by KT

Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.

Author's note: This story is set in the AU created by Phyllis, and based on the Vengeance Legend AU created by Cin and Heidi. My thanks to Phyllis for proof reading this for me, and letting me play in her sandbox. I remembered a poem, which we had to recite at school, and amazingly, I have always liked it.

Feedback: Most welcome to

The Poem Challenge: Nope, it's not to write a poem, but to base a story around one. Pick a long one, short one, old one, or a new one…heck, use one of your own, which would be great. Don't include the poem in your story…this isn't about that. Do, however, post the poem (please include the author's name, book title, and the publisher) at the end, just so the readers can read your inspiration. Pick any AU, as long as you have permission, or create a new one! Have fun!

The two boys waved one last time to the retreating grey horse and it's tall rider, neither of them liked it when Buck left each afternoon to see to his tavern. It was Friday so they wouldn't see him at home until Sunday morning. The four of them, the two boys, Miss Nettie and Chris would join him at morning services. But, much as they hated to see the big man, who always seemed to be in a good humour, leave, it was better than being split up and living with strangers, and anything was better then being held as virtual slaves on a pirate ship.

"Boys!" Chris called from the paddock beside the barn, where he was fence mending.

Vin held out a hand to little JD who hated it when Buck left more than any of them. In the first week they had been at the farm, he pleaded with him every time not to go. JD still found the long weekend separations difficult.

"Come on JD, let's go and see what Chris wants," Vin encouraged the four year old.

JD looked up at Vin from under his long black bangs, he sighed and then took the hand the eight year old offered.

Chris watched them come. If JD found the weekend separations from Buck, to whom he was devoted, hard, how were both boys going to react to the week or more both men were going to be away when they took the Vengeance out next week? Since the boys and Buck had come to live at his farm, the weather had been as still as a millpond, early fog had been burnt off by the sun, but not a breath of wind. But all that was changing, yesterday there had been a gentle breeze and today a soft but steady wind had come up and stayed. Miss Nettie, Chris' housekeeper, would still be there to care for the boys but he knew that would be little compensation. The two men had yet to tell the boys they were going. The weather was a fickle mistress and she could change again, why upset the boys unnecessarily if the voyage had to be postponed again.

"What do you want us to do?" Vin asked as he reached the fence, still holding JD's hand.

Chris straightened up and wiped a hand over his brow. "I have two jobs for you boys. First do you think you could go fetch me some more water from the well. This here," He pointed to the pail beside him. "is warm and stale.

Vin nodded enthusiastically; he liked to do things to help Chris, so still holding on to JD he picked up the pail, tipped out the remaining water and trotted off to the well. It took both of them to pull the full bucket up the deep shaft, but the depth assured that the water was always cold. They filled the pail and then took turns with the dipper to have a drink themselves. It had taken a great deal of patience on the part of both men to persuade the boys they didn't have to ask if they wanted a drink, water was always free, whenever they wanted it. Then, between them, they carried the full pail back to Larabee.

After he had drunk long and deep and poured some of the cool water over the back of his neck, he smiled down at the two waifs as they watched him.

"Chore number two," He smiled as he spoke. "Vin you take the feed bucket I have made up in the barn, and JD you take the bundle of carrots that is beside it, down to the mare and her foals in the bottom meadow."

"Hurrah!" JD yelled.

Vin just grinned. Both boys loved the twin foals that had been born just after they had arrived. But feeding two babies, even though they were in the most lush paddock, with the creek running along the bottom of it, the bay mare needed extra feeds, oats, corn and molasses to help her keep her condition, the carrots were a treat, for the horse and for JD. It made him feel as if he had a job to do to.

"When you are done, you bring the bucket back and you can play - alright?"

"Yes Chris, thank you!" Vin called, he was already sprinting for the open barn doors, with JD pounding along on his short legs in his wake.


Vin held the bucket for the mare as she fed greedily, while JD petted the foals, than he petted the foals while JD fed the mare all but the two juiciest looking carrots.

"JD you remember to drop the end before she gets to your fingers," Vin warned.

"I know, I'm not a baby," JD shouted back indignantly.

Finally they said goodbye to mother and babies and headed back to the house, munching on their carrots as they went.

"Vin?" JD asked.


"Can we go the long way back?" There were two tracks from the farm to the meadows along the creek bank, the narrow, steeper but shorter path the boys habitually used and the longer, but flatter, wagon track. The boys had never walked this track, having only ever travelled it on a wagon before. "We can 'splore," JD encouraged.

Vin shrugged, it was a nice day they had no chores until evening, why not? So he agreed and they headed up the track. JD took a long time to gnaw his carrot down, he still had half in his left hand when he picked up a long stick and began to poke at the bushes as they passed. Vin had finished his carrot and so now had a hand free to do the same, since he still had a bucket in the other.

