Little Boys and Heroes

by JK

ATF Alternate Universe

NOTES/COMMENTS: Thanks to Kerry M. for her suggestions and a great beta job!


Later that night, Buck was out on a date with a beautiful brunette named Yvonne. She had told him that she wanted to stop on the way to the club to meet a guy who had offered to sell her a PlayStation2 for her nephew. She was thrilled with this since the game was impossible to find. It seemed that this man and his wife had each bought one for their son so he was going to give her a great deal.

Buck didn't like the feel of things. The meeting place was on a dark, remote street corner. As he walked with Yvonne to the corner, he figured that she might be buying stolen merchandise. Buck observed the area around them, noting that there were a couple of cars parked on the street, a beat up blue pinto with a broken rear window, and a black Ford sedan. He watched warily as a man came out of the shadows of the alleyway. Buck couldn't contain his surprise when he saw who the man was. It was Charlie Maxwell. Damn! You were right, Junior.

It happened too quickly. At the same time Buck recognized Charlie, he also recognized Buck, and he pulled his gun on the couple. Buck stepped in front of Yvonne protectively, reaching for his own gun. What a stupid way to die, thought Buck, over a crummy toy. Charlie's gun came level with Buck's chest but Buck didn't even have his drawn yet. He was going to die. There was a blur of movement from the street that went streaking by them as the gun went off, but Buck didn't feel the bite of the bullet as he had expected. Suddenly he realized someone had plowed into Charlie, knocking his aim of target. Buck saw that the man was lying in the alley, not moving. Slowly, it sunk in who it was. "Vin!"

Charlie trying to get up drew his attention away from Vin and to the continuing danger. Buck trained his gun on Charlie. "Freeze Charlie. Don't move!" he ordered. Yvonne gasped. "You alright there, Sugar?" After seeing her nod that she was okay, he said, "Take my cell phone and call 911. Tell 'em where we are and that we've got an officer down. Shots fired." He glanced quickly at Vin. He had no idea how badly Vin was injured, but he had to keep his attention on Charlie.

When Yvonne had completed the call Buck asked, "Vonnie, honey, do you think you could keep an eye on Charlie here, so I can check Vin?"

"I guess my firearms class is about to pay off," she replied shakily.

Buck grinned and handed her the gun. "Shoot him if he twitches." He winked at her. He moved quickly to Vin and checked the motionless form. Relief rushed through Buck when he found the Texan's pulse. Vin was bleeding from the upper left arm and from the head where he impacted the trash bin.

"You've got nothing, Wilmington. The transaction wasn't completed," growled Charlie.

Buck shrugged. "I got attempted murder on a federal officer, Charlie. And I reckon Junior's been keeping pretty good track of your activities over the past few days." He said holding up Vin's battered camera. "That, along with his personal testimony, ought to hold up pretty well." He glanced over at the police car that was pulling up.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, Charlie, Vin here was one of the kids you ripped off. You should'a figured one of them would come back and bite you one day." Buck held up his badge. "Buck Wilmington, ATF. We've got an officer down here. Need an ambulance. And we need this scum placed under arrest."



"Chris, it's me."

"Buck. Where have you been? I'm glad you called. We've got a problem. Ezra, Josiah and Nathan went back to the Denver Center. They're here with me in the office right now. Vin was right. The kids' presents are gone..."

"Chris, would ya shut up for a minute?" interrupted Buck.

Chris froze at the seriousness of Buck's tone. Something was wrong. He swallowed hard as he thought that something must have happened to JD. "I'm listening."

"JD and I are at the hospital."

"Is he all right?"

"Chris! Just shut up and listen to me. It's Vin. He's been shot."

"Is he…"

"We don't know anything yet, Chris. He was shot in the arm but he also smacked his head pretty hard. He was still unconscious when they brought him in. We're at Denver Mercy. Just get here and I'll fill you in."

The phone line went dead. "No. No. No!" He had been wrong not to listen to Vin, and now he might not have the chance to make things right. Chris looked up at his teammates who were shrugging into their coats. They didn't need any explanation from him to move. One of their friends was hurt. "Where to?" asked Josiah. "Denver Mercy. Vin's been shot."


