"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe

Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.

Authors Note: Just a little thing that came to me. Thanks to Phyllis for proof reading it for me, and to the wonderful creators of this universe.

"It’s too early," Buck warned, as Chris rose to his feet yet again. "Patience pal, give it time."

Chris knew he was right and sank back down to wait.

"You sure you got the instructions?" Chris asked for the twentieth time.

"Yes, I'm sure. Jeez, you made me check them so often I know it by heart!"

‘Operation Cat’ had been in the planning for over two weeks now. Meticulous plans had been laid; scenarios worked out and tested to the last detail by Chris, Buck and the others. The first attempt at their objective had failed; worse, it had made their objective even more elusive. Chris had been prepared to give up then, but Nathan insisted it had to be done.

Finally, after a three-hour wait that seemed to last forever, the two men rose and closed in on their objective silently. On reaching the door. Chris switched on his flashlight with the red filter and as Buck turned off the corridor light and eased the door open. Chris crept forward keeping the dim beam of light on the floor as he negotiated the room he knew like the back of his hand. As sudden noise made him freeze, standing in the doorway Buck held his breath.

"Gonna git it," the voice was muffled and sleep worn.

For a few moments, Chris was worried that the bed's occupant had woken up, but a few moments later the deep, steady breathing returned and Chris advanced again.

Vin slept with his toy cat tucked under his arm. Very carefully, Chris began to ease the stuffed cat out from under the thin arm. Instantly, the arm stiffened, pulling the cat closer. Chris froze again; he turned his head to look at Buck, who motioned him not to give up. Chris nodded and, swallowing hard, went back to his delicate task. Eventually, after two more pauses he finally got Cat free.

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That Vin's treasured toy needed washing was not in dispute. Most of the time, Vin was happy for it to be left in the room he shared with JD, tucked up in bed. It had been Buck who convinced him not to take it to school. Chris had tried to tell him it wasn't safe, that he was too old to take a toy to school. But Vin had answers for all these arguments. He had lived alone on the streets for months, and then taken care of JD as well. No one was taking anything of his, and no one needed to see Cat and, if they did, and made fun of him - well Vin Tanner could take care of himself.

Buck had another approach.

"Vin do you know what Cat does while you're asleep? What all Teddy's and other special toys do?" he asked.

"No." Vin was curious. "What?"

"They stay awake all night, and watch over their owners. They keep them safe in their dreams, wake them up if something happens."


"Yup. Now it's hard work, they have to be awake all night." He emphasised just how difficult staying awake all night was. "So the daytime; that's when they sleep," he explained. "Cat can't look after you at night, if he's awake all day at school, can he?"

Vin had looked down at his toy, fingering the soft fur fabric.

"Guess not," he had finally whispered.

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Two weeks before 'Operation Cat' the boys had been allowed to stay up late and watch a movie with their fathers and honorary uncles, on the condition that they got ready for bed first. So they settled down to watch Fantasia, wrapped up in comforters, and since he was in his pajamas, Vin brought Cat to watch the film too, just as JD's thumb found it's way into his mouth as he watched.

Out of the bedroom, it was clear to Nathan how dirty Cat was. He hadn't seen the toy up close in a long time, except in a darkened room, now he saw it in good light, a small mystery was solved. Vin had been plagued by sores under his nose. They weren't anything serious but the source was unknown. As he watched, Vin absently rub the filthy tail of his toy under his nose, the source was suddenly clear.

The next day Chris spoke to Vin.

"Vin, you have a bath every day don't you?" he started.

"Yeah, but I don't need one you know," Vin protested.

"Yes you do. Now Cat…" He pointed to the toy. "hasn't had a bath since you got him, has he?"

Vin frowned, clutching Cat ever closer. "He don't need one neither!"

"Yes, he does." Josiah had advised him not to suggest Cat was doing him any harm. Trust was still a difficult thing for Vin, and even trust in a toy was precious. "He's a bit smelly." Once you got close to it and actually sniffed, the toy really did smell stale and sweaty.

"No!" Vin was emphatic. He didn't want Cat to smell different, he liked the smell, Cat smelled safe.

From then on, he kept Cat with him at all times, and since it was the summer vacation they couldn't do it while he was at school. Finally, Vin had picked up a patch of impetigo under his nose, and passed it to JD, who got it on his bottom. Vin's small patch was easily cleared up with just four days of cream applied three times a day. JD had needed cream, which, because of where it was, he would only let Buck apply, and a course of anti-biotics. That was when 'operation Cat' became a reality.

