A Promise to Keep

by Raquel

Alternate Universe

Disclaimer: I don't own them. I'm using them just for fun. I ain't making money.

Warning: Some bad words, violent situation

Thanks: To Cassandra who allows me to play in this universe she has created. I couldn't help myself... I read Santa's Little Miracle (several times) and this idea came into my mind. I think I will play on it again =) This story happens after Santa's...

To Nancy who archives my stories... To everybody who encourages me to keep writing. To Cat who beta read this.

Notes: This is a Chris/Vin story set in an Alternative Universe, Cassandra's (aka CGSL). They are children... So if you don't like the idea don't keep reading... and if you don't want to read about child abuse... don't read either. I don't have any idea how adoptions, police issues and hospitals work... I'm sorry if I wrote something wrong... It's fiction after all.

Feedback is really, really appreciated. Drop me a line, please!

Since he began college he was more and more happy with his choice. He had decided to change to one near home for the next semester, so he could go home each weekend and on some free afternoons and see Vin. He was really glad the college was close to home. Besides, he would be at the same school as Buck, which made the change even better.

When Buck found out Chris was going to change to his college, he kicked out his former roommate, because he wasn't the roommate Buck was waiting for, according to what Buck had told him as excuse. Buck had never been good creating excuses.

Vin had arrived at Christmas time, and Chris had to admit it had been the best present he had ever received. At the beginning he didn't know there was a void in his life, but now that he had Vin, he knew what it was to be completely happy.

Buck was surprised also, and really liked to mock him about his first reaction. In fact Buck loved to joke in Vin's presence; the kid was so nice and laughed all the time, which made him happy also.

Chris knew his mom, Maggie, was immensely happy, now even more, since he had talked to her and confessed he loved his new brother.

Jack, his father, was happy too. Now, he could see his family complete and felt that happiness had touched them.

Chris silently wished this happiness last forever.

+ + + + + + +

It was Thursday afternoon, what meant just one more day of classes, and then he could go home and see his younger brother. Chris couldn't wait. He usually talked to Vin almost each evening before the kid went to bed.

Buck and Chris were at their room.

They were laying on their beds, watching a football match and eating pizza. Class notes were scattered all over the bed.

"I can't believe they are losing!!" Buck grumbled, grabbing a can of Coke from the cooler between their beds.

"Pass one," Chris mumbled his mouth full of pepperoni and cheese. He stretched his arm and grabbed the can Buck handed him.

Chris looked briefly at his friend's face.

"Buck, tell me you didn't bet."

A guilty mask drew on Buck's face. "Can't."

"Jeez, Buck... you're going to lose. How much?"


"You've lost your senses, man."

"Don't worry Chris; I have everything under control."

"Yeah, like that time you were dating two girls and you told me you have everything under control and then you met them together at a party. You didn't know they were friends."

"Well, that was a tactical mistake, that fortunately, will never happen again." Buck grinned. "Besides, I made my bet with that boy from the private school, Standish. He assured me, everything was better if you worked with him," Buck explained.

Chris couldn't help but laugh aloud. "Okay, this time, well done for Standish!" Chris chuckled.

They kept chatting and watching TV until Chris realized it was 11 p.m. and his mom hadn't called him. She had promised. Now Vin would be in bed for sure.

"Aw, shit," Chris muttered.

"What happened?" Buck asked turning his head to Chris.

"My mom told me she would call so I could talk to Vin for a while, and look at the clock... It's eleven already, he'll be in bed!"

Chris was a little annoyed. "I bet they went to the movies, or maybe rented a video... and then they forgot..." Chris explained more to himself than as an explanation.

"Don't worry, Chris. Tomorrow you will have more time to talk to him more time..." Buck reassured him.

"Yeah, I know. You're right."

Shortly after that, they went to bed. Chris didn't want to think about it, but something told him, things weren't right.

+ + + + + + +

Maggie Larabee had spent all the afternoon crying. Jack didn't know what else do. In fact, he couldn't do anything else than wait. It was so frustrating.

That day had turned into Hell.

Maggie had gone to wait for Vin at the school exit as she always did. For Mrs. Larabee was a blessing to see her son running toward her with a big smile on his face. He always gave her a hug and a kiss, and began to tell her without taking a break to breathe how his day had been.

Maggie had realized Vin was a shy kid but with her, Jack and Chris, Vin talked about everything showing he was more mature than his seven years would indicate, and he wasn't afraid to express his feelings freely. Nettie had told her that that behavior was an indication that Vin felt secure again with them.

But that Thursday afternoon everything had gone wrong.

