ATF "Little Britches" Universe

Chris' voice was raw from calling for the missing child. He and the others had been searching for an hour in and near the trees with no luck. The frustration was evident in all the men. Nathan had become silent, while Josiah mumbled not so silent prayers. The only good news all evening had come with Ezra's call to say that Buck had awoken up.

The men wore haggard looks and all three were stumbling more often. But Chris was worn to a sharp edge. He would call the boy and cough due the rough throat. Try as they might, neither one of the other two men could get him to take a break. They continued to cover a lot of territory with still no sign of the child.

Chris played the light out in front of him and did not see the small limb until he tripped over it and fell to the ground again. Josiah and Nathan ran over at his cry. They drew up short as he grabbed the offending limb and flung it away.

"Dammit! Dammit! Where is he?" Chris cried as he banged he hand against the ground.

"Chris. Please. You need to take a break. You're tired, and you need to drink something, eat something." Nathan squatted down next to the man.

Josiah stood beside them and added. "You won't do the boy any good if you collapse. Let's go sit at the car for a few minutes. I have some water there and we can possibly find some crackers or something to eat."

Chris did not move. He sat with his head down and his arms wrapped around his knees.

Nathan and Josiah's heads jerked up at a rustling sound, but the flashlights did not reveal anything. They turned back to the figure seated on the ground. All three missed the black shape that separated itself from the shadows and flew at the man on the ground. A soft mewing sound was Larabee's only warning before the impact.

Taken off guard, Chris was rolled onto his back. Instincts and training kicked in quickly and he reached to grab the animal even as he brought the flashlight up and over his head. He growled as Josiah grabbed his arm and stopped the instrument in mid flight. With that pause, Chris looked down at his attacker. Dropping the flashlight, he grabbed the small body with both arms, wrapping it in a warm embrace.

"Oh, God, JD." He sat up, hugging the boy to his chest and rocking. He felt the tremors that wracked the small frame. Hot tears soaked his shoulder. Chris continued to rock and hug the child, telling him, "You're fine. I've got ya. It's okay. Shh., you're alright now."

After a few minutes, Nathan and Josiah helped Chris to stand. The boy was wrapped around him and clung like a leech to his neck. They started back to the car. Stumbling and staggering with fatigue, they arrived and Chris sat down on the front seat. Nathan gently tried to pry the boy from Chris' neck.

"NO!" he screamed and clung even more tightly. Chris shook his head.

Nathan pinched his mouth. Then, "Chris, get in the back. Josiah, you drive. Take us to the hospital. I don't think he's bad hurt, not as fast as he moved or as tight as his grip is, but we aren't taking any chances."

The two men did as he said. Chris was the team leader, but when it came to medical situations, Nathan was in charge. Thirty seconds later, they were belted in and rolling.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah drove and Nathan hovered at Chris' shoulder as he cradled the shivering child. Though he had finally stopped weeping, JD had not relaxed his hold on the man yet. Nathan took off his coat and tucked it in around the boy, noticing for the first time, the torn jeans and dirty socks.

Finally, the boy broke his silence. "Bu..Buck and Vviin .left" JD stuttered. " And I. .I..thou.. ..was..a …a..bear."

"Oh, JD. I'm sorry. Buck and Vin didn't leave ya. They wouldn't do that. There was an accident and they were hurt. They were.. asleep when they left." Chris stroked the dark hair. "They would never have left you here, son. I promise. They were only joking with you this morning."

The boy was shaking, but he began to relax and slowly slid down. The man shifted the boy around to cradle him in his lap. After a few minutes the child slipped into an uneasy sleep. He made soft mewing sounds as he slept.

The medic examined the scrapes visible through the tears in the child's clothing. The top of both legs, his knees, the tops of his feet, and the palms of the boy's hands were all scraped and imbedded with debris. Luckily, his jacket and long sleeved shirt had protected his arms and elbows. Nathan reached over and pushed the dark hair from the boy's face. The two men got their first look at the young face.

"Josiah, turn on the lights." Instantly, the interior was flooded with light.

The two men looked at the mess on the boy's face. He had scratches on his face. There was dirt and grass stuck in the dried blood. Tears had left trails down the dirty face and mucus from his heart-wrenching sobbing was caked on his lip. Chris reached under the coat and drew out one of the tiny hands. The man rubbed the back of the boy's hand as he thought about how delicate and frail it felt in his larger one. He noticed the little dimples where eventually there would be knuckles. The skin was soft, smooth, and cool. Too cool? He gripped the small body even closer.

