Part of the Larabee Family series.
Summary: Just a nice little story. Vin, Chris and their dad James go on a family camping trip.
Warnings: Mild language, smarm
It was mid September before Chris could get a few days off. Team 7 had been in the middle of two important stings and work had been hell.
Finally though he convinced Travis that the whole team needed some time off.
Ezra was flying to Italy to meet up with Maude and her current paramour. Josiah was going to Flagstaff to stay with an old friend; he refused to divulge her name. Nathan and Rain were going back East to visit family. Nathan said that it had been a few months since the family had seen their daughter Natra. JD was going to take the time and do some work around the house. The house that he and Casey had bought from Vin was just fine but they wanted to plant some trees and bushes in the yard. Buck was going to spread himself around; he bragged about how he was going to spend each night with a different woman.
However Chris was probably the most eager about the time off. Chris and Vin were taking their dad for a family campout.
Vin was so excited he had been making the plans for weeks. James had just smiled indulgently at his youngest son and agreed to anything Vin suggested.
The three men were going to ride the horses to their campsite.
It was a spot both Vin and Chris loved and wanted to show their dad. Meadows gave way to trees that eventually ended up by a slow moving stream. The brothers had camped there before. It was quiet; the nights were lit by nothing but the lights in the sky.
Vin was in his element when he was out with nature. Chris always enjoyed just watching the younger man. Vin was never more content or at ease than he was in the wilderness. By extension Vin's relaxed mood made Chris relax, the dark moodiness that at times still overcame the blond would disappear.
Buck would just comment at seeing Chris relax around Vin that Junior didn't know his own power over the enigmatic ATF leader.
James had laughed and said that Vin had Chris tightly wrapped around his little finger.
Buck had grinned and replied that while that was true it was obvious that Chris was right where he wanted to be.
In fact the relationship between the two brothers had just gotten stronger over the summer months. Also the relationship between James and Vin had grown by leaps and bounds. James had spent everyday alongside his youngest son. The two were now as close as James and Chris was.
Vin while he missed being around his friends all day and he worried about not being there to back them up truly loved working at the ranch.
While they were going to be gone their neighbor promised to come over twice a day to feed and check on the horses. JD and Casey were going to spend one weekend at the ranch.
The first weekend there were last minute things to take care of at the ranch. Then Travis had to call Chris in for a last minute meeting when a snag came up on one of the cases.
By the time Chris got home Sunday it was to late to start out. The three men were disappointed that they didn't get the start they had wanted to. However they understood that if the paperwork wasn't in order then the bad guys could get out of jail on a technicality.
Early Monday Vin was up first and began cooking breakfast.
Chris rolled over as the smell of bacon and eggs wafted into his bedroom. Glancing at the alarm clock he groaned when he saw that it was only six o'clock. Damn it was still mostly dark out.
However the blond couldn't help the excitement he felt knowing that for the next few days he would be alone with his family. The team knew better than to call him unless it was an emergency. Travis promised not to call unless it was a national emergency. Besides it was like Chris told them the cell phone reception was at best hit and miss. A call might not even get through to them.
Dressing in layers so he could peel clothes off, as the day grew warmer Chris headed to the kitchen.
James was already at the table digging into the big breakfast. Chris filled his plate and then watched as Vin darted around the room packing a few things up for them to take.
"Vin Vin sit down and eat," Chris finally ordered. Vin had filled his plate but had only taken a couple of bites.
Vin frowned at his brother.
"I will, but I just need to "
"Vin sit down and eat right now," James said in a no nonsense voice.
Vin had sent a hurt look his father's way but it didn't have the same effect it would have if he had turned the look on Chris.
James simply raised his eyebrow and with his fork pointed to the plate of food.
Chris stifled a laugh as Vin sat down and began eat. There was a definite pout on his brother's face.
Chris had noticed that since it had become common knowledge that Vin was his kid brother there had been a subtle shift in the way they treated each other.
