"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe
In that split-second moment of time, it would have been difficult if not impossible to say who was more surprised; Captain Chris Larabee of the ATF, or the small child Chris had dead in his sights.
"Shit!" Chris quickly pointed his gun toward the ceiling and took a deep breath to steady his nerves. Hours spent searching the old, abandoned warehouse had left him both edgy and frustrated. "What the hell are you doing here?!"
Big, brown eyes peered up at him through a tangle of long, dark bangs and a small mouth turned down in a pout. "Nothin'."
Chris gritted his teeth and wiped one hand across his face. He did not need this kind of aggravation. Not today. Not ever. "Go home before I arrest you for trespassing."
Clutching a crumpled fast-food bag in his hands, the boy ducked his head and began walking past the irate captain.
"Didn't you hear me? I said go home!"
"I am. Home's over there." The child stopped and pointed to a stack of broken crates piled in one corner of the warehouse's loading dock.
Spoken so matter of factly, the statement caught Chris' attention like a gunshot. He looked again at the boy and really 'saw' him for the first time. Dirt and grime seemed to cover every inch of bared skin as well as the ragged tee shirt and shorts. Tiny bare feet looked almost as black as the child's matted locks of hair that hung just to his shoulders.
"Shit." Chris holstered his gun and reached for his radio. "Nathan, I need you here."
There was a slight pause and then a voice answered, "Copy that Chris. Are you hurt?"
"No. And the rest of you keep searching." Chris would have said more but the child was once again making his way to the pile of rubbish. "Wait a minute."
Brown eyes were turned once more in his direction but for the first time they held a hint of fear. Dropping quickly to one knee, Chris did his best to force his lips to curve into a non-threatening smile. Judging by the boy's expression, he definitely needed to work on his charm.
"My name is Chris. What's yours?"
"Not supposed to talk to strangers."
Where the hell was Nathan? Thinking quickly, Chris tried some sneaky, adult-to-child logic. "But you know my name now so I'm not a stranger."
Chewing his bottom lip, the child seriously considered this fact before finally answering.
"JD? What's the J stand for?"
JD shrugged his shoulders. "JD."
"Chris, what...?" Nathan froze in his tracks as he spotted the small person his captain was talking to. Oh my god. "Well, who's your new friend?" His voice did not betray his shock.
"Nathan, this is JD. JD, this is Nathan, he works with me."
The dark skinned officer nodded his head and smiled broadly. "Hi JD, pleased to meet you."
Shooting Chris a quick glance to confirm his suspicion, Nathan crouched down to make himself as unthreatening as possible. "What's that you got in the bag?"
Lord. Nathan grimaced as he imagined what the grease-stained paper sack held. No doubt it was someone's half-eaten burger that had been sitting in a garbage can for who knew how long. Pulling his backpack off his shoulder, Nathan reached into a side pocket and pulled out a health bar.
"Here ya go, JD. Why don't you try this instead?"
Nathan was surprised when the boy took a quick step back and a look of fear came over his face.
"It's alright JD; it's just a granola bar."
The child shook his head in refusal. "Vin says never take food from nobody."
JD looked over at the blond man called Chris. He quickly decided that of the two, he liked the dark man the best. Mr. Chris was just a little scary.
"Is Vin a friend of yours?"
"Yeah. He says people only give ya food if they want something." JD looked back to Nathan. "Vin says I'm too little to give'm what they want."
"Shit." Chris swallowed the bile that threatened to choke him. His hands clenched into fists and he had to turn away as he tried to control the sudden surge of anger.
Nathan felt the same disgust but forced himself to remain calm. "Vin...Vin sounds like a real smart guy."
"He is." It was obvious by JD's tone of voice that he really looked up to his friend. "He found me when my mama went to sleep."
Fucking kidnapper! Both agents shared the same thought with a single glance. Chris had heard enough, he reached for his radio to call the rest of his team while Nathan continued his questions.
"Yeah, I was crying cause I couldn't get her to wake up but Vin came and 'splained she was dreamin' of angels."
Silence filled the dimly lit warehouse as the two men stared in shock at the small boy. Unaware of the profound impact his words were having, JD continued his story.
"He said that the angels were telling her secrets and she won't wake up till she hears 'em all. They must know a lot of secrets cause she's been asleep a long time."
"Is..." Nathan had to stop and clear his throat. "Is she sleeping here?"
"Nunh-uh. Vin said we had to leave her alone cause we might acks-sa-dently wake her up and then she'd be sad." JD looked down at the bag in his hands and sighed wistfully. "Wish she'd wake up soon."
Nathan felt the tears sliding down his cheeks and quickly wiped them away with the back of his hand. His throat thick with emotion, he decided it would be best to talk of something else.
