Gathering the Flock

by KT

AU - Lost Lambs

Chapter 9
Chris froze, his first instinct was to run forward and take the gun from JD before he hurt someone but the sudden vice-like grip on his hand stopped him. Looking down he remembered Vin was with him, the ten-year-old was staring at JD in wide-eyed terror. Chris pushed Vin behind him, as he moved closer, still holding his hand.

"You get away from my Buck!" JD demanded in a voice that was pure fear.

Bob moved back, he had no idea if the small boy had the strength to actually pull the trigger but he wasn’t about to find out.

"JD," Chris called softy.

JD looked up seeing Chris for the first time.

"Chris he wants to take Buck to the doctor," JD pleaded for help, surly Chris understood he reasoned.

"I know son, because Buck is hurt," he explained. Please God let him be only hurt and not dead, he thought grimly. "Doctor Jackson will make him better."

The reaction was instantaneous and terrifying. JD’s hand tightened on the trigger and he managed to get the hammer half back, now he could drop the gun and it might go off.

"NO!" JD wailed again. "God can’t have my Buck he can’t I won’t let doctor take him to God."

Chris edged closer. "No one is going to take Buck away from you, I won’t let them," he tried to sound reassuring.

"You can’t stop them Chris, Miss Louise said she wouldn’t let them have my Mama but she couldn’t stop the doctor, no one’s going to take my Buck!"

The gun began to wave erratically as JD began to cry even harder and the effort of holding the heavy weapon took its toll. With his head turned away from the adults and JD intent on keeping them all back, no one noticed Buck slowly regain some measure of consciousness. He hurt, he hurt everywhere but mostly his head, the pain was unbearable, he tried to open his eyes but the blurred waving images just increased his nausea so he closed them again. He tried to listen to the sounds around him, there were familiar voices, he concentrated despite the pain in his head, on trying to work out what was being said. He could make out Chris' voice and JD’s sobs, he wanted to tell JD not to cry, but he couldn’t even open his eyes let alone speak.

"JD you know I won’t let anything happen to Buck, please put down the gun slowly." He heard Chris say.

A gun, JD’s got a gun! His semi alert mind snapped into focus. Despite the pain he forced his eyes not only to open but also to focus, he was partially successful, and looking up he made out the rather fuzzy outline of JD and the gun in his small hands. He reached up and as Chris bit back the desire to call out he got his hand over the gun pushing his thumb into the breach so no matter what the gun couldn’t go off. JD looked down.

"Buck!" he cried out, releasing the weapon instantly as Buck pulled it to the ground, flinging himself down to hug his brother.

In the seconds it took Bob, Chris and Vin to reach the two brothers Buck had slipped back into unconsciousness. Despite this Chris found he had difficulty removing the revolver from his friend’s vice-like grip, even unconscious Buck was protecting JD.

"I’ll get some men to help get him in the truck and down to the Doc’s," Bob said quietly as he left. Chris nodded his acknowledgement. The mention of the doctor caused JD to tighten his hold on Buck.

"Nooooo," he pleaded.

Chris emptied the gun, pocketing the bullets and shoving the weapon into his waistband, before turning to his stricken friend. Pulling out a huge clean handkerchief from his pocket, something he had only taken to carrying since the boys had arrived, he held it against the gash he had found behind Buck’s right ear, like Bob he had also found a thready rapid pulse. There was little else he could do except offer some comfort to two frightened boys.

"JD listen to me," he tried to get his attention. With his free hand he reached out and rubbed the distressed boy's back as he lay protectively over his brother. "Buck is hurt but he's not going to die, he is not going to God, you saw he woke up, he will be all right, but we have to go to the doctor so Nathan can look after his cut."

JD made no response; he just lay over Buck crying. Chris was distracted from ministering to Buck and trying to calm JD, by Vin who was now kneeling on the other side of Buck. Chris looked up to see him pointing at Buck’s out stretched left hand. There in his slack open palm lay Pony. Just then Bob returned this the men to carry Buck down to the track and a waiting truck. Vin picked up Pony.

"JD," he said softly, tugging at the boy’s sleeve.

JD looked up into Vin’s clear blue eyes.

"You better hold on to Pony until Buck is with the doctor in case he drops him," he explained patiently.

