A "Little Britches" ATF story

Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven belong to Mirsch, Trilogy, etc. All other names were completely made up and are in no way intended to bear any resemblance to any person living or dead.

Author's Note: This started as a 100-word drabble challenge and somehow got out of hand. But I hope you enjoy it anyway. J

Acts Of Conscience
Vin straggled behind the other children as they made their way off the busses. One of the kid’s parents owned a warehouse downtown. They had made arrangements with Vin and JD’s class to bring the children in to take a look so they could learn how a warehouse worked and its purpose.

As the bus had driven through the neighborhoods and eventually turned down one particular road, a myriad of images played through Vin’s mind. These were his streets, his warehouses. The street where he and JD had lived was just a few roads over. He shuddered slightly at the thought of that time. Sometimes he missed not having any rules, but he didn’t miss being scared, fighting rats or being alone. No, it was better with Chris and Buck, a lot better.

Looking on the street, he saw much that others didn’t. He saw the men, women and children unseen by most who drove past and who lived in a world very different than the one he now knew. They lived in a world he still remembered and he would do anything to never return. Thankfully, he didn’t have to worry about that. Now he had Chris and Buck and Uncle Ezra and Uncle Josiah and Uncle Nathan and Aunt Rain and Mrs. Potter and Miss Nettie and bunches of other people. He just wished he could help someone else like Chris and Buck had helped him. He knew if he could just do something they would be so proud of him.

Stepping off the bus with the other children, he saw an old friend of theirs, Hattie, by the corner. He smiled at the sight. The bag lady had been nice to them. She never had anything really to give them, but she would keep an eye out for Vin and warn him if she thought trouble was coming. Vin’s smile turned to a frown of concern as he watched his friend lean against a wall and start coughing.

He looked back at the rest of his class and then at his old friend. He thought of all he had and asked himself what his dad would do in this situation. He knew instantly that Chris would do what was right; he would help her. Decision made, he headed down to see how Hattie was doing. He would catch up with his class later. He smiled slightly at the thought of telling Chris about what he’d done. He knew Chris would be proud of him.

Walking down the street, he stopped several steps away from Hattie. His nose wrinkled involuntarily. He didn’t remember her smelling like this. "Hattie?" he called quietly.

Hattie opened her eyes. She had just gotten the coughing under control when a quiet voice called her name. Turning, she saw a very clean, well-dressed boy standing a bit away. Something about the boy looked familiar and it took her several seconds to recognize him. "Vinnie?" she asked.

Vin smiled up at the woman, she remembered him. "Yep. It’s me, Hattie," he answered.

Hattie smiled at the boy. "You’re lookin’ good there. Found yourself a good deal, eh?"

Vin nodded. His face turned serious as he looked into the rheumy eyes of the woman. "Are you all right, Hattie?" he asked, concern evident in his voice. "I saw ya coughin’ and thought I’d help you go to the clinic for medicine."

Hattie smiled down at the boy. She’d been to the clinic, there was nothing they could do for her. She was dying and she didn’t want to die trapped in a hospital where everything was already dead, so she’d headed back out onto the streets. "Shouldn’t you be in school or somethin’?" she asked.

Vin looked over his shoulder at the yellow bus. "My class is in the warehouse, but I don’t want to leave you here," he said. "I want to get you help."

"Won’t they miss you?" she prodded, hoping to spare the boy the pain of her diagnosis.

Vin thought about this before shaking his head. "Nope. Besides it’s more important to help people," he assured her confidently. Seeing the pride in his eyes, Hattie sighed. "OK. Just let me get my things," she said before heading off toward the abandoned warehouse in which she’d been staying.

Vin followed along behind her. He knew this area and wasn’t nervous about getting lost. Eventually they came to an opening in the back of a warehouse. He walked in behind Hattie and they headed over to a large crate in which she had arranged her possessions. She invited Vin in while she went through her things trying to decide what she’d need.

+ + + + + + +

Chris sat in his office checking his gun one last time. He was nervous about this bust, though he couldn’t say why. He had spoken to Ezra several days before and the Undercover Agent had done little to alleviate his feelings of unease. The group they were trying to take down here vicious and violent. They held little respect for life and even less for the law. Somehow he just knew gunplay would be involved.

