Thank you FaraD for checking this over and helping to find my mistakes. Thank you Mog for the ATF Universe. All Mistakes are mine.
This is a sequel of sorts to "Hiding (A Reflection)"
Chris let go of the child of his heart. They'd just shared a hug that Chris felt they both needed.
Vin had just told him about a bad dream he'd had, but instead of coming into Chris's room for comfort, he'd decided to figure out the meaning of the dream himself. Pretty heavy stuff for an eight year old, Chris thought.
Just then the peaceful morning was shattered by JD's exuberant scream of delight as Buck walked into the kitchen carrying JD across his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Buck put him in his chair and looked at the faces of his partner and Vin.
"Is it my weekend to cook?" he teased, tickling Vin under the chin. He smiled as the youngster giggled. "Well, I guess it is. Okay, what's for breakfast?"
"Pancakes!" the two children said in unison.
Chris smiled. "Sounds good to me too, pard, but I'll have eggs with mine."
Buck wrinkled his nose at the thought of eggs instead of maple syrup and started on breakfast. With everyone's help the meal was soon on the table.
Their repast was just about finished when Buck stated, "School will soon be out for summer, and Chris and I have vacation time coming. Any ideas where we should go?"
"Camping!" the two boys said at once.
Vin shared the plans. "We can ride up into the high country, pitch our tents and fish and swim and everything."
Not to be left out, JD clapped his hands, nodded his head and said, "Yeah, me too, me too."
"Hey, hey guys," Chris said amicably, "have a heart, give your old man a break. How about we sleep in beds this year?"
A look of confusion graced Vin's face, as his eyes widened. "Pony's gonna carry your bed?" he said. "Can he do that?"
Buck quirked an amused eyebrow at Larabee, silently questioning him.
Chris laughed. "No guys, I'm saying why don't we rent a cabin for a week? Buck and I visited this place in Oregon, once. They had some real nice cabins. Buck and JD can bunk in together and Vin and I could share a room. How does that sound?"
"Can I still use my sleepin' bag?" Vin questioned.
JD, not to be out done, piped up, "I wanna sleep in my bag, too."
Buck, who remembered why Chris had visited this particular ranch a few years ago, asked him, "Are you sure you want to go there?"
Nodding, Chris answered, "Yeah, it's time I laid a few ghosts to rest."
Vin looked at the two men nervously and bit his bottom lip. He was a very perceptive child and the word ghosts didn't sound so good to him.
His Dad smiled, ruffled his hair and said reassuringly, "Don't worry, Kiddo, you're going to have a great time. It's a beautiful place, with horses, swimming and fishing and your Dad will have a real bed to sleep in. Why don't we get on the internet and check to see if they're still in business and if they have a couple of cabins available. If not, we can decide on something else. Okay?"
Buck nodded, still not sure, but willing to go along, agreed. "Okay, lets get our chores done. We're going to town this afternoon and watch that new Chipmunks movie."
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A few months later, the family was getting ready to head for the airport. Vacation time had finally arrived, and everyone was excited and ready to go. The trip to the airport was filled with the animated sounds of the boys making plans and smiles from the men. Once in the air, everyone relaxed, except for Vin, who sat on his knees, looking out the window. As excited as JD had been, once in the air, he was soon fast asleep.
They arrived at the Portland Airport just after one in the afternoon. While Buck retrieved their luggage, Chris and the kids picked up the rental car and car seats. They stopped for lunch a few miles outside of Portland and after everyone made bathroom trips, they were soon on their way.
Finding the McKenna Outfitters ranch was easy since Buck had remembered to print out the directions. The trip was scenic and the boys were enthralled by the rugged beauty of the land.
As the foursome pulled into the driveway, Jack and Brick McKenna met and welcomed the newcomers. "Welcome to McKenna's, I'm Jack, this is my son Brick. You fellas have any trouble finding the place?"
Chris shook hands with the McKennas and answered, "No trouble at all. I'm Chris Larabee and this is my son, Vin." Buck waved and Chris continued, "Buck Wilmington and his son, JD. This sure is beautiful country," he said looking around.
Jack picked up one of the duffle bags and said, "Mr. Wilmington, JD welcome to our ranch."
Buck smiled. "It's Buck and that's Chris. We're not much for formalities."
Jack grinned back. "Now that that's settled, let's get you folks settled. Your cabins are next to each other. Twin beds in both of them. I hope that's okay, we had an unexpected drop-in, a family that needed a larger cabin."
