Disclaimers: I don't own Mag 7 and I don't have any money so don't sue me.
Note: Thanks to Mog for creating the ATF universe and letting us play in it. I personally hate winter and the months of January and February in particular. So this story was born.
Authors Note: This story is in my Larabee Family series. It would be beneficial to read those first. They are
Summary: The Larabee men have their first Christmas as a family. However will an illness ruin their first Christmas?
Warnings: language, angst and smarm
Vin actually gave his dad and brother a week before he began getting ready for Christmas.
Chris had made it clear to his brother that he could do whatever he wanted to for the holiday. Anyone who knew Chris realized what a wondrous thing that was.
Since Vin had become a part of team 7 he had slowly been coming out of his depression due to his family's death. However he still attempted to avoid all the trappings of a joyous Christmas.
Last year Vin had convinced him to put a very small tree in his family room but that had been all. Buck had been ecstatic. Now it seemed that with the knowledge that Vin was truly his brother Chris had decided to celebrate Christmas just the way he had when his wife and son had been alive.
Vin coerced JD into helping him put thousands of lights on the house. Chris had teased them that he was sure the electric company had to boost the power in the area due to all the energy being used at his house.
At Vin's worried look Chris had assured his brother that he loved the lights he was just teasing. However Chris did tell his brother he thought Vin wasn't getting enough rest. Vin was like a whirlwind wanting to get everything just perfect. Vin had yawned and had to admit he had been feeling tired the last few days. So Vin had promised to rest more. Chris was satisfied but resolved to make sure his kid brother didn't over extend himself.
It was the time of year for the flu and all the other bugs that go around during winter. Chris didn't want Vin to come down with something.
Chris got a kick out of all the decorations that Vin had put up in the yard. John even admitted that he had gone with his youngest son to pick some of them out.
There was a huge blow up snowman. Vin had bought several lighted reindeer with a Santa Claus in a sleigh. Vin insisted on having a Nativity scene in the front yard. The whole scene was done in white lights.
Inside they had put up decorations on the mantle. John and Vin had brought down boxes of decorations from the attic. When Chris saw them he was poignantly reminded of the Christmas's he had shared with Sarah and Adam. Sarah loved Christmas, she loved decorating, and wrapping presents the whole scene. It was nice to see that all the ornaments she had collected over the years were going to be used again. The Nativity scene that Chris had carved the year he and Sarah had married was put up.
Chris arrived home early on Friday a couple of weeks before Christmas. This was the weekend the Larabee men were going to go out and cut down their first Christmas tree as a family.
The three men piled into the truck and headed out to find the perfect tree. While Vin would have preferred riding the horses he knew James shouldn't be out in the cold that long. Besides the horses didn't need to be tasked hauling the tree home.
After looking for a couple of hours they found the perfect tree. It was a blue spruce that stood around seven feet tall, plenty big enough for the family room.
Chris chopped it down, and then the three men tied it up and loaded it in the back of the truck.
On the drive back to the ranch they chatted about decorating the tree. At first they had thought to invite the whole team out to help. James however noticed that Vin was a little quiet when the subject was brought up.
"What's wrong baby boy? You've become awfully quiet," James asked.
Chris glanced at his father then turned to study his kid brother.
Vin shrugged his shoulders.
"Nothing really. In fact...well I just feel ashamed for thinking it."
Frowning Chris wondered what the heck his brother could be ashamed about.
"What is it Vin?" Chris asked concern coloring his voice.
"Do you think that...ah...since this is our first Christmas as a family it could just be the three of us? I remember mom loved Christmas and...well I just thought that would be real nice," Vin finished in a rush.
Vin was in the middle since he was the smallest build. Chris tossed his arm around Vin's shoulders while James patted his youngest sons leg.
"I think that would be real nice," James commented.
"I do to. We can take our time putting the tree up, drink hot chocolate and make some real Larabee family memories," Chris said.
Vin smiled glad his family understood.
"Everyone will see the tree and decorations Christmas Day," Vin said.
"Yes they will. It is going to be the best tree any of them have ever seen," James asserted.
The three men chatted about what else needed to be done when it happened.
Vin sneezed. All conversation ceased as James and Chris stared intently at the youngest member of the family.
Chris immediately growled, "Are you catching a cold Vin?"
"NO! I just sneezed," Vin protested.
James pulled off his glove and felt his youngest sons forehead much to Vin's disgust.
"Well?" Chris demanded.
"No he doesn't feel warm. When we get to the house I will take his temperature," James replied.
"Damn it I am sitting right here. I do not have a cold. I feel fine. You are not taking my temperature. I just fucking sneezed," Vin loudly stated.
"Vin there is no reason to cuss. We are just worried about you," James sternly stated.
"Well, I...I'm sorry I cussed but I am fine. Don't baby me," Vin said trying to control his temper.
In reality Vin had sneezed a couple of times earlier in the day but thankfully his family had not been around. Vin knew they would go overboard and sure enough they were. He hadn't lied he felt fine; everyone sneezed now and then...right?
Chris flashed his father a look. It clearly said quit pushing or he will dig his heels in.
James sighed, "Fine but if you start to feel bad you tell us. Agreed?"
"Agreed," Vin glumly replied.
Chris didn't want the happy atmosphere to be ruined so he deftly changed the subject.
"How about you make us some hot chocolate when we get home dad. We can clear a spot in the family room for the tree."
"Sounds good. Dinner is in the oven and we can have it a little later."
Vin smiled as he realized they were going to give him some space and not hover over him. However he knew they would be watching him a little closer.