Nathan checked the boy's eyes and ears and found both good. "Chris, I don't think he's hurt, other than scrapes and bruises. He's cold and scared and tired, but I really think that he's fine."

Chris' only response was to nod his head as he laid his cheek on top of the dark hair. JD curled into the embrace. As Jackson watched, he noticed JD curl his toes and feet. Nathan reached down and patted the sock covered feet. "Damn, Chris. His feet are like blocks of ice. These socks are wet."

Why didn't I notice that earlier? he thought to himself. Nathan pulled the damp socks off and started rubbing the chilled feet. He chuckled as JD wiggled deeper into his large warm hands and sighed deeply, a smile of contentment on his face. Nathan looked at Chris and the change was remarkable. Moments before he looked bone weary and scared, now he looked tired, but the fear was gone, replaced by relief.

Chris was vaguely aware of Sanchez calling Ezra and then, Alan Stewart, who had given them the number before the two highway patrolmen had left. He centered most of his senses on the tiny form held in his arms. The blond prayed that Jackson was correct in his assessment of the boy's condition. He knew Buck would not forgive himself if something happened to either of the boys. Chris was drained from the day's events, but he was still anxious about the well being of his family. JD needed to be checked out by a doctor and officially declared fit. And he needed to see Buck and Vin. Make sure they were going to be okay. Ezra's call helped to relieve some of his worry, but he needed to see for himself.

Josiah glanced in the mirror and smiled at the two hard-nosed ATF agents. Nathan sat with his large hands cupping the chilled feet of the child. The team leader sat with the boy cradled in his lap. He held the child tightly with one hand, while the other rested on the boy's cheek and wrapped around to the back of his head, his thumb absently stroking the tiny ear even as Chris' cheek rested on the dark hair.

Josiah pondered the changes that had come over Larabee since he and Wilmington had taken the boys into their home and hearts. A side of Chris had opened up that, until then, only Buck had seen. Josiah knew that even with all the heartache and trouble that children brought, it was worth it to both men and the changes were positive ones.

+ + + + + + +

Buck tried to sleep, but he could not relax. Ezra had been back to check on him twice and informed him, that while Vin had not yet come to, he was resting comfortably. The doctors told Standish that the boy should sleep until early the next morning.

Anytime Buck managed to drift off, he had nightmares. He kept seeing the wreck again, only this time he saw JD get thrown from the vehicle. But instead of being thrown out to land on the ground, hidden from view, he was flung into the air and, sprouting wings, flew away. The vision was so vivid that Buck woke up in a cold sweat, the image still in his mind's eye. He clutched the bruised ribs and prayed.

Lying back, he tried to relax again, but could not for fear of sleeping and having the nightmare again. Finally, he sat up and turned on the television. The only thing he could find was It's A Wonderful Life. He turned down the sound and watched as Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed danced into the pool.

By the time Ezra appeared again, 'George Bailey' was accepting money from his friends and learning what an impact he had made on the town.

"Mr. Wilmington, I assumed that you would be sleeping by now."

Buck yawned as he muted the television. "Now, Ezra, you should not never assume anything. You know what they say, don't ya?"

"Would you be referring to the adage 'Never assume? It makes an ass of u and me?' As I am not the one laid up in a hospital, though, an assumption of your resting is not an unconceivable idea." Ezra studied the man lying on the bed. "Bad dreams, I think would be a culprit."

Ezra smiled at the raised eyebrow and startled look Buck gave him. "Not a hard conclusion to arrive at Mr. Wilmington. You are shouldering not only guilt, but also grief at the uncertain whereabouts of your charge. Am I correct in this assessment?"

Receiving no comment, the undercover agent continued. "Then you may rest easy as I come bearing good news. Your young man has been located. He is alive and well, though somewhat scratched and bruised from my understanding."

Ezra paused as Buck absorbed the information. When the blue eyes welled in relief, Standish produced a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to emotionally drained Wilmington. Buck took the linen square and placed it over his eyes, holding it in place with both hands to his face. He stayed that way for several minutes. Finally, he felt in control and lowered the handkerchief. He gazed at this friend that he knew little about. Standish had been with a team for quite a while, yet none of them really knew much about him. He had money, he had breeding, but no one was more closed off than him. He never talked about his family or childhood. He never revealed his feelings. That was until the boys had walked into all their lives. Or, more correctly, they had walked into the boys' lives.

