Seasons of Love
by Mary Ann

This is my first venture into the LB Universe, thank you to whoever created this universe. None of these characters are mine; I am only borrowing them for awhile to tell a story and using them in it. Thank you to my beta’s for their help, Lori and the M7Muse Group.

Chapter 1

“Come on Chris, you know I’ll have hundreds of kids knocking at the door tonight. No sense in you spending the night out at your place all alone. You can help me hand out candy for a few hours, and the spare room still has a few of your clothes there. Please?” Buck Wilmington practically begged his best friend.

Chris Larabee tore his gaze from his second in command, glancing around the room and noting teammates Josiah Sanchez’s grin, Nathan Jackson’s smile, and Ezra Standish’s smirked and one-fingered salute.

With a sigh, Chris looked back at his dark haired friend. “All right Buck, but you better have plenty of beer and candy,” he growled, smiling when Buck clapped him on his shoulder, grinning like a Cheshire cat with a new toy.

“Hey Stud, I always have plenty of beer. Might have to get more candy though, seems that more kids show up at my door every year.”

“Well you can move to the ranch; there’s plenty of room out there and then you wouldn’t have to worry about handing out all that candy every year. What do you spend on that stuff? Seventy-five dollars or more?”

“Umm … Well I can afford it. Shall we go? You can leave your truck here if you want.” Buck quickly changed the subject.

“I’ll drive mine and meet you at your place in a half hour. I figure you need to get more candy,” Chris said with a smirk.

“Yeah, well … Want me to pick up something for dinner?”

“I’ll order pizza and pick it up on my way. Alright guys, get out of here. We’ll see you tomorrow,” Chris ordered.

“Okay Chris,” Josiah said as he grabbed his coat. “Think I better stop for some more treats too. There’re several new families in my neighborhood,” he muttered as he followed Nathan out the door.

“I’m so happy I reside behind a locked gate,” Ezra remarked as he left.

“I’ll see you in a little while Chris,” Buck said with a big grin. “I’ll pick up something for you.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Chris rolled his eyes as he turned out the lights and locked the doors to ATF Team 7’s offices.


”Look JD, see, there’s all kinds of funny dressed kids an’ people all over the place,” the thin long haired boy said.

“It’s Halloween, Vin. They’re going for free treats,” the dark mop-haired five year-old said.

Vin Tanner’s blue eyes opened wider as a tall menacing figure dressed in white strips of cloth splashed with blood passed the doorway where they were huddled. “They’s scary!” he exclaimed hoarsely as he pressed back further into the doorway.

A giggle sounded beside him and he looked down at his adopted cousin, JD Dunne. “Didn’t you ever go trick or treating?” JD asked as he glanced up at Vin.

“Don’t ‘member,” the seven year old answered, his wide eyes going back to watch the costumed people passing by. “I was sick a lot. I remember Halloween but nuthin’ else about it.” His eyes latched onto a tall black clad figure in a flowing cape with a strange mask over his head. He could hear the loud raspy breathing of the figure as he flowed by. Vin shuddered. “Think we better get back home, it’ll be dark soon.”

“Aww Vin. I wanna go get some candy. All we need is bags to carry it all in,” begged JD.

“Don’t think it’s safe. And we don’t have the right clothes.”

JD looked at his cousin, taking in his mismatched sneakers and faded, too-large blue jeans with holes in the knees, held up by a piece of dingy rope. A dark blue sweatshirt that had seen better days peeked out from underneath a moth-eaten, dark green jacket. Vin’s wavy, blond-streaked brown hair hung over his shoulders and framed a thin elfin face that was smudged with dirt. He grinned as he glanced down at his own attire; he didn’t look much better and sported his own pair of mismatched sneakers and faded black jeans with holes in the knees and back pockets; his pants were rolled up several times and were held on to his body with a piece of string. A bulky, hole-riddled, once red sweater covered his filthy white t-shirt and a grey jacket hung off his thin shoulders.

“Vin, all we hav’ta do is wash our faces and get bags. Then we can get some goodies. Come on, it’ll be fun. We can have stuff for a long time. Maybe even get some money ‘stead of candy,” JD cajoled.

Vin thought about it for several minutes as they watched the activity in the streets. They could sure use some money; it could help to buy a few things they needed, like another warm blanket, and the candy would be a treat for them. Finally, he nodded his shaggy head and taking the smaller boy’s hand in his, he led JD out of the doorway and down the sidewalk; he knew where there was a faucet they could use to clean their hands and faces, then he’d see about finding a sack for each of them.

Fifteen minutes later the small boys were headed to a nicer part of town, several blocks from their hidden home in the abandoned warehouse, clutching plastic bags with “Happy Halloween” written on them. Once they’d washed up it was easy to obtain the sacks. Entering a small grocery store on a corner, JD had said, “Trick or Treat” and held out his hand. The matronly clerk had smiled kindly at the young boys, asking if they planned to carry their treats in their hands. JD told her they had pockets and showed her his; with a smile she had promptly given each of them a bag and a Suzy Q. With a big grin, JD had thanked her as the shy Vin had mumbled a quick thanks to her as they went out the door. Neither boy had had anything to eat since morning so they made quick work of their first treat, both of them grinning as they ate the sweet snack.

It was almost dark by the time they reached the first line of nice, well-lit homes already receiving costumed children going excitedly from door to door. JD grabbed Vin’s arm and dragged his wide-eyed cousin along. JD did all the talking as Vin stood shyly beside him, holding out his bag and mumbling a quiet ‘Thank You’ to the people who gave them treats.

