Dark Knights Bring Sunny Days

by Holly

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Chris sat with his head in his hands. His body was too tired to move and his insides too numb to care. It seemed like days since they had arrived at the hospital instead of the few hours it had actually been. Their arrival in the emergency room had been a blur. The only memorable part was the moment he had been forced to let go, watching helplessly as Vin was rolled away from him and hidden behind the cold metal doors.

Chris had been allowed to ride in the front of the ambulance on the way to the hospital. After one look at the glare and the gun he had gotten his way with the paramedics. Nathan, in deference to his medical training, had even ridden in back with the boy, in case he could be of assistance on the way in. Then after arrival at the ER it had taken both Josiah’s bulk and Ezra’s finesse to convince their leader to let go of the gurney so that Vin could be treated.

That had been the last time Chris had seen the little blue-eyed waif. After nearly forty-five minutes of intense pacing a young intern, the poor unfortunate soul, had come out to update them, saying that Vin was still critical and possibly bleeding internally. The boy had been rushed off to surgery to repair any damage. The wound on his arm was minor while the cut to his back was not only deeper, but some of the broken bits of the bowl seemed to still be in there.

That had been over two hours ago and the others were beginning to worry at the quiet figure sitting in the corner of the surgical waiting room. Since moving to the new waiting area their leader hadn’t moved or looked up after they had physically planted him into the chair. The nurses promised to let them know something as soon as possible. Other than the slight rise and fall of the tense back and the occasional movements of the hands as they scrubbed at his face or raked through his short hair, there were few other indications of life. They were all antsy. Josiah had gone upstairs to tell Buck what had happened, knowing the rogue wasn’t likely to leave JD’s bedside any time soon.

One of the officers that had been at the house had come by to get statements, leaving mostly empty handed for the time being, but offering some news on the two people responsible for the hell the team now found themselves living in. Chris heard what was said but remained locked within his own tortured mind.

Bill Miller was currently being booked on charges of child abuse, neglect, endangerment, and a whole host of other charges that might end up including accessory to attempted murder. Chris could only think of how no punishment could suffice for the suffering the man had been involved in inflicting on two helpless little boys.

The word on Ruth Miller was even grimmer. The doctors were unsure if she would survive her latest dance with the devil and addiction. But Chris could feel no sorrow for the woman. Any sympathy he would have felt, any understanding for her loss and her plight had been stripped away with one look at the bloody and abused form of one sandy haired boy. Seeing the condition she had left Vin, in lying alone in his own filth and the darkened left eye and tiny bruised cheek, had left an empty hole where any empathy might have resided.

Those two people were best left to the system and God himself, because if he ever laid eyes on either one of them again it would be he who was in need of the services of a lawyer.

The fury and rage were not missing, it was bottled and the container was just about to explode as a green clad doctor walked into the waiting room. Chris looked up as if he sensed the very person he had been waiting on, his body moving stiffly, but fluidly to stand.

Dr. Miles Sheppard didn’t have to ask for the people he was looking for, he knew about Team Seven and had even worked on a few of its members one time or another when the job gave them its worst. The duty nurse had already warned the forty eight year old surgeon that it was this fearsome group of men who were awaiting word on the tiny child whose care he had just seen to. Though it had surprised him a bit, he had decided quickly that with these particular men very little should.

After what he had just been witness to the seasoned doctor had begun to rethink his choice to continue being a surgeon on call for the emergency room. The whole ordeal had left him wanting desperately to run home and hug his own two children, but he had kept those feelings buried so he could perform his job without reserve and without the anger he even now harbored against the animals that had done such damage. It wasn’t his first abuse case, and God help us all, it wouldn’t likely be his last, but this one had touched him deeply.

The extent of the damage and a chart that outlined things that might have been an indication of trouble before it had gotten this far were bad enough. But the history this young boy had already suffered only made things worse. Normally he wanted just the basic facts of the patient, the bare facts of their health, and anything that would allow him to help them. But tonight an entire trauma team had been brought face to face with the dark realities of life and the cruelty it sometimes held. The young nurse reading through the child’s history had ended up in tears and read aloud a lot more than had been necessary, seemingly unable to stop herself. By the time the child had been assessed and cared for as much as was possible before being sent off to be prepped for surgery, every member of that trauma team had become emotionally involved in the fate of one sad little boy named Vin Tanner.

