Magnificent Seven Little Britches
He Keeps Sending Me Angels

by Hawk50


Main Characters: Vin, Chris, JD, Buck, other team members

Type of Story: Gen Fic, some violence toward a child, language

Universe: Little Britches ATF

Disclaimer: This is a song-based story, from Kathy Mattea's “Love Travels”. I hope you give her music a try. The song referenced has reminded me of Mag 7 for several years. I apologize if this is not most folks “cup of tea.”

Don't own 'em, makin' no money off 'em, would have treated them much better than TPTB. Thanks to MOG for the ATF 'verse, and thanks to Barbretta Hayden for the Little Britches' version of the ATF. Countless thanks also go to the others who have written so well in this 'verse.

Constructive feedback welcome and appreciated.

Chris Larabee yawned, then stood up from his desk and stretched; hands at the small of his back. He heard several pops as his spine straightened and then he drew a deep breath. He was tired. He was beyond tired. He'd passed tired about two hours ago and was rapidly approaching exhaustion. And he still had a couple of hours' worth of paperwork to complete before he could call it a day and head to the ranch. Glancing at his watch, he saw that it was rapidly approaching midnight. Call it a night, rather.

Being the head of one of the Denver ATF's finest teams had its perks. It also had its drawbacks.

This assignment had been one of those drawbacks. While it had been extremely successful in the number of weapons and weapons suppliers seized and taken off the streets, it was also a joint venture with the FBI. This meant mountains of paperwork to complete – including a painstaking effort to ensure all the t's were crossed and i's dotted. All of which left Chris with a raging headache and an attitude to match.

With a deep sigh, Chris ran his hands through his short blond hair and sat back down at his computer to complete his summary of the bust. The rest of the team's reports sat in his In-Box, awaiting his signature. While he felt comfortable signing off on Buck's and Nathan's, he was sure Ezra had managed to sneak a request for a new suit in amidst his flowery prose, and he shuddered at the prospect of reading Josiah's missive. The group's profiler had a habit of writing like he spoke – long-windedly and rambling. He could easily stretch a two paragraph report into five pages.

A sharp rap at his office door shook Chris out of his thoughts. Before he could respond, a tousled head stuck itself in through the opening.

“Damnit, Buck, don't you ever wait to be invited in?”

Deep blue eyes twinkled in a mischievous face.

“Aw hell, Chris, what's the point? It's just the two of us still here.”

Buck Wilmington grinned, revealing a set of straight white teeth framed by an impressive mustache, as dark as the hair on his head.

“I'm heading out, stud. Need anything before I go?”

Chris started to shake his head, then, changing his mind, thrust a half-filled coffee mug in Buck's general direction.

“Top this off for me, will ya?”

Buck frowned. “You sure you want more coffee? As it is, we'll only get about four hours of sleep tops before we have to take the boys to that flea market.”

Shit! Chris' head jerked up, meeting Buck's concerned gaze. He'd totally forgotten about the morning outing.

The boys in question were Vin Tanner and John 'JD' Dunne. Discovered by the team during a location sweep, the orphans had been living in an abandoned warehouse. That had been some three months earlier. Chris' mind flashed back to that day….

M7 – M7 – M7 – M7 – M7 – M7

Chris had been tired that day, too. Tired for different reasons. One was the team had been attempting for the past three months to break up a large gun smuggling ring. For some reason their crack undercover agent Ezra Standish had been unable to work his way into the organization and so far all their tips on suspected staging areas had resulted in dead ends. The one which had led them to this group of abandoned buildings also seemed to be one of those ends.

Another had been Chris' mood of late. While no days were perfect after the death of his wife and son, he seemed to have hit a particularly rough patch the last week. So much so that the team was on tenterhooks around him; never knowing what word, gesture or question would set him off. He'd even crawled back into a whiskey bottle the weekend before, leaving Buck to deal with the resulting hangover and projectile vomiting. Fortunately, this was nothing new to Buck, and Chris' oldest friend had dealt with it as he had all the other instances – with humor and patience. God bless Buck, Chris had thought, not for the first time. Most people would have washed their hands of the situation long ago.