"We have marshmallows don't we dad?" Vin asked the little boy voice coming into play. Not that he needed to use it but it was expected when discussing certain subjects...hot chocolate with marshmallows was one of those subjects.
James smiled affectionately at his son.
"Yes we have marshmallows. If we don't have enough well I am sure Chris won't mind doing without."
Vin and James held their breath then it came the 'big brother I am being put upon' voice.
Chris lowered his voice and demanded, "What do you mean Chris won't mind? I like marshmallows in my hot chocolate to. Why does brat boy here get them all?"
Vin's indignant, "Brat boy!!!" echoed around the cab of the truck.
James smothered a grin knowing that his oldest son just loved to rile Vin up.
"Vin worked hard today, he deserves a reward," James replied.
Chris snorted, "What did I do today? Sit on my butt, with my feet up on the desk taking a nap."
James wisely said nothing knowing that Vin was about to make a wise crack.
In his slow honey Texas drawl Vin said, "Well I figure your habits haven't changed a whole lot since I was with team 7 so you probably summed up your whole day real nice."
By now they had reached the ranch. Vin figured he had one shot to save his hide. As soon as Chris put the truck in park the blond was turning to grab hold of his brother.
Vin was laughing as he quickly got his father out of the truck then ran for the relative safety of the ranch house.
Unfortunately Vin was laughing so hard he slipped on the snow and fell head first into a snowdrift.
Chris was a step behind his brother when Vin fell. Trying to stop from falling over Vin Chris slipped and landed next to his floundering brother.
Chris reached out and grabbed Vin rolling him over in the snow. Vin yelped as snow was shoved down his coat to begin melting against his skin.
To Chris's consternation Vin sneezed again. James was close enough to hear it.
"Damn it Chris get your brother into the house. It's to fucking cold out here to be horsing around," James ordered his son.
Chris and Vin both paused in the act of shoving snow in each other's faces to stare at their father.
James seldom cussed and he certainly didn't like using the horrible F--- word.
Then Vin sneezed again, in a matter of seconds he found himself hauled to his feet and tugged into the house.
Vin yanked his arm out of his brother tight grasp.
"I'm not a rag doll, Chris. Don't be pulling at me. I can walk on my own," Vin hissed as he yanked his coat off then sat down to take off his boots.
"Now Vin..." James softly said deciding that a soft voice might be better for his pissed off son.
Chris followed his dad's lead, which was a good thing. The blonde's first reaction had been to yell at his brother but Vin never reacted well to being yelled at.
Either Vin dug his heels in, yelled back or just totally ignored the person yelling at him.
"Sorry Vin. I didn't mean to man handle you into the house. You know I just worry...I mean it's Christmas I sure don't want my kid brother getting sick. I don't think Santa Claus would be happy if his favorite Christmas elf came down sick," Chris apologized even as he teased his brother.
Vin paused in the act of pulling his boots off. Sighing deeply he glanced at his family.
"Sorry I growled at you. I just sneezed quit hovering. If I get to feeling bad I'll let you know. Okay?"
James nodded his head then ruffling his youngest son's head he headed down the hallway to get into some dry clothes.
Chris watched his dad knowing the older man was leaving them alone so they could talk.
"Okay Vin. I promise to try to control the hovering."
Vin had to laugh the tension between the brothers leaving completely.
"Yeah right. Chris you will always be the big brother no matter what. You will always worry and hover. I love you for it but at times it drives me crazy," Vin confided a smile on his face.
Chris had to smile back.
"You're right but I will try. Now I don't know about you but I'm cold. We need to get out of these wet cold clothes," Chris insisted.
The two brothers headed down the hallway. Vin knew Chris had phrased the sentence to indicate they both needed to get out of the clothes but Vin knew Chris really meant he needed to get out of the clothes.
Vin let it slide. Besides he was wet and cold. Then there was the fact that dad's hot chocolate would be waiting for him.
It was a very pleasant weekend. The tree was put up and it was beautiful. Decorations that Sarah had collected, Adam had made and the ones that the men had bought were all on the tree.
Over the next week Vin continued to add decorations inside and outside the house. Vin was upset when his sneezing developed into a sore throat.
Remembering his promise Vin told his dad. James wanted to take his son to the doctor but Vin insisted that he would get some cold medicine and throat lozenges.
Vin told Chris when he got home that he had a cold and was taking over the counter medicine.
Vin continued to take the meds but wasn't really feeling any better. What really irritated him was the fact that his energy level continued to decrease. Vin's cough got worse especially at night.
James had gone to visit some of his old buddies for a few days the week before Christmas. James had hesitated going but his sons had insisted. The older men had a tradition of getting together at Christmas for a few days just catching up with each other. Chris was working late trying to get all the paperwork done so he wouldn't be bothered at the holidays.
Chris had blown everyone's mind when he took off the week between Christmas and New Years. Vin was ecstatic that his brother would be home for a whole week.
So Vin found himself at home pretty much alone for a few days. By now Vin had an array of over the counter meds trying to get rid of the pesky cold. Not wanting to worry his brother Vin had decided the day before Christmas Eve that he needed to go to the doctor his cold was not getting better if anything it was worse. He now had a temperature.
James was due back that night so if Vin was lucky he could get to the doctors office and be home before his family. Vin got an appointment at the doctor's office for early that afternoon. Vin fixed himself some chicken noodle soup then took a couple of Tylenol because he could tell his temperature had gone up since that morning.
Glancing down at his watch he figured he had time to lie down for about an hour before he had to leave for his appointment. Vin woke up with barely enough time to get to his appointment his head felt like it was full of cotton balls.
Dr. Todd took one look at Vin and sent him for chest x-rays and a full battery of lab work. Vin explained all his symptoms in a halting raspy voice. It was obvious that Vin's throat was killing him.
