their child would be type O."

"So, we are looking for a man she was seeing intimately in November of nineteen forty and who has B negative blood the same as JD," Ezra explained, smiling. "Perhaps, those of you were in this locality at that time would know?"

"I only spent summers here before the war," Chris replied.

"It's a rare blood type, so there wouldn't have been that many people here with it," Nathan said.

"I remember who she was seeing at that time," Josiah said quietly.

"Property of the confessional?" Ezra asked.

"No, she never said anything," Josiah replied. As a priest he heard much and said little. Well, he said little about what people told him in confidence.

"Buck? You hear all the gossip," Chris turned to Buck.

The large man was pale and shaking.

"Mister Wilmington, may I inquire as to your blood type?" Ezra looked at him.

"B negative."

"She's the Irene you talked about all during basic training," Chris stated. He had known that Buck had broken up with a woman named Irene right before they left for training.

"I...I...I'm a father," he stammered as Chris got him a drink and Nathan guided him to a chair.

"Congratulations, brother, It's a boy!" Josiah responded. He was relieved that the large man had said something. He had been certain he would as Buck had strong feelings about men who walked out on their children.

Buck sat down heavily in the chair. He was a father. JD was his son.

"I can get custody of him?" He looked at Ezra.

"You are his biological parent. His adoptive father proved on more than one occasion his inability to care for the boy. There would be no difficulties," the southerner assured him.

"How, how would I go about that?" He asked, lost.

"Blood test," Nathan informed him. "I'll call the hospital and get it set up right away."

Buck nodded. Nathan was a doctor and could get a rush order on it.

"I'll get the papers for you to file to petition the court for custody of young mister Dunne," Ezra offered.

"Appreciate that," Buck answered, still looking like a pole-axed steer.

"A child's a powerful blessing, brother," Josiah said quietly.

"I swear, I didn't know," Buck looked up at the priest.

"I didn't think you did, Buck. None of us saw it until the facts were laid out in front of us like that," he assured him. Buck might have been a ladies man, but he would never leave a woman in the family way without marrying her or seeing her and the child cared for if she wouldn't have him.

Ezra and Nathan both offered their support and congratulations and left. Their friend was obviously in shock and distress, but Chris and Josiah were the ones best suited to helping him. They could serve him best in their professional capacities.

"What am I going to do?" Buck asked, almost pleading.

"You're going to be a father," Chris smiled.

"Can you see me as a Dad?"

"You'll do fine," Josiah assured him.

"Yeah I can, after all the times I watched you with Adam," Chris told him.

Buck stared at him. "That was just playing, goofing around. I don't know how to take care of a child."

"Sarah and I left Adam with you all the time when we went out. We named you as his guardian. We would hardly have done that if you were not able to care for and raise a child," Chris pointed out.

"You're not alone, brother. The rest of us are here for you and JD, just like we are for Chris and Vin," Josiah added.

"I don't even know where to start."

"Why don't you start by staying here while you find a place to live?" Chris suggested. There was no way Buck and JD could both live in Buck's one bedroom apartment on the other side of town

Buck nodded.

Josiah gripped his shoulder.

"If we're staying here, then I'm paying half the expenses and half Maria's pay," Buck told Chris.

"We'll figure it out." Chris smiled. Buck was starting to come out of his shock and think.

"How, how am I gonna explain all this to JD?" Buck looked from one of his friends to the other.

"Just tell him the truth in terms simple enough for him to understand. He's a loving and giving boy that just wants to be loved and have a family. I can't think of anyone better suited to give that to him," Josiah said.

"The truth, Josiah, is that Irene wanted to settle down and get married. I said no, that I wasn't ready for that. I didn't want to give up my freedom, so Irene had to settle for Jack Dunne and slave away to support all three of them while Jack drank every cent they had and made their lives miserable," Buck shot back.

"Someday he might need to know that truth, but right now the truths he needs are that you love him and you didn't know he was your son until now; and that the two of you are going to be a family," Chris responded.

Buck took a deep breath and let it out. Then looked from one man to the other. "Okay, how do I tell JD so that it will be as easy as possible for him? And how can I help JD with all this?"

Buck was totally focused on JD now and the three men were up well into the night helping him. He already loved JD, and he was JD's hero, that would make it easier than if they had never met. It was morning before Josiah left; Buck ended up spending the night. A plan was made, however, and the next morning would be a new day and a new start for the father and son.

