by Winter

ATF Alternate Universe


Chris got up early the next day to pick up around the ranch. After the house was straightened up, he ran out to the grocery store to stock up on food for tomorrow. When he got back, he spent the rest of the day making repairs down at the barn. Around 2:00 P.M., he went back to the house and took a shower. When he was finished, he headed into town. The traffic wasn't too bad, and he got into town around 4:00 P.M. He drove to Vin's apartment house and found a parking space. He got out of the truck and headed for the entrance. He saw that the glass doors had been decorated with fake snow. When he walked in, he saw a few kids playing in the hall by the elevator. He pressed the button to call the elevator.

"It's broken," one of the children said.

"Thanks," Chris said with a smile and headed for the stairs.

As he was walking down the hall, he went past Carlita's open apartment door.

"Senor Chris," she called.

"Yes," he said and walked back to her door.

"If you're looking for Senor Vin, he went down to the church to help put up the decorations."

"Thank you, Carlita."

Chris headed back out to his Ram and got in. He drove down to St. Sebastian's and pulled into the parking lot. He parked close to the door and climbed out. He saw the lights on in the reception room in the basement. He headed for the stairs and went down. Chris walked down the short hall and opened the double doors. He stepped in and found Vin up on a ladder hanging decorations from the ceiling. Some of the older children were holding it. Chris could see the ladder wasn't very steady and went over to hold it before Vin broke his neck.

"Hey, cowboy," Vin greeted without looking down.

"You trying to break a leg?" Chris said, steadying the ladder as Vin climbed down.

"It's the only one they have," he smiled as he folded it up.

Vin carried the ladder to the corner of the room and opened it. The chidden followed, trailing the garland he was hanging. Chris went along and helped. After the garland was up, they helped with the lights for the Christmas tree. Some of the mothers had already pulled the artificial tree out of the box and were setting it up. Vin grabbed some of the lights and plugged them in. When he did, he noticed half of them were out. He sighed and began looking for the one that was blown. Chris grabbed another set of lights and plugged them in. They all lit up, and he gave Vin a smug smile as he held them up. When he did, the whole string went out. Vin laughed and continued with his task. He could hear Chris mumbling and cursing as he looked for the problem with his string of lights.

"I don't miss this," Chris complained.

The women laughed and gave them a hand. Nathan showed up early with Rain. Chris abandoned his post and went to greet them. He kissed Rain on the cheek and took her coat. One of the children ran over and took the coats from Chris. Rain was dressed in long burgundy velvet dress. Chris had been talking with them for awhile when they heard a cheer over by the Christmas tree. Vin had finally gotten all the lights to work. Rain went over to help with the tree as Chris and Nathan helped set up the table and chairs. Other people began showing up for the party with their children, and everyone started to get in a festive mood. Vin left the tree to the children after he was finished with the lights. He was standing by the door when Ezra walked in carrying a large tray.

"Howdy, Ezra," Vin said. "Let me take that for you."

"Why thank you, Mr. Tanner," Ezra said, handing it to him.

Vin peeked inside and saw that it was a tray of gingerbread cookies. When some of the younger children saw Ezra, they ran over and begged for some card tricks. Vin laughed as Ezra was dragged over to a chair. He watched as Ezra handed his coat to one of the older children, and she went to hang it up. Ezra was immaculately dressed in a dark silk suit. In celebration of the season, he was wearing a red brocade vest with a matching red handkerchief in his suit pocket. Josiah was the next to arrive carrying a large empty bowl in one hand and three jugs of eggnog in the other. Vin helped him set the bowl on the table and pour the eggnog into it. After that was finished, Josiah headed for the kitchen to help prepare the food. A half hour later, Buck and JD arrived with Casey and Nettie. As usual, they couldn't arrive quietly.

"Hey everybody, it's snowing!" JD announced.

The children squealed and raced for the door. Buck just laughed as they streamed past them. Nettie went over and gave Chris a hug and asked where Vin was hiding. He said he was around somewhere. At that moment, Vin walked out of the kitchen carrying a vegetable tray with dip. Nettie saw him and waited for him to place it on the table before she gave him a hug. After a short time, the children came back inside looking for food. Their mothers told them to be patient, it was coming. The party was really jumping when Chris noticed Inez arrive with Mary and Billy. He made his way over to the door to greet them.

"What are you doing here?" he asked.

"Inez came over this morning to deliver some things for the clothing drive, and I asked her to stay for dinner," Mary explained. "She said she couldn't and told me about the party, so we came with her. I hope that's alright?"

"Howdy, Ms. Travis, wasn't expecting you here," Vin said as he came over.

"I hope it's alright," she said. "If it isn't, we can leave."

"Heck no, it's alright," Vin smiled. "We got plenty of food and besides, the more the merrier."

