"Little Britches" Universe

Chapter 4

When they were finished bathing the two boys Nathan and Buck had a hard time getting JD dressed. The little devil thought it would be fun if they played tag first. As soon as Buck lifted him out of the tub and put him on the floor JD squirmed out of his arms and ran away. Nathan was helping Vin get dressed and turned to see what the problem was. He smiled, as the naked five-year-old kept ducking under small places were Buck couldn't fit. Once Buck thought he'd caught, JD but since he was still wet JD slipped easily from his hands. Nathan finished with Vin and went to help the ladies' man. Vin watched as the two of them tried to catch JD. He knew that if JD didn't want to be caught he wouldn't be. Vin decided to give them a hand.

"Come on, JD, get dressed," Vin called. "Mr. Chris said we could go see the jail."

"Really?" JD said as he darted passed the two men and over to his cousin.

Buck got off the floor and watched Vin start to dress JD. It amazed Buck at the patience the older boy showed his younger cousin. JD was asking Vin all sorts of questions about the jail. Buck came over and sat down next to JD.

"If you want, Vin, I can put on JD's shoes while Nathan combs your hair," Buck offered.

"Okay," Vin said.

They were finally ready and left the bathhouse. They all said good-bye to Nathan as they walked to the jailhouse. Buck had JD's hand while Vin carried the carpetbag. Buck offered to carry it but Vin said he could. As they passed the general store Josiah stepped out and walked along with them. The tall preacher looked down at Vin and saw him struggling with the bag.

"Can I help with that, son?"

"I guess," Vin said since it was heavy.

Josiah took one of the handles while Vin held the other. When they got to the jail, JD ran over to one of the cells and went inside.

"Look, Vin, I bad," JD said as he pushed the door closed.

Josiah watched as Vin walked over to the cell to amuse JD. He thought the boy didn't look too good but knew Vin would never complain. Buck rummaged in the carpetbag and puled out some wooden soldiers that Mary had given them.

"Come on, boys, let's go out on the porch," Buck said. "It's too nice to stay inside."

JD ran out ahead of Buck. Josiah followed Buck and Vin came out last. Vin didn't really want to go out. His tummy hurt and he just wanted to lie down. Vin didn't say anything because he didn't want the grown-ups to think he was complaining too much. After the wind had died down it turned out to be a beautiful day. When Vin came out he saw JD playing with some toy soldiers. Buck and Josiah were sitting in the chairs watching the town. Vin sat by JD and leaned against the wall watching him play.

Buck leaned back in his chair until it was balanced on two legs. The town was quiet which suited him fine. He smiled as he listened to JD. The little guy sure could talk. As he listened to JD he realized he didn't hear Vin. He turned to see if the older boy was there. Vin was leaning against the wall just watching JD. Buck knew there were enough soldiers for both of them. As he watched JD play he realized the younger boy had all the soldiers and was sitting on them. He was about to tell JD to give some to Vin when the blonde bolted off the porch and around the building.

"Was wondering when he was gonna do that," Josiah commented as he stood up and followed Vin.

"Where's Vin?" JD asked as he stood by Buck's knee.

"Don't know," Buck said. "But don't' worry Josiah will bring him back."

"Ain't worried, Vin won't leave me," JD said. "Want to see my soldiers?"

Buck smiled and picked JD up and sat him on his lap. JD introduced him to the wooden soldiers. JD leaned back against Buck's chest and told him a story. Buck listened but glanced to where Vin and Josiah went.

Josiah found Vin on the side of the building throwing up. He had watched Vin at lunch forcing himself to eat everything on his plate. Josiah's idea of filling their plates had backfired. He walked over to Vin and grabbed his waist as another shuddered racked the boy's body. Josiah patiently stayed with Vin, rubbing his back until only dry heaves were left. Vin straightened up and Josiah pulled out a handkerchief and wiped Vin's face.

"Feel better?" Josiah asked and Vin shook his head no.

Josiah smiled in sympathy and pulled Vin into a hug. Vin put his arms around Josiah's neck and lay his head on the preacher's shoulder. Josiah stood up and lifted Vin in his arms. Vin wrapped his legs around Josiah's waist as he walked back to the porch. Josiah went inside the jail and came out with a cup of water. He sat in the chair with Vin and offered him the cup. Vin took a couple of small sips and gave the cup back to Josiah and put his head back down.

