"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe

Author Notes: I'd like to thank K. Poffenberger and S. Berry for creating the Little Britches AU. Thanks to all of the wonderful LB authors who've really made this AU a lot of fun to read.

Thanks to Phyllis for betaing the story.

The lyrics are from the Garth Brooks song, Thicker than Blood.

"Hey, I'm home. Anyone?" When he didn't get an answer, Chris frowned and walked towards the kitchen.

"Guys?" He glanced around the corner knowing that it was the usual hiding place for two little boys when he got home from work. But not this time. No one was there, and it seemed like there wasn't anyone in the house at all.

He loosened his tie as he opened the refrigerator door. Grabbing something to drink, he shut the door and then turned back the way he'd come. It was then that he saw the lone piece of paper on the kitchen table. He walked over and picked the note up.
Our family never shared the same last name, but our family was a family the same.
And they say blood is thicker than water, but love is thicker than blood.'

The words were painstakingly scrawled in blue crayon on the white wide-lined piece of notebook paper. Chris would have recognized Vin Tanner's awkward handwriting anywhere; the young boy was still fighting his dyslexia, but was getting better every day. Chris blinked suddenly moist eyes. The note was signed: 'To Mr. Buck and Mr. Chris, Love JD and Vin.'

The hand holding the note shook a little. He ran the hand that was still holding his drink across his eyes. "Damn." His voice was hoarse, his throat tight. "Damn kids." He swallowed hard as his mouth turned up in a smile.

He walked the note back over to the refrigerator. After moving some pictures and drawings and school papers over, he placed the piece of paper on the refrigerator door at about the level of his belt buckle, knowing that all four of the house's residents would be able to see it there. He put one of Vin's horse magnets on the top left corner and JD's 'Monsters, Inc.' magnet on the bottom right.

He stepped back and read the note again.

Our family never shared the same last name, but our family was a family the same.
And they say blood is thicker than water, but love is thicker than blood.'

He frowned deeply while trying to rein in his emotions, but damn if those two lines didn't sum up what this family was.

He and Buck, best friends who'd been through thick and thin together. To hell and back, some might say. Neither of them had had perfect lives, but they'd both learned to cherish the memories they had, and the memories that were to come.

JD Dunne and Vin Tanner, two small orphans who looked out for each other, had found each other by fate, or something more. Best friends. Brothers in all but blood.

Larabee, Tanner, Dunne, Wilmington.

Our family never shared the same last name, but our family was a family the same.
And they say blood is thicker than water, but love is thicker than blood.'

Chris's eyes wandered over the many photos on the front of the large appliance.

An old dog-eared photo caught his eye - he and Sarah holding a newborn Adam, both smiling in that one certain proud way that only new parents can. Chris shook his head. He'd hid all his old photos, not wanting to be reminded. But recently he'd gotten some of the old pictures out to show Vin.

For some reason, Vin latched onto to that one photo. Chris could still remember what Vin had said about it.

"Your eyes..." he'd said as he ran his finger reverently across Chris and Sarah's faces. "They look like my mama's eyes." Vin had sniffled then and looked up at him with the biggest blue eyes he'd ever seen. "That's 'love', Mr. Chris." He pointed at the picture. "You and Mrs. Chris loved each other and your baby so much that there's light shining through your eyes." Vin leaned in and with a furtive whisper, added, "I know, cause that's how my mama looked at me."

Chris's heart had clenched and he'd wrapped his arm around the slim boy's shoulder, giving him a hug before quickly standing and walking away.

He'd left Vin in Buck's care and made a trip out to Sarah and Adam's graves for a visit and to do some thinking.

When he'd finally come back home, Buck had told him that Vin had been in the boys' bedroom all evening. He and JD had tried to get Vin to come out to watch movies or play a game, but the boy wouldn't have any of it.

Chris nodded at the information and made his way to the kids' room. He knocked and opened the door to find Vin sitting on his bed, his stuffed cat in his lap. Chris sat next to him and pulled him close to his chest.

Vin sniffed and then said, "I thought you were mad at me, Mr. Chris." He looked up at him. " 'Cause a what I said about Mrs. Chris and your boy."

Chris frowned deeply, his eyes burning. He laid his chin on top of Vin's head. "Never, Vin. What you said was beautiful." He then held the boy out from him so he could look him in the eyes. "And it was something I needed to hear."

"It was?" Vin asked, wide-eyed.

Chris smiled sadly. "Yeah, it was. Made me realize something. Each one of us in this house has lost ones we loved..." he choked up and he had to pause for a moment before he continued. "But we also gained something else. *Someone* else. Not to take their place, but to add to our lives."

Vin looked up at him hopefully.

Chris ran his hand over Vin's hair. "I got you. And Buck got JD and he got you. And you got JD and Buck. And I got JD... and, well..." he cocked his head and raised his eyebrow, "I never really could get rid of Buck." He winked and grinned.

Vin grinned also, his face splitting wide.

