"Little Britches" Universe

JD woke Buck as the boy slipped out of the bed. When Buck asked where he was going JD said outside. Buck figured where JD was headed and had the boy put on his shoes. Buck pulled on his boots and went out to help. Buck was glad the cabin was in an isolated area so he could walk around in his faded red long johns and just his boots. When JD was finished he wanted to go see the horses. Buck said they had to put on some clothes first. JD nodded pulling off his nightshirt and running naked back to the cabin. Buck just shook his head and followed. The ladies man found JD in his room trying to pull his long underwear on over his shoes.

"Hold on, JD, let's take your shoes off first," Buck suggested.


"Because it will be easier to get your clothes on," Buck replied and lifted JD and sat him on the edge of the bed.


"Because it will," Buck sighed.

Buck ignored JD's questions as he got the boy dressed. When they were both dressed Buck took JD out to feed the horses. When the animals were fed JD helped Buck carry the basket of eggs back to the cabin. Buck fixed a quick breakfast before they headed for town. When breakfast was finished Buck took JD to the barn to saddle Beavis.

"Can Vin come home wif us today?" JD asked.

"I don't think so," Buck said as he got Beavis's saddle.

"Why?" JD asked as Buck handed him the horse's bridle.

"Remember I told you he was hurt," Buck said as he went in the corral to get the gray.

"Yeah, but that was yes'day," JD said as he waited for Buck to bring Beavis out.

Buck just laughed and tried to explain to JD that it would take a few days for Vin to get better. JD bit his lower lip as he listened to Buck. He remembered his mama telling him she'd be sick for only a few days but then she went to heaven. JD didn't want Vin to leave him too.

"No!" JD shouted. "Bring Vin home now!"

"We can't," Buck said getting exasperated as he tightened the girth.

"Now!" JD shouted and started to punch Buck's leg.

"Whoa, easy there tiger," Buck said when JD began to cry. He knew something was wrong. "What's the matter?"

"Don't want Vin to go," JD sniffed.

"He's not goin' anywhere," Buck said kneeling in front of JD.

"But my mama promised she'd get better in a few days," JD snuffled.

"Oh," Buck smiled as he hugged JD. "Vin hurt his shoulder and can't come back right now. He ain't gonna die."

"Promise," JD said a s he pulled away from Buck wiping his eyes.

"I promise," Buck said echoing Chris.

Buck finished tacking Beavis and they headed for town. JD asked all sorts of questions as they rode. Buck came to respect Vin's patience with the younger boy. JD kept up a continuous chatter as they rode. As they came into town Buck saw Josiah heading for the church.

"Mornin' Josiah," Buck called.

"Morning, Buck, JD."

"Was takin' JD over to see Vin," Buck said.

"Might want to wait," Josiah replied. "They were getting ready to change his bandages."

"Poor kid," Buck said shaking his head. "Think you can watched JD for a couple of hours while I make a patrol outside town?"

"I think I can handle that," Josiah said as he reached up to take JD.

"NO!" JD declared and pulled away from Josiah. "Want to go with Buck."

"Sorry, kiddo," Buck said ruffling his hair.

"You could come see the new Noah's Ark I have. "Josiah said. "You could play with all the animals."

" 'Kay," JD quickly agreed and fell into Josiah's arms.

Buck laughed as Josiah carried JD to the church asking his endless questions. Josiah patiently answered every one. Buck went to the restaurant to get breakfast for Chris. He knew his partner hadn't left Vin's side all night. Millie quickly put a tray together and added extra biscuits for Vin. Buck took the tray and headed for the clinic. When he got up the stairs he quietly knocked on the door then entered. Chris was in the same position with Vin bundled on his lap. The room was quiet and Buck could hear and occasional sniff.

"How is he?" Buck asked as he walked in carrying the tray.

"Hurtin'," Nathan said as he cleared a spot to place the tray. "Just got finished changing his bandages."

"Poor little guy," Buck said in sympathy. "I think Millie piled enough on that tray to feed an army."

"Thanks, Buck," Nathan said as he pulled off the cloth.