They were still best friends but other elements had come into play.
Vin was more apt to come to Chris quicker with a problem or to let his brother know when something was bothering him.
Before the revelation Vin would have worried on it for days before talking to Chris not wanting to bother his friend.
James told his oldest son he thought that Vin was more secure now in the love of a father and older brother. Friends were great but family was always there for you, at least in the good families.
The Larabee's were a good family.
While Vin was still quiet he was quicker to express his opinion not worried that he would be cast out for having a different viewpoint.
As for Chris he had to admit that it was nice to come home to a warm love filled house. Before Vin and their dad had moved in it was just a cold shell of a house.
Chris's musing was cut short as Vin stood up. The younger man had eaten his breakfast in record time.
While James cleaned up the kitchen, Vin and Chris carried out the packs they were taking with them.
By the time James reached the barn all three horses had been saddled including a fourth horse for extra supplies.
Vin had frowned when Chris insisted on taking a small pop up tent. Chris had informed his brother that the weather could be tricky this time of year and he wanted some extra shelter.
When Vin had started to argue that he could find a cave or something Chris had commented that their dad wasn't a spring chicken and might need a little extra pampering.
Vin had immediately shut up and followed his big brother's lead. Which was exactly the way Chris had planned it. James was by no means a fragile old man but Chris was one man who believed in playing the cards he was dealt.
Chris had learned early on that while Vin wouldn't take care of himself he would put others first.
The day was beautiful; the forecast for the week was sunny and warm during the day, cool and nice at night.
To the affectionate amusement of James and Chris Vin turned into a chatterbox on the ride.
Vin pointed out the different kinds of trees and plants on the ride. A few times he even got off Peso to point out tracks and what kind of animal made them.
By the third time Vin showed them the tracks of an animal it dawned on the two men what Vin was subconsciously doing.
Other than the trip to Texas to Vin's mother's grave this was the first vacation the three men had ever taken as a family. In fact Chris was willing to bet it was the first vacation Vin had ever had in his life.
Chris vowed that next year he would plan a vacation that took his brother out of the state. Vin had never been to Florida that was nice and warm.
It hit Chris all at once Vin was craving approval from his family. It wasn't Chris his best friend or former boss he was talking to it was Chris his big brother. A big brother he didn't grow up with. James had never been around to give Vin the pats on the back or the self-confidence that parents give their kids during their adolescence and teenage years.
Chris the boss had constantly praised Vin for his marksmanship, his kindness and his work ethic. Chris the big brother now found his praise being sought after by his kid brother. Chris had always known that Vin's self esteem wasn't the best so he had always gone out of his way to praise the young man.
James must have caught on before his oldest son because Chris could hear his dad talking to Vin.
"I can't believe you know all the different tracks of the animals son. You certainly know your way around the outdoors," James praised the beaming man.
Vin was flushed at the praise; his blue eyes were sparkling in happiness. Vin was in his element; he was outdoors in his beloved wilderness, with his dad and his brother. The last time he could remember being this happy was when he was with his mother.
Of course the other five men of team 7 were like his brothers and he loved them. They would do anything for him and he would do anything for them.
But there was just a subtle difference when you had a blood relative around. Vin couldn't explain it and he never voiced it out loud. He had a feeling though that unless you had done without family a person might not be able to tell the subtle difference.
Of course Chris had always had his back but Vin liked to think that deep down even if it had been subconscious the enigmatic blond knew there was more between them than just a close friendship.
"Yeah, Vin. I don't think we'll have to worry about getting lost," Chris teased.
Vin looked shocked at the mere thought of being lost.
"I hope not. Kojay would be very unhappy if he knew I got lost. Chanu would never let me live it down," Vin replied.
James perked up at the names. Chris knew the two men that Vin mentioned but James didn't. While Vin would answer most of James questions about his childhood he never just handed out information.