JD hesitated, he wanted the security of his toy in his hand, but he wanted Buck to have him too, so his head wouldn’t hurt so much.

"Doctor Nathan is very nice he made my feet all better." Vin explained smiling at JD confidently.

Slowly JD sat up and reached out. Vin placed the crude toy in his hand and he instantly gripped it fiercely. Chris moved in and picked him up so the men could move Buck. Instantly the crying and pleading was back, he squirmed and fought against Chris’ strong hold as they followed the men down to the track. The men had filled the back of the truck with the soft branches from the top of the newly felled tree, and covered them with a tarpaulin to cushion the wounded man from some of the jolts of rough roadway.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan had been for warned and was ready when the truck pulled up. They lay Buck on the examining table, which was not much more than a sturdy kitchen table with a crisp white sheet, and a pillow. He asked Chris to stay and help him. Larabee was torn, he wanted to help care for his partner, best friend, the closest thing he had to a brother, but he knew the two boys were frightened, JD was clearly convinced that doctors were the angels of death. Bob could see the deputy's dilemma.

"It's Vin, isn't it?" he asked Tanner.

Vin nodded.

"And this is JD?" He pointed to JD still in Chris' arms his eyes riveted on Buck as Nathan held a towel to his brother's head.

Vin nodded again.

"Well Vin and JD I think you should come with me and wait outside while the doc and the sheriff help Buck to feel better." He stepped closer to Chris, JD flinched away.

Chris turned the boy to face him. "JD I want you to go with Mr. Stone and wait outside with Vin, this is what you have to do to help Buck get better, and I promise you, you can see him as soon as the doctor is finished."

JD looked panic stricken, his gaze slid back to Buck, he made another effort to wriggle out of Chris' grasp and get to Buck, but Chris held fast. Still holding JD Chris squatted down next to Vin.

"I know you're scared Vin, but I need you to be strong for JD, you're strong Vin, you're a Tanner after all; will you take JD to wait with Mr. Stone?" Green eyes held clear blue, for what seemed like an age.

Then Vin reached out his hand and took hold of JD's. "Come on JD," he said as bravely as he could manage.

JD's head came around to look at Vin, he didn't trust adults to tell him the truth when it came to doctors. When his mother had become sick everyone told him she would be alright. They told him the doctor who came to take her away would help her, but he had never seen her again. But Vin was different, he wasn't an adult, he was just a boy, his friend and JD knew he would not lie to him. He didn't want to go but if Vin thought he should, he would go. Slowly he climbed out of Chris’ arms and took Vin's hand, he was about to leave when he turned and ran back to Buck's side. Chris was about to grab him until he saw what JD was doing, he watched as the little boy pushed his precious toy back into Buck's hand and then moving up the table he whispered, none to quietly, in Buck's ear.

"I love you Buck."

+ + + + + + +

With the children out of the way Chris turned back Nathan. All the time Chris had been occupied with the children he had been cleaning the head wound, now he got Chris to wash his hands before asking him to hold the towel against it while he got ready to stitch. Buck hadn't stirred once, he remained still and alarmingly pale. "What do you reckon Nathan, a 'widow maker'?" Chris asked as he watched Nathan expertly suturing the two-inch gash.

'Widow makers' were branches that through disease or storm fell from trees but never made it to the ground, instead they became lodged in the upper branches. These could then fall at any time and with no warning, if you were under on when it came down you chances of survival were very slim, hence the name. Nathan did not respond immediately as he put in the fourteenth suture.

"Could be, " he admitted. "Help me get him out of these clothes so we can put him in my bed."

"Your bed? Don't you have beds in the clinic?"

"Yes but Buck and JD are gonna need more space and privacy than they offer, 'sides them cots is a mite small for someone Buck's size."

Chris smiled and noted that since Jackson was near enough Buck's height he would find them equally uncomfortable if he were forced to sleep in one.

"You’re a good man Nathan Jackson," he commented. Nathan just went about removing Buck's boots.

Together they lifted the patient up to remove his shirt; the whole back of the pale blue cotton garment was soaked in blood. Not only did Nathan want to get Buck cleaned up and more comfortable he needed to check for other injuries. As the two of them peeled off the shirt Buck moaned, it was the first reaction from him since he had grabbed the gun.