The doctor had Vin lay down on the couch in his office. making sure to prop Vin up so he could breathe easier.
When the lab and x-ray results came back it was just what the doctor had feared. Vin had walking pneumonia.
Dr. Todd had been Vin's doctor for years even before the young man had joined Team 7 and the two men were friends. The doctor had been thrilled when Vin had told him that Chris was his brother and that he had a father now.
The doctor had met Chris several times. Of course each time had been because Vin was sick or injured. Todd knew Vin adored the man but Larabee was an enigma as far as he was concerned...at times a scary enigma.
Whenever Vin was in the office Larabee would alternate pacing the floor, staring holes in his back or hovering over Vin like a mother grizzly bear. The sicker Vin was the more daunting and overwhelming Larabee was.
To say Larabee was intimidating was an understatement and not much intimidated Todd.
Then there was the other side of Larabee. Todd had seen Vin teasingly say something to the volatile blond making the man smile or tease right back. It seemed that Vin had the ability to tame the grizzly bear.
Todd had no doubt that Vin had not told his family that he was coming today. Vin had come alone, if Chris Larabee had known just how sick his kid brother was he would have been glued to Vin's side.
Well Larabee was going to have to be called now. Vin was going to have to pick up his prescriptions and was in no condition to drive home.
With patient confidentiality coming into play he couldn't call Vin's family unless Vin said it was okay.
Vin slowly woke up as someone was gently shaking his shoulder. Groggily he opened his eyes staring up at the doctor.
"Vin I have your results back. You have walking pneumonia."
Vin's reaction was immediate and shocked the doctor.
Vin's eyes grew big, his face paled despite the fact that his cheeks were bright red with fever. Vin jumped up then promptly staggered. Only the doctor firm arms around him kept him from ending up on the floor.
Vin found himself lying back down on the sofa his stricken blue eyes locked with the doctor soft brown ones.
"No...it...its just a cold. I can't have pneumonia its almost Christmas," Vin whispered wincing as his throat felt like he had swallowed cut glass.
Todd then realized that this would be the first Christmas that Vin had with his newfound family. It would be very important to the young man.
"Vin. Walking pneumonia is different from the other pneumonia that you have had before. Walking pneumonia symptoms mimic a regular cold. However instead of getting better over time like a cold the pneumonia gets worse. Which of course is why you came to me today."
Vin shut his eyes not wanting the doctor to see just how upset he was.
All Vin could think of was that Chris and dad were going to kill him.
He must have spoken out loud because the doctor stared down at him intently.
"Vin why would your family be that upset? Is there something you need to tell me? Are you being treated well at home?" Dr. Todd demanded his hands itching to strip Vin of all his clothes to make sure there were no bruises or marks on the slender body. While Vin was certainly capable of taking care of himself Todd had seen too many people take abuse from their family and never fight back. Todd knew that Vin had not had a great childhood and he knew how much having a father and brother meant to him.
Vin's mouth dropped open even as he opened his eyes. A flash of anger then indignation appeared in the sky blue eyes.
"Of course I'm not being abused. It's just I've been sneezing and they tried to make me slow down. Chris told dad I had a tendency to get sick so they both have been lecturing me on taking care of myself. Hell sometimes they act like two old women the way they nag at me. It's not like I'm sick all the time or try to get sick," Vin argued.
The doctor very carefully made sure that there was nothing but a serene expression on his face. Though when Vin said he didn't get sick all the time it was a close call. Vin invariably came down with whatever was going around at the time and always had it worse than anyone else. He should know because he was the one who treated Vin.
"Vin walking pneumonia sneaks up on people. You are not to blame. You were probably taking over the counter meds for a cold right? Okay you were doing what you thought was the thing to do. Now I have several prescriptions to give you. You are running a fever of 102 and I will not allow you to drive home. I need to call your brother. This is still very serious and you have to follow my directions."
Vin immediately balked at that.
"No! I can drive home...wait does this mean I don't have to go to the hospital. I'll be home for Christmas," Vin said his eyes holding out hope.
Dr. Todd smiled, "You won't need the hospital unless you refuse to do what you are told. I need to call Chris. I really don't think you want to get sick on the way home and get into a wreck. I have a feeling that would really piss him off. Besides I don't want to be around when he finds out you were here and didn't call him."
Vin sighed which set off his coughing.
"Fine, call him. But you better have your bullet proof vest on because Chris is not going to be happy and I bet he has Nathan with him and probably Buck...they are the worst bunch of worrying old men I have ever seen."
Again the doctor choked on his laughter. It was clear Vin meant a great deal to these men. It was also very clear that Vin adored his former teammates despite their tendency to worry over him.
"I'm going to give you a shot to give you a head start on those antibiotics. You will probably be feeling a bit better by this time tomorrow. I will call Chris. I want you to rest in here."
Vin nodded his head. It was too hard to argue anymore he just wanted to sleep.
Less than an hour later Chris, Nathan and Buck stormed into the little doctors office. The receptionist looked up managing not to drool at the three good-looking men.
"My brother is here. Vin Tanner Larabee is his name and I want to see him...now," Chris demanded.
Buck frowned at Chris's brusque manner smiling at the receptionist watching as she slowly melted under the Wilmington charm.
"Hey darlin, Chris is just worried about his kid brother that's why he is so ill mannered. How about you take us back to the boy and we'll get out of your hair," Buck sweet-talked the woman.
"I'll let Dr. Todd know you are here," the woman compromised.
Chris fumed he eyed the door that led to the back but Nathan moved to stand in front of him.
