What's wrong, Vin?
They're supposed to help us do this.
I know, but they're tired.
They're always tired. Even Uncle Ezra's too tired to be here. Chris and Buck are always staying late at work and they never play with us anymore.
Yes, they do.
No, they don't. They worked late every single night and made us stay in that dumb old after school place.
I didn't mean for your eye to get hurt, Vin.
I know. You should have listened. But it's not really your fault. If they weren't staying late at work we wouldn't have to go there.
But tomorrow's Saturday. They'll be home and Buck and Chris will play with us tomorrow, Vin.
Don't sigh, Vin. They won't be tired tomorrow. You'll see.
Chris sighed as he put dinner on the table. The whole team had spent many late nights doing stakeouts over the past couple weeks. A new gun runner had shown up on the scene and they were assigned to catch him. Needless to say this had put a strain on the boys. Vin and JD had been sent to various people after school since Mrs. Potter was visiting her sister. Usually the boys went with Netttie or Rain but a couple of days they had to spend at the local middle school's latchkey program. Vin hadn't liked it one bit. There were older kids at the program that teased JD. Vin had gotten into a fight with another boy and sported a black eye. JD was back to sucking his thumb and sticking close to Vin. In other words it had been a rotten week. Now that it was Friday they were home early and they had the whole weekend to make it up to the boys.
"Dinner!" Chris finally called.
Buck was the first to enter the kitchen. He looked at Chris and shook his head. A few minutes later Vin walked in holding JD's hand. Vin's black eye was a dark shade of purple. He didn't say anything as he helped JD into his chair. Chris didn't say anything as he began to dish out the food.
"So, JD, how was school?" Buck always tried to make things better. Chris knew he couldn't just leave things they way they were.
""Ofkay," JD said around his thumb.
"JD you're going to have to take your thumb out of your mouth to eat," Chris said.
JD reluctantly did as he was told. Vin gave Chris a dirty look but didn't say anything. Buck ducked his face to the side and hid a smile.
"Vin, I know the fight wasn't your fault," Chris began. "I'm not mad at you."
"You shouldn't have made us go there!" Vin protested.
"I'm sorry, Vin, but we had no choice."
"I could have watched JD here," Vin insisted.
"We know," Buck said. "But we're not allowed to do that."
"Why?" JD asked.
"Because we are responsible for you," Chris tried to explain. "The law won't let us leave small children home alone."
"Oh," Vin sighed as he pushed his potatoes around his plate. "Will you ever have to leave us there again?"
"No, Vin," Chris said. "It was only because Mrs. Potter had to visit her sister on such short notice. We'll try our hardest not to leave you there again. Deal?"
"Deal," Vin said and held out his hand. Chris shook it and they started eating.
"You going to be here all weekend?" JD asked
"All weekend," Buck said smiling.
"What are we going to do?" JD asked as he ate a spoonful of mac and cheese.
"Don't know," Buck shrugged. "What do you want to do?"
"Don't know," JD shrugged in reply. "Vin?"
"Don't know either," Vin sighed.
"Well, let's eat, and then we can decide," Chris suggested.
Everyone agreed and they dug in. As they were eating Chris looked up and saw the swear jar. A simple jar that was intended to help Buck and Chris, and the other members of Team Seven keep from swearing in front of the boys. It had helped, but it was quite full now. Mostly it was coins but there were a few bills in it as well. Over the past week it had been added to a lot. It had never been decided what the money was to be used for.
"I have an idea," Chris said. "Why don't we decide what to do with the money in the swear jar?"
"Yeah!" Vin cheered.
"Toys!" JD cried.
"No, no toys," Buck said. JD pouted and Buck laughed. "Besides what could you do with more?"
"There's never enough toys," JD said sagely.
"But if we can't use it on toys, then what?" Vin asked.
"I think the money should go to someone who needs it more than we do," Chris suggested. "Maybe a charity."
"I have an idea," Vin said.
"What?" JD asked as he took a sip of his drink.
"R'member we learned about that police dog that got shot?"
"I read the rest of the article with Mr. Beidler," Vin said. "It said they make bullet-proof vests for dogs but they are 'spensive."
"Really? Just like Buck's?" JD asked surprised.
