A "Little Britches" ATF story

Vin was so tired that he couldn’t stay awake through the whole video. His eyes drooped more and more until he was asleep and dreaming again.
He was little again and on the streets.

"Hey kid." Vin glanced over at the thin man who leaned against the wall. He knew him, he stayed around and sometimes Vin had seen him at the shelter. He was always talking to the kids, trying to get them to go with him.

"Hey, Sam."

"You hungry?"

Vin’s stomach belied the shake of his head.

Sam looked around. "Where’s the girl? The one that watches about you?"

"She’s around."

Sam smiled "Well, I got a stash from the donut shop. Would you like some of them."


"Okay, come with me." Sam turned and glancing at Vin began going down the alley.

Vin hesitated. "Lacy said to stay here."

"There’s some chocolate ones with sprinkles."

Vin still hesitated. Lacy had told him to wait there for her. But at the mention of chocolate, his stomach won and he started to follow Sam down the back alley.

It wasn’t far and Vin could still see the place Lacy had left him.

Sam ducked behind some crates, and turning back he held the chocolate donut. "Here kid, come get it." He smiled again at Vin.

The boy was reluctant to get within reach of Sam, the tip of his tongue sticking out in anticipation of the chocolate.

Sam frowned. He took a bite out of the donut. "Sure is good. Sure you don’t want to come get some?"

Vin took a hesitate step forward, his small hand reaching out.

Sam’s eyes gleamed and he was so focused on the small boy he didn’t see the wild girl that rushed past Vin and knocked the squatting man over.

"Leave him alone, you pervert." Lacy grabbed Vin’s hand and ran. They didn’t stop until they were blocks way. Stopping finally and gasping for air, Lacy gave Vin a hard look and a shake.

"You don’t never ever go off with anyone, especially men, well, women too, make that big people. Vin he… he didn’t want to share with you. He would have hurt you really bad. Don’t ever do that again."

Vin stared at the gasping Lacy. "I’s hungry and he said he’d share with me"

"I know that’s what he said but he was lying. Baby, listen to me, don’t let grown ups touch you, not ever. They only want to hurt you and they use all kinds of ways to get you close enough to grab. Don’t do it; ever."

"Ain’t no baby."

"Then don’t act like one. Don’t get close enough to get grabbed."

Vin was tossing and turning, gasping as if he were running. Chris reached over to calm and comfort the boy but his touch brought a scream. "NO!! Stay away."

Vin was scooting away from the hand even before he was awake.

"Vin, calm down it’s just me. I won’t hurt you," Chris said in his calmest voice.

Vin’s eyes were open and flying wildly over the room. "No, stay away. Don’t!"

"Vin, it’s me. Wake up, it’s just me."

Vin’s panicked eyes finally landed on Chris. "Dad?"

"You were dreaming, Vin. It’s okay."

Vin wrapped his arms around himself and looked around the room. He rubbed his forehead. "I’s dreaming. ‘Bout before."

"What about before? Vin, did someone hurt you?"

"No. Ol’ Weasel Sam tried to but Lacy jumped him and stopped him." Vin couldn’t stop looking around the room, afraid he’d see someone hiding in the corners.

"Vin?" Chris moved slowly closer to the frightened boy. "It’s okay, Vin, you’re home and safe."

Vin very slowly leaned toward Chris, his voice full of tears. "Why’m I dreaming about this stuff again? I haven’t in a long time and now all the bad dreams are back again."

Chris gently reached out and touched Vin cheek. "I don’t know, maybe because of Jess showing up it reminded you of all the things that happened while you were on the streets."

"Oh," Vin said, as he lay down with his head on Chris’ leg. "I want them to go away."

"I know. You want to tell be about this dream?"

"Was just about the time Ol’ Weasel Sam tried to grab me. Lacy said he wanted to hurt me and I should never go with him no matter what he offered me to eat. She said that grown ups just wanted to hurt you and they wouldn’t really give you anything to eat anyway."

Chris swallowed, and asked, "Were there other grownups that tried to ‘grab’ you."

"Yeah a few, but I had hidy holes that was too little for them. I’d run and hide ‘til they were gone. Especially after.. after I found out what they’d do to me if I got caught."

Oh, God. I don’t really want to do this.  "How did you find out, Vin?"

"I heard the other kids talking. But Dad...Chris…." Vin sat up so he could look his father in the eye. "They never caught me. They never did nothing to me."

Chris locked his eyes with Vin’s. "I’m glad, Vin but it wouldn’t have made any difference to me. I’d love you no matter what. You understand that?"

