by LaraMee

Little Britches ATF AU

March 31, 2004

Will Lowery looked across the office to where his seven-year-old client sat. Vin seemed more relaxed than he had been during the previous sessions and he told him as much. "It seems to me that you're feeling pretty good about things right now."

Nodding, the little blond said, "Yeah. I ain't been havin' too many feel bad thoughts. I still have some, but not too much. Is that how I'm s'posed to feel?"

"Well, what do you think?"

Shrugging, the child said, "I… guess. Me an' Dad talked 'bout it this week. He told me that he thinks 'bout ever'body gets feel bad thoughts once in a while. He said he gits 'em sometimes. I even asked Buck an' ever'body else an' they all said they gits 'em sometimes. I wish I didn't ever git 'em, but if ever'body else gits 'em then I guess it's okay."

With a nod the therapist said, "Well, I can understand that. I think that most people probably feel that way, wishing that they didn't ever have those feel bad thoughts. Did your dad help you figure out anything else about that?"

Nodding once more, Vin said, "Yeah. We talked 'bout ways to turn th' feel bad thoughts 'round."

"Turning the feel bad thoughts around?"

"Yeah. 'Tend stinky Freddy says somethin' mean to me. I jist gotta 'member that he ain't got a fam'ly that knows how to help him feel good 'bout hisself. Unca' 'Siah told me 'bout that. He said that lots of times bullies like Freddy don't feel good 'bout themselves. He said that they have so many feel bad thoughts that they try an' give some of 'em away. So they say mean things to other people that they think will take some of them thoughts away.

"See, when Freddy calls me a name it's 'cause somebody called him a name lots of times. He can't keep all them names inside 'cause they hurt him too bad. So he tries to give me some of 'em."

"So when he tries to give you some of those hurtful names what do you do with them?"

Vin sighed. "That's th' hard part."

"It is?"

"Yeah. When he calls me… gives me one 'a them hurtful names I gotta take it an' put it away an' not let him use 'em to make me feel bad 'bout myself. Dad said that's called… um… bein' th' bigger man. So I gotta walk away. That's real hard."

"Have you had to do that this week?"

"Yeah, one time. Most times the teachers they keep an eye on him an' don't let him do mean things. But this one time they was in a meetin' an' jist the helpers was there. So he called me a dummy 'cause I couldn't spell some words right on a 'signment when the helpers wasn't where they could hear 'im."

"And what did you do?"

"I tried walkin' away, but that didn't help 'cause he just come to where I was. So then I told 'im that I didn't care if he called me a name, 'cause he couldn't hurt me with 'em no more."

"How did that work?"

Shaking his head, Vin said, "He jist called me another name. He said I was stupid. But then Jackie came over an' told him to go back to his desk an' quit bein' a pest, an' he did."

"What happened then?" Lowery prompted.

Blowing out a hard breath the child said, "I jist stayed 'way from 'im th' rest 'a the day. When I got home I talked t' Dad 'bout it. Unca' 'Siah said that's a good thing t' do. 'Cause I gave Chris the feel bad thought an' he helped me figger out what t' do with it."

"Were you worried that your father would be angry?"

"Yeah," Little Tanner said softly. "I was. But 'member? He told me last time that he wasn't gonna ever make me go 'way even if he got mad every day."

"Yes, I remember that."

"So I knew that even if he got mad at Freddy it would be okay. And it was." Vin smiled up at the doctor.

"It was?"

"Yep. 'Cause me an' Dad talked 'bout it for a long time and he told me to say all the things that I don't like 'bout Freddy out loud. So I did. Then he said, now tell me one thing good 'bout Freddy. I told him I couldn't think 'bout nothin' but he told me to keep thinkin' an' then he asked me a bunch 'a questions 'bout him. So fin'lly I 'membered that he's good at playin' baseball 'cause one time he brought a trophy to school from playin' it.

"So Dad said that was good, that I could think of one good thing 'bout him. He said that even the stinkiest person might have one good thing 'bout 'em an' sometimes it helps to 'member that."

"Has it helped?"

"Not yet," Vin said innocently.

Covering the urge to laugh with a cough, the therapist said, "Well, maybe it will some time. In the meantime, is it easier for you to deal with Freddy since you told your dad all the things about you don't like about him?"

"Maybe," The little blond said slowly. "But I still don't like him."

"Well, let me tell you a secret," Will said in a conspiratorial tone. "You're not going to like every person you meet in life. The important thing is that you keep talking about Freddy, or anyone else who does things to give you feel bad thoughts. I think that your dad, Buck, and your uncles will all do a really good job at helping you deal with those thoughts."