Checking his backup piece and extra ammo, he walked out and signaled the rest of the team he was ready to go. He made sure they all double-checked their bulletproof vests as they headed down the elevator.

Walking out to the parking area, his unease increased again. As they entered into the cars and drove to the site, he began to feel almost nauseous. If he could have, he would have called off the bust, but he didn’t have a concrete reason. And besides, this would most likely be their only shot at taking down this group. They had to take it and make sure it went down without a problem. He just hoped they could pull it off.

+ + + + + + +

Somewhere, just a few minutes into the bust, things had gone terribly wrong. The shooting started and bullets flew. Chris ducked down behind the crates he was using for protection and just prayed his men came through unscathed. He had seen Ezra seek cover and the Undercover Agent seemed to be safe. The others were still firing, which he took to be a good sign.

Eventually, the firing slowed and someone called that they saw some of the gang making their way toward the back of the warehouse. Chris heard gunfire off to one side and made his way over toward the sound confident he was no longer needed in his area.

As he crept around the crates, he spotted several suspects exchanging shots with someone. Seeing that he had the drop on them, he called out, "ATF! Drop your guns!"

Turning quickly the men discovered that they were more or less surrounded and did as ordered. Several of the other agents made their way forward to cuff the suspects.

Listening for sounds of fighting, Chris realized all gunfire had ceased. Still feeling uneasy, he quickly checked in with all his men. He was heading back toward his initial position when he was called over by another officer. The others saw their leader veer off and followed.

As they approached the area, they could see the officer standing by a particularly large crate. Wandering up, Chris asked, "What is it Thompkins?"

Thompkins seemed nervous. "I think you should look, sir," he said, unable to offer anything more.

Walking around the crate, Team Seven saw the dead body of a homeless woman lying before the entrance to the crate. She’d obviously been hit by the crossfire, as evidenced by the entry wound on her chest. Shaking his head Chris felt the loss of innocent life as a waste and suppressed a shudder thinking that it could have been Vin or JD. If things had been different, if the boys hadn’t been found, he could be standing over their bodies now.

Hearing a small noise, Chris turned and looked into the crate. His blood froze in his veins as his heart leapt up to his throat. His eyes grew wide and he couldn’t breathe. There in the crate was his Vin. Images of their first meeting flashed in his head. The emotions when he held what he thought to be the small dead body in his arms overwhelmed him once more. His mind froze on the sight of the graves into which he had interred his wife and first son. And horror consumed him as his mind conjured images of Vin’s small body lying before the crate, of Vin being lowered into a hole next to Adam. Chris was lost.

Wondering at their leader’s sudden shock, the others pushed forward. Buck was the first to make it around the side of the crate. Looking in, he saw Vin crouched in a corner, covered by some pieces of wood and a few blankets. It wasn’t the most effective cover, but it was better than the crate alone. He opened his mouth to call to the boy, but couldn’t make any sound as the horror of the situation sank in.

Ezra’s body shook once in dismay as he witnessed his nephew’s presence in the crate. He, however, saw the wide, terrified eyes and did what the two fathers could not. He moved. Pushing the blankets and wood to the side, he slowly approached the frightened boy, being careful not to touch the dead body. Blocking the boy’s view, he said quietly, "Vin. It’s Uncle Ezra." He waited for the blue eyes to focus completely on him. Waiting for Vin, Ezra didn’t move until the tears started spilling down the young boy’s cheeks and he reached out. Immediately Ezra grabbed Vin and held him tightly, ensuring the child would be unable to see the body. Sobs began to wrack the young boy as Ezra offered whatever comfort he could.

Eventually Chris snapped out of his stupor and made his way over to Ezra. Bending down, he placed a hand on Vin’s back. He wanted to offer some words of assurance, but could think of nothing. His mind was stuck on the image of Vin hiding in the crate and of what might have been.