Weary in body and mind after over two hours of surgery, he trudged forward, knowing nothing but honesty would appease the wolves that now waited upon his doorstep. Team Seven was known by many as demanding, obstinate, and somewhat abrasive at times, but he knew enough of human nature to realize that there was much more to this group of agents. They were friends who took loyalty and their sense of justice seriously. With that in mind he knew the frame of mind these men were likely to be in over the situation. What warm-blooded heart would not be touched by it? But as the men descended upon him, bombarding him with a multitude of questions all inquiring on the boy’s health, he was slightly thrown off by a deeper sense of distress. Of course they would have been concerned as men of the law, even as human beings, but they seemed… personally involved. And the haggard look he saw behind the blazing green orbs of the team’s leader reminded him of a concerned relative. A look he was all too familiar with.

“Gentlemen,” he began, holding up both hands for silence. “The boy came through the surgery well. His vital signs are steady though he lost a great deal of blood and his body temperature is still lower than I’d like. Still that might reverse should a fever set in, which is also likely considering the injuries and the condition you found him in.” He unconsciously shook his graying dark head at the memory of the report he had read just prior to the surgery. How could anyone do such damage to another human, let alone a child?

“The internal damage was thankfully minimal though there was still some bleeding. We removed all of the glass and stitched up the damage left behind. Right now my greatest concern is the concussion he suffered, combined with the blood loss. The concussion itself was only minor, but his physical condition didn’t help the situation. It was hard to tell but there were some indications that this wasn’t his first concussion.” His last words held a touch of bitterness that only mirrored what he was certain the men before him also felt. This boy had been abused before and the signs, though hidden, were there.

“We’ve repaired the damage to the muscles and blood vessels at the site of the wound on his lower left side.” Doctor Sheppard used his hand to indicate the area he meant. “We stitched it up along with numerous other smaller cuts along his side and back. The knot at the back of his head doesn’t seem to be swelling at the moment, but we’ll keep a close watch on it. When he wakes up we should be able to give you more information. He’s not out of the woods just yet but, barring any further complications I foresee a complete physical recovery, though it might be a few months or more before he’s up to the normal antics of a seven-year-old. Plus he’s also a bit malnourished which I find a bit unusual.” Dr. Sheppard didn’t dare add his fear of all of the emotional repercussions that might lie ahead. These men were no fools. He didn’t want to give them false hope and knew that honesty was what they expected from him.

Ezra’s mind immediately latched on to the doctor’s last comment, thinking on the tale Buck had related about the boys at the park and how Vin had given part of his food to JD and the other part to a stray dog. How often had Vin given his food to JD?

Dr. Sheppard’s mind drifted once again to his own family, who also suffered from his career choice and dedication. Plans for a long weekend at the old family cabin by the lake were already formulating in his head. Just him, his wife, and his two children.

“I also understand there was another boy?” The seasoned physician inquired.

“JD.” Nathan spoke up. “Buck’s with him. He’s got a slight concussion and is still a bit shaken up but should be fine. They’ll probably release him tomorrow.”

“That’s good. It should be a few hours before we move the boy…”

“Vin.” The gruff voice spoke the first word uttered by the blond man in more than four long hours. “His name’s Vin.”

Dr. Sheppard met the icy green gaze and restated himself. “It should be a few hours before we move Vin out of recovery and into ICU.” Before the protests and questions could be raised he quickly continued. “And, I think in light of the situation I can arrange for you to see him even though it is supposed to be just immediate family.”

The doctor’s last words were like a punch to Chris’s gut and he couldn’t understand why. They were bending the rules because he wasn’t family. In fact, besides JD, who wouldn’t be allowed into ICU anyway, Vin had no family. The entire last hours he had spent battling feelings he didn’t want to face or take the time to understand. Strong and relentless he couldn’t shake the pain filled blue eyes that had held his gaze earlier in the night. Anger, fear, and utter helplessness battled for control of his heart, only managing to shred it further. He needed to see Vin, touch the tiny body for himself. See the small chest rise and fall, before he could even begin to sort through his feelings. He had to know that Vin was going to be okay before he could walk away and move on with his life.

A deep hollow laugh echoed in his head and somewhere in the back of his mind he could have sworn he heard a mocking voice saying, ‘Yeah, right’.


Chris walked down the hallway, his steps hesitant as he neared the cubicle the nurse had indicated. An increasing sense of dread held him back, while an even stronger emotion pulled him forward. It was the one emotion he had yet to name, but seemed to constantly bombard him. Maybe when he wasn’t so tired, so mentally and physically exhausted, he could take the time to figure it out, but for now he seemed to be running on adrenaline, stubbornness, and some mighty strong coffee.