"Yeah." The doctor replied. "It's important because that's going to help you handle the feel bad thoughts in a good way, and you'll learn to have more feel good thoughts then."

"Feel good thoughts?"

"Yeah, like when you feel good about something you've done. Can you think of something that you did that made you feel good about yourself?"

Vin frowned as he thought about the question. After several moments he said, "Well, the other day I helped JD learn how to win one of our 'puter games. He got real 'cited and jumped 'round the room hollerin' and dancin'. He was so 'cited that it made me feel good 'cause I helped him."

Watching the look of happiness and pride form on the little face, the therapist said, "That's an excellent example Vin. You should feel good about helping JD with something that made him so happy."

The little blond's face broke into a wide grin, and a small giggle escaped him. Lowery watched his demeanor change as he took in the words of validation. Once more he felt hope that this child, who could have so easily been nothing more than another statistic in some report on the homeless, would grow and prosper under the care of his adoptive family.

"I like seeing that smile, Vin," Will said quietly, "it's a very good smile."

The seven-year-old's smile widened, but his little features flushed with embarrassment and he looked down at the floor.

Giving the child a short time to process the compliment, he moved onto the next point of discussion. Reaching into the child's file, he retrieved the picture Vin had chosen at their last meeting. Offering it to the blond, he said, "Remember this?"

Nodding, Vin said, "Yeah. I picked it out last week when you asked me to pick out a picture."

"Right. And can you remember why you chose it?"

"Sure. You said to pick out a picture that made me think 'bout feelin' safe, an' this picture made me think 'bout it."

"Could you tell me more about the picture and that feeling?"

"'Kay. Well this is a picture with a daddy an' his two kids, an' one of 'em's wearin' a cowboy hat. 'Course they don't look like us, but it made me think 'bout me an' Dad an' JD. An' they're havin' fun 'cause th' dad's playin' with th' kids… see, he's givin' 'em a horse ride."

"Yes, I see that."

"An' they're all real happy. An' th' kids feel safe 'cause th' daddy loves 'em. He don't never do bad things to 'em."

"Bad things?"

"Yeah," Vin's voice faded, trembling slightly. "He don't hit 'em or call 'em bad names, or do scary things when he's mad at 'em. He takes care of 'em an' gives 'em good stuff t' eat an' they has a nice place t' live and they even got toys."

When the big blue eyes glistened and flitted around the room nervously, Lowery said, "Tell me again what kind of feeling you get when you see that picture, Vin."

Sniffing, the child said, "A safe feelin'."

"Vin? What are you thinking about right now?"

Heaving a sigh, the blond said, "Jist that some kids don't have a dad that makes 'em feel safe."

"Are you thinking about anyone in particular?"

The blond head shook a fervent 'no' and the empty face began to slip into place. "Jist some kids, Dr. Will. And I don't wanna talk no more about it."

Reading the signs that told him quite clearly that the boy would shut down completely, the therapist said, "Well, can I ask you a favor?"

"I guess," Young Tanner said hesitantly.

"If you think of any kids that have had bad times like that - kids that don't have anyone to give them a safe feeling - would you tell your dad about it? And I would be glad to talk to you about them, too."

Mulling over the request, the seven-year-old finally nodded. "Sure… okay."

"Thank you," The doctor said sincerely.

Surprise widening the big eyes even more, the little boy said, "Yer welcome."

"Well, I understand that you had a pretty busy weekend," The therapist said, choosing to end the session on an upbeat note.

Smiling, the little boy said, "Yeah. Did JD tell you 'bout it?"

"He told me about what he did. I'd love to hear about what you did."

"'Kay. Well. JD an' Buck was gone Friday eve'nin' an' part 'a Saturday an' me an' Chris stayed home. When I got home, me an' him went outside an' walked all 'round th' yard. Then we played ball, 'cause Dad can throw the ball an' even hit it with th' bat one handed. He can't run bases or catch real good, though. Then, we had chicken 'n dumplin's for dinner, 'cause Dad makes 'em real good. After that I got ready for bed an' we watched a movie an' then he read to me for a long time while we was layin' on th' couch. I even fell 'sleep on th' couch and slept there all night. Then in th' mornin' we had pancakes fer breakfast and we did some chores an' then Buck an' JD come home.

"Then Saturday me an' Buck went to town. We went t' Unca' 'Siah's house 'cause we was gonna stay there all night. They let me 'cide what we was gonna do then, an' I picked goin' to th' children's museum. We had a good time lookin' at the 'xibits an' playin' with some a th' stuff. After that we went t' th' park fer a little bit an' I got t' play on th' swings an' stuff fer a long time. After that we went t' dinner an' I got t' 'cide where we was gonna eat. By th' time we got back t' Unca' 'Siah's it was dark an' I was 'bout asleep. Buck carried me int' th' house an' put me t' bed. In th' mornin' we went t' breakfas' an' then we came back home."