Vin's stick was long and quite heavy, he trashed at bushes and poked under them, occasionally they startled a bird, stepping back as it flew out in front of them, then suddenly the bush Vin pocked at fell down right in front of him. Vin jumped back in alarm and JD squealed. Once they realised no huge beast was going to rush out, the boys approached the fallen bush. Behind it were briars, an impenetrable barrier of thorns, but just where the bush had been was a small opening, almost like a tunnel. JD edged closer, probing with his stick, carrot dropped and forgotten.

"Look Vin, a secret passage!" he gasped in awe.

Chris, but mostly Buck, told them bedtime stories and when they visited the town and called in on Ezra, the young Scott would also regale them with tall tales. These tales were full of adventure and there were always secret passages.

"No JD. I don't think…" But it was too late, JD had disappeared into the briar tunnel, so Vin followed him.

The little tunnel opened out into a small clearing with a steep bank in front of Vin. JD was nowhere to be seen. Vin looked around wildly searching for his young friend.

"BOO!" JD yelled as he jumped out from behind a bush growing against the bank.

"Goodness JD," Vin scolded. "Where were you?"

"In the secret cave, come and see." JD tugged on Vin's sleeve and showed him that behind the bush, which was very big, there was a small path and indeed, a cave in the side of the bank with sturdy timbers shoring up the opening which only went back about ten feet and was empty.

"Gosh," Vin breathed.

"It can be our secret hideaway, we can have adventures and if the Captain comes back, we can hide," JD explained.

'The Captain' was Sullivan, the pirate captain who had held both boys captive and ill-treated them cruelly. Sullivan had died when the Vengeance had defeated him and rescued the two boys, but JD had not seen Sullivan die, and he still had a hard time believing that the man was not going to come back and take him away again.

"JD, you know he's dead, Chris killed him, I saw him dead," Vin repeated patiently, as he did every time JD's fears surfaced.

"I know," JD said in small voice. "but just in case?"

"Alright, just in case, but not now, we have to get back, it's getting late." Vin held out his hand.

The weather during the days, with no wind and strong sun had been unseasonably warm but the nights were cold, they had even had a light frost. JD sighed but did take the proffered hand and follow Vin back onto the wagon track, the boys struggled to put the bush back across the entrance but eventually they made it and headed home.


Nettie Wells met them as they mounted the steps to the house.

"Well you two can just turn around and head back to the well. Here." She held out a bar of soap and a rag.

Vin glared at her for a moment. After living for seven mouths without washing and nothing terrible happening to him because of the accumulated dirt, he still didn't see the need to wash so often. But he never won against Miss Nettie or Chris; Buck sometimes, but not those two. So in the end he turned to go, JD just took his lead from Vin and followed.

"See that you wash the little one, well," Nettie called after him as she headed into the house.

On Saturday, the boys didn't get to explore their new secret place again because after the morning chores, Chris took them fishing. It was another hot day, though the breeze remained constant. Just before they were due to go home, Chris finally gave in and let them play in the water, wading in up to their knees - well, JD was up to his waist nearly - and splashing each other. Nettie was not amused at the sight of two boys and a man, dripping and muddy, on her doorstep. The weather finally broke that night, the wind came up and the rain came down.

After Sunday breakfast, with Miss Nettie driving the boys in the wagon and Chris riding his trusty black, they headed for church. Chris had been a churchgoer when Sarah was alive but had stopped after his family were killed; Buck had never been a religious man. As a boy his mother would have liked him to go to church but the pastor would not let her come into the church unless she publicly, 'gave up her sinful and wicked ways' which she wouldn't, mainly because she and young Buck would have starved if she had. And if his mom couldn't go, young Buck wouldn't go either. But the arrival of two boys in the men's lives had brought them to the church, they wanted the boys to be part of the community, to meet other children, and they wanted to raise them as the boys own mothers would have probably wanted. As the wagon neared the church, Nettie instinctively reached out and took hold of JD's shirt collar. It was a necessary precaution to stop him leaping off the moving wagon the instant he saw Buck.

"Buck!" JD shouted, waving and bouncing under Nettle's firm hand.

"Hey there, JD, how's my Rascal? You been good?"

The little black topped head bobbed up and down enthusiastically as the wagon drew to a stop and Nettie let go of the boy, who instantly launched himself into Wilmington's open arms.

After church, and as she did every Sunday, Nettie stayed in town to visit with her friends and catch up on the gossip, therefore after Sunday lunch, cooked by Inez at the tavern, the boys rode home with their guardians. This was one of the highlights of the week, riding. The men always put in at least two good gallops before they reached farm. Vin sat behind Chris on Pony, his arms wrapped around his new guardian, his cheek lying against the broad back, feeling the strength of the man who meant so much to him and revelling in the power and speed of the horse. JD rode in front of Buck, Wilmington's strong arm wrapped around him, holding on to a long strand of Max's dark mane, his face lit up with pure joy.