Vin's name was called from the kitchen, and he excused himself. Chris escorted Mary over to where Rain, Nettie, and Casey were talking to the women from the apartment complex. Mary was worried that Billy would feel left out, but she stopped worrying when they grabbed him and pulled him over by Ezra. Mary looked over in amazement when she saw the children crowded around watching him do card tricks. Chris excused himself from the women when Vin called him. After he walked away, the women started whispering about him. Vin called him over to the door to help bring the elderly residents down into the basement. When the others saw what they were doing, they went over to help also. Nathan asked how they all got here and Vin said he'd sent Josiah over to the apartment house with the church bus. Once they were all settle and Vin had made sure Carlita was comfortable, the food was served. While everyone got in line for food, Vin turned on the boom box one of the kids had brought and put on some Christmas carols. The evening was a pleasant one, with people dancing, talking, and eating. Around 8:30 P.M., Josiah disappeared upstairs to change into Santa.

"Hey, Chris," Vin said walking up to him.

"Yeah," he said, excusing himself from Mary and turning towards the sharpshooter.

"I can't believe I forgot the gifts for the kids over at my apartment," he said. "I'm going to run over and get them."

"Why don't you let Chris drive you?" Mary suggested. "It's snowing out."

"He can't. He's blocked in," Vin said. "It's only two blocks. I'll just run over."

"I don't know," Chris began.

"What can happen between here and there?" he asked. "I'll be right back."

Chris watched as he disappeared through the crowd. He turned back towards Mary, and she shrugged. They were continuing their conversation when JD called to him asking for some help in the kitchen. He was soon caught up in the evening and decided Vin was right, what could happen?

Vin ran over towards the apartment building. It was a wonderful night. The snow was falling, blanketing everything in white. The wind had stopped blowing, and everything was quiet. He made it to the building and went inside. He headed for the stairs, taking them two at a time. When he was at his floor, he went into the hall and headed for his apartment. When he got there, he unlocked the door and went inside. Right next to the door was the large bag of gifts he'd forgotten. He grabbed it, locked the door, and headed back out. He went down the stairs and headed out the front door. The bag was heavy as Vin walked back to the church. As he passed the alley, he heard a noise and turned around.

"Don't move, mister," said a man wearing a ski cap and holding a gun.

"You don't want to do this," Vin said, putting the bag down.

"Don't tell me what I want to do," he said holding the gun in a shaking hand.

"Look, it's Christmas Eve," Vin said, holding his hands out to the sides. "You can just walk away."

Vin was surprised when he heard the gun fire twice. He felt one of the bullets rip through the bicep on his right arm. The other sent a searing pain coursing up his right side. He felt himself hit the ground and lie still. The gunman ran over and pulled off his leather jacket. Vin could hear him pick up the bag and run down the alley. Vin lay there with the snow falling around him, thinking At least he didn't kill me. He laughed at that and regretted it as the pain in his side increased. Vin knew he had to get up and make it back to the church before Chris started to worry. He got himself up to a sitting position then stopped to catch his breath. When he was breathing easier, he used the wall of the building to push himself up. Once he was standing, Vin stumbled over to the cars lining the street and used them to lean on as he staggered towards the church.

"Hey, Chris," JD called.

"Yeah, JD," Chris said, breaking off his conversation with Nettie.

"Josiah was wondering where Vin was," JD explained. "He's been upstairs in that Santa suit waiting."

"Vin ain't back yet?" Chris asked worried.

"I didn't even know he was gone," JD admitted.

They had all been having such a good time that they hadn't realized that the quiet sharpshooter was missing. Chris could kick himself. He told JD to round up Buck and the others. He turned back to Nettie and told her not to worry. As he was reassuring her, he heard a scream.

"Madre de Dios," one of the women yelled.

"Good Lord!" Ezra's yell soon followed.

Chris turned in time to see Ezra rush to the doors to catch a bloody Vin in his arms. Buck was close by and ran over also. Vin's neighbors all moved back when they saw him so the others could get to his side. Nathan beat Chris there and pulled away his shirt.

"He's been shot," Nathan announced.

"I'll call an ambulance," Mary said, pulling out her cellular phone.

"I'll get some towels," Rain said, heading for the kitchen.

"What the hell happened?" Josiah demanded. He had come down when he heard the screams.

"I was mugged," Vin laughed and instantly regretted it.

"Hold still now," Nathan scolded as he took the towels Rain brought him. "This is gonna hurt."

"It already hurts," Vin smiled.

Nathan applied pressure to the wound, and Vin grasped Ezra arm as he tried not to cry out. Ezra cradled him against his chest as Nathan continued the pressure.

"Nathan?" Chris started but didn't have to finish.

"Can't tell, Chris," he immediately answered. "I don't see an exit hole."