"It sounds as if you had a good time."

"Yep, it was lots a fun," Vin grinned.

"Did you enjoy going out with just Buck?"

"Yep. He's lots a fun."

Lowery smiled, glad to know that Vin was becoming more comfortable with the big man. Wilmington had been concerned at times that the young boy would never truly be comfortable with him. While there may still be some residual fear, the little blond was definitely making progress.

"All right then, do we have anything more to talk about?"

"I don't think so. Is this really gonna be the last time we come see you?"

"It is, for now. But as I said last week, any time you want to come back and see me again, all you have to do is tell your dad and we'll make an appointment as soon as possible."

"What 'bout if Dad thinks it's time to come talk t' you again, but I don't want to?"

Smiling now, the man said, "Well, how about this. If your dad wants you to come here and you don't think you need to, you and I will sit down and talk about it. And if you show me that you really don't need to come see me, I'll tell him that."

Vin wasn't aware that the doctor was giving him control of the situation, but he was aware of the relief he felt. His smile returning full force, he said, "'Kay."

"Okay. So, how about we go back into the playroom and see what everyone else is doing?"


The four people in the playroom looked up as Dr. Lowery and Vin entered. Both Chris and Buck looked somewhat surprised. Larabee watched his foster son closely for signs of distress while Wilmington glanced at his watch. Vin had never been in Lowery's office this short a time.

"Hey Vin you wasn't in there hardly at all," JD chirped, putting their fathers thoughts very succinctly into words.

"We was done talkin'," Little Tanner said with a shrug as he climbed into a chair.

Josiah stood, nodding to the therapist as he offered his hand. "Hi, Will, how are you this afternoon?"

Taking the big man's hand in a warm grip, the boys' therapist said, "I'm just fine, Josiah, yourself?"

"Fine. Well, I'll get out of the way and go wait in the reception area." The big profiler started toward the door.

"Unca' 'Siah!" Vin called out.

Turning back the older man said, "Yeah?"

"Are you gonna go t' dinner with us when we're done?"

"I sure am."

"'Kay." Vin smiled at his uncle and then turned back to the picture he had started earlier.

With a chuckle, Sanchez shook his head, waved a hand to the others, and left the room.

Taking advantage of the fact that the two boys were absorbed in their drawing once more, the therapist spoke to their fathers. "I saw those looks of surprise when I came back in just now."

"With a smile the big brunet said, "It was a little bit of a shock. I mean, normally you'd still be in talking to whichever boy you took in first."

Nodding, Lowery said, "Well the whole purpose of the session today is to bring about a sense of closure as well as to check in and make certain that we're on the right track. We don't want to end the sessions prematurely."

"So, do you think things are going all right then?" Chris asked.

"I believe so. Both boys were able to share information with me which would seem to indicate that you're all doing a good job at working through things."

Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Buck said, "That's good to hear, Doc. I've gotta tell you though, I still feel like a drowning man sometimes."

"Welcome to parenthood, Mr. Wilmington," The doctor said with a smile. "That's why it's also extremely beneficial that the two of you have such a strong support system."

"I'll agree with that. " Chris replied. "Sometimes I'm not sure what we'd do without them, especially the boys' uncles."

"Too bad we don't let 'em know that very often," Buck said. He exchanged a chagrined look with his old friend.

"Well that's easily rectified; all you have to do is remember to tell them in the future." The therapist said. Then, seeing that the boys seemed to be finished, he said, "Shall we make a circle now so we can all talk?"

"'Kay." JD said as he dropped off his chair and bounced to the floor.

The family made a circle in the middle of the room, the therapist joining them. "All right, so here we are for a last family session. How is everyone feeling about that?"

"Good!" JD said with a grin that elicited a groan and rolled eyes from Vin.

"JD! Y' ain't s'posed t' tell someone yer glad y' ain't gonna see 'em no more." The little blond admonished.

The smaller boy frowned. "You mean we ain't gonna see Dr. Will no more?"

"That's what he said," Young Tanner said sagely.

"Well, what the doc means, " Buck interjected, "is that this is the last session we've got scheduled. We might come back again sometime, or we might not. It's just gonna depend on how things are goin'."

"Oh," JD replied. Then looking over at the therapist he continued. "I'm sorry, Dr. Will, I didn't mean I didn't wanna see you no more. I'm just tired a comin' here all the time."

With a smile to let the tyke know there were no hard feelings, the therapist said, "That's all right, JD. Like I said before, you won't hurt my feelings as long as you tell me the truth."