They had a good day, but after a late supper that included a rich pecan pie. With the two boys in their nightgowns, tummies full, faces scrubbed 'till they shone, and Miss Nettie safely home and knitting in the rocker by the fire, Chris and Buck took the boys into their bedroom. Vin got under the covers and Chris sat on the edge of the bed beside him, Buck sat on JD's bed facing Vin but keeping JD in his arms. Since they had to catch the high tide, they would be gone long before the boys woke up, so they were going to have to tell them now.

"Boys," Chris began. "we have some news."

"The wind came up …didn't it," Vin said before he could continue.

Chris looked down at Vin and smiled. "Yes, it did."

"So when do we sail?" the boy asked, he was a seasoned sailor and expected to go on the voyage.

"Well, Buck and I sail on tonight's tide, you two are gonna stay here with Miss Nettie." Vin frowned and then sat up.

"No! I want to come too, I'm a good sailor, I can look after myself," he explained passionately.

Chris took a deep breath to calm himself so he wouldn't shout at the boy. "I know you are, Vin, but you know what kind of voyage this will be. It's too dangerous, and what about JD, you know he's too little to come - don't you?"

Vin looked across at JD who was staring at the two of them with wide, fear filled eyes, tears running silently down his cheeks. His hands now had a death grip on the strong arm of Buck Wilmington that held him safe.

"Well?" Chris pressed. "You can't leave him here on his own - can you?"

Vin's head dropped. "No sir," he sighed.

"Rascal," Buck whispered in JD's ear. "It is only for a short time, we will come back," he assured.

JD twisted around so he was facing the man he already loved. His hand reached up to touch Buck's cheek. "I don't want you to go," he said quietly. "Please, Buck, please don't leave me behind."

"Oh JD," Buck soothed, "I'm not leaving you, no one is leaving you, I'm just going on a trip, I'll come back."

"No. You can't. You can't both go. Please, don't." JD's pleas became more urgent.

"Miss Nettie will be here to look after you. You won't be alone."

"No, you have to be here in case he comes looking for us," JD explained.

Buck groaned inwardly. Like Vin, he had told JD repeatedly that Captain Sullivan was dead, but the four-year olds' fears were too deep rooted. Chris watched as Buck pulled JD close and rocked him gently as he mummered reassurances to him. He gave a gentle squeeze to Vin's leg and slipped out of the room. A few moments later he returned with Nettie Wells.

"Young JD," she announced briskly. Tear reddened eyes peeped out from behind the protection of Buck's broad chest.

"Yes 'm?" he whispered.

"I hear you're worried someone might try to come here while the men folk are away and take you from us. That so?"

The little head bobbed once. From behind her back, Nettie produced a long musket.

"This here is my Brown Bess; I've killed man and beast with it before and I promise you, if anyone tries to take you away, I'll use it again. Is that good enough for you?"

Both boys stared in wonder at the long, well used musket; finally JD nodded his acceptance and turned to look up at Buck.

"Will you stay with me 'till I'm asleep?" he asked, still holding on to Buck's arm.

For his part, the big man bent down and kissed the top of JD's head and promised he would, he always did anyway when he was home.


Rake stood behind the wheel of the Vengeance and watched the Prize Master. He was sitting on the capstan and just staring at the booty they had captured. There was so much that most of it still littered the deck. The small pirate vessel they had run into was loaded down with plunder, so loaded down she couldn't run from the Vengeance, so loaded down there hadn't been enough time to get all of it before she keeled over and sank.

Morgan had protested bitterly, all but begging to be allowed back on to the heavily listing vessel to get just one more thing. But the Captain would have none of it, so he had stood at the rail and watched a fortune sink below the waves. There was enough booty to pay all the crew and officers a healthy bonus, there were provisions they could add to their stockpiles, including powder and shot. In addition, the trip had been short too. They would be home after just four days. Rake swung the wheel to start another gentle tack; they would stay out of sight of land, tacking back and fourth for a good two hours yet, until night when they could pass Pilot Town and slip through the Ocrocoke inlet, unseen.

Once he was happy with the ship's trim Rake handed the wheel to Peacock and headed down to the Captain's cabin, pulling Morgan off the capstan as he passed. The officers then decided how to divide up the loot. The crew, men and officers would divide the gold and silver coins they had found equally. The powder and shot would be divided up and hidden at various strategic locations, leaving some on the ship. The bolts of heavy silk, Ezra would find a buyer for and the money spent on the ship, for maintenance and supplies. The barrels of fine French brandy, Buck would sell, through his contacts in the trade. Some of the barrels would be held back, along with some cases of fine French wine they had also found. Brandy and wine were always useful gifts when reminding their allies just whose side they were on.

Once everyone knew what was going to happen and what their role was, the officers returned to the job of running the ship. As darkness began to fall the ship turned into the setting sun and headed for home. Buck once more stood behind the ships wheel. Chris went and stood beside his oldest friend

"You know, Chris?" Buck started.

"No. What?"

"I don't think I have ever looked forward to home more than I do now; I miss the little feller so much, …hell! Both of them." Chris turned to look at the taller man, in the last rays of the sun, his face hidden by a mask. It was impossible to see any expression on his face, but Chris knew how he felt, because he felt the same way.