Buck still thanked God that misinformation had led them to the wrong warehouse that day. If they had not gone in, if they had arrived one day later, Vin would likely be dead and JD lost to the streets. The thought made the kind-hearted agent sick to his stomach. Since that day, they had all changed, but none more than Ezra.

Others would say the biggest change had occurred in Chris Larabee, but Buck knew Chris wasn't changing, only reverting to the real Chris, the one only he had had the privilege to know until now. Buck knew the Chris who was a husband and father, the Chris who many believed to have died along with his family. Buck knew that that Chris still existed within the outwardly cold heart. All it would take to reveal the warmth that still existed in that heart was for something or someone to crack the shell surrounding it. That someone had come in the form of a small boy, an innocent soul protecting another innocent soul. When Chris discovered the wounded, dirty, starving child, anyone near him could have heard that shell crack if they had been listening. Buck saw the crack in the man's eyes as Chris clutched the sick child to his chest. He saw the spark of hope Larabee held for the innocent soul in his arms and the fear of losing that same soul when Nathan found the bullet wound in the tiny frame. Yes, there had been changes in Chris Larabee, but Wilmington did not feel wonderment at the changes as much as relief. The Chris he had known for years was re-emerging.

The change in Ezra Standish was the wonderment. They had learned more about Standish in the last few weeks than they had in the previous three years. In talking to, and about the boys, the man had spoken hesitantly about his childhood experiences. He was still the most closed-mouthed of the team, but he was coming around. He was quickly becoming a friend and team player Chris wanted and needed him to be. Before the boys, Chris had considered replacing Standish. The Larabee glare had little affect on the Standish indifference and the two had butted heads on more than one occasion. The problem still existed, but Chris was more relaxed and receptive, while Ezra had become more open and responsive. The team had become more cohesive and began to operate much more effectively. While good before, the close relations they now enjoyed with each other had propelled them into excellence, working together as a well-oiled machine.

Buck's mind registered all this in the space of a heartbeat. The smile he bestowed on Ezra came from his heart. The big man held the handkerchief tightly. "I'll get this back to you after I have it cleaned, Ez."

"Nonsense," Ezra took the soiled linen from Buck's hand, "I'll simply drop it off with the rest of my apparel when I stop. Now, as I know you are tired, I will take my leave and go check on young Mr. Tanner. Once I have verified his continued slumber, I will meet our remaining team members in the emergency facilities below. Upon visual conformation of your Mr. Dunne's arrival and physical inspection, I will return and update you of the boy's condition."

Buck opened his mouth, but closed it again when Ezra held up his hand. "Mr. Sanchez told me that the child was in good shape. He was of course chilled and had multiple minor scrapes, but fine otherwise. I can inform you that I could hear the child in the background. He was crying, but judging by the strength of the wails, he was more frightened than injured. As there is no reason for Mr. Sanchez to suppress any information, I can only surmise that his accounting of the boy's condition to be accurate."

Seeing Buck relax against the pillows, Standish stood. "Rest, Buck. I will wake you as soon as I have the boy's physical assessment. This, you can hold me to, if you wish."

Buck took a deep breath and released it slowly, allowing the tension to escape with the air. "Thanks, Ezra. You're a good friend. I appreciate the time you put in tonight."

"Any time, Mr. Wilm..Buck. I am very glad I could help." Ezra watched as the man settled against the pillows and relaxed into a light sleep. He pulled the door open and headed to Vin's room.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah pulled up to the hospital and parked near the ER doors. JD whimpered when Nathan removed his hands from his feet. The tall medic opened the door and held out his arms to take the child as Chris got out, but the blond just shook his head and scooted across the seat and got out. The three men made their way to the automatic doors that opened into the emergency area. Chris was surprised to see Ezra waiting for them with a doctor standing beside him. It was a pleasant surprise for the weary man.

The two stepped forward. "I took it upon myself to inform Doctor Jennings of our young friend's circumstances and condition as relayed to me by Mr. Sanchez. I have sworn to Mr. Wilmington, that I will wake him with young Mr. Dunne's condition as soon as it is ascertained."

The doctor, oblivious to Standish's speech, did a quick check of the child's vital signs as they stood in the doorway. Looking at Chris, he said, "I'll take him. I'll come out and let you know how he is in a few minutes."