Millie had loaded the tray with eggs, bacon and biscuits. She also included a large pot of coffee. Buck prepared a plate for Chris and brought it over to the bed along with a big cup of coffee.

"How you holdin' up, Pard?" Buck asked as he handed Chris the coffee and placed the plate on the bed next to him.

"I've been better," Chris said as he took the cup gratefully.

"Hey, Vin," Buck said as he reached out and stroked Vin's cheek. "He's hot!"

"He's alright," Nathan said exasperated.

"Guess he knows huh?" Buck smiled.

"Reckon he does since I keep reminding him," Chris smiled.

"JD?" Vin asked quietly.

"Josiah has him, " Buck assured Vin. "Nate, can Vin have a biscuit?"

"He can have anything he wants," Nathan said but doubted Vin would eat anything.

"Millie sent your favorite," Buck said wiping the tears from Vin's cheek. "Think you could eat a biscuit?"

Vin nodded and Chris quickly handed Buck the one off his plate. Buck gave it to Vin and the boy took a small bite.

"No honey," Vin pouted and gave it back to Buck.

"Ol' Buck will fix that," he said as Nathan handed him a jar of honey. "You just tell me when."

Vin watched as Bucked poured the honey on the biscuit. When Vin was satisfied he told Buck but not before the biscuit was dripping with honey. Nathan placed a cloth over Chris's shirt as Buck handed the biscuit to Vin. He nibbled on it and Buck smiled.

"Everything okay at the ranch?" Chris asked as he finished his breakfast.

"Everything's fine," Buck said. "JD has named all the chickens. I was headin' out on patrol as soon as I checked on Vin."

Chris told Buck to check by the Walker place. Tom Walker reported a wolf prowling around earlier in the week. Buck agreed and got ready to leave. He was about to say good-bye to Vin and smiled at the sleeping boy.

"Looks like someone is comfortable," Buck said as he took the sticky biscuit out of Vin's hand.

"He ate more than I thought he would," Nathan said pleased as he saw a quarter of the biscuit gone.

"I think most of it is stuck to his fingers," Chris replied.

Nathan wet a cloth and wiped the honey and crumbs off Vin's hands and face. Buck said he'd check back later and left. Nathan offered to help Chris place Vin on the bed but he refused. Chris said Vin would only wake as soon as they tried. Nathan smiled as he went back to his workbench. He knew Chris liked holding the boy and wasn't fooled by his excuses to do it. Nathan was glad they were both staying. The town needed a new life as much as these two boys did.

Chapter 4

JD liked playing with the hand carved Noah's Ark. There were all sorts of animals in the Ark. Josiah played with JD for awhile and was amused when JD ended up playing with only the horses. One he called Fire and the other Beavis. Josiah listened to JD's wild imagination and smiled. Buck and Chris were going to have fun with him.

"JD, I have some repairs to do," Josiah said. "I'll be close by if you need me."

" 'Kay," JD said not looking up from what he was doing.

Josiah smiled and picked up his tools. He went into the other room to repair the broken window. JD pretended the horses lived in the Ark alone. He raced them up and down the ramp then let them eat. JD had been playing alone for a few minutes when he looked around the church. He saw that Josiah was gone and wondered where he went. He had to use the outhouse but didn't know where to look for the preacher. JD decided he was a big boy and could do it himself. Except he didn't want to go alone so he picked up the carved wooded horses and walked outside. JD found what he was looking for and took care of business. When he was done he washed his hands in the water trough and looked around. He knew he should go back to the church but he was hungry and smelled food. JD wandered around town following his nose. He finally found a pie sitting on a windowsill and figured it was all right to take. JD picked up the pie and walked around the corner and sat down. He didn't have a fork so he used his fingers. When he finished some of the pie he got up to explore again taking the pie with him. As he passed the saloon he stopped and looked inside. It was kind of dark but he was curious and walked underneath the bat-winged doors. JD saw Buck's friend that talked funny and walked over to the table.