"Easy Buck, we'll be done soon," Nathan explained quietly.

Just then Chris swore "Jesus, Nathan, look!"

He had just revealed a second wound, a huge gash across Buck's right shoulder. Nathan looked closer, frowning.

"No 'widow maker' did this," he commented grimly.

"What then?"

"Hatchet most likely, maybe even an axe." Just then Chris felt Buck begin to shiver in his arms.

"Can you hold him like that?" Nathan asked. "That way I can work faster."

Chris nodded grimly. "Hold on old friend, we'll have you in a nice warm bed soon enough," he spoke quietly in Buck's ear.

The process of cleaning out the wound, suturing it, dressing it, and finally securing the patient’s right arm to his body so he couldn't move the shoulder and tear out the stitches was accomplished swiftly and efficiently. Nevertheless Buck moaned and attempted to pull away from Chris during the painful procedure. When it was finally done he was settled in Nathan's old-fashioned double bed in his private tent. Nathan had attempted to put a bandage around his head to secure the dressing over the head wound but it distressed Buck, who kept pulling it off.

Chris explained to Nathan that the only injury Buck had received during the war was flash burns to his face that temporarily blinded him. He had spent a week in the field hospital with his eyes bandaged, and even though the doctors told him he would make a full recovery he had been terrified.

"I guess the bandage reminds him, it would have been scary enough for anyone but he was only sixteen then," Chris explained.

Nathan propped pillows around Buck so he was mostly lying on his back but enough on his side to put no pressure on the shoulder. After that he took the patient’s pulse and listened to his breathing.

"Well I can leave it off, since he's in here where it's clean, no sense distressing the man." The tall doctor straightened up and stood beside Chris. "He was very, very lucky you know, I reckon it was an axe, another fraction of an inch and it would have cracked his skull like an egg, as it was it slipped off and hit his shoulder. I can't see or feel any fractures, he's gonna have one hell of a headache when he wakes up, and probably be sick as a dog, and that shoulder's gonna need to be treated gentle until it heals but God willin' that should be that."

"How long before he wakes up?" Chris asked.

"Now way of telling, minutes, hours, maybe even a day, he lost a lot of blood so he's weak; that'll delay things," Nathan explained. "So you two was in the war together?" asked Jackson changing the subject.

"Yeah, weren't a good time but we both came through relatively unscathed, we were the lucky ones." He commented sombrely watching his friend lying on the bed and remembering cold wet trenches.

"You never get hit?"

Chris smiled, "No, not really hit, got too close to a shell in no man’s land once, got so confused and disorientated I started walking toward a German machine gun when we was meant to be retreating. Nearly got cut in half if a certain big lug of a sergeant hadn't run back from his nice safe trench and pulled me home." Despite the fact it was hardly a pleasant memory Chris smiled. "See that’s how we worked it; attacking I -the officer- led and Buck brought up the rear, making sure we had no stragglers, retreating he led, making sure no one got lost, and I came last, making sure we didn't leave anyone behind. Didn't reckon I could ask the men to go where I wouldn't go or stay out there longer than me. Buck always said the men followed me 'cause they was more scared of me than the Germans. Maybe that was true for some, some was just good men would have followed anyone, then there were the ones who didn't belong there. Not all men are cut out t' fight but the army won't let them quit or go back behind the line so somehow we had to keep them going. Buck looked after them, kept them sane, reassured them, told jokes, made a fool of his self to distract them, taught them how to stay alive."

Nathan reckoned there was more to Chris Larabee's leadership skill than just fear, a lot more, and no doubt one was knowing how to use a man like Buck Wilmington to his best advantage, however young he was. Just then Buck began to mumble, his head began to thrash on the pillow and he was clearly trying to pull his arm free. Both men flew to his side.

"Hay, Hey buddy, rest easy now, you're safe, come on your gonna undo all Nathan's hard work," Chris tried to get through to his friend.

The mumbling was unintelligible but two words were clear, 'JD' and 'gun' and nothing Chris said would placate him as he got more and more restless. Nathan tried to hold him steady before he pulled out his stitches.

"I think you should get JD, we gotta get him to quieten down," Nathan suggested.