"That's a good idea Vin, but let's come up with a few other suggestions to choose from," Chris said.
"Yeah, I want to think of a good one, too!" JD said.
"Okay. So we think of a few more, then we can decide," Buck agreed.
Dinner was finished and everyone helped to clean up. After they were done everyone went into the living room to watch TV. There were a bunch of shows on the animal planet network that the boys enjoyed watching. Chris remembered Friday nights spent out drinking or watching more adult entertainment. Now the only channels the TV seemed to get was Animal Planet or the Cartoon Network. Chris settled back in his chair and got comfortable after a long hard week.
At 10:00 o'clock the boys were laying on the floor in front of the TV. Vin glanced at Chris and saw he was asleep. He knew Buck was sleeping because he could hear him snoring. JD laughed at something on the show and Vin turned back to the TV. The show they were watching ended and JD sat up.
"Time for bed!" He announced.
"Shh!" Vin scolded.
"'Cause, Buck and Chris are sleeping," Vin said. "AND I want to watch the animal police."
"But we're not allowed," JD said as his eyes got bigger.
"But they're asleep," Vin explained. "They'll never know."
"Buck will be mad."
"Only if he finds out."
"So will Chris," JD insisted. He knew they would get in trouble and tried to scare Vin with the statement.
"Well, I'm not going to tell," Vin said, challenging JD.
"Me neither," JD said, sitting taller. He thought about it a bit, then slumped his shoulders. "I guess."
Animal Precinct was a show the boys were forbidden to watch. Both Chris and Buck thought the content might upset the boys. The show was about police who were assigned to check cruelty to animal complaints. Most of the animals shown were horribly treated by their owners. Not all of them survived.
Vin didn't know why he was defying Chris. He always wanted to watch the show since it was about animals and the police. What better combination was there? The show started and JD looked at Vin. Vin could see JD didn't want to do this but would follow Vin's lead. Vin ignored JD and watched the show. By the first commercial Vin knew why Chris didn't want them to watch. Vin had seen stray cats and dogs while living on the streets. The animals on the show were worse off. They were being beaten or starved by the adults. One dog on the show had been beaten so badly it had died.
"Vin, I don't like this show," JD said. "Let's go to bed."
"You can go," Vin said. "I want to watch."
"Okay." JD reluctantly stayed.
The last segment was about a horse that had been abused by its owner. Vin felt really bad when he saw how skinny the horse was. It had also been beaten and was limping. They showed the police taking the horse away just before the commercial.
"Is he gonna go sleep with angels?" JD asked as he sniffed and wiped his nose on his sleeve.
"I don't know," Vin said quietly.
The commercial ended and they came back to the horse. It didn't die but it was still very weak. Some people were taking care of it and the show said to check the web pages for more information on adopting the horse or sending money for its care.
"Buck!" JD ran over to him crying.
"We gotta 'dopt him!" JD cried.
"The horse on the TV," JD said crying. "We gotta."
The noise woke Chris up and he looked towards the TV. The credits for Animal Precinct were scrolling by and Chris looked at Vin. Vin ducked his head and wouldn't meet Chris's eyes. Chris sighed when he heard the conversation Buck was having with JD.
When Buck couldn't decipher what was going on JD just cried harder.
"What's going on?" Buck asked Chris as he held a hysterical JD.
"You want to explain, Vin?" Chris said quietly.
"I made JD watch the animal police show," Vin said as he looked up at Chris. "I don't care if you're mad. I wanted to!"
With that last statement Vin ran from the room. Chris heard the door to the bedroom slam and was about to follow Vin. Buck could see Chris was mad and stopped him before he could do something he'd regret later.
"I think he's upset, too," Buck said quietly.
"What's gotten into him?" Chris sighed.
"Don't know," Buck said as he stood up with JD. "I'm going to see if I can get this one calmed down."
Chris sat back down and ran his fingers through his hair. He'd have to have a talk with Vin, but figured he'd wait until morning.