"Yeah." Vin laid back down, his hand gripping Chris’ leg, and said, "I love you, too Dad, no matter what."

+ + + + + + +

Chris sat at the kitchen table enjoying the quiet and his first cup of coffee. He browsed the morning paper. It had been a long night with neither boys sleeping well until he’d taken Vin into his room and lay with the boy in his arm. Only then did the dreams stop and Vin finally relaxed.

From the corner of his eye he saw something scurry by and he got up to look down the hall to see Vin disappear into his room. Frowning, Chris followed and reached the door just in time to see Vin putting something into his old backpack.

"What you got, Vin?"

Vin jumped at his voice, and hanging his head, his hands tightening around the backpack, said nothing.

"Vin? I asked you a question."

"Nothing," Came the mumbled reply.

Chris walked in and sat on the bed beside Vin. "What’s in the backpack, son?"

He reached out and gently took the pack and looked inside. It was packed with packages of trail mix and granola bars. There was even a jar of peanut butter and part of a loaf of bread that had been a little squashed.


"I … I don’t like being hungry, Dad. I don’t want to be hungry ever again."

Chris sat wondering what to say. He knew Vin meant more than just hungry before dinner. Vin meant really hungry, starving hungry. How could he make Vin understand that wasn’t going to happen while he still breathed?

"Okay, I tell you what, you keep the granola bars and the trail mix but the bread will spoil and the peanut butter jar might break. Vin? I’m not mad at you son, I just don’t want you to feel so scared about things."

Vin wouldn’t look up, his head still hung, and Chris saw the tears come out from under the lowered eyelids. He reached over, and even though Vin flinched away from his touch, he still wiped away the tears with his thumb.

"It’s going to be okay, Little Man. We’ll work through this. You know you need to get ready because all the guys are going to be here in a little while and we’re going to cook on the grill and then there’s a game on later. Wouldn’t you like to spend the afternoon with your uncles?"

Vin nodded, saying, "Yeah. Is ‘he’ coming?"

"Your Gran’pa? Yes, I wanted him to meet everybody and to see your whole new family together. It might make him feel better."

Vin glanced up at Chris. "He needs to feel better?"

"Well, sure, Vin. He’s worried about you. Wondering if leaving you is the best thing for you. No matter how much we love each other, I still have a very dangerous job and that’s gotta worry him some. That something could happen to me and then what would happen to you? We’ve talked about this before and you know we’ve got it all worked out but he doesn’t."

"Oh, I never thought about that."

"I know." This time when Chris reached out and drew Vin closer, the child didn’t resist. "We all love you, Vin and we all want the best for you. But most of all we want you to be happy and safe. Right now that’s here with me and Buck."

Vin wrapped his arms around Chris, burying his face in Chris’ chest. "I love you, Chris."

"Love you too, kiddo. Now how ‘bout getting dressed and we’ll get Buck and JD up and get breakfast and do the chores before the others get here, okay?"


+ + + + + + +

The rest of Team 7 arrived en masse, each man bringing goodies for the table and to snack on during the game.

JD ran out the door, hugging each of the encumbered men, chatting happily. "Hi, what’cha bring, Uncle J’siah? I know Uncle Nathan brought ‘healthy’ food." JD made a yuck face. "But you bring good stuff."

Before Josiah could answer, Ezra interrupted, asking, "What about the appetizers I bring, Mr. Dunne?"

JD looked at his uncle, and asked, "Huh?"

"The snacks I bring?"

"Oh, sometimes they’re good. But I don’t like the fish eggs or the hairy fish, Uncle Ez."

With the others laughing, Ezra looked down at his young nephew. "Well sir, I brought plenty of little boy approved snacks this time. I learned my lesson."

"Oh good. Uncle Nathan, where’s Aunt Raine?"

"She had to work at the hospital today, JD, but she said I was to give you a big hug and a kiss."

JD giggled and backed away from the over laden man. "Yuck, can’t we just said you did and not tell her you didn’t?"

Nathan laughed, "Sure, JD, consider yourself kissed, okay?"

Josiah looked around and then at Chris, who had come out onto the porch. "Where’s Vin?"

"In his room, I think. He’s not being very sociable today."

Josiah nodded, and said, "I bet."

Chris came down the steps, and taking some of the packages that Josiah was carrying, he said quietly, "Josiah, I need to talk to you about something that happened."

"Okay, I’m all ears."

Chris told Josiah what had happened that morning and about the stashed food. "I didn’t know what to say or do, Josiah. I told him he could keep the granola bars and trail mix but I’m not sure it helped."