"Yeah, me too," he admitted.

Ocrocoke inlet was treacherous in daylight; at night, it took all Buck's skill at the helm to keep her in the channel. A man either side of the bow took depth soundings repeatedly and the numbers relayed to the helm in hushed whispers. Once they were through safe, the Vengeance headed for her safe, concealed berth on the Neuse River. It took time to secure the ship, and move all but a skeleton crew and their haul of plunder to shore in long boats. By the time the loot was squared away, the money distributed and Chris had reported to Travis, who met them on the riverbank, dawn was breaking.


"Vin?" JD called in a hushed whisper.

"Yeah?" came an equally hushed reply.

"I can hear something downstairs."

"Me too, I think Miss Nettie got up to light the fire," Vin said, his voice still hushed,

"No, I can hear her snoring through the wall next to me, I think it's him, he came back."

Vin took a breath, he wanted to shout at JD, to tell him once and for all that Sullivan was dead, but he didn't. Bad as it had been for Vin, it had been worse for JD, he was shut up below decks much of the time, locked in a cupboard for hours on end, sometimes days.

"No, JD. He's dead, remember, Chris killed him, I saw him do it - you believe me, don't you?"

He waited for an answer. "I guess so, but…but…" The little boy groped for a why to explain his fear.

"Do you have bad dreams about him?" Vin asked.

"Sometimes," JD admitted.

"And they are worse when Buck is away - right?" He had seen and heard the boy toss and turn in the nights Buck wasn't sleeping in the house, muttering and even crying in his sleep.

In the weak light that pushed it's way through the crack between the shutters, Vin saw JD nod, his head. Suddenly, both boys heard another noise from below them.

"I think it's a racoon, I'm going to see," Vin announced.

"Me too." JD followed Vin, who was already at the door.

As they crept closer to the parlour, where the noise was coming from, they heard a familiar voice.

"Will you be quiet? You're going to wake the boys," Chris scolded.

"Look, if you want coffee, I have to stoke up the fire - right?" Buck replied calmly.

Just then the door flew open and two whirlwinds ran in. JD flew straight at Wilmington, only giving him a second to put down the poker and steady himself before the boy was hanging of off his neck, talking nineteen to the dozen, telling him everything he had done in the past four days. Vin stood beside Chris and looked up into his eyes, a question on his face that Larabee could read as easily as any sea chart.

"Everyone is fine. It was a good trip," the captain of the Vengeance said softly.

Vin let a smile escape to split his face; Chris listened to JD's torrent of words for a bit then looked back down at Vin.

"Sounds like you two had a good time," he commented. Vin just nodded, then his hand reached tentatively out to take the hand of the man he now saw as his parent. The larger hand enclosed his and he sighed with the release of the longing he had felt the moment he woke up on Monday and knew that Chris wasn't in the house.


After Miss Nettie fixed them all breakfast, the two men did the most urgent chores that needed their attention, but they were tired and once lunch was over, both settled into the chairs on the veranda. The sun was out and the wind was no more than a breeze; for November, it was very pleasant and they both quickly dozed off. Nettie shooed the boys away from the house, telling them to play quietly or away from the house where they wouldn't wake the men.

The 'cave' had been waiting for them ever since they found it, but Nettie kept them busy with chores, even when they fed the mare and her twin foals, they had to come straight back and when she let them play, they had to stay within 'hollering' distance. Today, however, she said they could go and play further afield.

They found the tunnel again after a few false starts, because all the bushes looked alike. Then, once in the clearing, they ran to the 'cave', only for Vin to pull up short.

"There's stuff in it," he stated indignantly.

"What stuff, Vin?" JD asked, poking his head around Vin to see the dark mound covered by a canvas cloth taking up almost all of the cave's interior.

"That's not fair, we found it first, it's our cave," JD whined.

Vin edged closer, and lifted the edge of the cloth. Under it, were sturdy wooden boxes and smallish barrels.

"What's in them?" JD asked.

"How do I know?" Vin tried to move one of the boxes, but it was too heavy.

"Treasure," JD suddenly whispered, "Vin, I thinked it's treasure!"

Vin looked down at JD and back at the strong looking boxes and barrels. Suddenly, he dropped the edge of the canvas he was holding and jumped back.

"Do you think it's pirate treasure?" JD asked in an even quieter voice.

"Maybe…maybe from the Vengeance," Vin said out loud. It was Vin who said it but JD was the one who clamped a hand over his own mouth, a look of wide-eyed fear in his huge hazel eyes.

The one thing they were reminded about all the time, sometimes daily, the one thing they had been told could mean them being split up and not live with Chris and Buck, was if anyone - absolutely anyone - found out that Chris, Buck, Ezra or any of the others were ever on the Vengeance. They were never, ever, to tell another living soul that they or anyone else they knew, were ever on her. JD had taken this so much to heart; he wouldn't even say 'Vengeance'; not even to Buck or Vin.

