"Hell teeth JD!" Vin swore.
The jail had a proper lock JD and Vin both carried a key, at night they bolted the house door, locked the jail door and kept the interconnecting door open.
"All right I'm coming," JD called.
The sudden angry noises startled Buck in to action he suddenly bolted across the room toward the dresser which stood on six short legs about ten inches above the floor. Before anyone could react he was on the floor and squirming under the dresser until he was quite out of sight. Chris chased after him. As JD stood on tip toe to pull down the bolt -God he hated being short, Vin was only two inches taller but at least he didn't have to stand on tip toe to open his own door- he could hear Chris on the other side of the room.
"Come on out Buck, you know this won't help, it'll just make it worse, come on out, please."
JD got the door open and admitted a ticked-off Vin.
"What ya doin' in here?" he enquired with undisguised irritation.
"Well it's complicated. Watch where yer walking!" He just managed to steer Vin clear of the puddle on the floor.
Vin looked down, his well-trained nose instantly telling the story of recent events.
"Ah Buck?" he enquired.
JD nodded, inclining his head to the dresser, where Chris was still trying to coax Buck out of his hiding place, without success. In response all he got was a terrified whimpering noise. Both men crossed to him, turning up the lamp as they went. Vin squatted down beside Chris while JD lay on his stomach so he could see under the dresser. He could just make out the huddled boy pressed up against the wall, as far away from them as he could get.
"Buck son, I'm not angry. Chris was right, I locked the door, it was my fault. I'm not cross and I'm not going t' punish you I promise you," he hoped the small boy understood but he didn't seem to be moving, his hitched, quiet sobs continued.
"Chris?" Vin spoke to the blond. "Chris what did they do to him at the other place, how did they punish him?"
JD was still trying to convince Buck he wasn't cross, but listening to Vin at the same time. Chris hadn't said anything so far. He didn't want them to be able to find out where they had come from, but he hated to see Buck so upset. He was beginning to believe the men when said they wouldn't punish them for things that weren't their fault.
"Please Chris tell me, tell me so we c'in understand, so we c'in help him," Vin pleaded.
"They they were mean to him," he admitted.
It was clear to both men it wasn't just Buck 'they' had been mean to, but that was not the immediate issue.
"What did they do that was so mean?" Vin prompted.
"They put him in with the pigs." He said it so quietly and simply the two men almost didn't take in what had been said.
"Pigs?" JD asked.
"There was a farm sort'a and pigs, they put him in the sty for the rest of the night, even in the winter in his night shirt." Suddenly Chris looked up. "He was all on his own in the dark with the big sows he was so scared, please don't put him in the pig sty. He tries, he really do, but he gets bad dreams about his mamma, please "
"Hush, no one is going to be put in with no pigs," Vin affirmed.
Chris looked from one man to the other, then he joined JD on the floor pulling himself part way under the dresser.
"Come on, it's alright, they don't even have pigs, an' they ain't cross, come on, come with me." Buck looked at his friend, his protector, his hero.
"Really?" he asked hesitantly.
"Yup, I promise wherever we go, we go together alright?"
"Yup come on." Chris squirmed back on his stomach pulling little Buck with him.
When the two boys finally emerged Buck clung onto Chris for dear life, looking up at the two adults with wide-eyed apprehension.
"I think someone needs a wash and a clean shirt and a glass of milk. I think there's some left, and this time we will make sure you can get out, alright?" JD said softly.
Buck nodded. JD held out a hand and Chris felt the smaller boys grip lessen.
"Why don't you come with me and we'll get you all clean again?"
For a long time nothing happened. Then slowly Buck released Chris and crossed the short distance to JD's outstretched hand, finally allowing himself to be picked up and carried up stairs. While they were away Vin tried to get more information from Chris but to no avail. Chris had given them enough to help Buck and that was all he would give them no more. He had to work very hard not to let his emotional response to what he had just learned show. He didn't want to scare Chris, but if he ever got his hands on those responsible they would know just what Comanche retribution was like.
JD was having a similar inner battle as he helped Buck to get cleaned up. How in the hell any one could do that to any child let alone one so small and vulnerable was beyond his comprehension. Despite his profession, JD was not yet so cynical that such things did not still shock and distress him. Buck was quiet and weary, making sure he did nothing to annoy JD and thus make him change his mind about punishment. He called him 'sir' and never once looked him in the eye.