The fifteen-minute ride to Denver Mercy Hospital seemed like the longest ride of his life. He had screwed up big time. Chris cursed himself. How could he have been so blind? How could Charlie have so blatantly pulled one over on him? How could he have pushed Vin away when he tried to tell him about Charlie? The image of a ten-year-old Vin filled his mind. A kid with nothing. A kid with no one. Chris pressed his hand against his chest, as if trying to relieve physically the heartache he felt emotionally.

Josiah glanced over at his team leader as he drove. He had taken Chris in his Suburban. Nathan and Ezra were following in Nathan's Explorer, having learned from past experience they needed more than one vehicle. The anguish Chris felt was obvious in his body language. "Vin will understand," Josiah's low voice rumbled. When he saw Larabee's doubt, he added, "He's a mighty forgiving soul, Chris. If he wasn't, he'd be crippled with bitterness."

"I don't deserve his forgiveness."

Josiah shrugged, "I think that's up to him, don't you?"

Chris turned away, looking out the window. Josiah sighed. He didn't know anyone who was harder on himself than Chris Larabee. He whispered a prayer heavenward hoping Chris and Vin would have time to make things right between them.


"Where is he? What the hell happened?" demanded Larabee as he walked into the surgery waiting room and spotted Buck standing by some chairs. JD was seated with his arm around a woman as she rested against his shoulder.

"Vin's in surgery. Took a bullet through his upper arm. Went clean through. Bounced his head off a trash bin." Buck smiled. "Woke up in the Emergency Room swearing a blue streak. I think he downright embarrassed some of the nurses. Gonna be pretty embarrassed himself when he finds out what he said. Doc says that happens sometimes. A guy will just wake up swearin'. Thinks Vin will be all right. Just needs to fix up his arm and get him to stay still long enough to heal."

Chris sank into a chair and leaned his head back against the wall, closing his eyes. His relief was visible.

Shadows crossed Buck's face erasing the smile. "Chris, I gotta tell you something about Charlie."

"Vin was right," whispered Chris.

"Yeah. He was. Yvonne and I," he nodded towards the woman resting on JD's shoulder, "we were going on a date. She had to stop and pick up this present for her nephew. Said she found some guy who'd give her a great deal on a PlayStation2. Something about both he and his wife buying one. Anyways, it turns out when we get there, it was Charlie." Buck paused, waiting for Chris to acknowledge what he was saying.


"When Charlie saw me, he figured it was a set up, I suppose. He drew his gun and I tried to get Yvonne clear." Buck shook his head. "All I could think was it was a stupid way to die, over a toy." He rubbed both sides of his face simultaneously with the palms of his hands. "And then, outta no where, Junior comes flying in and knocks Charlie down and the gun goes off." Buck walked over to a chair and picked up a plastic bag. He pulled out the broken camera and a small note pad. "Seems Junior spent his time off dogging Charlie. Don't know what's on the camera, but his notes, what I can read of 'em, are pretty condemning."

Chris accepted the notepad that was held out to him. He flipped open the spiral bound cover and began to read. He smiled to himself at the crudely written notes. Vin would never win a penmanship award. The smile faded as he worked to interpret the mixed up and backwards letters into words. He knew Vin worked hard to deal with his dyslexia and for the most part he did very well. Computers and spell check worked wonders, but his handwriting, especially when he was tired or in a hurry, had all the telltale signs. Chris read a few more lines of the entries detailing times, dates, and observations before closing the cover.

"Where's Charlie?"

"Fourteenth Precinct. Arrested him on attempted murder."

Chris nodded. "After Vin gets out of surgery, Ezra, I want you to type up his notes." He saw the southerner smile. Besides Larabee, Standish was the only one able to easily interpret Vin's writing. "And Josiah, I'd like you to check out the camera. See if you can save the film and find out what's on it." He watched Josiah nod in response.

Chris turned his attention to Yvonne and JD. "She all right?"