Vin hadn't come out of school like he did everyday. Maggie, trying to keep calm, before panicking completely, went to talk to Nettie, who told her Vin had left from class as always. Then, both women came to the same conclusion. It had to be Vin's real dad.

Maggie and Nettie called to the social worker who had been in charge of Vin's case. Miss Clemens assured them that Vin's dad had a legal order to keep far away from Vin. He had agreed to sign the Vin's adoption papers thinking it was going to get rid of a burden. However, there really was no telling what the man would do when he was drunk.

The rest of the afternoon the three women, Maggie, Nettie and Miss Clemens kept looking for Vin all over the school and the surrounding area, without success.

Maggie completely hopeless, called her husband at his job. Jack called the police and then went to meet her.

Around eight o'clock, Maggie realized she had to call her older son, but she didn't want to worry Chris, not until they had a clue where Vin could be. Hopefully, everything would be all right by night, and she would call him first thing in the morning.

Three hours later, three police patrols were checking the area around the school, the Larabees' neighborhood and the place where Vin lived before, without success for the moment.

Maggie and Jack sat on the couch in their living room, waiting for any news. Maggie had gone beyond the 'crying barrier' and now was scared to death about where her little boy was. Jack was next to her, feeling helpless. He had called a friend at the police department who promised to check on everything he could and call him in the moment he knew something.

Neither of them was going to sleep until their little Vin appeared.

+ + + + + + +

He felt cold. His fussed mind kept telling him that he deserved all that had happened to him because he was a bad boy. He didn't deserve to be happy, as he had been during the time he had lived with the Larabees. He knew he had forgotten that his happiness could never last. It was his fate. Alone and curled in a ball, he tried to discover what he had done wrong. He had been a bad by, but he couldn't point to exactly what he'd done.

All his body hurt. When he breathed it also hurt. He had decided awhile ago, it was better if he didn't move at all.

This time his dad had hit him real good. He couldn't move his arm, the one which was broken the last time his dad had gotten drunk and waited for him after school. His chest and stomach hurt too... If he closed his eyes, he could see his dad's fist coming and hitting him over and over again, without stopping.

He shouted to him, telling him he was a bad boy, a little bastard who had thought it was possible to hide from him. He had tried to run away, but he would never be able to get rid of him. He was his dad after all.

His dad had been waiting for him hidden in a corridor near the school exit, and when he saw Vin, grabbed his arm that had been free from the last cast for two weeks.

They drove to a house he didn't know. Just after closing the door, his dad dragged him to the upper floor, made him get rid of his back pack, his coat and begun to slap him. He called him something like 'little ungrateful bastard', at the same time that he sent punches to his face and body.

Vin saw that a corner of the room was full of bottles. As soon as his father turned his head to grab one, Vin took the opportunity to run, but his dad reached him just when he was at the edge of the stairs and pushed him down.

Vin realized he had cried out while he was falling and that he felt a kind of relief when he reached the bottom. Then, he began to feel pain in all his body: his chest, his head, his arm and his leg. He began to cry, wondering why his dad did those things when before his ma died they had lived as a family and his ma loved that man... He couldn't understand.

He shut tight his eyes trying to avoid of those bad memories... He remembered Miss Nettie's words, telling him that a real dad would never hit his son. Then he tried to bring back images of his life with the Larabees: Jack, his new dad, was so different to his real one. Jack played with him and Chris almost all Saturday morning. He allowed him to play basketball, football or baseball, even though he had the cast on his arm... He just had to promise Jack that he wouldn't push himself too hard and that he would be careful. Then they watched hockey matches, Jack's favorites, on TV and had had such a good time. He wanted Jack to get him out of that place. It was dark, everything hurt and he was alone. Tears ran down his cheeks again. He tried to control his crying, if his dad heard him... he would come and would hit him more.

His dad didn't come down to check on him. He just left him there at the end of the stairs, where he was too weak and hurt to move. He kept crying, now silently. He didn't want that man hurt him anymore. At the beginning, he had heard threats coming from upstairs, telling him what his dad would do to him if he didn't shut up, but he couldn't stop crying.

He tried to use the new little trick when he felt bad, think more about his family... Now he just had to think about Maggie, how good she smelled, very similar at his mom's. She did everything for him and took really good care of him, but she didn't fuss all the time as some moms did. She was a real good one. He loved to fall asleep hearing her voice.

And then there was Chris... He loved Chris, even though at the beginning he really thought Chris didn't want him in his territory. Now he was sure Chris liked him and probably loved him. Chris was the older brother Vin had always wanted... Chris included him in all the things he knew he could included a seven years old boy. That was fantastic... Chris told him everything he was worried about and in that way Vin could do it also without any problem and Chris was a really good listener almost as good as he was. Chris always talked to him about everything, which let Vin know he could tell Chris everything. Chris was as good or a listener as he was.

