"Little Britches" Universe

Special Thanks: to J. K. Poffenberger, who created the "Little Britches" A/U in her fics The Train West and In The Arms of Love. This story follows the events that take place in Heartstrings.

Chapter 1

Chris knew Buck was trying to figure out what he was up to. He wasn't up to anything. Vin had a bad morning and Chris just wanted to do something to take the boy's mind off it. Vin seemed to be taken with Peso and Chris figured he'd let the boy ride him. As they rode Buck kept glancing at Chris. Chris knew when he put that saddle on Peso his partner would get curious. The saddle conjured some painful memories for Chris but it was the only other saddle they had.

"Chris," Vin called.


"Can we trot?" Vin asked eagerly.

"Think you can handle Peso?" Buck asked teasingly.

"Yes sir!"

"How 'bout you JD, you want to go faster?" Buck asked ruffling JD's black hair.

"Yeah, faster!" JD cried.

"Alright then," Chris said and tapped his heals to Pony's side.

Peso eagerly picked up speed. Chris kept his eye on Vin but the boy was doing just fine. Before Chris knew it, Vin had Peso cantering down the road. JD laughed as Buck pushed Beavis into the faster gait. Vin only went a short distance cantering and pulled Peso up. Chris noticed him wince in pain.

"Those bites still bothering you?" Chris asked as he moved next to Vin.

"Yeah," Vin admitted not looking at Chris.

Chris just shook his head at Vin's reluctance to appear weak in front of him. The rest of the ride into town was done at a leisurely pace. As they passed the jail Chris was surprised to see Ezra sitting out on the boardwalk. Ezra gave them a two-fingered salute as they walked by on their way to the stables. Yosemite stopped his work at the forge when he saw them walk up.

"Mornin', Chris," Yosemite greeted as they dismounted.

"Mornin'," Chris said as he went to help Vin.

He was surprised to see the small blonde had climbed down on his own. Vin led Peso into the stable and over to a box. Chris followed and watched Vin as he tried to remove the saddle. Vin had never ridden in one like this before and wasn't sure how to take it off.

"Having trouble?" Chris asked.

"Yes sir," Vin replied. "I don't know how it comes off."

Chris left Pony tied to the stall and went over to help Vin. Once the saddle was off Vin led Peso into the stall and took off the bridle. While Chris was helping Vin he saw that Yosemite had un-saddled Pony and put him in a stall. Buck finished Beavis with JD's help.

"Come on, Vin, let's get you over to Nathan's," Chris said.

"I'm gonna take JD over to the jail," Buck said as he took JD's hand. "Gonna show him how to play checkers."

"Alright," Chris smiled. "You need someone you can beat."

"Funny, Larabee," Buck said sarcastically. "Ready little britches?"

"Yup," JD said bouncing next to Buck.

"Chris," Vin said standing next to the gunslinger.

"Yeah, Vin."

"Thank you," Vin smiled looking up at him. "For letting me ride Peso."

"You're welcome," Chris said ruffling Vin's hair. "Let's go find Nathan.

Vin was about to take Chris's hand when the gunslinger moved away. Vin quickly put his hand to his side and followed. They didn't have far to go since the clinic was above the stable. They walked up the steps and Chris knocked on the door. Vin waited patiently beside Chris. When no one answered Chris turned to leave, but then he heard Nathan call from across the street. Chris waved and they waited for Nathan.

"Buck tells me Vin had some trouble with ants," Nathan said as he opened the door to his room and stepped inside.

"Yeah," Chris said following him. "He got bit a few times."

"So, Vin, how do they feel?" Nathan asked as he turned to the boy.

"They still hurt," Vin answered. "But they sort of itch now, too."

"I see," Nathan said smiling surprised that Vin told him the truth. "Let's take a look."

Nathan took off Vin's shirt and found several bite on his arms, chest and back. Vin also had a painful looking one at the back of his neck. Nathan went to touch it and Vin pulled away.

"Sorry, Vin," Nathan apologized. Vin shrugged and Nathan continued to check him over. "Not much I can do for them, but I'll mix some baking soda and water. I should help a little."