+ + + + + + +

Both men were waiting when the boys got home from school. As this was their day off it was part of the plan. Buck was a frequent guest, so they weren't surprised in the least that he was there.

"I need to talk to you both for a minute," Chris told them.

The two boys stared bewildered at the adults.

"You promised that you and Ezra would take care of everything so that we could both stay!" Vin said suddenly.

JD stared first at Vin and then at the two men.

"Vin, that's not what I need to talk to you about," Chris assured him. This was not going at all like they had planned.

"You, you said we were a family and that we would never have to leave," JD glared at the lean blond. He had grasped the idea that someone was going to be leaving.

"I know JD, and that was the plan, but we were forced to make a change in the plan. I need you to listen to me. I promise that this is NOT a bad change," Chris told the nine-year-old.

"Am, am I going to have to go back to living with Dad?" JD asked, hesitantly.

"You can't make him go back there," Vin said wide- eyed.

"Both of you, calm down and let me explain what's going on," Chris instructed.

JD bit his lip thinking. "Am I going to live with my real dad?"

The two men stared at one another.

"You knew Jack wasn't your father?" Buck asked.

JD nodded. "He and mom used at fight about that and he would yell at her about it when he had been drinking. He didn't want me but kinda got stuck with me cause I was mama's."

Buck sucked in his breath and tried not to scream. That was not any way to treat a child.

"Well, as a matter of fact, we found your real dad. He didn't know about you," Buck explained.
"He was real excited to find out about you. He loves you a lot and wants you to be with him."

"How can he love me when he's never met me?" JD asked.

Buck swallowed. "Because I loved your mama and loved you almost as soon as I met you."

JD stared at him. "You're my real dad?"

"I sure am, JD. I just found out yesterday."

JD said nothing, but leapt up and bolted for the door. Vin was right behind him. Buck got up to follow, but Chris stopped him.

"I gotta go after, try and explain all this," Buck told the blond.

Chris winced as a ripping sound informed him that Obi had charged through the screen again and was following the boys.

"Buck, I saw them head for the creek, they're fine. He's got Obi and Vin with him. The kid's got a lot to think about; we need to give him space and time to do it."

Buck nodded and began nervously pacing the room.

Chris sighed. This was not how they had wanted this to go. Hopefully the boys would be back before they had to go after them.

"I'll be back in five minutes, I'm going to run to the hardware store and get supplies to fix the screen," Chris said. The road there, of course, just happened to pass the creek where the boys were.

"Thanks, I'll wait here in case they come back while you're gone," Buck said sitting down heavily.

Chris gripped his friend's shoulder in support. Somehow this would all work out, but JD and Buck did not have an easy road ahead of them.

+ + + + + + +

JD didn't say anything as he and Vin laid in the bushes and watched the ducklings and goslings paddling around in the water with their parents. Obi was lying between them. Vin had told him to stay and Chris had trained him too well for the dog to ignore one of his humans.

"What are you going to do?" Vin asked quietly.

"Don't know. Not much I can do," JD replied. His spirit had left with his run.

"Buck's a nice guy. I bet he'll be a great dad," Vin ventured his opinion.

"Yeah," JD answered with no enthusiasm.

"I thought you liked Buck," Vin said, confused.

"I do like him. He's great."

"He and Chris are best friends so you and I will still get to see a lot of each other," Vin said after a few minutes. It was all he could think of.

"That'll be nice. I hope we live near you guys," JD said, suddenly realizing he had no idea where Buck lived. He would be living there from now on, too.

Vin didn't know what to say so they quietly watched the ducks.

"Why couldn't mom have married him instead of dad? Buck's lots nicer and he wouldn't have made her cry like dad did. He would have been real nice to her. And he'd have been nice to me too 'cause I'm his and not someone else's," JD spat his lip quivering.

"Grown ups do some stupid things," Vin said, thinking about how they had taken him away from his grandfather and not let him stay with the people he was supposed to have gone to just because his dad was white.

"We could have been a family. Mom and Buck and me. Buck wouldn't have taken all mom's money and got drunk so mom was always working. And he wouldn't have made fun of me for liking to read and doing good in school, saying I was a momma's boy's," JD was crying now.

Vin swallowed. He had never seen JD cry before.

Obi whined, and started licking JD's face.

The dark haired boy ruffled the animal's ears, and sniffed back the last of the tears.

"We better get back," JD said resignedly.

Vin nodded and followed. Chris and Buck would be worried about them.