Josiah was quiet for a while as he set stuff down on the kitchen table and then they walked into the living room. "You did just right, Chris. Vin is feeling very vulnerable right now. He it trying to protect himself the best way he can. This Lacy tried to teach him how to survive and she did a good job. But right now all his training is kicking back in. When he feels more secure about his grandfather, and that he’s going to stay here, then the hoarding will go away and he’ll get along again. I’m afraid that Vin will always be one of those people who’s surprised that others really care about him. You’ve seen him, he tries so hard not to be a bother, not to cost too much, not to get in the way. I hope with time, over the years, he’ll come to understand that we all love him no matter what. But only time will help that."

"Thanks, Josiah. To be honest, this whole business has us all unsettled."

Josiah placed his hand on Chris’ shoulder, and said, "I know Brother, but we’re all here and in this together. Would you like me to talk to Vin to see what I can do?"

Chris shook his head. "No, lets all just act normal. He’s been talked to and reassured and nothing seems to get through to him. So lets just show him by just being ‘normal’ whatever the hell that is, that nothing has really changed."

"Sounds like a plan to me."

The redwood table was loaded with food and snacks, the ice chest was full of beer, sodas and sun tea and the members of Team 7 lounged in various lawn chairs talking and enjoying the warm spring day. Chris glanced up as the rental car came up the drive.

He went to meet it and escorted Jess back to where everybody was, everybody except for Vin. Jess looked around.

"Vin’s in the house, we thought it best not to make him come out. He’ll come when he’s ready."

Jess nodded, and said, "He has his grandmother’s stubbornness."

Chris grinned. "Perhaps. I’d like you to meet the rest of my team and Vin’s honorary uncles. Josiah Sanchez, Ezra Standish and Nathan Jackson."

Each man stood at the call of his name and offered the old man his hand. Buck came over in his "Kiss the Cook" grilling apron and asked, "What can we offer you, Jess? We have beer, soda and the best sun tea in the Rockies."

"A glass of tea would be wonderful, thanks, Buck."

Ezra, eyeing the old man, asked. "What did you do for a living, Mr. Miller before you retired?"

"Jess, please. I was a school teacher, high school. I taught English and Shop. An odd combination, I know, but it worked. Most of my students were Native American and I hoped my being their teacher would show them there was more than living on the rez."

"An admirable goal, Mr. Miller."

Before Jess could object to the ‘Mr.’ Nathan said, "Don’t worry about Ezra, he refers to us all as Mr. Even the boys. Mr. Dunne and Mr. Tanner."

"Good manners are never out of vogue, Mr. Jackson," Ezra said in his thickest southern accent.

"Sure they are Ez. After all these years you’d think at a back yard grill you’d call us by our first names."

"Ez-ra, Mr. Wilmington, not Ez. And I like the formality. We must impress on young minds that the proper appellation is always to be used."

"Uh, Sure Ezra. Whatever."

JD came running around the side of the house with both Elvis and Ringo running with him.

"Whoa there, Little Bit, where you going in such a hurry?"

"Nowhere, just running." JD looked around the crowd of grownups. "Vin doesn’t want to play, so I was just playing with the pups. Hello, Mr. Miller."

"Hello, JD. JD, if it’s alright with your father, why don’t you just call me Gran’pa like Vin does? I hope It would make things a whole lot simpler."

JD looked at his father.

"It’s okay with me, JD."

JD grinned at the man. "Okay, Gran’pa. I ain’t never had a gran’pa before."

"I never had a Gran’pa, Mr. Dunne."

JD looked at Ezra, and deadpanned, "You neither?"

They all laughed and Ezra shook his head. "No, Mr. Dunne I was correcting your bad English."

"Oh." Then turning back to Jess, he asked, "Would you like to see my horse?"

"Yes, I would."

"Okay then, come on." With that, JD led the elderly man off toward the pasture.

Chris watched them, and mused, "I wish it was that easy for Vin."

Again, Josiah was there to lend support. "JD is a much more open and trusting person then Vin. You know that. But once Vin has your trust, he gives it completely."

"Yeah, I know." Chris glanced back at the house in time to see Vin looking out the window at what was going on.

Chris shook his head and headed toward the house. Once inside, he found Vin sitting on his bed with a pillow balled in his lap. "Hey, Cowboy, Buck is about ready to start cooking. Have you decided what you want, chicken or steak or a hamburger?"

"Don’t know."

"Vin, everybody is here and they all want you to come out, but you don’t have to, I won’t make you. But I won’t cater to you, either. If you want to eat, you have to decide and come outside. I’m going back out now, do you want to come with me?"