Chris sat in the chair and waited patiently for Nathan to mix his concoction. Vin was sitting on the bed swinging his legs. Chris looked at Vin and noticed just how skinny the boy was. Vin's ribs were clearly visible. Nathan finished and sat on the bed next to Vin. He spread the paste carefully over each of the bites then helped Vin get dressed.

"That's all I can do," Nathan sighed.

"Thanks, Nathan," Chris said.

"Thanks, Nathan," Vin said imitating Chris. "They feel better already."

"You're welcome," Nathan smiled.

"Vin, I have to talk to Nathan for a minute," Chris said. "Can you wait on the porch for me?"

"Alright," Vin said and went outside.

"What's' wrong?" Nathan asked.

"Is he okay?" Chris asked.

"Yeah he'll be alright," Nathan said. "Those bites should heal just fine."

"I'm not talking about the bite," Chris said. "You can count every rib on the boy."

"He is a might skinny," Nathan agreed. "I'm guessin' when they was at the orphanage Vin gave JD some of his food. But he should fill out with a regular diet."

"Thanks, Nate," Chris said and went out.

Nathan waked out to the porch and watched Vin follow Chris down the stairs. Once on the boardwalk Chris started walking up the street. Nathan smiled when he noticed Chris shorten his stride so Vin could keep up. Nathan thought it odd that Vin always seemed to be walking behind Chris, following like a small but watchful shadow.

Chris took Vin over to the general store. The bells above the door chimed and Mrs. Potter looked up.

"Good morning Chris," she said. "Did you forget something yesterday?"

"No, I came to get another bag of sweets for the boys," Chris said. "I forgot the other bag was in my pocket yesterday and it all melted."

"Oh I see," she smiled and noticed the white spots on Vin. "What happened to you?"

"Got bit by some ants," Vin replied.

"You poor thing," she cried. "Those nasty ants hurt."

"They sure do," Vin agreed.

"So what will you have, Vin?" she asked.

"Some licorice for JD," Vin said looking in the jars. "And some gum drops."

Gloria made a cone with a piece of paper and placed the candy in it. She added a little bit of everything then followed down the top and handed it to Vin. Chris went to hand her the money but she refused it. Chris raised to fingers to his hat and nodded. They went out and Chris took Vin over to the jail. Ezra was gone and Buck sat out front with JD. JD looked up from where he was playing and saw the bag Vin carried.

"I have some!" JD demanded.

"One piece," Chris said.

Vin gave JD a piece of licorice and took a lemon stick for himself. He handed the bag to Chris and sat down with JD. Buck remembered to bring the soldiers and JD gave some to Vin.

"JD didn't want to learn checkers?" Chris asked with a smile.

"That boy doesn't have the patience to sit in one spot long," Buck said. "I tried but it wasn't happening fast enough for him."

"You want to take the first patrol?" Chris asked.

"Josiah's already out," Buck replied. "I'll go out after lunch."

"Fine," Chris said. "Where's Ezra?"

"I'm right here, Mr. Larabee," Ezra said as he came out of the jail. "I have been going through the wanted posters."

"Anyone interesting?"

"Just your everyday nefarious felons."

"I'm gonna take a look around town," Chris said.

"I shall be in the saloon if anyone needs my assistance," Ezra said as he stepped off the porch.

"He sure does talk funny," JD whispered to Vin.

"Think you can handle them?" Chris asked trying not to laugh at JD's remark and handing the bag of candy to Buck.

"No problem," Buck smiled and opened the bag.

"Don't give them any more," Chris warned.

"I won't," Buck said as he threw a gumdrop into his mouth.

Chris walked away and smiled as he heard JD remind Buck that the candy was his.

+ + + + + + +

Chris finished his patrol in time for lunch. He walked back to the jail and shook his head when he saw Buck sitting and playing with the boys.

"Having fun?" Chris asked as he stepped up on the boardwalk.

"Howdy, Chris," Buck said smiling. "Me and the boys were just playing."

"I can see that," Chris said. "Who's ready for lunch?"

"Me!" JD yelled jumping up.

"Josiah and Nathan are gonna meet us," Buck said.

"What about Ezra?" Chris asked.

"He's got himself a card game," Buck smiled as he stood.

"Fine," Chris said. "You hungry Vin?"

"Yes sir," Vin answered.

"How do those bites feel?" Chris asked.

