Don't Count the Cost

by Anneack

Characters: Vin And Nettie (this takes places while Vin's a teenager.)

Summary: After overhearing something, Vin has a difficult decision to make.

Notes: Thank you Teri for the opening paragraph.

Vin walked away from the open door hoping no one had noticed him standing there. While he knew eavesdropping was wrong, it had been an accident. Now he needed a place to think things through. It had to be a mistake . . . surely he had heard incorrectly.

Quietly, he returned to his own room in the Challenge center. Since he was one of the older boys here, Nettie had given him his own room. He didn't know what he would have done if she had not helped him out. Of course, the center was created to provide street kids like him with shelter and a home.

The rules were strict, though. You could not be i n a gang or dealing drugs. You had to stay in school and not get in trouble with the law. Vin had never found it hard to follow the rules, but he knew others had. Apparently Cruz and Nick had given in and joined the Diablos, Rio's gang. Rio had been after Vin as well, but Vin was not interested. Cruz would not have taken much persuading; Nick was likely too scared to say no.

Stuffing a couple of days' clothes in a duffle bag along with his school books, he headed out. Unlike the other two, he was not on probation so was free to come and go as he chose. Feeling in his pocket, he felt the spare key to Josiah's apartment. The former priest was out of town for the week, but Vin was always welcome there and he needed to get away and think.

Half an hour later, he was twelve blocks away in a slightly better neighborhood than Purgatorio and sipping a soda while parked on Josiah's couch. He was wishing the man was here for him to talk to. Josiah was great at listening and helping you sort things out.

"Well, if he was here, what do you think he would say?" Vin asked himself.

"Seeing as you heard ‘em confess to that gang shoot'in, reckon he'd say to talk to the police," Vin answered himself, sighing.

Vin closed his eyes and not for the first time wished he had not picked th en to go on a bathroom run. But if he hadn't heard them as he passed, then no one would know who was responsible for the shooting. Gang wars and drive-by shootings were a normal part of life in Purgatorio. But that one had been even more tragic, as an innocent woman on her way home from work had been killed by a stray bullet. Vin shuddered, stray bullet the papers had called it, like it was a dog or something. People should not have to live like this!

He leaned back, resting his head against the top of the sofa. He knew what he had to do. It would probably get him killed, but it was still the right thing to do and he would just have to figure out the rest when he got to it.

Standing up, he walked over and picked up the kitchen phone and dialed a number he knew by heart.

"Mrs. Nettie?"

"Vin? Where are you? It's not like you to miss dinner," the indomitable woman's voice came over the line.

"Josiah's, I had to think," he told her.

"Okay, how can I help?" She asked.

"I… I heard something that the police need to know about," he began.

"I'll be by in ten minutes to collect you," Nettie told him.

Vin smiled; he could almost feel the hug. Of course she would be going with him.

Josiah was always talking about choices and not making decisions when you were hurt, angry, lonely, or tired because they would not be rational decisions. Well, he wasn't feeling any of those and he was pretty sure he was making the right choice.

+ + + + + + +

An hour later, Vin was still in a room with Nettie and the police detective he had talked to when he had explained what he had heard. The DA had now joined them as well.

"So, these are the boys you overheard in Nicolas White's room in the Challenge Center?" the DA asked.

"Yeah, that's them," Vin confirmed.

"You only heard them, are you certain it was them? You didn't see them, after all."

"I live with two of them and go to school with all of them, yes I know their voices and it was them," Vin reiterated.

The lawyer turned to the detective.

"How solid is his ID?"

"We ran tapes we have of two of the boys voices plus about five others and he picked out Nick and Cruz. It's solid," the cop smiled at Vin.

"We'll need you to sign an affidavit to that effect under oath, and be willing to take the stand." DA Rather turned to Vin again.

"Okay, I'd just as soon do the affidavit thingy, but if ya need both then I guess there's no way around it. They'll find out I was the one that ratted on them soon enough," Vin sighed.

"How are you planning to protect Vin? He has to live in Purgatorio surrounded by the very gangs he's talking to you about," Nettie demanded.

The two men looked at one another.

Detective Ryan was the one who finally spoke. "I'm sorry there's not a lot we can do. Until a move is made against him, we can't do anything. We can put in him protective custody, but that would only last until the trial was over."

"I got an idea," Vin spoke up, wetting his lips.

They all looked at him.

"By the time the trials done it'll have been a couple of weeks right?" Vin looked at the men

"Yes, by the time all is said and done it'll be that long," the detective confirmed.

"I was planning on going into the Army after high school. I'll be eighteen in a week and a half and if ya can get a tutor for me while I'm in protective custody I could probably pass my GED. Then go right into the Army after the trial."

"Vin," Nettie said softly, but then went silent, merely putting a hand on his shoulder. It would be the best and safest thing for him, now.

"I don't think it's normally done like this, but I have to agree that it would be a solution," Ryan agreed.

"I'll make a few calls and see what we can arrange," Rather agreed.

The attorney got up and went to make his calls.

The detective looked at the teenager. "You had already planned that."

"Knew I would have to get out of Purgatorio or get killed when the gangs got hold of me." Vin shrugged.

"Thank you for doing this anyway."

"Reckon Josiah and Nettie would have expected me to do it." Vin smiled at the woman next to him. "It's the right thing to do."

"You're a real Tanner," Nettie told him, knowing how much that name meant to the teen.

The DA returned and all was set in motion. Vin would be staying in a safe house where a tutor was arranged to come everyday. He would take the test for his GED and leave for the military right after the trial. Nettie would collect his things and bring what he had to have to the detective; the rest she would keep for him. She would also explain it all to Josiah. Vin had wanted to leave him a letter, but the detective thought it was best not to have anything in writing. Yet again, Vin Tanner was leaving everything and everyone he knew.

+ + + + + + +

Here it was, almost ten years later, and Vin was back where he had started. Living in an apartment in Purgatorio with gangs and drug runners on every side.

He was home.

Stepping out of the apartment building, he smiled predatorily when he saw Rio, the leader of the Diablos. The Latino stared at him and glared. Vin just nodded and waved. No doubt they would clash again. But this time, the former Army Ranger, U.S. Marshal, and current ATF agent was not going to run. He would stand up and reclaim his neighborhood and its people.

Vin smiled as Rio crossed the road.