The same was true with the other team members. Despite suffering his considerable and unreasonable abuse, they were loyal to a man. Chris' problem was never taken lightly, never treated with distain and never talked about outside their team.

The team had been searching this particular group of warehouses for the past several hours and Chris' mood had gone from resigned to impatient to volatile. The other men were steering clear of him and keeping their radio conversations short. Chris swore that if Josiah said “God works in mysterious ways” one more time to him to explain their situation, he was going to have to shoot him.

Then a ragged little boy clutching the greasy remnants of someone's discarded bag lunch had appeared in Chris' gun sights and the rest was nothing short of, as Josiah smugly said, 'miraculous'.

I walked down to the river,
Stood on the shore,
Seems like the devil's always
Trying to get in my door.
Just when I thought I couldn't take anymore
Here it comes again, my friend.

The ragged little boy turned out to be five-year-old JD. His companion and protector, seven-year-old Vin, had been lying unconscious in a make-shift home of discarded timber, cardboard boxes, and other odds and ends piled up in a corner of the warehouse. Vin had been shot by a stray bullet fired from the neighboring abandoned warehouse.

It had been touch and go for Vin at first. The team's trained medic, Nathan Jackson, had done what he could for the boy at the scene. The slight, fair-haired youngster had been rushed to the hospital where he hovered between life and death for the better part of three days.

That had been three months ago. Since then, both boys had come to live at Chris' ranch. Buck had given up his apartment in Denver and joined the trio. He had assumed guardianship of JD, and he and the youngster had formed an immediate bond, both taking gleeful delight in forging a father/son- like relationship.

Chris and Vin, on the other hand, while sharing an undeniable link, seemed a bit more hesitant to jump into something that close. Although Chris was Vin's guardian, Chris' reluctance was due to the loss of his family, killed in a car bombing meant for him. Forming such a relationship with Vin might mean he'd moved on from their deaths, something he was afraid to do. Chris just wasn't sure he was ready to love again. And Vin came with a lot of baggage.

An old soul in a young body, Vin had been abandoned and abused during the years he'd been orphaned. He'd lost his mom, his only known relative, when he was a little younger than JD and since that time had been shuffled in and out of foster and group homes, some obviously worse than others. That, coupled with a slight case of dyslexia and an innate shyness, had caused uncaring teachers to label him stupid, slow or difficult. All that had left Vin nervous, quiet and quick to accept blame.

JD was adapting to the new lifestyle more rapidly than Vin. While he still missed his mother, she had been a strong and loving presence for all but a few months of his life. And for those months Vin had looked after JD with a vengeance, shielding him from most of the ugly realities of life on the streets. Vin had made everything a game, and often went hungry or without warm clothes to ensure JD stayed relatively full, warm and safe.

Therefore, JD retained his youthful innocence and enthusiasm. He was a short, sturdy, dark-haired, round-faced cherub, who talked a mile a minute. He was bright, smart, sharp and inquisitive – an impulse hugger who smiled often and giggled frequently.

Vin was taller and slighter with almost elfin features. Tousled blondish-brown hair hung almost to his shoulders and more than one person commented those beautiful blue eyes of his were too old to be in in the face of one so young. Vin was quiet almost to the point of invisibility. He seldom asked for things for himself, rarely ever complained and was unfailingly polite and eager to please.

So, when Vin was the one who asked if they could go to the upcoming flea market, both Buck and Chris were surprised. They'd quickly said yes, but that was before this bust had gone down and the long hours of cleanup that followed.

Now the flea market was scheduled to open mere hours from now and Chris was beginning to regret his promise to Vin.

M7 – M7 – M7 – M7 – M7 – M7

Buck quickly picked up on Chris' sense of panic.

“Hey, Chris, it's no problem. Sure was a good thing Nettie Wells could see to the boys. As for in the morning, I'll bet one of the fellows would be glad to go with us. You need to go home and get some sleep. Vin 'n JD'll be fine with us.”

Chris looked up at Buck. Nettie was the social worker assigned to the boys when they were found. She'd fought tooth and nail to make sure they stayed with Chris and Buck. He wasn't sure staying late at the office was setting such a good example of good guardianship.