The lights were low and the bed seemed empty except for the small lump near the head of the bed. Swallowing hard he moved forward, but stopped as he noticed the nurse on the other side of the bed. Partially hidden by the myriad of machines and monitors he hadn’t noticed her when he had first entered the area, though he wasn’t sure he saw anything but the tiny form in the bed.

God, he looked even smaller than before. Swathed in bandages and cords running everywhere it was almost surreal. Moisture gathered behind Chris’s eyes and hands clenched into tight fists by his thighs. This hurt too much. He wanted to run and hide, but there was nowhere to go that the vision before him or the haunted big blue eyes of this child would not follow.

The nursed looked up at him with a sympathetic smile. She looked like a teenager though he knew she couldn’t be. How could she stand it? Just standing here was tearing his insides apart and she saw this shit all of the time. Her voice startled him despite the quiet tone.

“Why don’t you come and talk to him? Hold his hand and let him know you’re here. I was just checking on the IVs.” Silently she moved to the other side of the bed. Pulling the lone chair closer to the bed she adjusted the covers, brushed back a few stray hairs on Vin’s forehead and quietly left the room.

Chris hadn’t moved, still caught in the horrible spell of the initial sight of this young boy that had touched his life lying so still and pale. Without conscious thought he moved forward and sat down in the chair, dropping a bit too hard and wincing as his overly taxed body protested. His eyes were drawn to the tiny hand peaking out from the sheets and the hospital ID bracelet that encircled the small wrist. Unlike the other hand that was covered by tape and IV tubes, this one lay bare, but just as frail. He was afraid to touch it, afraid of causing further harm.

‘No, you coward, you’re just afraid you won’t be able to let go.’

That mocking inner voice was beginning to annoy the crap out of him.

Just to prove himself wrong Chris lifted his less than steady hand and placed it carefully over the small pale one of Vin Tanner. Gently he lifted it, enclosing it within his grasp, disconcerted at how cool it felt. Allowing his eyes to travel up the tiny chest, beyond the tubes and wires that decorated it, he locked onto the pale face and the closed eyes. The bruising on Vin’s face was darker, the left eye even more swollen.

Anger at the people who had caused Vin’s suffering swirled within him like a tidal wave building in strength, but another glance at the patient washed it all away in seconds as other emotions pushed to the forefront. He felt a little self-conscious talking to someone like this, but then he thought would he feel so strange if this were Adam?

“Hey there, Vin.” Chris swallowed hard, trying to work some moisture into his mouth. “I know you’ve had a rough time…” His voice cracked as the absurdity of that statement smacked him in the face. Rough time? That didn’t even begin to touch the surface of the injustices this little boy had been forced to endure.

“I’m sorry.” It sounded hollow, but he didn’t really know what else to say. “You shouldn’t have to worry whether or not someone is going to take your cousin away from you. You shouldn’t have to live in fear of saying the wrong thing or making too much noise. Your life should be about games and school and playing in mud puddles on rainy days.” His own breath felt heavy in his chest.

Raking his hand through his short-cropped hair and staring up at the dark and cloudy dawn that lay just outside the small window across the room he wondered if the sky was also mourning the innocence lost, or if it were setting a pattern for the day ahead. He sure hoped to God not. Vin’s last words came back to him, Vin’s last conscious moments, and a ripple of cold dark fear seized his heart. What if Vin didn’t want to live? He had asked if Buck would look after his cousin.

No! No fucking way was Chris Larabee going to accept that, because he had looked into this boy’s eyes. And just as sure as this boy had looked into his soul, he had seen into Vin’s and within them he had seen a survivor. A somewhat sad and fearful one, but someone who would fight with everything in him to live. Or at least he hoped that was what he had seen.

With steely determination Chris forged ahead. He wanted Vin to know he was safe now. That JD was safe and that it was okay to wake up.

“JD’s been asking for you. I know he’s worried about you. We’re all worried about you, Vin. You just got to concentrate on getting better. JD still needs you.”

‘I need you’

Chris balked at the sudden images that filtered through his tired mind at those unspoken words. Visions of Vin running full tilt through the pasture out behind his ranch. Eyes wide with delight instead of fear and head held high as the wind blew through his hair. Shit, he must be more tired than he thought. Now he was having hallucinations.