"'Kay," JD smiled at the man.

"So, what about you, Vin? How are you feeling about this being our last session, at least for now?"

The little blond shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know. I… I feel kind 'a… funny?"

"Funny? Can you tell me more about that feeling?"

Heaving a sigh, Vin said, "I dunno how else to say it. I'm happy, 'cause we don't gotta come here every week. But I get a little bit of a sad feelin', too. And I think that there's some other feelin's, but I don't know what to call 'em."

"Do you think we should make some more appointments?" Chris asked gently.

Studying the question, Vin said, "No… I don't think so. I mean, Dr. Will's helped me figure out a lotta stuff, but… " He shook his head, not certain how to proceed.

"I think that maybe this is a very complicated… a very big… feeling." Lowery interjected.

Little Tanner nodded. "I think so. I'm sorry I don't know how to say it good."

The doctor smiled compassionately. "You said it very well. Sometimes it's hard to explain a feeling. Could I give you some suggestions?"


"Perhaps you're a little worried that if you don't come here every week that the feel bad thoughts will come back? Maybe you're a little worried that you'll start having problems again? And maybe you're worried that you're gong to have new feel bad thoughts?"

The blue eyes widened and the seven-year-old's face was flooded with a vast mixture of emotions. In a whisper he said, "Yeah."

Leaning forward the therapist said sincerely, "If that happens, Vin, I promise that I will see you just as soon as possible."

"Cowboy, all you have to do is tell me and I'll be on the phone, getting an appointment set up for you," Chris added to the therapist's promise. "And if I'm not around - say I'm at a meeting or something - then Buck, or Mrs. Potter, or your uncles… any of them will help you out."

"You'd better believe it, Junior," The big brunet said.

"But does that mean I gotta come, too?" Little Dunne asked in a disappointed tone.

"Well you might… if you think you need to," Buck replied.

"What if I don't wanna come?"

"We're not going to force you to come, JD," Chris said.

"Right. You might have to sit in the lobby and wait, but we won't force you to see Dr. Will," Wilmington added.

"But it works both ways, too," Larabee added. "If you think you have a problem that Dr. Will can help you with, but Vin doesn't think he needs to come, we'll set that up, too."

"Okay, but I don't think I'm gonna need to," The five-year-old said with a child's confidence.

"That's fine, buddy," the therapist responded. "Just so you know that I'm here if you need me… just as I am for Vin."

"'Kay," The little brunet said with a shrug that said he didn't think it was going to happen.

Giving the child time to add to his comment, the doctor turned to the adults. "How about the two of you? How are you feeling about the sessions coming to an end?"

Both men looked surprised at being included in the question, but Buck responded first. "I think it's gonna be okay. I think the boys are handling things a lot better."

"But what about you?" Lowery emphasized the last word.

"Uh… well," Wilmington frowned. He hadn't considered his own response to the end of the visits. "I'm fine I guess."

"You guess?" Will echoed.

The brunet's frown deepened. He hated those therapy tricks, like repeating a person's words. "Honestly, Doc, I hadn't given it much thought."

"It hadn't occurred to you, or it doesn't really matter?"

With a sigh the big man said, "It just hadn't occurred to me. I mean, we were comin' here to help the boys out with some of their issues… I didn't really think about the fact that I've been gettin' help along the way."

"Fair enough," Lowery replied. "How about you, Chris?"

The blond smiled, happy that his friend had drawn the focus for a few moments. At least he had time to consider the question. "Well, I'm mostly relieved that things are going as well as they are. For a while there I was pretty worried that it was all going to fall apart. But I also know that - at least after you get back - you'll only be a phone call away. I'm grateful for that, Dr. Lowery, and grateful for everything you've done."

"I appreciate that, Chris, but I haven't done anything. At most I've - as I guess you'd say in your profession - provided back-up. The four of you did the real work. And on that note, I'd like to say something to all of you." When four pairs of eyes met his, he continued.

"Since meeting with you over the course of the last several weeks, I've been able to see something that, a year ago, I could only hope for. I have to admit that I had my reservations about things working out. While I never doubted that the four of you had formed a bond… well, sometimes that just isn't enough.

"However, during these sessions, I've been able to see that there is more at work here than simply the formation and strengthening of a bond. I've seen a devotion that I haven't often seen before. I've seen it in the love, respect and concern you've all shown one another. I've seen it in your willingness to do whatever it takes to work through the issues that have come up during this course of treatment. In fact, you've often gone above and beyond what's been needed."

He had been speaking primarily to the two fathers and saw the confusion blooming in their sons' faces. Looking at the two little boys, he said, "What I mean, guys, is that you have all done a really, really, really good job."