"Cover it up, Vin, quick! Quick, quick," JD urged. The panic that was rising in him was almost a physical thing.

Vin nodded and hastily pulled the canvas back. The boys then ran all the way back to the farm, to spend the rest of the day playing quietly behind the barn. They never told anyone about the cave or the boxes and barrels.


The next morning, Miss Nettie opened a letter that Buck had brought back from town the night before. Her young sister - the baby of the family was sick and she needed to go and visit with her for a spell. Naturally, Chris said it was all right. The men cooked and cleaned for themselves adequately for five days, then something came up.

"Boys, come here," Buck called from the house.

Two smell specks appeared from the far end of the grove of pecan trees that flanked the track that lead up to the farm from the road. They set out at a run to finally arrive in panting heap at the steps.

"I won! I won!" JD was yelling through the panting.

"Yes JD, you are a very fast runner," Vin conceded.

Buck knew instantly that Tanner had let the four year old win, and he winked at him to say he knew who really won and he was grateful for the consideration Vin showed the younger boy. Wilmington ushered the two boys into the house where Chris was waiting with mugs of buttermilk and cookies. Once they had gulped down the milk and consumed the cookies, the men sat the boys down, Vin sat beside Chris on the couch and JD sat on Buck's knee as he sat on in the armchair opposite.

"Boys I'm about to head into town for the evening…" Buck began, JD signed sighed dramatically and leaned back into Buck's shoulder.

"Now, tonight," Chris continued, "we, Buck and I, have some business to attend to."

Buck continued. "We can't leave you alone all night, so how would it be if you came with me to the tavern, and stayed with Inez, tonight? You like Inez, don't you?"

JD frowned. He did like Miss Inez, she was very kind and she made nice food, but it wasn't as nice as being with Buck. "I don't wan'a," he whined.

"JD!" Vin scolded.

"It's alright, Vin. JD was just being honest," Chris reassured.

"I know you don't, Rascal, but I will be there all evening. I won't be going out with Chris until late and not for very long. Tell you what." He gave JD a little squeeze. "How would it be if you two slept in my bed? It's very big and very soft and…" he paused dramatically, "it is a four poster."

Vin sat up a bit. "Really?" he asked.

JD turned around and knelt on his guardian's knees. "Like in the story Uncle Ezra told us, like the one the princess slept in, in the castle?" he asked in wonder.

"Just like that." Wilmington assured.


A thriving tavern, come travellers rest, wasn't exactly the ideal environment for two young boys, but then, sad as it was, Vin and JD had had much of their childhood innocence stolen from them. Their time aboard the pirate ship had exposed to the hash realties of life far too early, besides which, Buck reasoned, he had grown up in a very similar establishment and it had done him no harm.

During the afternoon, they helped Inez in the kitchen, they played with the cat's new kittens, and they played hide and seek in the cellar. As Vin crouched behind a stack of crates waiting for JD to find him, he realised they were almost the same as the crates they had found in the cave. Just then, the door opened and Buck came down the steps, ducking his head to avoid the low ceiling. He came right up to where Vin hid, levered off the top of the crate and pulled out two bottles of wine.

Then he turned to go, without looking back he said. "I won't tell him where you are."

As the tavern got busy, Buck sent the boys up to his room for the evening. Just as he promised, the bed was huge; it's deep feather mattress was so soft the boys thought they were floating on air. Buck had a huge feast sent up to the boys and then helped them get ready for bed.

"Now," he began as he did up the buttons on JD's nightshirt. " I have a surprise for you."

"Hello?" Ezra's distinctive brogue announced his presence.

"Uncle Ezra!" two voices chorused in tandem.

"I am told there are two young lads here in need of a bedtime story?" He looked around the room. "No, I was wrong, nay boys here, my mistake."

"We're here!" JD shouted, bouncing up and down on the bed.

"I hear something, it's very faint," Ezra teased.

"Over here!" they both shouted bouncing on the bed.

"Oh, there you are. Well, why didn't you say something? Once the boys were under the bed covers and Buck had said good night, kissing them both on the forehead, Ezra settled down to spin a tale of adventure and gold and four poster beds.


Something woke Vin in the small hours of the morning. The room was dark, and it took him some time to remember where he was, and even longer to understand that the reason it was so dark was that the bed curtains were drawn. Then he heard the sound of a wagon on the cobbles outside. He slipped out of the bed, careful not to wake JD and walked to the window. The shutters were closed but he was sure he could hear Buck's voice, so he turned the latch and opened the shutters. Down in the tavern's back yard stood a wagon, a stranger stood beside it. As he watched, Buck walked around the wagon and spoke to the stranger.

"What's happening?" JD came up to stand beside his friend and protector. The windowsill was too high for him to be able to see into the yard, even if he stood on tiptoe.

"I don't know; I can see Buck and a man and a wagon." As he looked down into the yard, Wilmington looked up. Vin pulled back from the window instinctively, but he was too slow.

Not long after Buck had looked up, the bedroom door opened and Inez slipped in.