The room became quiet again except for the gentle mechanical sounds of the equipment. Chris stared down at the small hand within his own, noting how it seemed to have warmed, like his own body heat had infused right into it. He just wished he could give Vin his strength so easily.

Chris was gritting his teeth and trying hard to maintain some semblance of control as he continued his vigil. All of the past hurts the boy had suffered rolled through his mind. The sense to protect this young boy from further harm was strong. The next words slipped out of his mouth without warning.

“I’ll take care of you.”


The next twenty-four hours were a test of endurance for all of the seven. Josiah, Nathan, and Ezra were holding down the fort at the office while Buck was doing his best to keep JD entertained though the five-year-old wouldn’t go more than a few minutes before he would ask about his cousin and when he was going to get to see him. None of them wanted to lie to the boy, but they also couldn’t bring themselves to tell him the whole truth. Vin had yet to awaken fully and his body was not fighting the injuries like the doctors had hoped. Time was working against them. But how do you tell a five-year-old that he might never see his cousin alive again, especially one that had already lost so much? While it was obvious that Vin had been forced to grow up fast, JD seemed to have yet retained some of his innocence. The losses both boys had endured and the displacement had definitely left its mark, its impact reaching a gut-wrenching reality the very next evening.

JD had awoken from his afternoon nap with what seemed like enough energy to power at least a third of Denver. Buck was staying close by, not quite able to let go of his sense of responsibility for the dark headed imp that had all but stolen his heart. Not to mention Chris had only left the hospital once to grab a quick shower at Nathan’s apartment, which was the closest, and could otherwise be found keeping vigil in the ICU waiting area.

JD had been moved from the private room he had been admitted into the previous evening to the children’s ward. The doctors had decided to keep him for a couple of days to run a battery of tests to make sure the boy was okay and not suffering any ill effects of his time with the Millers. This would include a few sessions with one of the resident child psychologists. Even though the young boy didn’t seem afraid of the other children and would readily talk to them, Buck noticed the boy would often take a toy or puzzle to an unoccupied corner. Having left for only a few minutes to get some coffee from the lounge, the agent had returned to find his charge missing from the table he had left him at. Glancing around frantically, he felt as if someone were squeezing his heart with his or her fist.

A sudden feeling of something wrapping itself around his leg startled him and he nearly spilled his coffee.

“Shi… Shoot, JD.” Buck quickly caught himself as he looked down to see the dark headed boy hugging tightly to his leg and staring up at him. “You scared the…”

Buck’s words stopped short, as he took in the look of absolute fear in JD’s hazel eyes. Brimming with tears the boy was practically trembling. Quickly setting his coffee down on a table behind him he reached down and swung JD up on his hip. “What’s wrong, Little Bit?”

“I’s couldn’t find you.” The tears trailed down the little boy’s face as Buck pulled him in close for a hug, stroking the back of the dark head in a comforting gesture that just seemed natural.

“I’m sorry. I just went to get something to drink.” Buck could feel the boy’s tears as they soaked into his shirt. He hadn’t meant to upset the little one. JD had seemed totally enthralled in the puzzle he was working on and he reasoned that he would only be gone for a minute.

The next words were muffled some as JD kept his head buried in Buck’s shirt, but the words tore straight through the big man’s heart. “I’s gots nobody now and I thought you’d left me, too.”

Swallowing hard, Buck tried to reassure the distraught child. “No way. I wouldn’t just run off without at least telling you where I’d be. We’re friends, ain’t we?”

JD didn’t answer and the boy’s words had Buck wondering exactly what was going on in that crafty little mind. “Now you know you’re not alone, don’t you? When Vin gets…”

“No!” The word was screamed and JD kicked and pushed, forcing an inexperienced Buck to set him down. Like a flash the boy ran and climbed under his bed in the far corner, leaving a very stunned and confused man standing in the doorway. The nurse heard the commotion and had watched just as bewildered as the child escaped. Starting for the bed, Buck waved her off. He would handle this. Something had JD scared and he had a very sickening feeling that he knew exactly what it was.

Not wanting to further scare the boy or make him feel threatened, Buck decided to just move on down to his level. Slowly he sat down on the floor beside the bed, with his back to the wall. The quiet sobbing coming from beneath the bed was almost too much to bear, but he knew he had to be patient. After a few minutes the five-year-old climbed out from under the bed and into his lap, still sniffling. Pulling the Kleenex out of his pocket that he had just in the last day discovered was a necessity with small children, he helped JD to blow his nose and wipe his face.