Vin looked up at his father, trying to decide how serious he was. Then, making up his mind, he set the pillow aside and scooted off the bed. He stood beside his tall dad, looking up. "I’ll go."

"Good." Chris started outside with out looking to see if Vin was following. He knew he was and prayed silently that being with his uncles for the day would help the boy feel more secure.

+ + + + + + +

JD led Jess to the pasture gate. "See, the little horse, the light brown one? That’s my Spot. Da says that I need a little horse for a while ‘cause I’m so little."

Jess looked at the Welsh sized pony. "He’s a fine horse, JD. But why did you name him Spot? That’s usually a dog’s name."

The pony, hearing JD and knowing that always meant a treat, ambled over. He stuck his head between the fence poles as JD said, "’Cause he’s got a spot on his head, that’s why."

Seeing the white mark, Jess nodded. "I see it, and in that case, it’s a fine name for him."

"I thought so, but Da laughed and then said I could call him anything I wanted. But we named Elvis cause of some ol’ singer Da likes. Do you know who Elvis is?"

Jess smiled, "Yes I do, he’s a very famous singer. There have been movies about his life and everything."

"Really? Da sings songs that he said The King made famous but I never heard them except for Da. But it made Da happy to call my puppy Elvis. I like making my Da happy."

"You love your Da very much, don’t you, JD?"

"Yeah, an’ Chris an’ my uncles an’ Vin. Vin’s my big brother, well, not really, but Da says he is in every way that really counts."

"I think you’re right about that, JD. I think Vin is your big brother in every way that counts."

JD looked at the old man. "You really aren’t going to take Vin, are you?"

"No, JD, I’m really not going to take Vin anywhere."

"That’s good, ‘cause if you did, I’d be sad, all of us would be sad."

"I’m beginning to see that, JD."

+ + + + + + +

Full of good food and good company, Buck really was a good cook on the grill; the adults went into the house to watch more playoffs. The boys elected to stay outside and play with the dogs for awhile. The men could hear them shouting and giggling through the open windows and screen doors.

Vin and JD were playing Ringo and Elvis’ favorite game. They threw a stick and the pups chased it down and then the real fun began when the boys chased the pups trying to get the sticks back. They laughed and shouted and got further and further from the house.

Vin caught Ringo and started tugging the stick and giggling. "Le’ go Ringo. Le’ go so’s I can throw it again." Ringo play growled and shook his head, but finally gave up and let go. Bouncing and jumping, he waited for Vin to thow the stick again. Vin threw it as far and as hard as he could and Ringo chased after it. The flash caught Elvis’ eye and he ran barking after his friend. The pups disappeared in the trees with the two boys following. The four youngsters ran and played and never thought about how far they were getting from the little valley where the house was.

Vin stopped. JD came up behind him. "What’s the matter?"

Vin pointed to the faint game trail. "See, it’s a deer trail. This is where they walk. Let’s follow it. We can pretend we’re hunting for supper."


They followed the trail around the side of the mountain until they were where they’d never been before. Drawn out of the game, Vin looked around. The breeze sang through the trees and he could hear birds and off to one side he spotted a chipmunk. There were no blooms yet but the huge rose hips from last year made him think of the tea his mom use to make. Stopping, the pups plopped down panting beside the boys. It was so nice and free here; Vin could stay forever.

JD looked around too. "I’m thirsty, Vin."

"Me, too." Vin looked for signs and listened. "There. There’s a stream over that way."

They went a little ways, and sure enough, a small, clear mountain stream trickled down from higher up. Vin walked up stream until he got to a place where the water rushed over a bed of rocks. Then, squatting down, he carefully took a sip. The water was so good and it was cool and fresh. "Okay, you can get a drink now." He and JD both drank while the pups lapped water down stream, lying on their bellies in the shallows. Finally sated, the boys sat up and looked around.

"Do you know where we are, Vin?"

"No, somewhere…" Vin looked up in the sky and placed the sun. "Somewhere west of the house, I guess. We’d better head back."

"Do you know which way?"

Vin looked around again. "That way, I think."


"No, it’s okay, JD, besides we have the pups to help us. They’ll take care of us and help us get home. Remember the movie about the two dogs and the cat?"


"Well, they made it home and they had a lot further to go then us."

"Yeah. They did good."

The boys started walking, trying to retrace their steps.