"Boys?" she called. "Now, boys you should be in bed, come, bed." She very firmly pulled the shutters closed and turned the boys from the window.

"What's Buck doing?" Vin asked.

"Don't ask questions, darling. If you don't ask questions, no one will tell you lies."

Just then, the sound of horses in the yard made the boys look around; they could hear Chris' voice clearly as well as Ezra's.

"Miss Inez?" JD started, but Inez patted him on the shoulder.

"No questions, remember?" She picked JD up and carried him the last few steps to the bed, laying him down on the far side, closest to the wall. She held up the covers for Vin to climb in. With one last look back at the shuttered window, Vin crawled in beside JD. Just as they always did when they shared a bed, JD curled up into a ball and Vin wrapped himself around the smaller boy, with their backs to the window. Inez closed the bed curtains again and stepped back to the window. She opened the shutters just a chink and peered down. As she watched, a line of packhorses, loaded with crates and barrels, was led into the yard by Larabee. The crates and barrels were loaded on to the wagon, the stranger handed a bag of coins over to Buck and the now heavily loaded wagon rumbled out of the yard. Larabee waved goodbye to Josiah and Ezra as they left with the packhorses and went inside with Buck. Inez opened the shutters to let the moonlight into the room, and waited. Just as she knew they would, both men came to check on the boys.

"They see anything?" Buck asked in a hushed tone after he had checked on JD.

"Only Vin, and it was not much, no faces," she confirmed.


When the boys woke, it was hard to tell if the nights events were real or a dream. By the time they made their way down to the kitchen, Inez was making pancakes. Then, since Chris had returned to the farm and Buck was still asleep in one of the guestrooms, they agreed to help Inez tidy up the tavern, collecting tankards and plates sweeping the floor. JD was squatting down holding a pan for Vin to sweep the nights dust into when there was a loud knocking on the front door. As the boys watched, Inez went to the door.

"We are closed sir," she called.

"Open in the name of the King!" came the reply.

Inez shot a warning look at the boys before she unbolted the door. Into the tavern stepped a young officer, a Sargent and a trooper.

"Is Mr Wilmington here?" he asked Inez.

"No, Senor, he is not…" she considered lying, but there was no reason. "up yet."

The young officer walked into the room and looked around. Vin was standing looking at him with the broom in his hand; JD stood up the pan still in his hand.

"These your boys? Working them very young aren't you?" he asked looking at JD, who by now was hiding behind Vin.

"No, they are not my boys, and they are helping, not working," Inez explained.

The officer strolled over to Vin and squatted down, JD was now standing totally behind Vin, his free hand gripping the back of Vin's shirt.

"That so lads? You're just helping the pretty Senorita?" Vin nodded. "What is your name lad?"

Vin looked at the man for a long time, then finally he said. "Vincent."

"Hello Vincent. My name is Lieutenant Benson. Vincent, did you sleep here last night?" he asked.

Vin glanced up at Inez who gave a slight nod of her head, which Vin repeated, to the officer.
"You see or hear anything last night, people moving barrels maybe?"

Vin shook his head; he could feel JD's fist tighten on his shirt.

"What about any other night?"

Inez took a step toward the boys. "They do not live here, sir; they are only visiting."

Benson, who as well as being young, was new to the district, turned to look over his shoulder and was about to question Inez when the Sargent lent down and whispered in his ear. As Inez watched, a frown spread across his face and he looked back at the boys.

"Where do you boys normally live?" he asked. Vin looked up at Inez for guidance. "No lad, don't look at her, look at me, where do you live? You see, there is a pirate in these parts called Sullivan," JD's hand pulled even tighter on Vin's shirt. "he's a bad lot, Sullivan. Mean and bad, he's everyone's enemy. If we could find someone who was on his ship, it would help us to catch him. Now, we had several confirmed reports that Sullivan has a cabin boy, sandy hired, skinny, about 8 or 9 years old and one unconfirmed report of a second boy on the ship, black hair, small, maybe 3 or 4 years old." He looked around Vin at JD, then back to Vin, shifting his position so as to block Vin's view of Inez.

Vin swallowed and silently prayed he was saying the right thing. "At the farm, sir," he whispered.

"A farm?" Vin nodded. "Whose farm?"

"Chris Larabee," Vin said more confidently.

"Indeed, is he your father?"

Now Vin really didn't know what to say, Chris wasn't his father, he wanted him to be his father, but he wasn't, and no matter what, he was always going to be a Tanner. His dilemma was there on his face, for all to see. He couldn't see Inez, so he was on his own.

"I…I…live with him, he takes care of me," Vin finally admitted.

Benson studied the earnest looking boy in front of him. "Where is your mother?"

"Dead sir." That was at least true.

"And where is your father?" Vin shrugged, for he truly didn't know.

The lieutenant wanted to come back to the topic of when the boy came to live with Larabee but he turned his attention to the little boy behind Vin.

"And you? What is your name?" he asked. JD just buried his head in Vin's shirt.