"So, you live here with Vin?"
The boy nodded but kept his head bowed. He didn't see Chris motion for Nathan to turn off his radio and then step away to call the rest of his team.
"Josiah, we've got a child here, looks to be about four. Sounds like his mother died some time back and he's been living here with a guy named Vin. We'll need someone to come pick him up."
There was a pause then the deep voice of Josiah Sanchez responded. "I'll get someone from DHR on the phone. I'll let you know what they say."
"Right. Ezra, Buck, you heard?"
"Yes, a most unfortunate discovery."
"Hell, Ezra," The exasperation in Buck's voice was very clear even over the radio. "Only you would call finding a four year old living in an abandoned warehouse 'unfortunate'.
"The words 'tragic' and 'disturbing' also come to mind, Mr. Wilmington. If you would prefer..."
"Enough." Chris stopped the verbal sparring before it could escalate into a full argument. "Both of you head this way and keep your eyes peeled for this 'Vin' character. If he shows up I want to talk to him."
"Talk to him? I hope that's just a polite way of saying 'beat the shit out of him'."
Chris ignored Buck's closing comment and returned his radio to his belt. Lt. Wilmington had two weaknesses; beautiful women and small children. He was a big creampuff for either one but a raging grizzly in their defense. God help Vin if Buck found him first. While Chris shared a portion of his friend's sentiment, he really wanted to talk to Vin about any well-dressed strangers he might have seen in the area.
The team of ATF agents had been trying to crack a gun smuggling ring for the last three months and their most recent tip on the staging area had led them to this group of abandoned buildings but here their luck seemed to have run out. Chris knew that homeless street people were often overlooked as non-entities by many of the more sophisticated criminal organizations. He was hoping that if they could find the boy's friend, the man might be willing to sell some information. Or at least trade it for a 'get out of jail free' card.
After switching off his radio, Nathan racked his brain for a way to get closer to JD without scaring him. Food obviously wasn't going to work. What else did children like? He didn't have any toys; all he had were medical supplies and while the child did have some minor scrapes....bingo!
"Hey there JD, looks like you got yourself a skint knee. Would you like a Band-Aid to make it feel better?"
The little boy looked down at his knee and rubbed a grubby finger across the scrape. Lifting his head, he saw the dark man holding out a small, paper wrapped strip. He remembered Band-Aids; they took the stings out of the ouchies. And Vin never said nothin' bout taking Band-Aids from strangers. Sides, he knew the man's name was Nathan so he wasn't really a stranger.
Slowly, step by step, JD edged closer to the beckoning prize, his hand reaching out to grab it.
"Do you want me to put it on for you?" Nathan made the offer in a soft, encouraging voice and actually felt a little sick at his stomach as JD nodded eagerly. The child was still so innocent and trusting, either he hadn't been on the streets long or his friend had done a good job of keeping him sheltered.
"There, all done. Feels better, doesn't it?"
A silent nod was his only answer but as Nathan sat back on his heels, he could see JD was fingering another small scrape on his right elbow.
"Oops. Looks like that spot needs a Band-Aid too."
Chris returned as the fourth plastic strip was being carefully applied. The crumpled fast food bag lay forgotten on the ground and the ATF captain couldn't help the upward twitch of his lips as he watched the interaction between his agent and the small child.
"Well, did we get them all?"
"Uh-huh." JD bobbed his head happily. "Can I have a Band-Aid for Vin."
"Yeah, of course you can." Nathan held out another strip but JD eyed it critically.
"Have you got a bigger one?"
"Uhm, yeah." Nathan dug in his bag for the largest sized strip. No doubt the boy was thinking that an adult just naturally needed a bigger Band-Aid. "Here you go."
Still JD hesitated. "Don't you got nothin' bigger?"
A slight tingle of alarm caused the muscles in Nathan's neck to tighten. Glancing over at Chris, he received a nod that told him to follow his instincts.
"Well, how about this?" From out of his pack, Nathan pulled a large, sterile wrapped gauze pad.
"Yeah!" JD snatched the bandage and began trying to open it.
"Uhm, you know JD, that's a kind of special Band-Aid. You have to put the sticky part on separate."
"Oh." The child frowned at the paper wrapped pad. Suddenly a beaming smile lit his face as he arrived at the obvious solution. "You can put it on Vin just like you did for me!"
"Sure JD, I'd be happy to. Is Vin somewhere close by?"
Chris hurriedly backed away and called his other men on the radio. "The boy is going to lead us to his friend. Josiah, what's the word on that social worker?"
"They want us to take him to the children's hospital to be checked out and they'll pick him up from there."