"Buck?" JD said softly.
"I'm sorry they were mean to you in that other place, I'm sorry no one was there to help you and Chris. I won't let people be mean to you any more. I'm the sheriff around here and along with Vin and some others we protect people, and we will protect you."
Buck finally looked up. "Sir?"
"Will you pro..tec Chris too, he's my friend."
"Yes, oh God, yes, we will protect Chris as well, both of you, we won't let the mean people hurt you any more."
"Will you promise?"
"Yes I promise, cross my heart and hope to die!"
Buck suddenly beamed. Crossing your heart, that made it a very special strong promise, no adult ever did that for him except his Ma. Buck decided Ma would like JD, he hoped when she came back she would get to meet him.
+ + + + + + +
By the time JD came back with Buck, who was now wearing a white shirt of JD's with the huge sleeves rolled up, the puddle was gone, the lamp was turned down and Chris was sitting at the table with a mug of milk in front of him and another beside him. While they drank JD retrieved the small supply of bandages Nathan kept at the jail. He was forced to cut down one of the smallest to wrap it around Buck's cut finger. The boy examined the white bandage with pride and showed it to Chris for his approval. After they had drunk all the milk, Vin showed the boys that he had released the top and bottom bolts on the front door, leaving only the middle bolt, he had even added a little extra grease so it would be easy to use. Both boys duly followed him out, to be shown the location of the outhouse. Finally they were back on the couch, only this time both were at the same end, Chris wrapped protectively around his young friend.
Come the morning there had been no more incidents and Josiah had arrived with breakfast. Chris had no problems with the oatmeal and honey, and scrambled eggs. That over with, there remained the problem of what to do with the boys. Their hair was re-washed and checked, Nathan could find no more live parasites but said he would have to check again in a weeks time. When he said it no one registered the fact that he was just assuming the boys would still be in town next week. They both needed boots so that was the second call of the day, Chris squeezed his feet into his old boots and Buck trooped barefoot beside JD to the general store.
"Now Chris, I know yer Pa gave ya the boots but they don't fit do they? No one's going t' take 'um, you can keep 'um but you need new boots t' wear." JD looked on as Chris looked down at his battered boots.
He could still remember the day his father had given them to him. The Larabee family, six year old Christopher, his father Adam and mother Sarah were about to set out on what Chris though of as a great adventure. They were heading West for a new life. "Son, a new life needs new boots," his father had said when he gave him the boots. Chris had never had new boots. He had always had handed down boots from neighbours, friends and relatives. These boots were new, they had that new leather smell, they creaked when they were bent. Chris loved his boots, they were all he had left that was his, his clothes had been taken away, his toy horse, his fathers watch were all gone, but he still had his boots.
JD had considered that he might try to see if the boots would fit Buck, but in truth they were about to fall apart and he didn't think Chris was ready to share, even with Buck.
"I promise you can keep them, just wear new ones." JD encouraged.
Finally the blond boy nodded. Mrs Potter helped them to find a pair that fitted, they were more expensive than JD had thought, and little Buck still needed boots. Gloria Potter didn't have any to fit the boy who had very wide feet, she suggested that they go along the street to the saddler. Mr Johanson would make him a pair of his own with plenty of growing room in them she assured. With Chris in his new boots and clutching his old ones in a fierce grip the three of them trooped along to have Buck measured for his new boots. He was so excited he could barely contain himself. It took all Chris and JD's powers of persuasion to keep him still long enough for the man to take the measurements he needed.
The purchasing and measuring took up only an hour or so, still leaving a long portion of the day to fill. Vin was on patrol and not due back until mid morning, so JD took the two boys to the jail where he found a pile of out-of-date wanted posters and two pencils and set the boys to drawing while he checked the new posters.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra Standish was very tired, but also contented. A simple errand had netted him a handsome profit at the gaming tables, and now he was looking forward to a hot bath and a long sleep in a clean feather bed. As well as one of the town's regulators Ezra owned the Standish Tavern, a saloon, gambling hall and house of pleasure. Ezra lived in a large two-roomed suit on the second floor at the rear of the property, which could be accessed from the main bar or via a set of external stairs. It was up these that Ezra now climbed. He ordered hot water for his private bath and after bathing sank into his bed.