"He don't talk, sir," Vin explained, hoping JD would understand and not say anything.

"Oh? Why is that?"

"He hasn't since his mother died." All heads turned up at the sound of the voice, to where Buck stood at the top of the stairs. "He's my boy, sir and I'll ask you not to question him without my permission."

By now, he was at the bottom of the stairs. Striding across the room, he patted Inez on the shoulder as he passed her and ruffled Vin's hair, before he picked up JD. JD of course, instantly wrapped his arms around Buck's neck, clamped his legs around the tavern keeper's lean waist and buried his head in the man's soft linen shirt.

Buck put on a smile and extended his hand. "Buck Wilmington, and this is my place. What can I do for you sir?"

Young Benson stood up. "I'm charged with looking for contraband. I have been ordered to check the cellar of all the taverns and inns in the district," he explained.

Buck smiled warmly at the man. "You won't find any in my cellar, but you are welcome to look."

The Sargent and trooper were sent to search, Inez showed them the way and watched to ensure none of the cellar's contents were tampered with or, indeed, found their way into a red coat pocket.

"So, this is your boy?" the Lieutenant asked, looking at the small raven haired boy in the arms of the equally dark hired man,; he saw the way the boy took comfort in the man's arms.

"Sure is, right, Rascal?" he asked the small boy in his arms. In response, JD looked up at Buck, gave a little smile and then hid his face again. "His name is John, he's a little shy around strangers."

"So if he is your son, how come he doesn't live here? The Senorita said he was only visiting."

Buck just smiled at the British officer. "A Tavern is no place for a boy to grow up, especially without his mama, he needs a friend, space to play, fresh air," he explained patiently.

Benson, who admitted to himself that this was a reasonable explanation, nodded, then looked down at Vin. "And you live with this Mr Larabee as well?" he asked, seeking conformation. Vin just nodded. "You know, that if someone, a boy maybe, had been on Sullivan's ship, the Midas she was called… Have you ever heard of that ship?" Vin shook his head, not trusting himself to speak. "If someone had been on the Midas and could help us to catch her and her crew, that person, that boy, would be rewarded, not punished. Are you sure you were never on the ship Midas, that you have never met the man called Sullivan?"

Before Vin could answer there was a commotion outside. Chris' voice was coming through clearly.

"The hell with that, boy!" he yelled. "I'm going in and, not you, nor King George, is going to stop me!"

"But sir, I have my orders," the trooper on guard could be heard protesting.

"Well, good for you, but I'm not in your army, so they don't apply to me. MOVE!" Chris bellowed.

Even before Benson could reach the door and find out what was going on, it opened and Larabee strode in, the trooper stumbling in after him, looking very ashamed.

"Sir, I tried to tell him, but he wouldn't stop," he blurted out to his commanding officer.

"So it would seem, go back out on guard duty." Benson turned to the newcomer, but before he could speak Vin had let go of Buck's leg and run to Chris. The officer took in the fact that man and boy were built alike and thought the boy's hair was probably sun bleached, it was not unlike the fierce looking farmer's.

"Just what in damnation is going on?" Chris wanted to know.

"Easy there Chris, " Buck soothed, it would do no one any good to upset the boys and antagonise Benson, who until now had been fair and reasonable. "The lieutenant here has orders to search for contraband; his men are checking out my cellar. Seems there's this pirate, Sullivan, he has a cabin boy, the description fits young Vincent." Buck knew that calling Vin 'Vincent' would give Chris the heads up, to let Buck take the lead.

"I'm only doing my job, Mr Larabee, is it?" Benson stepped up and extended his hand.

Chris nodded and took the proffered hand. "Chris Larabee," he confirmed.

"So this is Vincent Larabee?" the lieutenant asked looking down at Vin.

"This is my boy, yes." Chris bent down and hoisted Vin on to his hip. "What of it?"

Neither Buck nor Vin had missed that Chris had neatly side-stepped the question of Vin's name. If the Benson had, he was distracted by the return of the trooper, Sargent and Inez, from the cellar.

"Well?" the officer asked.

"Nothing sir, nice clean, dry cellar, no contraband." Inez huffed that anyone would think that her cellar would be anything but clean.

Buck beamed. "Right then, Lieutenant Benson, seems your work here is done." He extended his hand. "Do come again as a customer, any time you like, everyone is welcome." By now, he was at the door and holding it open for the men to leave. Seeing he was going to learn nothing new - if there was anything to learn - Benson conceded graciously, he shook Buck's hand and said his goodbyes.


Once they were gone, and Chris had made sure they really were gone, everyone relaxed.

"Boys," Buck began. "you were very, very brave and good - well done - I couldn't have done better."

JD didn't want to get down, so still held against Wilmington's hip, he whispered in Buck's ear. Whatever it was, it made the dark hired man beam, a smile so big, it nearly split his face, or so it seemed to Vin, who was now standing beside Chris. Chris asked what JD had said, but before he answered, Buck asked JD if it was all right to tell the other two. JD nodded, and then blushed.