Then Chris shook his head. “Can't do that, Buck. Vin's just beginning to trust us – to trust me. This is such a small thing he's asking. And it'll only take a couple of hours, right?”

Buck smiled. He produced a bottle of water from behind his back and handed it to Chris, along with a couple of Ibuprophen. “Whatever you say, pard. See ya at the ranch.”

Chris sighed, swallowing the aspirin and then gazing at the now closed door of his office. He sat back in his chair and ran his hand again through his hair. Reflecting back on the short time Vin had been with him, Chris knew things had not been easy for either of them. Chris was still in mourning and Vin was so damaged it was hard for him to trust. Hell, it was hard for either of them to trust. Still the boy tried so damn hard to please. Sometimes too hard to Chris' way to thinking. He had tried to reassure the youngster he wasn't going to be sent away out of anger for a supposed wrong doing or a lack of interest, like a toy that sat collecting dust after the newness wore off. At times, Chris wasn't sure if he was the right man for this job. Wouldn't Vin be better off with a loving couple who could spend more time with him? What right did a hard drinking, workaholic son-of-a-bitch like Chris Larabee have raising a child alone? Buck made it look so simple. Damn, why couldn't this all be easier?

He keeps sending me angels
From up on high.
He keeps sending me angels
To teach me to fly.
He keeps sending me angels
Sweet and true.
He keeps sending me angels
Just like you…

Chris hurried through the remainder of his work, signed off on all the pertinent reports and headed for the parking garage. Glancing at his watch, he groaned. He'd have just enough time to shower, shave and change before the boys – well, JD, anyway – would be clamoring to go. Vin would wait patiently, not saying a word, just shifting his weight from foot to foot.

Or, Chris thought with a slight smile, maybe not so patiently, as he was the one to suggest this outing. It made Chris happy to do this small thing for the boy who asked for so little. Lost sleep was a small price to pay to see that rare light in his blue eyes.

Reaching the front door, he was surprised to see Buck open it, a steaming cup of coffee in his hand. Handing it to Chris, Buck said, “Been up since six a.m. No surprise from Vin, but even JD didn't sleep in.” Lowering his voice in case little ears were nearby, Buck nearly whispered. “Found 'em sharing JD's bed. Apparently both of us working late, and you not coming in last night, was a little upsetting to Vin. They're okay now and raring to go.”

Chris glanced over Buck's shoulder and saw Vin hesitantly standing a few feet away. He could hear JD slurping juice in the kitchen and talking a mile a minute to Mrs. Wells. The words were unintelligible; the enthusiasm wasn't.

Chris knelt down in the doorway and opened his arms. Vin barreled into them and hugged Chris tightly, his face pressed against Chris' shirt.

“Was worried 'bout ya,” he said, tears audible in his shaky voice. “Afraid somethin' had happened to ya, not coming home last night.”

Chris steadied Vin, and then held him at arm's length. He took in the reddened eyes and tear-stained cheeks. “I'm sorry I worried you, cowboy,” he said softly. “We just had a lot of work to do. I'd hoped Mrs. Wells staying over would reassure you some. By the time I had a moment to call, it was way past your bedtime. I'll try to let you know sooner the next time it happens, okay?”

Vin nodded, not looking too happy about there being a 'next time.'

“Now,” Chris bit back a groan as he stood to his feet. He felt every one of his years after that all-nighter. “I'm going to go get cleaned up. You think you could ask Mrs. Wells to make me some eggs and toast?”

Vin's face brightened considerably. “Okay,” he said happily, running off to the kitchen to put in Chris' breakfast order.

“Did the fourth come early or were those your knees I heard poppin' there, pard?” Buck said with a grin.

“Watch it, Buck,” Chris growled. “I know where there are some photos your next date would love to see.”

“That's just plain evil, Chris,” Buck moaned, his hand clutching his shirt over his heart. “You wound me, stud.”

“You'll live, I'm sure,” Chris threw back over his shoulder as he made for his bedroom and a much-needed shower.