Chris was unsure; JD would be scared, but then he was desperate to be with Buck, and if he could help in some way he might feel better about doctors in general. Finally he nodded his agreement and went to get the five-year-old. He found him on the bench outside, he was sitting next to Vin with his knees pulled up to his chest rocking gently back and fourth. Vin had his arm across JD's little shoulders, Bob Stone sat the other side helpless to offer the frightened boy any support or comfort.

Chris squatted down in front of JD and gently tapped his knee. "JD," he called softly.

His head shot up, tear-reddened hazel eyes locked on to Chris.

"JD, Buck's doing just fine, but he's having a bad dream right now because he doesn't know where you are, so I want you to come with me to see him, okay?"

JD needed no second bidding, he was off the bench and heading for the door almost before Chris could react, taking hold of his hand Chris led him in side.

"Now JD you have to talk to Buck quietly, you mustn't cry." Chris was kneeling in front of JD in the front part of the large two-roomed timber framed tent Nathan lived in; he used his finger to wipe away the residual tears. "Just tell him you're alright and you want him to come home." JD nodded he was already looking toward the second room, and then he finally pulled free from Chris and ran to the bed.

Chris watched as the little boy stood next to his brother, grateful that neither of Buck's injuries were visible. JD reached out and put a hand on his brother's neck, stroking it he way he did when he was in Buck's arms and needing extra comfort.

"Buck it's me, JD, I'm alright, wake up Buck so you can come home." He looked up and glared at Nathan who was still on the other side of the bed trying to stop Buck moving too much. "I don’t want you to stay with Doctor Nathan I want you to come home with me and Chris and Vin, but Chris says you can’t come home until you wake up." Then he looked at Buck's left hand; Pony still lay in his open palm. Using both hands JD closed Buck's big hand over the toy.

"You have to hold him tight so it won't hurt so much, hold him very tight," he instructed.

As both adults watched, Wilmington's hand closed on the wooden horse, he relaxed, his head, resting quietly on the pillow. Nathan let go of Buck and moved away to stand with Chris. Watching the doctor all the way, just in case he was still trying to take Buck away, JD turned his head to look at Chris for reassurance. Chris responded by going forward and kneeling beside JD, and putting his arm around the boy’s waist said.

"See, Buck’s alright now, no more nightmare, you did very well JD, you’re a very clever brave boy." JD positively shone with pride and relief.

"Chriiisss?" JD asked in the tone that meant he was about to ask for something he wasn’t allowed.

"Yes," Chris responded with due trepidation.

"Can I stay up until Buck wakes up even if it’s past my bedtime?" He turned pleading puppy dog eyes on Chris and Nathan had to stifle a chuckle as he watched Deputy Sheriff Larabee fold without a fight.

"Yes but I have a better idea; JD, you know I have to go back to the ranch tonight to look after the horses and the chickens don’t you?"

A worried look came over JD.

"And I think I will need Vin to help me, so do you think you could be very brave and stay here with Doctor Jackson and help him look after Buck?"

JD looked up at the smiling doctor; he chewed his lip trying to decide what to do. He did want to stay with Buck, but he didn’t want to stay with the doctor, he had too many bad memories associated with being away from his mom in hospitals.

"I don’t want to leave Special Day and Misty in the field at night, " Chris continued. "In case a mountain lion comes calling and if we leave the chickens out a fox might get them."

Now that made things harder, JD sure didn’t want the foal or the chickens hurt, but he didn’t trust the doctor enough to leave Buck alone with him.

"Doctor Jackson will look after you and you can look after Buck." He looked up at Jackson. "Isn’t that right Nathan?"

"Well he’s certainly doing a very good job so far, I could really use the help JD if you think you big enough."

Chris smiled, Nathan sure knew how to push a small boy’s buttons.

"I am big enough." The small boy in question stated defiantly.

The man withdrew a little.

"What are you going to do about all this?" Nathan asked quietly.

"I don’t follow," Chris commented.

"Well this was attempted murder. Wasn’t it?"

Chris sighed; he had been trying to decide what to do ever since Jackson had confirmed an axe caused his friend's injuries.