Chris got called away at that point. Though he didn’t want to leave Vin, he had no real choice. He knew he needed to be there for his son, but either he or Josiah would have to help out. Right now he thought Josiah would be the better choice to help the boys. Nodding at his men and trusting them to get the boys home, he headed off, still in shock over the presence of his son in the warehouse.

As he worked with the other teams, he watched his men make their way out the door. Though they hadn’t discussed it, he knew they would take Vin to the ranch. That, of course, didn’t answer the question of what Vin was doing there in the first place. Wasn’t he supposed to be on a fieldtrip? Where were the teachers? How could they let a little boy like that just wander off?

As the questions mounted, Chris’s anger grew, feeding his fear, forcing him to loose what little perspective he had. All he could think of was that his son could have died and no one had done anything to stop it except for a dead homeless woman who had given him whatever shelter she had.

+ + + + + + +

Two hours later, Chris began his drive home, still brooding over the events of the day and worried about Vin. He couldn’t even really think rationally anymore and he didn’t care. He couldn’t live through burying another son. He couldn’t do it. The teachers should have been more careful, but even more than that, Vin knew better. He knew better than to wander off. More than most boys his age, Vin knew the dangers and threats that lived out on the streets. What had his son been thinking?

Didn’t Vin know that Chris needed him? Didn’t he think? What was he doing in that warehouse? What was he doing with that woman? Was he trying to run away? Why would he run away? Why would he so blatantly disobey his teachers? Why would he wander off?

There were too many questions and each one overlaid the images replaying constantly in Chris Larabee’s mind. The sight of his son shot in the crossfire of a bust, lying dead on a warehouse floor. The sight of the small casket being lowered into the ground next to Adam’s and of yet another tombstone for his family.

By the time he reached, home, Chris Larabee was more terrified than he had ever been in his life, and that terror was feeding his anger.

Consequences Of Our Actions

Stopping the truck, he got out and slammed the door behind. Stalking up to the front door, his eyes blazed as he walked into the room. He barely noticed the group sitting and standing. He almost didn’t register the small form of JD sitting by Vin. Chris didn’t care who was there to hear him, he wanted answers and he wanted them now. He was going to make sure Vin never did anything this stupid again.

Seeing his father, the still shaken boy stood only to be stopped by the look on the blond's face. He’d never seen that look before and it scared him. He didn’t know what it meant. He thought once Chris came home everything would be better, now he was worried he was in trouble, even if everyone else said he wasn’t.

Chris saw his son stand, unscathed, unharmed, but the small drop of relief that entered his system at the sight couldn’t come close to winning the battle against his rage and fear. "What were you doing there?" he demanded, his voice low and harsh, devoid of even the remotest hint of warmth or love. "You were supposed to be on a school trip with your teachers. Don’t you know how to stay with your teachers? Haven’t we taught you to obey? Don’t you know better than to go wandering off on your own with a stranger?"

"But…" Vin tried desperately to explain only to be cut off by his father.

"Shut up!" Chris shouted, his heart pounding his mind filled with images of what was and what might have been. "You could have been killed today. Is that what you want? Is that what you were looking for?"

"Now, I think…" Buck tried to intervene, hoping to calm Chris down before he said something else he would regret, before he said something he couldn’t take back.

"I don’t care what you think!" Chris growled at the mustached man. He couldn’t believe Buck wasn’t more upset. Vin could have died. It could have been his small dead body. Chris shoved that thought aside, thus allowing the anger to take control once more. Turning on Vin he snapped, "You are so stupid! How could you do this? What were you thinking? No, wait, you weren’t thinking? If you’d been thinking you wouldn’t have done something so stupid!"

"You don’t understand!" Vin cried, tears welling up in his eyes. He didn’t understand. He was scared, he had only been trying to help, only done what he though his dad would have done and now Chris hated him. He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know what to say. He just wanted it all to be better, the way it used to be

"You’re right I don’t understand! And nothing you can say will help me understand. There can be no excuse! There can be no explanation that will make this right!" he shouted at the boy.