Chris couldn't figure out why Vin was being so rebellious. In a way it was good because it showed Vin felt secure in the fact that Chris wouldn't send him away if he was bad. Chris was just surprised that Vin had upset JD. He deferred to the younger boy in most instances, but not tonight. Chris sighed as he changed into his pajamas. Both boys had pleaded with them to watch animal Precinct but both he and Buck knew the material wouldn't be appropriate. Some of the pictures and the stories were just too graphic for the kids to handle. It was decided that the boys wouldn't be allowed to watch the show. Chris knew the decision had been a wise one and tonight had proved it.
It had taken Buck almost and hour to get JD calmed down enough to go to bed. The younger boy had begged Buck to help the horse they had seen on TV and Buck, being the kind soul that he was, assured JD that he would check on the horse. What Buck didn't promise was that JD could have the horse.
Chris could tell Vin was upset about what happened on the show but he wasn't going to show it. Sometimes it worried Chris that Vin held back his true feelings and showed his "empty face" whenever things got too bad. Dr. Lowery had assured Chris that Vin would eventually stop using the face but right now it was a defense mechanism. Chris wasn't so sure. He and Vin were alike in a lot of ways and not showing emotions was one of them.
Chris crawled into bed and decided he could worry about all this tomorrow. He was just too tired to deal with it now.
He didn't know how long he'd been asleep when he felt someone watching him. Normally he would have jumped up and confronted whoever was there. Unfortunately the first time he did that he had scared JD so bad that the boy had slept with Buck for three days. Chris sighed and rolled over to find JD standing at the side of his bed.
"Thanks, JD," Chris said as he sat up and swung his legs over the bed. "Why don't you go crawl into bed with Buck?"
"'Kay," JD said as he stuck his thumb in his mouth and headed for the door. Chris smiled as he watched JD drag his Scooby Doo along the floor by its tail.
Chris followed JD to Buck's room. He watched as JD struggled to get into the bed. Chris was about to go lift him into the bed when Buck's arm snaked over the side and pulled JD up. JD giggled as Buck tossed him over to the other side. JD wriggled under the covers and got comfortable. Buck turned to Chris with a questioning look.
"Everything's alright," Chris said.
"Nuh-uh, Vin's crying," JD said.
"Well don't worry, Little Bit, Chris will take care of him."
"Duh, that's why I woke him up."
"Duh?" Buck asked.
"Yeah. I learnded it from Jimmy at school."
Chris just smiled as he pulled the door closed. He'd let Buck worry about JD's vocabulary. The door to the boy's room was open and Chris stepped inside. A muted glow provided by the small nightlight by the bed was all Chris needed to negotiate his way across the room.
As he got closer to the bed he could hear small sniffs coming from the upper bunk. Vin had learned a long time ago to cry silently or in secret. Chris remembered Ezra's account of his road trip where they had left Vin's stuffed cat at one of their stops. When Ezra said they couldn't go back for it Vin had accepted this and Ezra thought everything was fine. That was until he could see Vin crying silently in the rear view mirror. Chris knew that had upset Ezra more than anything and he had immediately turned the car around.
Vin knew someone was in the room and Chris sighed as he watched Vin curl tighter against the wall. The sniffles stopped as well.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Chris asked as he put his elbows on the mattress.
All he got in reply was a shake of Vin's head.
Sometimes it frustrated Chris that he didn't know how to handle Vin. If it had been Adam, Chris would have scooped up his son and hugged him until the crying stopped. Vin, however, didn't like to be touched or hugged unless he initiated the contact. The only person Vin let hug him or touch him without first making the contact was JD. He was slowly getting used to the fact that Buck liked to give hugs and Buck had learned that if Vin stiffened up in his grip it was time to let go. Chris reached out to Vin and started to rub his back. When Vin didn't pull away Chris smiled thinking, 'One giant step for mankind'. He could feel Vin start to relax and knew if he was patient Vin would talk to him.
"I don't know why I made JD watch the animal cops show," Vin said quietly.
"I think I do," Chris said. "You were mad at me so you decided to do something that was forbidden. Was that it?"
Vin nodded but didn't say anything. Chris continued to rub Vin's back as he waited for Vin to voice what was really on his mind. He knew Vin had been bothered as much as JD by what the people had done to the animals on the show, but Vin had trouble expressing his feelings about things that bothered him, while JD had no trouble letting you know what was wrong.
"Is Buck mad at me?"