Buck and Chris looked at each other, shrugged, and said, "Sure, that's no problem."
JD spoke up, "Me 'n Vin are gonna sleep in bags. Uh, sleeping bags," he finished, cheerfully.
Everyone laughed with the child. Brick ruffled Vin's hair and said, "What about you, kiddo, you gonna use a sleeping bag or a bed?"
Grinning, Vin's eyes lit up and Chris recognized the impish look and groaned inwardly.
Vin continued, "Nah, Dad's bones're old so he needs a bed, but me and JD git ta sleep outside." Eyeing the porch to the cabin they were approaching, Vin looked up at his Dad expectantly. "Can we, Dad? Huh, can we?" he begged.
JD started jumping up and down, and even though he was carrying a rolled up sleeping bag, he tried to clap his hands.
Jack saved the men from having to answer right away as they reached the row of cabins. He opened the door to the first one. "Here we are. I hope this is satisfactory. Dinner is in about half an hour. I'll let you guys get washed up and we'll see you over at the house. Your cabin is next door," he said to Buck and headed that way.
Chris looked around the cabin, nodded his appreciation and plunked his and Vin's bags on the opposite bed. "Thanks," he said to Brick, who had lingered and was still talking to Vin.
Once Jack made sure both men were comfortable, he headed back to the house.
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The family headed over to the main house and met the rest of the family. Leigh, Jack's daughter-in-law, introduced her two young children, Harry and Rose and Brick's sister, Cassy. She offered everyone a glass of lemonade or iced tea as she introduced the other guests. The family's name was Corbett, Jim, his wife and two daughters. The two girls were teenagers and wanted nothing to do with the younger kids. Both of them, however, were busy flirting with Brick.
The group sat down to dinner and started passing bowls of food. Brick looked over at Vin, confused by his feelings for the young boy. There was a familiarity about him that made Brick wonder, if maybe, they'd met around the racetrack circuit. There seemed to be some kind of connection between them that he didn't understand. Brick decided to get to know the kid better.
As the food was passed around the table, Brick grinned at Vin and asked, "You ever been to the auto races, Vin?"
"No," Vin said with a smile. "I reckon it'd be a lot of fun though."
"How about hiking?" Brick asked.
Vin nodded his answer and took a bite of his mashed potatoes.
"Well," Brick continued, "we have some great hiking trails around here. Did you see the three mountain peaks that surround the valley? They're called the Three Sisters, but we've always called them Charity, Hope and Patience. Tomorrow I'm headed about halfway up the one called Patience. It's a scenic hike. Lots of little lakes and waterfalls. Would you and your Dad like to come along?"
Vin looked over at Chris. "Can we, Dad?"
Chris shrugged. "Sure, I don't see why not. How about you and JD, Buck? Want to come along?"
Buck ruffled JD's hair. "I don't think so, pard. I think that's a little too much for JD. I'd end up carrying him most of the way. We'll stick around here, maybe go fishing."
Jack was frowning at Brick and said, "It's not an easy climb, and certainly not for beginners."
Vin piped up,"Oh, Dad's not a beginner, he and Buck run five miles every day. They gotta keep in shape for their jobs."
Jim Corbett's curiosity got the best of him. "What do you and Mr. Wilmington do for a living?"
"We're federal agents," Chris answered.
"Spies?" Mrs. Corbett blurted out.
"Oh, no Ma'am, ATF agents." Buck informed her.
"It's settled then," Brick laughed. "We'll start after breakfast."
Leigh spoke up, "I'll fix you guys a lunch to take with you. Brick, make sure you have plenty of water," she admonished.
Teasing her, he said, "Yes, Mom," as she playfully slapped him on the arm.
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It was late, but Chris couldn't sleep. Both boys were tucked inside their bags, both sound asleep. Even Buck succumbed from the stress of the day and headed for his bed. Chris, too, headed for bed, but as he lay there he found he couldn't relax. Being back in this place had brought back memories he wished to leave dead and buried. He'd gotten up and carried a rocking chair out to the front porch, lit up a cheroot and rocked. The night was pitch black, but the stars overhead looked like twinkling Christmas lights. As he leaned back and rocked he wished he had a shot of bourbon, but that was a path he didn't dare walk down. So, he thought, maybe he'd come full circle. This was where he'd come to hide when the burden and anxiety of losing Sarah and Adam became too much for him to bear.
