Main Characters: Buck, JD, Vin and Chris
This is a OW LB story set early in the AU, where the boys have just begin living with Chris and Buck.
I got the idea when I was visiting one of the rural schools to do RIF (Reading is Fundamental). The new library had old school collectables on display in their library. Including a school slate I looked at very carefully, having never seen one before. It was heavy and had a soft wood trim around the edge and it had lines, on both sides, which surprised me. I thought of the boys going to school for the first time, and of course Buck and Chris would have to get them new supplies.
A big thanks to Kathy M for betaing for me.
Five-year-old JD Dunne stood frozen in place staring at t he mess of broken slate on the floor. He’d been so careful. All he’d wanted to do was see again his ‘brand new with lines’ school slate that Mr. Buck had put on his chest o’ drawers until Monday when school started. He’d never had a ‘brand new with lines’ school slate of his very own before He couldn’t quite believe that he had it now.
So he had carefully scooted the chair over next to the chest and climbed up. Even standing on tiptoe he could barely reach the prized slate. But the heavy slate had slipped through his tiny fingers and fell hitting the edge of the cast iron bootjack and with a loud crack had broken into a million pieces.
“JD!” Vin’s voice called from the doorway. “JD what did you do?”
Shocked brown eyes moved from the slate pieces to the older boy. Tears spilled over and ran down suddenly pale cheeks. “I just wanted to hold it.”
“Oh, JD.” Vin paused looking around. “Hurry, get down and go. I’ll fix it.”
Trusting his older cousin the small brunet quickly climbed down and ran past Vin.
Seconds later Buck stepped in the door to his room. There on the floor was little Tanner trying to pick up broken pieces. “What the hell are you doing?” The tall man almost shouted.
Vin cringed back against the chest, his blue eyes wide with fear. “I…I was just trying to clean up ‘m mess.”
Buck was beside the bare footed little boy in two quick steps. Lifting him up and setting him on the chair he began cleaning up the shattered slate. “What happened Vin?”
When no answer came he looked up at the frightened little boy. “Vin?”
“Was ‘m fault. I jus’ wanted to see the new slates. I didn’t mean to break it. Don’t send us away. Mr. Buck. I’ll work off the price an’ pay for it.” The words came out is a breathy rush.
Buck cocked his head and studied the boy. //Why would Vin be looking at JD’s school stuff? Vin’s stuff was in Chris’ room.// “Vin, no one’s going to send you away. Where’s JD?”
Vin ducked his head. “I don’ know. Outside playing I guess.”
Even more suspicious Buck carried the slate pieces into the main room. “Stay there until I bring the broom.” He called over his shoulder.
Dumping the broken pieces into the waste bin he glanced outside but didn’t see the smaller boy. Grabbing the broom he went back into his room. “I don’t mind you looking at your school stuff but you know you and JD aren’t to come into my room without permission.”
“Yes sir.” Vin almost whispered. He tried to prepare himself for the beating he was sure would come. It was okay as long as JD was safe and they weren’t separated. He’d take all the beatings in the world if he and JD could stay here and together.
Finishing sweeping Buck looked at little Tanner. “Why don’t you go find JD? I got supper to make and Chris’ll be home before dark. We’ll talk about this then. And Vin, we’ll just talk…” The rogue added noticing the stiffening of the boy’s body at the mention of a talk with Chris.
Willmington sighed inwardly as he watched the seven-year-old gingerly get off the chair and walk out the door. //Poor kid’s terrified. Expects a beatin’ I guess. Gotta teach them Chris an’ me won’t beat ‘em. Not gonna happen over night.// Buck went into the kitchen area and built up the fire in the stove. He smiled as he took the chicken out of the poke. Ms. Susanna had given it to him this morning on patrol.
“Now you take this chicken home and feed up them poor boys. It’s ready to put in the pot.”
Since getting the boys Buck had learned to simply say ‘thank you’ to all the fine ladies that for some reason wanted to feed up the boys. Hadn’t hurt his love life either. Those same fine ladies thinking how sweet he and Chris were taking in two orphans like they did. Course it was lost on ol’ Chris, but his mamma didn’t raise no fool. He knew a good thing when he saw it.
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Vin ran outside looking over his shoulder to make sure Mr. Buck wasn’t watching him. He thought he knew where JD had gone but he wasn’t sure. First he looked on the far side of the haystack. “JD? JD, you hiding in there?” When he got no answer he went to the shed where the tack and grain was kept. Mr. Chris and Mr. Buck had been talking about building a proper barn only it hadn’t happened yet.
Opening the shed door Vin stepped inside. He waited while his eyes adjusted to the dim interior and looked around. “JD? You can come out now.”
“JD, Mr. Buck didn’t act mad. He thinks I broke your slate.”
A scared voice came from behind something. “He didn’t hit?”
“No. Come out.”
There was scraping sounds and a small tear streaked face appeared. “Is they gonna send ya away?”
“Don’t think so. Mr. Buck jus’ cleaned up the mess and said he was gonna cook supper.” Vin left out the part about the ‘discussion’ when Mr. Chris got home. He wasn’t sure what a ‘dis-cuss-ion’ was but he was determined not to scare his younger cousin any more than he was. “Come on, JD.”
“Uh-huh. Mr. Buck ain’t gonna want to keep me no more I broke my brand new slate.”
“No! I tole you I said I broke it. It’ll be okay.” Vin reached out to grab JD’s hand.