"Sit down Chris. The doctor will be here in a minute," Nathan tried to soothe his boss.
Dr. Todd was barely out the door before Chris was in front of him demanding to know where his brother was and how he was feeling.
"Vin is sleeping in my office right now. He is going to be fine Chris. I have given him an antibiotic injection to get the medication into his system faster. I will give you a prescription for antibiotics, and something to help with his throat and headaches," the doctor immediately explained.
Chris relaxed just a bit until he realized the doctor had not told him exactly what was wrong with his brother.
"That's nice doc. What is wrong with my kid brother?"
Dr. Todd sighed he knew this was not going to go over well with the volatile blond.
"Vin has walking pneumonia."
Sure enough no sooner as he finished speaking when Chris exploded.
Thank goodness there were no other patients in the waiting room.
"Damn it to hell. I told that stubborn brat that he was to take care of himself. He said it was just a cold; I should have dragged him here days ago. Then..."
Dr. Todd raised his hand stopping the tirade. He had been watching Larabee's face. When he mentioned pneumonia it had been fear that had hit the green eyes before the anger.
"Walking pneumonia has the exact same symptoms as a regular cold. Vin would not have known until it was to late. Most people aren't aware that they have it. They just know they feel like crap, have a sore throat, cough and no energy. Vin was taking meds for a cold. Now I don't want him needlessly upset. I can already tell you that he is worried about your reaction and quite frankly wanted to drive himself home. I absolutely refused to let him do that."
Chris paled sitting down in a chair.
"Vin has pneumonia and he is worried about my reaction so much he wanted to drive himself home. My God what kind of person does he think I am?"
Buck put his hand on Chris's shoulder for once at a loss as to what to say.
Nathan however spoke up, "He thinks you are his big brother. Vin knows how you worry over him. I think he was just trying NOT to worry you."
Buck finally spoke up, "Hell yeah, stud. I mean your glare generally silences everyone but it never fazed Junior. I assure you he is not scared of you if that is what is going around in that brain of yours."
Dr. Todd quickly spoke up.
"I didn't mean for you to think that Vin was frightened of you. On the contrary it is very clear he loves you a lot. However Vin just doesn't like to worry the people he cares about. Then his independent stubborn streak kicks in."
Chris smiled, "Yeah my kid brother is very stubborn. Must come from his mom's side of the family."
Nathan choked on his laughter; Buck just gave up and laughed. Dr. Todd decided to be safe and kept quiet though his eyes had gotten bigger at the comment.
Chris just frowned at all three of them daring them to say anything.
The three men wisely kept quiet after that look.
"Can I see him? I assume when you said he wanted to drive himself home that he doesn't have to go to the hospital?"
"No he doesn't. Vin will be fine but he has to take the medication as prescribed. I want him to stay out of the cold as much as possible, breathing in all that cold air will not be good for him. He should sleep in an elevated position that will cut down on his coughing."
Chris stood up to follow the doctor back to see Vin.
"Doctor could you fill Nathan in on everything. He can put it all down for me later. Buck would you take Vin's jeep home. I don't want him to get any ideas about driving it."
"You tell Junior to behave. I'll see you guys at the ranch. I'll start something up for dinner," Buck said as he sailed out the door assured that Vin was in safe hands.
"Vin is in my office, third door on your right. I will talk with Nathan," Dr. Todd stated.
Chris nodded his head as he stalked down the hallway. If anyone had tried to stop him at this point from seeing his sick brother he probably would have walked right through them.
Quietly Chris opened the door and slipped inside. The windows lit the room up but the doctor had left on a desk lamp.
Chris could easily hear Vin's wheezy breathing even though his brother was propped up to make his breathing easier.
Kneeling down beside his restlessly sleeping brother Chris let his eyes scan the younger man.
Vin was flushed with fever; his mouth was parted slightly to help with his breathing.
Reaching out Chris brushed a wayward strand of hair off Vin's forehead letting his fingers drift downward to brush across hot cheeks.
The light touch was all it took as Vin's eyelashes fluttered and slowly opened. Chris found himself staring down into the vivid blue gaze of his sick brother.
Vin reached up to touch Chris's chest as though to make sure his brother was there.
In a low breathy voice Vin whispered, "I don't feel so...so good big brother."
Any miniscule amount of irritation Chris might have had disappeared up hearing that voice. Vin sounded just like what he was a sick baby brother. It didn't matter that Vin had left his childhood a longtime ago, it wouldn't matter twenty years from now. Vin was his baby brother and would always have that position.
In one smooth movement Chris was sitting in the corner of the couch Vin resting against his chest. Vin sighed being elevated a little more sure helped his breathing. Having Chris around helped everything.
Chris pressed a kiss against the side of Vin's head wrapping his arm around his brother's slender waist.
"Doc said you were going to be fine. We'll get your prescriptions then head on home. Buck took your jeep back and will get dinner ready. You'll need to eat so you can take the meds."
Vin sighed which set off a coughing attack.
Chris held his brother through the attack, damn it sounded like Vin was trying to cough up a lung.
Chris vividly remembered when Vin had pneumonia and had been hospitalized. It had been a terrifying experience. Vin fighting for every breath, his breathing so labored Chris didn't know how the young man kept on going.
Chris had not left Vin's bedside until he was out of danger. The only reason he left then was because the doctor told him if he didn't leave and get at least twelve hours of sleep, shower and put on clean clothes he would not be allowed back in to see Vin.
If looks could kill the doctor would be dead right now. Of course it was a good thing he wasn't since he was now treating Vin for walking pneumonia.
Chris thought Vin had drifted off to sleep but then a tiny voice said, "Dad's not going to be happy."