He stopped thinking and remembering when he heard some noises... He prayed it was Jack and Chris coming to rescue him...

More tears ran down his cheeks, the cold chill made him shiver and soon, everything when black...

+ + + + + + +

Near dawn the ring of the phone startled Maggie. Jack was next to her holding her hand while Maggie just nodded and asked some questions.

From Maggie's answers, Jack could tell somebody had found Vin. Jack was relieved at first, but started to worry once again when his wife asked how bad Vin was.

Both of them had placed their hopes in giving Vin a good life and future. They loved him so much. They had wanted to give Chris a brother, but he never arrived, and now they got it. If they lost Vin, Jack knew he would recover, it would be hard, but he knew he could do it, but not Maggie. She loved Vin too much. He loved Vin also, but Maggie was the one who had decided to keep going with the adoption. It had been her idea.

Chris had also become very attached to Vin - it was impossible not to - and Jack didn't want to think about his son's reaction if the boy died.

Jack stopped his thoughts when Maggie talked to him. "They found him, Jack. It was his father. He hit him again, Jack." Maggie shook her head and began to cry again. Jack held her by the shoulders and hugged him tenderly.

"Shhh, Maggie. Where is he?"

"He's at hospital... I can't... "

The tears in Maggie's eyes made Jack to clench his fists until his knuckles turned white. He was so mad that he didn't know what to do with his anger.

"It's okay Maggie. Let's see Vin, so he can rest quiet... I know he's fine." Jack said the last words to Maggie and to himself.

Maggie nodded wiping her tears. She just hoped the kid could forget some day everything and be totally happy.

When Jack and Maggie arrived at the hospital, they had to wait for a while until the doctors finished taking care of Vin and got him settled in a room.

The nurse at the station gave them some forms to fill that kept them busy for a while. It was Jack who filled them. Maggie was too nervous.

Then they called Nettie to tell her that the police had found Vin and that they were at the hospital. Nettie had to take care of her class so she couldn't come, but she asked them to call her when they knew something.

After that, Jack called to his office to let them know he wouldn't be in.

Both of them decided not to call Chris until they knew how Vin was doing.

After what Maggie thought was an eternity, a doctor came into the pediatrics waiting room, where they were.

"Mr. and Mrs. Larabee?" He asked adjusting his glasses. The man was quite young, tall, thin and looked affable.

Maggie and Jack nodded. Maggie looked for her husband's hand desperately. Jack held his wife's hand tight.

"You are Vin Tanner's adoptive parents, aren't you? I'm Dr. Grant, Vin's doctor."

"Yes sir," Jack asked. "How is he?" He couldn't wait to ask anymore.

"We hope he does a full recovery... Well, physically, we are sure of it, although his left arm will take time, it's the second fracture... Psychologically, it will take him more time, I'm afraid. Don't misunderstand me. Being with you, I'm sure he will feel safe again... but he will suffer from nightmares, and those kinds of things. I think Miss Clemens is Vin's social worker... She will recommend a psychologist in case his situation gets more difficult. For now there aren't signs of post-traumatic stress syndrome, or anything.

"About his injuries... and let me tell you, I can't imagine how a father can do this to his son... He has three ribs, his right leg, and as I told you his left arm again, broken... plus a slight concussion, some bruises on his face and back... He passed a scan and there is no damage in his head or back. So about that he has been very lucky. We also had to stitch a scratch on his forehead."

"I'm really sorry for the kid, he's adorable... he hasn't complained at all, and I'm sure we hurt him when we set the bones in place and treated his wounds... I'll show you his room, although, last time I saw him, he was already asleep. He deserves some rest," the doctor finished with a smile.

"Thank you Dr. Grant," Maggie said.

Jack shook the doctor's hand in gratitude. And the three of them walked toward the corridor.

When they reached the door, they stopped.

"I'm so relieved Vin got a new family. We treated him several times after his mom's death. He's a real nice boy, as you already know, and he deserves a happy life."

"Now, we only hope his father pays for what he has done, and Vin can live quietly," Jack said.

"I've heard you have another son..."

"Yes," Jack said. "Chris. He has just begun college this year. He loves Vin."

"I imagine. It's hard not to. Okay, I don't want to detain you anymore. Go into to see your son... if you need something, just ask for me."

The doctor shook Maggie and Jack's hands and left.