"Alright I guess," Vin shrugged. "Couple still hurt some."

They started walking and Buck grabbed JD and put him on his shoulders.

"Look, Vin, I big!" JD laughed.

"Yeah," Vin said looking up at him enviously.

Chris led them to the restaurant. Mille showed them to the biggest table and they sat. Josiah and Nathan showed up a few minutes later and joined them. Millie told them what was available and they each ordered something different. Vin asked for chicken and dumplings and so did JD. Millie came with hot rolls and butter.

"Can we have some honey?" Chris asked.

Millie smiled and brought the honey to the table. Chris pushed it over to Vin as the boy grabbed a roll. Josiah laughed as they watched Vin smother the roll with honey.

"Someone has a sweet tooth," he said.

When the food arrived JD eagerly dug into the chicken and dumplings. Vin quietly ate his food and they could tell he like them as much as JD. Millie brought them each a good size bowl and Josiah was glad when Vin pushed his away.

"Can't eat any more," Vin said in apology.

"That's all right, son, you ate plenty," Josiah assured him.

JD had help finishing his bowl from Buck. Nathan teased the mustached regulator asking why he just didn't get a bowl of dumplings himself. They finished lunch and walked outside. Nathan went to get the horse since he was going with Buck on patrol. Chris said he had to talk to Mary and Vin went with him. Josiah, Buck and JD continued to the jail. Vin walked behind Chris and glanced around town. He saw a man standing by his horse watching Chris. Vin kept his eyes on the man as Chris stopped to talk to Mary. The man got on his horse and started to ride towards them. As he got closer Vin saw him pull his gun and point it at Chris.

"No!" Vin yelled and pushed Chris as the gun went off.

Chris was taken by surprise as he stumbled into Mary. He heard a gun go off and he spun drawing his gun. Chris saw a guy riding towards him getting ready to fire his gun. Chris shot without hesitation and the cowboy fell form his horse dead. Everything happened so fast and Chris scanned the streets for more trouble. Ezra was standing by the saloon with his gun drawn. Josiah was racing towards him. When Buck saw that it was all clear he followed with JD in his arms. At the sight of JD, Chris panicked and looked for Vin. Mary screamed and Chris turned to see what she was looking at. Vin was lying face down on the boardwalk. Chris could see a crimson stain spreading on Vin's shirt.

"NO!" Chris screamed.

Chapter 2

Chris dropped to his knees next to Vin and gently turned him over. He was relieved to see Vin's eyes open even if they were staring in confusion. The gunslinger wasn't sure what to do and was grateful when Nathan dropped next to him.

"Chris put pressure on the front wound," Nathan instructed. "I'll get his back. Then let's get him to the clinic."

Chris did as Nathan said and it nearly tore his heart out when Vin began to cry when he touched the wound. He gathered Vin in his arms and carried him to Nathan's room. Chris could hear JD screaming for Vin as Buck tried to reassure him. Ezra went ahead of them and already had the door open.

"Okay, Chris, put him on the bed," Nathan said.

Chris gently laid Vin down and continued to hold pressure on the wound. Josiah took Nathan's place as the healer moved quickly around the room gathering the supplies that he needed. Buck was standing by the door with Mary as he tried to console a hysterical JD. Ezra helped Nathan gather what he needed and bring it over to the bed.

"Chris, why don't you wait outside," Nathan suggested. "Better yet why don't all of you wait outside? I need the room."

Chris didn't move. He continued to hold pressure on the wound as he stroked Vin's hair.

"Chris!" Nathan yelled but was ignored. "Ezra take him out."

"As you wish," Ezra said and took Chris's arm and tried to pull him away.

"Get your hands off me Ezra!" Chris snarled and threw Ezra's hand off.

"Chris," Josiah said grabbing Chris's shoulder. "Go with Ezra. I'll watch Vin."

Chris reluctantly did as Josiah said and followed Ezra outside. Ezra followed and closed the door behind him. Chris immediately began pacing along the porch. Buck was still trying to calm JD down with little success. JD struggled in Buck's arms to be let down. Mary stood close by not knowing what to do. Ezra sat in one of the chairs and looked perfectly calm. He pulled a deck of cards out of his vest pocket and began to manipulate them. No one seemed to notice that his hands were shaking. JD finally calmed down and clung to Buck's neck crying his eyes out. Buck sat in the chair next to Ezra and rubbed JD's back. Everything was quiet until they heard Vin scream for his mother. That pitiful cry snapped something in Chris and he turned a murderous glare on Buck.