“JD? Talk to ole Buck and tell him what’s wrong.” Still he waited as the boy snuggled closer into him and put his tiny arms around his chest.

JD had been scared before but he hadn’t been alone then. He had had Vin to hold on to when his mamma had gone away for good. All day he had asked about his cousin and always got the same answer. ‘He’s pretty sick, but the doctors and nurses are taking care of him.’ Or when he would ask to see his cousin it was ‘He’s not feeling very good right now and they don’t let little boys go where he’s at, but as soon as he’s better…’ These were words he had heard before and he knew that just like then it meant that he was being left behind.

Back then Vin had been there to hold him when he cried for his mamma and to tell him the truth, one of those truths being that grown-ups lie.

“He’s dead.”

Those words hit Buck like a ton of bricks. Even though he had expected as much, to hear them uttered from JD with such a resigned conviction was heartbreaking.

“No, JD. Vin’s not dead.”

“Yes he is and you just won’t tell me. Grown-ups lie.” The words were huffed out accusingly.

JD wanted to be strong and pull away from this man who he knew had been lying to him all day, but he couldn’t. He wasn’t strong like Vin and he wasn’t even sure what he was supposed to do now. His mamma had always taken care of him until she went away to heaven. And after that Vin had looked after him, but now…

“I’m all ‘lone.” Sniff. “And everyone’s gone to pet the kitties.” JD’s crying began all over again in earnest and Buck wasn’t even sure what to say. He had pretty much determined that the boy believed his cousin to be dead, but the kitty thing had just thrown him. Well, first things first.

“JD?” Trying to pull the crying child back some so he could look him in the eyes he was amazed at how much like a suction cup the boy was. Putting a touch more strength into it he pulled harder. “JD, listen to me.”

Small fists rubbed at reddened eyes and Buck quickly grabbed an already half soggy tissue to catch the trail leading from the boy’s nose. Then carefully looking into the fearful hazel eyes he stated slowly. “Vin’s not dead. I wouldn’t lie to you about that or anything else. I know a lot of adults have lied to you before, son, but I’m not one of them and I never will be.”

Swallowing hard he almost wished he could lie, but these boys had suffered enough of those to undermine any sense of trust they had in adults. It was time to start trying to repair some of that damage. “I also won’t lie and tell you that he’s going to be just fine, because I don’t know that for sure. He’s a pretty sick little boy.”

“She hurted him bad, didn’t she?”

“Yes, she did. I’m sorry, JD. I wish I could have stopped it, wish I would have…” Buck stopped himself. This was not the time to seek absolution for his own sins and shortcomings. The only way he could make it up to JD or Vin was to make sure it didn’t, couldn’t happen again. This entire day he had spent time thinking on it and he was a hairsbreadth away from a solution, but he would need help. Lots of help. “You’ve just got to believe me that the doctors and nurses are doing all that they can to make him better.”

JD stared at Buck unflinchingly as if trying to read his sincerity. “So, he’s not gone to pet the kitties?”

“What about the kitties?” Buck was still confused by this reference.

“That’s where my momma and Vin’s momma went. They’s gone to heaven to take care of the kitty cats. Vin told me all about it. He said that when he was littler than me his cat died and his momma told him it went to heaven to be God's kitty. And then when his momma went away one of the ladies said that she was in heaven with God now so Vin said she was taking care of his kitty and all of God's other kitties.”

Buck felt his heart nearly stop and his throat tightened painfully.

“And we had two kitty cats named Dallas and Fuzzy, but they went away, too. Momma named hers Dallas cuz she said it reminded her of home and I named mine Fuzzy cause he, well, cause he was fuzzy. He looked like an itty-bitty fur ball when we gots him. They’s brothers, like me and Vin, well sort of, only they’s real brothers cause they gots the same momma and me and Vin’s brothers cause, well, just cause. Can I go see him?”

So caught up in the massive flow of words coming from the tiny tot, he almost missed the last part.

“Well, you see JD, Vin’s not…”

The small boy sighed loudly, interrupting Buck’s explanation that he spoke automatically. Thinking on it all and the way the day had gone, Buck began to wonder why he kept repeating the same old line. They were just going back to the same problem.

“They wouldn’t let me see my momma either.”


Buck looked up at the nurse who had stayed close by to help out if needed yet far enough back to give the two some space. He saw that her eyes looked a touch full at the moment and he knew his own were, too. Then glancing up at the clock he made a decision.