"Yeah. Not a scratch," said Buck. "Just scared. She's a real trooper though. She kept the gun on Charlie so I could check on Vin. She didn't want to go home until she was sure Vin was okay."


Aw hell. What did I do now? The sharpshooter closed his eyes tighter in an attempt to ease the throbbing pain in his head. He didn't know where he was or what had happened, but he wasn't about to open his eyes and find out either. He cautiously began to test his extremities to make sure they worked. Right toes. Check. Left toes. Check. Right fingers. Check. Left fingers… Vin winced as the simple twitch of his fingers brought pain racing through his left arm.

"I think he's waking up!" JD's excited voice cut through the fog loud and clear.

"You in there, Junior?" Buck's voice was equally loud, ringing in his other ear.

"Don't…have to…shout," he mumbled.

"Come on, Junior. Open them baby blues," urged Buck.

Slowly Vin opened his eyes, blinking once... twice... three times before focusing on the fuzzy form of Buck Wilmington in front of his face.

"There ya are!"

Buck and JD. Vin had a sinking feeling. If Buck and JD were here and in his face, then Chris wasn't here. He wouldn't let them hang all over him. Utter despair washed over the young man. Chris didn't want to be with him because of Charlie. He had known it could cost him his friendship but he had hoped… Damn. He lost more than Chris. He had lost the entire team. He and Chris wouldn't be able to continue working together. Vin's eyes slowly closed. It was hard to stay awake. It was even harder now that life as he had known it was over.

His eyes popped open. "Buck! Yer girl?" asked Vin, suddenly remembering the events that brought him to the hospital.

"Yvonne is fine. Charlie's in jail. You're the only one who got banged up."

Vin looked at his bandaged arm and his naked chest exposed to the world. His innate shyness caused him to absently pull the sheet up to his neck with his good arm. "I got shot?"

"Yep, Junior. Then you tried to push the trash bin down the alley with your head."

Vin gingerly touched the bandage on his forehead. "Feels like it." Vin fell silent as the loss of Chris permeated him. Tears welled in his eyes.

Buck saw the overwhelming sadness that had once again claimed the Texan.

"Junior, are you all right?"

Vin shook his head slightly, causing himself more pain. "Buck, when ya see Chris, tell him 'm sorry about yer friend."

"Tell him yourself." Buck tipped his head, nodding toward the end of the bed.

"You don't have anything to be sorry for," said Chris, rising from the chair at the end of the bed. He had hung back uncertain if Vin would want him there. "I'm the one who blew it here, Vin. I'm the one who's needing forgiveness. You were right. Charlie ripped off the kids."

"Chris!" happiness flooded through Vin. Chris had not abandoned him. "I reckon we both could learn ta handle things a mite better. I weren't exactly a saint in my handlin' of the situation neither." With those few words, the sharpshooter accepted Chris's proffer of apology and friendship. Chris nodded to his friend and the first silent communication in more than a week passed between the two men.

"Hey, what day is it?" asked Vin.

"Saturday," answered JD.

"No, the date."

"The twenty-third."

"Can I get outta here?" asked the sharpshooter.

"Not today," said Nathan.

"Shoot. There's still time. JD, is my wallet here somewhere?" asked Vin frantically.

"Yeah, hang on." JD dug through the bag with Vin's belongings. "Here it is."

"There's a check inside. Get it out for me, would ya?"

JD pulled out Vin's paycheck and handed it to him.

"Got a pen?"

Nathan pulled a pen out of his pocket and handed it to Vin. Vin hastily scrawled an endorsement on the back of the check and passed it back to JD.

"What's this? You endorsed it to me," asked JD, holding the check up.

"I need ya ta do me a huge favor, JD."

"Name it."

"Take the money and get new presents for the kids at the DCC. You still got the list, right?"

"Vin, you can't afford…"

"Just do it, JD. Please?" Vin interrupted.

"Belay that order, JD," said Chris.

Vin's heart sank. No, Chris. We gotta do something for the kids. We can't let them pay for Charlie's crime. Vin shot him a pleading look. It was almost as good as JD's puppy dog look.