Ezra noticed JD walking towards him and wondered where Buck was. The boy was carrying a pie that was partly eaten. Ezra could see that JD had blue lips and fingers as he walked closer.

"Young man, may I inquire as to where your guardian is?" Ezra asked. "Also what are you doing wandering around our little burgh alone without a chaperone?"

JD furrowed his brow trying to figure out what the fancy man was talking about. When he decided he had no idea he held the pie out to Ezra.

"Want some pie?" JD asked.

Ezra stared at the boy like he lost his mind then suddenly smiled. "Don't mind if I do."

Ezra dipped his fingers in a part of the pie that JD hadn't pawed. The dark haired boy laughed as Ezra scooped up some of the pie and ate it. Ezra decided he better keep JD with him until someone came looking for him. He got the boy settled in a chair and began to show him card tricks.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah finished the window and stepped back to admire his handy work. The window looked pretty good. Josiah was putting away his tools when he noticed it was awfully quiet. He dropped the hammer and ran out to the main area of the church.

"JD!" Josiah called knowing he wouldn't get a response. "Damn!"

The preacher looked to heaven in forgiveness for the curse then bolted out the door. Josiah saw Nathan in front of the jail and walked quickly towards him.

"Nathan have you seen JD?"

"Ain't he supposed to be with you?"

"He was," Josiah said exasperated. "I was fixing a window in another room and came back to find him gone."

"Damn, where could a five-year-old go?" Nathan asked.

"Anywhere he wants," Josiah sighed. "Vin will never trust me again if anything happens to JD."

"Don't worry we'll find him," Nathan assured him. "We'll split up."

Josiah agreed and he headed for the livery. He knew how much JD liked horses. Josiah searched the whole barn including the hayloft but no JD. Josiah left the livery and went behind the buildings. There were all sorts of boxes and places to hide. After searching for an hour Josiah started to get worried. The town wasn't that big. He decided to find Nathan and see if he had any luck. As he walked past the widow Hanson's place she stuck her head out the window.

"Mr. Sanchez, I wish to speak with you," she demanded.

"Ma'am," Josiah said politely. The widow was a hard woman who thought she knew what was best for the town. When she tried to close the saloons a war had almost started. "What can I do for you?"

"I set pie on this sill to cool and now it's gone," she raged. "I want you to find the culprit and arrest him!"

"I'll do my best," Josiah assured the busy-body.

"You better or I'll have to have a talk with Judge Travis."

She finished her tirade and pulled her head back inside and slammed the window shut. Josiah prayed for patience and was about to walk away when he noticed the tiny footprints under the window. He smiled and began to follow the trail of pie crumbs. Josiah followed the crumbs along the boardwalk and noticed a blue hand print on the wall at about JD's height. Obviously Mrs. Hanson baked blueberry and Josiah continued his search. The trail seemed to be leading to the saloon and Josiah continued along. Nathan saw him and walked over.

"Can't find him anywhere," Nathan said.

"Can't find who?" Buck asked as he walked up behind them.

"Um...well," Nathan stammered.

"JD wandered off on me," Josiah admitted taking the blame.

"He what!" Buck bellowed.

"Easy, Buck, I think I know where he is," Josiah said as he walked into the saloon.

Buck and Nathan followed him into the salon and looked around. They saw JD sitting with Ezra. The boy was happily holding cards in his hands and playing with the gambler.

"I'll kill him!" Buck growled. "Teaching the kid poker."

"Hold on, Buck," Josiah smiled. "Let's see what happens."

They watched as JD looked at his cards and scrunched up his nose in concentration.

"You have any ladies?" JD asked looking up at Ezra hopefully.

"I'm afraid I don't," Ezra said. "Go fish."

JD pouted and picked up a card form the deck. The boy's face lit up as he looked at the card.

"Look I got her 'Sra!" JD exclaimed as he showed the queen of diamonds to the gambler.

Josiah laughed and walked towards the table. As he got closer he could see the empty pie tin sitting off to one side. Buck and Nathan followed smiling. Buck didn't think Ezra even liked kids.