"Quit worrying about everyone but yourself. Dad won't be happy that you are sick but he won't blame you. He will just be thrilled that you don't have to go to the hospital."
"Sorry you had to leave work because of me."
Chris firmly stated, "I will always leave work for you Vin. You are the most important person in my life. There is no one or nothing more important than you and dad."
Vin seemed to mull that comment over then said, "Buck's at the house fixing dinner. I hope he doesn't fix...fix burritos. I'm not sure my stomach is up for that. So I bet Nathan is with the doctor."
"Yes Nathan is talking to the doctor. I think Buck will have something that will suit your stomach for dinner. I am finished with work until after New Years. When I left I called Travis and told him you were sick and I would be gone until then. Josiah is going to a meeting for me and JD is finishing up the paperwork. Ezra left early to spend some time with Maude. I have to call them later to let them know how you are feeling. Now that you know where all the guys are I want you to save your energy and just rest. I'm not going anywhere."
Vin felt the strong arms of his brother tighten around his body. No one had a better big brother than Chris Larabee.
Vin's eyes fluttered shut, his body melting against Chris's knowing that his brother would take care of everything.
Chris sighed when he realized Vin was asleep. That was the best thing for him.
Chris knew that their father was due back that night. Vin was right in that James was going to have a fit when he found out Vin was sick. The older man was also going to blame himself thinking that if he hadn't left he would have seen Vin was sick and taken care of it.
Chris sighed again. There were times being a part of a family was rough. Then as he felt Vin's ragged breath on his neck the warmth of his brother's body in his arms he knew that despite everything being a part of a family was worth anything and everything. He wouldn't give it up for all the money or power in the world.
Nathan drove Chris's truck out to the ranch. Chris was insistent on sitting in the back seat with Vin. The doctor had given Vin a mild pain pill. It was one the young man had taken before so it wouldn't upset his stomach.
Vin had not wanted to take the pill but one look at the three glares he was getting made him take it. Of course he didn't do it easily sending his own glare at the three men.
Vin did an excellent job of pouting as he took the nasty pill. A few minutes later it took effect making him very docile and agreeable to anything.
It hadn't taken but ten minutes into the drive before Vin fell asleep slumping sideways to lean against the door.
Chris gently pulled Vin towards him letting his brother's head lay on his shoulder. Chris kept his arm around Vin to hold the younger man in place.
Chris leaned his own head back against the truck seat and tried to get a little rest.
Soon they were pulling up in front of the ranch. Chris and Vin both woke up.
Vin yawned and sat up smiling sleepily at his brother who smiled back.
It was times like this that Chris was reminded so much of Adam. Adam would give him that sweet smile when he first woke up to.
Vin got out of the truck under his own power insisting he could walk into the house under his own power.
Nathan hurried to get the front door open reaching the door just as Buck pulled it open.
Vin was shuffling along griping about the heavy coat he had on, along with a heavy knitted scarf and gloves. It felt like he was drowning in all the clothes. Damn but he hated the cold weather.
Just then the wind came up with a vengeance taking the men's breath it was so fast and cold.
Chris muttered darkly under his breath about stubborn kid brothers. Gripping Vin's arm tightly he tried to pull his brother along.
Vin dragged his feet the pill now making him even more contrary than usual. The docile agreeable Vin was long gone.
Buck knew that Chris's worry was spiking and he wanted to forestall an argument between the brothers.
Walking swiftly Buck reached the two men.
"Junior it is cold out here. I'm tired of waiting on your sorry ass so up you go," Buck cheerfully stated.
Chris let go of Vin's arm as the slim young man was swung up into Buck arms and carried swiftly into the house.
Vin glared at Buck, he did not like to be manhandled.
Buck felt the blue eyed glare but walked rapidly into the house sitting Vin down on the sofa.
"Now Vin don't you send those blue eyed daggers at me. You did not need to be out in the cold. Do you want to end up in the hospital over Christmas?" Buck demanded crossing his arms as he stood over his friend.
Vin dropped his eyes feeling guilty. Chris and their friends were just helping and he was behaving like a spoilt brat.
Vin chewed on his lower lip as he realized it wasn't anyone's fault he was sick. He should be thankful he had a family and friends who cared about him.
"No...thank you Bucklin. Sorry I'm such a...a pain in the butt," Vin whispered.
Buck grinned and ruffled Vin's hair, which he knew irritated the younger man.
Vin scowled up at Buck who just laughed.
"Apology accepted Junior, now you just rest for a bit."
Vin wanted to argue but he yawned and the blue eyes slowly slid shut.
Chris and Nathan got Vin lying down on the sofa covering him up.
Chris got the fire roaring in the fireplace while Nathan sat down and wrote down notes for Vin's care.
Soon the smell of chicken and dumplings filled the air. Nettie despite the fact that the three men were capable of cooking for themselves insisted on sending over her famous chicken and dumplings whenever she cooked them.
Vin made sure there was always some in the freezer whenever the craving hit him.
Chris woke Vin up and the four men enjoyed the meal. Vin despite the fact that he didn't feel good ate enough to please his brother. Nathan handed him his medication, which Vin took without argument.
At the surprised looks on the men's faces Vin said, "I don't want to be sick on Christmas. Besides it's not like I try to be difficult about taking medicine."
At the shocked disbelieving looks he got Vin had to laugh though it ended up in a coughing spell.
Chris shook his head. There were times he couldn't decide whether to shoot his brother or hug him to death.
"Come on kid. Let's get you to bed," Chris said helping Vin to his feet.
"I have walking pneumonia not a broken leg. I can get there myself," Vin commented pulling away from his brother.