By afternoon Chris and Buck were bouncing off the walls with boredom, but were too scared of the possible consequences to do anything about it. The main problem was Buck's lack of boots, there were lots of things the boys could help with and enjoy but most were outside, such as grooming the horses or helping Josiah repair the church. Eventually Vin took Chris over to the livery without Buck to tend to the horses, the boy needed to get out Vin reckoned and run off some energy.
"I wanna go see the horseys," Buck stated, following Chris out on to the porch.
"No Buck ya can't, ya might hurt yer feet, stay here with Mr JD, I'll come back fer supper," Chris explained as he followed Vin over to the livery.
"Please Chris," Buck pleaded.
"Buck now you be good fer Mr JD and don't follow me, you hear me Buck." The adults were surprised at the stern tone of the boy's words. As they watched Buck meekly nodded, and they got some insight as to how such a young boy had gotten himself and his young friend so far on his own and apparently safely.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra was awakened from what had been a very peaceful slumber by a high pitched shriek, actually there were several high pitched shrieks. They were emanating from the room at the far end of the building, the room where the working girls gathered before the evening rush to socialise, fix their hair and makeup. Ezra groaned. Why did they have to be so loud? He didn't remember then being so loud before. Ezra hauled himself out of bed; pulled on some clothes he headed to the door to his rooms that led on into the saloon proper. Just as he put his hand on the door handle he noticed a note on the floor. As Ezra read his blood began to boil. The penmanship was Josiah's but the scratched signature was Vin's.
We find we are in need of some funding for the purchase of 2 small pairs of boots. Your funds are plentiful and surplus to your requirements, so we have charged them to your accounts at Potter's and Johanson's.
The noisy girls forgotten he stepped out into the corridor intent on speaking to the enigmatic Texan. Suddenly the noise in the corridor rose ten-fold as the door at the end opened and a small dark figure tore down the passage shrieking at the top of his lungs. The sound was quite ear piercing.
"Catch me! Catch me!" he shrieked.
Suddenly he collided with something very solid and bounced back to land squarely on his bottom on the hard wood floor.
"What in the name of " Ezra exclaimed.
"H'lo," Buck smiled up at him from the floor.
"Good afternoon," Ezra responded. As he watched the small boy picked up his own foot and examined it closely. Curiosity aroused Ezra bent down to look. "What appears to be amiss young sir?" he asked.
"Er?" Buck looked up puzzled.
"What is wrong?" Ezra clarified.
"I gotted a splinter in my foot," Buck stated.
Ezra squatted down in front of the boy. "Let me see." He took the proffered dusty foot and examined it. There was indeed as long ugly splinter in the boy's heel. "So you do. Where are your boots young man?"
"I lost them but Mr Johanson is making me new ones, but he can't make them very fast so I have to wait," Buck explained.
He liked the way the man talked; he sounded like his Ma and he wore nice clothes that reminded Buck of the men at home. He missed his home. There was colour at home, and light and laughter. Like in the room just now with the ladies. He had found his way there when Mr JD had taken him to the saloon and forgot about him while he was talking to his friends. He had been brushing their hair and playing the tickling game with them. That's when he had run out into the passage, Miss Louise was chasing him.
Ezra remembered the note in his pocket and realised he was most likely paying for the new boots. "Well, young sir, since I appear to be providing financial backing for your new footwear I think we should get better acquainted, don't you?" In response Buck just cocked his had on one side frowning. "My name is Ezra what's yours," Ezra tried, instantly the dark blue eyes lit up.
"Buck," he said, extending his had just as his Ma had taught him.
The two of them shook.
"Well now Buck, what say you and me go and check on the progress of your boots?" He stood up then reached down and was surprised to find the boy was happy to be lifted up on to his hip. He looked at the assembled women at the end of the corridor, watching their employer with undisguised amusement. "And what are you looking at?" he asked them. "You have customers I believe, down stairs," he pointed out.
"Yeah," Buck chimed in. "Customers come first," he stated firmly.
"Now young master Buck, I do believe you and I are going to get along," Ezra stated smiling broadly at the raven-haired boy in his arms.