"Now do you see why we can't keep them!" Chris yelled which only made JD cry harder. "It's too God damned dangerous. We're gunslingers damn it! We got no business caring for two small boys!"

"Chris!" Ezra said angrily grabbing his arm. "That's enough! That youngster in Buck's arms is scared enough. He doesn't need an apparition from hell scaring him more."

Chris glanced over Ezra's shoulder to see Buck comforting JD. The boy was crying so hard he could hardly breathe.

"!" JD wailed between breaths.

"I know, little buddy, I know," Buck said hugging JD tight. "Ol' Buck's here."

"Shit!" Chris cursed as he turned to the rail and gripped it hard. "What have I done?"

"It wasn't your fault," Mary said.

"I don't believe Mr. Larabee was referring to the shooting," Ezra smiled. "He's wondering how he ever let that blue-eyed little devil into his heart."

"I didn't want him to get close," Chris said. "I didn't encourage him."

Doesn't matter, Chris," Mary said. "Vin saw something in you that made him want to get close."

"What the hell did he see!" Chris demanded.

"Face it buddy," Buck smiled. "That boy can read you like a book. He saw right through that cold heart and realized you weren't so mean after all."

"But my life isn't worth his," Chris sighed.

"Maybe not," Ezra agreed. "But it was Vin's choice to push you out of harm's way. What do you plan to do about his noble sacrifice?"

"I don't know," Chris said honestly and turned away from them. "I just don't know."

The next hour was torture for Chris. Everything was quiet inside the clinic after Vin's first anguished cries. Everyone on the porch was quiet as well. JD finally cried himself to sleep and was bonelessly draped over Buck's shoulder. The dark-haired ladies' man looked completely drained as he continued to rub JD's back. Chris wasn't sure if Buck did it to comfort JD or himself. Ezra sat next to Buck shuffling his deck of cards. The gambler continued to talk to Chris trying to find out what Chris was going to do about the boys. Ezra saw right from the start that Vin had wormed his way into Chris's heart. Chris and wanted to know why he thought that since Vin was only with them for two days. Ezra raised and eyebrow and asked Chris to deny it. Chris couldn't and was satisfied. Mary left to pick up Billy and told them to let her know what was happening. Chris wasn't able to sit still and continued to pace. He turned from Nathan's door just as it opened and the healer stepped out.

"Well!?" Chris demanded.

"The bullet passed right through his shoulder," Nathan said. "It missed the bones and he lost a good amount of blood. But he should be fine with rest and quiet."

"Should be," Chris growled. "What kind of answer is that!?"

"Chris," Ezra said placing a hand on Chris's arm.

"Sorry. Nate," Chris said as he ran his fingers through his short blonde hair.

"It's alright," Nathan sighed. "He wants to see you."

Chris shouldered past Nathan and into the room. Josiah was sitting next to Vin holding his left hand. Nathan had immobilized Vin's right arm and shoulder. When Josiah saw Chris he got up to give Chris the chair.

"Chris," Nathan said stopping him. "I gave him some laudanum. He might not make any sense."

Chris nodded and sat down. Vin looked at Chris and he could see tears rolling down the boy's cheeks.

"I'm sorry," Vin whispered.

"Shh, it's alright," Chris said stroking his hair.

"You don't have to keep me," Vin continued. I'm too much trouble. Just promise you'll take good care of JD for me."

"How do you expect me to keep JD?" Chris asked and watched Vin's lower lip begin to quiver.

"But JD's good," Vin pleaded.

"How am I gonna watch JD when I can't keep Buck out of trouble?" Chris asked. "I'll need someone else to help me."

"I can stay?" Vin sniffed.

"Yes, Vin," Chris smiled.

"Forever?" Vin asked daring to hope.

Chris nodded and Vin burst into tears. Chris leaned over and hugged Vin. Vin wrapped his left arm around Chris's neck and held on for dear life. Chris carefully sat up and held Vin in his arms and the boy cried.