"He okay?" Buck asked as he watched Josiah hold Vin.

"Vin just ate a little too much," Josiah said as he rubbed Vin's back.

"Then why'd you eat it all, kid?" Buck asked confused.

"We was told we had to eat everything put in front of us," Vin said.

"At the orphanage?" Josiah asked and Vin nodded.

"It weren't hard to do," Vin sighed. "We ain't never got enough."

"Vin used to eat my carrots," JD announced. "I don't like carrots."

"Do you like carrots?" Buck asked Vin.

"No," Vin admitted. "Just didn't want JD to get in trouble."

Buck smiled and shock his head. Josiah felt Vin cuddling looking for a comfortable position. He settled after a few minutes and Josiah was pretty sure Vin had fallen asleep. JD was also trying to stay awake and Josiah smiled as the boy's head would nod forward then snap up.

"Bet mine goes down first," Buck said.

"Who do you think you are, Ezra? Besides you'd lose," Josiah said as he brushed the hair off Vin's face.

"Damn," Buck cursed when he saw Vin was asleep.

It didn't take JD long to fall asleep but Buck had to laugh as he fought it. Buck took the soldiers from JD's hand and placed them next to his chair.

"Guess we should find a place to put them," Josiah said.

"We can put them on one of the cots in the cells," Buck suggested.

"Those filthy things?" Josiah protested. "You just gave them a bath. There's no telling what they'd get from those cots."

"Yeah well normally I'd never suggest it but Mary made me and Nathan clean 'em," Buck said as he stood up. "Said prisoners had a right to clean bedding."

Josiah followed Buck into the jail and over to the cell they could see from the door. Buck let Josiah put Vin down first then placed JD next to his cousin. JD woke up and looked around. He saw Vin next to him and cuddled up to his cousin and went back to sleep. Buck quickly but quietly pushed Josiah back outside.

"Woo that was close," Buck said as he sat back down.

"Sure was," Josiah agreed as he pulled the barrel with the checkerboard over.

Buck helped Josiah set up the board then got down to a serious game. They played for an hour when they noticed Ezra walk out of the saloon. The dapper gambler walked across the street and waited in front of the general store. Just as he finished crossing the street the stagecoach barreled around the end of down and down the street.

"You can set a clock by him," Buck commented as he watched Ezra.

"That you can," Josiah laughed.

Buck watched as two men got off the stage. One was obviously a businessman, which Ezra introduced himself to quickly. The other look like a drifter and Buck watched as he looked along the street. Buck relaxed when a young woman came out of the store and fell into the man's arms. They watched as Ezra led the businessman over to the saloon and disappeared inside. Days like this made it enjoyable to be the peacekeepers in this town. Buck leaned back and enjoyed the quiet. He knew it couldn't last.

+ + + + + + +

Vin woke with a start looking around. He had no idea where he was and started to panic. JD stirred next to him and sat up.

"Wow we in jail," JD laughed.

Vin looked around and realized JD was right. The last thing he remembered was getting sick and sitting outside. He felt much better now that he slept and his stomach growled loudly. JD laughed and got off the cot. Vin heard voices outside and recognized Chris. They heard Buck's funny laugh and JD ran for the door.

"Well hello, little britches," Buck said from his chair as JD came out the door.

"Hi," JD said and leaned on Buck's knee.

"How ya feeling, Vin?" Buck asked when he saw Vin standing in the door.

"Fine," Vin said.

"Well now that they're awake I guess we better head home," Chris announced. "We have chores to do."

Buck rolled his eyes and watched as Chris stood up and headed for the livery. Vin stepped out on the porch to see Chris walk away. Buck looked at Vin and sighed. Sometimes he just wanted to beat the crap out of Chris.

"Come on you two, let's get your things," Buck said as he stood up.

They gathered the soldiers and put them in the bag. Buck picked up the bag and headed for the stables. Vin followed holding JD's hand. When they got the stable they found Chris just finishing saddling Pony as Yosemite saddled Beavis. When they were finished they walked the horses outside. Chris mounted up and Buck lifted Vin up behind him. Chris had put the supplies from the general store in his saddlebags and Vin sat on those. Yosemite held Beavis until Buck got the bag and JD settled in front of him.