The couple took deep breaths and opened the door. When they came into the room, Maggie thought her legs weren't going to support her. Jack held her, just in case, when he saw her face turned paler.

Vin was lying so quietly. The only sign he was alive it was the raising of his chest. He was so pale and he had so many bandages in his tiny body.

Jack grabbed a chair and placed it beside the bed and Maggie sat down. She reached for Vin's casted arm, his other one had attached an IV, and she was afraid to hurt him.

She touched those tiny fingers that didn't stop moving when he was playing, or drawing, or telling her something... She needed to hear him laughing or just calling her name.

"Oh my God, Jack... how can a father do this? I want him to wake up so I can see his blue eyes..."

"Shhh... It's okay, Maggie... He'll wake up soon, and you know me. I'll do whatever is possible to stop him from seeing or being near Vin again, forever."

Jack pulled out his cell phone out of his jacket pocket and dialed Chris's number. While Maggie stared and talked to Vin.

When Jack finished the phone call approached the little form in the bed and touched his hair lightly. He wasn't sure if Maggie had heard his conversation with Chris, so he decided to explain it to her.

"Chris is coming Maggie. I told him. I hope I can manage him. He was so mad..," Jack said shaking his head.

+ + + + + + +

Chris was so angry that Buck offered himself to drive him to the hospital. He really hoped his brother was okay.

He was sure that if he found that guy he really was going to make him pay for hurting Vin. He was his brother and now he had a new family, how dare he try to destroy Vin's happiness!!

Buck glanced at Chris while driving. Chris had that cold look in his eyes. Buck admitted long time ago, that he got scared to death each time Chris used it, although they knew each other since babies. Buck also knew that if Chris had Vin's father in front of him, the man would have ended his life asking for clemency.

Buck remembered how close he came to losing Chris' friendship after Chris girlfriend's death. Sarah was the nicest girl he had ever met. Chris and Sarah weren't just a couple, but the most popular couple in high school... Buck looked at them and he knew Chris would marry her. That was until Sarah and her family died in a car accident.

Since then Chris had been a hard one to be with, a real loner. It was just in the last year when they had come closer again, and Buck realized his friendship was even better since Vin had arrived at the Larabees' home. He just hoped the kid was okay.

Vin was really nice. He was the only one that laughed with all of Buck's jokes, after all.

"He'll be fine Chris. I'm sure he will." Buck tried to calm his best friend.

"I hope so Buck. It scares me to death the idea of my life without him."

"I know, Chris. I know."

A little after they arrived at the hospital. Buck let Chris go while he drove to the parking lot.

Chris rushed into the reception when he found a nurse.

"Please, I'm looking for a Vin Tanner... I think he was admitted this early morning."

"Are you close family?" The nurse didn't even lift her head to look at him.

"Yeah, of course. He's my brother."

"And your name is?" She asked looking at him for the first time, just briefly.

"Chris, Chris Larabee. He's adopted, but keep his mom's surname," Chris explained not very happy for having to give details about his brother to the nurse. It wasn't her business. It had been Vin's only desire when Chris's parents were still in the middle of the adoption process. "My parents are already here," he finished.

Finally the nurse came into action and began to look for the admission forms.

Buck joined Chris in the moment the nurse found what she was looking for.

"Your brother is on the fourth floor, room 407."

"Thanks," Chris said already running toward the elevator.

"Thanks lady," Buck repeated.

"No Running, boys," the nurse said aloud leaning over the counter. She shook her head.

Both teenagers had disappeared inside the elevator.

+ + + + + + +

Maggie was so relieved when she saw those beautiful blue eyes looking at her.

"Hey sweetheart, welcome back," she said squeezing the little fingers that poked out from the cast.

Vin turned his head and although he wanted to cry out her name and hold him mom tight, he only managed to cry.

Maggie could hear between Vin's sobs that he let out a 'mom' that kept etched in her heart. Maggie stood up from the chair and sat at the edge of her son's bed. She leaned over his son's tiny body and placed a reassuring hand on one of his shoulders, that stopped Vin from hurting him any more trying to get up from the bed. The boy stretched his arms toward her, and she, being very carefully with his injuries and the IV attached to his hand, held him tight, trying to ease his pain and sadness.

"It's okay, my dear. I promise nobody will hurt you anymore. I'm so sorry he hurt you." She kissed him on his forehead.

Jack was seated on the bed also but he wasn't sure Vin wanted to hug him. He imagined that maybe the child wasn't ready for a paternal figure yet, after all of this.

Maggie was touching Vin's hair muttering reassuring words.

"Hey honey, Jack wants to tell you hi, also... do you want a hug from him...?"