The tears started rolling down Vin’s face as his young body shook. How could Chris say that? He’d only been doing what he thought was right. But he’d made a mess of it and now he could never make anything right again. He felt so lost. In the past few hours his world had been shaken in a manner most people never knew and now the one source of security, his one constant was pushing him away and denying him entirely. Vin didn’t know what to do anymore, what to say.

Chris fumed. There could be absolutely no reason whatsoever for a boy Vin’s age to be found in that warehouse downtown. But he knew they would have to talk about this more later and they couldn’t do that when Vin was crying like he was. They both needed some time to calm down. Taking a deep breath while he collected his thoughts, he glared at Vin and said, "I am very disappointed in you. I thought I’d raised you better than this. I guess I was wrong. Go to your room and wait."

+ + + + + + +

Vin entered his room and quietly closed the door. Walking over to his bed he stood and stared down at Cat. He was afraid to touch the animal that had given him so much comfort. What if Chris sent him away?

He looked around the room at his ball glove, his clothes, the pictures, all the evidence of his happiness and life with Chris. Then his eyes settled on his schoolbooks. He struggled in school. It was so hard and he so often didn’t do well.

You are so stupid!’ The words ripped at the heart and soul of the boy, making it hard to breathe. Tears began streaming down his face at an even more rapid rate. He was stupid. Chris wouldn’t want a stupid boy. "Stupid," Vin muttered, sitting down, unable to stop the sobs from coming. He’d just been trying to do right and now he lost everything.

+ + + + + + +

‘You are so stupid!’ The words rang in his ears. JD wanted to cry out that Vin wasn’t stupid. He wanted to defend his brother, but he’d never seen Chris so angry and was afraid.

Tears streamed down the boy’s face as he desperately clung to Uncle Ezra. Buck was mad. Chris was mad. His family was falling apart. What would happen to him and Vin? He didn’t know if he wanted to stay here. He didn’t like the loud voices. He was angry at Chris for not letting Vin explain. If only he had explained to Chris like he did to everyone else. Why wouldn’t Chris listen? JD didn’t like Chris anymore. He hurt Vin’s feelings. Nathan watched Vin leave as the words echoed in his mind. ‘You don’t understand.’ The soft plea of Vin’s voice had broken through Nathan’s own anger, worry and fear over the situation. He had been about to intervene but Chris’ rage had prevented that. Now he felt his anger directed more toward Chris and his fear focusing on what damage had been done to his family.

Words once spoken can’t be taken back He remembered his mother telling him that when he was little. He had learned over the years the power of words, the power of words to heal, the power of words to harm. He had also learned that the same words spoken to a stranger could injure a loved one; and that those words spoken to a grown-up could devastate a child. He’d just witnessed that again. He just hoped there were words to make this better.

Josiah had stood stunned. Never would he have thought Chris capable of destroying the boy he had spent so long teaching to trust and love. They had all been horrified when the shooting had stopped and they found Vin cowering in a crate, a dead body lying in front of him. Chris’ fear and anger were understandable; his words were not.

‘Shut up!’ Josiah flinched as he remembered the physical reaction of Vin at those words, the fear in the boy’s eyes. Chris had gone too far giving into anger and fear. He just prayed it didn’t destroy his family.

‘You are so stupid!’ The words had hit Ezra like a fist. He had heard those words in that tone of voice and knew their impact. As he tried to comfort the sobbing JD, his heart and mind were with the hurting boy now locked up in his room. Any anger he might have had was now firmly directed at his Team Leader. Vin was a boy, not a member of his team. Ezra would give Chris a chance to make it right. If he couldn’t, perhaps a change of career was in order for one Ezra Standish, a change that would include the addition of a small boy with emotive blue eyes.

Buck had gone through so many emotions in the past hours he didn’t know what he was feeling. What he did know is that the red-hot anger he had felt at Chris had settled into an icy rage that had frozen his heart toward his old friend. Right now Chris Larabee meant less to him than the criminals they had taken down.

Walking up to Chris, Buck’s anger poured from his blue eyes. His voice came out low and deadly. "Now you will listen to me. I don’t care what you think. What you did to that boy is inexcusable. You have one and only one chance to make it right or I’m taking both boys and leaving. Understood?"