"You're sure, Chris?" Josiah asked.

"Ain't gonna lie to ya, Josiah, not sure if I'm ready for this," Chris admitted as he rubbed Vin's back.

"Hell, pard, who is?" Buck said with a smile. "It's the right thing to do."

"Hell, Buck, as if I could give him up after he saved my worthless hide," Chris smiled.

"Mr. Wilmington I do believe you owe me something," Ezra said holding out his hand.

Buck carefully dug into his pants pocket as he held JD with one arm. "Here ya go, thief," he said handing Ezra a dollar. "Best money I ever lost."

"Best lay him back down, Chris," Nathan said. "He needs rest."

Chris went to lay Vin back against the pillows but Vin wouldn't let go. Vin screamed when Nathan tried to get him to let go of Chris. Chris tried to reason with Vin but he wasn't listening. Josiah just laughed and said Vin was making sure Chris didn't change his mind. They finally piled pillows against the backboard of the bed and Chris sat on the bed and got comfortable. Nathan wanted Vin's shoulder to be as flat as possible. Chris positioned Vin so his legs were on either side of his waist. Vin lay with his chest against Chris's and started to relax.

"Well gentlemen, now that this drama has ended I could use a libation," Ezra announced.

"A good stiff one," Josiah agreed.

"I could sure use a couple," Nathan sighed.

"Go on, Nate, I can watch Vin," Chris said.

"Buck you can put JD in the spare bed," Nathan suggested.

"To tell ya the truth I could use a nap myself," Buck admitted. "Ain't used to all this here excitement."

"Well help yourself to the bed," Nathan said as he followed Josiah and Ezra.

Buck walked over to the bed and sat down. JD wasn't very big but he sure was heavy. Buck glanced at Chris and watched as Chris ran his fingers through Vin's hair. Vin had stopped crying but an occasionally sniff could be heard. Vin had his eyes closed but Buck knew he wasn't asleep. Vin kept rubbing his thumb on Chris's flannel shirt and Buck knew Vin wouldn't be awake for long.

"Are you sure about this?" Buck asked as he piled pillows and leaned back.

"Hell no," Chris sighed. "I don't know if I can do it again. After Adam died..."

"I know," Buck said remembering the dark days after the boy's death. "We'll make it work. Besides, I think Vin sorta looks up to ya."

"Can't see why," Chris said as he brushed the hair off Vin's face.

"You're too hard on yourself," Buck said. "That boy worships you."

"I don't want that," Chris sighed.

"I think it might be a little too late," Buck laughed as he looked at his partner.

"Yeah I know," Chris smiled as he put his cheek on Vin's head. The boy was finally asleep and Chris relaxed against the pillows.

Chris glanced over to see Buck was asleep. JD hadn't stirred and was sprawled across Buck's chest. Chris smiled as Buck's louder snores were accompanied by JD's softer ones. Chris closed his eyes and drifted off.

Nathan returned two hours later to find all four of them asleep. He didn't try to move quietly around the clinic knowing that would spook Chris more. Buck was snoring softly and Nathan smiled when he saw JD sleeping with his thumb in his mouth. The dark-haired boy's other hand clutched one of Buck's suspender straps. Nathan was glad to see Chris had pulled the extra quilt over Vin. The healer reached out to touch Vin's forehead.

"He's a little warm," Chris said quietly.

"Damn it, Chris," Nathan jumped back startles.

"Sorry, Nate, is Vin okay?"

"Ain't surprised he has a fever," Nathan said as he touched Vin's forehead. He lifted the blanket to check the bandage for blood and was satisfied when he saw none. "We just have to make sure it don't go any higher."

"Everything quiet around town?" Chris asked as he shifted to a more comfortable position.

"Everything's fine," Nathan assured him. "Why don't ya put him down on the bed."

"I tried," Chris smiled. "He woke up as soon as I did."

"That's alright," Nathan said. "I want to wake him to get some of this willow bark tea in him."

Chris carefully sat up as Nathan supported Vin. Vin whimpered and opened his eyes.

"Easy, Vin," Chris said. "I ain't goin' nowhere. I'm just gonna get you settled in the bed."