When they got to the house, Buck and Chris were waiting for them and so was dinner.

Buck closed his eyes and took a deep breath. It was obvious that JD had been crying. The last thing in the world the big hearted man wanted to do was hurt his boy. The very idea that he had made his son cry made him sick.

"Here's the new plan," Chris announced as they all sat down.

Both boys looked at him. Chris always made sure they knew the plan so they knew what to expect.

"I've got a one bedroom apartment and it's on the other side of town, so we'll be living here for now," Buck told JD. "While we're here, we'll look at houses and see if we can find one near here."

JD nodded. He liked that they were going to try and find a home close by. He had really not wanted to move.

"Maria is still in charge when we're gone," Chris informed them.

"Tomorrow, JD and I are going to go see the horses," Buck said

JD's head whipped around. Buck was taking the day off and taking JD out of school to go see the horses?

"Vin, you and I are going to go fishing," Chris smiled at him. Fishing was a close second to horses with Vin, and JD and Buck would need the time alone together to start working on their relationship.

Vin nodded excitedly. Not only did he not have to go to school but he was going to be fishing with Chris!

The evening was quiet and subdued. For once, JD was quiet and said nothing about not being tired at bedtime. When Buck went in to tell the boys goodnight, he got goodnights back, but not his usual hug from JD. Vin had never hugged him, but JD was a very affectionate and tactile boy who usually hugged him goodnight.

"Give it time, he'll come around," Chris assured him.

"You know, Chris, I never knew my father. I always swore that no child of mine would grow up like I did, and here I am. Irene raised that boy alone for all the help Jack was," Buck snorted, "She'd have had an easier time alone."

"Buck, don't take on more responsibility than is yours. She was the one that decided not to tell you she was pregnant. Hinting is not the same as saying it," Chris headed Buck off. "It was also her choice to marry Jack Dunne."

Buck sipped his drink and nodded.

It had been a long day. Both men turned in early, hoping the next day would go better than today had. Each was determined that one way or another they would get through this crisis with everyone intact.

+ + + + + + +

Chris and Vin settled in at the river. Silence descended between them. It wasn't the tense silence from the house, but nor was it the easy and comfortable silence they usually shared. With JD's life topsy-turvy it had to be affecting Vin, as well. When Vin was ready, he would talk and not before.


"Hmmm?" He looked over at the boy.

"I don't have to leave, do I?" Vin asked, looking up at his favorite person.

"No, son, you can stay. They said I could only keep one of you and then we found out about Buck being JD's father. So you each get to have a family of your own."

"I would rather be one big family," Vin responded.

"I know. Just give it some time for everyone to get settled. Buck and I are together a lot, so I would imagine that even when they find their own place we'll still be seeing a lot of them," Chris assured him.

"It won't be the same."

"No, it won't. Just like riding one of my uncle's horses won't be the same as being on Peso. That doesn't mean that the new plan might not work just as well, though. Just give this a chance," Chris told him. "When I lost Adam, I didn't think I would ever love another boy like I loved him. Having you isn't the same as having him, but I love you as much as I did him."

Vin stared at the blond. Stepping over, he hugged him.

Chris squeezed him back. Vin was not a physically demonstrative child and this was the first time he had ever initiated affection toward Chris.

"Vin, how are you feeling about all this?" Chris asked, a few moments later. They had had their hug and gone back to quietly fishing.

"Okay, I guess. Buck is real nice, so JD'll be okay with him. I just wish we could stay together."

"Vin, I promise that Buck would never, ever hurt JD. Buck loves him and will take good care of him. I wouldn't be giving him up, otherwise," Chris stated.

"Buck's his dad; you'd have to let him have him," Vin pointed out.

"If Buck was going to be a bad dad, Ezra would have figured out something," Chris assured him.

"Would, would he do that if my uncle came back?" Vin asked.

"Is that what you're afraid of? That your uncle will come back for you and you'll have to go with him?" Chris asked. They may have taken the long route, but they had gotten to what was upsetting him.

Vin said nothing, but nodded.

"Son, he already walked out on you once; they are never going to give you back. If he did show up, I would fight everyone and everything to make sure that you stayed with me," Chris vowed.

Vin looked up with his slow smile.

"Good, 'cause I don't ever want to have to leave you."

Chris smiled back at him and reaching over, ruffled his hair. "Someday you will, but by then you'll be all grown up and ready to be on your own."

The old familiar and natural silence fell between them. Nether one was a big talker.