Chris sighed but allowed Vin his independence. Staying close behind his brother he managed to finally get Vin into bed and covered up before the blue eyes slid shut.
While Buck had been fixing dinner Chris and Nathan had raised Vin's bed by putting a riser under the mattress. That way he wouldn't be lying flat and could breathe better.
Buck and Nathan left not to long after that. Nathan informing his boss that if he needed anything to just yell and he would drive back out.
Chris checked Vin again then settled in to watch a little TV. James should be home anytime and he wanted to fill his father in on Vin's condition.
When James arrived home he was not happy to learn what had transpired while he had been gone.
Chris saw his father looking worried and mad at the same time.
James sat down next to his oldest son.
"I should have stayed here. I would have seen he wasn't feeling well and gotten him to the doctor earlier," James cursed.
Chris carefully explained what the doctor had told him about walking pneumonia.
James sighed as he leaned his head back on the sofa.
"Okay I admit it might not have made a difference, but it might have...fine Chris don't glare at me...I won't obsess about it. We will just make sure the boy takes his meds, stays warm and he will be fine."
So saying James got to his feet and headed down the hallway.
Chris followed a few minutes later.
James was sitting on the edge of Vin's bed brushing his youngest son's hair back.
Vin was sound asleep, his raspy breathing loud in the room.
"He feels so hot and sounds terrible," James worried.
Chris sat down on the opposite side of the bed.
"Doc said the temperature would be higher at night. It should be down by tomorrow. Believe it or not his breathing sounds better than it did when he had pneumonia. I swear every breath sounded like it was going to be his last," Chris softly replied.
James shuddered, "I'm glad I didn't have to hear it, this is bad enough."
James stood up but Chris remained seated his hand rubbing Vin's knuckles in a soothing motion.
"Son, you need to sleep."
"I will, I just want to stay up for a bit."
James leaned over and kissed Vin on the forehead. Walking around the bed James dropped a kiss on top of Chris's head.
"See you tomorrow son. I love you both," James said as he headed for the door.
"I love you to dad," Chris commented.
As James looked back he saw Chris lean over and kiss Vin on the forehead.
"Love you to little brother," Chris whispered then he settled back against the headboard of the bed.
James went to bed knowing that Chris was going to stay by Vin's side all night. Hopefully he would get some sleep.
The next morning James was up fixing breakfast. He had peaked in on his son to find Chris had fallen asleep in the bed. Vin at some point during the night had curled up next to his brother resting his head on Chris's shoulder.
James thought it was the cutest thing he had ever seen but there was no way he could tell them that. He could just picture the twin blue and green glares he would get if he did.
Chris was the first of his sons up and about.
Chris walked into the kitchen and told his father he was heading to the barn to take care of the horses. Chris also said that Vin was still asleep but would probably be awake before long.
Sure enough about a half-hour later Vin shuffled into the kitchen. The youngest Larabee had managed to get a pair of sweats on, heavy socks and moccasins.
Vin stood in the doorway for a few seconds watching his father bustle around the kitchen.
James turned to face his son, saw the bottom lip being chewed on a sure sign Vin was upset.
Walking across the room James pulled Vin into a hug.
"No reason to be upset baby boy. Chris told me all about it. You didn't do anything wrong so quit worrying. Now sit down here and eat so you can take your pills."
James felt Vin relax in his arms as he realized no one was mad at him.
Vin sat down suddenly realizing just how hungry he was.
James felt his forehead relieved to find that his son felt a little cooler. It was amazing how fast the antibiotics worked now days. Of course Vin did have a shot at the doctors office to speed things along.
The day went by slowly for the three men but it was enjoyable all the same.
Vin slept a lot of the day but insisted on lying down on the sofa so he could be by his family. Vin was still coughing and sneezing but his breathing seemed to be a bit easier.
Wrapping was finished up on Christmas presents. Some of the food was started up so they wouldn't be so busy on Christmas Day.
Chris noticed that Vin's eyes would wander to the window every now and then. He knew Vin dearly wanted to go to the barn to the horses. However it was obvious that Vin knew better than to ask.
James and Chris had tried not to hover over Vin but before Vin went to bed that night they insisted on taking his temperature.
Vin didn't kick up a fuss after all they had been good all day. Thankfully his temperature was just slightly elevated. Chris handed his brother some Tylenol, Vin frowned but he swallowed the pills.
As Chris went to follow Vin into his bedroom the younger man stopped his brother with a hand to the blondes chest.
"I'm okay Chris. I think that shot Doc gave me really helped a lot. Besides I really don't think you need me using you as a pillow again," Vin said his crooked little smile appearing even as he blushed.
"I didn't think you knew where you ended up. Besides I don't mind being your pillow," Chris assured his brother.
"I woke up when you started to move out of bed. I was a little embarrassed," Vin sheepishly admitted.
"No need to be embarrassed, not the first time and probably won't be the last time. We are brothers, besides I think I needed to have you close. Made me feel better to know just where you were and how you were feeling," Chris replied.
"I slept real good. I'll return the favor one day," Vin promised.
"I know you will Vin. Now go to sleep or Santa Claus won't come see you."
"That's right baby boy. Santa won't stop until all the good little boys and girls are sound asleep," James teased.
Vin just sighed as though he was being put upon, wrinkled his nose at his family then drawled; "Well then I best get to bed. Since I've been real good this year I plan on having a nice Christmas. Don't know about you though big brother. You might just get coal."
James laughed as Chris simply growled and took a step towards his laughing brother.
"Night cowboy," Vin quickly said then shut his door.
Chris called out "Just wait until you're feeling better little brother. Paybacks are hell."