"Thanks, Yosemite," Buck said as he picked up the reins.

"Anytime," he said and stepped back into the stable.

Chris tapped his heals to Pony's side and they moved out. Twenty minutes later they came over the rise that led to the cabin. Pony took in a deep breath and neighed loudly. Peso answered and they saw the black gelding run to the edge of his corral.

"They like each other?" Vin asked.

"Yeah," Chris answered.

They went down the hill and Peso trotted along with them inside his corral. Chris pulled Pony up in front of the barn and helped Vin down. Vin ran over to Peso and the black put his head through the fence to see him.

"At least you're happy to see me," Vin said as he pet Peso.

JD joined Vin and Peso was in heaven. Buck laughed at the big gelding. Peso loved attention and Buck was happy the boys could give it to him. They had always been busy and the black had been left to his own devices, which wasn't always good since he tended to get into mischief. Buck led Beavis into the corral and began to unsaddle him. Chris followed and shut the gate behind him.

"Glad we never sold that big lug," Buck said was he loosened the girth. "Vin seems to like him."

"I think it's mutual," Chris said and smiled.

Buck just shook his head. Sometimes he just couldn't figure Chris out. He knew his friend didn't want to get close to these boys. They reminded him too much of Adam and what he'd lost.

"Better go let Fire out for awhile," Chris said, "while I go rustle up something for dinner."

Buck nodded and went into the barn. He went to Fire's stall and opened it. The big stallion nudged Buck and he scratched him behind the ears. They got lucky with this stud. He had a sweet personality and was very mellow. Buck led him out the back of the barn and placed him in the corral that had very tall fences. JD and Vin came over and looked between the slats as Buck closed the gate. Fire kicked up his heels and ran around.

"He sure is pretty Mr., Buck," JD said as they watched.

"Yup he sure is," Buck agreed, "Come on let's get everyone fed."

Buck showed Vin how to get the chickens back in the coup and how to look for any eggs the hens laid. While Vin was doing that Buck took JD and they got the horses' food ready. When they were done Vin walked over with a dozen eggs in the basket.

"You can just put the basket by the door, Vin," Buck said. "Come help us with the horses."

Vin quickly did what Buck said and followed him outside. They fed Beavis and Pony first then Peso. Buck fed Fire even though JD wanted to do it. Buck explained to JD that when Fire was outside he had to promise never to go in his corral. Even though he was a very quiet and mellow stallion they were sometimes protective of their areas. Both boys promised and Buck knew they would keep their word. When the horses were all fed Buck carried Chris's saddle bags and took the boys up to the house. Vin carried the carpetbag and put it in their room and placed it on the bed. He started pulling everything out and noticed all the new clothes.

"Mrs. Travis gave them to JD," Buck explained as he came in carrying Vin's new clothes. "Her son grew out of them."

"That was nice of her," Vin said as he put them in the trunk at the foot of the bed.

Buck gave him a hand and in a short time everything was put away. They went back to the main area and Vin gave JD the wooden soldiers. JD took them over by the stove and started to play. Vin sat with him but didn't feel like playing. Buck laid a fire and Vin watched. Just as Buck went to light it, Chris walked in carrying three rabbits already skinned.

"So the snares are working," Buck commented as he lit the fire.

"Yup," Chris said and placed them on the table.

Vin finally joined JD and they played until supper was finished. They ate their meal with only a little conversation. Mostly Buck asking Chris if everything was quiet outside town. Vin only ate a little of the rabbit and ate more biscuits. As they were eating the wind began to pick up and Chris told Buck to go bring Fire in while he cleaned up.

"Can I come?" JD asked and ran to Buck.

"No you better stay here," Buck said.

"Please," JD begged. "I'll be good."

"Mr. Buck said no, JD," Vin said. "You stay with me and help clear the table."

"Don't wanna," JD sulked and grabbed the soldiers off the table then stomped over to the stove.