Hell. It's a good thing he doesn't know what that look does to me. "Don't give me that look," responded Chris. "I'm not going to let you spend all your money. I'm kicking in too."

"Likewise, Mr. Tanner," said Ezra. Each of the others voiced their participation as well.

"Well, Junior, it looks like we've got some work to do. You get some rest and we'll handle everything, okay?" said Buck.

It wasn't difficult for Vin to agree. He was finding it harder and harder to keep his eyes open. He blinked owlishly, trying to stay awake.

"Okay, who's going to help me shop?" asked the youngest team member.

"I'll help, JD," volunteered Buck.

"Me too," said Nathan.

"I shall make arrangements with the temporary director for another party," volunteered the southerner.

"I'll go along with you, Ezra. What about you Chris?" asked Josiah.

"I need to make a couple phone calls, but then I think I'll hang around here." He turned to Vin, "If that's okay with you?"

Vin was losing the battle. He forced his eyes open one more time. "Stay," he mumbled.

Chris laid his hand on Vin's leg and squeezed it. "Don't fight it Vin."

"Well be back later, Vin," said JD.

"Don't forget the Sharpies…" Vin's voice faded out as sleep pulled him into the darkness.

As the others left to do their part to make the kids' Christmas party happen, Chris sat down in the chair by Vin's bed. He decided to make his calls from the phone in the room. "Hello, Mary? It's Chris. Chris Larabee…Yes… Well, I have a story I think your readers would appreciate…"


It was 11:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve and Vin was waiting impatiently in his room. None of the guys had been to visit him and he wanted to go home. The only hang up was that he couldn't reach any of them to pick him up.

"Morning, Junior! How ya feelin'?"

"Where the hell is everyone?" demanded Vin irritably.

"Fine Buck, and you? Fine. Thank you for asking Vin," teased Buck.

Vin snorted and smiled. "Sorry Bucklin. I just wanna get outta here."

"I know. That's why I'm here. It is my duty," Buck saluted, "to get you home and to bed for a few hours so that you'll be ready for the party tonight."

"Where's Chris?"

Buck glanced sideways at Vin and grinned. "You watch any TV this morning?"

"Nah. Makes my head hurt."

Buck flicked on the television and changed to a local station. "Chris has been a little busy, Junior."

The news report was showing the TV station lobby, filling with toys and gifts. The reporter continued the story. "Again, we'd like to say thank you for your generosity. We have more than enough gifts now for the Denver Children's Center. The extra gifts will be donated to homeless shelters and other children's centers as needed. In addition, we all send our best wishes to the ATF agent who was injured in pursuit of the thief. Back to you, Jim." Buck flicked off the TV.

"That's where we've been, Junior."

"But how?"


Vin looked at him questioningly.

"He called Mary Travis. She put it in the newspaper last night, and called some contacts at one of the local TV stations. They ate it up. People kept calling in all night. JD about went nuts keeping the list straight. We got everything on the list and then some. It's amazing." Buck paused as the nurse entered with the wheelchair. "Your chariot awaits," he said, sweeping his arm toward the chair.


Chris pounded on the door again. He knew they should not have left the Texan alone. That kid was slipperier than a fish. He dug through his keys and found the one to Vin's apartment. He opened the door and moved to the bedroom where Buck said he had left Vin.

Vin was lying on the bed on his back, sleeping. He had his T-shirt half off. It looked like he had managed to get his right arm out of the sleeve and get it pulled up to his head, but couldn't get any further. He had either passed out or just fallen asleep from the effort.


Vin grimaced and squirmed a little at the sound.

"C'mon, Cowboy. We've got kids waiting for us." Chris patted his cheek gently.

Vin grunted, but opened his eyes.


"Hey, Cowboy. We need to get you dressed. The kids are waiting." He watched the sheepish look cross Vin's face as the Texan looked down and saw his shirt.

"Got stuck."

Chris grinned. "I see. Want some help?"

"Yeah. It hurts a lot when I move my arm."