"Rascal here, says he always wants to be 'my boy'." JD just grinned and blushed even deeper, while Buck beamed some more.

Vin remembered Chris telling the solder he was 'his boy', he liked the idea but he didn't want to give up being a Tanner. Buck proposed, that once he was properly dressed, though' no one had noticed he was only wearing britches and a shirt (he didn't even have boots on) they head out and buy the boys a treat, a special reward for their cool heads and tight lips. For the first time since Inez opened the door, JD spoke out loud.

"Gingerbread?" he asked.

"Sure Rascal, you can have some gingerbread, if you want," Buck confirmed.

"Hurrah!" JD shouted, so close to Buck's ear he felt as if he was in danger of losing he hearing. JD still made no move to let go of Buck, so Wilmington took him back upstairs to search for his boots as Inez went back into the kitchen.

Chris looked at Vin as he took a seat at the nearest table. He may not have known the boy long, but he could tell something was wrong.

"You did very well, Vin. The solider doesn't know anything, no one knows anything," he assured.

"I was scared," Vin admitted quietly, his head down, staring at the floor

Chris opened his legs and pulled Vin in gently to stand between them, placing his hands on the boy's bony hips. Vin, for his part, relished the warmth of the hands and the security implicit in their gentle hold.

"Vin Tanner, you are a very brave boy. What you did for JD…Vin, that was one of the most courageous things I have ever heard about. Never be ashamed to admit you are scared, we all get scared. Someone tells you they're never scared, that person is a liar and you are no liar Vin."

Vin's head was still down.

"Is there something else you need to ask me, something else bothering you?" Vin shifted from one foot to another, he shrugged, but he didn't say anything. "Tell me son, trust me."

Finally, Vin looked up. "Do I have to be a Larabee?" he asked.

Chris studied the boy for a long time, mulling over the question and trying to make sure he got the answer right.

"Vincent Michael Tanner, you are a very brave, clever, honourable boy. You are a credit to your parents, especially your mother, and you will always be a Tanner - always. There may be times when we have to pretend that you are a Larabee - but that is all it will be, pretend. But just because you are a Tanner and I am a Larabee, doesn't make me care for you any less. Please remember that."

Vin studied the man's face, then he decided he could ask just one more question, just to get it clear in his head. "So…so can I still be 'your boy' even if I'm a Tanner?" he all but whispered.

Chris reaction was instantaneous; he pulled the thin child to him and wrapped his arms around him. "Yes, oh yes, of course you can, you are my boy now, I promised you that, didn't I?" He felt the boy nod his head, but didn't let go, he just gently rubbed the bony back beneath his hands. They stayed like that, in silence for a long time, man and boy taking comfort and drawing strength from each other's company. The spell was finally broken by the unmistakable sound of JD pounding down the stairs, intent on being the first to get some gingerbread.

"JD!" Buck bellowed from the top of the stairs. "Don't you dare open that door until I get there," he warned.

Chris and Vin pulled apart, both smiling at JD's antics as he bounced impatiently by the door.

"You want some gingerbread, too?" Chris asked. Vin slipped his hand into Chris' and just nodded.

The End

A Smuggler's Song
by Rudyard Kipling

If you wake at Midnight, and hear a horse's feet,
Don't go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street,
Them that asks no questions isn't told a lie.
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!

Five and twenty ponies
Trotting through the dark -
Brandy for the Parson.
'Baccy for the Clerk;
Laces for a lady, letters for a spy,
And watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!

Running round the woodlump, if you chance to find
Little barrels, roped and tarred, all full of brandy-wine,
Don't you shout to come and look, nor use 'em for your play.
Put the brushwood back again - and they'll be gone next day!

Five and twenty ponies
Trotting through the dark -
Brandy for the Parson.
'Baccy for the Clerk;
Laces for a lady, letters for a spy,
And watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!

If you see the stable door setting open wide;
If you see a tired horse lying down inside;
If your mother mends a coat cut about and tore;
If the lining's wet and warm - don't you ask no more!

Five and twenty ponies
Trotting through the dark -
Brandy for the Parson.
'Baccy for the Clerk;
Laces for a lady, letters for a spy,
And watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!

If you meet King George's men, dressed in blue and red,
You be careful what you say, and mindful what is said.
If they call you "pretty maid", and chuck you 'neath the chin,
Don't you tell where no one is, nor yet where no one's been!

Five and twenty ponies
Trotting through the dark -
Brandy for the Parson.
'Baccy for the Clerk;
Laces for a lady, letters for a spy,
And watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!

If you do as you've been told, 'likely there's a chance,
You'll be given a dainty doll, all the way from France,
With a cap of pretty lace, and a velvet hood -
A present from the Gentlemen, along o' being good!

Five and twenty ponies
Trotting through the dark -
Brandy for the Parson.
'Baccy for the Clerk;
Laces for a lady, letters for a spy,
And watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!

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