"I’m going to do nothing for now. We both thought it was a widow maker to begin with. Well I’ll just let people go on believing that, for now. He was hit from behind so he most likely can’t identify who did this. If they’re here I don’t want to scare them off, and if they’re gone; well," he shrugged, "I don’t have a single lead, maybe Buck can help when he wakes up."

"You think Buck’s in danger?" the doctor asked, suddenly thinking having JD around might not be such a good idea.

"Not while he’s unconscious, but if you were to speculate that he probably won’t remember anything about today, even if he wakes up, it might help."

Nathan grinned; there was something about the intrigue that existed him. Normally his job was very boring, an endless stream of splinters, saw cuts and hammered thumbs. The two men with poisoning from the tainted alcohol had been a welcome diversion. Something to test his diagnostic skills on. Now he was party to an investigation in to an attempted murder.

"Oh I think I could let the word get round, accidentally you understand," he confirmed knowingly.

Chris left JD telling Buck all about the tree felling, as he went to find Vin. He was well aware Vin had to be scared, but through necessity JD had had to come first, now he needed to give the other boy some time and support. Out side he found him where he’d left him. Sitting beside the good-hearted foreman on a bench. Bob Stone asked after Buck and Chris took the opportunity to start spreading the lie he and Nathan had come up with. This had a dual benefit, not only would the lie protect Buck but also if the boys believed it was just an accident rather than attempted murder so much the better. Stone said he was pleased that Deputy Wilmington was on the mend but he had to get back to work.

"I do appreciate all your help Bob," Chris said as they shook hands. "With everything," he added, remembering the gun.

"Well I’m just happy the little feller’s got his brother back and he’s okay, he sure was scared."

With that Bob was gone and Chris turned back to Vin, still sitting quietly on the bench.

"JD’s gonna stay here tonight and help Doc Jackson look after Buck." He explained. "You ready to go home now?"

A rather sombre and serious faced ten-year-old looked up at him and nodded, slipping off the bench to stand beside him.

"Chris?" he asked tentatively.


"Buck will be alright won’t he?"

Chris looked down to see that Vin was looking back at the door through which he had led JD.

"Tell you what why don’t we go in and say ‘bye to JD and you can see Buck for yourself?" Chris suggested.

+ + + + + + +

The ride back to the ranch was mostly silent. Chris tried to engage Vin in conversation but the boy was either silent on gave stilted one-word replies. The rest of the evening was like this, even when Chris gave him the opportunity to ride Shadow in from the field he just shrugged and said ‘if you like’. As bedtime approached he became if anything even more withdrawn.

Chris stood in the room as Vin climbed into the big empty bed.

"Are you sure you don’t mind sleeping alone to night?" Chris asked, hoping it would be something that simple that he could solve. "Because you can bunk in with me if you want," he offered.

"No ‘s all right, I slept alone lots before." This was almost the longest sentence Vin had spoken since they left the logging camp.

"Do you want a story tonight?"

Vin pulled the covers up over himself before Chris had a chance to help. He rolled over to face the wall.

"No, JD won’t like it if we read some and he’s not here," he explained.

Chris’ heart sank, there had to be some way to get him to open up, then he had a flash of inspiration.

"Well I was thinking of a different story, one for older boys, one just for you," he explained.

Vin’s body shifted a little, and Chris founds he was almost holding his breath.

"A story just for me?"

"Yup, it’s too grown up for a little boy like JD, but I think you’ll like it."

Vin rolled over to see if Chris was serious or just teasing, but Chris looked quite serious.

"What’s it called?" he asked.

"Okay reasonable question," Chris thought. He didn’t yet have an answer, he knew the book he wanted to read from, but he wasn’t sure yet which story to tell.

"Well…that is a surprise, but you have to come to my room to hear it."

Vin wasn’t sure how to take this but he did want to hear his story so he reluctantly got out of bed and followed Chris to his room. Once Vin was under the covers on one side of the bed, Chris kicked of his boots and retrieving the book from the small set of shelves in the corner of the room, settled himself on top of the covers on the other side of the bed. There were several stories he knew Vin would like, ones with ghosts, great battles, intrigue and deception, but tonight he wanted to keep it light. Opening his well-thumbed copy of Lambs Tales of Shakespeare.

"A Midsummer's Night Dream, by William Shakespeare…" he began.