Vin bit is lip not knowing what to do. Buck just smiled at him and went outside. Vin looked over at Chris and saw him shaking his head. Vin just took the plates off the table and placed them in the tub to be washed. He knew Mr. Chris was mad. When Vin was finished with the dishes he went over and sat with JD. His cousin was playing happily with the soldiers when Mr. Buck walked in carrying the basket of eggs.

"It's really blowing out there," Buck said as he put the basket up on a shelf.

"Everything okay out there?" Chris asked.

"Yeah," Buck said sitting by the stove. "Fire's all locked up for the night. Beavis and Pony are rump to tail all ready for the storm. Peso's out there playing with a tumble weed."

"Stupid horse," Chris muttered.

"He is not!" Vin yelled. "He just wants to play."

Chris raised his eyebrow and Vin sat staring at him defiantly. Buck just started to laugh and Chris smiled.

"Okay maybe he isn't stupid," Chris said. "Just loco."

"What's loco?" Vin asked.

"Crazy," Chris smiled. "We have a crazy horse that likes to play with tumble weeds."

"What's a tumble weed?" JD asked.

Buck picked JD up and explained what it was. Vin watched as Chris sat at the table cleaning his guns. Buck called Vin over and sat him in his lap next to JD and read them a story. Not only had Mary given them clothe and toys she also gave them some picture books. Chris watched as the two boys sat listening to Buck. He had been surprised when Vin got angry at his comment about Peso. The boy had a soft spot for animals being picked on. About an hour later Chris saw JD starting to fall asleep and said it was time for bed. They got the boys dressed and into the large bed. Buck tucked JD in as Chris walked in carrying the bottle of liniment.

"Vin, Nathan gave me something for your back," Chris said. "Can I put some on?"

"I guess," Vin said.

"Roll on your stomach," Chris instructed.

Vin did as he said and Chris lifted his new nightshirt. Chris poured some of the liniment in his hand and rubbed them together. He placed his hands on Vin's back and he jumped.

"Cold," Vin complained.

"Sorry," Chris smiled and rubbed the liniment into the curve in Vin's back.

"Me!" JD yelled and flopped down on his stomach.

Buck laughed and took the bottle from Chris. JD giggled as Buck tried to rub the liniment on him. Chris could feel the ointment warming up as he massaged it into Vin's back. He felt Vin take a deep breath and let it out. A short time after Vin was asleep. Chris continued to rub Vin's back as JD squirmed under Buck's hands.

"Settle down," Chris said. "Vin's asleep."

"That make it feel better?" JD asked.

"I hope so," Chris said.

"I'm glad," JD smiled and snuggled down under the covers.

Chris stopped rubbing Vin's back and pulled the nightshirt down and covered him with the blankets. Buck was about to walk out when JD sat up.

"What's wrong JD?" Buck asked.

"Forgot to say my prayers," JD said. "Vin does um wif me."

"What if I did them with you?" Buck asked.

"Okay," JD smiled. "Dear God please take care of my mama and Aunt Emily. Take care of me and Vin. Amen."

"Amen," Buck said.

"Oh yeah and Mr. Chris and Mr. Buck and all the horses too," JD added.

"Amen," Buck and Chris said together.

"Good night," JD said and snuggled up to Vin.

"Good night, kid," Buck said and tucked the blankets in.

They walked out of the room and Chris turned back for one last look. JD smiled at him and waved then ducked under the covers. Chris smiled. He was starting to care about these boys even though he tried not to. He didn't want them to go to just any family. Chris decided he would check out any family that Josiah found to take the boys. He wanted to make sure they went to a loving family. Even though Vin had said he didn't care if the family didn't love them, Chris wanted them to be loved. With that decision made, Chris quietly closed the door and let them sleep.

Chapter 5

The early morning sun shone through the widow waking Vin. He rolled into his back and stretched. That stuff Chris rubbed on his back sure made it feel better. Vin looked over at JD and saw his cousin was sound asleep with his thumb stuck in his mouth. Vin carefully got out of the bed and pulled the covers back over JD. He got dressed and quietly went outside.

Chris watched as Vin slipped out the door. The boy was very quiet but Chris was used to every sound the cabin made. Vin's wanderings woke Chris and he got up to make sure everything was okay. Chris just hoped this wasn't Vin's normal time to wake up as he flopped back on his bed. He liked to get up early but this was ridiculous.