"Chris? Ezra's really good at finding things out isn't he?" Vin asked.

"Yes he is," Chris agreed. "Is there something you need to ask him?"

"Do, do you think he would know how to find out if grandpa is still alive?"

Chris almost dropped his fishing rod.

"I thought he had died and that was when you went to live with your uncle."

"No, he was still alive. But he was real sick so he couldn't take care of me," Vin said.

"We'll ask Ezra to look into it," Chris told him.

"Thanks, I'm not sure they would know how to get hold of me if he had died," Vin explained.

"I think they would contact Nettie, since she's your social worker. I'll tell her you want to find that out and maybe she can help."

"Do, do you think, if he is still alive, could we go and see him this summer?" Vin asked nervously.

"He's probably pretty old and sick from what you said, but we can find out if he's up to it and if he is, then we'll go and visit. If he's not up to a visit, then maybe you could write him a letter," Chris suggested.

"I just want to say goodbye and let him know I'm okay," Vin swallowed.

"We'll make sure to let him know that one way or another," Chris promised. "If he's not alive, then do you want to find out where he's buried and visit his grave?"

Vin almost leaped at him. "Could we? He would be buried with Mama and Grams. I haven't been able to visit them since I came here."

Apparently, JD finding his family had brought up a lot of family stuff for Vin, as well. He had rarely mentioned his family.

"Some time this summer, we'll make a trip to Lawton," Chris assured him. He knew how much he would miss being able to regularly visit Adam and Sarah's graves if he had to move away.

Chris looked over at him as the fishing resumed. Vin was looking more relaxed than he had in days. He hoped that Buck being equally successful.

+ + + + + + +

Buck sighed; JD had barely said two words to him the whole way out. Quiet was one word never used to describe the boy, and he was not only being quiet, he was almost silent. Buck was unquestionably getting the cold shoulder.

"JD, we need to talk about this," Buck told him.

"No, I don't want to talk about it," the arctic zone in the passenger seat informed him.

Buck looked at his son. Just then he had sounded exactly like his mother. Irene had possessed a will of iron and had obviously passed that on to her son. Unfortunately, he also seemed to have both of his parents stubborn streaks.

"At some point, we'll have to. For right now, let just have fun with the horses, okay?"

JD nodded and went back to looking out the window.

Just out of town, Buck pulled into a ranch and parked the truck. JD got out and stood transfixed, staring at the horses. He loved them, but the closest he had ever come to them was the occasional free pony ride.

A lean man in faded jeans and a work shirt approached them.

"Good to see you, Buck! Who's this young man?" He smiled down at JD.

"Nice to see you, too, Uncle James. This is my boy, JD. JD, this is Chris' Uncle James." Buck introduced them just as if Chris had not told his aunt and uncle about the two boys he had taken in, or as if Buck had not called last night to tell them that he would be coming and explained the need for them to be alone.

"Hi, Mr. Larabee," JD returned the greeting, a bit nervous.

"Seeing as Chris and Buck both call me Uncle James, and you're his boy, I guess you should too. Now, if you're Buck's boy, I just bet you like horses."

JD nodded with enthusiasm.

Buck sent a blessing to God for James Larabee and his big heart and open welcome to everyone.

"You planning on staying in the corral or going out on the trails?" James asked Buck.

"Figured I'd see how his first lesson went. If he's doing good, maybe we'll see about the trails," Buck replied. "Okay if I use Mabel for him?"

"Sure, good horse for it. Chris said to tell you to go ahead and take Pony if you hit the trails."

"Thanks," Buck clasped the man's shoulder.

"No problem. Good to meet you, JD. You just listen to Buck and you'll be riding like a pro in no time," James said, ruffling his hair. Then, waving, he moved off to the thousand and six ranch chores waiting for his attention.

"Who's Pony?" JD asked, as they headed for the pasture.

"Chris's horse. He's the black gelding standing there," Buck pointed to him.

JD sigh in envy. He was beautiful. "What's a gelding?"

Buck coughed. "Well, a mare or filly is a girl horse, a stallion or colt is a boy horse. And a gelding, well, that's a stallion that you fix so he can't make baby horses."

"Okay. Does that make them better horses?"

"It makes them easier to handle; more reliable and predictable. Most working horses are geldings," Buck explained.

"Where's your horse?" JD asked.

"Buck turned him towards another pasture. "See that gray? That's my horse, Willow."

"Why can't you take Willow on the trails?" JD asked.