The years between his mother's death and Nettie taking him off the streets were hard and Vin seldom mentioned them. It seemed to James that his youngest son had lived through some nightmarish years. The thought that these two men might have alleviated some of that peaked his interest.
"Kojay, Chanu now who exactly are they?" James carefully asked.
"I guess I was around twelve or so. I had just run away from another foster home and ended up on the reservation. Kojay was the chief and Chanu is his son, Chanu is my age. I spent almost a year with them before the authorities drug me back to so called civilization," Vin replied his tone filled with disgust at being force to leave.
"They were good to you?" James asked.
"They were great. Kojay taught me to hunt, track and really be one with nature. Chanu was like a brother to me. Course he was a lot easier to get along with than my real brother who can be real difficult sometimes," Vin teased glancing at Chris out of the corner of his eye.
Chris played along frowning at Vin, his eyes glaring at the unrepentant man.
"I'm going to shoot you one day Vin. They will never find your body. I know some very good hiding places around here," Chris mock threatened his brother.
"No you won't. Dad won't let you. Will you dad?"
James pretended to ponder on it until Vin turned his own Larabee glare on the older man.
Quickly James replied, "No I won't let Chris hurt my baby boy."
Vin was obviously in a carefree mood as he stuck his tongue out at Chris.
James then somberly said, "Not even when that baby boy deserves it."
Chris and James busted out laughing at the dumbfounded look on Vin's face. Then Vin began to laugh realizing his dad had gotten one up on him.
At first when James would call Vin his baby boy in a teasing mood it had bothered him a little. After all he was far from a baby boy. However Chris explained that James did it out of pure affection for his son a son he never got to raise or actually treat as a baby boy.
So Vin let it go and now accepted it as the teasing term of love it was meant to be kind of like when Vin called Chris cowboy.
Vin went on to talk about Kojay and Chanu. James told his son that he would one day like to meet the two men. Vin promised to set up the meeting.
By the time noon rolled around the three men were hungry. Stopping under a large shade tree they lay down a blanket and proceeded to eat some of the food they had brought.
Vin promised that not only would they catch fish to eat, but also he planned on hunting some rabbits for dinner one night.
James had laughed, "Well good son. I haven't had rabbit in a long time. You still need some meat on your bones so I hope you get a lot of them."
Chris had chuckled at the disgruntled look that crossed Vin's face. Vin hated for everyone to fuss about his weight but he allowed their father to do it.
"I'm fine the way I am. Why don't you talk to Chris, he's skinny," Vin protested.
Chris sat up straight and growled, "I am not skinny. You're the one with the scrawny ass."
Vin fixed his brother with a glare.
"I told you before cowboy not to be looking at my fine ass. I mean come on. I know I'm a mighty fine looking man but you just aren't my type."
Chris felt the vein at his forehead throb as Vin got him worked up.
"I told you about calling me cowboy."
Vin smiled totally unrepentant.
"You tell me a lot of things. Most of them I just ignore."
James broke out laughing as Chris's mouth dropped open and then he dove at Vin.
Unfortunately Vin was laughing so he didn't move quite fast enough.
Chris straddled his brother and then brought his fingers in to begin the torture.
Vin struggled to get away but he was laughing to hard. Damn it had not been a good day when his brother found out how ticklish he was.
Finally Chris stopped and only because Vin was gasping for breath he was laughing so hard.
"You just remember that little lesson next time you want to agitate your older brother," Chris said as he sat back down.
Vin sat up making sure to keep James between him and Chris.
"Next time I'll just get a running start. An old guy like you would have a hard time catching me," Vin replied inching away from his brother.
James glanced at his youngest son and calmly asked, "If Chris is old what does that make me?"
Vin thought quick and meekly replied, "The perfect age."
James smiled and patted Vin on the shoulder.
"Good answer son."
Vin grinned but Chris groaned, "What a load of shit."
"You're just jealous because dad likes me best," Vin very seriously stated.
All three men laughed. Vin had used the age-old argument that all kids used with their parents.