Finally understanding most of Dr. Will's words, Vin said, "You mean like when we do a good job at school, we git a smiley face on our paper?"

"Something like that. Only if I gave you smiley faces for the job you've done here, I'd probably give you each ten of them."

The children's mouths dropped open and their eyes widened in surprise. They exchanged shocked looks then both smiled at the therapist. JD finally said, "Wow, cool!"

The adults shared a laugh, the boys joining in. After they quieted, the doctor said, "Well, now. Were you able to do your homework assignment this week?"

"Yeah," Chris replied.

"I think we did a good job, too," Buck added.

"Yeah, the day hadn't gone well. Nothing major, it just seemed like everyone was out of sorts." Larabee continued the explanation.

"But, everyone seemed to pull right out of their bad mood when we started talking," Wilmington finished.

"That's good to hear." Lowery commented. "So, would you like to tell me about it?"

"Okay, boys, it's time for a pow-wow," Buck called from the den. He looked over at Chris, who was on the couch, his cast-wrapped leg stretched across the cushions. "Think we'll get through things without a fight tonight?"

"We can only hope," the blond replied as their two foster sons entered the room. "Hi guys, your room picked up?"

"Yep," JD said, plopping down on the floor beside his golden retriever.

"Yeah," Vin said as he settled at the end of the couch near his dad's feet. Ringo stretched out in front of him on the floor. "It's all cleaned up."

"Good, thanks guys," Wilmington said with a smile. "Okay, before we get started, I thought we'd talk about the thing that Dr. Will gave us for homework. Do you remember what that was?"

The two little boys sat quietly, brows furrowed as they thought back to what the therapist had said. Finally Vin said, "It was s'posed to be 'bout what we're like since we came to live here?"

"That's pretty close, Junior," Wilmington responded. "We're supposed to discuss how our lives have changed since we came together to make our family."

"Oh yeah, right," JD said, head nodding vigorously. "I 'member now."

Vin rolled his eyes. It was easy to remember things after someone had already said them. "What kind 'a things are we s'posed to talk 'bout?"

"Well, anything really. Whatever you can think of that's changed about you since coming to live here," Chris entered the conversation.

"Yeah, anything," the little brunet agreed.

"Gees, JD, y' sound like a parrot!" Little Tanner groaned.

"Okay, let's don't start in already," Larabee warned. "Let's focus on this assignment, all right?"

"Yeah," Vin sighed.

"'Kay," little Dunne agreed.

"All right. How about I go first?" The big brunet offered.

"Sounds like a plan," Chris nodded.

"Okay. Well, I've been thinking about this for a while. Back before we met you boys I lived all by myself. I could come and go as I pleased; I could sleep in on my days off, and run around in my underwear if I wanted. I went out on dates almost every night with lots of ladies - " He paused as his friend cleared his throat dramatically. With a smile he continued, "That's all I was gonna say about that.

"I came out here sometimes when it was just Chris' house when we had parties and stuff. But most of the time I just saw him at work just like Ezra, Josiah and Nathan.

"Then, when we met you boys… well, all that changed. I moved out here with you and Chris. I hardly ever sleep in, I never run around in my underwear, and I don't have very many dates with ladies. Chris and I see each other a whole lot of the time, and I spend more time with Ezra, Josiah and Nathan.

"I go to teacher's meetings and playgrounds, and I've eaten more McDonald's in the last year than I ever have before. I've watched more cartoons than I ever have, and most of the songs I know the words to are nursery rhymes." He stopped when he realized that the two little boys looked as if their hearts were breaking. Smiling at the children, he said, "and I like it a whole lot more this way."

"You do?" Vin asked with a look of surprise on his little face.

"You'd better believe it, Junior."

"You ain't sad 'cause you don't gots lots of ladies no more, Da?" JD asked, fighting back tears.

Going over and scooping the tiny boy into his arms, the big man held him so that he could look directly into the wide hazel eyes. "No, I'm not sad because I don't have lots of ladies any more, Little Bit. I've got something a whole lot better, now."

"You do?"

"Yeah… I've got a son," Buck said, his voice filled with emotion. Then stepping over to the couch, he shifted JD onto a hip as he knelt down beside Vin. Looking into the big blue eyes now he said, "And I've got another little guy in my life that's just as special to me, too."

With a curious look, Vin said softly, "Me?"

Grinning broadly the big man tweaked the little boy's nose as he said, "Yeah, Junior, you."

Giggling, the seven-year-old swatted playfully at Wilmington's hand. Then he said, "You really like it better now, Buck?"

"You'd better believe it, kiddo," the big man said, serious once more.

"Good. 'Cause it wouldn't be as much fun if you wasn't here."