Buck smiled. JD was back to asking ten million questions. "Look a little closer at her."

The boy ran over to the fence with his father right behind him.

"She has a baby!" JD exclaimed.

"About six weeks old. Haven't really named her yet. She's a bay right now, but she might turn gray like her mama. We'll have to see; it takes as long as a year to tell sometimes and other times their coloring around the muzzle tells you right away."

Buck whistled and the mare looked up and trotted over, the filly right behind her.

"She'll like these carrots. Here, this is how you give them to her," Buck showed him how to hand the big mare the treats.

JD laughed, and the horse lipped the treats off his palm and gobbled them up.

He was beaming when he was allowed to give the foal a piece of apple.

"Tell you what, that little girl there is yours," Buck told him.

JD spun around and stared at him. "I can have her?"

"Yep, we'll get you riding and if you keep liking horses, then she's yours."

JD impulsively threw his arms around Buck.

"I can name her and everything?"


"When can I ride her?" JD asked excitedly.

Buck laughed. "Well, it'll take three years for her to be all grown up. Uncle James breaks some that young, but most he waits until they're four."

"Four years? That's a long time," JD said, a little deflated.

"Well, should work out about perfect. You never put an inexperienced rider on an inexperienced horse. So, by the time that she's ready to be ridden, you'll have been riding for four years and will be experienced enough to ride her," the man pointed out.

"Hey, that's right!" JD perked back up.

"So, let's get you started," Buck grinned, as he led JD towards the barn with an arm around his shoulder.

JD watched with rapt attention as Buck deftly caught a gray muzzled brown appaloosa. Buck led her into a stall and tied her.

"Okay, before we ride, we brush her up good. That way she'll be good and clean and comfortable. It also gives you a chance to make sure she's not sore somewhere," Buck began horse lessons.

JD reveled in it. He eagerly soaked up everything he was told.

Half an hour later he was on the horse and riding around in the corral. Buck had not bothered to tell him that the ancient mare had not moved out of a trot in the last decade. To the boy, it didn't matter. He was riding a horse!

Once Buck was certain that JD would not fall off, Buck brushed and saddled up Pony. The two set out on the trail, JD almost vibrating with excitement.

The large man had intentionally picked trails that were wide enough for them to ride together, instead of single file. Hopefully, they could get some talking done while they were out.

Buck took a deep breath. "JD, there's some things you need to know about."

"I don't want to talk about that," JD told him.

"I'm not referring to your mama and I. Word will get out real fast about you being my son. That's fine, I'm real proud to have folks know I have a boy like you. But it means you'll be hearing some stuff about me, and about my mother. I just want to prepare you and make sure that you know the truth. If you have questions, I want you to come to me, and I promise I won't lie."

JD said nothing, but nodded.

"My dad died during the first world war. I was born after he left. Mom was real young and had a hard time making ends meet for us. She picked up all the work she could, but folks weren't real eager to hire her," Buck began.

"Why didn't they want to hire her?" JD asked.

"She wasn't what you might call respectable by a lot of people's standards. There are certain rules about how women are supposed to behave and what they're supposed to be like, and if they aren't like that they can get a bad reputation. Mom tried to do what she felt was right and proper, but like I said, things were tight for us and sometimes to pay the rent and see that we had food she would have to do things she would rather not have and that folks said were bad," Buck explained.

JD stared wide eyed at Buck. "Your mom was a .. one of THOSE women?!?"

"My mother was a saint. She did what she had to do to provide for us. Sometimes there just wasn't any other option, though. She was a good woman, but a lot of folks will tell you otherwise."

"Wouldn't the church have helped? I know that sometimes they helped mama and I when we didn't have enough," JD asked, confused.

Buck bit his lip and swallowed a bitterness he still sometimes felt about how his loving and hard working mother had been treated. "The, the priest we had before Josiah didn't think much of women like her. Thought they did what they did cause they were bad. So the church wasn't too inclined to help us."

"But she wasn't bad! Not any more than my mama was! She was just taking care of you," JD scowled.

Buck smiled at his fierce little terrier of a son. "Your mama was married when you were born; mine never was married."

JD was quiet for a moment and then his face fell. "Oh."

"Josiah would have helped her out anyway," JD declared a moment later.

Buck nodded and smiled. "Yes, he would have, and he has helped more than a few women like that. He says they need love and understanding more than judgment and condemnation."

"When they find out that you're my father, will they be talking about my mama, too?" the boy asked quietly.