Vin nodded briefly, the sobs fading... She gently wiped the tears from his bruised face with the back of her hand. She was terrified by the magnitude of her son's injuries: His face was bruised and a little swollen, and his lower lip split... He had an adhesive bandage on the right side of his forehead where he had gotten some stitches to close a cut. Besides, his left arm was again in a cast, him lower right leg too, and when she held him in her arms, she touched the bandage wrapped around his upper body, to protect his broken ribs.

Jack took Maggie's place, in fact he was seated in the middle of the bed. Vin pushed himself out of his mom's body and found a place between Jack's arms. His new pa held him tight and he felt secure again. His arms were around Jack's neck and Jack's strong hands were holding his body... Now his body didn't hurt too much. He leaned his face on his pa's shoulder. Maggie took care that the IV remained where it was supposed to be.

Then Maggie grabbed a blanket from a shelf and wrapped it around Vin's body.

"I'm sorry my boy. I ain't gonna let him hurt you anymore."

Vin began to cry again.

+ + + + + + +

Chris pushed the door of the room 407 open, and got frozen on his tracks when he saw Vin on his father's arms.

Buck stepped by his side also, shook by the scene played in front of him.

Jack was seated almost with the back at the door... the IV wasn't very long, so he had to place him and Vin next to the head of the bed. The kid was in his arms, with his stretched around his dad's neck and covered by a blanket.

With the sound of the door, Vin turned his head lightly and muttered a 'Chris!' that made Jack face the door also.

Chris' heart went to his throat when he saw Vin's face.

"Oh my God, Vin."

Chris ran to his father's side and touched lightly Vin's hair.

Chris couldn't help getting crowded by a feeling of frustration because he hadn't been there for his younger brother, something he had promised to himself when he had found out everything about Vin's past life.

"Come on Vin, lets get you back in bed... if the doctor find out you have been out of it... we are going to get scolded," Jack said lying Vin carefully on the bed placing the covers over him, taking care of Vin's hand with the IV.

Maggie stepped and remained at his younger son's side while Chris walked to the other and Jack stepped next to Maggie.

Chris reached his younger brother's hand and Chris held the tiny hand as tight as he could.

Vin smiled him back and sighed in relief. All his family was with him. He was so tired. He couldn't help closing his eyes.

"Don't go, please," he whispered pleading tightening his grip in his brother and mom's hands. He opened his eyes again and saw Buck for the first time. "Hi Buck," he greeted closing his eyes again.

"Hi Vin," Buck said smiling and a little embarrassed; the child was really hurt and had time to say hi to him. He shook his head in amazement.

"Hey Vin, we are going to stay with you, until you can come at home with us... it's that okay with you?... You'll see, when you wake up, we will go home," Maggie explained to him softy.

"'kay" he said half asleep already.

+ + + + + + +

After two hours, Chris and his parents were still on the room.

Buck had gone to go to class and get the notes Chris couldn't.

Jack had called Nettie, telling her everything and suggesting her it would be better if she saw Vin when he was at home.

Now the attention of the three people inside the room where on the bed when Vin began to cry and moved his head to one side and another.

"Stop, please, stop... " he begged at somebody on his nightmare, between sobs.

"No, no, stop, no..." he kept crying.

Maggie's eyes were already full of tears. She wiped them and leaned over Vin's bed and touched his face lightly.

"Vin, honey, wake up," she said shaking the boy's body. "Come on, sweetheart, wake up, let me see those blue eyes of yours."

Maggie breathed in relief when she saw Vin's lids fluttering and finally two beautiful blue eyes trying to focus on her.

"Mom!" he cried stretching his arms again toward her. Maggie reached her kid and hugged him, muttering reassuring words.

"Shhh, Vin, it's okay, you're safe now."

"He caught me... the stairs... and I fell... hurt, hurt..." he explained, the hiccup from the cry didn't allow him to speak correctly and at the same time hurt his ribs.

Jack felt so bad for his child... the only thing that reassured him was that Vin's dad had been caught for the police patrol that had found Vin and luckily would be in prison soon.

Maggie kept on calming her son. "I know, honey, I know." She eyed her husband, as she knew what Jack had been thinking. Then she looked at Chris. Her other two boys were serious, an indication that they were worried also for Vin.

A nurse came into the room. "Is everything okay?"

Vin had now his face hid in his mom's chest. The nurse was a stranger to him, he didn't want to be with strangers. The kid kept crying.

"He had a nightmare," Maggie explained.

"We were waiting for some of them already. They will keep coming in the following days... I'm going to give him a sedative... so he can rest. The doctor will check on him later and will decide if he releases Vin."

