Disclaimer: Don’t own ‘em, not even the characters in this AU. However, I am eternally grateful to those who did!

Notes: Just a little ficlet for the heck of it. Based on feedback from those who previewed it for me, there’s a good “aw” factor here.

He opened the door as quietly as possible, peering into the shadowy room. He knew he wasn’t supposed to be there, he’d been told that he wasn’t supposed to go in there often enough in the last several hours. He’d tried to do as he was told, but it was so hard.

Creeping inside the door, he stepped as lightly as possible as he made his way across the room. He kept his eyes on the big, quilt-covered bed that was his destination. As he came to a stop, he placed his hands on the mattress, leaning forward to peer up at the still figure lying there.

“Chris?” His voice sounded small and scared. He was small and scared. A small, scared seven-year-old who’s life had been turned upside down that morning.

The unconscious man didn’t respond. He lay on his back, covered to mid-chest by a worn quilt. One arm and shoulder was bandaged heavily in bleached cloth. The other lay stretched out along the bed, long fingers unmoving atop the quilt.

Vin Tanner watched his guardian sleep for several moments, waiting for some sign that he was waking. He took a deep breath and said again, “Chris?” When there was no response from the big man, he sighed. Reaching out, he laid a little hand atop the one lying so still. Heaving another sigh, he laid his tousled head on the old bed and closed his eyes.

+ + + + + + +

There was a lot of noise going on down by the jail. He and JD had been sent to play with Billy Travis at the Clarion while Chris, Buck and the other men went to work. Something was going on, but no one would tell them what. All five of the men had stern looks on their faces as they headed toward the jailhouse. He hadn’t been able to take his eyes off them, leaning against the window and watching.

Nathan, Ezra and Buck disappeared into the building, while Chris and Josiah stayed on the boardwalk. Chris was leaning against one of the porch posts, while Josiah sat down in a chair, stretching his long legs out in front of him.

Several men rode up the street, coming to a stop in front of the jail. He watched as Chris stood up straight, talking to the men. One of the men did most of the talking, Vin could see his arms waving around and he kept leaning forward on his horse.

After a few minutes Josiah stood up, very slowly, and moved to stand next to Chris. That made the man on the horse wave his arms and yell even more. Then the other men started waving their arms and yelling, too. Chris stood real quiet though, not moving much and not saying a lot. Josiah seemed to be talking then, but he looked calm, too.

Then, suddenly, he heard a faint *bang* and, a few seconds later, Chris fell down. He screamed and started running for the door, but Mrs. Travis caught him before he could get outside. He had cried and begged her to let him go, but she refused, holding him tight and trying to get him to calm down. But he couldn’t calm down. The sounds of gunfire continued for several minutes, while he was held tight against the newspaper editor.

It was only when there were no more sounds of gunfire that the blonde widow had let him go. As soon as his feet hit the floor, he started running, ignoring Mrs. Travis calling after him to wait. He ran straight toward the jail, crying out for Chris as he did. He hardly realized when he was caught up and held firmly by a strong pair of arms. When he registered the fact that he was no longer running, he yelled out angrily demanding to be let go.

“Calm down, Master Tanner,” came a smooth, quiet voice. “You need to stay here and let the others tend to things.”

“Let me go! I need ta see Chris!” He continued to struggle until he was panting for breath.

Nobody would let him go up to the clinic though; they kept saying that he had to wait until Nathan had taken care of Chris’ injury. Then they said that Chris was resting and he would need to wait to see him in the morning. He couldn’t even say goodnight to him. Then they had tried to get him to eat dinner, even though the few bites he managed to take tasted like sawdust. He had continued to ask to see Chris, but they kept saying wait.

He hated that word. He didn’t want to wait. They didn’t understand that he didn’t just want to see Chris. He had to see Chris. It didn’t matter how many times they told him that he would be all right. He had to see Chris to make sure. He needed to hear the man’s voice; had to see his eyes open. It was only then that he would know for certain that Chris would be all right.

It was the only way he would know for certain that his world had not been turned upside down.

+ + + + + + +


The call was soft, nothing more than a whisper, but it caught the child’s attention. Large, tear-soaked blue eyes blinked as the little boy’s head snapped up. He stared at the face that was now turned toward him, hazel eyes open just a little. Afraid to find out he was imagining things, the seven-year-old could barely get anything out. Finally, though, after several false stars, he managed to croak out, “Chris?”

Larabee’s mind was fuzzy; the effects of pain, blood loss, and the medicine Nathan had given him, making everything seem like a dream. The tip of his tongue ran slowly across his lips and he had to think hard to form the words he spoke. “What… what are you doing… in here?”

The little orphan dropped his gaze, certain he was about to receive a scolding for disobeying. Gathering up his courage, though, he looked back into the injured man’s eyes and said, “I… I had to see you.”

Even half-dead Chris could see it, the pain and fear darkening the usually bright blue eyes. Turning his hand until it was palm up, he wrapped his fingers around the tiny hand in his. He could read the child’s thoughts; knew what put the pain and fear in the little boy’s face. “I’m right here, son. It’s gonna be all right.”

Realizing that he wasn’t going to be scolded after all, Vin managed a smile as he nodded. Neither of them said anything for several moments, simply offering one another the comfort of their presence.

“I’d imagine… you’re tired,” Chris whispered. He could feel his own strength quickly deserting him and wanted to make certain the child was safe before he lost the battle. Managing to pull the blanket back, he coaxed, “Why don’t you come on up here with me?”

“I’m okay.”

“You’re gonna stand… there all night?” When the boy shrugged, he said, “Come on up… here.”

Shaking his head, Vin whispered, “Don’t wanna hurt you.”

With a weak smile, the blond promised, “You won’t… you’ll make me feel… better.”

Little blond brow furrowing as he tried to figure out how he could make the injured man feel better, Vin nevertheless nodded. Pulling off his boots, he climbed up onto the bed as carefully as he could so he didn’t bounce the mattress too much. As he came to rest on his knees at Larabee’s side, the big man motioned him to lie down. Hesitantly, still terrified that he was going to cause his guardian pain, the slender boy lay down, tousled head nestling on a broad shoulder.

Chris couldn’t help but hear the contented sigh that escaped the son of his heart. He pulled the blanket back over them both now, before he leaned his cheek atop the little head. As his eyes began to close, his body giving in to exhaustion, he murmured, “It’s okay, son… it’s okay…”

Vin snuggled closer, one little hand settling over the man’s broad chest. He felt Chris’ heart beat beneath his palm and smiled. Allowing his own eyes to close now, he drifted off to sleep, repeating “It’s okay…”

The End