The parent liked them best over their sibling.
Vin began putting the stuff away and missed the look between his father and brother.
Both men were enjoying this carefree mischievous side of the younger man. They knew Vin had never really gotten to be a kid so they cherished the moments Vin let himself behave like a one.
Soon the three men were on their way. This time it was a nice quiet ride. They had full bellies and just enjoyed the scenery and the company.
Late that afternoon they arrived to where they were going to camp.
Vin went out to find dinner while Chris put up the tent and set up camp. James gathered the stuff to start a fire. There was a rock ring from where his son's had camped before so that was where he started the campfire.
In the distance there was three rifle shots.
Chris looked up smiling.
"Well Vin just shot us three rabbits for dinner."
"How do you know that the boy got three rabbits? You know he might have missed. Rabbits aren't that easy to kill," James inquired.
Chris raised one eyebrow and calmly replied, "Because Vin Tanner Larabee doesn't miss. One shot, one kill, I've never seen Vin miss."
James grinned as heard the pride in Chris's voice. It was obvious Vin could do no wrong in his big brother's eyes. James remembered Buck telling him one afternoon that Vin was the center of Chris's universe. To Chris the sun rose and set on his brother. Vin was Chris's strength but also his weakness.
That was one thing that terrified the blond though he never let on to Vin. Anyone with a grudge against Chris could go through Vin to get to Chris. So if Chris Larabee tended to hover over his brother he had reason to.
Of course that didn't mean Chris didn't love to harass his kid brother.
Vin arrived back in camp proudly carrying three rabbits.
Chris glanced at Vin and commented, "Got three of them. Good I was hoping you wouldn't miss I sure am hungry."
Vin stopped and glared at his brother.
What the fucking hell did that mean? He never missed.
Vin then caught his father turning away with a grin on his face.
Chris was pulling his leg, damn cocky blond bastard.
"Well actually I only shot two of them. The rattlesnake had killed the third one. I had to use the third shot to take out the snake," Vin calmly stated as he put the rabbits down.
Chris dropped the corner of the tent and hurried towards Vin.
Vin had winked at his father though so James knew that his youngest was just paying his brother back. Vin didn't want to worry his father.
"Rattlesnake. Damn it Vin did it get you? How in the hell do you attract trouble out here in the middle of no where," Chris complained even as his eyes scanned his brother trying to find any noticeable blood.
Then a slow Texas drawl said, "Gotcha cowboy. That will teach you not to cast aspersions on my shooting ability."
Chris turned his lethal green-eyed glare onto Vin who just calmly looked back.
"Aspersions?" Chris said his tone very level.
"Yeah, aspersions. I figured if I really wanted to get you riled up I'd use an Ezra word," Vin replied back meeting his brother look for look.
James then busted out laughing.
"My God the two of you are like peas in a pod. Always trying to one up each other."
Vin cocked his head to one side, his crooked little smile came out.
Chris sighed and shook his head; he was also smiling as his father continued to laugh.
"That's one for you Vin. Just remember paybacks are hell," Chris threatened his brother.
Vin grinned, "I'm shaking in my boots."
Chris took a step towards his brother but James interceded.
"Chris leave your brother alone so he can get to work on those rabbits. I'm starving."
"Told you dad liked me better," Vin commented as Chris went to work on the tent.
"Vin Tanner Larabee quit harassing your brother and skin those rabbits," James said glaring from one brother to the other.
Vin flashed a surprised look at his father wondering if he was really mad.
Behind Vin's back Chris caught his father's eye and slightly shook his head. Chris knew that Vin's insecurities with the whole family thing were always lurking in the background. Thankfully as time went on the insecurity faded a bit more. The little family had made great headway but as with all families they hit bumps in the road.
James strolled over to Vin and dropped a kiss on top of the tousled head.
"Not mad son. Just starved. So get your scrawny butt in gear or I'll let Chris get his paybacks," James teased. He had not been angry at all with his son but had forgotten that Vin sometimes took things at face value and took things more personally than his father or brother.