"No," Chris said surprised. He hadn't been expecting that question. "Why would Buck be mad at you?"
"Because I made JD cry," Vin said as he rolled over to face Chris. "I was the one who wanted to watch the show. JD said we shouldn't and I told him he could go to bed if he wanted. But he didn't and I made him upset."
Chris just stared at Vin. That was one of the longer dialogues he'd had with Vin. Usually it was like pulling teeth to get Vin to say anything.
"No, Buck isn't mad," Chris assured him. "He's worried about you, though."
"I'm fine," Vin said as he wiped his nose with the back of his hand.
"Yes," Vin said. "But why did those people treat the animals the way they did?"
"Is that why you were crying, because you felt sad for the animals?" Chris asked.
"Yeah," Vin said sitting up. "I mean just because the animals won't do things you want doesn't mean you can beat them. They don't mean to do things wrong."
"That's true, Vin. Animals have to be trained with kindness," Chris said.
"Like you and Buck," Vin said. "I know you cuss and swear at Peso all the time but you'd never hurt him."
"No, I'd never hurt him," Chris said smiling. He was glad Vin realized his bark was worse than his bite.
"What's going to happen to that horse?"
"I don't know, Vin," Chris said.
"Do you think he'll die?" Vin asked with a catch to his voice.
That's when Chris pulled Vin into his arms and hugged him. Vin started crying again and wrapped his arms and legs around Chris. Chris headed back to his room carrying Vin. He made a stop at the bathroom and grabbed the box of tissues. This was going to be a long night.
Chris slowly opened his eyes and groaned. The sun streaming through the window had blinded him. He was about to roll onto his back when he realized something was draped over his back. That's when he remembered Vin had slept in his bed. Chris turned his head to find Vin sprawled over his back snoring lightly.
Chris had learned quickly that the boys didn't actually sleep with you but on you. Buck figured they learned quickly on the streets that it was warmer that way. For the first few weeks they had found Vin and JD sleeping in the same bed. They were so tangled you couldn't tell where one boy started or ended. Chris wasn't sure how to move without startling Vin.
That was another thing they learned early -- duck when you wake Vin because he usually comes up swinging. It was rare that they had to wake Vin up since he was such an early riser. Chris was saved from having to decide what to do when Buck poked his head in the door.
"See you got a problem there, Pard," Buck said as he quietly walked into the room.
"A small one," Chris said. "Go easy, Buck. It was a rough night."
"Tell me about it." Buck cautiously approached Vin. Last time Buck woke Vin, he had ended up with a black eye.
Buck reached out and squeezed Vin's foot. When that had no effect Buck gave it a little shake. Vin just rolled over and hugged Chris tighter but didn't wake. Buck raised his eyebrows and looked at Chris. Just then they heard a squeal from JD and Vin was instantly awake.
"Easy, Vin," Buck soothed. "JD's just watching cartoons."
"Oh," Vin sighed and rubbed his eyes.
"You awake?" Chris asked as he rolled to his back.
"Yeah," Vin said as he yawned.
"Well, I'd better go see what JD's up to," Buck said as he left the room.
Vin watched Buck leave, then turned to Chris. "I know what to do with the money in the swear jar."
"Hmm?" Chris mumbled.
"I know what to do with the money in the swear jar," Vin repeated. "I want to give it to the horse."
"Are you sure?" Chris asked. "Last night you wanted to buy vests for the police dogs."
"Can't we do both?" Vin asked.
"Why don't you get dressed while I take a shower?" Chris suggested as he sat up. "Then we'll go see how much money is in the jar."
"Okay," Vin said and scrambled off the bed and ran out the door.
"I'm getting too old for this," Chris grumbled as he flopped back on the pillows.
Twenty minutes later Chris, Buck and two small boys were counting the change in the swear jar. Chris decided to use this as a teaching tool for counting money. They split the change in half and each of the boys counted his pile separately. Chris had been worried that Vin would feel intimidated that JD was able to do the math faster then he was, but they were surprised how quickly Vin had been able to separate the money into dollar piles then count each one. Vin even finished before JD.
"Well, it looks like we have about $300," Buck said.
"That's not very much," Vin said placing his chin on his fists.