"Hi, Buck," JD yelled when he saw him. "I playing wif 'Sra."

"I see," Buck said. "But don't you think you owe Josiah and apology for running off?"

"I sorry," JD said looking at Josiah.

"That's alright, JD as long as you're safe."

"Me and 'Sra had pie," JD said happily.

"Widow Hanson was wondering where he pie went," Josiah laughed.

"I must remember to thank the black widow," Ezra commented. "Her pie was excellent."

"Is she black like Nathan?" JD asked when he heard Ezra call her a black widow.

"Uh no," Buck said thinking fast and giving Ezra a dirty look. "She likes to wear black."

"Oh," JD said. "Want to see Vin now."

"Alright, little britches, let's go," Buck said picking him up.

" 'Sra come too?" JD asked.

"I would be happy to," Ezra replied as he stood. He noticed JD had left the wooden horses on his chair. "I believe you have forgotten your steeds."

"Huh?" JD asked.

"Your horses," Ezra smiled handing them to JD.

"Where'd you get those?" Buck asked as they headed out the door.

"From the Ark," JD said looking at Buck like he should have known.

"They belong to Josiah," Buck told JD.

"No they don't," JD argued. "They're Noah's."

"He's got you there Buck," Nathan laughed.

"I think Noah can do without them for awhile," Josiah smiled.

They walked to the clinic while JD told them about his adventures around town. When they climbed the stairs Nathan went ahead to see if Vin was ready for his exuberant cousin. When he walked in he found Vin awake and Chris reading to him.

"Hi, Vin, Someone wants to see you," Nathan said.

"JD?" Vin asked quietly.

Nathan opened the door and Buck walked in carrying the younger boy.

"Down!" JD demanded.

Buck set him on his feet and he bounded for the bed. Chris grabbed him before he hurt Vin.

"No jumping," Chris said and placed JD on the bed next to Vin.

"" 'Kay," JD said as he moved closer to his cousin and hugged him. Vin gasped as JD jarred his shoulder. "I sorry."

"Go easy, JD," Buck said.

"You okay, Vin?" Chris asked and Vin nodded.

"He hot," JD said as he touched Vin's cheek.

"Vin isn't feeling good," Josiah smiled as Nathan rolled his eyes.

"I know," JD announced. "Buck promised Vin wasn't going wif my mama."

"Not if I can help it," Chris and Nathan said in unison.

"Look, Vin, see my horses," JD said holding out the wooden horses.

"Mr. Dunne since you have two, why don't you give one to your cousin?" Ezra suggested.

"No! Mine!" JD shouted and put them behind his back.

"JD," Chris warned.

" S'okay," Vin said sleepily. "Didn't want one any way."

"Getting tired?" Chris asked as he pushed the hair out of Vin's eyes. He saw how the boy's eyes lit up when he saw the horses and knew he was lying when he said he didn't want one.

"A little," Vin admitted.

"So, JD, how about some lunch," Buck asked and carefully lifted JD off the bed.

"Yeah hungry!" JD yelled.

"Good Lord how can he be?" Ezra asked. "He practically ate a whole pie."

"A pie?" Chris asked raising an eyebrow.

"I'll explain later," Buck laughed.

"Chris why don't you go with Buck," Josiah suggested. "I'll stay with Vin."

"Vin," Chris called as Vin blinked owlishly. "I'm going to get some lunch. I'll be back later."

" 'Kay," Vin sighed and drifted to sleep.

"He give you any trouble?" Nathan asked as he watched Chris pull the blankets up to Vin's chin.

"He won't drink that ditch water of yours," Chris smiled.

"Smart young man," Ezra smiled.

"But he needs too," Nathan exclaimed. "It'll help with the fever."

"Relax," Chris said. "I mixed some in broth. He ate a good bit of that."

"Who brought up broth?" Nathan asked.

"Nettie," Chris answered. "She was not happy she had to find out about Vin the round about way."

"Damn, Chris, she's only met him once," Buck complained. "How was we supposed to know she'd want to see Vin."