Vin went out to the barn to feed the horses. Now that Buck had shown him where the food was Vin was pretty sure he could do it himself. He had watched attentively the day before to see how much the horses got. Vin poured the grain into the buckets and carefully carried them outside. He could only carry one at a time and Beavis patiently waited for his since Pony claimed the first bucket. Once the horses outside were fed Vin tried to figure out how to feed the stallion. He promised Buck he wouldn't go in with Fire. Vin climbed the slats on the stall and looked over. Fire tried to nibble on Vin's hair and he laughed. Vin could see Fire's food bucket on the ground and figured if he was careful he could pour the food into it. He climbed off the stall and got the bucket of food and struggled back up with it. When he was at the top he poured the food into the bucket. Vin got most of the food in until Fire got impatient and stuck his head in the bucket. The rest of the food hit the stallion in the head and fell to the ground. Vin shrugged and climbed back down. He gave all the horses hay then opened the coup to let the chickens out. He threw down some grain then checked for eggs like Buck showed him. He found only two and put them by the door so he wouldn't forget them.

When he had done all the chores he could he went exploring around the cabin. He found a small stream close to the cabin and walked towards it. As he got closer he noticed a dark line in the sand that looked like it was moving. Vin went closer and saw it was a line of ants. He'd never seen ants like this before and stretched out on his stomach to watch. The ants were shinny red and big. Vin had only ever seen black ones in Boston. Many of the ants were carrying what looked like white grain. He saw bigger big ants that had claws on their heads. Vin watched in fascination as the ants went around a stick in their path. He was curious and picked up another stick and dropped it on the line. Vin smiled as the bigger ants checked it first then the smaller ones started to move around it. Vin watched, enthralled, but failed to notice some of the ants with claws climbing on his arms.

Chris stretched and sat up on the edge of the bed. He had fallen back to sleep after Vin went out. He heard Buck in the main room and went out to join him.

"Mornin', Chris," Buck said as he made coffee.

"Did you check on Vin?" Chris asked.

"Ain't he sleeping?" Buck asked confused.

"He's been up about an hour now," Chris replied.

"I didn't even hear him," Buck laughed. "He sure can move quiet."

"Vin," JD called from the doorway of their bedroom rubbing his eyes.

"He's already up and out sleepy head," Buck said as he picked JD up.

"Vin's feeding the horses?" JD asked as he played with Buck's hair.

"Yup," Buck said. "Let's get you dressed and we'll help him."

Buck went to take JD to his room when they heard Vin scream. Chris bolted out the door and Buck was right behind him carrying JD. They saw Vin running towards them batting at his clothes and crying. Chris got to him first.

"What's wrong?" Chris asked frantically.

"Hurts!" Vin cried hysterically rubbing his arms.

Chris grabbed him and checked him over. Buck came closer with JD who was struggling to get down. Vin cried out and slapped his neck. That's when Chris noticed the large red ant disappear in Vin's shirt.

"Damn!" Chris cursed as he started pulling Vin's clothes off. "He got into some devil ants."

"You stay right here!" Buck commanded JD as he put him on the ground.

Vin was crying harder as the ants started biting him more. It made getting Vin's clothes off harder as he tried to hit the ants. They finally got his clothes off and carefully tried to brush the ants off. One bit Chris and he cursed and he knocked it off and crushed it in the dirt.

"Buck get a bucket of water," Chris said as he ran his fingers through Vin's hair. "I can't get them out of his hair."

Buck went to the rain barrel and dropped the bucket in. The water was cold but hey didn't have time to heat it up. Buck turned to see JD crying and walking towards Vin.

"No, JD!" Buck scolded. "I told you to stay put."

"Vin!" JD wailed as huge tears ran down his cheeks.

"I know, little buddy, just give us a minute," Buck said in sympathy.

Now that Vin's clothes were off he shivered in the damp air. Vin was still crying hysterically and Buck heard Chris trying to reassure him.

"Ow!" Vin yelled and frantically brushed at his hair as one of the ants bit him.

"I know, Vin, hold on," Chris said.

