A Learning Experience

by Nomooretears

ATF Universe

Nathan settled deeper into his deck chair with a smile. It was a gorgeous Sunday afternoon and the team was gathered at the ranch, having just finished a delicious lunch. Buck and JD were playing with the dogs in the yard, the rest of the team were sprawled on various pieces of furniture on the deck. Closing his eyes, Nathan decided a nap sounded perfect.

“Mr. Jackson, I fear that I find myself in need of your services,” drawled a southern voice next to him. It took a moment for the words to register, after all, his friends never asked for medical attention, much to his annoyance. This unexpected request, plus the slightly alarmed tone that it was delivered in, made him open his eyes and look to his left in concern.

“Are you alright, Ezra?” Nathan scanned Ezra for any noticeable blood or injuries, but there was nothing there. Realizing that Ezra was staring across the yard, he tried to see what had caught Ezra’s attention. “What are you looking at?”

“I believe that my eyes are failing me. I’m fairly certain that the feline reclining in the sun is the normal resident of the barn, but he seems to have changed color.” Ezra’s voice was still confused, but there was a touch of humor in it as he realized that there was probably a good story that could explain this.

Nathan saw the cat lying in a spot of sunshine. There was a definite red tint to the patches of normally bright white fur. Hearing a chuckle from Ezra’s other side, they both looked over at Chris, who had a big grin on his face. Vin was leaning against Chris’s legs, blushing slightly.

“You have an explanation for this, Mr. Larabee?” Ezra was smiling now. Anything that made Chris chuckle was going to make an interesting tale.

Chris looked down at Vin. “The boys had an interesting morning. Do you want to tell them, Vin?”

Vin looked up at his dad, and then over at his uncles.

Earlier that morning…

Vin hesitated outside of the bathroom. He just knew that he was going to find JD in there, and JD was going to be in trouble. He had a feeling, and his feelings were usually right, especially when it came to JD. Heaving a big sigh of resignation, he pushed the door open.

Resisting the urge to walk away and pretend that he knew nothing, he stepped into the room and looked down at JD, who was sitting in the bathtub, fully clothed. Big brown eyes stared up at him, slightly wide in surprise at the interruption. Seeing who it was that caught him, he smiled.

“Look, Vin!” The excited voice of the five year old almost covered the loud purring coming from the room’s other occupant. Sam, the easy going barn cat, was sprawled on his back in JD’s lap, soaking up all the attention, and all the food coloring. While his black markings were still black, every bit of white fur now had a red tint. There was also a significant amount of red splashed around the tub, on JD’s clothes, and covering the towel on the floor.

Vin sighed again. Yup, definitely in trouble. “JD, why did you make Sam red?”he asked.

“Ms. Simmons brought us some play dough today that she made herself. She had red and blue and green and purple! She told us that she used flour and food coloring. I found food coloring in the cupboard, and I wanted to see what else it would color.” JD paused for a breath and pointed to his chest, where his shirt now had a large red stain. “It worked on my shirt, and my hands, and the towel.” He picked up the towel that now resembled a tie-dyed t-shirt. “I didn’t think that it would work on Sam, but it did!” JD lifted the still purring cat.

“You made a mess, JD. We gotta clean this up.” Reaching down to pick Sam up, Vin really hoped that all the red would come out, and that Buck and Chris wouldn’t be too mad.

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“That’s how Buck and I found them. I thought Buck was going down for a minute, he was just gaping at the boys, he almost forgot to breathe,” said Chris.

“We tried to clean everything!” said Vin. He was still slightly worried that they were going to get in trouble.

Chris laid a hand on his son’s head and smiled reassuringly at him. “Fortunately it came off of the bathtub pretty easily. The clothes are now play clothes only, and the towel became rags. The cat is just going to have to wear it off or grow it out,” he said.

“You’re very lucky that he did his little experiment in the bathtub, Chris,” said Nathan. “And that Sam didn’t get loose and run through the house. Little red paw prints would be hard to get out of the carpet.

“That cat loves attention too much, if’s someone’s scratching his belly, it takes an act of God to get him to move. He was perfectly happy with being carried out to the barn.”

Josiah laughed and looked back at the sleeping cat. “That is one spoiled barn cat, Chris. He’s got a good thing here, and he knows it and is going to take full advantage of it.” The others all chuckled and settled back down in their seats.

Later that night…

Chris dozed in his recliner, barely aware of what was on the TV. It was late and everyone else was in bed. One good thing about having the team over was it wore the boys out, and they usually went to sleep quickly.

Suddenly aware of being watched, he opened his eyes and looked towards the door. Vin stood there, looking uncertain. Chris raised his arm towards him, smiling as Vin came over and crawled into his lap without hesitation. They had come a long way in the three months that the boys had been here, but they were still dealing with a lot of insecurity.

“Are you ok, Vin?” Chris asked. He pulled the afghan off of the top of the chair and spread it over them, wrapping his arms around his son.

Vin just leaned against him and nodded into his chest. Chris waited patiently, knowing that Vin would talk when he was ready. He tightened his arms as Vin snuggled in closer.

“Are you mad at me?” asked a small voice. Chris furrowed his brow in confusion, but before he could ask, Vin continued. “I tried to watch JD, but he got away from me and I couldn’t find him and then I found him and he had made a mess and I was going to clean it up so you wouldn’t have to but you found us first and…”

“Whoa, Vin, take a breath. It’s okay, I’m not mad at you. You didn’t do anything wrong,” Chris tried to calm Vin down. He’d never heard Vin say that much in one breath before. Apparently JD had rubbed off on his brother a little.

“Are you mad at JD? He didn’t know it was wrong, he was just so excited…”

“Vin, listen to me, okay? You’re not in trouble, and neither is JD. No, he shouldn’t have dyed the cat red, but we all learned something today. JD learned that he needs to ask if it’s okay before he starts playing with something that isn’t his. Me and Buck have learned that anything we don’t want him getting into needs to be put out of his reach. Do you know what I want you to learn from this?”

Vin shook his head as well as he could while keeping it pressed against Chris’s chest.

“I want you to learn that you are not responsible for JD’s actions. I appreciate that you try to keep him out of trouble, but you won’t be able to watch him all the time. He’s going to make mistakes, just like you will, and me and Buck. We learn from those mistakes, and we move on. Do you understand?”

Again, Vin nodded into his chest, but Chris could still feel tension in the small body. Putting a finger under Vin’s chin, he lifted his head until he could see Vin’s face. Vin kept his eyes down.

“Vin, look at me, please,” Chris waited until he had eye contact before continuing. “The most important thing I want you to remember is that this is your home now. You are my son, and nothing you ever do will make me send you or JD away. I love you, and I always will, okay?”

Vin’s big blue eyes stared at Chris’s face for a long second, then he gave a shy smile. “I love you, too, Dad.” Chris pressed a kiss to his forehead and held on as Vin settled down again.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, then a sleepy voice asked, “Dad, do you know what else I learned today?”

“What’s that, Vin?” asked Chris.

“Food coloring works on cats.” Chris chuckled softly as the small body relaxed into sleep.

The End