To begin with Vin steadfastly kept his back to Chris, but the story was engaging and little by little he rolled over and got closer, eventually his head resting on Chris flat stomach as he listened. Chris had hoped the story would lull the boy to sleep, but when it was over and he lay a gentle hand on Vin's over long hair he felt him shift, pushing himself away again.

"It's okay, you can stay there I don't mind," Chris said softly.

They lay there for a while in silence. Chris could feel Vin begin not to relax as he had hoped but stiffen up, finally he spoke.



"JD and Buck love each other a whole lot don't they?"

"Yes I guess they do."

"They protect each other."

"Of course." Chris didn't have a clue where Vin was going with this but he decided to keep his answers short and let him lead the conversation.

"Did they love each other as soon as they met? I know they only met a little while ago, and you said Buck didn't even know he had a brother before."

"That’s true, and yes, I think they loved each other straight away."

"Is that 'cause they're family? Is that why they look after each other and loved each other straight away?"

"I don't know." Chris wasn't sure that was what Vin wanted to hear but it was the truth. Buck had an enormous capacity for love, a very soft heart and a powerful need to protect. Under the right circumstances he could, Chris suspected, love any child in need, as he did Vin. "But you know Buck loves you too," he added.

This didn't deflect Vin, but he stored the information away.

"Chris, I have kin."

Chapter 10

Chris was suddenly very alert, they had believed Vin was alone in the world.

"I have an aunt in Texas, my Ma's sister, but she don't want me. They told me after Ma died. They wrote to her but she said I wasn't none of her kin and she wouldn't have me." Until now Vin's voice had been strong and clear but with this revelation his composure finally deserted the ten-year-old.

"Why Chris? Why don't she want her kin? I try to be good, I don't eat much, I can work, I don't know what else to do." He finally gave way to his despair and feelings of rejection, crying uncontrollably into Chris lap.

For a while all Chris could do was sit there listening to the heart wrenching sound of despair, and gently rub the boy's back, as he shook with uncontrolled sobbing. As he waited for the boy to cry himself out Chris tried to work out what to say, and to get himself calm enough to be able to say it without his own emotions getting in the way. No wonder he was upset, watching the level of commitment and love Buck and JD shared, knowing that under almost identical circumstances his only blood relative had rejected him without even bothering to see him. Eventually the crying slowed and stopped. Chris used the corner of his already wet shirt to wipe away the residual tears.

"Vin we don't know why your aunt doesn’t want you but I do know it has nothing to do with anything you may or may not have done. Maybe she has lots of kids of her own already, maybe she has no money, maybe she has to work all day. You were only five then remember, look at JD, we have to watch him almost all the time, don't we?"

"Yeah," the boy admitted.

"I know it sounds simple, she's your kin she should take you in and love you. But life for grown ups is more complicated than that, sometimes there's good reasons people do things, reasons we don't know about."

He was now stroking Vin's head gently as he spoke.

"Buck loves JD, not just because he is his brother, not just because that’s what he is supposed to do; but also because JD is a small boy in need of love and care and protection, and Buck wants to give him those things, and so are you and he loves you too, and…."

"Oh this is going to be hard to say even after all this time," Chris suddenly thought.

"So do I," he admitted,

Until know he had thought he could never love another child, another boy like Adam. But he had to admit to himself that he loved them both, some how it had sunk up on him, without him noticing.

"In the end it doesn’t matter whether you are someone's kin or not, family is about love not blood, and the four of us are a family, and Buck and me we're gonna fight to keep it that way."

And suddenly it struck him, what he had just committed himself to. "Are your ready Larabee?" He asked himself. "'Cause there is no going back now." He surprised himself by just how right it felt to have made the commitment.

"Do you think God didn't want me to go to Texas so I could come here one day?" Vin asked.

Chris was so wrapped up in his own thoughts he almost didn't hear the question, and when he did was at a loss as to how the answer.

"Er…well I think I don't care why it happened, I'm just sure glad it did - as to God, well you'll have to ask Father Josiah about that not me."



"Can I sleep here tonight after all?"

"Of course Vin, of course."

+ + + + + + +

The morning came bright and clear. Vin, filled with a sense of belonging went about his morning chores with unbridled enthusiasm and vigour, finishing in record time. He then proceeded to wolf down his breakfast and began clearing the table before Chris had even drunk his first cup of coffee.