M7 – M7 – M7 – M7 – M7 – M7

Emerging clean and actually refreshed, Chris was surprised to hear two male voices coming from the den. Rounding the corner, he stopped, amazed at the sight before his eyes.

In the den, sipping a cup of coffee, was Ezra Standish. The group's undercover agent was a notoriously late riser, finding it difficult to be to work on time and detesting any meeting, function or event starting before noon. Seeing him was surprising. First of all, the flea market opened at 9 a.m., an hour when Ezra was usually still abed. Secondly, the Southerner's tastes seemed a bit too refined for him to be rummaging around dusty stalls and bargain bins, let alone at that time of the morning. Yet here he was, at eight o'clock in the morning, looking a lot more chipper than Chris felt.

The five arrived at the flea market at 9 a.m. The flea market was doing a booming business even at that early hour, if the crowded parking lot was any indication. Walking through the front gates, Buck and Chris received their second surprise of the morning.

Vin spotted the duo first. He alarmed Chris by letting go of Chris' hand, but his cries of “Uncle Nathan! Uncle J'siah!” soon put the ATF team leader at ease. JD was right behind Vin, slamming into Josiah's sturdy legs with an “oomph!”, almost knocking the tall man off-balance. Josiah swept tiny JD up into his arms, hugging him vigorously. Vin approached Nathan a bit more sedately, looking up at him with a crooked grin before receiving a warm hug.

Chris, Buck and Ezra made their way over to the pair. “What's this?” Chris asked, humor in his voice. “My team didn't work hard enough this week that they just couldn't sleep in this Saturday?”

There was lots of hemming and hawing, but finally Josiah said, “Word leaked out about the flea market and we just couldn't pass up a chance to be with our adopted nephews.”

JD rushed back to Buck, latching on to his hand, and began tugging him towards the overstuffed vendors' tables.

“Look, Da – I mean, Buck. They's gots Hot Wheels 'n trains 'n Math Box cars 'n – ooh! Buzz 'n Woody! Just looks at all the neat stuff! Do you think they gots horses? Or puppies? Maybe I could gets sumthin' for Miss Nettie and Auntie Rain. Ooh, a cowboy hat!”

Buck just smiled. “Slow down, lil' bit. We've got all morning to look around.”

JD's enthusiasm was catching; even Chris managed a grin. He'd noticed JD slipping between Buck's name and calling him Da lately. It sounded natural. Neither of the boys had known their fathers and JD seemed eager for a “Da” in his life.

And he could swear he saw a glimmer of that need in Vin, too. Normally Vin was almost painfully polite; it was “Mr. Chris” or “Sir” most of the time. But lately, usually when he was tired, or scared, or sick, just plain “Chris” came out.

“You have anything in particular you want to look for, Vin?” Chris asked, feeling quite pleased that Vin again had a tight hold on his hand.

“No, sir. Jest lookin',” came the response.

“All right, then,” Chris said.

Soon Josiah found a domino game and sat in the shade to play. Nathan browsed through a collection of used textbooks. Ezra was carrying on a lively conversation with a man selling unique firearms, including a small derringer which could be concealed up a jacket sleeve.

While JD flitted back and forth among the tables and aisles, Vin methodically took a row at a time, looking at various wares. Soon Buck had a large handled paper bag filled with JD's treasures. Nathan had picked up a few used books and even Ezra purchased a couple of items. Vin was still empty handed.

Oh, he'd picked up quite a few things. Turned a few over once or twice. But each time Chris thought he might be settling on something, he moved on to the next table. And the next. And the next.

They'd been at the market about three hours. Chris was about to suggest they stop and get something to eat or drink when he noticed Vin had paused at a table displaying new and used CDs and videos. He'd passed over the children's videos and was now studying a CD intently, flipping it over and over in his hands. He then nodded to himself as if a decision had been made, then dug in his pocket for the little coin holder where he kept his money.

Chris stepped up behind him, looking at the CD case. A dark-haired woman in a sepia-toned photo looked solemnly at the camera. Chris recognized the artist.

“I didn't know you liked Kathy Mattea, Vin,” Chris said.