Reluctantly, Larabee relinquished his hold and allowed the man to take the boy. The doctor had time to turn away before the boy registered the switch. He screamed and began to struggle. Taken off guard by the sudden movement, Doctor Jennings lost his grip on the small form. As a single unit, four men leapt forward, reaching for the falling body. Ezra got there first. He swept JD up and clutched the trembling form to his chest. Chris was right there, stroking the dark hair and talking softly. He glared over Ezra's shoulder at the embarrassed and red-faced physician.

Dr. Jennings apologized over and over, but nothing was going to appease the ATF leader. He had had a bad day and it seemed to just keep getting worse. Nathan led the man away from the scathing glare Larabee had pinned him with. Josiah stood mutely waiting for the drama to play itself out. He knew that Chris would not allow the boy into anyone's hands that was not a member of his trusted team now. The hospital staff would protest at Larabee's invasion of the exam room, but there would be no compromise, not today.

JD quieted down at the sound of Chris' voice and finally pulled his head back to gaze at Standish. His eyes widened and he smiled. "You catched me, Mr. Ezra."

Ezra blinked in surprise as JD planted a very wet kiss on the man's cheek. Chris fought the laugh that bubbled up his throat at the alarmed agent's expression. He could see the conflict in the man's eyes as he prevented his hand from wiping the wet mess off his cheek.

Ezra relaxed after a moment and patted the boy on the back, a sparkle in his eyes. He smiled at the child. "I am honored to have been of assistance to you, Mr. Dunne. I am most appreciative of your enthusiastic reward for my aid."

Chris chuckled at Ezra's words. He knew the meticulous southerner was appalled at the moist kiss. He would be even more appalled after he noticed the slimy mess on his suit jacket.

Chris reached out and took the boy from the man. "I'll take him, Ezra." Chris supported the child as he snuggled into the blonde's neck. Looking his agent square in the eye, Chris nodded his thanks and turned toward the doctor and medic. "If you'll lead the way, Dr. Jennings, JD and I'll follow you." No one missed the implication in the man's statement. Larabee was going with the boy, period.

Dr. Jennings hand indicated the room and he held the door as Chris strode through. Nathan and Josiah looked at each other, as Ezra wiped at the stain on his jacket, mumbling to himself as he did. He looked up at the other men.

"Do you feel that we should go in to protect Dr. Jennings?" he inquired. "I, for one, am not inclined. The man was derelict in his attention and, therefore, deserving of all the uncomfortable moments Mr. Larabee is surely putting him through at the moment."

Nathan laughed softly. "I agree. Let Chris have his fun with the man."

Josiah was inclined to agree. "The doctor is certain to be more attentive from now on. Chris will see to that. But I would not like to have to explain to Buck why we had to bail Chris out of jail if the doctor were to cause more injury to that boy."

+ + + + + + +

Chris watched as the doctor checked JD's eyes and ears. He felt around in the dark hair and found no sign of head trauma. To the man's credit, he spoke softly and told the boy about what he was doing the entire time he was examining him. Finally, Jennings straightened and looked at Larabee. The man's shoulders visibly relaxed when he saw the glare had been replaced with the anxious eyes of a father.

"Well, I have to say, that knowing the circumstances of the injuries, the boy is very lucky. He has no broken bones, no head trauma. Aside from the scrapes, he has a few bruises and one deep cut on his left knee. That will require a couple of stitches, but it will not impair his mobility at all. We will have to clean the scrapes and I'll tell you right now, he will not like it. You can hold him or we can get him something to relax him. Either way, we need to scrub to dirt and debris from each wound."

Chris looked at the wide hazel eyes as they watched him. Glancing back up, he replied, "I don't like the idea of hurting him, but neither do I want to put him to sleep. Any suggestions?"

Dr. Jennings nodded. "We can give him something to drink that will relax him, but not knock him out. He'll feel it, but not too bad."

Chris nodded. The doctor issued instructions to the nurse and they began. One hour later, Chris exited the exam room, carrying an exhausted little boy on his shoulder. JD had started screaming as soon as they touched the wounds, but he soon wound down to whimpers as he wore out. After cleaning the scrapes, they had applied ointment to them. As a result, Chris had stains on his clothes from the ointment. The wounds were left uncovered to speed healing, but it was a messy proposition since it was necessary to carry the boy.

The three agents gathered around them as soon as they came through the door. Each in turn reached out and caressed the boy's head, as if to assure himself of his presence.

"He's fine. They gave him something to relax him, so he's pretty much out of it. He had to have five stitches in his knee." Chris lifted the injured joint to display the doctor's handiwork. "He's just worn out. Anyone check on Vin or Buck in last little bit?"