Vin blushed at the show of affection and ducked his head as he pulled out his knife and began to work on the rabbits.
Muttering under his breath but making sure it was loud enough for his family to hear Vin groused, "Sure I do all the hard work so they can fill their stomachs. Ha! Tomorrow they can catch dinner."
James and Chris exchanged amused looks at Vin's mutterings.
"I bet I catch more fish than you do tomorrow," Chris commented.
"No, I am going to put both of you boys to shame," James countered.
Vin just shook his head.
"I think you both are crazy. Not only can I hunt better but I bet the fish like me better to."
After that it was a matter of bragging on past fishing trips. It was decided that whoever caught the fewest fish had to gut the day's catch and cook dinner.
Late that night Chris made hot chocolate over the campfire and they roasted marshmallows.
Tired after the long day of riding James crawled into the tent.
Chris and Vin bedded down on opposite sides of the campfire. The sounds of the night surrounded them. Crickets and frogs vied for the loudest noise. Every now and then you could hear wolves in the distance. The running water of the stream lulled the men to sleep. The stars and the moon shown down on the little family as they slept in the security of each other's love.
The next morning Vin was up bright and early. Vin was very quiet as he got the coffee going. He thought about going down and starting to fish but figured that wouldn't be fair to the bet.
So Vin wandered for about an hour following the stream, admiring the beauty of the area and just breathing in the scent of fresh air.
Getting back to camp he saw that Chris and James were up. Chris was fixing some breakfast while James relaxed.
Chris smiled as his brother came into view and strolled in their direction.
"The boy surely does enjoy being outdoors," James commented taking in his youngest son's relaxed stride and peaceful expression.
"I always thought of Vin as a child of nature. I think he was born about a hundred years to late. Can't you just picture him out taming the Wild West or being a mountain man," Chris chuckled affection filling his green gaze.
"Well I for one am glad he was born in this century so we could know him," James said.
"I am to dad. I am to," Chris quietly agreed.
Vin strolled up and sat down.
"Bout damn time you lazy bones woke up. I've been up for hours," Vin teased.
"You've been up for a little over an hour. I knew exactly when you left."
Vin was surprised he thought he had been very quiet.
"How do you know that cowboy?" Vin asked pleased when his brother flashed green daggers at him at the cowboy comment.
"I woke up when you got up. You were very quiet I don't know I guess I'm just in tune with your scrawny ass," Chris replied smiling sweetly at his kid brother.
Vin narrowed his eyes at his brother. This time though he let the scrawny ass comment go without a comment.
Vin had to admit though that he and Chris had always been in tune with each other. Almost like reading each other's mind, they could finish each other's sentences at times. It was uncanny.
"Guess I'm in tune with you to. Know why I think that?" Vin asked his brother just as sweetly.
Chris was immediately suspicious.
"No why is that?"
James just sat quietly highly entertained by the verbal sparring between his sons.
"Because I can tell you're just sitting there fretting. You KNOW I am going to catch more fish than you so you're trying to figure out a way to get out of the bet," Vin said.
"You little shit. There is no way you are going to catch more fish than me," Chris indignantly stated.
Sensing that the whole conversation could descend into squabble James stood up.
"Alright boys that's enough. Let's eat then get to fishing. Personally I think you are both wrong, because your old man is going to catch the most fish."
The rest of the day was spent fishing, napping more fishing and more napping.
At the end of the day James did catch the most fish. Of course he had no way of knowing that Vin had let some of his go so his dad would catch the most.
James had been napping when Vin had done that. Chris had caught his brother's eye and smiled nodding his head in approval.
Dinner that night was a wonderful affair. Chris and Vin split the cooking chores, the fish tasted wonderful especially after being washed down by beer that was still cold in the cooler.
When the cooler failed to keep things cool they would put it in the stream where the cold mountain water would keep everything nice and cold.