"Hey, hey slow down there junior, you’re gonna make me dizzy, what is all this anyhow?" Chris asked.

Bright blue eyes, so bright Chris though they looked like sapphires, twinkled at him, a big smile spread across Vin's often serious features.

"I wanna see my family again," he explained.

+ + + + + + +

First they stopped in town there was nothing needing Chris' immediate attention, but he needed to call the sheriff and let him know what was going on. Masterson agreed with Chris stratagem but as to Saturday night and trying to track down the drinking den he just didn't have the men to spare.

"The thing is, Chris, neither one of us much wants to prosecute hard-working men just for wanting a drink, it's the bastards selling 'um rotten whisky we want," Masterson explained.

Chris agreed with his boss, he just wasn't sure how to go about it.

"Call me back when you've talked with Buck. The man's so hard headed I'm surprised an axe didn't just bounce off him, still, you never know, he might remember something, I don't think someone risked killing a deputy without good reason."

"I agree, I'll call you when I've spoken to him, assuming he's awake yet." It suddenly occurred to Chris they were both assuming Wilmington was going to recover, almost immediately and with no permanent damage, and in truth this was far from being a foregone conclusion.

Then Vin and Chris set out for the logging camp once again. They were greeted on the porch of the clinic by Nathan who had heard them drive up. Vin ran up to him.

"Doctor Nathan is Buck awake yet? Can I see him? Where's JD? Can Buck come home?"

Nathan stood there stunned for a minute trying to remember this was sombre quiet Vin he had before him not JD, he looked up at Chris somewhat bewildered. Chris just smiled, as much to say, "you're on your own Doc."

"Well let me see; Buck is asleep, yes you can see him if you're quiet, JD is with Buck and yes, Buck can probably go home when he wakes up. Is that everything you needed to know?"

"Yes thank you," Vin replied with enthusiasm. "Can I go in now? I'll be very quiet, I promise."

Nathan nodded and watched him head off for his private tent, running to start with, then remembering his promise and forcing himself to walk.

"So what happened to him last night?" Jackson asked a smiling Chris.

"Don't ask. How is Buck?"

"Came to some time after midnight, sick as a dog." He chuckled. "Little JD was a real trooper, fetching and carrying. Telling Buck he was going to be okay, kid’s got more energy than an express train."

"So he is gonna be alright?" Chris asked again.

"That shoulder isn't going to heal overnight, he'll need to take care of it for a while, but yes he'll be alright, once he's awake and I've redressed the shoulder he can go home."

Buck groped his way back to the land of the living to the none too peaceful sound of two boys trying to be quiet.

"Hi JD," Vin whispered.

"Shhhhhh Vin, we have to be quiet so Buck can sleep," JD whispered, except his whispers were not much quieter than his usual voice.

"Well you're not being very quiet."

"Am too!"

"Are not!"

"Am too!"

"Are not." Buck growled, causing both boys to fall silent momentarily.

"Buck!" JD suddenly yelled, causing his brother to wince visibly. "You're awake."

"Well I didn't have much option now, did I?"

Vin suddenly looked guilty. "Sorry Buck," he said with his head down.

"Aw kid, not your fault, takes two to have a conversation and seems to me the smaller the kid the bigger the voice." If JD knew he was being got at he didn't say anything.

"Are you coming home now Buck?" JD asked bouncing with excitement.

Buck was trying to be positive and bright for the boys but he felt like hell, his head was pounding, his shoulder felt like it had daggers running down it.

"Well if you two go wait outside we'll see if we can arrange that," Nathan announced from the back of the room. Buck though he'd never been more relived in his life to see a doctor.

+ + + + + + +

By the time Nathan was done Buck just wanted to go back to bed, but he had resolved that he would do this at home in his own bed. After Nathan left, Chris came in; he had had the foresight to bring Buck some clean clothes and his shaving kit. Buck allowed his friend and former comrade to help him dress and shave. After the trenches there were no secrets and no need for stubborn pride. In the trenches, if you needed help you got it, knowing if someone else needed it you would do the same for them and that was all there was to it, pride could get you dead in the trenches. Chris explained as he shaved his friend what they thought had happened, what they had told the boys and about his plan. Finally he was done.