Ezra nodded. "I only just came down from both rooms. Buck is sleeping, off and on, but would rest better if you made an appearance with JD. He believed my account on the lack of injuries, but is hard pressed to accept them without visual confirmation. Mr. Tanner, by all appearances could be awake, if not alert, within a hour or two."

"It's late. Why don't you three head on home? I plan on staying the night in one room or another. JD can sleep with me. Or if Vin is okay, I can lay him down with him."

"We don't mind staying, Chris." Nathan informed the weary man.

"No need. I expect I'll see you all in the morning, if I know you at all. Go home. Sleep in your own beds. Miz Potter is off tomorrow, so I might could use somebody to watch JD while I deal with the police and insurance, or whatever comes up tomorrow."

"If you will allow me to offer my assistance in those matters, Mr. Larabee. I am very capable of dealing with such establishments. I can relieve you of those duties and you can attend to family matters. There was some talk of releasing Mr. Wilmington tomorrow. He has no severe injuries, only uncomfortable ones. Mr. Tanner, they wished to detain for twenty-four hours after he awoke."

"Thanks, Ezra. I may take you up on that. Now, all of you, go home. I will see you no earlier than nine o'clock. Understood?"

The three men nodded and left the man standing in the hallway.

+ + + + + + +

Chris hitched the limp boy up as he pushed the door to Buck's room open with his hip. Quietly, he crossed the room and sat down. He knew he wouldn't have to wait long. Buck didn't disappoint him. Within five minutes, the big man began to wake up. Chris studied the face of his old friend as he waited. Buck had a cut above his eye. The blood had drained down into the hollows of his eyes, blackening them both. Hidden under the hospital gown, Chris knew the man was bruised, and in pain. Not that Buck would it admit it to Chris or the others. A nurse maybe, but not his teammates. Movement in the bed drew his attention.

"Hey, partner. How ya doing?" Chris asked.

Buck looked over at the dark clad man. He nodded as he raised the bed to see the man better. His eyes locked on the small body cradled in the man's arms. "How is he?"

Chris smiled. "He's fine. Just tired."

Buck lay back against the pillows. He turned his head away from his old friend and closed his eyes.

"Buck? Don't." Larabee's voice was soft, but carried the strength of leadership. Buck turned back to face him and guilt clouded the blue eyes.

"Don't go down that road. None of this was your fault. Both kids are fine or will be soon. You have nothing to apologize for, so just shut up and rest."

Both men's attention was drawn to boy as he stirred. JD yawned and stretched. He looked around as he sat up. He smiled up at Chris and then looked over at the bed. His little hands flew to his mouth and he giggled.

"Buck, you look like a raccoon." The hazel eyes sparkled as he continued to giggle at the man.

Wilmington managed to glare at the boy for all of two seconds. Then his face broke into a smile. The man reached out to the boy.

"Buck, he has ointment on the scrapes. It'll get all over the bed."

Buck shook his head and continued to reach for the boy. "Don't care. I need to hold 'im"

Chris nodded and, standing up, passed to boy to his partner. JD snuggled into the crook of the man's arm, lying on his back. He drew his leg up for the man to see.

"I got stitched. See?"

Buck took the injured limb gently and was appropriately impressed. So the boy proceeded to show him each scrape. Buck nodded his head as the boy displayed the various scrapes. As he finished, the boy looked up at the man. "You got any boo-boos?"

Buck shook his head. "Only two black eyes to show off. I think you got me beat, little bit."

"That's okay, Buck. I'll let you win next time." JD yawned through the last statement and snuggling up to the man, closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.

Chris did not fail to see the grimace as the boy placed his arm across the broad chest of the man. He stood and reached for the child.

"No, he's okay right where he is, Chris." Buck spoke softly so he would not wake the boy.

"Buck, are you sure? I can take him."

"Why don't you let him stay here and you go check on Vin?"


"Yes. We'll be fine. Rail's up so he can't fall off. You just go look after Vin. I'll keep an eye of JD."

"Thanks, Buck."

"No, thanks go to you. Good thing you're a stubborn cuss."

Chris walked over to the door. Turning, he replied, "Now, that's the pot calling the kettle black."

Buck smiled. "I ain't the one wearing black, pard."

"Only cause I look better in it." Chris stated as he opened the door. "I'll see ya in little while." When he turned, he found both Buck and JD fast asleep. Chris breathed a sigh of relief. Two-thirds of his family checked and accounted for. One more and he could rest.