+ + + + + + +
Vin had lead young Chris into the livery to help him groom and tend his horses. Now that he had two he had to work hard to keep them both cared for or pay Tiny to do it for him, which he couldn't really afford. What made it worse was Tiny knew this and never charged him which Vin found embarrassing. He would never let the boy near the cantankerous Peso but now he had another horse, not much more than a pony really. For want of a better name he was called Pony. A good friend from the nearest Indian settlement had given him to Vin; it was in payment for a debt of honour. Vin didn't believe such a debt existed, he had done what he did because he was one of the towns protectors and it was his job and because it was the right thing to do. None the less not to accept the horse would have been an insult, so now he was responsible for a horse barely big enough to carry him, one that was bridle broke but had never been saddled, and which he felt he couldn't sell. Pony for his part was gentle and patient, he even put up with Peso's temper tantrums and antisocial behaviour. Vin lamented that no matter what he did Peso would never understand horse etiquette, but even though everyone else hated him Vin loved the big stupid, evil-tempered lug.
"You ever groom a horse before?" Vin asked quietly.
Chris shrugged. "When I was little, I used to help my Pa."
Vin nodded. "Well you don't ever really forget, now this here is Pony, he's mine as well as that one. Now Chris," his tone became deadly serious. "Don't you ever go in with Peso here." He pointed to his horse.
"Cause he's a mean 'un is why, he'll likely bite ya or kick ya or both, all right?"
Chris eyed the gentle looking horse with the big blaze doubtfully, but finally nodded.
"This here is Pony, he's feeling might left out seein' as how I don't get t' ride him much so he needs some special attention, reckon if I remind how you could brush him fer me?"
"Yes sir I reckon I could." Chris liked horses, always had. He wasn't allowed near them at the orphanage, only big boys were allowed to tend the horses.
"Good lad, but I don't take t' being called 'sir', m' friends call me Vin and I reckon so should you."
Chris smiled, he didn't smile as a general rule, except for Buck, but he couldn't help it, Vin was all but calling him 'friend'. Grownups were never friendly to him, not since he lost his ma and pa anyway. He knew they were dead, he had been to a funeral and watched the twin coffins let down into the single grave. He knew they had been going West in the wagon and had stopped to get a new shoe on one of the big draft horses. Horses Chris helped to groom. The rest of the wagon train had remained out side the town, which was not much more than an army post, a trading post and a miserable collection of saloons, bordellos and tents. That Chris and his mother would remain with the rest of the train while Adam got the horse shod was never an issue, the Larabees did everything together, sink or swim, stand or fall, together. But Chris didn't know how they came to die. He just couldn't remember what happened between leaving the wagon at the blacksmith and standing at the graveside.
Vin showed him what to do while brushing Pony's slender back, then he handed the brush to Chris, instructing him where to be gentle and where he could brush vigorously. Once he was satisfied that the boy knew what he was about he left him to his task and entered into another battle of wills with his beloved Peso.
+ + + + + + +
Brushing the soft black coat brought back memories for Chris, most were vague, made dim and fleeting by the passage of time but he remembered the horses, and his father instructing him, using almost the same words as Vin. As he worked his memory moved onto the darker times that had come after. Watching as his familys possessions, his life was auctioned, hugging the horses goodbye, being given his fathers watch with his mothers wedding ring on the chain. He remembered travelling in a stagecoach for a long time before arriving at the St John's Boys Home.
The home, which was run by the Holy Brothers, stood next to the mission church of the Holy Family; on the other side was the St Lucia Orphanage and Foundlings Home. St Lucia's was run by nuns, they took in the babies and infants and all the girls, but once a boy was six he had to move to St John's. Chris had been nearly seven when he went there. They took away everything he had except his boots, he had demanded bitterly and loudly to be allowed to keep his fathers watch but to no avail. Showing no leeway to a lost, disorientated and grieving child Chris was punished his very first day for being selfish, disrespectful, ungrateful and for attempting to hit the brother who took the watch from him. That incident set up the pattern of all Chris' subsequent behaviour at St John's. He made no friends, he was sullen, almost permanently angry, he showed no fear of the staff, if he thought something was wrong or unfair (and a good deal was wrong and unfair) he said so. But his outbursts were on his own behalf, he never tried to help or defend other boys. What made the Brothers dislike him so much was their total failure to get him to participate in the endless church services. He would not speak in church, he would not make confession, and he refused to learn his catechisms. It wasn't that young Christopher didn't believe in God, and under different circumstances he might have been more open to Catholic doctrine, but he knew it made them angry, it gave him power and that was something not to be relinquished.