"Fine. Ezra, you and Buck join me here. Josiah, fetch the van and bring it around to one of the loading bay doors." Chris saw that JD was starting to lead Nathan to the pile of crates and quickly signed off. Drawing his gun once more, he moved to follow them but from the side instead of directly behind. If Vin suddenly showed, he wanted to make sure he had a clean line of sight.
"Over here. This is where me and Vin live. It's neat cause we don't never get wet and we can pretend it's a cave and sometimes we're pirates but it's more fun to be cowboys and injuns but Vin don't like that game too much cause he says we need horses but we don't got none do you have a horse?"
Nathan had been watching closely each step the child took, wincing inside every time he saw a bare foot come down near a piece of broken glass or bit of rusted metal. It took him just a moment to realize that JD had actually asked him a question and hadn't simply stopped talking when he finally ran out of breath.
"What? Do I have a horse? No, but my friend Chris has a lot of them."
"Real horses? With saddles and everything?" The boy's eyes were impossibly wide as he stopped to look around for the scary man. "Does he let you ride 'em?"
"Sure. And I bet he'll let you ride one too."
"If Vin asks real nice." And Hell freezes over.
"Yay!" JD trotted the last few feet to the pile of rotting, wooden boxes and disappeared around the side. Nathan lengthened his own stride but when he cleared the same corner, there was no sign of the child.
"Nathan." Chris called from his position near a support column. "Down and to your left."
Bending over, Nathan spotted the small opening in the mound of boxes. "JD? Are you in there?"
"I can't, I'm to big to...oh lord. I'm too big." Nathan's initial hint of alarm was on the verge of turning into panic. "JD? Is there a bigger opening somewhere?"
The child's head reappeared and he looked up at Nathan. "Nu-uh. It has to be small to keep the trolls out. You wait here and I'll get Vin." He backed away before the agent could object and once more vanished from sight.
Nathan stood and began studying the crates, trying to peer down through the small gaps left by the haphazard arrangement. As he looked closer, it became apparent that the placement wasn't quite so random as he had first thought. In fact, it looked like an outer layer of broken boxes had been tossed on a very neat stack of whole ones. Nathan's speculation on who might have built the shelter was interrupted by the muffled sound of JD's voice.
"Vin. Vin? Wake up. I got you a special Band-Aid that'll make you feel better. Vin?"
Watching JD crawl into the small opening, Chris had arrived at the same conclusion as Nathan. The 'Vin' that they had been so ready to haul in on charges of kidnapping, was in all likelihood nothing more than a child himself. Tucking away his gun, Chris moved forward to stand near the stack of boxes and was just in time to see JD reappear.
The little boy crawled free of the crates and stepped slowly over to where Nathan was quietly kneeling on the ground. His head bowed and his whole body fairly radiating his unhappiness, JD held out the smudged and crumpled bandage to the agent.
"Here. I don't guess Vin wants it."
Nathan accepted the gauze pad and tried to speak but found his mouth suddenly gone terribly dry. Licking his lips, he was finally able to ask, "Did, did Vin tell you he didn't want it?"
"No. He wouldn't wake up. I think he's dreaming of angels just like my mama." JD looked closely at Nathan's face. "Why're you crying?"
"I...I..." Nathan couldn't answer him. What could he say? I'm crying because a child I never met is lying dead in an abandoned warehouse? I'm crying because you've lost both your mother and your best friend and you don't even know it? I'm crying because right now I feel so damn helpless I just really want to scream.
A sudden crash made both the agent and the child jump and turn in surprise. Behind them, Chris Larabee was reaching for a second crate, grabbing it and flinging it to land near the first.
"No! Stop it!" JD lunged forward but was held back by a pair of strong arms wrapping around his chest. He screeched and began struggling wildly, his heels connecting with Nathan's shins as he was lifted into the air. "Stop it! You're tearing it up!"
"Hush, JD, hush. It's all right. It's gonna be alright." But it wasn't all right and Nathan found it hard to comfort the child while at the same time worrying about his friend.
The look on Chris' face was terrible to see. Raw pain and anger reflected in green eyes that were windows to a tortured soul. More crates were pulled free and the inner structure was slowly revealed.
"Make him stop! He's gonna wake up Vin!"
Oh God, if only he could. "Don't worry JD, he won't. He won't disturb Vin."
Chris barely felt the rough, splintered wood as it bit into his palms. That pain was nothing compared to the aching tightness in his chest. A clinical, detached part of his mind was aware of the fact that Nathan was holding JD and that his actions were upsetting the boy. That part of his mind could also coldly speculate on what he would find when the last box was removed and mocked the sheer futility of his efforts. Unfortunately Chris couldn't hear that calm voice of reason over the angry cries of his heart.