The time passed quickly for the Larabee family. Days were spent fishing, hiking or just enjoying the company and the great outdoors. Vin even took his dad and brother out and taught them how to pick out animal tracks.
Nighttime around the campfire was something to write home about. The stars filled the night sky. The three men talked about a little bit of everything. Vin talked about his memories of his mother, about Kojay and Chanu. Though he was very careful not to touch on anything bad. There was no way he was going to ruin this special time.
Chris even talked about Sarah and Adam. The good times they had, the holidays and how much he still missed them. Of course Chris then added that with Vin and their dad at the house he enjoyed coming home now.
Vin had blushed with pleasure when Chris had said that. It made him feel good that he was bringing some happiness to his brother's life.
James talked about the two women he loved in his lifetime. Chris watched as Vin absorbed all of their dad's memories of his mother. A pang hit his heart though he never let it show on his face. If only he hadn't run Vin's mother off they would have been raised together. Vin would have had a picture perfect childhood with a big brother who would have kept the bullies away and loved his little brother to pieces.
Vin must have sensed what Chris was thinking for the sky blue eyes found his over the snapping bright campfire.
In his brother's blue eyes Chris knew that Vin would never hold what had happened against him. It was Chris was holding onto the guilt.
Chris smiled at Vin letting the younger man know everything was fine.
Vin relaxed and continued to listen to James talk about the past.
Vin realized that it was a past that he felt closer to. James had a way of talking that made you feel as though you were there. A past that was slowly embracing him making him a part of it.
After James had stopped talking Vin had quietly stated, "This has been the best time of my life. Being out here with my brother and my dad. Thank you."
"I have enjoyed it a lot to son. I have learned a lot about my youngest son. Just watching you do stuff out here, like hunt and track. You are one very impressive young man and I am proud to call you son," James sincerely stated.
"Dad's right Vin. The things that you know and do, that just doesn't come from books. That comes from a real feel for the land, a feel for nature. That is you brother," Chris added.
Vin was blushing furiously by now.
"Thank you, but you guys "
"No Vin. You excel out here. Dad and I can find our way around but you epitomize the outdoors."
James took pity on his youngest son.
Standing up James ruffled Vin's hair a gesture that usually resulted in a glare at the person who touched his hair. For some reason James could get away with it.
"You are going to have to get used to getting compliments. You are very special to Chris and I."
Vin stood up and hugged his dad tightly. James returned the hug; Vin didn't pass them out often but he was getting better at it. So whenever Vin gave one he savored it.
"You're special to me to. I I love you dad," Vin said.
"I love you to baby boy."
James laughed as Vin wrinkled his nose at the baby boy comment.
"Now I am going to turn in. See you boys in the morning."
Chris deftly changed the subject so Vin could recover his equilibrium.
Chris got up to get himself another cup of coffee. Vin jumped up and got it for his brother.
Vin then grabbed Chris up in a hug despite his brother holding a cup of hot coffee.
Chris managed not to drop the cup or spill any as he returned the hug.
Vin rested his head on Chris's shoulder for a few seconds.
"I love you to Chris. I couldn't ask for a better big brother," Vin whispered.
Chris whispered, "I love you Vin. You are a perfect kid brother. A cocky little shit who is always trying my patience."
Vin choked on his laughter.
Standing back from his brother Vin said, "Well I might be cocky but you can be one arrogant SOB."
"I'll take that as a compliment," Chris smiled.
As Chris started to turn away Vin said, "I don't want anything to tear us apart. I don't think I could survive losing my family."
"Nothing will tear us apart Vin. Nothing," Chris vowed.
It was to be a vow that would return to haunt Chris Larabee.
But the family didn't know about the storm on their horizon. They just knew they had a wonderful time with each other. In fact they decided that they needed to do this again as soon as they could.
The last week was filled with memories that none of the men would ever forget. It was the first but hopefully not the last Larabee family vacation.