Chris swallowed. Only very few times in their friendship had Chris seen Buck like this, and the rage had never been directed at him. It was enough to instantly evaporate every bit of fury and fear that had consumed him and leave in him an empty vessel, ready to see things clearly and rationally.

"I don’t care what you think!" "You are so stupid!" "Shut up!" The phrases came pouring back into his mind. The image of him walking in, of the fear and need in Vin’s eyes, of how his son had stood and sought out his father, had come to him in his need. And then the image of Vin’s face as Chris began yelling at him.

Oh, God! What had he done? His words slammed into him making him feel physically ill. What had he done to Vin? How could he make this right?

All the color drained from Chris’ face as he finally heard Vin’s quiet plea, ‘You don’t understand’. He hadn’t even waited for Vin’s explanation. How long had he spent trying to convince Vin that the boy could come to him with any and all of his concerns? How many nights and days had he spent trying to get Vin to confide in him? How many times had he assured Vin he would always listen to his son? How many times had he struggled to convince Vin he wasn’t stupid? Anguish and remorse filled the Team Leader. ‘If only I could take it all back’, he thought. They’d been nothing but words spoken carelessly in the heat of anger and they had had a devastating effect.

"You are so stupid!’ The fight replayed in Chris’ mind again as Buck’s eyes continued to drill into him. This time, though, he heard the argument without his emotions clouding his perspective. He clutched his stomach as it began to roll. He was going to be sick. What had he done? What had he said? "Oh. God. Vin," he whispered, his eyes and voice reflecting his horror at what he’d done.

Turning, he pushed through his men and headed toward the boys’ room, stopping outside the door, afraid to go in. He’d been afraid of losing Vin in the gunfight, now he might have anyway because of his own stupidity. Would Vin forgive him? Could he even ask that of the boy?

+ + + + + + +

Ezra would wait. He would give Chris this one opportunity. The he would speak to Mr. Wilmington. If it turned out that Buck would carry through on his threat, then Ezra would offer his apartment as a temporary stopping point.

Seeing a much calmer Buck approaching, he reluctantly passed the somewhat calmed, but still sniffling JD to his father. The two men exchanged a look that communicated all they needed to know. Ezra looked down the hall and once more the words echoed in his mind, ‘You are so stupid’, only this time it was his uncle’s voice and the words were directed at eight-year-old Ezra Standish.

Nathan looked down the hall at the figure of the Team Leader, paused outside of the bedroom door. You don’t understand. No, none of them understood and unless Chris could make this right, none of them would ever understand.

He wanted to go down there and force Chris into the room and make him apologize, but he knew that’s not what Vin needed. He knew Chris had to do this on his own. He would just have to be there when the fall-out happened and do what he could to make it right. He would save his piece of mind for his boss later.

Family counseling had not been his forte, but Josiah thought he had enough of a background to be able to help here.

‘I don’t care what you think!’ Josiah shook his head as the words came back to him. Chris was wrong. His fear had driven him to a point where he was no longer rational. The man should have known better, should have been better prepared, should have known to calm down before approaching the boy. The truth was words hurt every bit as much as blows. He just hoped the wounds would heal.

JD hid his face in Buck’s shoulder. Chris had never been so scary. He didn’t want him going in to see Vin alone. He might harm Vin. The cruel words came back to JD, "You are so stupid!’

"Vin’s not stupid," he said quietly. He felt Buck tighten his arms in comfort.

"I know Little Bit," Buck said.

JD heard his father’s voice and closed his eyes. Willing to rest until Vin needed him. His thoughts turned back to the time on the streets when Vin protected him from the bad people. Vin knew what to do. Vin was smart.

Buck offered what comfort he could to JD as his thoughts and heart reached out to the boy he considered his other son. ‘I don’t care what you think’ His jaw clenched slightly as the memory of Chris’ words came back to him. He knew his friend hadn’t meant it, but there was a point at which his words were too much. Chris had crossed the line.

He debated with himself as to whether he should go in with Chris to make sure Vin was all right, but when he felt JD slump on his shoulder, he decided to wait.