+ + + + + + +

Chris sat in the same chair, in the same position, with the same thoughts running through his head as had been for the past six times he had been in this room. Very similar to the ones that ran through his head while he sat and paced in the waiting room. What was he doing here? The pain in his chest never seemed to ease, only intensifying every time he came into this little cubicle or when he watched one of the doctor’s walk into the waiting room and he feared the worst. But nothing had changed. Not for twenty-four hours. Twenty-four hours that felt more like weeks.

Though he had started out holding Vin’s hand he was now forced to hold the child’s wrist as another IV had been started in the other hand to push more fluids and antibiotics into the tiny body. The small arm he held never moved, never twitched, and only warmed when he held it. The initial coldness was a reminder of just how dire the situation had become. The doctor had tried to assure him that Vin could wake up at any time. That the boy’s body had suffered a great deal of trauma and just needed time to heal. But Chris kept reliving the last look he had seen in Vin's eyes. Those last conscious moments continued to haunt him. Maybe Vin didn’t want to wake up.

If only he hadn’t assured Vin that JD would be taken care of maybe he would be fighting harder to wake up. To live. But that was stupid, how could he have looked into those blue eyes and not tried to reassure the boy. All he had wanted to do was take Vin’s pain away and since he couldn’t do that he had at least taken away the young boy’s worry for his little cousin. But at what cost?

Gently running his hand through Vin’s short hair he wondered when it had been cut. The boy’s hair had been closer to shoulder length when he had first seen him in the alleyway and even when he had happened upon the family at the grocery store. It was funny how the longer hair just seemed to fit the young boy better.

“Vin, you really need to wake up. JD’s been asking for you every few minutes and Buck’s about to run out of answers for him, which for Buck is amazing in itself. All of the guys have been by to check on you. Even my boss. You’re a pretty popular kid.” ‘Yeah, really popular and look what it took before someone finally took notice.'

Chris swallowed hard, feeling his eyes tear as he averted them away from the boy’s battered face. He was rambling and he knew it. Talking just to talk was not something he was comfortable with, not even before he had lost his family. Sarah had always said that getting anything out of him was like trying to get blood from a stone. But this was too important. Vin had to know that he wasn't alone, that there were people waiting for him to wake up, and most importantly that he was safe.

Shifting in the chair, Chris looked back again at Vin’s face. The bruising was lightening some from darker blues to a mottled red and pink, but it would be a week or more before they faded to greens and yellows. The anger within him resurfaced as the images of what might have happened the day before in that quiet suburban kitchen flooded his mind. The smell of blood, Vin’s blood, was still fresh in his nostrils as he breathed in the antiseptic air around him and it took a concerted effort to keep his hand from fisting up around the tiny wrist.

The night nurse, Nurse Bradley as her nameplate indicated, had come in a few minutes earlier and straightened the sheets and IVs, making sure to cover Vin up to his neck and even hiding some of the IVs. He had wondered about it, but this night nurse was less talkative than the others he had dealt with and in a way that was easier for him. Feeling a presence in the doorway he glanced up and immediately understood her actions.

His whole body tensed as his eyes met those of his best friend. In his arms was JD. Chris raised an eyebrow in question and the scowl on his face left no mistake that he was questioning his friend's judgment in bringing the small boy up to see his cousin. Noting the tense set of the little boy's shoulders and the way he kept his head lying on the big man's shoulder he held his tongue, not wanting to frighten the child any more than necessary.

Buck was expecting the objection and had prepared all kinds of arguments on his way up to the room, but one look at Vin’s pale and bruised face had him immediately forgetting every one of them. Just about ready to turn around and leave, JD pulled away from him, struggling to get down, almost sensing his new guardian’s intentions.

JD could feel Buck’s heart beating faster as they had traveled downstairs, only making his own beat in near tandem. He wanted to see Vin so bad, but he had wanted to see his momma, too, and the adults then had said no. Then she never came home. If only he could see Vin, talk to him, maybe he could convince him to stay with him and not go to heaven like their mommas had. He had kept his head buried in Buck’s shoulder, still afraid of what he was about to see, but when Buck stopped he turned his head to see his cousin lying in a big white bed. Moving his body and pushing off of the big man with his feet the tiny waif managed enough leverage to jump to the floor and scurry to the bed before anyone could react fast enough to stop him.

Running up to the side of the bed he grabbed a hold of the railing beside the bed and stared through, barely able to see the tip of Vin’s nose, but he didn’t care. Vin was here and even if he was asleep JD would tell him to stay.