But then after just over a year in his own personal hell, something changed. The last bed in the sixteen-bed dorm was empty; it had been ever since Chris arrived, then one day Brother Edmund walked into the dorm with a small dark-haired boy.
"Larabee." He fixed Chris with what he thought to be an intimidating stare, only for it to be met with another just as stern.
"This is Wilmington," he tapped the wide-eyed boy once. "He's gonna sleep next to you, show him where to put his stuff and bring him with you to supper." With that he turned and left leaving the boy behind. Chris eyed him warily. Since there was no bed beyond the new boy's one he would only have Chris to talk to, Chris hated talking to people.
"H'lo," the boy said. "My name's Buck, what's yours?"
"Chris." He said it automatically, and then regretted it - he hadn't meant to be so friendly.
Supper was fast approaching so Chris quickly told Buck were to put his stuff and then watched with growing frustration as the smaller boy got it all wrong. Their clothes had to be put away in a particular order and you got punished if it was wrong or untidy.
"Oh for Pete's sake I told you, yer spare shirt goes there!" He pointed from his own bed.
Buck looked up hurt, he was doing his best but he'd never had to put his own clothes away, his Ma took care of that, but she had gone away for a while.
"Oh here, I'll do it or we'll be late, then you'll get me into trouble!"
Tears welled up in little Buck's eyes he didn't want anyone to get into trouble because of him; he didn't want to be any trouble to anyone. "I'm sor..r..rry, I can do it, I'm sorrry," he sobbed trying to help. Chris instantly pushed his hands away, as a result the boy yelped.
"What's the matter?" he asked. Buck just sat on the floor cradling his hand. "Show me," Chris commanded. Buck extended his hand obediently. Across his left palm were several clear red welts. "Did the brother do that?" he asked. Buck shook his head. "Who then?"
"The lady in the funny black dress, she said I lied to her, but I never," he protested, clearly hurt that he had been unjustly punished.
"What did you say?"
"She asked me how old I was and I told her and she said I was lying and I couldn't stay there, then she hitted me with the big stick and it hurt."
"How old are you?" In response Buck just looked down, his hands firmly behind his back out of reach.
"I ain't gonna hurt you and I will believe you, so how old are you?"
"I'm four, I had a birthday, I got a train but the lady took it away, I want my train back!"
"You're four? You don't look like four." Fear flashed across Buck's face, this was what the lady had said.
"My Ma says I'm a big boy, but I'm still her baby," he announced proudly. "Will the lady give me my train back?"
"But it's mine, I want my train back! My Ma's gonna be mad with her when she gets back. My Ma is real scary when she gets mad with folk."
"Where did yer Ma go?" Chris wondered if the boy had been dumped and his mother had just gone off without him. It wasn't uncommon.
"She went away, Miss Lou said she went to see God and so I can't live at home no more, I wish she'd come home soon."
Oh Lord! Now what do I do? Chris thought. "Look when you go to God you don't come back, not ever," Chris said simply. Just then the supper bell sounded, and grabbing Buck by the collar Chris pulled him up. "Come on, we don't wanna be too late."
Despite himself, Chris fond he was looking out for Buck, as he watched him eat it was clear he really was only just four. Left on his own Chris doubted he would survive. Life was tough at St John's especially for the youngest boys and they were a good two years older than Buck. Never one to be afraid to speak out, that evening he spoke to Brother Patrick, who was in charge of the youngest boys.
"Yes boy, what do you want now?"
"Er it's the new boy Brother, I think there has been a mistake, 'cause he's only four."
The brother laughed. "He tell you that did he, well he isn't, they must have told him to lie so he'd go to St Lucia's for a couple of years, his kind are compulsive liars, don't worry we'll knock the sin out of him." The small, pale-skinned man looked down seriously at Chris. "You watch it Larabee, you have a bad enough reputation around here as it is, don't get mixed up with a lying little fatherless bastard like Wilmington."