+ + + + + + +

Commercial time and Chris got up to take a bathroom break. On his way back to the living room he looked out the windows, trying to get a glance of the boys. Not really worried, he rejoined the others. He was grateful Jess fit in with the others well. Although quiet, he was at ease with both Josiah’s rambling and Ezra’s extensive vocabulary, occasionally throwing in a word or two that made even Ezra pause.

On their side, the honorary uncles seemed to accept Jess and make him feel welcome.

It made things a whole lot easier knowing the others’ instincts told them that Jess was ‘alright’ and accepted. He grinned as a cheer came from the group of men. Sitting down, he began watching the game again, forgetting that he didn’t see the boys.

During the next commercial, Buck got up and went to the kitchen. As he got a drink of water he looked out the window looking for the boys. Not seeing them, he went to the back door and looked around. Shrugging, he went back to the game, hearing the rest moaning and shouting.

It wasn’t until the next lull in the game that Buck asked, "Chris, you seen the boys lately?"

"Humm? No, they were out playing. They’re probably just on the other side. They know to stick close."

"Yeah, I guess. I just haven’t heard them in a while."

Chris glanced at his old friend. "Okay, lets go see if we can find them."

They quietly got up and left the others. Walking around outside they checked the boy’s usual hangouts. Not spotting them, they starting calling. Getting just a touch worried, they looked again, this time calling. "JD!! VIN!!"

The men inside heard them and went out. Josiah called, "Something wrong, Brother?"

Chris answered, "Oh, the boys seem to have wondered off, I’m sure we’ll find them soon."

The three uncles looked at each other and without a word left the porch and started spreading out and looking. Jess followed them, looking up at the mountain and the late afternoon sun. It would be dark in another hour and it would get cold, even though the day had been warm.

Jess watched as the five men spread out looking for clues to where the boys could have gone. Buck climbed up on the roof of the barn in order to see further and looked around.

Chris walked to the far corner of the pasture and spotted several puppy-chewed sticks and a hole or two where the dogs had dug a bit.

He climbed through the fence and spotted a small footprint in the soft dirt. "Buck! Over here."

All the men came running. "They were playing here and looks like they might have taken off after the dogs."

"They know they ain’t suppose to go into the forest without us."

"Yes, but boys being boys, they didn’t think, they just followed Ringo and Elvis."

"I suggest we fan out and look for more clues as to the direction they took."


Vin followed JD down, not only watching where he put his feet but where JD was putting his. The loose shale was tricky on the steep incline it tended to slip and slide under foot.

"Watch out, JD!" Vin grabbed and pushed JD out of the way before he fell but he heard the pop as his foot turned under him and he fell and rolled a few feet.

"VIN!!" JD screamed and followed Vin as he rolled.

Vin came to a stop, and trying to sit up, he took inventory of the places that hurt. His hand was scraped, elbow, hip and knee bruised. But what hurt worst was his ankle. He could already feel it swelling in his shoe. Biting his lip, Vin pulled his foot closer and undid his shoe and held his aching ankle.

"Vin, you alright?"

"No, I turned my ankle. JD, I don’t think I can walk."


"I think you need to go on alone and get Dad and Buck to come get me."

"NO! I don’t know how to get home. I can’t leave you."

"You gotta, you and Elvis can find your way home and show the others where I’m at."

JD looked doubtful but he nodded. "Okay, but you keep Ringo with you."

"I will, just keep following the trail. It’ll take you home. Trust Elvis, too, he can find home easier than you. Now go on, I’ll be okay."

JD reluctantly walked away and looked back several times before he lost sight of Vin.

Vin sat still until he could no longer see JD and then he let the tears of pain fall. He rocked back and forth, rubbing the skin gently trying to ease the intense ache that traveled up his leg. Ringo whined and sat close and occasionally reached over to give his boy a comforting kiss or two. After a while, Vin lay down and put his injured ankle on his upright knee hoping having it high up would ease the pain. He vaguely remembered Uncle Nathan saying something about elevating a sprain.

Ringo whined and lay down beside Vin, his head on his paws. But at the slightest sound he’d raise his head and look around. He was on guard and he took his duty to his boy seriously. Vin wrapped his fingers in Ringo’s fur and put his other arm across his eyes.

You’re a big baby, Vin Tanner, crying like that. Bet Dad wouldn’t have cried.

+ + + + + + +

Chris stopped suddenly, mid-stride. He swallowed and closed his eyes. Nathan saw the sudden stillness of the man. "Chris, what’s wrong?"

"Vin’s hurt."

"You can’t know that."

"Yeah, I can. It really hurts, and he’s crying. Don’t look at me like that Nathan. I know he’s hurt. I can feel it."