Children weren't supposed to die. Period. Not on the streets. Not in schools. Not in their homes. Not alone in empty warehouses. Children were blessings. A man should fall on his knees and thank God everytime he looked into the eyes of his son.
Chris suddenly froze and drew in a deep, shuddering breath of air, logic and reasoning slamming back into place once more. A second breath followed the first as he leaned heavily on the pile of crates. How many years had it been since Adam's death? How many times had he relived that moment when he'd first learned of the car bomb that had taken the lives of his wife and only son? How many times had he given in to the pain and the guilt cursing God while at the same time begging the spirits of his Sarah and Adam for forgiveness?
He couldn't blame himself for the death of this homeless child; a child he hadn't even known existed until this day but he could mourn the passing of another innocent life. And he could at least see the child properly laid to rest.
Shifting another box revealed hidden planks that served as a makeshift roof. Two more crates and he had the central board cleared. Steeling himself for what he was about to see, Chris lifted the next piece of wood.
The afternoon sun, filtered through dirty panes of glass, filled the empty warehouse with a dim, almost gray illumination. Broken windows and loose roofing panels admitted pure rays of sunshine that cut through the dust filled air like golden spotlights. One beam fell across the uncovered recess revealing the tragedy within.
The child lay curled on his side, his head pillowed on a pale slender arm; his face hidden by dull, ragged locks of brownish hair. A dark tee shirt and torn jeans covered the rest of his body leaving only his feet bare.
Slowly, carefully, Chris reached out his hand and gently uncovered the hidden face. His breath caught in his throat as he saw dark lashes fanned across the too white flesh of a hollow, sunken cheek and lips slightly parted as if any moment a sleepy sigh might escape.
Dreaming of angels.
Blinking hard to clear his blurring vision; Chris gathered the limp body into his arms with the child's head resting on his shoulder. Physically, the burden was pitifully light but as Chris turned to Nathan, he felt as if his spirit was crushed beneath an enormous weight of despair.
"Are you sure he won't wake Vin?"
"I...I'm sure." Nathan unconsciously tightened his hold on JD as he watched Chris slowly approach with the other child.
JD didn't know what exactly to make of the scary man tearing up his home and now carrying his friend. But Vin was still asleep so maybe it was ok. Mr. Chris was lucky; Vin tended to be kind of cranky when he got woke up before he was ready.
"Nathan, what the hell...? Oh shit." Buck's voice trailed off into a horrified whisper as he saw his old friend and the boy in his arms. "Tell me that ain't Vin and he ain't..."
"Buck." Nathan stopped him before he could say the terrible word in front of JD. "This here is a friend of Vin's. His name is JD."
"H'lo." JD looked at the new stranger with the funny line of hair above his mouth and felt an instant 'like' for the man.
"Oh, hey there lil' britches." Lt. Wilmington met the dark gaze of the child and couldn't stop the smile that curled his lips. He was rewarded with a wide grin in return that sent a rush of warmth through his heart. His arms were reaching out almost automatically when a sudden cry made him jerk in surprise.
Chris stared down at the face of the boy in his arms, his green eyes wide as they focused on the parted lips. There! He hadn't imagined it!
"He's alive! Nathan!" Dropping to his knees, Chris cradled the child in one arm and frantically searched for a pulse, his fingers trembling with emotion. Yes! Faint and erratic but definitely there.
"Gentlemen, what pray tell...?"
"He's alive! Ezra, meet JD." Nathan fairly tossed the boy into the confused agent's arms. "JD, get Ezra to show you his card tricks."
"H'lo." JD ran the fingers of one hand down the front of the new man's pretty shirt and marveled at how soft it felt. The bright cloth hanging from his neck was pretty too.
"Acck. Would you mind very much not pulling on my tie? It does make it rather hard to breathe not to mention swallow."
"You talk funny. Say somethin' else."
"Oh, marvelous. I suddenly feel like a prize hound in a dog show. Speak Ezra. Do tricks Ezra." Though it sounded like he was truly put out, Lt. Standish deepened his southern accent as he spoke. JD's pleased giggle was an ample reward. "Would you care to see me roll over or balance a ball on my nose?"
Ezra did his best to keep JD distracted while turning so that he could watch his fellow officers as they administered to the other child.
"His alive Nathan! I can feel his pulse."
"Easy, Chris. Let me take a look at him." Nathan pushed his friend's hand away so that he could also check the life signs. He controlled his own enthusiasm as he focused on his emergency medical skills and forced himself to professional detachment.
"His breathing is shallow, skin's dry, too cool, pulse erratic, eyes are dull but pupils responsive. Probably dehydrated, kidneys may have shut down, definitely malnourished" Despite the child's young age, Nathan routinely checked both arms for needle tracks and was relieved to see there were none. No swollen glands at the throat; he began running his hands down the boy's chest, easily counting each rib, then the abdomen... a faint whimper made him stop.
