Magnificent Seven ATF Universe
Come With Me by the Neon Gang

Art by Shiloh

Chris leaned against the doorjamb and stared at the child sleeping in the top bunk. Covers had been kicked off, one bare foot tangled in the soft Scooby blanket Vin loved. The boy was lying on his belly, one hand tucked under his cheek, under the flat pillow. His other arm was curled around Cat, hugging the beloved stuffed toy to his side.

Chris smiled affectionately as he watched the boy sleeping. It was hard to imagine that, less than a week ago, he'd done something he hadn't thought possible: He'd become a father again. It was official. Vin Tanner was now his adopted son.

He felt the smile lift the corners of his mouth and his eyes swam with pride and love. He was a father again. Second chances did happen.

Down the hall he heard Buck's alarm clock go off, but the ladies' man and his own now-official son weren't there. Buck and JD were off on their own celebration – a tent pitched in the middle of Ezra Standish's condo while they house-sat for the absent man. "Uncle Ezra" as the boys called him, was in New York, visiting his mother, who had undergone an emergency appendectomy two days earlier.

As a new song began to play on the clock radio, Larabee's smile widened.

I'll try to make the sun shine brighter for you
I will even play the fool if it makes you smile
I'll try to make you laugh if there's a tear in your eye
After all is said
After all is done
I'd do anything for you…

The words were true. Truer than he'd ever imaged they might be. A shaggy-haired waif had wormed his way into the man's heart and had resurrected it, or at least the love that had been trapped inside since the deaths of his wife and biological son.

Come with me, close your eyes
Hold my hand, it'll be alright
Don't be scared, don't be shy
Lift your head it's gonna be alright…

Vin was shy, and a little scared sometimes, but ever since he'd found the child in that riot of cardboard boxes, shot, dying, he'd been the one thing in Chris Larabee's life that truly made him feel alive again.

He knew, somehow, that Sarah and Adam had been watching over Vin, making sure that he hung on long enough for Chris to find him. It wasn't wishful thinking on his part; he knew it as certainly as he knew his own name.

Vin had told him he'd seen his mama, too, and maybe he had. It must have taken an army of angles to keep the boy alive until he'd found him.

Sometimes he wondered if Adam might not be jealous, but he doubted such a human reaction could happen in Heaven, and he was sure the boy was in Heaven. He might not believe it for himself, but he was more than certain when it came to Sarah and Adam.

I'll try to make the stars shine brighter for you
And I'll take you on my shoulders, hold you way up high
I'll even chase the rainbow hanging in the sky
'Cause after all is said
After all is done
I'd do anything for you…

The first time those blue eyes had opened they had looked up at him with trust, and the first blush of love. It had been a heady feeling at the time, but he'd wanted to push Vin away. The thought of opening his heart again, of loving again, had been more than terrifying. But the connection between the two of them was something that couldn't be denied.

He chuffed softly and shook his head. Vin Tanner was a force to be reckoned with.

Just yesterday morning the eight-year-old had tried a trick-riding move he'd seen at the National Western Stock Show and ended up plowing up a good two feet of the dirt in the corral. The fall had scared the ever-living daylights out of Chris, but not Vin. The boy had gotten up, dusted himself off, and tried it again – with the same result. By the third time he'd tried it, though, he'd figured it out.

Chris shook his head. And Buck complained that he was stubborn?

Come with me, close your eyes
Hold my hand, it'll be alright
Don't be scared, don't be shy
Lift your head it's gonna be alright…

Chris was so proud of Vin. He struggled in school, but he tried – hard – and he was finally making good progress. He had a kind heart, and an unwavering sense of fairness that made him popular with his classmates. He was gifted when it came to things physical, and Chris was already paying for karate and gymnastics lessons, as well as soccer and baseball leagues. He just hoped Vin didn't decide he wanted to play football. He was still on the small side for his age, but he'd grown several inches, and added several pounds, since he'd moved it at the ranch. Still, he didn't want to have to tell the boy no, but there was no way he was risking a concussion, not given the boy's willingness to give his all in whatever activity he was engaged in.

Through the eyes of innocence
You will find, you will see
There'll come a time it all makes sense
And you won't know, but it will show inside, deep inside…

That was Vin's greatest gift, Chris decided. Somehow, despite everything he'd seen and endured, there was still a spark of innocence in the boy that hadn't been snuffed out. He considered it a miracle of the first order, and Buck and the others agreed.

But, if he let himself admit it, it was the spark of innocence that Vin had given him that Chris thought was the real miracle. Not in a million years would he have thought that was possible, but it had happened. Not with trumpets, or any kind of fanfare, just a quiet, tiny spark that Vin had somehow rekindled in the ashes of his heart.