Buck took a deep breath. "They might. Your mother was a good woman, JD; always remember that. No matter what you hear, I loved your mother. If I had known about you, I would have married her."

"If you loved her, why didn't you marry her?" JD asked pointedly.

"Because I was stupid. I had this idea that being married would mean I couldn't have any fun anymore. That I would be tied down and not able to do anything exciting. I was wrong. If then was now, I'd marry her in a flash," Buck answered emphatically.

JD didn't respond, but he was not scowling like he had been this morning, so they were getting somewhere, at least. Josiah had warned him that it might take a while for them to work through this.

Buck prayed that he had gotten though enough to warn JD about the talk that was going to be starting up again and that JD would come to him when he was needing answers. Buck had always figured someday he would lose his heart, he just never thought it would be to a nine year old boy with his mama's eyes.

+ + + + + + +

Chris had done his usual look in to check up on the boys before lights out. Both were settled in with Obi in his usual place under the bed. While Buck had not got his previous enthusiastic hug, he had least gotten a wave and a good night before JD had retired.

The boys could hear Chris descend the stair to the main room where Buck, Josiah, Nathan, and Ezra were.

"What did you and Chris do?" JD asked Vin. It was the first chance the boys had had to talk alone that day.

"We went fishing. Didn't catch anything, though," Vin replied happily. He loved fishing and didn't care for the most part if he caught anything or not.

"How about you and Buck?" Vin asked.

"We went out to the ranch and rode the horses. I rode one of their older ones and Buck rode Chris's horse Pony, 'cause his horse has a baby. He said I could have her for my own!" JD told him with his old enthusiasm.

"Great! Then we can each have our special horse," Vin replied eagerly.

"She's just a baby, so I can't ride her for years. But Buck says by the time she's ready, I'll be ready for her."

"Are ya still mad at Buck?" Vin asked after a couple of minutes.

"Kind of, he should have married ma, then she wouldn't have married dad, and we would have been a family," JD said with more hurt than anger now.

"Buck would have been your dad then," Vin agreed.

"He's my dad now and he is real nice," JD sighed. Buck was nice and he really liked him, so how could he be so mad at him? "Guess I'll have to think of something else to call my other dad."

"What do Chris and Buck call him?" Vin asked.

"I heard them talk about him once, but I don't think we're supposed to use that word," JD giggled. "I guess Mr. Dunne would work."

"Mister is what we're supposed to call men unless they say to call them something else," Vin concurred.

"Boys," came from downstairs.

With a last giggle they fell silent. The next step would be Chris coming up, and that was not a good night. Somehow things would work out okay.

+ + + + + + +

The boys were walking back to the house from the rectory. Josiah had a vegetable garden and he had paid them a nickel for help in weeding. Garden days were fun! They got some money and Josiah told them the best stories about places he had been while they worked.

"Look!" JD pointed excitedly at a house.

Vin looked over at it. There was a for sale sign out front. JD and Buck went driving looking for houses on the weekend if he wasn't working. "Is that the kind Buck is wanting?"

"It's perfect! Or at least I think it is. Come on!" JD ran between it and the one next to it. Vin followed. Something had his friend excited.

"See! It has the same backyard as Chris! If Buck and I lived there we would share the same yard!" JD explained as he excitedly ran for home.

Vin caught his enthusiasm and ran after him.

"Buck! I found our house!" JD exclaimed, barreling into the living room.

"Slow down, son. Where is this house?" The large man asked. JD had never been more than moderately excited about any of the houses they had looked at. Even the ones near here.

JD grabbed his arm and pulled. Chris grinned, but followed as JD tried to drag Buck faster.

They went out the back door and JD pointed over the dilapidated fence to the house that backed up to the back yard.

"JD, I don't think it's for sale," Buck began.

"But, but, but it is!" JD was vibrating and stammering with excitement. He had finally found his house! "It has a sign out front and everything!"

"We saw it when on our way home from Josiah's," Vin put in.

"Guess we can look," Buck told Chris as the four went around to the front of the house and it's 'For Sale' sign.

"Can't hurt," Chris agreed as his friend jotted down the number to call and arrange a time to see it.

The four headed back home with JD talking about how cool it would be if they could live there.

A month later the house had a 'Sold' sign and the boys were making plans for their huge yard with a house on each end. 'No,' the dads told them, the horses could not be moved out here, but 'yes' the tree was large enough for a fort and they would see about building one. Life wasn't perfect, but it was sure close.