He tensed when he saw a shadow moving towards him. Recognizing Jack, he relaxed again and nodded as McKenna approached the porch. Jack sat down on the porch and gazed up at the sky and said, "Beautiful, isn't it?"
"Yes it is," Chris answered and took a draw on his cigar.
"I seem to recollect you and your friend being here before." Jack thought a minute. "Maybe a two or three years ago?"
"Yeah, I had some personal problems to work out and Buck came with me. The peace and quiet of your outfit here was a good place to work them out. I had to get my head screwed on straight." Chris answered Jack truthfully. He didn't usually talk about his business, but he'd read about Guy McKenna's accident and could feel the man's pain.
"Well," Jack said with a smile, "I'm glad we could help. I best get back, I just come out to check on the livestock. See you at breakfast. Goodnight"
Chris watched Jack walk back towards his home. He yawned and decided it was time for him to hit the hay, too.
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The following day Buck took JD along with Harry and Rose fishing at the creek. The kids played in the water more than they fished, and Buck sat back and let them play. Around noon, Walter Maddock, the handyman, brought a picnic lunch out to them. He sat with Buck on the bank of the river and chatted as they ate.
Chris, Vin and Brick scrambled around on the mountain. Brick chased and teased Vin as they navigated the path upwards to their destination. Chris could sense there was a connection between Vin and Brick. There was a camaraderie between them that Vin usually shied away from. Chris smiled and thought 'The way those two had taken to each other, if we lived closer, those two would have a real close friendship'. Vin, however, still kept a close eye on Chris.
There were makeshift benches, made out of cut logs along the way that invited hikers to relax and enjoy the views. When it was time for lunch Larabee sat on one of the logs and looked around him. He took in the breath-taking scene before him and breathed deeply.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" Brick said, sitting next to him.
"Yes, it is," he answered and nodded.
"I like it here," Vin shared his feelings with the two men. "I think that's 'cause it's a lot like home."
"I understand you have a ranch in Colorado, Chris, do you keep any livestock?" Brick queried.
"A few horses and the boys have their dogs. I don't have time for more than that," Larabee answered.
"I have a picture of Peso and Ringo with me. I'll show it to you if you want." Vin grinned proudly. "Peso's the bestest horse ever."
Chris ruffled Vin's hair affectionately. "He sure is, cowboy."
Brick chuckled. "I'd love to see a picture of your horse, kiddo. I'm starved so why don't we eat." Opening his knapsack, he said, "Let's see what Leigh packed for us."
Everything else was forgotten as they tore into their lunch.
The rest of the day was spent hiking back down the mountain and washing up for supper. At the table, JD and Vin were full of stories of their adventures for the day and Chris asked, "Vin, you think you'd like to go fishing tomorrow with Buck and JD? Brick, would you like to join us?"
Smiling, Brick agreed. "You know, it's been a long time since I spent a day lazing around on a river bank. Thanks, I think I will tagalong."
The Corbett family was noticeably missing and Jack explained, "They went to Portland to spend the day."
Chris couldn't be sure if it was the exercise or the fresh mountain air, but he slept like a log that night.
After breakfast the following day, it was a carefree bunch that hiked to the river and settled in under a tree to fish. The kids, except for Vin, scampered around shouting and playing tag. Harry, Rose and JD's friendship had blossomed, but Vin was more inclined to watch.
"Tomorrow we can go on a trail ride if you guys want, "Brick announced.
"Hey, that'd be great." Buck smiled. "This sure is some beautiful country," he said as he slipped his Stetson down over his eyes, leaned back against the tree and napped for awhile.
As the day wore on, the children became subdued and quieted. Late in the afternoon they left the river and walked toward the house with the string of fish to clean for Leigh. She had promised to fry them up on the outside grill. Her words had been, "You clean 'em and I'll cook 'em."
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As tired as Chris was, he still couldn't sleep. After tossing and turning for awhile, he stepped outside and made himself comfortable in the rocking chair. He lit up his cheroot, leaned back and tried to relax. He knew he should give up smoking, but his cigar in the evenings was something he'd always enjoyed, even when Sarah was alive. He'd never smoked around Adam or JD, but sometimes Vin would join him on the porch at home and had watched as he put the cigar out, before settling Vin on his lap. Tonight was one of those nights. "Dad?" he heard coming from the room. Chris turned to look at Vin, who stood in the doorway, a blanket wrapped around him.
"Hey cowboy, why aren't you asleep?"