"How could this happen?" JD asked.

"I was careless, kid," Vin hissed as Chris wrapped a towel around his arm.

"But I thought you were safe here?" JD asked. "They know you."

"This is Purgatorio, kid," Vin said. "It's never safe."

"Just lie still and be quiet," Chris said, putting pressure on his arm.

"I lost all the gifts," Vin said worriedly.

"Don't you go worrying about that, son," Nettie scolded.

"Si, Vin, it is not your fault," Carlita said.

"Yes, it is," Vin struggled to stay conscious. "How could I be so stupid?"

Vin lost the battle and slumped in Ezra's arms. Chris told Ezra to hold pressure on his arm as he grabbed a towel and tried to dry his hair. The snow had soaked Vin's clothing, and he was beginning to shiver. Inez ran into the kitchen and grabbed a few of the extra table clothes. She ran back out and handed them to Buck. Josiah had removed the Santa's jacket and laid it over Vin. Buck spread the table clothes over his legs. Rain had told some of the older children to go wait for the ambulance.

"It's coming," one of them raced back to tell them.

A short time later, the paramedics arrived bringing in their equipment. One of them took over from Nathan, and Ezra squirmed out from under Vin and eased him down to the floor. They all stepped back as they watched the medics place an oxygen mask over Vin's face and start an IV. Mary came out from one of the rooms carrying everyone's coats. She handed them out as the paramedics loaded Vin on the stretcher. Chris and Josiah moved to help them, and they carried Vin up the stairs. They loaded him in the back of the ambulance, and the driver shut the door after his partner climbed in.

"I can take one of you up front," he said.

By silent consent, Chris was elected, and he headed for the passenger door. They climbed in, and the ambulance pulled out. It took a half hour for the others to get the cars straightened out and head for the hospital. + + + + + + +

Chris didn't even try to give the nurses a hard time as they wheeled Vin into the ER. He stopped by the door and took one more look before he headed to the waiting area. The hospital was unusually quiet until the other members of his team showed up. Chris noticed the women had also tagged along. As soon as they saw Chris, they started asking him questions. He told them that they'd just gotten there and that they were still checking Vin over. They all tried waiting patiently, but it was next to impossible for Team 7. A half hour later, a doctor walked towards the area in which they were waiting. He wasn't prepared for the ten people who accosted him.

"Mr. Larabee?" the doctor asked.

"I'm Larabee," Chris said.

"Well, from the look of the x-rays, the bullet didn't hit anything vital," the doctor began. "We're prepping him for surgery now. We'll know more when we go in to remove the bullet. Surgery's going to take a few hours, so why don't you go home and wait?"

"We'll stay," Chris said.

"If you insist," he shrugged. "I'll have the nurse show you up to the OR waiting room."

"No need, my good sir," Ezra said. "We are familiar with the floor plan of this particular hospital."

"We know the way," Buck translated.

They all headed for the elevator as they wheeled Vin out to take him up to surgery. Chris saw only Vin's pale face as he went by. The rest of him was covered with a blanket. A blue cap covered his long hair. They took Vin in one elevator, and they all piled in another one. They walked off the elevator and headed for the waiting room. Chris hated this room. He had seen it too many times with this group. They all walked in and got comfortable. Ezra went to his customary chair in the corner and pulled out his cards. Rain sat with Nathan on one of the couches. JD sat on another one with Nettie and Casey. Buck and Inez sank into one, and Josiah, Mary, and Billy took the last one. Chris went over to the window and stared out. The snow was still falling slowly. Any other time, he would have enjoyed watching it fall, but not now. Chris lost track of time while he was watching. When he turned back around, Rain had fallen asleep on Nathan's shoulder. Casey was asleep on JD's with Nettie asleep next to her, resting her head back on the couch. Inez had her head in Buck's lap and was fast asleep. When he looked over to Josiah, he saw Billy asleep with his head on his mother's lap. Mary had her head on Josiah's shoulder. Ezra was sitting back in his chair with his head back, staring at the ceiling. Chris checked his watch and it said 1:00 A.M. He began to pace out in the hall so he wouldn't wake everyone up. Ezra came and joined him, but stood quietly by the door. After a short time, the doctor from ER walked towards them.

"He's doing fine," he said. "Nothing vital was hit. Just some muscle damage. He's in recovery right now and we'll be bringing him to his room in a little while."

"Can we see him?" Chris asked.

"Not all of you," the doctor said.

Ezra and Chris followed him to the room, and he opened the door to let them in.

"He's going to be a little groggy," he said. "He probably won't make any sense."

"Don't worry. We've seen him like this before," Chris said.

They walked in and each took a different side of the bed. Vin was just starting to wake up from the anesthesia. Chris watched as his eyelids fluttered and his eyes slowly opened.