Buck handed Chris the bucket and he dumped it over Vin's head. Vin cried out from the cold water. Chris handed the bucket back to Buck then started pulling the ants out of Vin's wet hair. Buck's heart broke as both Vin and JD cried their hearts out. Buck went to JD and picked him up. The little guy clung to his neck crying out for his cousin. Buck patted his back and told him it would be okay. Chris felt Vin shivering and trying to catch his breath from crying so hard. When he was satisfied all the ants were gone he pulled Vin into his arms. Vin started to cry again and Chris held him tight.

"It's all right I got them all," Chris said as he stood up and headed back for the cabin.

Buck followed with JD who now had the hiccups from crying so hard. Hiss crying had stopped as Buck held him but he was still upset. Buck came into the cabin to see Chris walk out of the bedroom wrapping a quilt around Vin. Buck could still hear the muffled sobs as Chris sat down in the rocker in front of the stove. Buck sat down in one of he chairs by the table and watched as Chris soothed Vin. After a few minutes Vin's sobs were reduced to sniffles. JD squirmed out of Buck's lap and went over to Chris. He tried to climb in Chris's lap but couldn't. Chris reached down and picked him up. Buck smiled as JD hugged his cousin and told him it would be okay. Vin wiped his eyes and smiled at JD.

"Come on, JD, let's get you dressed," Buck said as he stood up.

"Okay," JD said as he climbed down.

JD took Buck's hand as they went to the bedroom. Buck opened the trunk and let JD pick out what he wanted to wear. Once JD was dressed Buck took Vin's clothes and went back to the main room. As they came out Vin was explaining what happened.

"I was just watching them, honest," Vin sniffed. "I ain't never seen ants like that before. The black ones in Boston don't bite."

"They were down by the stream?" Chris asked as he checked Vin's back for bites.

"Yeah a long line of them," Vin said and flinched when Chris checked him over. "Carrying grain."

"Grain?" Buck asked.

"Yeah, it was white," Vin replied.

"Sounds like you found them moving a nest," Chris said. "You're lucky you only got bit a few times. Those soldier ants can be really nasty."

"Yeah I remember the time Chris stumbled into a nest," Buck laughed. "Y'all should have seen Chris slapping at his clothes and hollerin'."

"They bite you?" JD asked looking at Chris.

"Yeah they got me good," Chris smiled as he stood Vin in front of him.

"Like they bited Vin?" JD asked as he touched on of the bites on Vin's arm.

"Ow!" Vin cried and leaned into Chris.

"I sorry," JD apologized. "Hurt?"

"Yeah, a lot," Vin admitted. "How did you get them off Chris?"

"Well according to Buck that was the funniest part," Chris replied. He noticed Vin had dropped the "Mr." in front of his name.

"Yeah you should have seen him," Buck laughed. "He jumped right into the pond."

"They don't like water?" Vin asked as Chris helped him get dressed, being careful not to hit the bites.

"Not really," Chris said. "But it doesn't' kill them."

"You know how to swim?" JD asked as he leaned on the rocker looking up at Chris.

"Yup, I do," Chris answered.

"I don't," JD said. "Teach me?"

"It's getting a little cold to be swimming in the pond," Chris said as he buttoned Vin's shirt them tucked it in Vin's pants. "There how's that?"

"They still hurt," Vin sighed.

"I know," Chris said ruffling Vin's still wet hair. "We'll let Nathan take a look when we get to town."

"Teach me when it get warm," JD said, still on the swimming.

"We'll see," Chris said.

"Come on, JD, let's see if the chickens have any eggs," Buck said.

"Okay," JD said eagerly and ran to the door.

"I found two," Vin said. "They're by the door to the coop."

Chris watched as Buck took JD outside. Vin was still standing in front of him. He noticed the boy was still shivering and wrapped the quilt back around him.

"Why don't you sit here while I start breakfast," Chris said as he stood up.

"Alright," Vin agreed and climbed in the rocker.

Chris watched Vin wince as his clothes rubbed the bites. He knew how much they hurt and was surprised at how well Vin was taking all this. Chris made a batch of biscuits and placed them in the stove. Vin watched everything he did from his curled position in the rocker.

"Is your hair drying?" Chris asked.

"I guess," Vin said touching his hair.