"Yeah, well, she came up and gave me quite an ear full," Chris smiled as he stood up. "Then she fussed over Vin and left. Saying she expects us for Sunday supper soon."

Nathan was very glad to hear that Chris was able to get some of the willow bark into Vin. He told Chris not to come back for the rest of the day. Nathan told Chris that he and Josiah were capable of watching Vin. Chris ate lunch with Buck, Ezra and JD then went up to his room at the boarding house to get some clothes. Then he went to the bathhouse and soaked in a hot tub until his fingers wrinkled. Buck and JD found him later sitting in front of the jail whittling. JD watched in fascination as the shaving drifted to the ground.

"Well me and JD are gonna head for the ranch," I'll see ya in the mornin'."

Buck took JD's hand and headed for the livery. Chris continued to whittle and the piece of wood began to take shape. He wasn't very good at carving horses but he thought Vin would like what he was making. Chris got comfortable and continued. Anyone riding into town would think Chris was completely absorbed in what he was doing but the people of the town knew otherwise. They had nothing to worry about with Chris sitting by the jail whittling.

Chapter 5

Chris walked out of the boarding house and over to the clinic. He checked on Vin around midnight and found him asleep. Chris was about to get comfortable in the chair and spend the night. Except Nathan had other plans. Nathan told Chris to go sleep in his own room, that Vin would be all right. Chris reluctantly agreed and left. The time alone allowed Chris to finish his gift for Vin. He pulled it out of his pocket and gave it another look. Chris smiled in satisfaction thinking it came out pretty good. He climbed the stairs to the clinic and went inside.

"See I told ya he'd be right along," Nathan said to Vin.

"Where were you?" Vin asked.

"Nathan made me go sleep in my own bed," Chris explained as he sat on the bed.

"Oh," Vin said quietly.

"Afraid I left ya?" Chris asked jokingly and was surprised when Vin nodded. "I wouldn't do that, Vin, I gave you my word. You and JD are staying with us."

Nathan was surprised to hear the implied threat in Chris's statement. He knew if anyone tried to take the boys know there would be a fight.

"Glad you came Chris, I need to change the bandages," Nathan said.

"No! I don't want him to," Vin cried.

"I know, Vin," Chris said pushing the hair out of his eyes. "But I have something for you."

Chris took the carving out of his pocket and handed it to Vin. "It's a wolf howling at the moon. They're strong and fierce but also loyal to their family."

"It's for me?" Vin asked taking it tentatively. "I don't have to share it?"

"It's for you," Chris smiled. "And no, you don't have to share."

"Are you ready to let me change those bandages?" Nathan asked.

"No!" Vin said clutching the wolf.

"Vin, you know it has to be done," Chris reasoned. "Do you think you can be strong like the wolf?"

Vin looked at the carving then back at Chris. He didn't want them to touch his shoulder because it hurt. Vin finally nodded and Chris picked him up. Nathan unwrapped Vin's shoulder and started to clean the wounds. Chris could see Vin was trying not to cry. When Nathan used the Carbolic Vin couldn't hold back the tears. Nathan finished quickly and wrapped him back up. Chris knew Vin wanted to be held and didn't disappoint him. Chris got comfortable and settled Vin against him. Nathan placed a quilt around Vin and moved over to his workbench to clean things up.

"Can I see one?" Vin asked out of the blue.

"See what?" Chris asked confused.

"A wolf," Vin said looking up at Chris. "I want to see a real one."

"We don't get many around here," Chris explained. "We get coyotes more."

"What's that?" Vin asked turning the carving over in his hand.

"Just like the wolf but smaller," Chris answered.

Chris smiled as Vin just stared at the carving. He watched as Vin smiled and clutched the wolf close to his chest. Chris tried to run his finger through Vin's hair but they kept getting tangled.

"Ow!" Vin complained.

"Sorry, Vin," Chris apologized. "Looks like your hair could use a washing."

"Not yet," Nathan said. "He still has a slight fever."

"What if we brushed it?" Chris suggested.

Nathan handed Chris a brush and he tried to untangle Vin's hair. The brush got caught a few times but Vin tried not to complain too much. When Chris was finished he gave the brush back to Nathan.