“Who?” Vin asked, looking up at Chris.

“Kathy Mattea. This is her CD. So, you must like her music if you're willin' to part with some of your hard earned money.”

Vin shrugged his shoulders, bowed his head and looked searchingly at the back cover of the CD case he held.

“Don't know ifn I like her music 'r not. Like the names of the songs. Like her photo. She sorta reminds me of my mom, 'cept Mom had lighter hair, I think. Don't really know who she is. Just want this CD, is all. Is that okay, Mr. Chris?”

Chris was shocked to hear such an outpouring of words from a young boy who spoke as little as possible. He placed a gentle hand on the thin shoulder and squeezed gently.

“You can use your chore money however you see fit, son. I'll admit I'm a little surprised you're buying a CD by someone you don't know.”

“Cain't explain it, Mr. Chris. Jest want it.”

“That CD's never been opened, Mister,” the white-haired lady behind the table spoke up. “My daughter bought this just before she passed. Sarah said Kathy Mattea spoke to her through her music. I'll make your boy a good deal. One dollar, okay?”

Chris swallowed the sudden lump in his throat at the woman's words and the mention of his late wife's name. “That's one heck of a deal. Let's pay the lady and get to finding something to eat. I'm about to gnaw a hand off, I'm so hungry. How about you?” Chris smiled down at Vin, then looked back at the older woman. An odd look of understanding passed between them, and Chris couldn't shake the feeling that something special had transpired here.

Vin handed his money to the woman. “Thank you, ma'am,” he said softly.

“My pleasure, sweetheart. Enjoy the CD.”

Vin's bright blue eyes shown up at Chris. “Y'think they got hot dogs?”

Chris ruffled Vin's shaggy locks. “I'll bet they do, buddy.”

And they took off to find the others.

As I stand on this mountain
Face to the wind,
Amazed at the number of times we've all sinned.
And the countless enemies
That should have been friends
Oh, here he comes again, my friend…

M7 – M7 – M7 – M7 – M7 – M7

Hidden in the shadows of a nearby covered booth, an older man watched the pair with growing interest.

The man swore softly. It was that damned Fed Chris Larabee! And he had a kid with him – probably his son.

Irvin Jameson chuckled with barely suppressed glee. Here, not 40 yards away, was the man who, along with his team, had busted up an arms deal Jameson had spent months finalizing. The bust had effectively bankrupted him and sent him into hiding. For a man with champagne tastes, living in 3rd rate hotels and eating greasy take-out food was not Jameson's idea of living the good life.

Here was his chance to get back at Larabee. Not even – oh, never even. As far as Jameson was concerned, nothing would equal the embarrassment and suffering he'd been through the last two years. But he could at least bring the man down a notch or two – maybe even make him beg. Yeah, that was it – beg. The thought of the arrogant Larabee on his knees and begging was an attractive thought.

But, how to do it? What was the man's weakness? Jameson watched a little longer; watched Larabee interact with surprising tenderness towards the slender, long-haired boy. The two sat at a picnic table, chowing down on hotdogs loaded with mustard and relish. Not much was said, but gestures spoke volumes; Larabee wiping excess mustard from the boy's face, the youngster nudging him gently with an elbow. He smiled to himself; this could be the chink in the great man's armor he'd been looking for.

Just as he began to formulate a plan, Larabee and the boy were joined at the table by the other members of Larabee's team and a small, dark-haired boy who seemed to be attached to a large mustachioed man's hip. This day was just getting better and better! Buck Wilmington had also been responsible for a great deal of the mess Jameson had found himself in, and he seemed inordinately fond of the child by his side. Looking about, Jameson began to plot his revenge.

M7 – M7 – M7 – M7 – M7 – M7

Chris looked around the table and felt relaxed for the first time in days. This was how things were supposed to be; spending time with the men on his team who were also his best friends. And JD and Vin, of course; especially Vin. Vin, who right now was laughing at something Ezra was saying and still had a small smudge of mustard on his upper lip.

Chris bent close to Vin to wipe off the smudge, just as Vin asked, “Hey, what's JD doin' away from the table? Ain't he s'posed to stay with us?”