She walked to the side of Vin's bed. Maggie had already placed him lying again and covered by the sheet and blanket. The nurse injected the medication in his IV, but Vin didn't even look at her. He held his mom's hand with the fingers of the other hand. The cast didn't allow him doing it properly.

Soon, Vin's eyes were closed again and his breath evened.

When he was sure his son was asleep. Jack stood up and when to the cafeteria to get coffee and food.

Chris seated again at Vin's side, praying his brother didn't suffer from more nightmares like the last one. He felt so sorry for him.

+ + + + + + +

Some hours later, Dr. Grant checked on Vin and announced to the Larabee family that he would release Vin when the child woke up again. He gave them instructions and prescriptions for the pain medication and something to give to Vin if the nightmares kept coming and the kid didn't get proper rest.

A nurse removed the IV while the doctor talked to them.

Jack went to home to pick some clothes for Vin, so when he woke up, they could go home quickly. On his way, he bought a teddy bear.

Vin kept sleeping for the rest of Friday until night. Then, he woke up again, calling his family.

"Vin! Hey Vin!" Chris called him.

The child turned his face finding his brother. He tried to smile but his face hurt. He brought his hand to his face and touched his right cheek and eye that were bruised and the bandage on his forehead.

Chris stopped him from keep touching it.

"Vin, listen... what do you say if we all go home now? You'd like it?"

Vin nodded. "Can we go home Chris?" he asked innocently.

"Yeah we can. We just need to get you dressed..."

"'kay," Vin said taking away the covers with his good arm, but stopped in his track when his gut hurt. He instinctively wrapped his arm around it.

"Hey, hold on there, little bro... You aren't very strong yet..." Chris said. "You aren't fine yet Vin... You'll have to take it easy for a while... Will you do it?"


Maggie and Jack gazed at how Chris was taking care of Vin, treating him with a lot of tenderness, and smiled. They were sure things were going to be okay.

Maggie grabbed the clothes Jack had brought. Vin's father had gotten one of Chris's T-shirt that would fit very loosely on Vin but would allow him to move easily, a pair of sweatpants Maggie had bought Vin, without elastic on the hems, a pair of socks, one Vin's and another one Chris's for the cast in his leg and Vin's underwear... Jack didn't think his boy was going to be walking around for a while, so he didn't get shoes.

Soon they got Vin dressed.

"Hey Vin, I got something for you," Jack said grabbing the bag from the toys store. He handed it to Vin, who pulled out the teddy bear from it with his good arm.

"Thanks. It is so nice, thank you, thank you," the boy repeated hugging and rubbing his good cheek for its fabric. "I've always wanted one. Thank you, dad," Vin said looking at Jack sincerely. Jack felt a little stab of sorrow... His child was seven years old and that was his first teddy bear... Vin's old family had had a lot of problems, he thought.

All the family smiled watching Vin so happy with his teddy.

A nurse went into the room pushing a kid's wheelchair and a little sling...

She smiled when she saw Vin with his new toy. "I've brought this for his arm, in that way his finger won't swollen anymore and he didn't feel like pressure on them..."

She gave it to Maggie who placed it on Vin.

He looked weirdly at it. He didn't like it.

Maggie placed a blanket on Vin's shoulders.

Jack approached him and held him in his arms placing him on the chair.

Vin turned his head, he didn't want a stranger pushed the chair, maybe she was going to send him somewhere far from Maggie, Jack and Chris.

She saw it in Vin's eyes. "Don't worry Vin. Your dad will push the chair. I hope you get okay soon."

He didn't say anything back to her and Vin's family exchanged indulgent looks.

Jack pushed the wheelchair out of the hospital to the parking lot. Then, he picked up Vin in his arms and placed him carefully on the backseat of the car. Maggie sat next to him, and Chris took the passenger seat. Jack kept the wheelchair in the trunk. Vin was going to need it. He couldn't walk with crutches for his arm. Then he sat in the driver seat and drove to their home.

While he was driving Jack was thinking that Vin wasn't going to use the wheelchair at all. He was going to hate it. Besides, he was too young and he was going to very limited in movement for a while, what it wasn't good. 'Poor kid... He is going to be so bored. I don't want him to have time enough to think about what has happened or recall things... That isn't good for him... And I hope he is patient and doesn't want to be running in a week...** Jack thought and shook his head lightly.

Chris thoughts were going for the same path as his dad's were. He didn't want Vin remembering the disgusting and painful things. And Vin now couldn't be around, as kids liked to do. He told himself he'd try to be at home as much as he could.