After several blocks they paused on a corner, waiting with several larger children and their parents for the light to change. Their sacks were getting heavy but both youngsters were happy; between the two of them, they had collected almost six dollars in change. To them it was a fortune and Vin was already thinking of everything that he could buy with the money. He knew winter wasn’t far off and they desperately needed a warm blanket and some warmer clothes. With a few more dollars they could purchase what they needed from the little thrift shop two blocks from their warehouse. The kind old couple who ran the store had always treated him well when he needed something special.

Crossing the wide street Vin looked around the area. He had seen it in the daylight before, and knew that they should be turning back. It was getting colder and they were a good twelve blocks from their home ground. Taking JD by the arm again, he guided him to the corner to cross another street and start on their way home.

“Vin, we hav’ta go to that place. See all the kids?” JD pointed to an apartment building just down a little ways from them. With a glance at the five storied building Vin shook his head no.

“Cain’t go there JD. It’s too high. We’ll go over there and then home on that side of the street.” Vin pointed to a long U shaped building of apartments with a large green expanse of grass on the inner part of the U. Apartment doors, spaced about thirty feet apart, opened towards the grassy area. Most of the doors were decorated and lights shown in windows and at the doors. Laughing children were hurrying from door to door while their parents stood along the sidewalk beside the road visiting with one another as they waited.

“Okay.” JD gave in and with a last look at the tall building, he skipped across the street beside Vin. He knew Vin didn’t like enclosed places and figured he would have had a problem in the large building.

As the two boys reached the next corner and turned towards the U shaped building, a cold gust of wind blew in and they pulled their light jackets closer around them, breathing a sigh of relief as they entered the apartment complex. They started their round of the apartments, happy to see that most of the other children were moving away to the next building.

They were over halfway around the building when they heard more children coming. Glancing back, they saw half a dozen larger kids at the first door. Vin hurriedly dragged JD to the next door, all the while keeping an uneasy eye on the other children. As JD knocked on the door, he noticed that the larger boys were rapidly approaching.

The door was thrown open to reveal a tall, dark-haired man with a mustache and dark blue eyes looking down at them. Another man dressed completely in black sat in the living room, a frown on his face as he watched something on a television the boys could hear but not see.

“Well, well, well! What do we have here? Two little someone’s! And who are you fellows supposed to be?” the tall man asked, smiling as he grabbed a bowl from a small table beside the door and squatted down in front of Vin and JD.

“We’re homeless. I’m JD, that’s Vin!” JD exclaimed then yelped. “Ouch! Why’d you do that Vin? That hurted.” JD whined as he rubbed his arm where Vin had pinched him.

The blond man in the chair looked their way and froze, his eyes connecting with the brilliant blue eyes of the older, longhaired boy. For a second Chris felt something pass through him before the smaller boy jostled the older one beside him.

In a husky whisper Vin said, “Don’t tell strangers our names.”

“Oh! I forgots.” Tears welled in JD’s dark eyes.

“Hey son, it’s alright. We promise not to tell anyone your names. But to make you feel better, my name is Buck, and that’s Chris over there. Now, how about some treats?”

“Sure! Oh, Trick or Treat!” JD responded, remembering what he had to say to get the treats.

“Well we sure don’t want any tricks, so here’s your treats,” Buck said as he dropped several candy bars and granola bars into the boys’ bags.

“Thank you!” JD exclaimed with a huge smile, tears forgotten.

“Thank you,” Vin mumbled as he glanced one last time at the blond who had risen from the chair and had taken a few steps nearer. Tearing his gaze from the man Vin took JD’s arm and pulled him away from the door.

“Bye,” JD called to the big man who waved at them before closing the door.

“Come on. Its cold, we got to get home,” Vin said as he tried to hurry his cousin along.

“I’m comin’. He was nice,” JD said as he trotted a little faster beside Vin.

Suddenly the two boys slid to a stop as the group of larger boys surrounded them on three sides. Vin grabbed JD’s arm tighter and dragged him along as he ran into the grassy area, only steps ahead of their pursuers.

A blow to his back knocked Vin down and he fell in a heap, clutching JD and his precious bag. JD fell as well and promptly started to cry, clutching his sack to his chest. Wincing with pain, Vin shoved his bag into JD’s hands and stood up slowly, almost on top of JD, his fists clenched.

“Leave us alone,” he said bravely as six costumed young teens surrounded them.

“Give us your sacks and we will,” sneered a tall boy in a checkered mask.

”No! They’re ours. Go away and leave us alone,” Vin said through gritted teeth as he fought the pain in his lower back.

“Give ’em to us or we’ll take ‘em from you. Now!”

Vin straightened up, trying to make himself as tall as possible, his fists balled tightly. “No! Let us alone.” With a glance at JD, who was standing on his left holding their bags of treats, Vin stepped away from him. Then with a cry of “RUN JD” he launched himself at the boy closest to him, the strength in his wiry frame and small fists taking the larger boy by surprise, and they both went down.

JD took off running as fast as he could, passing the struggling boys on the ground. He was only about ten feet away from the last door they had knocked on and, thinking of the nice man they had met there a few minutes earlier, he headed straight for it as he heard a scream of pain behind him. Pounding on the door, he sobbed in fear and gasp for breathe as he looked behind him at the large youth heading towards him.

The door flew open and JD fell into the warm room, colliding with long jeans-clad legs, barely managing to stay on his feet. He felt a large pair of hands grasp his shoulders and yelled in fright, until he felt himself being lifted off the ground and heard a deep, calming voice through his fear.

“It’s okay Little Bit, I’ve got you. It’s all right. What’s … Chris! Something’s going on out here,” Buck said suddenly, seeing the dark bunch of figures moving and shuffling around something in the dark. He could hear their excited yells.