Pulling away JD stepped back. “I ain’t stayin’ without ya. We can run away and live with the injuns.”
“Don’t be silly, JD. Now come on, we gots to feed the chickens an’ hunt up the eggs. I think I figured where Sassy is layin’.”
“Really? She’s been hiding for a week.”
“Really, an’ I need yer help cause I’m too big to crawl in.”
Distracted with the idea of finding the new nest JD happily followed Vin. “Where?” he demanded when they got to the large mesquite bush.
“See,” Vin pointed to a large pile of trash, consisting of twigs, hay straw, dropped mesquite leaves and beans, and anything else the wind could blow under the sturdy bush.
JD squatted down looking at the pile. “Where?”
Vin got down on his knees and stuck his arm into a shadowed spot. “Here, see? There’s a tunnel but I’s too big. I tried. But I think you can belly in far enough to reach the eggs.”
JD got down on his knees and crawled under the thorny bush. He sank down to his belly and pushed himself into the tunnel, his hands reaching in front of him. He carefully felt around ignoring the ends of the twigs that poked him. Finally way back he felt the smooth round eggs.
Carefully he rolled the globes toward him with his fingertips. He scooted back and rolled the eggs, scooted back and rolled until he was outside and the brown eggs followed. “Lookit Vin, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, eight eggs. An I didn’t break none of them.”
“Good, JD now help me put them in the basket.”
Once the eggs were all in JD counted again. “Vin, there’s sixteen eggs. We ain’t never gots that many before.”
“Nope, but remember some are other day’s eggs.”
“Yeah, but Mr. Buck will be so happy. He always is when….” JD’s voice trailed off when he remembered the trouble and the slate.
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While the boys were on their egg hunt the other adult in their little family rode up. Tying Pony at the porch he went inside sniffing. “Damn that smells good. Where’d you get the chicken?”
“Hey, Stud, Ms. Susanna wanted to give it to me for the boys.”
Larabee shook his head. “I should have known. You got half the county feeding us.”
“Ain’t me, it’s the boys. Speaking of which, we got us a bit of a situation as Ezra would say.”
“Oh?” Chris asked as he poured water into the basin. “What happened?”
“Ain’t sure how or who but JD’s new school slate got dropped and broke. I found Vin trying to clean it up with no sight of JD.”
“But it was JD’s slate in your room.”
Chris finished washing up and then asked, “Did you look in my room?”
“Yeah, nothing’s been touched. I’m thinking it was JD that dropped the slate. Vin was just covering up for him. But Chris ya should have seen the little guy. He was acting like I was gonna beat the hell out of him. Poor little tyke was scared to death. Tole him we’d talk after you got here. He went to find JD who I’m betting was hiding at Vin’s orders.”
Larabee nodded, “Vin probably told him to. He’s very protective of his younger cousin…”
“Mr. Buck, lookit, we gots sixteen eggs…” JD yelled as he ran into the house. He stumbled to a stop, frightened eyes going from the mustached man to the blond and back.
“Sixteen, how’d you do that Lil’ Bit? We only got eight hens and they don’t lay everyday.” Buck asked.
“We found Sassy’s nest. Well, Vin found it, but I gots to dig ‘em out.”
“That’s great JD, you did really good.” Buck said smiling at the boy. “Now you and Vin wash up for supper.”
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The men watched the two boys push their food around their plates but hardly eating as long as they could. Finally Chris set down his fork and after taking a sip of his coffee he said, “Buck tells me there was some excitement today.”
The boys froze.
Acting like he didn’t notice Chris continued. “He said JD’s new school slate was broken. Do you know anything about that JD?”
The little boy wouldn’t look up and he slowly pushed his fork against a piece of potato.
Chris let the silence drag out to what seemed like forever.
“JD? Chris asked you a question.” Buck said softly.
Vin’s head shot up. “Mr. Chris, I…”
Larabee didn’t shift his gaze from the little brunet. “I didn’t ask you Vin, I asked JD.”
“Vin!” Chris said sharply. He tried not to notice the little blond biting on a trembling lip.
“JD?” Buck repeated even softer than before.
Tear filled eyes were suddenly staring into his. “I didn’t mean to. I just wanted to see it to hold it. I never had my very own slate before. It just… it was heavy… it just fell. I’m sorry. Please don’t send me away. Don’t be mad at Vin. He was just tryin’ to help. Please don’t beat him. Don’t send him away. I’ll be good. I’ll never do it again. Please don’t be mad at me Mr. Buck.”
“Awww, Lit’ Bit, I ain’t mad at you. Come here.” The big man held out his arms which were quickly filled with a sobbing little boy. He wrapped his arms tight around JD. “It’s okay Lil Bit. You’re not goin’ anywhere and neither is Vin. But you will have to do extra chores to pay for another slate. No boy of mine is going to school without a brand new slate.”
Chris watched the exchange and then turned his attention to the other boy who still sat in his chair. Slowly he reached around the table and gently placed a hand on Vin’s arm.
The little boy jumped at the touch and looked up at the gunman. His heart hammered so hard in his chest he thought it would break out and fly away.
“Vin, you are not ever going to be beaten here. JD will never be beaten here. WE will never send you or JD away. Do you understand?” Larabee asked knowing that understanding and believing were two different things.
“But, letting Buck believe you broke the slate was like lying in a way and I won’t have that. I think you should help JD pay for his new slate.”
Again Vin nodded and reaching over he placed a small hand on the large one and smiled ever so slightly. Somehow he knew with this man, he was safe.