And now he guarded that spark carefully, knowing it was what allowed him to love the boy the way he deserved to be loved. It was Vin's gift to him, whether the boy ever knew it or not.

Come with me, close your eyes
Hold my hand, it'll be alright
Don't be scared, don't be shy
Lift your head it's gonna be alright…

The words prompted a cascade of memories. Chris, holding out his hand to Vin, and the boy, taking it, trusting that this man would help him… Chris, holding Vin when he was sick, talking him into a healing sleep… The two of them on one of the many rides at the amusement park, Vin holding tightly to his hand and whooping with excitement and joy as they plunged toward the ground… Holding the boy as he shook during a bad thunderstorm… That shy, hesitant look he had when he looked up at Chris through those impossibly long eyelashes, afraid he'd done something wrong… Chris, reaching out, lifting Vin's chin, looking into the boy's eyes as he'd told him that, while he might sometimes get mad about things he and JD did, he would never, ever, stop loving him…

I'll try to make the days last longer for you
From the daybreak, 'til the sunset, 'til the end of time
I'll keep you safe, away from the heartache
'Cause when all is said
And when all is done
I'd do anything for you…

He wished he could stretch out the days, let Vin enjoy his childhood longer, make up for the time he'd lost, but he knew that was impossible. Every day the boys grew up more, changed, blossomed. JD was so damn smart it was sometimes scary. And Vin was just so… good.

Good-heart his mother would have called it. Good-soul was the way Josiah put it – old soul, too.

He wasn't sure where the future would take the boys, but he knew both of them would leave their marks on the world. He was absolutely sure of that. He looked forward to seeing where life took them. He was a little scared, too, but that was just part of being a dad.

Looking forward to living, to life, wasn't something Chris ever expected to feel again. But he did. Thanks to a tiny whirlwind named Vin Tanner.

Come with me, close your eyes
Hold my hand, it'll be alright
Don't be scared, don't be shy
Lift your head it's gonna be alright…

Chris watched as Vin slowly woke. The boy rolled over and stretched, then yawned. He lifted Cat and said, "Good mornin', Cat."

"Good Morning," Chris said quietly.

Vin giggled and looked over at his father. "Good mornin', Dad."

"Good morning, son."

He crossed the room and reached out to dandle the boy's too-long hair. "What do you say we get dressed and go to iHop for breakfast?"

"iHop?" Vin asked, blue eyes rounding with excitement. "Yay!" He turned and launched himself at Chris, arms and legs wrapping around the man.

Larabee laughed. "Sounds good, does it?"

"Sounds great!" Vin replied. "What're we gonna do after breakfast?"

"What do you want to do?" Chris asked. They had another day before Ezra would be home and Buck and JD came back to the ranch.

Vin thought for a moment while Chris carried him out of the bedroom and down to the kitchen. He sat the boy on the counter and waited.

The serious look on the child's face was enough to make Chris smile.

"I know!" the boy said, his face lighting up. "Let's go to the zoo!"

The zoo was one of Vin's favorite places, ranking right up there with the Museum of Nature and Science and Water World.

"The zoo, huh?"

"Please?" Vin wheedled, his hopeful expression making it impossible for Chris to say no.

"Sure," Chris agreed.

"Coolest!" Vin enthused.

Chris already knew how the day would go – several hours at the zoo, with ice cream, popcorn, and cotton candy breaks. They'd walk over to the museum for lunch, which had a healthier selection of options than the zoo did. They'd visit the wolf pack, polar bears, and sea lions, then the bears, hippo, and elephants. They'd ride the train and the carousel, the latter at least twice. Before they left they'd stop to check on the tigers, snow leopards, and jaguars. The last stop would be the gift store. Vin liked to see all the stuffed animals they had there, but he never asked for one. Chris asked him every time they went if he wanted one, but he always shook his head. Cat was his only stuffed toy, and he adored it above all his other toys. Maybe this trip would be the one when he let Chris add to his stuffed animal collection. He'd seen the way the boy had looked at the stuffed white wolf the last time they were there; it was time Cat had a friend.

"So, why don't you go get dressed and I'll go feed the horses and the dogs."

"Okay!" Vin said, sliding off the counter and running down the hallway to his room.

Chris laughed and shook his head. If they could harness that energy they could run the ranch for a month, at least.

As he headed out to the barns he was humming, "I'll try to make the stars shine brighter for you, and I'll take you on my shoulders, hold you way up high…"


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[1]Author's Note: Just a PWP I had to write after hearing this song on the radio. I could see it so clearly that I couldn't not do it. My thanks to Erica for her help and encouragement along the way.