"I'm hungry," Vin announced.

"You are?" Nathan said surprised.

"A little," Vin admitted.

"I'm not even goin' to ask you what you want," Nathan smiled. "But do you think you can eat some porridge also?"

"Don't like it," Vin said scrunching up his nose. "Can I have yellow eggs?"

"Sure," Nathan said. "I'll be right back."

"Chris," Vin called after Nathan left.

"Yeah, Vin?"

"I want to go outside."

"I don't think Nathan will let you."

"Tired of being inside," Vin pouted.

"You've only been inside one day," Chris laughed.

"Want to see Peso," Vin argued still.

"I sent Peso home with Buck," Chris replied. "He would have gotten into mischief left in the livery."

"He likes to be outside," Vin stated. "Like me."

"If it stays nice maybe you can sit on the porch later," Chris conceded.

"Promise," Vin smiled.

"I said maybe," Chris growled.

Vin just smiled and Chris had the feeling Vin knew he would take him outside later. Nathan came back a few minutes later with enough food for everyone. Chris told Vin to put the wolf down or he wouldn't be able to eat since his other arm was wrapped up. Vin was reluctant to part with the first toy that was just his. Nathan smiled and told Vin he'd put it on the table next to the bed. Vin watched closely as Nathan put the wolf on the table. Once he was satisfied it wasn't going anywhere he ate his breakfast. Vin ate half a biscuit and part of his eggs before he fell asleep. Nathan took the fork from his slack fingers and took the plate.

"Not bad," Nathan said satisfied.

As Nathan gathered the plates he heard someone coming up the stairs. He quickly opened the door to find Buck with a wide-awake JD waiting outside.

"Shhh, Vin just went to sleep," Nathan said.

"No problem," Buck smiled. "Got that JD? We have to be quiet."

"Okay," JD nodded.

They walked in to find Chris getting Vin settled back on the pillows. Buck walked over and looked down at Vin.

"How's he doin'?"

"Fever's comin' down," Chris replied.

"That's great," Buck said enthusiastically.

While the grown-ups talked JD wandered around the clinic. He wanted to see Vin but his cousin was sleeping. Since Vin wasn't awake there was nothing for him to do. He noticed something sitting on the table next to the bed. As he walked over he saw a carved animal. JD figured Josiah must have left it and he would take it back to the Ark. JD picked the carving up and put it in his pocket with the horses.

"Come on JD," Buck called softly.

"Where we goin'?" JD asked as he came over to Buck.

"Goin' to sit by the jail," Buck answered.

"Okay," JD smiled happily. He liked playing in the jail.

"Nathan you sure you'll be alright with Vin?" Chris asked.

"I was alright last night wasn't I?" Nathan said smiling.

Chris gave Nathan his famous glare and followed Buck. As they were walking to the jail Tom Walker came riding up.

"That coyote took one of my goats," he announced.

"Thought you said it was a wolf?" Chris asked.

"Wolf, coyote they're both pests," he declared. "I need some help."

"Alright," Chris agreed. "Buck, see if you can get Josiah to watch JD then I'll meet you at the livery."

"Right," Buck said. "Come on kid."

"I in trouble?" JD asked looking up at Buck.

"You? No!" Buck assured him. "Me and Chris have to take care of some business. You have to promise you'll stay with Josiah."

"I p'omise," JD sighed. "But he's no fun, not like you."

Buck laughed as he continued to the church. When they got there they found Josiah outside whitewashing the walls.

"Mornin', Josiah," Buck called.

"Mornin', Buck, JD."

"Need a favor," Buck said. "Coyote got after some stock. Me and Chris are gonna take a look."

"And you need someone to watch JD."


"Not a problem," Josiah assured him and turned to JD.

"What ya doin'?" JD asked.

"I'm painting want to help?" Josiah asked.

JD nodded and Josiah handed him a brush then shooed Buck on his way. Buck left while JD was distracted and joined Chris.