"Here, lift his shirt, let me see his stomach."
The dirty cloth was pulled back to reveal another band of fabric wrapped and tied around the boy's waist. The material might have once been a pale yellow or off-white but a large, rust colored stained covered much of it.
"What the fuck?" Chris couldn't hold back the shocked exclamation.
Nathan felt the same way but continued his examination, using his knife to cut away the bandage rather than fumble with the knot. "Not too bad, it did bleed a lot but someone kept it clean. The wound's a little inflamed but it was healing. The boy just lacked the nourishment to replace the blood lost and he might have a run a fever at one point, that would have depleted his energy even more."
Sitting back on his heels, Lt. Jackson began quickly pulling supplies out of his bag. "Let me just cover ..."
Strong fingers wrapped tightly around the man's wrist and a pair of piercing green eyes demanded an answer.
"I can't tell you for sure, Chris. It depends on a lot of things I can't see." And what he could see was that a more definite answer was wanted. "I'd say he has a fifty-fifty chance. The actual bullet wound may not..."
"Bullet wound?!" This time it was Buck who interrupted, his dark brows drawing together in a surprised scowl.
"Well, I can't be a hundred percent certain but it does look like a graze from a slug." Nathan gently but firmly freed his arm and proceeded to bandage the injury while he spoke.
Ezra overheard enough of the conversation to understand that the injured boy had actually been shot. A sudden thought made him focus on the child in his arms.
"JD, have there been men with guns in this building?"
"Ah, well, so much for that theory..."
"But the trolls in the other building have guns."
Chris looked up as he heard the talk of guns. Focusing his attention back on the investigation was a relief to the feeling of helplessness as he watched Nathan work.
JD nodded his head and held his hands up to his face, cupping them around his eyes. "Yeah, they have big black eyes and they only come out at night. They've got guns and live under the floor." He looked over his shoulder to where the other men sat around his sleeping friend. "We was outside lookin' at stars and heard'em playing with their guns . Vin said we ought to come back inside and then he yelled real loud and grabbed his belly."
Ezra met the gazes of his fellow officers. "Night-vision goggles?"
"And maybe an underground maintenance tunnel or even the sewer system." Buck nodded his head in agreement. "We should be able to find schematics for the place."
Before Chris could respond, the sudden grating of a metal door being rolled back had all four men reaching for their guns.
"Brothers," Josiah paused in the doorway as he took in the strange tableau that lay before him. Deciding to save his questions for later, he turned slightly and gestured outside. "Your chariot awaits."
+ + + + + + +
Hard to believe it had been three days since they had found the boys. Chris stared at the stuffed animal he held clutched in his hands as he rode the elevator up to the intensive care floor. The memory of the ride to the hospital was so clear it seemed like it was just that morning. He replayed the scene in his mind again and smiled as the images came back to him.
Poor JD, when he had realized that he and Vin were about to be carried away he had panicked. His screams had filled the warehouse and it had taken a mighty effort on Ezra's part to hold the child as long as he did. Luckily Buck had gotten close enough to grab the boy just as one foot connected solidly with Ezra's nuts. Ouch.
What a sight they must have made; Buck carrying JD slung over his shoulder like a sack of feed, Josiah supporting, almost carrying Ezra who couldn't straighten up and himself with the unconscious Vin cradled in his arms.
Vin. Chris's hands tightened on the toy cat as he stepped off the elevator. He really had intended to check back in on the boy but the unexpected clue given by JD had jumpstarted their stalled out investigation. Plans of the factory had revealed underground tunnels and while the raid had come up empty, enough evidence had been left behind to hopefully point them in the next direction. But that could wait at least one more day.
"Excuse me," Chris caught the attention of the nurse behind the desk. "I'm Captain Chris Larabee, ATF. Tuesday I brought in a small boy, named Vin. I'd like to see him."
The nurse got a puzzled look on her face as she turned to her computer. "What's his last name?"
"I don't know. My men and I found him living alone in a warehouse. He had an injury to his side." Chris began to worry as the petite brunette slowly shook her head.
"I'm just back from vacation but I don't remember Linda mentioning a boy in our care. Wait just a moment while I go check."
The minutes seemed to drag by as Chris stood waiting in the hallway. He had almost reached the limits of his patience when the nurse returned with a blond, female doctor.
"And find out what happened to Mr. Hartford's last set of test results; they should have been back by now."
The nurse hurried off on the errand given her and the doctor turned to Chris. "I'm Linda Green. Sheila said you were inquiring about the homeless kid?"
Chris gritted his teeth against the sharp flare of irritation caused by the women's cold attitude. "Yes, I..."