“Vin, Vin …” JD cried and pointed towards the dark figures.

Chris was out the door and running before JD could say more than the first ‘Vin.’ With a roar, he shoved the closest teen away, not hearing his cry of pain as he shoved the other boys aside. Suddenly he was alone and standing over the crumpled form of the small boy. Dropping to his knees beside the child, Chris put his hand on the curled figure.

“It’s alright Vin, help is here,” Chris said hoarsely as he carefully rolled the small body onto his back.

Vin moaned in pain as his back touched the cold ground. He hurt all over and couldn’t take a deep breath; his chest felt weighted down with a sharp pain and his back was as if on fire.

“JD run … Hurt …” Vin mumbled as the gentle hands ran lightly over him. A moment later, his half-closed eyes connected with those of the blond man bending over him. He tried to smile, but the pain rolling through him took over and he passed out with a low sigh.

Chris sighed heavily; the child needed medical help and he needed it right away. He had found at least one broken rib, and he was very worried about the boy’s difficulty in breathing. Gently he picked up the slight body and headed towards Buck’s apartment.

JD, still held close in Buck’s arms, saw his cousin’s limp form cradled in Chris’ arms, and dissolved into tears again.

“It’s alright, he’ll be okay. We’ll take him to the hospital. We need to get a hold of your parents. Come on son, Vin will be alright. Where are your folks? We have to let them know what’s going on,” Buck said calmly as he held the crying child to his shoulder and grabbed his truck keys, knowing Chris would hold the unconscious boy as he drove to the hospital. Grabbing a blanket, he hurried out the door, locking it behind him and following Chris towards his truck. In minutes, Chris was in the passenger seat with Vin in his arms, the blanket thrown over both of them. JD was between the two men, his hand on Vin’s shoulder. His crying had calmed and he was silent as Buck drove out of the apartment’s parking lot.

Chris carefully cradled the child, his thoughts in turmoil. He didn’t understand his want … no, need … to protect this thin, long haired child with the amazing brilliant blue eyes. He hadn’t felt like this for a long time. He wanted to protect the child as he had his own son, who had been lost to him now for over three years. He could almost hear his wife Sarah, whispering her approval in his ear as his eyes went from his burden to the small boy tucked between himself and Buck. A low moan came from Vin and he looked down at the tousle-haired head cradled in his left arm against his chest.

“Vin … Vin … Wake up, I’m a’scairt …” JD cried as he tried to get closer to Vin, jostling him a little.

“No … hurts … run … run JD …” Vin moaned painfully as he slid into blackness again.

JD started to slip off the truck’s seat, Vin’s orders ingrained so deeply in him that he automatically did as he was told. A hand clamped down on his shoulder just before his feet touched the floorboards.

“Easy there little guy. There’s no place to run in here. You’re safe, we’ll take care of you for now,” Buck said quietly as he pulled the little boy back onto the seat and placed a protective arm around him.

“Vin told me …” tears streaming down his cheeks JD looked at his cousin. “He’s hurted bad. He can’t go to the angels, I don’t want him to.”

“Go to the angels?” Buck asked as he turned a corner and sighed in relief, only two more miles to go. “JD, Vin will be all right. Can you tell us how to get a hold of your parents, your mom, or dad? We need to let them know where you boys are,” he asked gently as he rubbed the boy’s arm in an attempt to comfort the youngster.

JD wiped a hand over his face as he looked up to the man beside him. “Mama is with the angels. Vin told me. His mama is too; they are visiting but can’t come see us yet,” he said innocently.

Buck’s glance met Chris’ before he turned back to the wide street. “How about your dads?

”We don’t gots any da’s.”

“Well, can you tell us where you live so we can let someone know where you are?” Buck asked.

“Not s’poseta tell. Vin said it’s dangrus to tell anyone where we live.”

Buck thought a moment, then said, “We’ll have to get you and Vin a change of clothes and if we don’t know where to go for them, we wouldn’t be able to get them.”

“Oh … Vin’ll need some … those boys hurt his clothes too.” JD looked at Vin a moment, then making up his mind he looked up at Buck. “We live in building 3-5,” he held up his hands to show them the numbers on his fingers. “Vin lived there forever. He said it’s on street 4-5.” Again the small fingers came up. “I told him the street is 5-4. I can read better and know all my numbers too,” JD said proudly, not knowing he’d dropped a bombshell and shocked the two men into silence.

Chapter 2

The red pickup pulled onto the hospital grounds and stopped by the ER doors. Chris opened his door and quickly stepped out; shoving the door closed with his hip, he swiftly carried the child through the doors and to the reception desk.

As he waited for the receptionist to get a nurse he thought over what JD had imparted. He and Buck had been shocked to hear where the two boys lived. They knew the area well; several of the old warehouses were slated to be torn down in the next few weeks as they were considered dangerous and developers wanted to replace them with apartment buildings that were more lucrative.

The nurse finally arrived and led him into an empty bay, directing him to place the child on the bed. Chris laid Vin down carefully as the nurse asked him what had happened. She quickly removed Vin’s clothes as he told her of the attack, then covered the shivering child with a blanket. She was dismayed to see the bruises forming on the boy’s thin chest, back, and limbs. A lump was appearing on his left temple, and there were large bruises on his lower back. She quickly noted everything on the chart then stepped away.

”Doctor Silverton will be here in a couple of minutes, Sir. Can you tell me his name and age for the record?”

“Vin, he’s six or seven, I think.”

The nurse shot him a strange look, and then nodded her head. “Are you his parent? If not, we’ll have to contact them before we can treat him.”