Chris helped Vin sit up and worked the shirt over his head. He heard the young man wince as the sleeve pulled on his injured arm. He moved to the closet. "What do you want? I don't think a pull over is a good choice."

"The red one."

Chris pulled out the red long sleeved shirt and helped Vin put it on and button it up. The sharpshooter winced, hissed, and grimaced as different movements made his arm throb.

"When's the last time you took your meds?"

"Aw hell, Chris. I can't stand them painkillers. They make me sleepy."

"When?" insisted Chris.

"Before I left the hospital."

Chris looked at the bottle. "You're overdue."

"I'd kinda like to stay awake through the party." He looked up, right into Larabee's glare. Vin sighed. "All right."

Chris got him a glass of water and made sure Vin took his medications.


Chris smiled as he watched Team Seven's sharpshooter interact with the young boy in the corner. Laughing to himself, he thought, Well, I guess you could call it interacting. The two 'boys' were sitting on the floor, backs to the wall, keeping a wary eye on the room. Vin's radar had picked up on the lonely eight year-old immediately. The boy had stood apart from the other children, isolating himself from the games the others were playing in the middle of the room. Chris sighed at the picture of two lonely little boys sitting before him, wishing he could have done something for Vin to have saved him from all this pain growing up.

The kids were delighted with the party and the prospect of new gifts. Vin had eventually drawn the youngster into the festivities. Buck and JD were like two overgrown kids participating in every game. Ezra entertained with a few card tricks and Josiah read the Christmas story from the Bible. Nathan even led them in some Christmas songs. Then it was time for the gifts. There was an explosion of wrapping paper and squeals of delight. Vin sat on the sofa taking great pleasure in watching the kids. Once the presents were all opened, JD handed each of the adults a Sharpie permanent Marker.

"What's this for, JD?" asked Chris.

"Labeling the toys. It's Vin's idea. That way the older kids can't take the younger kids' toys, and they'd be a lot harder to sell."

Chris looked around the room at his team and saw that each man was busy labeling the kids' new toys. He watched Vin, tongue sticking between his lips in intense concentration as he carefully printed a child's name on the underside of his toy. He knew Vin was trying to make sure all of the letters are right. He would not want the kid to be teased because he had written his name wrong. The little boy had a cast on his arm. Chris could tell the boy was begging Vin to sign it. The Texan complied and the boy slid happily off Vin's lap.

"Hey, Mr. Vin signed my cast. Will you sign it too, Mr. Chris?" The child showed Chris where Vin had simply signed 'Vin'. Chris signed by Vin's name. "Hey, Mr. Chris. Did you know there's a picture in the office with Vin on it? Do you want to see it?"

Chris smiled. It would be fun to see a picture of Vin as a child. "Sure Joey. I'd like to see it." Chris followed Joey down the hall to the office.

The office was virtually empty, nearly everything impounded as evidence. A few boxes containing personal items sat on the desk. Chris looked at the picture frames in one box. The first one he picked up was a picture of Charlie with Chris's family. Chris sighed sadly.

"It's gone!" cried the little boy.

"That's okay, Joey. The police had to take some of the things."

"But it had Vin on it. It was here." Joey pointing to a spot on the wall. It was a football shirt and a picture and it had Vin on it."

Chris looked up surprised. "Was it a Cowboy's shirt?"

Joey nodded. "Number thirty-three."

Realization flooded Chris. Vin really had been telling the truth about the jersey and the rookie card. "I'll ask the police about it, Joey. Why don't we go back and join the party?"


The party continued for a couple more hours. It was getting late when Chris went to check on Vin and found the sharpshooter asleep on the couch. He was sitting in an awkward position in the middle of the couch, his head tilted back, mouth hanging open, snoring softly. Joey was sitting on his lap sleeping against Vin's chest while two other kids were using his sides as their cushions. There was a flash and Chris turned toward the offending light, trying to blink clear the spots before his eyes.

"It was too cute to pass up," said Nathan, holding a camera in his hand.

"Yeah. Maybe we should help get these kids to bed. Get him home. He doesn't look too comfortable."