“Hey, Vin.” JD’s voice was unnaturally soft. Buck had told him he would have to be very quiet, not just because Vin was resting, but so were a lot of other people around where Vin was. “I’s sorry I messed up. I’s didn’t mean to drop the bowl and get Miz Miller all mad and everything and I just wish you’d wake up, Vin, cuz there’s lots of kids to play with here, but I wants to play with you cuz no matter what those big people say, you’s my big brother, Vin, and I misses you lots and lots. And…” JD’s words trailed off into a hiccupping sob.

Buck had been unable to stop JD from getting down and just as he moved to catch him and Chris stood up to move around toward him, the boy latched onto the railing of the bed and started talking. With the sudden sob Buck scooted to his knees beside the dark headed child. Putting his hands around the tiny waist he made to pull the boy away and into his own embrace, but met resistance. Glancing up he saw the death grip JD had on the railing with one hand, while the other had slipped carefully under the sheets and mass of tubing to slowly rub up and down Vin’s bare arm. Silent tears streaked his chubby cheeks as he coughed loudly and spoke again.

“I know you’s tired, Vin. But you been sleepin’ an awful long time and if you don’t wake up soon you won’t be able to find your way back.”

Child eyes looked up at Chris pleadingly. “He’s lost and we gots to help him find his way home ‘fore he goes to pet the kitties.”

JD’s words sparked confusion and Chris looked to Buck for an explanation, but he only shook his head and mouthed the word ‘later’, not wanting to get into this discussion again right now.

“He’s still resting right now, Little Bit.” Buck had crouched down beside JD and moved to pick him up so the child could see his cousin better.

But JD wasn’t ready to break contact and held tight to the bar. “Vin. ‘Member when we’s playing cars and you wanted to play with the blue one, you can have it if you want and all of the other cars too; just please wakes up.”

JD would gladly have given Vin every toy he owned if it would make his cousin wake up. He had wanted to see Vin to assure himself that he hadn’t gone to heaven, but now he thought maybe he still might. Then he would be all alone. But if there was one thing that Vin had promised, one thing that JD thought would wake his cousin up…

“I needs you. Please, Vin. I’m in trouble and I need you to protect me. I can’t stay here alone and you promised momma to look after me.”

Buck couldn’t take any more. This whole idea had been wrong. Though his heart had been in the right place he was beginning to think his brain had taken a dramatic detour. Wrapping one arm around JD’s waist he used his other hand to carefully pry the tiny fingers from the railing. Then pulling back slowly he made to rise, also having to pull JD’s other hand away from Vin’s arm. Standing up with some effort, Buck made to turn around and leave. God only knew what type of damage he had just inflicted on this little boy by allowing him to see Vin like this. A sharp intake of air from across the room made him freeze.

Chris had watched the whole scene play out, with fear and trepidation. His initial reaction to JD being here wavered for a bit as the small child seemed to take some comfort from seeing Vin, but then as the quiet pleas for his cousin to wake up and take care of him began, his resolve reaffirmed itself and he was just about to tell Buck to get the boy out of there when the big man moved to do just that. Not wanting to see the look on JD’s face and definitely unsure if he could maintain his staunch composure if he did he turned his attention back to the figure in the bed.

Feeling the air rush from his lungs in surprise, Chris nearly stumbled as he saw two very confused blue eyes staring down in the general direction of his arm, the very one JD had been rubbing only moments ago.

“Vin!” JD’s cry echoed in the relatively silent ICU and the nurse was there within seconds to demand the child be taken out, but seeing the patient’s eyes open she changed direction immediately, calling for the physician on duty and quickly trying to usher them all out of the room.

“No, no, we can’t leave him alone, he’ll get lost again.” JD was frantic. Vin was finally awake and they were going to leave him behind.

“Get him out of here. Now!” With hushed urgency the attending nurse issued the demand. This was not the place for a child and had she not been charmed by the mustached man she would have never even allowed the boy into the ICU, but now there were the other patients to consider, not to mention the little boy whose very life still hung in the balance. Her priority had to be for the patients and their health. Plus, if they were still here when the doctor showed up, her ass was grass.

“I want to stay with him.” Chris hadn’t really had any intention of leaving anyway, but JD’s distress had reaffirmed what he also believed. Vin needed to know he was not alone and that they were there for him. Seeing the protest on the nurse's lips before it was born he remained firm. “That little boy in there has been through hell and there’s no way I’m leaving him alone, especially now that he’s awake.”