"Well thank you, Vin Tanner, I'm glad you think so."

The little boy giggled again. "You sound like Unca' Ezra!" The rest of the family joined him, the room ringing with their laughter.

"Can I say mine next?" JD asked when everyone had settled back down.

"Sure, go ahead," Chris replied.

"'Kay. 'Fore me an' Vin lived here we didn't have a good house or good food or nothin' for a real long time. Vin done a good job takin' care a me, but lots a times we was real sad an' sometimes I was real scared an' I cried. I 'member Vin said he was scared, but I never seen him be scared. He just always taked care a me.

"Then, when I lived at Da's 'partment for a little bit, I had fun. But I was sad, too, 'cause Vin was in the hopsipal an' I missed him a lot.

"Then when we all comed to live here, I was real happy, 'cause we all get to live here t'gether. Me an' Vin gets to be brothers, an' Buck's my Da, and Chris… um… Chris is Vin's Dad. An' we gots uncles an' a aunt an' dogs an' horses an' good food an' new toys an' lots a good stuff."

Smiling, Buck said, "So, Little Bit, how do you think you're different now?"

"Now 'cause I live here with you an' Chris an' Vin?"


"Well… I gots toys, an' food, an' a dog, an' a horse…"

"Do you have different feelings now, though?" Larabee interjected, knowing that they would have a complete repeat of what the child had said, otherwise.

"Um… I think," the tiny boy said. "I don't get scared so much, an'… well, I'm happy lots more. Is that what you mean?"

"That's exactly what I mean," The tall blond replied with a grin.

"'Kay. I guess I'm done."

The two men smiled. Buck said, "Thanks for sharin' that with us Little Bit. I'm glad that you have happy feelin's more now."

The five-year-old smiled an' said, "You're welcome."

"Vin would you like to go next?" Chris asked his son.

Looking somewhat uncomfortable, the little boy said, "I… guess. Do I gotta talk 'bout b'fore?"

"You don't have to talk about anything that you're not ready to share, Cowboy," Larabee said gently.

With a relieved expression, the child said, "'Kay. Well since I lived here I don't got to be 'fraid of things so much. I don't gotta worry 'bout findin' stuff t' eat or nothin'. I still worry 'bout some things, like doin' good at school an' stuff. But it ain't scary like stuff used t' be. An' I feel happy most a th' time, 'cause I got a family now.

"Sometimes I miss bein' th' boss an' sometimes I fergit an' try t' tell JD what t' do, then I 'member that I don't gotta be th' boss an' I c'n be jist a boy. 'N that means I git t' do fun stuff like play ball an' play with Ringo, an' me an' JD can just have fun." He paused then shrugged and said, "That's all I can think of."

Larabee smiled. "Thanks, Cowboy, I'm glad you shared that with us."

Vin took a deep breath and nodded, but didn't say anything. He was simply relieved to be done with this little exercise.

"Okay, Pard, your turn," Buck said.

Chris barely stopped himself from grimacing. He was nearly as worried about opening himself up in this exercise. Taking a deep breath that mimicked that of his foster son, he nodded. "Yeah, I guess it is."

"You know, you could just make it real short," Wilmington said.

Chris looked at his old friend and saw the compassion in the other man's face. He knew Buck was trying to spare him some pain. Managing a smile, he said, "Why? Something on TV you wanna watch?"

The big brunet laughed, "Darn, you caught me."

His friend managed to ease the tension he felt, allowing the blond to relax just a little. "Well, let's see… where should I start?"

"Unca' Ezra says start at th' beginnin'," JD suggested helpfully.

He wasn't certain he could do that, but he said, "Thanks, Little Bit."

"You're welcome."

"Well, back before you all came to live with me, it was really quiet out here. I didn't like being here, because it gave me… well, it gave me a lot of feel bad thoughts. So, most of the time I stayed in town at my office rather than coming here. I worked a lot, because that helped me keep the feel bad thoughts away.

"I also did a lot of dumb things; things that weren't good for me."

"What kind 'a things?" JD asked innocently.

Giving the little brunet a pained smile, Larabee said, "Just dumb things, buddy."

Vin looked away. He knew, at least a little bit. He had overheard Buck and Unca' Nathan talking one time. They talked about Chris drinking too much whiskey, and doing a lot of things that were dumb and sometimes got him hurt. He knew about how whiskey could make people do dumb things and he was glad that Chris didn't drink any more.

The little blond realized that his dad was talking some more, and stopped his thoughts so he could listen.

"I wasn't a very nice person to be around, because I was usually in a bad mood. So, only a few friends… like Buck… would be my friend then."

"Yeah, well, we knew you were worth it," The bigger man said sincerely.