Chris’ sea-green eyes flashed, as he glared angrily at the nurse before turning back to the small figure on the table. The boy needed treatment immediately, so Chris spoke quickly before he could change his mind. “I’m his guardian. His parents are gone.”

“Your name, Sir?”

“Chris Larabee.” With that, the nurse left, returning a few minutes later with a heavy set, balding man in green scrubs.

“Good evening, Mr. Larabee, I’m Dr. John Silverton. Can you tell me what happened?” he asked as he uncovered Vin and quickly began his examination.

“They were trick or treating and some teens jumped him. Will he be all right?”

The doctor didn’t respond for several minutes. Finally, he stepped back and looked at Chris as the nurse prepared their patient to be moved.

“Your son needs a chest X-ray; he has at least one broken rib and I want to make sure they’re aren’t any others. He has a lot of deep bruising on his lower back, so I need to see if there is any internal bleeding. I also want a head CT – you said some teenagers attacked him? Has he been awake?”

At Chris’ nod, he continued. “That’s good, he was awake. We’re taking him to Radiology now and someone will let you know as soon as we are done. Go get some coffee and we will take good care of him.”

“I want to know immediately what is happening.” Chris growled.

“We’ll let you know as soon as we know,” the doctor assured him, then followed the gurney out the door.

Chris made his way to the ER waiting room and found Buck and an anxious JD waiting for him. JD’s eyes opened wide and tears started falling when he saw only Chris coming towards them. Buck grabbed the distraught boy up into his arms and held him, whispering into his ear as Chris stopped in front of them.

“Chris?” Buck asked, not liking the look on his old friend’s face. He felt a shiver of fear go through him. Somehow the little boy had gotten through his partner’s defenses and he didn’t want to think of what Chris might do if Vin didn’t make it.

Chris shook himself, trying to forget the sight of the little longhaired boy lying so still on the gurney as he was wheeled from the examining room; he suddenly noticed the sobbing figure held tightly in Buck’s arms.

“Don’t worry, Vin will be okay. The doctor just needs to take some pictures and check him out. He’ll let us know as soon as he can what is going on,” Chris stated as he knelt down in front of Buck and JD and rubbed the little boy’s shaking back.

“Vin’s here? He’s not with the angels?” a small voice asked.

“Hey Little Bit, Vin will be fine. The doctors are taking good care of him.”

“Want to see him.”

“We will, soon as we can. For now, though, we have to wait until the doctor is finished and then we’ll be able to take him home with us.”

“Kay … I’m tired,” JD said. A moment later he went limp in Buck’s arms.

Buck quickly juggled the child so he wouldn’t drop him, then held JD carefully as the little body curled into his chest.

“Buck, I think we have a problem. Were you able to get Vin’s full name from JD?”

Buck’s head came up, his eyes searching Chris’ pale face. “His last name is Tanner. JD’s name is John Dunne. What’s wrong?”

“They weren’t going to do anything for Vin unless they got permission from his parents. I … I told them I was his guardian.” Chris paced back and forth in front of the seated Buck.


Chris paused and looked at him in surprise. “Well, what parent or guardian would let a child that age out alone at night, and especially this night? He’s skin and bones. And look at how they’re both dressed!” Chris’ arm waved at the sleeping child Buck was holding.

“Oh. Well, JD did say they were homeless, so on Halloween of all nights they can be dressed this way. We’ll just say they wanted to be hobos for Halloween.”

“Yeah. That’s fine, but he was beaten up and no one was watching over them!” Chris was pacing again, running a hand through his already disheveled blond hair.

“Okay, okay, Pard. We’ll think of something.”

“What’s going to happen when they release Vin? They can’t go back to that warehouse.”

“Chris, calm down! We’ll work something out. If we can, we’ll take them both home and go from there,” Buck said as he watched his partner carefully. Dropping his gaze to the little boy in his arms, he pulled him even closer to his chest. He didn’t understand the feelings racing through him; for once in his life he wanted something more than his work and the many girlfriends that were passing through his life. This little mop-haired boy tugged at his heart; he felt whole as he cradled the child to him. It felt right, that this was where the boy belonged and, strangely, he wanted him here with him.

Raising his head, he looked at Chris, and realized that the same thing had happened to him. Vin had gotten through the huge wall Chris had built around his heart since the death of his wife and son.

“Chris, call Ezra. He might have friends who can help us,” Buck said quietly, knowing that their undercover agent had connections to lawyers, judges, and no one knew for sure who all.

Chris stopped his frenzied pacing, smiling to himself as he noted Buck’s protective stance, even from his seated position. With a curt nod, he left the room, his hand pulling out his cell phone as he strode outside. For an instant he wondered how it had gotten into his jeans pocket; he didn’t remember putting it there when he ran out of the apartment to help Vin.

“Mr. Larabee, what can I do for you at this time of the night?” Chris heard as Ezra picked up his call.

“Sorry Ezra for disturbing your evening. I … I … we …” Chris stopped, not sure what to say or how to explain what had happened.

“Mr. Larabee. Are you all right? Where are you? I can come if you need me.”

“Damn, what a mess. I’m … we’re at Denver General. Two homeless children came to the door. One was badly beaten. I told the doctor I was his guardian to get them to take care of him …”

“I’ll be there in twenty minutes, Mr. Larabee, with some help.”

“I … Thanks, Ezra … I appreciate this.”

“No problem. I’ll see you shortly,” Ezra replied, then the connection went silent.

‘That went well,’ Chris thought as he went back inside, feeling as if he was on overdrive, his emotions flying in several directions. Outside the waiting room, he stopped; he needed a minute to get himself under control. He could see Buck whispering in JD’s ear, the small body still clutched in his arms, a small fist wrapped in Buck’s dark green shirt.