When they arrived, Vin was asleep. Jack carried him gently in his arms to his room. Then he lay him on his bed and tucked him in carefully. He left the door opened and a light switched on.

Vin slept right through until the middle of the night, when he suffered another nightmare and woke up crying.

All the family awoke suddenly hearing Vin's crying and shouts. They ran to his room and after reassuring him, Maggie decided to sleep with him.

+ + + + + + +

Saturday morning, Buck called asking Chris if he wanted to play a little football match with people from the neighborhood.

Maggie just reminded him to be at home soon, so Vin wouldn't get bored and envious because he couldn't play. At the same time, she reminded Buck he could stay to take lunch with them like he did almost every Saturday since Chris and Buck were friends.

Chris and Buck came back before lunchtime. They had had a really good time with the boys from the neighborhood. They were very different in ages but all of them knew each others for a long time and enjoyed their time together.

Chris had missed Vin and thought about him. All of their friends, who knew Vin already, had asked for him, like Nathan and Josiah. Even Standish, Ezra, the boy from the private school had 'inquired' about Chris's younger brother's health.

Chris and Buck reached the living room and found Vin lying on the couch covered by a blanket watching Toy Story II. Vin turned his head toward them, when he heard his brother's and Buck's voices laughing and talking.

It was amazing to Chris how Vin's expression each time he saw him. He could tell the same thing probably happened to him. He didn't think he was the one that deserved all the merit, but he could say Vin got happier when the child saw him. That made him proud, but worried also. Chris didn't want Vin to get dependent on him. He couldn't be always there for him, even though he wished he could. He would always be there while he could, but nobody knew what the future would bring to his life, and over all, he didn't want to fail Vin.

Chris set those thoughts apart and smiled at his brother at the same time he crouched beside him. "Hey Vin, how you doing?"

"Bored. I love this movie, but I have almost memorized it. I want to go outside."

"Vin... you have to be patient... You just left hospital yesterday. Let's see. I'll talk to mom later and maybe we can go outside for a little while..."

"Sure thing?" Vin asked really excited.

"Hey, hey calm down Junior," Buck advised him.

"Hey, Bucklin, mom told me you staying for lunch..." Vin told him smiling again. Vin had admitted Buck called him Junior, but he always counter-attacked him calling him by his entire name that Buck hated. It had been Chris who had told his younger brother that little secret, so he could defend himself from Buck's 'attacks'.

Maggie was spying the teenagers and the kid.

Buck's brows went together... Definitely, Vin, mentally, was older than just seven, almost eight years, probably from all the child had lived through.

Maggie stepped into the living room interrupting the funny situation:

"Christopher, Bucklin..."

"Mom!!!" Chris exclaimed.

"Mrs. Larabee, please!!!" Buck followed Chris's exclamation.

Maggie laughed at the two teenagers, almost adults' faces, when she followed Vin's joke, and called them by their complete names.

Vin giggled, seeing the panicked faces of his brother and his best friend.

"Okay boys... I'm going to bring Vin his meal... if you want to take lunch with him, go upstairs and wash your hands..."

Buck and Chris disappeared running toward the stairs.

Maggie walked back to the kitchen and came back with a tray that she left on the coffee table.

Vin saw her, so very slowly and carefully moved to get seated.

Maggie was really surprised. Vin never complained about the pain. He didn't say a word even when the medication effect was fading and it wasn't time for the next one.

The doctor had given them light painkillers for the fractures, more for his ribs that were the ones that hurt when he moved.

The only sign that told her that Vin was suffering were he was moving, were the tiny tears that were gathering on his eyes and ended running down his cheeks. She didn't say a word about it, because she didn't want to embarrass him.

She knew Vin's silence wasn't because he wanted to show he was strong... it was just that he didn't want to disturb and attract the attention on him.

Maggie had noticed the child carefully since he had arrived to their home and she had discovered Vin loved to go unnoticed, so she tried not to fuss over him too much, even now that she'd rather spend each minute by his side, checking on him.

This time Vin offered a disheartened look, sat on the couch. He was trying to regulate his breath after the effort it had been to move with those broken ribs. The right side of his beautiful face was more purple than any other color, all bruised. He wore another Chris's T-shirt that allowed him to move more comfortably.

Vin had succeeded getting rid of the sling; he hated it; so now his arms rested at both sides of his body. On his legs he had his sweatpants and socks. In fact, his leg with the cast was into a Chris' socks. His were too tiny to put them on with the cast, and it was too cold, it was winter yet, to keep his toes without any protection.