Everyone at the table looked in the direction Vin indicated and saw JD standing near a pen of yipping, jumping, excited puppies. A man was bending over JD, looking for all the world like he was going to hand him one of those pups.

JD waved at the table in general and Buck in particular. “Lookit, Da, lookit! I'm gonna get to hold a baby dog! This nice mans' gonna let me hold one! Can we get one, please, please, pleaaaaaaase?”

Chris figured all was okay for a split second; then he caught a glimpse of the man's face; the man who was wearing a wide grin. No, not a grin; a leer actually. Then the pieces fell into place.

Shooting a look at Buck, he mouthed “Jameson.” Buck tensed, then shouted “Back to the table, JD, NOW!”

Everything happened in a split second, although, looking back, Chris would have sworn it was all in slow motion.

Buck's shout startled JD, but he started to do as he was told. Jameson grabbed the boy's arm and pulled him in front of him. All five men rose from the table, spreading out, instinctively reaching for firearms that weren't there. Before Chris could stop him, Vin tore over to Jameson and JD, screaming, “You let him go!” and started pounding on the man's legs with his fists, and kicking him with sneakered feet.

Startled, Jameson turned loose of JD, who scrambled away from the man. A passerby, caught up in the drama, quickly spirited the boy to a safe place about ten feet away.

Jameson then latched on to Vin. Here was the target he really wanted. And none of the men were armed; couldn't bring firearms into the flea market unless you had a permit to sell them, and most of those were either replicas or non-working antiques. Perfect. Jameson pulled out his pocket knife, opened it, and held the sharp blade to Vin's throat, forcing the boy to stand close in front of him. A collective gasp ran through the team and the crowd, but no one moved.

Jameson roughly grabbed Vin's arm, twisting it behind his back. Vin moaned and trembled, but stayed still, his gaze fixed on Chris. The knife blade scratched Vin's neck; a trickle of blood stained the neck of Vin's T-shirt.

“So, payback is hell, eh, Larabee?” Jameson crowed. He jerked the boy back roughly, slowly backing up. “Anyone tries to stop me, I kill this kid, understand?”

More and more people were crowding around, trying to get a look at what was going on. Chris knew he had little or no control over the situation and that worried him. The more trapped Jameson felt, the more dangerous and unpredictable he could become. All he knew right now was that Vin's eyes were pleading with him to keep him safe, and apologizing for rushing Jameson. And, unbelievably, letting Chris know that Vin trusted him completely, whatever the outcome.

He keeps sending me angels
Here they come a flyin'.
He keeps sending me angels
To keep me from cryin'.
He keeps sending me angels
So I won't be blue.
He keeps sending me angels
Just like you.

Jameson noticed the crowd pressing in. This wasn't going how he planned; he saw no chance for a clean getaway. And, from the murderous look in Larabee's eyes, Jameson was beginning to doubt he'd live to see the inside of a jail cell. Still, he held the boy. And the knife. And, to his way of thinking, the upper hand. If he wasn't going to survive this, then, by God, the boy wouldn't either.

The child in his grasp was rail-thin. Trembling. The little arm he held twisted behind the kid's back wasn't any thicker than a piece of kindling. He squeezed tighter, and jerked, hard. An audible snap could be heard in the ever-growing silence.

Vin screamed, paled and looked as if he were going to pass out. Chris started to rush forward, but Jameson tightened his grip on the boy's injured arm, pressing the knife closer to Vin's throat, and snarled, “I wouldn't if I were you, Larabee. A slit throat's a lot worse than a broken arm.”

“I'm going to kill you, Jameson, you son-of-a-bitch,” Larabee promised, but stopped his forward motion.

Just then an accented voice sounded in Jameson's right ear, and the feel of cold steel pressed into his right temple.

“And, if ah were you, you miserable piece of excrement, ah would turn loose of that young lad this instant.”

The sound of a hammer being pulled back echoed loudly in Jameson's ear. He swallowed; closed his eyes. Felt the knife being pried away from his now shaking fingers and the boy's weight removed from his grasp.