+ + + + + + +

Chris and Buck rode back into town three hours later hot and bothered. The damned coyote turned out to be one of Walker's dogs. When they finally caught up to the beast walker wouldn't kill it. Chris threw up his hands and headed back to town. Buck went to the church to get JD while Chris went up to Nathan's room. As he got closer he heard Vin arguing with someone. He opened the door to find Mary trying to get Vin to eat some broth.

"Don't want none!" Vin yelled. "I want my wolf."

"Vin, I don't know anything about a wolf," Mary sighed.

"It's on the table, Vin, remember," Chris said as he walked in.

"No it ain't," Vin declared. "Look."

Chris walked over to the table and sure enough it wasn't there. Chris started looking around under the table. Mary asked what it looked like then helped him search.

+ + + + + + +

Buck walked into the church to find Josiah fixing a window close to where JD was playing. The preacher didn't want to lose him again.

"Hey, little britches, want some lunch?" Buck asked.

"Yeah," JD said and ran over to him.

"What you got there?" Buck asked noticing something in JD's hand. The boy guiltily put it behind his back. "JD?"

"I found it," JD said as he handed the wolf to Buck.

Buck recognized the piece that Chris was carving the day before. As he took it from JD he saw it was a wolf sitting on its haunches howling at the moon. JD had played pretty rough with it and one of the ears was broken off. He had also painted one side.

"Where did you get this JD?" Buck asked gently.

"This mornin'," JD confessed. "When we saw Vin."

"JD," Buck scolded.

"I didn't mean it," JD said. "I found it."

"I think we better bring this back to Chris," Buck said taking JD's hand.

"I sorry," JD said turning his big brown eyes on Buck.

"I'm not the one you have to apologize to," Buck said. "Now go wait by the door while I talk to Josiah."

"I thought it was one of the animals from the Ark," Josiah said. "You think Chris made it for Vin?'

"I think so," Buck said. "Saw him whittlin' last night after JD refused to give up one of the horses. I better get it back over to Chris."

Buck took JD's hand and led him over to the clinic. They walked in to find Chris and Mary searching around for something.

"Is this what you're looking for?" Buck asked holding out the carving.

"Where'd you find it?" Chris asked as he took it from Buck. "What happened to it?"

"JD'll explain that," Buck said pushing the small boy forward.

"I found it on the table," JD said hanging his head. "I was just playing wif it."

"How'd it get broken?" Chris asked.

"I don't know," JD shrugged.

"I think you owe Vin an apology," Chris said sternly. "The wolf was his."

"Don't be mad," JD said running over to his cousin. "I was just playing wif it."

"I ain't mad," Vin said trying not to cry over a silly toy.

"I won't play wif it again," JD promised. "You can have one of my horses."

JD pulled out one of the horses and held it out to Vin. Vin knew his cousin didn't mean to ruin the wolf so he told JD to keep his horses. Buck took JD out leaving Vin with Mary and Chris.

"I'll make you another," Chris said and went to throw it in the fire.

"No!" Vin cried. "It's mine!"

Mary took the wolf from Chris and gave it to Vin. Vin thanked her and curled up with the wolf. Mary watched as Vin rubbed the wolf with his thumb and started to cry. Chris was about to go to him when Mary pulled him outside.

"I don't understand," Chris said. "I would have made him a new one."

"Why are men so blind?" Mary asked looking up to heaven. "Vin doesn't want a new one. He wants that one because you made it. He's upset that it's broken but he still wants it because it's his first gift from you."

"It's just a toy," Chris said.

"Not to Vin," Mary smiled. "Billy still has the first toy Steven gave him."

"Oh damn," Chris cursed remembering Adam carrying around the teddy bear he gave him. "And I tried to throw it in the fire."

"Well I'll let the two of you alone," Mary said as she went down the stairs.

Chris wen back inside to find Vin still crying. He walked over to the bed and stroked Vin's hair. Chris knew something that might take Vin's mind off the wolf.

"Vin remember I said I would think about taking you outside?" Chris said and Vin turned to look at him. "Do you still want to?"