"Hey, cowboy," Chris called.

"Not a dream," he said sleepily.

"Unfortunately no," Ezra said.

"Hey, Ez," Vin smiled. "Like your vest."

"Go back to sleep," Chris chuckled.

Vin's eyes closed, and he drifted back to sleep. Chris looked up at Ezra and smiled. They went back out to join the others.

"Well?" JD demanded.

"He's fine," Chris said. "Just not awake."

"When can we see him?" Nettie asked.

"They'll take him up to his room in a little while," Chris said.

They waited a half hour before the nurse came to show them to Vin's room. They all followed her, and she told them he was still out of it and not to be surprised if he didn't respond. Since it was Christmas, she broke the rules and let them all go in together. Vin was in a reclining position and his eyes were closed. They surrounded the bed, and Chris bent down to call him.

"Hey, Vin, think you can wake up so everyone can see you're alright and they can go home," Chris said.

Vin opened his eyes and blinked at them owlishly. He tried to focus, but it was no use. Nathan chuckled as Vin's eyes slowly closed.

"They got him doped up good," he said.

"We better leave him be then," Rain suggested.

They all agreed, and they each said good-bye. Nettie pushed the hair off his forehead and gave him a kiss, saying things were never dull when he was around. Inez, Mary, and Rain followed Nettie's example. Casey just patted him on the arm. The guys said good-bye, and they all went out into the hall. Everyone got sorted out on who was going home with whom. Chris said he didn't expect to see any of them back until later in the day. After they all walked out, Ezra was the only one left.

"Why don't you go home, Ezra?" Chris suggested.

"What, and miss the chance to get a stiff neck in one of these remarkably comfortable hospital chairs?" he asked.

Chris knew he wouldn't get the smooth-talking southerner to leave, so they got as comfortable as they could and fell asleep in Vin's room.

+ + + + + + +

Vin woke to strange noises in his apartment. He couldn't figure out why he had fallen asleep with the TV on. His fuzzy brain woke up a little more, and he started to remember what he had to do today. Wasn't he supposed to go out to Chris's? He started to get up but was stopped when he felt a terrible pain in his side. That's when he remembered what had happened and started to open his eyes. The first thing he saw was Ezra wearing a Santa hat, leaning over his bed.

"Now I know I'm not awake," Vin groaned.

"Sorry to disappointed you," Ezra smiled.

Vin looked around and saw that his hospital room had been decorated for the occasion. As he woke up a little more, he noticed that everyone was in his room having a party. When he saw the Judge and his wife, he just shook his head.

"Don't y'all have somewhere better to be?" he asked.

Ezra held out his hand to Buck, and he gave him twenty dollars. The others laughed when they saw Vin give Ezra a dirty look. Now that Vin was awake, Billy asked if he could turn on the Christmas carols. Mary said, yes, but to put them on low since they were breaking every hospital rule by having a party. The nurses had brought in extra chairs and Vin cold see Nettie and the Judges wife talking together. Buck was flirting with Inez, and JD and Casey were sitting on the other bed, talking. Ezra had perched himself on the end of Vin's bed by his feet and was showing Billy some card tricks. One of the nurses came to check on Vin and shook her head when she saw everyone. She checked his IV and his bandages then left. After an hour, Billy started to get impatient because he wanted to open the presents. Chris could also see that Vin was starting to get sleepy and figured they had better do it before he fell asleep. Billy eagerly reached in the bag and started handing out presents. They heard Casey's squeal of delight when she opened the box with the bridle inside. She threw her arms around JD and kissed him. JD smiled at Vin and gave him a thumbs up. Everyone was opening their gifts when Ezra noticed Vin hadn't touched his yet.

"Can I give you a hand with those, Mr. Tanner?" he asked.

"Thanks, Ezra," Vin sighed.

Ezra helped Vin open the packages, and he looked around and realized the guys had the presents he had bought. He looked at Ezra, who smiled at him.

"You picked the lock on my apartment, didn't you?" Vin accused.

"I knew you would want your gifts here, so I may have done as you suggest," Ezra smiled.

Everyone in the room seemed to enjoy the gifts they received. Chris could see Vin was starting to get tired and went over to give him his present. Chris placed a large box across his legs and gave him a hand ripping off the paper. When Vin opened the box, he found a leather jacket. He gave Chris an odd look, and he swore he'd bought it long before what happened last night. Chris pulled it out of the box and laid it across his legs.

"Aw, hell!" Vin cried.

"What's wrong?" Chris asked worriedly.

"Your gift wasn't in my room," Vin blinked and tried to stay awake. "I don't have anything for you."

"It's alright, Vin," Chris said as Vin closed his eyes. "I already got what I wished for."

The others agreed wholeheartedly as they wished each other a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


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