"What do you remember?" he asked, looking Buck in the eye.

Buck shrugged and instantly regretted it, wincing as the movement sent more daggers down his back and shoulder.

"Not much, I remember waiting for the tree to come down, I think I remember JD holding my gun?" He looked at Chris willing him to say that bit was just a bad dream.

"He found you, when one of the foremen, Bob, suggested we take you to the Doc, JD panicked, managed to get your gun out to keep us back. Seems they told him when the doctor took your mom away she would be coming back, and 'cause she never did, JD thinks doctors are some kind of angel of death."

"Oh God, the poor kid and I made him go see Nathan, no wonder he was so frightened." Buck lamented.

"He's doing better now, don't beat yourself up over it, you know he was here last night with you and Nathan, all on his own?" Chris explained.

"You mean you weren't here too?"

"No, me and Vin went home to tend the stock." Chris was about to tell Buck all about Vin's revelations and his new commitment to the boy but thought better of it, Buck really did look like hell.

"Really? Well he was a star last night from what Nate told me, can't honestly say I remember much of it. I do remember waking up with Pony in my hand," he smiled at the memory. "That toy means the world to him and he gave it to me," there was wonderment in his voice.

Chris smiled at him. "No, you mean the world to him, he didn't want you to hurt any more. He got it back now?"

"Yeah, gave it back last night. Chris?"

"Yeah?" Larabee noted a change in Buck's voice.

"Can we go home now? I don't know how much longer I can stay awake and I'd like to sleep in m' own bed."

Chris suppressed a smirk at Buck's expense, and resisted pointing out just how much like JD at his most whiny, he sounded.

"Sure pal, let’s get you in to the truck."

+ + + + + + +

Chris called Judge Travis from the house once Buck was in bed, where he had fallen asleep almost instantly, and the boys were happily playing outside. He needed to find out how far his investigations into Vin's past were going. Travis filled him in on what he knew so far. As to Stockwell they were no further on. It was a private institution, and his office had no right of entry. So far Miss Evens had only got in to see the director in his office. She had described him as 'oily and shifty'.

"Orin do you have any information on an aunt? Vin said he had an aunt who wouldn't take him."

"Sadly yes, on one early file we found a hand written a note. Boy's aunt, J Patterson refuses to acknowledge Vincent, and will have nothing to do with him, do not contact again. There is no address or even any information as to how or by who she was contacted, I think we can call that a dead end."

Chris was unhappy about the prospect of leaving the boys in Buck's care on Saturday night but he was equally unhappy about leaving the town unattended. Buck assured him he was all right, after sleeping almost all of Friday day and night; he did look better, although he was still moving very stiffly and carefully.

"Look Chris we have a job to do, the boys will be fine, they'll be good won't you?" Buck turned to JD and Vin watching from he kitchen doorway.

"Yes, I promise Chris I will be good and look after Buck," Vin assured.

"Me too, I won't run or shout or jump on Buck unless he says it's okay and I won't go out without Vin and I will go to bed when I'm told," JD stated.

They all knew he would never be able to keep all the promises but Chris was confident Buck and Vin, who he did trust to behave, could keep him in line. So he agreed to leave, however he rode in, that way if there was a problem Buck could drive in to town with both boys, driving one handed wasn't ideal, but he had done it many times.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra had become worried when the deputies and their boys did not come into town on Saturday as they had before. His plan hinged on the fact that the two men came in one on horseback, one in a truck, then one would drive home with the boys leaving the other overnight at the jail. He was depending on this. As the hours ticked by he watched and waited. Using his last remaining extra money he purchased a meal at the diner, still the deputies did not come. He retired to the field behind the church to sit in the shade and watch, just when he thought it was no use, and his plan was doomed he saw a black horse carrying a black-clad rider came into town.

Once night had fallen, and the town was quiet, Ezra made his way to the back of the jail. There in the small barn he found the horse, quietly, whispering soothing reassuring words to the horse he placed its saddle on then the bridle. Checking he was still undetected he led the horse out of the barn and up the track out of town, only when he was sure he could not be seen or heard did he mount. Then by the light of an almost full moon in a cloudless night sky he rode of at the gallop on his stolen horse.


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