"The bullet-proof vest costs lots and lots," JD sighed.
"Well, we can still send the money to the police department towards a vest," Chris said.
"Can't we raise more?" Vin asked.
"We could always hit Buck's thumb with the hammer again," JD suggested.
Chris laughed out loud as Buck looked at JD in surprise. Buck had been fixing one of the cabinet doors in the kitchen when he hit his thumb and without thinking had cursed up a storm. It was decided Buck had to add $20 to the swear jar.
"Nah, JD. We'd have to hit Buck really hard to make a lot of money," Vin said with a mischievous glint in his eyes.
"I'll get you for that, Junior," Buck said as he grabbed the blond and began to tickle him.
Vin screamed and tried to pull free from Buck but it was no use. JD didn't want to be left out and the three of them ended up on the floor laughing. Chris put the money back in the jar and waited until they were done. Vin was the first to get away and join Chris on the couch.
"So, what can we do?" Vin asked.
"I'm not sure, but we'll think of something," Chris assured him.
"I know!" Vin said. "We can ask Miss Nettie."
Before Chris could stop him Vin raced for the phone and began to dial. Vin had quickly memorized the older woman's number.
"Hi, Miss Nettie. It's Vin."
Chris listened as Vin explained what had happened. He even told her that he had disobeyed Chris and watched Animal Precinct without permission. Vin then explained about the horse and the police dogs and asked how he and JD could raise more money. Chris just shook his head at the long conversation he had with Nettie Wells. Vin trusted her and would tell her just about anything.
Vin got quiet as he listened to what Nettie had to say. Finally he nodded and handed the phone to Chris.
"She wants to talk to you," Vin said.
"What's going on, Chris?" Nettie asked.
"Well, this week hasn't been the best. I'm sure you heard about Vin getting into the fight at the latchkey program."
"Yes I heard. I also heard he has a spectacular black eye. But that's not what I meant. What's going on with this horse?" Nettie asked.
"The boys want to send the money we've collected in the swear jar to rescue the horse from the show," Chris began to explain. Nettie listened patiently until Chris finished.
"I know just the thing," Nettie said. "I'll get baking right away. Now you call Director Travis and clear it with him to have a bake sale."
"Do what?" Chris asked surprised.
"Never mind," Nettie said. "I'll call Evie myself. Tell Vin to behave and I'll see him at your office Monday morning. Call their teacher and let her know why the boys won't be at school."
Nettie hung up and Chris just stared at the phone for a few moments. When everything finally sunk in Chris placed the phone back in the cradle.
"Everything alright?" Buck asked.
"I'm not sure," Chris admitted. "Nettie is arranging a bake sale to raise money."
"Yippee!" JD cried. "We raise money and get to eat Nettie's pies!"
Buck just laughed as he ruffled JD's hair.
"We hav'ta make posters or something," Vin said.
"What kind of posters?" JD asked.
"Gotta let people know what the money's for," Vin said.
"We could draw a picture of the horse," JD said.
"I think we should print pictures from the Internet," Vin said biting his lip. "You know, how the horse looked all beat up. People would give more money."
"How do you know that?" Chris asked.
"If you looked really bad on the streets and begged, you got more money," Vin said. "Harry used to pretend he was missing a leg and people would give him money."
"Yeah, he did," JD smiled. "Sometimes we would help him. He showed us how to look pafetic and sometimes we got money too. Come on. Let's turn on the computer."
They watched as the boys raced off. Buck turned to Chris and saw that JD's and Vin's tale had disturbed him as well.
"We just have to keep reminding ourselves they're in a better place," Buck said.
"Right," Chris growled. "Now, let's go help the boys find those 'pafetic' pictures so we can raise a shit load of money."
Buck laughed as Chris dropped a twenty in the swear jar before joining the boys at the computer.
Vin was excited. Not only would he get to have the bake sale, he got to go to work with Chris. AND he didn't have to go to school! Except he did have to write a paper about why they were having the sale. Chris had called the school to tell them why they weren't coming in. That's when Mr. Beidler had given them the assignment.