Dr. Green didn't bother trying to hide her annoyance as she moved behind the desk and began digging through a stack of folders. "No one told me it was a police matter. I thought it was just another social services case."
"It's not a ..."
Ignoring Chris completely, the doctor began mumbling to herself as she continued her search. "When I finished my initial examination I knew he wouldn't make it through the first 24 hours."
Wouldn't make it? Chris felt his heart stutter. "He..?"
"I didn't even bother assigning him a last name that night. I figured we wouldn't need it until we got ready to send his body downstairs. Ah, here it is, Finnley, Vin. We name the unknowns after whatever street they were found on, you know." Linda pulled a folder from the middle of the stack. "Laceration, right abdominal, infection, blood loss, anemic, amazing his blood test came back negative, dehydrated, etc. etc., the list goes on. I was really surprised that he made it through the second day."
Second day. A lump formed in Chris' throat as he finally realized what the doctor was saying. He'd missed seeing the boy by one day. One lousy day.
"Did," Chris had to stop and take an extra breath. "Did he wake up at all?"
"Hmm? Wake up? Oh, he came to once but was too delirious to even know he was in a hospital. Just as well I suppose. Last time a child woke up alone here she screamed so loud it sent one of my other patients into cardiac arrest." Dr. Green turned and began typing at the computer, unaware of the devastating effect her words were having on the ATF captain.
Alone. What difference had it made taking him out of that warehouse? The boy had still died all alone. Chris leaned heavily on the counter, squeezing his eyes shut as he fought desperately to hold back the tears. Damn it! He'd really meant to come back and check on him but the case...
Fuck! Admit it Larabee, you did it again. You put work before your family and you lost them. You weren't there for them when they needed you. Now there's a boy lying in the morgue and you failed him too. You might not have been able to save his life but you could have at least been there for him, even if meant just holding his hand for those last few hours. Instead you just dumped him off to this cold-hearted bitch who...
Chris opened his eyes to find a sticky-note being thrust into his hand.
"I have to get back to my rounds. If someone had bothered to tell me it was a police matter I would have called when he was moved out." The doctor spoke over her shoulder as she strode away.
Staring down at the pale yellow square of paper, Chris blinked the hastily scribbled characters into focus.
RM2112 Two Eagles
"Wait a minute! What is this?"
Dr. Green paused at a set of swinging doors. "Second floor, children's ward, Dr. Two Eagles is the pediatrician." That stated, she gave a push of her hand was gone.
Children's ward. Pediatrician.
Afraid to hope but powerless to stop himself, Chris hurried back to the elevator then passed it up for the stairs. With his feet touching only every other step; he reached the second floor just slightly winded. Taking a split second to check the room numbers on the wall plaques, he practically ran over a poor intern getting down the hall.
There was only one name hanging on the board outside the door to room 2112. Finnley, Vin. 'We name them after the street they're found on.' Finnley Avenue was the name of the street with the abandoned warehouse and factory where the boys had been found.
Placing his hand against the door, Chris offered up a silent but heartfelt prayer summed up in one simple word.
The curtains over the windows had been pulled back and bright afternoon sunlight filled the plain, small room. The bed nearest the door was empty but a man in a white coat was bent over the second bed, his body hiding the identity of the patient he was examining.
The only sound in the room was the steady beep of the heart monitor until the doctor straightened up, giving a small sigh and murmuring softly, "C'mon Vin, you can do better than this. You've made it this far, don't quit on me now."
The words galvanized Chris into action. Moving to the foot of the bed, he had a momentary scare when he almost didn't recognize the sleeping child. Without the layer of dirt, his cheeks were almost as white as the sheets. And someone had cleaned the boy's hair, which framed his face in golden-brown waves.
"Excuse me, are you a relative?"
Chris tore his gaze away from the beautiful sight. "What? No. Captain Chris Larabee, ATF." Sticking out his hand, he warmly gripped the doctor's and gave it a firm shake.
"Jake Two Eagles." Jake was an older man, his glossy, black hair graying at the temples and long enough to be pulled back in a braid that hung down his back. The hair and the man's rich, reddish-brown skin explained the strange last name.
"I've been expecting someone from social services or DHR but I'll take any port in a storm." Seeing the look of confusion on the officer's face and anticipating his question, he quickly explained. "We're horribly short on nurses right now due to budget cuts and 'you' are just what the doctor ordered. Grab that chair over there and bring it close to the bed."
Once the furniture was arranged to his satisfaction, Dr. Two Eagles gestured for Chris to have a seat.
"Science and modern medicine can only heal a body so far and then it's up to the spirit within." Sitting on the foot of the bed, Jake nodded toward Vin's still form." We've replaced fluids, jumpstarted his kidneys and have held off pneumonia so far. This is a crucial moment and he could go either way."