+ + + + + + +

Vin sat rocking on the floor. He froze in fear when he heard the knock and Chris walked in. He didn’t know what was going to happen. He knew his dad was angry and the young boy was afraid that he was still angry. Vin knew what happened when people got angry, they hit other people. Tommy Jones’ father got mad sometimes and hit him. Tommy said that’s what always happened and Vin had seen the bruises to prove it. He had always tried very hard to make sure he never made Chris angry.

Seeing his father walk in, Vin had only one thought, he didn’t want to get hit, so he skittered under the bed.

Once in his hiding place, though, he knew he’d made a mistake; he couldn’t get away now, the bed only had one way out and all Chris had to do was wait long enough and Vin would have to come out. ‘You are so stupid!’ Chris’ voice echoed in his memory. Chris was right. He was stupid. Now he was trapped and Chris was angry. He knew what happened when people got angry; they beat you. He just hoped the beating would be quick.

"You’re so stupid, Larabee," he thought to himself. How could he have done that to his son? He didn’t deserve Vin. He knew Vin wouldn’t have done something like that without good reason.

Walking into the room, he saw Vin skitter under the bed and felt like he’d just been punched in the gut. "Oh, God! What have I done?" he thought. He just wanted to pick up his son and hold him and know the images in his mind of burying Vin next to Adam and Sarah would go away. "I’m so sorry," he whispered, closing his eyes against the pain he knew he deserved. His son, Vin, had been a precious gift to him. He had just hurt his boy in a way no father ever should. The guilt began eating at him. How could he make this up to Vin?

After several minutes of silence, Chris decided he needed to see Vin, to look at him when he apologized. Lying down beside the bed, he looked underneath and saw the small form of his son pressed as tightly against the far wall as he could get. What was worse than the physical distancing his son was doing, was the fear writ large in the emotive blue eyes. It wasn’t just fear, though, it was fear that he, Chris Larabee had put there. Never before had Chris so hated himself. Never before had he regretted his words and actions so thoroughly. He knew he would have to do whatever it took to erase that fear. Vin deserved better.

Not knowing what to say, he opened his mouth and let the words come. "I’m so sorry, Vin," he began, his voice choking with emotion and tears. He felt one of the traitorous droplets slide down his cheek. "I was so scared when I saw you in that warehouse. All I could think of was that you could have been hit, you could have…" He couldn’t say it. He closed his eyes and shuddered as the image of Vin’s dead body once more entered his mind. "Vin. I was scared and I got mad. I was wrong to say what I did and I never meant it. You’re not stupid. You do think. I am proud of you. But after what I said… Vin I am so very sorry for hurting you." Chris let the tears flow freely now. He knew this wasn’t normal, but he also knew that it wasn’t an unusual reaction when one has been through an emotional wringer.

Taking several deep breaths, he offered, "Vin. I want to talk to you, to try and explain. I want to hold you and let you know how much you mean to me. I want to tell you why I was so afraid. I love you Vin Tanner. You are my son and I love you. I’ll wait out here if you want to come."

Vin watched his father closely as he got down on the floor. He watched Chris’ eyes and his face as he spoke. Vin had been shocked at the tears in his eyes. He didn’t know dads cried. He wanted to believe Chris, he really did, but he still hurt inside. What if Chris was lying now and really meant everything he’d said before? What if this was just a trick to get him out from under the bed?

Vin bit his bottom lip and thought about what Uncle Ezra had taught him about reading people. He also thought back over his time with Chris. He could only ever remember Chris being nice to him. Even when Chris was angry it wasn’t usually at him, and if he was, then they talked about it. He’d never seen Chris yell like that. Could Chris have really just been afraid? Vin thought about times he’d been afraid. Sometimes when he was afraid he was mean to JD… Maybe Chris was the same and was just being mean because he was afraid…

Slowly Vin crept out from under the bed, keeping a wary eye on Chris, still unsure as to the adult’s motives. Finally out from under the bed, Vin chose to sit as far away from Chris as he could and drew his knees up to his chest, wrapping his arms around his legs.