Then Larabee was on him; punching him in the face again and again, screaming expletives. His vision swam, then went dark.

M7 – M7 – M7 – M7 – M7 – M7

It took both Josiah and Buck to pull Chris off Jameson. Buck had rarely seen the man so enraged, so out of control.

Finally, Josiah wrestled Chris away using his superior size and surprising strength, while Buck kept saying, “Chris, stop it! Stop it! That's enough!”

It took Nathan's quiet voice saying, “Chris – stop. You're frightening Vin,” to finally cut through the red haze of rage which had overtaken him.

Just like that, the man changed from killing machine to concerned father. Chris fell to his knees beside Nathan, who was tending to Vin as best he could under the circumstances. Someone placed a call to 911, someone else to the police, and pillows, towels and sheets appeared from various booths. Nathan propped Vin up on some pillows and had a towel wrapped around his neck to staunch the bleeding. He and Ezra were busying fashioning a makeshift splint out of sheet strips and two small boards which had appeared from somewhere. Buck had gathered JD up from the passerby and was holding him in his lap, rocking him gently as JD sobbed quietly, his arms wrapped tightly around Buck's neck.

Chris leaned over and stroked the hair off Vin's forehead. “How you doin', cowboy?” he asked worriedly. He wanted to grab the boy up and hug the stuffing out of him, but knew Nathan needed to finish what he was doing.

Vin looked up at him, tears welling in his eyes. “S-sorry, Chris,” he said, almost a whisper.

Chris looked shocked. What on earth could the boy be sorry for? Getting hurt? Then he remembered the look he and Vin had exchanged during the stand-off.

“You've got nothing to be sorry for, son,” Chris said warmly.

Vin shook his head. “Uh-huh. Shouldn't have gone after him like that. I was jest so scared fer JD. That man coulda hurt him, bad. Jest wasn't thinkin'. I'm real sorry, Chris.”

Chris looked at Nathan. Splint be damned; he needed to hold his boy. Nathan understood; nodded. Chris gathered Vin up carefully. He could feel Vin's heart racing, feel him tremble, knew he was in pain. Kissing Vin on the top of his head, Chris said. “You're right, son. Probably wasn't the smartest move. The important thing is you're safe now. It'll be okay. I'm proud of you. You kept your head.”

Vin hugged Chris back as best he could, their heads close together. He whispered, “I love you, Dad.”

Chris thought if his life ended right then, he'd never be happier than he was at that minute. Kissing Vin's forehead, he whispered back, “love you too, son.”

Buck looked over at Ezra, who, like the others, was taking in this scene with tears in his eyes. “Thanks, Ez,” he said. Then he frowned. “Where'd you get the gun? I didn't think any of us were armed.”

“Well, Mr. Wilmington, I must confess I managed to misdirect the miscreant with a combination of subterfuge and sleight-of-hand,” Ezra said.

Everyone, including Buck, looked confused.

“I think I speak for everyone here when I say – 'huh?',” Buck said with a grin.

“It's relatively simple,” Ezra said, shrugging. “I bluffed. The gun was not loaded. It was one I purchased here. A spring-action derringer which can be concealed up your sleeve. It's a .41 short. Probably fairly old. I'm not even sure I can procure the ammunition it requires.”

Chris squeezed Ezra's shoulder. “Thank you, Ezra. Words don't seem enough.”

“It was indeed my pleasure, Mr. Larabee,” Ezra replied, giving Chris a smart two-fingered salute.

The arrival of police and EMT's stopped any further conversation. Jameson was taken into custody and left the grounds in an ambulance with an armed guard. The EMT's loaded Vin onto a gurney, started an I.V., and moved him towards a second waiting ambulance.

Before Chris could climb in beside Vin, the lady at whose booth Vin bought the CD stopped Chris with a gentle hand on his arm.

“I'll say a prayer for your boy,” she said softly. “ It's not right, him getting hurt like that. And, here; here's his dollar back. Listen to the second cut on the CD, Mister. It'll speak to you like it did my Sarah. Remember, the second cut.”

Chris barely had time to thank the woman or have her words register before he was hustled into the ambulance and the long ride to the hospital began.