Nathan the scientist was skeptical but Nathan the friend and medic for these accident prone men and boys knew that if Chris said Vin was hurt, he was hurt. "Any idea where he’s at?"

"It’s not radar, Nathan."

"It can be, if you let it," Jess interrupted.

Chris looked at the older man. "What are you talking about?"

"This bond, this gift, if you let it, can lead you to where Vin is. Or at least point you in the right direction."


Jess thought How indeed? "Close your eyes and think about Vin. Try to get a sense of where he is; perhaps a direction or a landmark. I’m sorry I can’t be more specific, it works different for different people."

Chris stared at Jess and then closed his eyes. Taking a deep breath, he tried thinking of Vin. But nothing came through, just the pain. Chris opened his eyes and took a step, almost falling.


"It’s okay. I.. it’s Vin. He’s turned or sprained his ankle. It’s really hurting him but I don’t think it’s too bad." Chris looked at Jess, and added, "But I don’t get any sense of direction."

Jess nodded. "It’s okay, we can go the way we’ve been going and perhaps it will come later."

The men started walking again, looking for any sign of the boys passing by the same way. Each noted that Chris was limping slightly.

+ + + + + + +

Vin was cold and it was dark. It was dark all the time anymore even in the daytime it seemed dark. He and Lacy lay curled up together and tried to stay warm. She’d tell him stories to pass the time. He didn’t feel well and he slept a lot.

Lacy felt Vin’s forehead again. There wasn’t much heat but he still coughed a lot. She sighed, it was time; and she’d put off leaving as long as she could. Each time she went out it was so much harder.

"Vin? Honey, wake up for me, okay?"


"Vin I gotta go out for a few days. Like I done before, okay? I’m gonna leave you plenty of food and you stay warm. Maybe I can find Maggie this time and we can go to a shelter for a few days. Okay? Vin?"

Vin opened a bleary eye. "Don’t go, Lacy. I don’t wanna be here alone."

"I know, baby, but we need some money for your cough and other stuff. I’ll come back as soon as I can."

"I’m fine, Lacy, really. You don’t have to go out ‘cause of me. Please."

"I gotta, kid. Just stay here and stay warm. I’ll be back before you run out of eats."

Vin just nodded and watched Lacy crawl out from under all their blankets. Before she left she bent over and placed a kiss on his forehead. "Be good."

Vin waited and waited. He was so hungry. He’d run out of food the day before. But Lacy had said wait, so he waited. He was cold; he was always cold. Curling up into a tight ball, he tried to forget the ache in his stomach and sleep. Sleep was his only escape. Maybe if he slept enough he’d start dreaming of angels, too and be with his mama.

Finally, in desperation the next day, Vin crawled out of his ‘cave’ and crept outside. It was daytime but the clouds and the snow made it feel like night. He went along the edge of the buildings until he was across the street from a McDonald's. He watched as people came and went, watching them throw away half-finished meals. His mouth watered and his stomach growled, but he waited.

When there was no one around, he crept over to the outside garbage bin. He and Lacy had used this one before and he knew he could reach it. Looking around every few seconds to make sure no one saw him, he pulled off the lid and reached inside. He pulled out two sacks and scurried back out of sight.

Inside the opened bags he found half eaten fries and burgers. He gobbled them down, trying to ease the cramp in his belly. When he’d finished those, he went back. Again watching for anyone coming, he grabbed as much as he could carry and scurried off again. He stopped only long enough to condense everything into one big package and then headed ‘home’.

Almost there and his stomach started cramping. A few more steps and his stomach rebelled and everything he’d eaten came up with a vengeance. He heaved and heaved, tears streaming down. Finally it stopped. He leaned against the wall and cried, it hurt so much. Then he heard footsteps and he ran, taking a zigzag route back to the warehouse and into his ‘house’.

Once there and feeling safer, he ate again, this time only a little and stopping until he was sure he could hold it down. Then he ate a little more. When the cramps stopped, he lay down, and covering up, he went to sleep, dreaming of being warm and not ever being hungry again.

+ + + + + + +

Buck led the way, calling out every few feet. "JD, son? Vin can you hear us?"

They found the deer trail and debated writher to follow it.

"It would seem that two such adventurous boys would relish following a deer trail in hopes of spotting something wild," Ezra commented.

"Yeah," Buck agreed and took off at a fast pace, quickly getting ahead of the others.

Nathan stayed by Chris, worried at the limping. "I’m fine, Nate, really."

Nathan nodded but the frown stayed.

"Okay what else is bothering you?"