With a deep sigh, Chris walked into the room and sat down beside Buck, his hand brushing over the dark head nestled against Buck’s chest. “I think we’re in over our heads with these two boys,” he said quietly. “Ezra is on his way. What are we going to do?”

“Don’t know Pard, but I’m going to fight like crazy to keep this little guy.”

The two men’s eyes met over the sleeping child, and then Chris smiled crookedly as the head under his hand stirred. With a nod at Buck, he looked down at a pair of large dark eyes surrounded by long lashes gazing trustfully back at him. Chris smiled at the little boy and moved his hand away as JD pushed himself up and looked frantically around the room. The tears gathered in his eyes then rolled down his face.

Alarmed, the men looked at each other, then back at JD. “Vin’s with the doctor, he’ll be alright,” Chris said quickly.

“I know … but I losted our treats. We need ‘em. It’s our only food!” The heartbroken boy’s sobs came harder as he buried his face in his hands.

“Mr. Larabee, Mr. Wilmington, what have you done to distress this child so badly?” A suave southern voice cut through the child’s sobs.

Watery eyes looked up at the newcomer and JD said between hiccups, “I lost our food.”

Confused green eyes looked at Chris and Buck, one chestnut eyebrow rising in inquiry. Chris shook his head as Buck pulled the boy closer and rubbed his back. “Hey Pard, don’t you remember, we left your treat bags at my place. They aren’t lost. They’re right there on the chair by the door. It’s all right, don’t worry. Would you like to go and get something to eat? Or some milk?”

“HAMBURGER?” JD stopped sobbing abruptly, scrubbing the tears from his watery eyes with both fists and looking expectantly up at his new friend.

“Well we can see if they have any in the cafeteria, but they might not at this time of night; we’ll check it out.”

“Cho’late milk?” Dark eyebrows rose hopefully over red-rimmed eyes.

“Yep, I’m pretty sure they have that. Shall we go see what we can find?” Buck answered as the boy squirmed to be put down.

Chris smiled as the small figure grabbed Buck’s hand and told him to hurry.

“Guess we’ll be back shortly. Can I get you boys anything? Coffee?” grinned Buck as he grabbed JD’s hands and twirled him around in a circle before disappearing out the door. Laughter carried back to the two men and they grinned at each other.

“I take it that is one of the children?” Ezra asked as he sat down next to Chris.

“Yes, that’s John Dunne or JD as he calls himself. The other boy is a couple years older, Vin Tanner. They live in one of the old warehouses that are being torn down next month. JD said Vin’s lived there forever, so I’m not sure how long that really is. It sounds like there are no relatives for either of them. We’ll have to check.”

“And you told the doctor Mr. Tanner was under your guardianship?” Ezra remarked, running his hand through his dark chestnut hair, trying to see this other side of his team leader.

“Ah … Yeah … I don’t think they’d have treated him otherwise.”

“So he was injured …”

“Yeah. Badly beaten.”

“Mr. Jeff Hollinger will be here momentarily with some papers. You and Mr. Wilmington will need to sign them. They are official documents and will make you legal guardians. If you choose to maintain the guardianship and pursue adoption, there will be additional paper work, not to mention judges and court hearings, and you will have to abide with the State’s rules and regulations pursuant to all adoption laws.” Ezra looked at his boss, his head tilted as he waited for the blond to say something.

Chris gazed back at his undercover agent in surprise. He hadn’t thought about adoption, or anything other then getting Vin cared for. Now he and Buck would be the boys’ guardians. Well, he’d sign the guardianship papers and cross that other bridges if or when he had to. All he cared about right now was that Vin and JD would not be abandoned or left alone again. He and Buck would take them home, even if he had to take Vin out of the hospital against medical advice.

“Don’t worry Ezra, we’ll take care of these boys, and if things work out, they may be our sons’.”

A smile crossed Ezra’s face for a moment, and then his gaze was drawn to the wide door as two tall men hurried in, paused a moment, then walked over to where they were sitting. Ezra grinned as Josiah and Nathan dropped into chairs on either side of them.

Ezra?” Chris’ look questioned him.

“Umm ... Mr. Larabee, you sounded upset and desperate. I took it upon myself to call for support.”

Chris smirked at Ezra’s words and nodded at the two newcomers.

Twenty minutes later a well-dressed man in his late fifties walked into the room and glanced around, an expensive leather briefcase in his right hand. Four sets of eyes looked his way and several sets of eyebrows rose. Ezra smiled and waved languidly for the man to come over.

“This is Mr. Jeff Hollinger, an acquaintance of mine. I take it you have the necessary paperwork Mr. Hollinger?” Ezra asked. Hollinger smiled and nodded his head as Ezra quickly introduced his teammates to Hollinger.

Hollinger sat down next to Chris, balancing his briefcase on his knees. He opened the case, removing several documents, which he handed to Chris. As Chris read them over Hollinger asked him several questions, then Chris handed the papers back to him and the lawyer quickly filled in names and dates.

Buck and JD returned as Chris finished signing some the papers. JD was giggling and sitting on the tall man’s

shoulders. “What’s going on?” Buck asked as he handed Ezra and Chris cups of coffee, then pulled the little boy off his shoulders and into his arms.

“We’re making this as legal as we can until you take the next steps, Mr. Wilmington. Mr. Hollinger needs your signature on some documents, preferably before the doctor returns.”

Nathan quickly vacated his chair next to Ezra so Buck could sit down. Ezra handed the documents to Buck who quickly scanned them, eyebrows rising higher and higher.