Larabee gave his friend a grateful smile. "I think you knew something I didn't. Anyway, that all changed when you all came to live with me. I like being here, now. Most of the time I can't wait to leave work so I can come home. This isn't a sad place to be anymore, it's a very happy place."

"Even when me an' JD fight?" Vin asked.

"Yeah, even when the two of you fight. I don't especially like the fights, but it doesn't make this a sad place to be."

"Just noisy," Wilmington added.

"Right, just noisy," Chris agreed.

"Even when you an' Da have loud 'scussions 'bout stuff?" JD wanted to know.

"Yeah, even when me and your Da have loud discussions, Little Bit. Your Da and I have had a lot of loud discussions over the years."

"Lots… and lots… and lots… and lots…" The bigger man said.


"Yeah, Chris?"



The two children watched the exchange warily then saw the humor in their fathers' eyes.

"You're teasin'!" JD crowed.

"Yeah, we're teasing," Larabee agreed. Taking another deep breath, he continued. "Before… when Sarah and Adam… when they went to be with the angels… I figured that I'd never get to be a dad again. I think that made me sadder than anything because I loved being a father. So… when the two of you came to live with me… that was one of the greatest gifts I could have ever been given."

Chris stopped long enough to clear his throat and marshal his emotions. He could feel the familiar ache, and the burn of tears that threatened to fall. He held firm, however, not wanting to break down.

"Now that you all live here with me, and this is our home, I'm happy a lot more often. Sometimes I get worried or angry or other emotions, but I know that it's only going to be temporary. I know those feel bad things are going to pass, and I'm going to be happy again."

Vin looked into his father's face as he finished speaking. He saw many different emotions, and wasn't certain what to make of them. Uncertain, too, as to what to do, he simply reacted. Climbing across the couch, he curled into his dad's lap. Wrapping his little arms around the man, he said softly, "I'm glad I got to be yer son, Dad."

Managing a tearful smile, Larabee wrapped his arms around the little boy as he whispered, "I'm glad I got to be your Dad, too, Cowboy."

Will Lowery looked around him at the unique little family, reflecting on the mix of emotions that crossed their faces. He could tell that the power of that session had been very significant to them all. Even little JD seemed to be moved by the event. "It sounds as if this was a very powerful situation for you all."

Chris nodded, turning his head slightly as the memory of that evening threatened to bring up the same emotions once more. Across from him, Buck looked at the therapist with a slight smile. "Yeah, it was, Doc."

Looking around at the members of the group, Lowery said, "Is there anything more you'd like to share about your homework?" He gave them a moment, but one by one he received a negative response. "All right then. Boys, could I ask you to go keep Josiah company for a few minutes while I talk to your dads?"

"How come?" JD asked.

Grinning, the therapist said, "I just want to talk to them a few minutes and it's going to be boring, grown-up stuff. Is that okay?"

"'Kay." The smaller boy bounded from his chair and headed for the door.

Vin looked hesitantly at his father. He had seen the tears in the man's eyes, and wasn't certain he wanted to leave. "Dad?"

Larabee looked into the big, blue eyes and straightened in his seat. Smiling, he said, "C'mere." When the little boy came closer, he gathered the child in his arms and gave him a hug. "It's okay, Cowboy. How about you go out and talk to Uncle Josiah about where we're going to eat?"

Grinning now, Vin said, "'Kay. No Mickey D's?"

Groaning loudly, Chris said, "Well… I'll tell you what. If we can go somewhere a little more comfortable, when I get this cast off we'll go to McDonald's every Friday for a month. How's that?"

His grin growing into a giggle the seven-year-old said, "It's a deal," before he skipped from the room.

Will smiled. "Good negotiation there."

With a grimace, the blond said, "Tell me that after the Big Mac attack, when I'm spending the weekend in the john." Lowery laughed, as did Wilmington. Chris finally broke down and joined them.

When the three men settled down, the therapist said, "I'll only take a few minutes, but I'd like to talk to you about some things that I've observed."

Heaving a sigh, Buck said, "That doesn't sound good."

"Don't get ahead of yourself." Chris warned.

"You may have picked up on some of this stuff yourselves. I've noted reluctance on Vin's part to bring up anything about his time on the street. At the same time, he's made some comments that seem to indicate that those months are never far from his thoughts."

"What are you sayin', Doc?" Buck asked.

"I think that the time may be coming that will see him needing to discuss the things that happened to him then in-depth."

"How do we handle it?" Chris wanted to know.

"Don't push for information. Not yet. He may offer you some tidbits now and again. For now, just listen. However, if it seems that he's having trouble dealing with things you may consider bringing him back."

"We will, believe it."