"It’s just that it’s getting late and that means it’s gonna start getting awfully cold. Chris, maybe we should call search and rescue to help. There were freeze warnings out for the high country tonight. Those boys didn’t even have on a jacket."

"Nathan, you worry too much. We’ll look some more ourselves. If we don’t find them soon, we’ll call for help. But they couldn’t have gone that far. We’ll find them, I’m sure."

Buck traveled faster and faster, his long legs eating the distance. In his anxiety over JD, he had no idea how far behind he was leaving the others. "JD!" he called again.

Rounding the side of the trail he heard barking, and looking up, saw one very scared little boy come running toward him.

"Da! Da! " JD ran as fast as he could, throwing himself at his father. Buck caught him and wrapped his long arms around the boy, while Elvis barked happily and jumped up.

"Da, I’m so glad to find you, you gotta come quick! Vin’s hurt and he made me leave him. I didn’t want to, Da, but he said Elvis and I had to find you and bring you back. We gotta hurry, Da, before a bear or something gets Vin and Ringo."

"Whoa, Little Bit, no bear is going to get Vin. Now, do you remember where to go to find Vin?"

"Yep," JD said as he pointed back up the trail.

"Guys, over here." The others quickly joined Buck and JD and Nathan insisted on looking JD over.

"I’m okay, Uncle Nathan, Vin’s the one who fell. He hurt his foot. He couldn’t walk." JD looked at Chris. "He made me leave him to come find help. I didn’t want to."

Chris smiled. "I know that, JD but you did just right and now you can show us how to get back to where Vin is."

JD wiggled down from Buck’s arms, and taking Chris’ hand, he started off. "This way Chris, Vin is this way." Chris let the boy pull him along although somehow, he knew where they were going.

It was a good half mile before Chris saw Vin lying on the ground his arm over his face. He let go of JD and ran toward his boy. "Vin?" he called softly so as not to startle him. Falling down on his knees beside the still form, he reached out and gently touched the arm. "Vin?" Ringo raised his head, his tail thumping.

Vin jerked at the touch and looked up into the worried green eyes of his father. Smiling, he said, "Dad, I knew you’d find me."

"You okay? Where are you hurt?"

"I just turned my ankle. See? It’s all swollen."

Chris looked at the upheld foot and ankle. "I see that." He reached down and gathered his son up in his arms, and sitting down, waited for Nathan to come over.

Nathan took his backpack off, and unzipping it, he pulled out an ace bandage. Looking up at Vin he said, "I’ll try not to hurt you Vin."

"I know, Uncle Nathan. It’s okay."

Nathan felt along the ankle and gritted his teeth every time a hiss of pain came from Vin. He was pretty sure it wasn’t broken, just a sprain. He wrapped it and then looked up. "Any where else I need to check out?"

Vin thought for a minute, " Weeelll, I scraped my hand but it’s okay, now."

"Um humm. Let me see."

Vin held out his hand and Nathan smiled. "It’s just scraped. I’ll clean it and put a big band aid on it and we can go. But your dad’ll have to carry you."

"Ain’t no baby."

"No, you’re not, but you can’t walk on that ankle and when we get to the house we’re going to the hospital and let Raine look at it to make sure it is just a sprain and not broken."

Vin’s lower lip went out. "Ain’t broke. I can move it, see." But he hissed at the movement.

Nathan swatted his toes. "Yeah, you can move it but it hurts, don’t it?"

"Yeah," Vin answered in a little voice.

"Alright then, Chris will carry you."

Chris stood and then took Vin in his arms. Vin faced to the back and could see over Chris’ shoulder. He then noticed Jess. Raising his head just a bit, he looked at his Gran’pa. "Ya came for me, too? Ya came with Dad and the rest?"

Jess nodded solemnly. "Yes, I did."

Vin smiled at him. "Ya came for me." Then he turned his head, laying his cheek on Chris’ shoulder, and sighed.

JD seeing that Vin was being carried, reached up to be carried by his father, too. Buck picked up his boy and began walking. Looking at the contented six year old, he asked, "JD what were you and Vin thinking, running into the forest like that?"

JD pulled back and looked Buck in the eye. "I dunno, we was just goin’ to see the west."

Buck raised an eyebrow. "Yeah, well don’t do it again ‘til you’re much, much older."

"Okay, Da."

+ + + + + + +

Vin was laying on the couch, his bandaged sprained ankle up on pillows and an ice pack. Ringo lay quietly beside him. He and JD had the video Homeward Bound on but Vin kept looking out the window at Chris and Jess. Raine had given him something for the pain and it made him sleepy.