JD sat on Buck’s lap, and cocked his head as he picked out some of the words on the documents wondering why his friend had gone so still and quiet. He suddenly saw his name neatly printed on several lines and looked up and down the paper for Vin’s name, but couldn’t see it anywhere. Tears welled as he crossed his arms in front of his chest and rocked back into Buck, convinced that Vin had died while they were eating. Finally, he buried his face in his arms and sobbed brokenheartedly; he was all alone now.

Buck felt the child on his lap dissolve into sobs again and quickly signed his name on the papers, handed them back to Ezra, and wrapped his arms around JD. “Hey, hey what’s wrong Little Bit? You don’t have to cry, these are my friends and co-workers. No need to be scared of them; none of them would hurt you,” he half whispered as he rubbed JD’s back. “You’re safe now JD. I’ve got you and no one will hurt you ever again.” Buck tried to reassure the boy, unsure why he was crying when just minutes ago he was laughing and talking a mile a minute.

“I … want … Vin …” sobbed JD.

“He’s with the doctor. We’ll see him as soon as the doctor tells us we can.”

“No! He’s not! He’s gone and is with the angels.”

The men looked at the boy in surprise, then Chris jumped up and headed for the door, Nathan hard on his heels. He knew exactly where Larabee was headed and that he’d have better luck getting information than the black clad fury storming out of the wide doorway.

“Vin will be fine, JD, the doctor is helping him.” Buck said again as the sobs started to quiet.

JD pointed towards Ezra and Hollinger. “Vin’s name weren’t on the paper,” he said.

Understanding rolled over the men, Buck and Ezra hurried to reassure the child.

“Mr. Dunne, Mr. Larabee has Mr. Tanner’s documents. Mr. Wilmington has yours. You will reside with them for now. You do not have to worry about Mr. Tanner, he is in very good hands, and the medical professionals in this hospital are very capable.”

JD looked at the nicely dressed man, then turned his gaze to Buck, confusion written on his face.

“You and Vin will be living with Chris and me. As soon as Vin is released, he will go home with us.”

For a minute JD looked into the dark blue eyes, and then shook his head. “I hafta stay with Vin, he needs me. Sometimes he cain’t sleep, and his back hurts him,” JD stated sincerely.

“We’ll work it out so you’ll be together. But now we need Vin to get better so you don’t have to worry about him,” Buck reassured the frightened boy, the promise in his voice calming the child down.

“Okay.” JD wiped his face on his arm and looked at Josiah, a tentative smile crossing his face. “I’m JD,” he said.

 Chapter. 3

“Chris! Calm down! You know you won’t get any information like this. Calm down man!” Chris heard Nathan beside him and came to an abrupt halt halfway to the busy nurses’ station, his shoulders slumped. He stepped to one side of the hallway as several medical personnel rushed past towards the elevators.

“Damn,” he turned to his friend and teammate, “I need to know what’s happening. It’s been over two hours.”

Nathan squeezed Chris’ shoulder, “I’ll see what I can find out.”

“Thanks Nathan. He’s registered as Vin Larabee, and Dr. Silverton is his physician,” Chris said as the tall black man headed for the reception area. ‘Vin Larabee, what in hell was Chris thinking?’ Nathan wondered.

Chris watched as Nathan stopped at the desk and got the attention of one of the nurses. His mind was awhirl; what had he done? What was he doing in this mess? This child needed a real home, with real parents, not a man whose whole life revolved around his work. He barely had time for himself during the week, and his weekends were tied up with ranch chores; cleaning stalls, caring for and training the horses, and a never ending series of equipment and building repairs. Chris shook his head; he needed to walk away now. The more he thought about it the better it sounded; the boy should be placed in a decent home, with parents and a real family.

A stab of pain hit him hard in the back of his head and he slammed his eyes closed, slumping back against the wall. He saw wide sky blue eyes full of pain and … hope? … behind his closed eyelids. With a quiet moan he tried to look away from them, but when he did tear his gaze away he saw his lost wife Sarah smiling at him, her arms were wrapped around Vin’s thin form as she leaned down to kiss the child on the cheek. Straightening up she gently pushed the boy away from her as Adam appeared at her side; he took her hand and waved, then they both disappeared, leaving Vin alone in the darkness with a desperate look on his elfin face before he too faded away.

Chris moaned and his eyes flew opened as a hand tapped him on his arm. He saw the concerned look on a dark haired nurse standing in front of him.

“Are you all right Sir?” she asked kindly as she looked him over quickly.

”Sorry. Had a headache, but it’s gone now,” Chris answered huskily, running a hand across his face and over his head. “I’m fine, thank you,” he said.

“All right,” she said with a quick smile and hurried on down the hall.

With a sigh, Chris glanced towards the desk and saw Nathan nod and turn away, an angry look on his face that he quickly changed as he saw Chris’ gaze on him.

“What’s happening?” Chris asked as Nathan stopped beside him.

“Infuriating,” Nathan snapped, then grinned when Chris’ eyebrow rose in surprise. “I know, one of Ezra’s words. They wouldn’t say anything other than Vin was being cared for and the doctor will let us know as soon as possible.”

“Damn.” Chris headed back to the waiting room, nodding at Hollinger as the man slipped past heading for the outside doors.

Heads lifted, looking towards him as he walked to his team seated to one side of the slowly filling waiting room. JD’s dark head rose and he looked beyond Chris for Vin. Not seeing his friend he looked expectantly at Chris.

Chris slumped into the empty chair beside Buck, reached over, and rubbed JD’s arm. “The doctor is still checking Vin over. They’ll let us know about him soon.” Silently he hoped to himself that it would be soon; he couldn’t stand this waiting much longer. Turning his gaze to Ezra he raised an eyebrow.