"Good. As far as JD... he's still processing this whole issue of hero worship; not believing that any of you have ever truly been scared. It's a frightening issue for him, because if you're scared, if Vin's scared, who's going to protect him?"

"Hadn't thought about that," Buck admitted.

Nodding, the doctor said, "In one respect it's important for him to understand that it's normal to be scared. But at the same time, this is a little boy who is only now beginning to understand that there are grown ups who will protect him. He's also trying to get used to the fact that Vin's not going to be his boss, as you well know. Don't be surprised if there are times when he's going to need a lot of reassurance. It wouldn't be surprising to have him seek that out, as well as to test you to make certain you're going to be there for him."

"So, we make certain that he knows we're there for him."

"Exactly." When he saw the worried expressions on their faces, Lowery said, "Don't let this distract you from enjoying life with these two little guys. I meant what I said earlier. You've done an incredible job with them. Don't take things like their acting out or testing limits as signs that you're not doing a good job. Believe me; nothing could be further from the truth."

Relief flooded over the faces of the two agents. With a broad grin Larabee said, "Thanks, Doc."

Nodding, the therapist said, "All right, I'll bring them back in long enough to say good-bye, and then you can all get out of here."

A few minutes later the boys returned to the playroom. The doctor saw that they were worried, and could well imagine that they expected to be given bad news. With an understanding smile the therapist said, "I just wanted to say good-bye before you boys leave."

Smiling now, the older of the two boys said, "Oh! We got somethin' t' give you 'fore we leave."

"Oh, the surprise you couldn't tell me about earlier?"

Giggling, JD said, "Yep." Along with Vin, he moved to the art table. They came back to the circle a few seconds later, each of them holding a piece of paper. Coming to stand before the doctor, the little brunet continued. "We made you somethin', in case we don't come back to see you no more."

"You did?"

"Yeah. So you won't forgit us," Vin added.

With a chuckle, the man said, "I don't think I could ever forget the two of you."

The little boys smiled at that, then held out their pictures. Vin continued. "We made you a picture of us. See? This is me, an' Peso, an' Ringo an' Dad, an' his horse, Pony."

"Yeah, an' this is me, an' Elvis, an' Da, an' Milagro, an' Beau," JD explained.

Lowery was touched by the handmade gifts. Taking them with the same reverence they were offered to him, he said, "These are beautiful, guys. Thank you very much."

The boys smiled. JD said, 'You're welcome."

"We thought you could put 'em in yer book if you wanted too," Vin said, shyly.

"I'd love to include them in my book. And I'm going to put them up, in my office, too. You boys did a wonderful job. Thank you again."

"Well, we'd better go," Chris said after a brief pause. As he pulled himself up onto his crutches, he said, "Doctor Lowery, I want to thank you again for all that you've done."

Meeting the blond as he moved toward him, the therapist took the hand Larabee offered. "You're more than welcome, Chris. And I thank you for everything you've done, and continue to do, for these two little guys."

"Doc," Buck said, offering his hand as well. "It's much appreciated."

Shaking Wilmington's hand, Lowery said, "The same goes for you, Buck. Thank you for everything you've done, and continue to do, for these two boys."

As the men started toward the door, Will saw his two little clients standing nearby, watching the exchange. Going to where they stood, he held out his hand. Shaking the hand of each little boy, he said, "And thank you boys for all of the hard work you've done. You should be very proud of yourselves."

Giggling, JD said, "Okay, I will."

Rolling his eyes, Vin said, "Thank you, Doctor Will."

Standing back, Lowery said, "All right, why are you standing around? Get out of here and go eat!"

"Yea!" The boys said in unison.

A few minutes later, the therapist watched the family group heading out the door. Josiah Sanchez had a little boy slung over each shoulder, carrying them from the facility amidst childish giggles. Buck was holding the door open for them, the big brunet smiling and shaking his head. Chris brought up the rear, swinging along on his crutches.

Lowery looked down at the pictures, the boys crude drawings causing him to smile with the joy each brought him. Finally, tucking them inside the folder, he headed back to his office, a little melancholy. Families like theirs were a joy to work with and he hated to see the association ending, even temporarily. At the same time, he was excited at the thought of how well things were going.

At least for now.

The End

Acknowledgements: Thank you to all of you who have read the stories in this series, and provided me with wonderful feedback. It means more than you can know! Special thanks to Marnie and the other LB writers who provided me with comma wrangling and other feedback on these stories before they were posted. Many thanks to Jeanne, who has put up with all the anxiety I dealt with along the way, and kept me going. And, as always, a big THANK YOU to Joy for all the hard work she puts into not only LB, but the entire fandom!

Comments: LaraMee