Vin moaned as Chris lay him back against the pillows. Once Vin was settled Nathan mixed the tea. He turned back to the bed and saw Chris holding Vin's hand and telling him everything was going to be okay.

"Here, Vin, I want you to drink this," Nathan said and handed the cup to Chris.

"Don't like it," Vin protested as Chris held the cup to his lips and he took a drink.

"I know it tastes terrible, Vin, but you have to drink it," Chris insisted.

Chris held the cup to Vin's lips and he took two more sips before he turned his head away.

"Don't want it!" Vin cried.

"That's all right, Vin, you had enough," Nathan said.

"Hurts," Vin said piteously.

"I know," Nathan said patting his arm.

"Can he have more laudanum?" Chris asked.

Nathan nodded and went over to the table and got the bottle. He poured some on the spoon and held it to Vin's lips. Vin wouldn't open his mouth and Chris told him it didn't taste too bad. Vin opened his mouth and Nathan spooned the medicine in. Vin made a face and looked accusingly at Chris. It didn't take the laudanum long to take effect and Vin was asleep. Nathan pulled the blankets up and tucked them around Vin.

"Vin goin' to heaven with my mama?" JD asked standing at Nathan's elbow.

"No, JD, Vin's gonna be fine," Nathan said startled.

"Then how come he sleepin'?" JD asked. "Vin never takes naps."

"Vin's not feeling good," Chris said.

"Vin has a hurt tummy?"

"Yeah he does," Chris answered.

"I have a hurt tummy too," JD said as he rubbed it.

"You hungry again?" Buck asked in amazement.

"Uh huh," JD nodded.

"Chris, why don't you, Buck and JD go get something to eat?" Nathan suggested. "I'll watch Vin."

Chris was reluctant to go but he knew Vin would sleep for a couple of hours. They went to the restaurant and Millie asked how Vin was. Chris said he was doing well and she left with their order. It was decided Buck would head back to the ranch with JD. Someone had to go back and take care of the stallion. Chris told Buck to take Peso back with him since the horse would only get into mischief down at the livery. Buck agreed and after dinner Chris helped him saddle the horses. JD wanted to ride Peso as Chris put the small saddle on the big gelding. Buck said he had to get bigger and JD agreed but asked if he could ride him tomorrow since he'd be bigger then. Buck just rolled his eyes and mounted Beavis. Chris smiled and handed JD up to Buck. He watched as they rode out of town. Peso neighed loudly as he was reluctantly led out of town. Chris wasn't sure if he was calling for Pony or Vin. Chris turned and climbed the stairs to the clinic. He walked in to see Vin wrapped in a pile of blankets as Nathan rolled bandages. Chris told Nathan to get something to eat and sat down next to Vin. Chris sighed knowing this was going to be a long night.

Chapter 3

Buck got back to the ranch as the sun was beginning to set. Peso had given him a hard time about leaving town. JD said Peso wanted to stay with Vin. Buck smiled thinking he was probably right. They got all the animals taken care of then Buck took JD up to the cabin. Buck started a fire and saw that JD's face was filthy. His crying had left streaks of dirt down his face. The ladies man decided to give JD a bath. He put some water on to heat then got the wash tub. JD realized he was getting a bath and started to take his clothes off. Buck laughed remembering JD running around the bathhouse naked.

"Hold on there now," Buck said grabbing him. "That's too hot, let me put some cold in there."

"Okay," JD said and waited impatiently.

Buck poured cold water in until it was perfect. JD squealed as Buck lifted him and placed him in the tub. Buck cleaned JD up them just let him play. The boy splashed in the water until there was hardly any left in the tub but there was certainly enough on the floor. While JD was playing Buck got JD's nightshirt from the room.

"Okay, JD, time to come out," Buck said. "Then I'll read you a story."

" 'Kay," JD said and tried to climb out.

Buck grabbed him before he could hurt himself and wrapped him in a towel. He dried JD and pulled the nightshirt over the squirming boy's head. Buck got the storybook Mary had given them and picked JD up and sat in the rocker next to the fire. JD cuddled against Buck and shivered.

"You cold?" Buck asked.

"Nope," JD said and shivered again.