Ezra smiled, understanding instantly what Chris wanted. “Everything is taken care of. The documents are signed and witnessed and will be in the proper files first thing in the morning. The date for guardianship is today, but you

and Mr. Wilmington were to take custody tomorrow, November 1st. It’s all nice and legal.”

“Thank you Ezra, for everything. I appreciate it …” Chris told him sincerely as he glanced up and saw Dr. Silverton enter the room and pause looking around. Chris jumped up and started towards the short doctor, his teammates right beside him.

“Doctor?” Chris inquired.

Raising his hand, Dr. Silverton said, “He’s going to be fine. He has a broken rib, but no punctured lung as we had originally feared. He will have to wear a bandage until the rib is healing well. He has some massive bruising and swelling of his lower back, but there doesn’t seem to be any damage to his spinal cord and his kidney function tests have come back normal. He also has a slight concussion, so for now we will be keeping him overnight for observation. He is going to be pretty sore for a few days, but other than that I don’t foresee any long lasting problems.”

The doctor smiled slightly as the men sighed in relief, then turned his attention to the little mop-haired boy in the tall mustached man’s arms.

“Can I see Vin? He neededs me,” JD asked.

“Well son, he’s asleep right now and it’s after visiting hours.”

“I want him to come home now.”

“When he wakes up tomorrow we’ll see if he can go home then. Mr. Larabee, Vin is allowed one person to sit with him; I’m sorry, but it has to be an adult. Children can only visit between the hours of 11am and 4 pm. Would you like to stay with the child?”

“Yes, I’ll stay with him. What room?”

“He will be in room 210 and should be settled in shortly. A nurse will come for you as soon as he is in his room. I will check him in the morning and we’ll see if he can be released then. Gentlemen, later.” With a nod the doctor hurried away.

“You sure you want to stay?” Buck asked.

“Go home, all of you. I’ll see you in the morning,” Chris ordered.

Ezra, Nathan, and Josiah nodded and with a quick goodbye to JD they left. Buck and JD waited a minute longer, Buck studying Chris closely as he set JD down.

“Are you sure, Chris?”

After a moment, Chris smiled. “Yeah I’m sure. Very sure.” He rubbed the little boy’s head for a moment, smiling down at the child. “JD can sleep on that spare bed where I usually sleep. I think we’ll need to go to the ranch when Vin’s released; you don’t have enough room at your place for all of us to stay.” Chris said thinking of the backbreaking twin bed Buck had in his spare room that he used now and then when he stayed the night.

“I agree. I’ll pack some things and pick up something for JD and Vin before we come in the morning. You call if you … “ Buck stopped with a quick look at JD.

“Don’t worry. I’ll call in the morning to let you know what’s going on.”

A nurse entered the room and made her way towards Chris and Buck. “Looks like I’m headed out. I’ll talk to you in the morning,” Chris said as he turned to the nurse.

“Mr. Larabee?” she asked, smiling down at JD.

“Yes. See you two later. Good night JD,” Chris waved back at the boy as he followed the woman towards the door.

Buck picked up JD and swung him onto his shoulders saying, “Let’s go home Little Bit.” Walking towards the door Chris had just disappeared through Buck listened to the giggling from JD as he waved happily at the people they passed.

Chris followed the nurse into the elevator and minutes later, she ushered him into a dimly lit room with three beds in it. Only the bed closest to the window was occupied, with a small lump in the middle of the pristine white blankets.

As Chris made his way to the bed the nurse spoke. “The children’s ward is full, but we have several rooms like this and thought he would be more comfortable in here, without other people around. He is still unconscious and we are monitoring him closely. He has an ice pack against his lower back to reduce the swelling. We’ll be checking on him every two hours for the next six, unless he awakens before then. He’s been quite restless for the last thirty minutes so it’s possible he’ll be awake soon. His nurse, Melissa, will be here shortly to check on him. If you need anything just press the button; it’s right here.” She showed Chris where the call button was then left.

Chris stood beside the bed and gazed down at the bruised face of the frail looking child. Vin was laid on his right side, the uninjured side; a pillow cradled in his arms, a pulse oximeter clipped to one slender finger. Rolls of blankets and towels had been placed in front of and behind him to prevent him from rolling onto his back or stomach. The padding pressed against his lower back held an ice pack in place also.

Chris pulled an uncomfortable looking chair to the side of the bed and seated himself, squirming around to get settled before reaching out and taking Vin’s free hand in his. The hand felt cool to him so he began rubbing it gently, then brushed Vin’s long hair back from his face. As the little hand warmed the boy sighed, and within a few minutes he was struggling to open his eyes.

Chris spoke to the boy in a soft, calm voice, reassuring him that he wasn’t alone and that he’d be fine.

For a moment Vin’s eyes under his eyelids stilled, then his eyelids slowly opened. Bright blue eyes gazed in confusion at Chris for a moment, then darted quickly around the room that could be seen in his limited view.

Chris smiled understandingly. “JD is safe, and so are you. He’ll be here in the morning to visit you.”

Vin watched the blond as he talked, shivers racing through him. Chris instantly reached out and pulled the blankets closer around him. “Co … Cold … “ Vin rasped out.

“I know son. There’s an ice pack on your back to try to bring down the swelling. Let me rub your arms and shoulders a little more and see if that will help.” Chris rose and began massaging Vin’s shoulders, then his legs, hoping that he could warm the child and stop his trembling.

Vin’s gaze stayed on the blond as the tall man worked on him. Finally, he could feel some warmth seeping into his shoulders and legs and wished it would never stop. Wanting to hear the man’s voice again, he forced out, “What happened?”