Chris didn't reply, nor did he intend to do what he had been told. Telling Chris Larabee not to do something was like a red rag to a bull. He just went on out and did it to spite whoever forbade it and to prove he could. The brothers were strict and uncaring at the best of times to little Buck, and sometimes they were positively hateful. It quickly became evident that Buck just couldn't comprehend that his mother was dead and he wasn't going home one day. He used to tell Chris and the other boys all about his home, to Chris it sounded wonderful, a place of colour, laughter and luxury, but the brothers got mad as hell with him if they heard him. They called him mean things and said bad things about his mom. Buck would protest that it wasn't true, his Ma was the best Ma in the world and his home was the nicest, but that just made them more mean to him. Because he was so young he couldn't do the school work the other boys were set, although he had clearly had some learning and knew his letters and numbers up to twenty. The teacher had no patience with him and he spent a lot of time in the corner with the dunce hat on. Chris never failed to come to Buck's defence, it always cost him, he was paddled, caned, locked in the broom closet, forced to write out page after page of the Bible and deprived of meals, but he would not back down.
But it was the bed-wetting, which was the worst. Awake, Buck was convinced his Ma was alive and would come back for him on day, at night he called for her in his sleep night after night, if he had a really bad dream he wet the bed. The first time he tried to hide it, making the bed as if nothing had happened, but Brother Patrick inspected their beds before breakfast and quickly smelt the evidence. He forced Buck to strip the bed and then carry his wet sheets through and around the dining hall in front of all the other boys at breakfast, which he wouldn't be getting, before escorting him to the laundry where he had to wash them. So hot was the water his little hands and arms were red and sore for three days after. The next night the brother on duty came to check on him during the night, and every night. If he had an accident he was taken out to the pigsty. The first time it happened he went meekly enough not knowing where he was going, but after that he cried, protested and fought every time, the brother would just pick him up none too gently and carry him. In the morning after a cold bath to remove the mud and filth from his feet he had to wash the sheet and nightshirt, after parading them around the dining room. It got to the stage where the poor boy was afraid to sleep. Chris advised him not to drink at supper but it didn't help. That was when Chris stated to lift him every night.
What began to effect Chris and make him think about running was that no matter what happened, no matter what they called him, or how they humiliated him, little Buck remained friendly, he tried so hard to please everyone, he always wanted to play, he always told his stories of home, no matter what the brothers did, and he was always polite. Chris decided he didn't want little Buck to change, and he didn't think it he could last much longer. Despite his efforts Buck did still have the occasional accident and each time he was punished for being a 'dirty boy' he became more and more distressed. His father had told him all about the West, how in the West a man could be anything he wanted to be, how there was so much space you couldn't see the end of it no matter how long you rode. Chris decided he and Buck would go to the West and he would look after his little friend, and no one would say mean things about his mom again. Five months after Buck first arrived, summer was well under way and Chris decided to leave.
+ + + + + + +
So lost in thought had he been Chris hadn't noticed he had been brushing the same spot on Pony's flank over and over again.
"You know I appreciate you puttin' a real shine on pony's coat but at this rate it will take all night t' finish him," Vin commented with a smile.
"I'm sorry I'll do it right," Chris said hastily.
"It's all right, I'm all finished. Want a hand?" Vin said genially.
They worked together for some time in silence; finally Vin showed Chris how to comb out Pony's tail safely.
"Vin?" Chris asked.
"Um where are we?"
Vin thought a moment before answering, trying to work out what the boy was really asking. "Well we are in the town of Four Corners, is that what you wanted to know?"
"Yes " Clearly there was more he wanted to know. "Is Four Corners in the West?"
That wasn't the question Vin was expecting. "Well yeah I guess, yes in fact Four Corners is in the West, why did you want to know?"
"We were going to the West, my Pa and Mom and me, that's were I have to go." He hadn't looked up from his task, gently teasing the knots out of the black tail.
"What happened to yer family Chris?" Vin knew it was loaded question, but the Judge was due in town soon, and he needed more information than the boy's names and the few scraps they had gleaned from the boy's comments and their behaviour.
"I don't remember." Chris said quietly.
"Do you remember how old you were?"
"Six, nearly seven." He looked up at Vin. "There was a funeral, I remember that." Then he went back to his work.
Vin remembers his mom's funeral, he could still remember watching the plain pine box in the ground being covered with earth. Even when the memory of her face and voice faded, he could remember that box. Vin reached out and took the comb from Chris. He gently turned the boy away from the horse.
"Chris where did they send you after the funeral?" Chris tried to turn away, but Vin wouldn't let him. "Chris look at me," he instructed. Even though his voice was gentle there was an edge of steel to it that Chris just couldn't avoid. Slowly his face came up and he looked Vin in the eye. There was something in his clear blue eyes that reminded Chris of the summer sky, something that told his heart to trust this man with his slightly wild hair. "Chris when I was five my Ma died, I never had a Pa, I remember the funeral, even now. After it they took me away to a mission where I had to live with lots of other children. It wasn't a nice place, there were lots of rules I couldn't remember, people were always shouting and telling me I was dumb. I ran away from that place when I was your age." It was something he had never confessed to anyone except his father, his only true father.