That was enough for Chris. "Tell me what to do."
Jake smiled as he stood up and moved to the opposite side of the bed to make an adjustment to the IV drip. "Talk to him. Keep him company. Let him know..."
"He's not alone."
"Exactly. I'll have a nurse check in on you later to see if you need anything." The doctor turned to leave but stopped when Chris called out softly.
"How did you know?"
"How did I know what?"
"That I would agree to stay and help."
"The look on your face when you first saw him." The corners of Jake's eyes crinkled as he smiled again. "And the toy in your hand."
Chris looked down and was actually surprised to see the cat still clutched in his left hand. He had all but forgotten about the stuffed animal. When he looked back up, the doctor was gone.
Placing the toy on the bed next to Vin's pillow, Chris began his vigil with a soft greeting. "Hey Vin. My name is Chris. I don't know many secrets but I can tell you some pretty interesting stories. You see, I work with the most annoying group of men there is but I wouldn't trade them for the world. First there's Buck; you'll like him..."
+ + + + + + +
"...and when JD kicked Ezra I swear his face turned the same shade of purple as his tie."
Chris paused long enough to reach for the cup of water that one of the nurses had thoughtfully provided. He was surprised to find all the ice melted and the liquid room-temperature. Looking at the window, he saw that it was completely dark outside and a quick glance at his watch revealed just how many hours had passed.
As if on cue, the muscles in his back chose that exact moment to spasm and Chris groaned as he levered himself to his feet. Releasing the small, limp hand he had been holding all afternoon, he stumbled away from the bed and over to the window.
Staring out into the night, Chris struggled to remain optimistic. Jake had checked in twice more before his shift ended but the best he could say was that Vin was holding his own. Other than the occasional nurse, no one else had entered the room. The officer in Chris had decided that someone in social services was going to get their ass chewed.
Resting his forehead against the cool glass, Chris closed his eyes and gave a deep sigh. "C'mon Vin, you're a survivor. I know you're tired but you can't give up. Tell those angels where they can stick their fucking secrets."
Straightening his aching spine, Chris gave one more sigh as he turned back to the bed. It took his tired brain just a moment to register that something had changed. The blue, plastic eyes of the toy cat glinted in the light but next to them, another pair of blue eyes sparkled and stared back at him.
Suddenly at a loss for words, Chris slowly approached the bed; his eyes never leaving the child's face. He watched as Vin looked all around the room, turning his head slightly to see everything. When he spotted the toy, he seemed to blink in surprise and turned back to Chris, the question plain in his gaze.
"That's yours. I bought it for you. My name is Chris. I found you in that warehouse you were living in. Do you remember me carrying you?"
A small shake of the head was his only answer.
"You were pretty sick. That was three days ago and ..."
A sudden look of panic appeared on Vin's face and he once more began looking about the room but it was obvious that this time he was looking for something specific.
"JD is fine." Blue eyes met his and Chris could almost feel the bond being formed. "He's a great kid. You took real good care of him."
The child visibly relaxed but his eyes never left Chris'.
"Hey, I'll bet you're thirsty. Why don't I call a nurse and get us a little room service?"
Getting a small nod, Chris reached for the call button hanging from the bed's rail. As he leaned forward, he noticed that the small hand he had been holding was clinched tightly around a portion of the sheet; the only outward sign of the fear that the child must have been feeling.
Laying his hand on top of the tiny fist, Chris was going to utter generic words of comfort but something in that unwavering blue stare changed his mind. Instead of trying to reassure the boy that everything would be fine, Chris asked him a simple question.
A long moment passed in silence and then Chris felt the hand beneath his relax; the fingers releasing the cover and then turning to grasp his. He had his answer and the significance of it was almost overwhelming.
+ + + + + + +
Vin cracked his eyes open and looked around the room. Yep. It was a hospital alright, so that part hadn't been a dream. Shifting his head slightly to the right, he saw Chris slumped back in his chair with his mouth slightly open as he snored. And he wasn't a dream neither. Vin wiggled his fingers and felt the warm hand covering them tighten slightly in response even though the snores never stopped. Feeling better than he had in a really long time, Vin gave a little sigh of contentment and drifted back to sleep.
+ + + + + + +
"Brothers, I can't remember when I have see a more endearing sight."
"Yeah, it's definitely a Kodak moment."
"He's going to be too stiff to move if he slept like that all night."
"We should perhaps wake him though I do have mixed feelings on ending this peaceful moment."
"Use your squeaky voice Mr. Ezra!
"Mr. Wilmington, if I find out that you are behind these repeated demands..."