"Let's see," Chris said.

Chris ran his fingers through Vin's damp hair. Vin flinched when Chris hit one of the bites. Chris kneeled down and had Vin stand with him by the stove. Chris carefully opened the door to the stove and they could both feel the heat from the fire. Chris gently ruffled Vin's hair to get it to dry. Vin leaned against Chris and sighed. Chris smiled at Vin remembering JD had said Vin's mother had liked to do this. He wasn't surprised when he felt how soft the boy's hair was as it slipped through his fingers.

"There, that's dry now," Chris said. "We better check the biscuits."

As they did that, JD came in followed by Buck. Buck was carrying a bucket of water and placed it by the stove.

"Look, Vin, Buck let me carry da eggs," JD said holding out his hands. "He said I was ta hold them tight."

"Not that tight!" Vin yelled but it was too late as JD crushed the eggs.

"Sorry," JD said as he burst into tears, eggs dripping off his fingers.

"It's okay, little britches," Buck said as he wiped JD's hands with a rag.

"I broke 'em," JD sniffed.

"Yeah you did," Chris laughed. "But don't worry..."

"The chickens will make more," Vin finished as he smiled at Chris.

Buck laughed heartily and JD giggled. Chris smiled at Vin and finished making breakfast. Buck helped the boys set the table and they waited for Chris. When everything was ready Chris set it on the table. He watched in satisfaction as Vin took a healthy portion and dug in. Chris just smiled as Vin smothered his biscuits in honey. The boy obviously had a sweet tooth. That's when Chris remembered the candy Nettie and Mrs. Potter had given him for the boys. He had put it in his pocket and it was probably a gooey mess by now. Chris would get them more when they went to town. When they were done Chris got up and headed for the door.

"Buck, why don't you and the boys clean the dishes while I get the horses ready," Chris suggested.

"Sounds good," Buck said as he picked up the dishes.

"Try not to get too wet," Chris smiled.

Buck gave Chris a dirty look as he went out the door. With two little boys helping to wash dishes, it took Buck longer than normal to finish. He was also forced to change JD's shirt since it got so wet. When they were ready Buck took them outside. Buck stopped on the porch, shocked. Pony and Beavis were tied to the fence saddled and ready to go. Peso was also tacked and waiting patiently. What had shocked Buck was the saddle on Peso. He hadn't see it seen their ill-fated trip to Mexico. Chris bought the saddle in Mexico for Adam but was never able to give it to him. After Buck helped Chris bury Sarah and Adam Chris had carefully packed the saddle away then lost himself in a bottle. Buck was brought out of his shock as Vin raced off the porch and over to Peso.

"Are we ready to go?" Chris asked as he walked out of the barn and over to Peso.

"For me?" Vin asked eagerly.

"Well I certainly can't fit in it," Chris said as he grabbed Vin and put him in the saddle. "You do know how to ride?"

"Yes, sir!" Vin said as he gathered the reins. "The stable master used to let me ride the pony that pulled the pony cart."

"Well Peso's a lot bigger than a pony," Chris warned. "Think you can handle him?"

"Peso won't hurt me, he likes me," Vin said patting the horse neck.

"ME!" JD protested and ran over to Chris with his arms up.

"Sorry, little britches, you need to get a bit bigger," Buck said laughing. "You can help me handle Beavis."

JD reluctantly agreed and Buck put him up on Beavis. Buck looked over at Vin as saw the biggest smile on the boy's face. He didn't know what had come over Chris. Yesterday he was adamant that the boys weren't staying, now he had done this. Not that Buck was complaining. He wanted to keep both of them. Once Chris was satisfied Vin was ready he mounted Pony. Buck swung up behind JD and Chris moved out.

Chris rode alongside Vin but Buck didn't think they had anything to worry about. Peso was being a perfect gentleman and Vin was able to handle him without any problem. JD was content for now to steer Beavis but Buck knew the little guy wouldn't be satisfied with that for long. Buck just hoped they could stay long enough for Buck to teach JD to ride. They road at a leisurely pace and Buck hoped that Josiah would take his time finding the boys a home. He knew Vin would be able to break into Chris's heart given time.

Buck smiled, knowing Chris was doomed...

The End

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