On the ride into the city JD had talked non-stop, pestering Buck with all sorts of questions. When they finally pulled into the parking lot JD got quiet. Chris parked and climbed out of the truck. JD waited impatiently for Buck to unbuckle him from the car seat. Once he was free JD he launched himself at Buck.
"Look, we're the first ones here!" JD yelled as Buck caught him.
"Yeah, we are," Vin said as he stood quietly next to Chris.
"Well, we are a little early," Chris said. "Let's head up to the office."
They got into the elevator and the doors closed behind them. JD asked to push the button for the 11th floor and Buck let him. On the ride up the muzak made JD laugh. He said it sounded funny. As the door opened on the floor they could see they weren't the first ones here.
"Nettie!" Vin yelled as he ran towards her.
"Hello, son," Nettie said as she bent down for a hug.
"Me, too! Me, too!" JD said as he squirmed in Buck's arms. Buck was forced to put him down or drop him.
"You remember Mrs. Travis," Nettie said after she got her hug from JD.
"Hello, ma'am," Vin said holding out his hand.
"Hello, Vin," she said as she shook his hand. "And it's Evie."
"You' da judges wife, ain't ya?" JD said as he walked over to her.
"Yes, I am." She smiled as she looked at JD.
"Can ya ask him somtin' for me?"
"Of course," Evie said, smiling.
"Can ya ask him not to keep Buck so long at the office all the time?" JD said. "We don't ever get to play long enough."
"JD!" Vin scowled.
"Sorry, Mrs. Travis," Buck started.
"Hush," she said scolding Vin and Buck as she turned back to JD. "You have my word. I'll ask him JD."
"Cool," JD said smiling. "Buck, I'm hungry."
"You're always hungry," Buck sighed.
"Tell you what," Nettie said. "You can help us set up the tables for the bake sale and then you can have something to eat."
"Can I pick anything I want?" JD asked.
"No," Nettie said. "You can have some of my oatmeal cookies."
"But I want chocolate cake," JD protested.
"Ya get cookies, JD. Now stop being a pest," Vin said. "Besides, Nettie's cookies are the best anyway."
"Why don't you boys go on into your offices?" Nettie suggested to Buck and Chris.
"You sure you can handle them?" Chris asked. "JD can be a handful in the morning."
"I think we can handle it, dear," Evie said as she took JD's hand and headed for the table.
"Don't worry, Chris. I'll keep my eye on him," Vin vowed.
"All right. We won't be far if he gets to be too much," Chris said. "Just bring him in to Buck."
"Thanks," Buck replied.
Vin watched them leave and then followed Nettie over to the tables. There were three tables along the wall in the hall. They were covered with white table clothes and pinned to the front was a sign that said 'bake sale'. That's when Vin realized they forgot the posters in the Ram.
"Nettie, we forgot something in the truck," Vin said. "Can I go get it?"
"Go tell Buck," Nettie said. "He'll get it for you."
Nettie watched as Vin started down the hall. When JD realized Vin was leaving he ran after him. When JD caught up, Vin took his hand and Nettie watched as they disappeared into Team 7 bullpen. A few minutes later Buck came out and shooed the boys back towards the tables as he headed for the elevator. When Buck returned he wasn't alone. Inez was with him as well as Josiah. Josiah and Buck were loaded down with boxes while Inez carried the posters the boys had made.
"Look who I found in the lobby," Buck said as he placed the boxes on the table. "I didn't even know she knew about the sale."
"I called her," Nettie said as she walked over to Inez and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
"Fry bread," Vin cried as Josiah placed the boxes in front of him.
"How do you know?" Josiah asked. "The box isn't even open."
"I can smell it!" Vin said with excitement. "Inez makes the best fry bread."
Josiah and Buck left the women to their work and headed back to the office.
The boys rolled out their posters and Inez helped them put them up on the wall. When she saw the picture of the horse from the show she muttered in Spanish and got a very angry look on her face.
Vin sorta knew what she said but he didn't think it would be right to make Inez put money in the swear jar since she was helping them with the sale.
When everything was done the boys were allowed to have something to eat. Vin was torn between Nettie's oatmeal cookies or Inez's fry bread. They took pity on him and let him have some of both.
Evie even let JD have some of her famous death by chocolate cake. After finishing the cake JD declared it "the bestest in the world."