The temporary director and two of the house parents took the children and headed them to bed. Vin woke when the weight shifted off him. He struggled against the grogginess for a moment.

Chris sat down beside him. "Ready to go home?"

"Yeah. So, what's everyone doing for Christmas? We getting together somewhere?"

Chris smiled. With a few words Vin had erased all doubt about returning to the team and made it clear he held nothing against them. "Everyone's welcome at my place. In fact, Buck, would you mind taking Vin out there tonight? I need to make a couple stops on the way home."

"Sure thing, Chris. C'mon, Junior." He helped the unsteady Texan to his feet.


The headache was back with a vengeance. It seemed that his pounding head and his throbbing arm were having a competition to see which could make him feel worse. Vin sighed.

"Hey, Cowboy. You 'awake?"

Chris watched the frown crease Vin's forehead as he struggled for awareness. He knew Vin was asleep when Buck unloaded him last night. Likely he wasn't sure where he was.

"Chris?" the baby blue eyes opened.

"Yeah. Are you ready to get up? The guys are all here."

Vin shook his head slightly and closed his eyes trying to shut out the pain. He felt Chris lay his hand against his forehead, and then his cheeks. The bed shifted as Larabee stood up. "I'll be right back, Vin."

"Mmm-hmm," murmured Vin, afraid to say anything more. His stomach was rolling threateningly. He breathed deeply, trying to control the nausea. He felt the bed shift again a minute later and he let out a long sigh. Another hand on his forehead. He brushed it away weakly with his right hand. "Go 'way."

"Vin, how are you feeling?"

Nate. I should'a known. "If I told ya how I really felt ya'd wanna wash my mouth out with soap, just like them nurses in the E.R." He opened his eyes to Nathan's big grin. "My head hurts Nate. Arm too. Feel like I'm gonna throw up."

"You have a bit of a fever, Vin, but it's probably from doing too much last night. As for the pain," he turned to Chris, "Did you wake him up to give him his pain medication last night?"

Chris shook his head. "Didn't want to disturb him."

Nathan sighed. "The pain med is designed to be given at regular intervals, Chris, to keep the pain from getting worse like it is now, and having to wait for it to take effect again." He watched Chris's face and shook his head. Now he was going to blame himself for Vin's pain. "Chris, why don't you get him some dry toast or crackers to take with the pills?" Chris nodded and headed for the kitchen. "When's the last time you ate something?"

"Not hungry," mumbled Vin. He closed his eyes.

"Huh-uh. Not yet Vin. We might as well take care of everything while you're awake." He grinned as Vin's eyes popped open with urgent realization. "Let me give you a hand," he said, steadying Vin as he sat up.

"I can do it m'self," hissed Vin.

"Yeah? Well I don't cotton to picking you up off the floor."

"I'll do it," said Chris as he entered the room with a package of saltines.

Vin grimaced. "I ain't no baby."

Chris smiled. The sound of the Texan's complaints was music to his ears. He had had his doubts, but both men were able to overcome the hurts and difficulties of the past couple weeks and the team was whole. He assisted Vin to the bathroom and back to the bed. Nathan made sure he ate some crackers and took his meds and they tucked him back into bed. The sharpshooter needed rest.

"Sorry to spoil yer fun, Chris."

"You're not. We're just watching the game. We'll save the good stuff until you feel up to it. I'll tell the boys to keep it down. Then I'll come back and sit with you."


Surprised by the strong protest, Chris sat down on the bed. "Vin?"

"Don't make 'em be quiet on account of me. You go have fun. Make noise."

Chris looked at his young friend in the bed. He brushed the long brown hair away from Vin's face. He knew there was something more that Vin was not saying.


"I know you're here. You don't hafta be in the room with me."

Chris smiled. "Whatever you say Cowboy."


Three hours later Buck, JD and Nathan were hootin' and hollerin' over their teams' victory as Chris, Josiah and Ezra were bemoaning the fate of their team. Chris turned when he felt Buck's elbow in his side and saw Buck nod toward the hallway. Chris couldn't help but grin when he saw Vin shuffling towards them, obviously still half asleep. His hair was sticking up and he was broadly yawning as he headed directly for the couch. JD quickly vacated his spot and Vin settled down with a groan.