Chris felt his heart go out to the boy as he heard the raspy, broken voice. “Remember trick or treating?” The shaggy head nodded slightly. “You and JD came to Buck’s door and when you left some boys attacked you. You fought them and JD came to the door for help.” Again, Vin’s head nodded. “I ran the kids off and we got you to the hospital. You’ll be fine.”

“Th … Thanks … I’m Vin … Tanner …”

“Hi Vin, I’m Chris Larabee. We sort of met at Buck’s place.”

“Ch … Chris,” Vin said as he looked up into Chris’ eyes again, and Chris felt as if his soul was torn out of him and gently replaced surrounded by a cushion of deep trust, love and the brilliant blue of the child’s eyes.

Vin’s eyes opened wide as he stared into Chris’ sea green eyes, and for the first time in several years he felt absolute trust in another human being, sensing that he was safe with this man, safer than he had ever been. He shivered as he felt something else, something that he didn’t quite understand but that he knew he wanted with all of his heart, and he realized that he’d even die for the man calmly rubbing warmth into him. His eyes suddenly filled and tears rolled down his cheeks.

Alarmed, Chris watched as tears fell over the boy’s bruised cheek, and with a breathless curse he sat on the bed beside Vin and gently and carefully lifted him into his arms, holding him close to his chest and whispering reassurances to him.

A sound behind him pulled Chris’ head up with a snap and he opened his mouth to tell them to get out when a nurse came into his view.

“Sir, you need to put him back down please,” the middle-aged nurse said gently as she quickly rearranged Vin’s blankets.

“No, not yet,” Chris growled at her as he pulled the blanket away from her and closer around Vin, whose tears were still soaking into his shirt.

“All right sir. I need to check him anyway, and we need to get the monitor back on him. While you hold him I’ll check his back and maybe we can eliminate this ice pack for now.” She quickly adjusted the blanket around Vin.

Chris adjusted his hold on Vin, feeling the boy’s fists grab tightly onto his shirt and knowing that he was in pain. He moved his right hand in slow soothing circles over Vin’s back until he felt him start to relax a little and finally nodded to the nurse.

Gently she uncovered Vin’s back as she spoke quietly. “Hi Vin. My name is Melissa and I’m your nurse tonight. I have to check your bruises here. It will only take a minute or two and then you can get some rest.” As she talked, she noted that the swelling in his lower back had gone down quite a bit. The bruises were darker, the cold having brought them out more.

Vin buried his face deeper into Chris’ shoulder as the nurse checked his sore back, his eyes still leaking tears but taking comfort from the feel of the warm, gentle hand rubbing circles on his shoulders and back.

“Vin, would you move your legs for me?” Melissa asked as her hand touched one leg.

Chris breathed a sigh of relief as Vin’s legs shuffled against his hip, not realizing he had been holding it, praying that Vin’s spine was really alright.

“Very good Vin,” Melissa said, smiling at Chris. “All right, let’s get all this padding and the cold pack out of your way so you can get some sleep.” With a nod to Chris, Melissa quickly worked and moments later quickly straightened the sheets and blankets, then laid an extra blanket at the foot of the bed.

“Mr. Larabee, you can lay him down now. Would you like a cup of coffee?” Melissa asked as she gathered the discarded items after making a notation on Vin’s chart.

“I’d appreciate one, just black. Thank you.”

“I’ll be back shortly.”

“Hey Cowboy how about you lay down now?”

“Go … home …”

“We’ll go tomorrow. I’m going to take you to my place where you’ll be safe and cared for,” Chris told him.

The body in his arms went still and a moment later brilliant eyes were looking deeply into his as the long haired head moved away from his damp shoulder.

Chris again knew immediately what Vin was going to ask before the boy opened his mouth. “You and JD are both coming to my ranch as soon as you’re released. Buck, who’s with JD now, will come too so you boys can be together.”

Vin’s serious eyes looked deeply into Chris’ and Chris didn’t break the contact; he gazed back, letting the child see how sincere he was. Finally, after what seemed like hours but was actually only a few minutes, Vin’s eyes changed and his lips turned into a small smile.

“Okay, we’d like that,” he whispered and felt the strong arms wrap him close for a moment.

“So will I. Now I think you need to get some sleep,” Chris replied and moved to lay Vin down.

Chris paused as the small arms gripped him tighter. “Hey Vin, you can’t sleep like this. How about you lay down and I’ll spend the night here on the bed beside you? I won’t leave you alone; I promise I’ll be right here next to you all night.” Chris raised the head of the bed a little, then shifted to lay Vin down gently. Keeping a hand on Vin’s shoulder, he adjusted the boy’s pillow, then pulled up the blankets and tucked them around the small body. He smiled at the boy, noting how his wide eyes watched his every move. “I need to pull my boots off, then I’ll sit beside you. I’m not going anywhere,” he reassured Vin as he eased away, stood and toed his boots off.

Melissa hurried into the room, a large cup of coffee in her hand. She smiled at the lean blond when she saw his second boot come off. “Here’s your coffee Mr. Larabee. Is there anything else I can get for you two?”

“No, we’re fine. Thank you,” Chris took the cup from her and took a sip, aware of eyes still on him.

“I’ll see you later then,” Melissa said and turned away, a smile crossing her face as she turned down the lights in the room.

Chris placed his coffee cup on the bedside table then sat down on the bed, making himself comfortable beside Vin. As soon as Chris got settled and pulled the blanket over them, Vin snuggled tightly against his side, his left arm snaked across his chest and buried to the top of his head with the blanket, and fell almost instantly asleep.

Smiling, Chris tucked Vin’s arm under the blanket and laid his head back against the pillow. Minutes later Chris slid into sleep, his arm protectively around Vin’s shoulder.