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Chris carried the much treasured, but offending toy, to the laundry room, and handed it to Buck. Gloria Potter had written out explicit 'How to wash Cat' instructions. It was determined that Buck would actually do the deed. That way, he would be the villain if anything went wrong. He had indeed read the instructions so often he could quote them. As instructed, he placed Cat in a pillowcase, tied a knot in the top and put it in the machine. He set the machine on a wool wash cycle, half load, with the mildest soap power available. Finally, with the machine closed, the soap in, his finger was poised over the on button.

"Do it," Chris instructed.

An hour and a half later, they took the bundle from the dryer and held their breath as Buck undid the knot. At first glance, they had achieved their objective. Cat looked almost knew. Bright, fluffy, smelling fresh. Then, disaster! His tail, the most important part of Cat for Vin, had split! It wasn't a big split, but stuffing was pushing through and the tear was threatening to get bigger. Two big, tough, ATF agents stood paralyzed in terror over a one inch split seam. It was now nearly three a.m. but they had no option. They called Nathan.

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An hour and a half later, Rain Jackson drove up.

"Well, where is it?" she asked, not bothering to keep the irritation out of her voice.

"Rain, darlin' you look radiant, as always." Buck smiled at her as he let her in.

"Can it Wilmington. I look like someone who got dragged out of her bed at three in the morning!"

"Um…where's Nate?" Chris asked.

"At home, sleeping off the very nice bottle of red wine we had at the restaurant tonight. I was driving. Well, were is it?" she demanded, hands on hips.

Both men swallowed and silently pointed at the dining room table, where poor Cat lay, looking for all the world, like a body on a slab in the morgue. She strode over and casually picked up the tail, and snorted.

"Sewing basket?" she asked. Neither man moved. "You do have a needle and thread? Don't you?"

"Um, yes, I guess, err…" Chris blustered, looking around the dining room. Buck however, just walked into the kitchen and retrieved the basket from the top of the cupboard where Gloria Potter kept it.

"How come you know where that is?" his friend asked.

"Man has to be able to sew his own buttons on," he explained.

"Well, why in the hell am I here? Why aren’t you doing this?" Rain demanded.

"I can sew a button on, that's it. Well okay, I can sew up a hem," he admitted. She raised an eyebrow. "Look, if I sew up a hem, you can see it. This…" he pointed to the cat. "…has to be invisible."

"Totally," Chris added.

"Men!" Rain exclaimed, as she selected a fine needle. "Get me a coffee."

A mere twenty five minutes later she was done, and ready to head home.

"Thanks Rain. I owe you," Chris admitted.

"Oh yes you do, big time. I came for Vin, not you, but you will be paying Chris Larabee, don't you worry." With that, she was gone.

"Shit pard! I think yer gonna be paying fer a while," Buck commented as he watched the red tail lights disappear up the drive.

"Oh yeah, and pay and pay and pay." Chris shook his head as he picked up the flashlight and prepared to put Cat back where he belonged.

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Having only gotten to bed a couple of hours before dawn, Chris was fast asleep when a small hand started shaking his arm. Finally he pulled himself awake, and found Vin standing beside the bed, Cat clutched to his chest. He looked very serious.

"Morning," Chris said noncommittally.

"He's all clean." Vin held Cat out briefly, before going back to clutching him.

"I can see that."

Vin frowned. When he had first woken up, he hadn't noticed. It was Sunday, he and JD were allowed to get up and watch cartoons on Sunday morning, before Chris and Buck got up, they had to stay in their PJ's and not go outside, they could have a cookie, but only one. Vin had just come back from the bathroom and was picking up Cat to join JD in the living room when he noticed the difference. At first he was angry, Cat had lost his special smell, his home smell. But he had to admit, comforting as it was, it wasn't a nice smell. The laundry smell was nicer.

"He smells nice," he finally admitted. "Did you do it?"

"Kinda," Chris admitted.

"Did ya?" Vin asked again.

"Buck pushed the button."

"Was that 'cause you was afraid to?"

In the living room, Scooby-Doo had just ended so JD rolled himself off the sofa and trotted off to see where Vin was and if Buck was awake. He found Buck leaning against the wall opposite the open door to Chris' room, he was laughing so hard he could hardly stand, tears rolling down his cheeks.

"What's funny?" JD demanded.

But Buck was incapable of answering so JD peered into the bedroom.

"Why is Vin looking at Chris like Chris?" JD asked, as he watched Vin glare at Larabee.


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