Buck shook his head and pulled the afghan off the back of the chair and wrapped it around JD. Buck opened the book to a story about wild horses. JD liked the story and didn't protest when Buck said it was time for bed after the story was over. He carried JD into the bedroom and placed him on the bed. Buck pulled down the covers and JD crawled under them.

"Prayers!" JD shouted and sat up.

"Alright," Buck said a knelt next to the bed.

"God bless me and Vin," JD began

Buck hid a smile as JD finished asking God to bless all the people he knew and started on the animals. There was a long list since JD came home that afternoon and named all the chickens. Buck smiled when it finally hit him that JD was actually staying. He couldn't wait to see the boy's face when he saw the colts in the spring. JD finally finished and wiggled back under the covers.

"All set?" Buck asked as he tucked JD in.

"When's Vin comin' home?" JD asked.

"In a couple of days," Buck replied as he pushed the hair out of JD's eyes.

"But why couldn't he come home wif us?"

"He was hurt and Nathan though it was best if he stayed in town with Chris."

"Oh," JD said and curled on his side. "'Night."

"Good night JD," Buck smiled and stood up.

Buck's knees cracked as he stood up and JD giggled. Buck left the room and straightened up the common area. JD's little bath had left quite a mess. When he was finished he headed for bed. He knew it was early but he was beat. He stripped off his outer clothes and climbed into bed in his long under wear. Buck was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.

+ + + + + + +

Chris sat next to Vin holding his hand. Vin had developed a slight fever that worried Chris but didn't seem to concern Nathan. Nathan assured him Vin's fever was a normal occurrence. They just had to keep a close eye on him. Chris leaned back in the chair and dozed. H wasn't sure how long he was asleep when he heard Vin whimper. Chris immediately sat up and leaned over the boy.

"Shhh, Vin, you're all right," Chris whispered as he stroked Vin's hair.

Chris's voice seemed to soothe Vin and he quieted. Chris placed his hand on Vin's forehead and frowned. He couldn't decide if Vin's fever was getting worse. Nathan walked in and saw Chris fussing with Vin.

"He restless?" Nathan asked.

"A little," Chris said and sat back. "Can't tell if his fever is getting worse."

Nathan leaned over and felt Vin's forehead. Vin stirred and Nathan talked softly to Vin and he settled back.

"Doesn't feel any higher," Nathan assured Chris.

"Tell me the truth, Nathan, is he gonna be okay?"

"You know I'll do everything I can," Nathan said honestly. "I ain't gonna let nothin' happened to him but you know as well as I do what can happen to a wound like that."

"I know," Chris sighed. "Thanks Nate."

"It's after midnight," Nathan said. "Why don't you get some sleep."

Chris nodded and got up and walked over to the spare bed by the wall. He stretched out on top of the covers and tried to relax. Chris stared at the ceiling wondering how Buck was doing with JD.

+ + + + + + +

Buck was instantly awake but lay still. It didn't pay it let an intruder know you were awake. Buck listened carefully as he heard something come into his room. It didn't sound very big and Buck figured an animal had strayed inside. Buck decided to just scare whatever it was and jumped up.

"Argh!" Buck yelled.

"Ahh!" JD screamed and started to cry.

"JD!" Buck cried in relief as he picked him up. "I didn't mean to scare you. What are you doing up?"

"I...want...Vin," JD sniffed as he rubbed his eyes with the backs of his hands.

"Got scared in that big bed by yourself?" Buck asked as he patted JD's back. JD nodded and Buck smiled. "Want to stay with me?"

JD nodded again and wriggled out of Buck's arms and under the covers. Buck got comfortable on his back and JD snuggled against him. Buck put his arm around JD and a short time later the boy was snoring softly. Soon Buck's louder snores drowned out JD's.

+ + + + + + +

Chris woke the next morning and groaned. His muscles were stiff from sitting in that back breaker chair of Nathan's. He stretched then sat up scrubbing his short blonde hair.

"Mornin', Chris," Josiah said from the seat next to Vin.

"Preacher," Chris nodded.

"Nathan went to gather some herbs to make a poultice for Vin's shoulder."

"How's he doin'?" Chris asked as he walked over.

"The same," Josiah said and sighed. "Poor little guy."

"I take it Nathan wants to change the bandages when he gets back."