Vin yelled back "Whoo...I'm shaking I'm so scared."
Chris just shook his head as he headed to his own room. James laughed at his sons you just never knew what the two of them were going to do next.
During the night Chris and James both checked on Vin a couple of times. Vin was a little restless the wheezing was still there but not quite as bad as the night before, the pillows piled behind him was helping a lot.
The next day Chris made sure to be up first. He needed to check on Vin's present. Hiding the present in the back room and keeping his brother from the area had not been easy. Actually it was easier than he thought since Vin was feeling so bad he wouldn't have noticed anything out of the ordinary. Vin sleeping so much was also helpful.
James was up next and began making breakfast. Soon a tousled haired Vin wandered into the kitchen rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.
Vin glanced at his father making sure Chris who was sitting at the table didn't see him.
James gave a small nod smiling when Vin sighed in relief.
Vin could hardly eat he was so excited about it being Christmas. Vin made sure to take his meds not wanting to end up in the hospital.
The three men had decided it was ridiculous for them to go overboard at Christmas with presents. So they decided that each man would get one present that the other two had bought together.
With the kitchen cleaned up the three men headed into the family room.
Chris and Vin handed their father a large present. Very carefully James unwrapped it.
James gasped his eyes filled with tears when he saw his gift.
It was a painting. Chris and Vin had commissioned a local renowned artist to paint a family portrait. The artist used photographs of James and on the pretext of working with Chris she had stopped by the ranch so she could see the older man in person. Chris and Vin of course met with her in her studio.
The painting had three men standing at the corral leaning against the fence. The boys had wanted it to be natural not stiff and forced. Vin and Chris stood on either side of their father. All three men had on their usual and favorite attire...jeans.
"I love it boys. A real family portrait, it means so much to me to live here on the ranch and have the two of you in my everyday life."
James got up and hugged both his sons hard and tight.
"I thought we could put it over the mantle if that is okay with you dad?" Chris asked.
James looked up to see that the picture that had been there had been taken down.
"That would be great son."
Very carefully the painting was put up in the place of honor.
Vin grinned when he saw it. It had been Chris's idea but he had loved it. A painting of the Larabee men...the Larabee family...how perfect was that.
Chris then had Vin sit down on the sofa and shut his eyes.
Vin looked at his brother then his father. James nodded his head his eyes excited because he was sure Vin was going to love his present. It was something Vin had never had due to his childhood in foster homes.
After Vin dutifully shut his eyes Chris left the room, in a few minutes he walked back in with a wiggling licking ball of long black fur.
"Hold out your arms baby boy," James instructed his youngest son.
As Vin did so Chris gently put the German Shepherd puppy in his brother's arms.
Vin opened his eyes as a small rough tongue licked his face. Big blue eyes looked down at the puppy.
"I remember you saying you had never had a dog when you were growing up. Now you do," Chris softly stated.
"You remembered that...that was...that was a long time ago," Vin whispered his voice faltering as he realized just how well Chris knew him.
"It was right after my dog Sam died. You had only been on the team for a couple of months. I figured it was time you had your own dog."
"Besides Vin the puppy isn't just any dog. He is AKC registered, his bloodlines would make the Queen of England envious," James added sitting down next to his youngest son patting Vin on the back. James handed his son papers showing the puppy's lineage.
"I also have him registered with a local trainer. When he is six months old you can take him over there and he can be trained by one of the best in the business. The puppy comes from a long line of guard and police dogs," Chris smugly added.
Vin had to smile at that comment.
"I see he is supposed to keep an eye on me," Vin teased.
Chris had to smile back.
"Well I look on it as an added perk since I can't keep an eye on you all the time."
"What's his name?"
"He doesn't have one. That is up to you decided," James said.
Vin hugged the puppy to his chest burying his face in the soft fur. The puppy wiggled until he could lick all over his new master's face.
"I'll have to think on his name. It will have to be perfect."
Vin's voice was husky clearing holding back his tide of emotions.
When Vin started to cough James pressed a glass of water in his son's hand with the order to drink. However when Chris tried to take the puppy from Vin his kid brother held on tighter.
Chris had to chuckle the puppy looked like he was glaring at him for trying to take him from his new master's arms.
Yeah it looked like the pup was going to be a perfect addition to the household.
"Now son your present from Vin and I is in the barn," James said.
Chris wondered at the slightly worried look on his father's face. Vin glanced fleetingly at him then averted his gaze.
"Chris I...we...we hope you like the present," Vin stuttered.
Chris pulled Vin into a hug puppy and all.
"I will love it Vin."
As the men went to put on their coats Chris stopped frowning at his brother.
"You aren't supposed to go outside little brother," he said.
"I won't be out long. It's Christmas. I have to be there when you see your present."
"Vin needs to be there Chris," James supported his youngest son.
Chris sighed but gave in. Damn not only was Vin giving him the puppy dog eyes but he had a real puppy doing it. There was no way he was ever going to win another argument in this household.
Chris showed Vin where the puppy's kennel was in the back room. The pup wasn't happy being left behind but at a word from Vin he settled down.
Vin suffered through having a sweatshirt put over his head, a heavy coat, muffler, hat and gloves. James made sure the muffler was wrapped around his nose and mouth.
As soon as they entered the barn Vin pulled the muffler down despite the frowns he received from his family.
"Mr. Simpkins dropped your present off early this morning Chris. He was on his way to his daughters and was glad to help out," James said.
Chris immediately spied a golden head in the far horse's stall that hadn't been there last night.
With his heart suddenly pounding a catch in his throat Chris made his way to the stall.
The palomino colt nickered softly at the man who was slowly stroking his nose.