Vin’s suspicious reaction hurt Chris and yet he thought it no more than he deserved. Seeing he had Vin’s attention he began to explain. "Everyday I go to work and you go to school. You know my work is sometimes dangerous, and that makes me want to be sure that you’re someplace safe. Your school is where I send you and I think as long as you’re there, you’re safe from the bad guys I arrest." Taking a deep breath, Chris struggled for the words to continue. "When I saw you in that warehouse today… Vin, I’ve never been so scared." He saw a bit of surprise in Vin’s eyes as the boy read the truth of the statement. Swallowing, he continued, "You know about Adam and Sarah." He saw the slight nod. "Well, I had to stand by their graves and bury them. All I could think of when I saw you there was how much I didn’t want to have to bury you too." Chris could feel his tears starting up again and cursed himself for them. "Vin you’re very, very important to me. If I lost you… Vin, I can’t lose you. I don’t know what I would do without you. Seeing you there… by the body… where the guns had been shooting… I was scared."

Chris took several deep breaths, feeling a small surge of hope as Vin’s posture opened up. "I was angry too," he continued. "I was angry at your teacher for not paying closer attention. I was angry at the other officers for not making sure the warehouse was empty. I was angry at the men who were shooting. Vin I was never angry with you. I was afraid for you and the fear and the anger got all mixed up inside until I couldn’t tell one from the other and it all came out at once. I am so very sorry I yelled at you. I would take it all back if I could, but I can’t. All I can ask is that you forgive me." Chris finished, allowing his plea for forgiveness to show clearly in his eyes. He waited on Vin’s verdict.

Vin carefully considered everything Chris said. He could understand how your emotions got all mixed up inside, it happened to him all the time. He was surprised to hear it happened to grown-ups too. He was pretty sure that Chris wasn’t lying to him. Chris had never lied to him before. Vin was a little worried about the tears, but then, he felt like crying too. He was so scared. He’d seen Hattie get shot, something he didn’t tell anyone.

Looking up at the green eyes of his father, he said in a small voice, "I was takin’ Hattie to the doctor ‘cause she’s sick. I thought it was a good thing, that you’d be proud."

Chris swallowed hard and closed his eyes. Could he have done a worse job dealing with this? His son had been trying to help someone, trying to do what he thought his father would do. Looking in the blue eyes, he knew his son wasn’t done.

"When the shooting started, she put some wood and blankets on me and then sat in front of her box to keep me safe. She got hit with a bullet. I saw…" he couldn’t go on. The tears were coming too quickly and his shoulders shook with the sobs.

Chris couldn’t think, couldn’t speak, couldn’t breathe. His son had already seen too much in his young life. Now he had to deal with having seen a friend get shot and die. Unable to find words, he simply opened his arms, offering comfort and safety.

Vin saw the open arms and dashed into them. He just wanted Chris to make it right. He wrapped his own arms around his father and held on for dear life.

Overcoming Obstacles
Three months later

Buck sat in the chair next to Chris and settled in to watch the boys play in the yard. They’d been working through the aftermath of that day in the warehouse and had made significant progress. Vin was almost back to where he’d been before the incident and had stopped having nightmares about it every night. There were still nights where he would wake up after having one, but they were much fewer now.

"Ever tell you I was sorry for what I said to you?" Chris asked, knowing his oldest friend would never bring it up.

Buck smiled. "Nope," he replied. He understood what Chris had been through and had forgiven the blond a long time ago.

Turning serious eyes toward Buck, Chris waited until he had the rogues’ attention. "Buck, I am truly sorry," he said honestly.

Buck smiled and nodded his forgiveness. "Just be glad that little ‘un there’s a forgiving soul," he said with a smile before turning his own pair of very serious eyes back upon Chris. "Because if it ever happens again, I’m takin’ the boys and we’re movin’ ta Ezra’s."

Chris nodded, acknowledging the seriousness of the promise before allowing his mouth to twitch in amusement. "Ezra’s?"

Buck laughed back. "He’s a pretty giving guy, ya know?" Their laughter filtered out into the yard, blending with that of the boys’.

The End

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