"I must go home tomorrow, Chris. My daughter called."

"Nothing bad I hope."

"No. I’ve just been away a long time and need to take care of a few thing."

Chris cleared his throat. "Jess…"

Jess held his hand up. "Please, Chris. It’s all right. I’ve raised children and grand children and I know they get hurt, they get in trouble, especially boys." Jess smiled. "Vin seems to have a lot of Aytchie in him. She was always getting herself into fixes she couldn’t get out of." Jess smiled sadly at the memory of his lost daughter. "And she had a wicked sense of humor, loved playing jokes on people."

"That sounds like Vin all right. I…I just want you to know that I love Vin very much, we all do. Because of my job, our job, both Buck and I made legal arrangements right away in case something happened to either of us. Vin and JD will be taken care of, no matter what."

"I’m sure of that. I don’t plan to interfere with your raising Vin. Close contact is difficult with my living so far away. But with phones and computers we can talk and send pictures. Vin has an uncle who’s a computer whiz, he can help me set up things. It’s important to me that Vin understands his Comanche heritage, to get past the bad movies and to know who his people truly are and to be proud of them. To be proud of who he is.

I think perhaps that will come as he gets to know me and to truly understands in his heart that he is staying with you. And maybe someday he can come to visit me and meet some of his ‘other’ family."

"I don’t know what to say, except thank you. Vin….." Chris couldn’t say anymore, his thoughts and emotions were tied in knots, running though the still painful loss of Adam and the joy of opening his heart to Vin. Expressing such feelings was almost beyond Chris; especially with someone he didn’t know all that well.

Jess cocked his head, watching Chris struggle with himself. "I must also try to teach both you and Vin about this bond you have. It is a family trait, one that Vin seems to be doubly blessed with. I think perhaps Josiah will be a good guide in helping both of you cope with it.

"I accomplished more than I’d hoped for with this short visit. You’re a good man, Chris Larabee, and a good father. I leave knowing Vin is in good hands."

Chris swallowed. "Thank you. Would it be all right if Vin and I see you to the airport and wait for your flight with you?"

Jess smiled. "I would like that very much. Now it is late and I’m an old man, I think I will say good night to my grandson and go on back to town. I’ll see the two of you around ten tomorrow morning."

"Sounds good to me."

Jess went inside while Chris stayed out on the porch. He walked over to the boy lying on the couch. "Vin, I’m going back to town now. Tomorrow morning you and your dad are going to come and see me off. I have to go home. But I hope to talk to you on the phone often."

Vin looked up sleepily at Jess. "Okay. G’night, Gran’pa."

Jess reached out and placed a hand on Vin’s head. "Goodnight, Grandson."


Buck could smell the stink of Chris’ cigars. DAMN, He rolled over and saw the time, 3:10 am. Pulling gently away from the sleeping JD, he quickly got his sweats on and padded though the house to the moving small light on the front porch. Standing at the door he could hear the tinkle of ice to glass.

Stepping out, he cleared his throat. "I thought you gave that up."


"Something up?"

"I’m not going in tomorrow. Jess is flying out and Vin and I are seeing him off. Maybe when Vin sees him leave without him he’ll believe that he’s not going anywhere. Besides, Raine said Vin had to stay off that ankle for a couple of days and the only way to insure that is to stay home. Gloria lets him get away with way too much, especially if he’s sick or hurt."

"Okay, anything else?"

"Yeah, I’d like you and Ezra to check in the PD records. Look for a "Jane Doe", maybe two winters ago. About fourteen, could have been found in the area of where we found the boys."

"Okay, we’ll look. Why?"

"Vin told me ‘a big girl named Lacy’ took care of him until she didn’t come back. I’d just like to know why she didn’t come back."

"Any other description?"

"Nope, how many dead unidentified fourteen year olds can there be?"

"More’n you want to know about. Vin’s gonna be okay you know, he’s got all of us and he’s a strong person."

"I know, he’s had to be. See what you can do."

"Yeah, I will." Buck went back inside, leaving Chris with his thoughts. Sometimes with Chris it was better just to leave him alone. Buck headed back to bed not seeing the small shadow lurking behind the door waiting for him to leave.

Vin limped out to the porch, "Dad?"

"Vin, what are you doing up?"

"Couldn’t sleep. You got up."

"Yeah, I did. Come here." Vin went to his father and Chris picked him up. Holding him tight Chris rubbed his chin in Vin’s hair. Taking the blanket Vin had carried, he wrapped it around the little boy.


"Yeah, it’s always warm when I’m with you."

The End

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