“I assure you, Mr. Larabee,” Nurse Bradley continued, trying to hold firm in light of the green lasers trying to cut her in half, “Vin will not be alone and you can not be in here when the doctor comes to examine the boy. We’ve already made enough allowances letting you in here at all.”

That hurt just like he had been punched in the gut. It was just another painful reminder that Chris had no legal precedence in what happened to Vin from this point on. Buck also felt it and tightened his own hold on JD, as if someone would swoop in and practically pull the boy from his arms and his heart.

“Besides, he’s just awakened. With the amount of drugs in his system and the trauma he’s suffered, he’s not even going to be lucid for a day or so. He’s still a very sick little boy.” Giving in to her more feminine side she tried harder. “Please don’t make this any harder than it has to be. The doctor will be here any minute and then I will personally make sure you are updated.”

Buck was already making to leave with JD, who had luckily quieted after the nurse's demands and was huddled against his neck, his soft hiccupped breathing an indication of the child’s distress. “Come on, Chris. We'll just wait outside and she can come and get us when the doctor’s through."

Chris didn’t even realize how hard a fist his hands had balled into and his oldest friend could feel the indecision rippling off of the man in waves. So stopping his retreat he reached back and took hold of Chris’s arm, gently squeezing. “Come on, Pard. Let’s let the professionals take care of Vin for now and then we can check back in on him.”

Not even sure how it happened, Chris next found himself outside the ICU doors, pacing. Something inside of him was screaming its protest and his gut was twisting inside so bad that he was afraid he just might throw up, but instead he concentrated on the tiles of the floor. Anything to keep him from thinking about Vin or what was happening to him right now or how bad he wanted to be in there instead of out here. But he had no right to be back there. No legal right.

Stopping for a moment to figure out where Buck had disappeared to, he noticed his friend standing a bit further down the hallway, a seemingly asleep JD slung up over one shoulder while he juggled with a pay phone on the wall. ‘Must be calling the others.'

Buck was calling the others but a sudden fear deep within had him calling someone else as well. Something had to be done and fast. These boys had been through too much already and somehow, some way, he had to make sure that they weren’t separated. Deep in his heart he knew exactly what he wanted but in this day and age, what you wanted and what you got were often grossly different. But he had to try.

Chris just stood watching as Buck juggled the boy and the phone. The ache in his chest that had been with him for months now began to crescendo and he began to wonder if he was having a heart attack. His mind kept drifting back to Vin, those sky blue eyes, and the way they made him feel. All that the boy had suffered created within him a burning urge to slam his fist into the wall, but he quelled it as a whole new picture entered his mind.

The picture was one he had been having more and more over the last twenty-four hours. Vin running, laughing, playing... And in each of them he would imagine himself right by the boy's side, a smile lighting his own face. The images gave him a warm feeling deep within, thawing out parts of his heart that had been frozen for years. It seemed so… right.

The dam broke and the truth became clear.

Stalking toward Buck, Chris’ clipped tone caught the big man off guard. “Call Ezra. I need him here. Yesterday!”


Nearly forty-five minutes had passed since they had been expelled from ICU. The other three members of Team Seven had arrived, with Chris pulling Ezra to the side the minute the undercover agent had arrived. The plan forming in the leader’s mind demanded the professional touch of someone adept at playing the odds and knowing the ins and outs of big city politics, or more importantly the who. If anyone knew how to get the nearly impossible done it was one Ezra P. Standish.

Chris was also losing patience. Buck was sitting in a far corner, JD asleep in his lap, the little boy’s legs sprawled onto the chair beside him. Josiah and Nathan flanked him like sentinels on guard duty. Ezra had just returned from making a couple of preliminary phone calls and had moved over to speak with Buck quietly.

Huffing out his breath and turning back to stare down the empty hallway Chris could feel the tension once again building. His decision earlier had done a lot to ease some of the fear that had seemed a part of his life ever since he had locked eyes with one Vin Tanner, but with no new word on the boy’s condition, the fear was again building. This time for a whole new reason.

Surely it didn’t take this long to check out one little patient and Nurse Bradley had promised to let him know what was going on. Not willing to wait any longer he left the others in the waiting room and started back toward the ICU area, his footsteps echoing ominously in the sterile hallway. Hitting the big button on the wall to open the automatic doors he waited impatiently for them to slowly swing open. But the door had barely opened a crack when he felt his heart stop.

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