"He looks just like...like Sarah's mare Sugar," Chris said his voice breaking up.
Vin cleared his throat as he replied, "Sugar was his mother."
Chris whirled around in shock.
"You mean..." he couldn't go any further. After his beloved wife and son had died Chris had sold all his horses but Pony. The palomino mare had brought back to many memories of his wife. Sarah had loved that horse.
"We tracked Sugar down. I hate to say this but she died a few months ago giving birth. This colt was her last one. We figured he should belong to you," James commented.
Chris's eyes filled with tears as he thought of his lost family. Vin and James watched as Chris wrapped his arms around the golden horse's neck.
Vin hesitantly walked over to his brother.
Placing a hand on the blonde's shoulder Vin asked, "Are you okay cowboy? We didn't mean to upset you."
Chris immediately turned and pulled Vin in for a hug.
"I'm not upset. I'm just overwhelmed that I have the most wonderful father and brother in the world. You guys couldn't have given me a better present in the whole world."
It was a tearful few minutes as the three men hugged enjoying the feelings of love, and friendship that close loving families have.
"What is his name?" Chris asked.
"You get to name him," James replied.
A soft look appeared in the green eyes.
"Sarahdam. That will be his name," Chris decided in a firm tone.
Vin and James smiled.
"Perfect," they said in unison.
Just then Vin sneezed raising his hand to his throat, as his throat didn't like that at all.
Immediately he was bundled off to the house where he was settled on the sofa, the fire built up and some hot chocolate with plenty of marshmallows was put in his hand.
Before Vin could complain he didn't have his puppy the puppy was dashing across the room to jump up on the sofa beside him.
Chris and James watched smiling as Vin laughed at the puppy's antics. Soon Vin's eyes grew heavy and he drifted to sleep. The medicine had that effect on him.
Vin was covered with a blanket; the puppy snuggled down next to him.
The morning flew by. Vin slept for a couple of hours then got up to help with the Christmas meal. Vin was not allowed to take the pup out to do his deed, which didn't make him happy, but he understood it.
Soon the ranch was filled with the talk and laughter as the team arrived for Christmas.
Team 7 had decided that they would not buy gifts for each other. Instead each man would pick a charity and the others would make a donation to that charity. That way seven charities got some much-needed money. Even though Vin wasn't on the team anymore he insisted on pitching in.
JD fell in love with Vin's puppy; it was a toss up who had the most energy. Buck knew about the horse and was thrilled that Chris loved the present. Josiah sat in a chair and just surveyed his adopted family with a content happy look on his face. Nathan hovered over Vin until he was satisfied that the young man was doing better and obeying the doctor's orders. Ezra sipped his wine smiling at the antics of his friends. Will took a drink of beer thinking how lucky he was to land on a team with such fine men.
Vin was starting to nod off. The big Christmas meal and having so much company was taking its toll despite his best efforts of staying awake.
James gently urged his son down the hallway to take a nap. Vin didn't want to go but he was real tired. Just before he slid into sleep he felt a warm small body curl up next to him. The puppy had followed his master and was determined to stay with the human he was supposed to take care of.
James wasn't sure about the puppy being on the bed but watched as Vin sleepily put his hand on the pup's head. That settled it the puppy would stay with his son.
When Vin woke a couple of hours later he felt much better. JD took the puppy out to take care of business but when they came back in the pup went straight to Vin.
"Well Vin what are you going name him?" Josiah asked.
"I read through his papers and got some ideas from the names of his ancestors. I think I am going to name him Lord Maximus of Larabee and call him Max."
Ezra smiled in approval, "A very noble and worthy name."
Max barked making everyone laugh.
"Looks like he approves of the name," Buck chuckled.
The men didn't stay late as some of them had dates for that evening. Of course part of the reason was the fact that they didn't want to keep Vin up to late.
The house was clean before the men left. It was decided that the New Years bash would be at the Larabee house as usual.
Sitting in front of the fire sipping hot chocolate the three Larabee men were enjoying the peace and warmth of love that filled the house.
"This was the best Christmas I ever had," Vin whispered ducking his head so his family wouldn't see the tears shimmering in his eyes.
However his family knew what he was hiding as they were having the same problem after hearing his words.
"Yes it was a wonderful Christmas. I have both my boys with me, what more could I want?" James commented.
Chris smiled thinking of the few years he had with Sarah and Adam. But now he could think of them without the anger of their deaths boiling over.
"It was a great Christmas. It was great because we are together," Chris replied.
Max then loudly barked and licked Vin's face.
Vin laughed hugging the puppy tightly.
James stood up.
"Looks like it is unanimous then. We'll have to see how we can make next year even better."
Vin looked up mischief in every line of his face.
"Well I have some ideas for decorations."
Chris groaned pulling Vin into a gentle headlock. Vin laughed but Max actually growled a bit thinking that his master was being hurt.
Chris blinked in astonishment at the dog.
James and Vin laughed at the look on his face.
"I have a guard dog now so you better watch it cowboy."
Chris leveled his best glare at the pup who just glared right back.
"Guess he's no more scared of that look than I am," Vin chuckled.
"Great I not only have a smart ass brother but now I have a smart ass dog," Chris groaned.
James just laughed at his son's antics.
Slowly they made their way to bed. Without being self-conscious at all the three men hugged.
It was a quiet Larabee house that night as they were all so tired that they didn't budge all night from the deep sleep.
James and Chris knew Vin was feeling better so didn't check on him. Besides they were afraid the pup would wake the young man up if they went into the room.
The next week would be a time filled with fun and love. It would be a great way to end the year and a great way to start the new one.