"I believe so," Josiah said as he stood. "Now that you're awake I'll go patrol around town."

"Where's Ezra?"

"Sleeping," Josiah answered and put up a hand to stop Chris tirade. "He stayed up all last night sitting in the jail and patrolling the town."

"Damn," Chris cursed. "We'll have to work out a schedule. Never anticipated this when I said they could stay."

"We'll work something out," Josiah said. "Both these boys are where they were meant to be."

"Vin wasn't meant to be shot," Chris asked coldly.

"Well maybe not that," Josiah said. "By the way Ezra looked through all the wanted posters and he couldn't find anything on the guy who tried to shoot you."

"Probably just some kid looking to make a name for himself," Chris sighed.

"Chris," Vin said weakly.

"Hey, Cowboy, how ya feeling?" Chris asked as he sat on the edge of the bed.


Josiah poured water into a tin cup and handed it to Chris. Chris carefully put his hand behind Vin's head then placed the cup to Vin's lips. Vin started to gulp the water and Chris pulled the cup away.

"Easy, Vin, you can have as much as you want," Chris said then put the cup back to his lips.

"Where's JD?" Vin asked confused.

"Don't worry, he's with Buck," Chris said.

"He awake?" Nathan asked as he waked in.

"Yup," Josiah answered.

"Was hopin' I could get his bandages changed whilst he was asleep," Nathan replied as he placed the plants on his workbench.

"Now that Nathan is here I'll be going," Josiah said as he walked out.

Chris watched as Nathan boiled some water and prepared the poultice for Vin. When he was ready he carried everything over to the bed and placed everything on a small table. He grabbed a basin and placed it on the floor. Nathan then took some whiskey and poured it on his hands.

"Here ya go, Chris," Nathan said as he handed Chris the whisky. "Pour this on your hands and you can help."

Chris did as Nathan said then waited for more instructions. Nathan had Chris lift Vin so he could take off the bandages holding his right arm immobile. Vin whimpered as Chris picked him up. Nathan quickly undid the bandages and got to work on the ones covering the wounds. The last layer was stuck to the wounds with dried blood. Vin started to cry and fight them as Nathan carefully wet the cloth so it would come off. Once the bandages were off Nathan started to clean the wounds. Chris was forced to wrap his arms around Vin as the boy struggled.

"Make him stop!" Vin cried and turned tear-filled blue eyes to Chris.

"I'm sorry, Vin, it has to be done," Chris said trying hard to ignore the tears running down Vin's cheeks.

"Okay, Chris, you got him?" Nathan asked and Chris nodded. "This is gonna hurt."

Nathan had a small supply of carbolic. He usually only used it if a wound was very dirty but he wanted to give Vin a fighting chance since he was so small. Nathan poured some on a clean cloth and began to wipe the exit wound on Vin's back. It took all of Chris's strength to hold Vin as he tried to pull away. Chris sympathized with him knowing how much that stuff burned.

"Stop! Please stop! Hurts!" Vin wailed.

Nathan knew this was breaking Chris's heart. He cleaned the wound on Vin's chest then carefully patted them dry. Vin had stopped struggling and was crying hysterically. Nathan put the poultice on the wounds then wrapped them back up. Chris shifted Vin so he was laying the way he was last night against his chest. Vin was still crying as Nathan tried to give him some laudanum. Vin buried his face against Chris's arm and refused to take it.

"Vin, the medicine will make it stop hurting," Chris said rubbing Vin's back.

Vin turned his face to Nathan and stared at him. Nathan couldn't help but feel sorry for the boy. Vin's crying was less but Nathan watched as an occasional tear rolled down Vin's cheek. Nathan held the spoon of laudanum to Vin's lips. Vin opened his mouth and Nathan gave him the medicine.

"There, that wasn't so bad," Nathan said as he moved back to his workbench.

"How many times you gonna do this?" Chris asked as he held Vin.

"At least twice a day," Nathan replied. "I want to keep them wounds clean."

Chris didn't think he could do this again. Vin's cries were like a knife through his heart. Chris smiled as he felt Vin hiccup from crying so hard.

"Shh, Vin, just relax," Chris said as he patted his back gently.

"Want to go home," Vin said piteously and started to cry again.

"Soon, Vin."


"I promise."


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