M7 – M7 – M7 – M7 – M7 – M7

The doctors at the hospital had wanted to keep Vin overnight for observation, but Nathan assured them that Vin would fare much better in his own home. Since Nathan's own medical skills were well known, and since the other four men and one extremely vocal five year old were constantly underfoot, it was determined sending Vin home was the best course of action for all concerned. So after he had been thoroughly examined, his arm x-rayed and set, pain meds administered and instructions for his care provided, he was allowed to leave.

JD had been clingy and nervous throughout the entire ordeal, napping fitfully and even declining a trip to the favored “Mickey D's” until Vin felt like eating. JD refused to let his “Da” out of his sight. Or Chris or his other uncles, either. Buck guessed this experience had been too close to some that might have occurred on the streets when he and Vin lived alone.

So it was agreed that, when Vin was released, everyone would journey back to the ranch house to spend what was left of the night. Consequently, it was well after midnight when five tired men and two exhausted little boys pulled up to the front porch.

As Chris and Buck settled in with Vin and JD – each boy tucked in with his respective guardian in the large recliners in the great room – Josiah puttered around the kitchen and Nathan hovered around Vin, making sure the boy was as comfortable as possible. Ezra fired off a text message to their ATF boss Orrin Travis, letting him know of the past day's events and why two of his crack team members would not be at work, and why the remainder of them would be coming in late.

Chris relished the feel of Vin snuggling sleepily in his arms, warm and relaxed under the weight of the comforter Nathan placed over the pair. He nodded at the glasses of iced tea and water Josiah placed at arm's length, and chuckled slightly at Ezra's honeyed Southern drawl. He was speaking to Orrin, who of course was not content to just read a text message, and had called demanding details.

Kissing the top of Vin's head softly, Chris breathed in the unique scent of his boy, and wondered, not for the first time, how he'd ever gotten so lucky to have these particular people in his life. His thoughts moved to include Orrin Travis, Nathan's fiancée Rain and Nettie Wells, and several others who had found their way into his life.

Some say that it's comin'
I say it's already here.
The love that's among us
Through the joy and the fear.
When I look in your eyes
Everything is so clear.
My friend, here he comes again.

Josiah busied himself hanging up stray jackets that had been left strewn around the room when the group had first arrived home. Picking up Chris' jacket, a dollar bill and CD fell out of a side pocket and onto the area rug.

“What's this, Chris?” he asked, handing the money and disk over.

Chris held them out to Josiah. “Just put them on the counter when you can, Josiah,” Chris said. “They're Vin's.”

Just then Vin, whom Chris assumed to be asleep, spoke softly from his place on Chris' lap. “Can we listen to my CD, Chris? Jest on low? I'd really like to hear it.”

“Sure, cowboy,” Chris said, handing the CD back to Josiah.

Josiah made his way over to the sound system which stood near the fireplace. After placing the CD in the player, he handed the cover back to Chris. The sounds of Kathy Mattea's melodic alto filled the room.

The first song Chris recognized, having heard it on one of the country stations he sometimes listened to. He even heard Buck quietly singing along.

Some of this song spoke to Chris. The line, “love travels the miles upon the wings of angels; love finds you, I swear it's true,” rang particularly true for Chris. Love, as impossible as it seemed, had found him again, wrapped up in the slight body of one little towheaded seven year old.

“I like her singin', Dad,” Vin whispered, drifting off to sleep to the music.

“Me, too, son. Me, too,” Chris whispered back, kissing Vin's forehead, relishing the words coming from the boy's lips.

Just then track two started. The voice of the lady at the flea market came back unbidden to Chris as the song began. He lost himself in the words of the song; tears came to his eyes, but they weren't sad tears.

“He 'does' keep sending me angels,” Chris said under his breath, amazed at how perceptive the lady had been . “Angels – on earth as well as in heaven. Thank you, Sarah. Both of you.”

He keeps sending me angels
From up on high.
He keeps sending me angels
To teach me to fly.
He keeps sending me angels
Sweet and true.
He keeps sending me angels
Just like you.


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