"Boys, you want to hold the noise down to a dull roar?" Chris peeled one green, bloodshot eye open and used it to glare at the four men standing at the foot of the bed. Four broad smiles beamed back at him.
"Hey Mr. Chris, you're not so scary anymore."
"So I've noticed." Chris corrected his count to five as he finally spotted JD peeking out from behind Buck's legs. The child had been cleaned up and looked like any other four-year-old. Chris idly wondered what strings had been pulled to allow him to visit Vin. No doubt the social worker was waiting out in the lobby.
Moving a fraction of an inch at a time, Chris began the painful process of straightening out his body, which felt like it was made of wood. Very stiff, very painful wood. He was still trying to get his neck to turn to the left when Dr. Two Eagles entered the crowded room.
"Well, looks I arrived just in time." Jake held out a small paper cup to the suffering captain. "Muscle relaxers. Just what the doctor ordered."
Chris growled his thanks as he finally made it to his feet.
Jake introduced himself to the new arrivals and shook everyone's hand, including JD's.
"Are you a real injun? Do you gots a horse? Mr. Chris' got horses and I gets to ride 'em cause I'm stayin' with Buck cause I'm a ter-ial witness. Are you gonna clean Vin's health bill so he can come ridin' too?"
While Dr. Two Eagles answered the barrage of questions, Chris pulled Buck to one side.
"Material witness? When the hell did you arrange that?" Chris fought to keep his voice down but the other men either heard or were clearly expecting such a reaction. As Buck tried to justify his actions, Josiah and Ezra began making a big show of arranging the balloons and presents that had been purchased in the hospital gift shop.
It was Nathan that saved Buck from the interrogation when he managed to interrupt JD long enough ask his own questions regarding the sleeping patient.
Everyone turned their attention to the doctor who looked at the chart in his hands.
"From what my nurses reported during the night I'd say Vin should make a full recovery. Provided," Jake held up a hand to hold off the premature cheers. "Provided he does not catch a viral infection due to his weakened immune system. The next few days are critical. He needs plenty of rest and nourishment."
"How long?" Chris moved to stand next to the bed.
"Hard to say. I'm going to keep him on fluids today and if he handles those alright, we'll try soft foods tomorrow. A lot of it depends on Vin."
Jake spoke loud enough for everyone to hear but his gaze was focused on Chris. "He has to want to get well. Hope can mean a great deal to a child. Especially to one who hasn't had any in a long time."
Chris glanced over to Buck who was holding a squirming JD under one arm. "Material witness, huh?"
Lt. Wilmington grinned back. "Judge Travis didn't have a problem with it. Least ways, not after Ezra got through talking to him."
Lt. Standish straightened his tie rather self-consciously. "I must confess to having some small hand in the arrangement but ..."
"Fine. See what you can 'arrange' for me and Vin."
Ezra smiled and tipped his head. "It would be a pleasure."
"Does that mean Vin can go ridin' too?"
"Yeah li'l britches, he can ride too but not until he's well."
Darn that JD. Why'd he always have to make so much noise so early in the morning? Vin growled and peeled one blue eye open to glare at JD.
"Well, look who decided to wake up and greet the day."
"Is it my imagination, or does that baleful look remind you of someone else we know?"
Vin blinked in surprise as he took in the room full of strangers. And not just people filled the room. Every where he looked there was a balloon or a toy or some bright colored card.
"Vin's awake! Vin's awake! Were you dreaming of angels?"
Just as the first twinges of panic were starting to take root, Vin felt a hand wrap around his and looked up to find Chris smiling down at him. The promise he saw in those green eyes made his heart race. "Uhn-uh, JD. I didn't dream about any angels."
"Oh." JD looked disappointed. "So you didn't learn no secrets?"
"No. But that's okay. If I had seen angels Chris said I was to tell them where they could stick their fu..."
"Uh, yeah," Chris quickly interrupted the child much to the amusement of his team and the doctor. "I didn't really tell him...I mean I thought he was...don't you have some work to do at the office?"
"Nope. Saturday, boss." Buck perched himself on the edge of the bed and gave Vin a broad wink. "Got the whole weekend to get acquainted."
"Indeed," Ezra stretched himself out on the unoccupied bed, crossing his ankles as he adjusted the angle of recline. "I also left my schedule open and can think of no place I would rather be at this moment."
Josiah and Nathan found themselves places to sit while Dr. Two Eagles left with a laugh to finish his rounds.
Never one to lose gracefully, Chris grabbed the bed control from Ezra's hand and hauled the man back to his feet. "Fine. But I get the bed. And which one of you clowns is going to fetch me some breakfast?"
Vin looked about the room filled with laughter and smiles and hugged the small toy cat tight to his chest. No, he hadn't dreamed of angels, but that was okay because he was awake now and had a whole room full of them.
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