Vin nodded and Chris bundled him in some blankets and carried him out to the porch. Chris sat in the rocker Nathan had on the porch and got comfortable. Vin had stopped crying and was watching people pass on the streets. Every once in awhile Vin would look at the wolf and sigh.

"If you want I could finish painting him," Chris suggested. "I think he'd look good all white. We could paint in his eyes. Or maybe we could get Ezra to do it. He has a steadier hand."

"But what about his ear?" Vin asked looking up at Chris.

"Well let's see what I can do," Chris said holding out his hand.

Vin gave the wolf to Chris then watched as he pulled out a small knife. Chris could see that JD only broke off the tip. He began to carve and Vin watched in fascination. When Chris was done the wolf now had one ear that flopped down. Vin smiled when Chris gave it back. He snuggled closer to Chris and got comfortable.

"Can you teach me?" Vin asked.

"If you want," Chris smiled.

"Do you really think he'd look good all white?" Vin asked looking at the half-painted carving.

"I think so."

"Good, then I can call him Ghost."

Chris smiled, then noticed Nathan standing across the street. The healer came marching across the street and up the stairs. He was about to launch into a tirade but Chris spoiled it.

"His fever broke and I have him bundled in plenty of blankets," Chris said. "He's fine."

"It's on your head if he gets sick again," Nathan warned.

"I'm hungry," Vin said. "But I don't want broth!"

"What do you want?" Nathan asked.

"Chicken and dumplings," Vin said happily.

"I'll see what Millie has," Nathan smiled.

Chris watched as the healer moved down the steps. Nathan knew Vin was recovering and time outside wouldn't hurt him. He just wanted to get Chris. Chris knew Vin's getting shot was an accident and that he shouldn't blame himself. He also came to realize that his affection for Vin wouldn't destroy the love he had for Adam. Chris smiled and sat contentedly on the porch holding a blue-eyed little devil who'd stolen his heart.


The next couple weeks Vin recovered fully and life was starting to run smoothly out at the ranch. Vin sometimes became insecure in his relationship with the two men but Chris or Buck was always there to reassure him. JD, on the other hand, acted like he had lived there all his life. They were also able to convince Vin he didn't have to hide food in their room after Buck found some bacon that had gone bad. They came to find out Vin was hiding it in case someone tried to take them away and he could hide with JD and have food.

Chris watched from the boardwalk of the jail as Vin, JD and Billy played around town. Chris wasn't thrilled that Buck had made a slingshot for Vin. The boy was usually fairly accurate but sometimes his shots went wild. Chris told him not to shot it in town and Vin had obeyed so far. A slingshot was too much of a temptation. Chris went into the jail to check on some wanted posters. He had been sitting at the desk for about an hour when a rock can flying through the window.

"VIN TANNER!" Chris yelled.

Vin was instantly at the door with his head down. Chris didn't blame Vin, he blamed Buck.

"I'm sorry, Chris, you can punish me if you want," Vin said.

"Come here, Vin," Chris gestured. Vin looked up and walked over to where Chris was sitting. "This is why I didn't want you using it in town."

"You can have it," Vin said holding out the slingshot.

"I'm not going to take it, Vin," Chris said. "I think you have learned your lesson."

"I won't play any more," Vin promised. "I'll just go out and watch JD."

"I don't want you to do that either," Chris sighed. "You can be a little boy, Vin. Sometimes boys get into trouble. You don't always have to responsible for things. You have grown-ups now to worry about that."

"But I promised I would watch out for, JD," Vin said confused.

"You can still do that," Chris said. "But I don't want you worry about growing up so fast. I want you to have fun."

"Okay," Vin smiled. "But I'll leave the slingshot with you just in case."

Vin put it on the desk and went outside. Chris picked it up and smiled. He knew the three boys would find something else to get in trouble about. So far today Chris had three complaints about their antics. He just hoped they didn't get into any more trouble before lunch. Chris went back to what he was doing and didn't have to wait long before he heard someone yell at the three boys. Chris shook his head and looked at the next poster ignoring what was going on outside.


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