+ + + + + + +

Chris entered the room as quietly as a breeze. He still found himself watched by slightly unfocused blue eyes. He found himself holding his breath as he moved across the room. The eyes watching him slowly blinked. Leaning across the railing, he stroked the boy's forehead.

"Hey, Vin. How are ya feeling, son?"

The boy's eyes slowly focused on his face and then the mouth gave him a lopsided smile. "Hi, Chris. I feel funny."


Vin's head nodded. "Everything's fuzzy."

The man smiled. "It's okay, son. That will go away soon."

"Good," he simply stated.

Chris moved his hand around to the smooth cheek, stroking him slowly. "You go back to sleep, now. I'll see you in the morning." He frowned as tears formed in the boy's eyes. "What's wrong, Vin?"

"Nothing." He started to turn his head, but the man stopped the motion have his hand as he cupped the trembling chin. "Vin?"

"I just.. I'm .. I was really scared." Vin whispered.

Chris lowered the rail and sat down by the boy. He took the small hand in his own. "So was I."

Vin looked hard at this man who had taken him in his home. What he saw was honesty. He graced that man with a big smile.

"Are JD and Buck okay?"

"They're fine. They're asleep two floors down. I'll bring JD up to visit tomorrow."

The boy nodded. He had taken hold of the man's hand while they were talking. "Can you stay?"

"I was hoping you would ask. I'll pull a chair right here by the bed."

"You can stay here if you want," he said shyly.

"That would be nice, Vin. Thank you."

Chris pulled his shoes off and lay down on the bed. He clicked off the light and pulled the cover up over the boy's shoulders. He felt the small body move closer and wrapped his arm around the blond head. "Night, Vin."

"Night, Chris." The words were slurred but Chris heard the little boy mumble, " I love you."

Chris felt his heart swell. He leaned over and kissed the boy's head. "I love you, too, Vin."

+ + + + + + +

"I got it!!" JD yelled as he ran to the front door. He threw it open and found Nathan and Raine standing on the porch.

"Happy Thanksgiving! Mr. Nathan, Miz. Raine. Mr. Josiah's burning biscuits. The kitchen stinks, but..." JD looked around and crooked his finger at the two people, who leaned down, "..I'm not suppose to say anything, so you pretend you don't smell anything, okay?" Of course this was spoken in a very loud voice. Nathan could hear Buck groaning in the background.

"JD!" he bellowed.

Nathan and Raine found everyone was gathered in the large kitchen. The Larabee household had planned to spend the day fishing and enjoying each other. After the accident, they had discovered the need to have an extended family gathering. Josiah was scrubbing a pan at the sink. Buck was sitting at the table, peeling carrots. Vin was just sitting. Ezra was expected, but had not arrived yet.

Three hours later, the group was sitting down to eat. Gloria Potter and her two teenagers, as well as Nettie had joined them. Judge Travis and his wife stopped by to check on everyone and been invited to stay. More tables had been set up and more dinnerware pulled from the cabinets.

Everyone gathered together in the kitchen for grace. Chris found his hand gripped by Vin's smaller one. Buck held JD in his grasp, hand near the boy's mouth, just in case.

"Lord, we thank you for the glorious day. We thank you for the bounty you have set before us. Each of us are thankful for the wonderful country that we live in and ask that you protect the brave people that serve her and You to defend us. We would ask that you help the people who have lost their loved ones in the tragedies of this year and grant them the peace that Your love provides. We have many things in our lives that You have given us, Lord and we are thankful for our health and our friends. Most of all, Lord, we are thankful for the family that you have put together in this home. Bless You for watching over this family earlier this week and bringing them home safely. We know that by Your good graces we stand here, together today, healthy and safe. And for this, we give thanks to You. Amen."

'Amens' were said all around.

"Can we eat now, Buck? I'm hungry." JD said loudly. Miss Nettie took him by the hand and led him around the table, letting him point out the things he wanted and Gloria Potter filled the plate. Buck followed close behind and the line seemed to form behind him.

Chris, aware that Vin still held onto his hand, looked down into the pale blue eyes. He knew he was blessed when he saw the devotion in those eyes. He smiled at the boy. Raising his head, he looked at the people gathered in his kitchen. So many friends he never really realized he had. He was truly thankful for them and his new family. They represented all the good things that life had to offer, things that he had not seen in a few years. And for these things, he was truly thankful.


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