Vin knew he didn't look any good. It wasn't as he usually cared a lot about how he looked. Instinctively, he brought his hand to his forehead... The adhesive bandage was still covering the stitches... He sighed in kind relief... He had seen people with stitches in the face and they looked a lot like Frankenstein, and he hated it... It was the character that scared him the most. He had seen a movie about it and had nightmares for weeks. He knew he wasn't being reasonable about that, and that he was old enough for those things... but he couldn't help it, and of course, he didn't want to look like that monster. It was one thing to look a little bad, it was another when people ran from you.

Maggie was still staring at him, while he wiped the tears carefully with the back on his hand, until he raised his head to look at her.

"It will be alright, sweetheart," she said softly. She grabbed the tray and placed it over Vin, the metallic legs at both sides of the boy's body resting on the couch's surface.

The shouts and noises coming from upstairs meant Buck and Chris were doing something other than just washing their hands.

Maggie sighed patiently. Vin smiled. Since Vin's arrival, Chris had been behaving even better... As a teenager and now college student, Chris had his moments..., but now his 'fury' was placated, and Chris showed more and more facets of that child he had been in the past, Maggie's adorable kid, as now Vin was.

She was placing a napkin on Vin's neck, so he didn't get his big T-shirt stained, when Chris and Buck joined them.

Vin eyed them and grinned... Their T-shirts had big water stains all over them. A water war at the bathroom... in which he hadn't been able to take part on it, but he couldn't do anything about it.

"Can you eat alone, Vin?" Maggie asked him.

Vin nodded.

"Okay, you two come with me and help me to bring your meal here... " Maggie said brightly.

+ + + + + + +

A little later Chris and Buck were seated on the floor, next to the coffee table were they had their food. Chris was next to the couch where Vin was, in case his brother needed help,... and because he wanted to be near him.

They ate and laughed and when they finished, the sat next to Vin on the couch. They started to see a movie, probably Chris and Buck's favorite ever, The Magnificent Seven.

Chris felt Vin's head resting against his arm. He smiled at Buck who smiled him back.

They kept watching the movie that brought back memories to the two friends. They had seen the movie for the first time when kids and they loved it. They had played so many times figuring they were gunslingers.

They burst laughing in silent when each one of them caught the other reciting in low voice parts of the dialogue. Buck stared at him... he hadn't even realized until that moment, and he was sure Chris either... Chris used to be Chris in their plays, and now Vin could be Vin if they decided to bring back adventures from their past and allowed themselves to behave like children again and if they shared his secret with Chris's brother.

Suddenly Vin began to move his head mumbling things.

Chris became worried and was asking himself if he should wake him up.

Buck shook his head still looking at Chris. Neither of them knew what to do.

Next thing, Vin began to cry. Something in his nightmare was making him cry.

Chris couldn't wait anymore and shook Vin's arm.

"Vin, come on, Vin, wake up, it's just a dream."

Vin opened his eyes, looked into Chris's and hid his face on Chris's chest, still crying.

Chris hugged him. "Everything will be fine, Vin. I promise. I'll never let somebody hurt you again. I'll be always by your side," Chris said sincerely, moved by the situation, his voice trembling a little for the emotion.

"You promise?" Vin asked, a hint of desperation mixed with hope in his voice.

"Yeah. I promise."

"I know my mom wanted to be with me. She promised me too, but she's gone..."

"Vin, it's different. I'm sure she didn't want to leave but she couldn't do anything else... Besides she is now with you always."

"You think so?"

"Yeah, I'm sure she guided Maggie to you and gave you a sign that she was the one you had to choose. And maybe she is the one that makes me believe I can keep that promise."

Vin pushed himself out of Chris's chest, his eyes met his older brother's ones.

"Listen Vin. I promise I will be by your side always if you need me. You never forget that. Besides that's what brothers are for."

"'kay. I'll be here from you each time you need me, Chris," Vin promised also and smiled to his brother again, the tears disappearing from his face.

"Okay, okay... Stop this, stop this... I'm feeling terribly jealous of you two. I'm out of the conversation.... Can't you do anything where I can join you both?" Buck grinned and Chris and Vin grinned back to him.

"Okay. Let's see... we can ask Maggie if we can take Vin outside for a while..." Chris suggested.

"Later," Vin said surprising Chris. "Now you can sign and draw in my casts, I have two..." Vin suggested.

"Cool," Buck said.

Chris shook his head. Buck was sometimes worse than a kid.

"Fine. I'm going to find some felt tip pens. Come on Buck help me... I can't remember last time I used them, where I put them," Chris said. "We'll back in a sec, Vin."

Vin just nodded, smiling yet. He knew everything would be fine this day and the following ones... Chris had promised.


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