"Thanks, JD. Game over?"

"Yep, you missed the whole thing, sleeping beauty," teased Buck.

Vin yawned again. "Got anything to eat?"

"Dinner will be ready in about an hour," said Josiah. "Can you hold out that long?"

Vin nodded.

"How's the headache?"

"Better, Nate." Vin sighed.

"Hey, Vin. We all pitched in and got something for ya," said JD excitedly, handing Vin a present.

Vin's eyes widened in surprise and then an immense disappointment flooded him. He had not gotten them anything. "I thought we said we weren't going to exchange gifts."

"We're not," said Buck, seeing Vin's distress. "We just figured we owed ya one."

"Why? I ain't done anything but cause grief," said Vin sadly.

"Well now, Junior. Me and Yvonne have a bit different picture. The way I figure it, you saved our lives. We might a had a few bumps in the last couple of weeks, but I figure I'm alive because of you."

"Open it," urged JD.

Vin opened the package. "Wow! A new camera."

"Yeah. Yours got broken during the… well anyway, the camera shop couldn't fix it, so we figured we owed you a new one."

"Thanks guys. Really. It's terrific," said Vin genuinely.

"There's one more, Vin," said Chris.

"I can't Chris. I ain't got nothing for y'all."

"Well this isn't really a gift. It already belongs to you." Chris grinned, "And you better like it, 'cause I ticked off the D.A. by getting him to the police evidence room on Christmas Eve."

That got Vin's attention. What could Chris have gotten for him that required dragging the District Attorney out on Christmas Eve?

Chris brought out a crudely wrapped package that was about two-feet by three-feet and a couple of inches thick. Vin grinned, knowing Larabee had wrapped it himself, but he hesitated before opening it.

"Go on. Open it," encouraged Chris.

"Huh-uh." Vin took a deep breath. "Y'all know I ain't one for talkin' much. But I jest wanted to say, it means a lot to me to have Christmas with y'all. Yer the closest thing to family I've had it a long time. I don't need no gifts 'cause, better or worse, I know y'all back me. That's more'n I deserve."

"Yer making me cry, Junior," said Buck, dramatically wiping fake tears from his eyes.

Vin grinned at the dark haired man's humor.

"Shut up, Buck," said Chris. "Open your present, Vin. We're getting old waiting."

Vin tore the paper off the package revealing a framed number 33 Cowboy's Jersey, with an autographed Tony Dorsett rookie card and a photo of Tony Dorsett.

Vin's mouth dropped open. "How? Where did you get your hands on a Dorsett rookie card?" This was too much. They had to have spent a lot of money to buy this.

"Vin, you don't get it," said JD excitedly.

"Get what?"

A large Dallas Cowboys' helmet sticker on the glass of the frame covered part of the 8x10 photograph. Chris peeled off the sticker revealing the rest of the picture and the autograph beneath. In addition to Tony Dorsett, the picture included an older man, a young woman and a toddler. It was inscribed, 'To my friend Vin in his Rookie year. Tony Dorsett.'

Vin gasped, tears filling his eyes. It was not just any Dorsett rookie card and jersey. It was his card and jersey! He looked up at the beaming faces of six friends. Six brothers. "Thanks... I don't know how you did it, but thanks."

"Charlie never sold it Vin. He had it in the office. That's why I had to get the D.A. to the evidence room. Didn't think I'd ever convince him he didn't need this for evidence." Chris smiled. He wasn't sure Vin even heard him. He was lost in memories brought on by the picture.

He had not seen that picture in fourteen years. How could he have forgotten the picture? He remembered the card and the jersey. Of course he never had them framed so nice. Vin trailed his fingers across the face of his mother, he had almost forgotten what she looked like. He brushed across his grandpa's face. Then he broke into the smile and looked up at his friends, his family. "Hey guys. This is my ma. And this, this is my grandpa."

The End

December 2000

Comments: JK