"Doesn't mean we ain't gonna be sad sometimes for what we lost," Chris said as he once again pulled Vin close and laid his chin on the top of his head. "But we got each other to get us through those times." He could feel Vin relax against him and the two sat there for a long time content in each other's company until Vin had fallen asleep and Buck had brought JD to bed.

The next day the picture had been up on the fridge and had stayed there. Chris smiled looking at it. Since then, he and Vin had gotten along better than ever. Vin's nightmares had lessened, and, Chris had to admit, so had his own.

The side door slammed open making Chris jump.

"Chris!" JD yelled as he launched himself at the ATF Team Leader. Chris caught the flying missle and held him up in the air, placing him on his shoulder and holding him one-armed.

"Guess what?" JD's voice was loud in his ear and Chris moved his head away slightly so he could keep his hearing intact.

"What?" Chris asked as he looked down at Vin who was standing just inside the door, in front of Buck.

"The mama cat had her kittens and we got to watch and it was really yucky and kinda neat, but mostly icky and she licked them off and loved on them and then she gave them some milk from her belly and then she washed them some more and then they laid down beside her and curled up and went to sleep and then they..."

"Whoa, little bit," Buck interrupted, grinning like a loon. "I think Chris has the picture."

Chris sat JD down on the floor and ruffled his hair as the boy took off for Buck. Crooking his finger at Vin, he motioned for him to come forward. "Did you have a good day?" he asked as he grasped the boy lightly on the back of the neck, giving him a reassuring squeeze.

"Yep. Buck picked us up from school and when we got home we did the chores. And then we brushed the horses extra good since we're all going riding tomorrow and then that's when JD found the little kittens, so we been looking at them all this time." He looked up at Chris, his Adam's apple bobbing as he swallowed nervously. "You think we could keep 'em? The kittens, I mean." He glanced over at JD who was being held by Buck as both looked out the window in the back door. "I know that JD would really like to keep 'em and I was thinking..." his voice drifted off and he looked back up at Chris.

Larabee smiled gently as he squatted down in front of his normally not very talkative foster son. "JD ain't the only one who'd like to keep 'em, I'm guessing."

Vin smiled as he leaned his head towards Chris's and said conspiratorially, "Well, I'd kinda like to have 'em around too."

Chris nodded. "Yeah, we can keep 'em. Can always use cats around the barn to keep the mice away."

Vin grinned as he chuckled. "Don't tell JD that, he'll want to keep the mice too."

Chris laughed hard as he pulled the young boy in for a hug.

Our family never shared the same last name, but our family was a family the same.
And they say blood is thicker than water, but love is thicker than blood.'

Chris's eyes drifted to the piece of paper on the refrigerator and Vin's followed his. Chris watched as blue eyes lit up when they recognized what was now holding center court on the family's all-purpose photo album/message board/scrapbook.

"That was beautiful, Vin." Chris pulled him close with one arm as he again read the words written in blue crayon. "Thank you."

Vin blushed as he looked down, scuffing the toe of his boot on the linoleum floor. "I heard it in a song an' asked my teacher if she could help me write it out. I put JD's name on it along with mine, 'cause I know that he means it too."

Chris smiled at the boy's words. Vin cared so much for JD. Always thinking of his young charge, Vin was 'dedication' personified.

"I heard those words and it was just..." Vin's voice drifted off and Chris looked down at him.

"Just what, Vin?" Chris encouraged.

"It was 'us', Chris. I mean, it was *us*, you know?" Vin cocked his head. "I couldn't've said it any better if'n I'd tried forever. And I know that JD thinks the same." He sniffed as he looked down. "We ain't like everybody else, we ain't related by blood, we're related by love... and that don't make us any less family than anyone else." He looked back up, his eyes shining. "Sometimes, I think it makes us more."

Chris swallowed the lump in his throat. How could he have ever been so lucky to find this little boy? To find this family? He pulled him close again and hugged him hard. "It makes us more, Vin. It definitely makes us more."

Our family never shared the same last name, but our family was a family the same.
And they say blood is thicker than water, but love is thicker than blood.

The End

(Sept. 2002)

Comments are welcome:

Thicker than Blood
Garth Brooks

She was born in Kansas City
Raised in Arkansas
Fell in love with an ex-Marine
She already had three babies
He had one of his own
They came together
For another and me
Our family never shared
The same last name
But our family
Was a family, the same
(And they say)
Blood is thicker than water
Oh, but love is
Thicker than blood

Wreck out on the highway
Rain falling down
Lord, he must have
Fell asleep at the wheel
There’s a number of people
Just standing around
Lord, I can’t condemn
The fear that they feel

For that river of red
Could be the death of me
God, give me strength
And keep reminding me
That blood is thicker than water
Oh, but love is
Thicker than blood

And if blood is
Thicker than water
Then what are we fighting for?
We’re all sons and daughters
Of something that
Means so much more

I see it on my TV
But I can’t understand
Lord, it’s one
Big contradiction to me
How in god’s name
We love thy neighbor with fists
In our hands
And kill each other
When we just don’t agree

Why can’t we see the walls
We can’t see through?
And see what God’s
Been telling me and you
(And that is)
Blood is thicker than water
Oh, but love
Love is thicker than blood