Chris looked up at him, eyes wide with wonder. He thought he was the only one this had ever happened to.
"What happened to you?" Chris asked very hesitantly.
"I was lucky, I was found by a good man, he took me in and made me part of his family, I lived with him until I was fourteen."
Chris frowned. "Why did you leave?"
This was something Vin wasn't about to share. "Well that is another story, but I was very happy with my father. Chris I know you and Buck have come from a place like that mission. I bad place, a place with lots of rules, a place where they were mean to you, both of you." Vin continued to look at Chris as the boy absorbed what the man had told him. "Chris," Vin continued. "I won't let anyone take you back to the bad place, I give you my word, never, but I need you to help me, tell me where you came from, what yer last names are."
As he looked at Vin, Chris realised the man was telling him the truth, he could see it in his eyes, but he wasn't ready yet, there was too much at stake. Instinctively Vin knew he had asked too much.
"It's alright you don't have to yet, when yer ready. Chris will you tell me what it was like, you told us about the pigs, will you tell me more? A friend of mine is coming here soon and he can help you, but we have to know more."
It took a while but he did tell Vin about the home, all the things he had been remembering while brushing the horse. Vin tried to keep himself calm, at least outwardly, while inside a rage was building, a rage that would need an out let, for what Chris and Buck had lived though was so similar to his own history it was scary, he found himself remembering things about his own childhood he had thought long since lost. Right there Vin resolved that someone would one day pay, not just for Chris, not just for Buck but for all three of them. And never would these two boys have to go back there, if he had to take them to Mexico they would never be sent back, never!
+ + + + + + +
Ezra made his way very carefully down the stairs; he didn't want to put Buck down until they had found Nathan and had the splinter removed. As he made his way down the corridor and down the stairs Buck had given him a running commentary on all his adventures since arriving in Four Corners. In the main part of the saloon JD, Josiah and Nathan were drinking beer and playing cards. Ezra came to stand behind JD.
"Mr Dunne," he began. "I am most disappointed in you." JD didn't look around. "Not only are you attempting to bluff Mr Sanchez with a pair of fours, despite the fact that you can't have failed to notice he has a flush."
JD slammed his cards down. "Christ almighty Ezra!" he began, but before he got very far Ezra continued.
"I even more disappointed that you misplaced something so precious as this."
JD frowned as he looked up, Josiah and Nathan were grinning at him as he looked around. There was young Buck happily clamped on Ezra's hip smiling at him.
"Oh no!" He stood up. "Buck, I er I "
"You forgot about him didn't you," Ezra accused.
"Buck are you alright kid, where have you been?" JD studied Buck, instinctively running a hand gently down the boy, as if to check he really was there and unhurt.
Buck grinned at him. "I went to see the nice ladies up stairs and I gotted a splinter, look!" He thrust a grimy foot out at JD.
"Nate," JD called over his shoulder. "I'm sorry kid, Mr Nathan 'll take care of it, alright?"
Buck was happy to be passed to Nathan who carried him to his clinic to remove the splinter. Ezra watched them go.
"JD? Do you not plan to accompany young master Buck into Mr Jackson's torture chamber?"
JD frowned at Ezra. "Now you know Nate don't hurt folk if'n he can avoided it, it's only a splinter he'll be fine."
"He is four years old, and in my experience removing a splinter is a good deal more painful than acquiring it, so if you will not go, I will!" With that Ezra strode out of the saloon and jogged up the street to catch up to Jackson and his precious burden.
JD turned to Sanchez looking bewildered. "Don't look at me John Dunne, youre the sheriff, the kid stayed in your care last night."
JD nodded. "Right, yeah yer right." And with that he jogged off after Ezra.
Josiah watched him go. He would never had thought that Ezra and JD hid such paternal instincts, and he could see trouble brewing, because little Buck wasn't going to be able to split himself in half. He knew that wherever they were, Chris and Vin were bonding. There was such an obvious and instant connection between them, he had little doubt Vin had been a lot like Chris in his youth.
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