As an answer, he received a shrug. "Well, come here and we'll talk about it. Okay?" He put out the cheroot.
Vin shuffled over and Chris raised him up, settled him on his lap and wrapped the cover securely around his son. Chris began to rock slowly as Vin cuddled up to his chest. "Did you have a bad dream?" his father asked.
"No, I woke up and you were gone. I wondered where you were," Vin explained.
"I hope you knew I was close. I'd never leave you alone," Chris soothed.
"I know, but I heard you tell Mr. McKenna
that you'd been here b'fore and I's wonderin' why you ain't said nothin' 'bout it."
"Well, it's been a few years ago and Buck was with me, so there really wasn't anything to tell."
"I heard ya tell him your head wasn't straight and had ta be... hmm, fitted?" Vin looked up at his adopted father.
Chris chuckled quietly. "So, you were listening."
Vin sighed. He knew Chris would think he'd been eavesdropping. "I didn't mean to, I woke up and figured I come out and sit with ya, but Jack was here and you were talkin' ta him and all."
"Sometimes adults talk about things children don't always understand. If you hear something you aren't sure of, come to me and we'll talk about it." Chris tickled Vin's ribs, laughing.
Vin giggled, curled up and then relaxed. "That's what I'm doin', Dad." He giggled again when Chris ruffled his hair.
Larabee knew he'd been caught at his own game. Now he'd have to talk to Vin about things better left unsaid. Better left in the past. Things he really didn't want to talk about. How do you talk to an eight-year-old about death and grief? Of course, it was Vin he would be talking to, someone who'd lost almost as much as Chris had.
Vin waited patiently. He figured Chris would be angry at him for listening to him and Jack as they talked, but he didn't seem to be.
"Do you remember back in the Spring when you had your dream and decided to work it out for yourself?"
"Yeah," Vin nodded.
"Well, when Sarah and Adam di.., went to dream with the angels, I decided I'd go into hiding, too. I couldn't stand to be around anyone, especially the people I loved and who loved me. I said a lot of mean ugly things and did a lot of ugly things. My friends, especially Buck stood by me, even though I tried to push them away. I guess I thought if no one was around that I loved or that loved me then I couldn't get hurt again. So, Buck brought me out here and helped me straighten out my thinking. That's what you heard, isn't it? That I had to get my head on straight?"
"Yeah, that was it. You couldn't do that at home?"
"No Vin, home was too close. The ranch was where Sarah and I shared a life. That was where we had Adam. At home, I had all those feel-bad thoughts. All those memories were jumbled up and I couldn't untangle them. Now, I can look at those memories and smile at the happy ones, but I can also remember the sad ones too."
Hugging his Dad, Vin smiled, "Maybe we were supposed ta meet and ta help each other so we don't hafta hide anymore."
Hugging Vin back, he answered, "Yeah, I believe that, cowboy. Because you've helped me and I'd like to think I've helped you, too. Any questions?"
Vin yawned and shook his head. "I'm tired, reckon I'm goin' back ta bed."
"I think it's time for both of us to go to bed. Come on, I'll tuck you in, again."
Vin jumped off his lap and went into the cabin as Chris followed. He zipped Vin up into the bag and settled into his own bed. Both man and child were asleep within minutes.
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The rest of the week flew by. Their trail ride included lunch cooked over an open fire and dinner that night would be the fish they had caught and cleaned the day before.
The Corbett family left on Thursday and Buck and Chris were to leave the next day. Harry, Rose and JD swore they'd be friends forever and exchanged E-Mail addresses. Surprisingly, Vin and Brick settled into a quiet, easy friendship, not unlike the one he shared with his Uncle Ezra. It was a phenomenon neither understood nor questioned.
Chris liked Brick and recognized the similarities Brick and Vin shared. Even Buck commented on it before they left for home. Laughingly, Buck watched Vin and Brick amble towards the car from the barn. "Lookee there, Chris, those two even walk alike."
Larabee watched the two approach the car and agreed.
Buck had found JD in the bed the last morning of vacation. At breakfast, Buck asked him why he'd decided to sleep in the bed instead of the sleeping bag. JD sighed, "I guess I gots old bones too," he said, to everyone's amusement.
After shaking hands with the McKennas, the two families bid each other goodbye.
The plane ride home was uneventful and as the weary travelers dropped their bags in their bedrooms. Buck volunteered to retrieve the dogs from the kennel the next morning.
Everyone agreed, vacations were fun, but it felt good to get home.