"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe

Thanks to Ronnie, Carla and Nancy for your suggestions, and to Kerry for doing the fastest beta-job in the West!

"I wanna be the Indian!" yelled JD tugging the buckskin costume towards him.

"I ain't gonna be no pilgrim!" Vin yelled back at him, yanking the costume and practically pulling JD off his feet.

"Miss Johnson says one of us gots to be a pilgrim and I wanna be the Indian." JD jerked on the material again.

Chris stood in the doorway of the living room watching the argument. If they didn't settle this soon, there wouldn't be any Indian costume left to fight over. After being gone to a conference for three days, this wasn't what he hoped to return to but he didn't feel compelled to step in just yet, hoping the boys could learn to settle their arguments. The Kindergarten, First and Second grades at their school were having a combined Thanksgiving dinner in a few days and had sent home the costumes. The boys were supposed to come, one dressed as a pilgrim, one as an Indian. Unfortunately, Miss Johnson hadn't had the foresight to actually assign which was which.

"Dang it, JD. Just this once I want to do what I want," Vin growled. "We always do what you want and I'm getting sick and tired of it."

"Do not!"

"Do so!" Vin's voice cracked as he shouted.

The tug of war continued as the reality of Vin's words struck Chris. Vin always acquiesced to JD's wishes in his efforts to protect him. He didn't fight because he was afraid that causing a disturbance would get them sent away. Chris smiled slightly at the argument playing out in front of him. It appeared that fear of fighting was disappearing from the seven-year-old.

"Do not!" JD yanked.

"Do so!" Vin pulled so hard that JD actually did fall this time and Vin held the coveted prize.

"Enough!" said Chris gruffly. Two little boys looked at him with fear in their eyes and once again Chris mentally kicked himself for scaring them. "Arguing is getting you nowhere. We're going to have to figure out a fair way to settle this."

Chris watched Vin's eyes dart from him to JD, back to him, and back to JD. He could almost see the gears turning in Vin's mind worrying that he had gone too far.

Vin absently rubbed his throat with one hand. He looked at the buckskins that he now had sole possession of. Suddenly he threw them on the floor next to JD, his action expressing the anger that his words would not. "JD can be the Indian," he said flatly.

"I'm thinking maybe neither one of you will be the Indian," said Chris softly.

"No!" wailed JD.

"No, Mr. Chris. Please," pleaded Vin. "Let JD be the Indian."

Chris only heard Vin saying, ‘I'll be good. I won't cause any more problems.’ Josiah kept telling him that most of these things would work out with time, as the boys felt more secure in their home, but Chris wasn't so sure. It seemed that every time Vin overcame a fear a new one surfaced in its place.

The phone rang disrupting Chris' thoughts. "We'll talk about this later, boys, after dinner when Buck is home." Chris walked toward the ringing nuisance. "No more arguing," he warned.

Vin looked at JD and rubbed his eyes tiredly. He wasn't really mad at JD. He was tired. He had a huge headache as well as a stomach ache and his throat really hurt. Vin knew that it really didn't matter who wore which costume, but he really wanted to be the Indian. 'Oh well', Vin sighed and headed for the bedroom. He didn't feel like fighting anymore. He didn't even feel like playing. In fact, lying down for a little while seemed to be a good idea.

JD picked up the buckskins and laid them on the table. He could see that Vin really wanted to be the Indian, but Vin didn't know about Jimmy Morton. Jimmy was the biggest kid in his class and Jimmy said only sissies dressed like pilgrims, and JD didn't want to be a sissy. He didn't want to get picked on either. He knew Vin had said he could be the Indian, but he also knew from his tone of voice that Vin didn't really want to say it. Maybe he could talk to Mr. Buck as soon as he got home and Mr. Buck would say he could be the Indian. That would settle it. JD opened the cupboard and got out the shoebox and sat himself down in the middle of the floor. He opened the box and began to set up a battlefield with the plastic cowboys and Indians.

+ + + + + + +

After hanging up the phone, Chris walked into the kitchen, enjoying the smells that were coming from the oven. "Gloria, that was Buck. He's on his way home. Should be here in about forty-five minutes."

"Perfect," exclaimed Gloria Potter. "Dinner will just be coming out of the oven." She continued working on cutting the vegetables for dinner.

Chris picked up the boys' lunch kits and set them on the counter by the sink. "How did things go with the boys?" he asked as he opened JD's lunch kit, took out the thermos and began to rinse out the empty container.

"They were fine. Both of them were a little worried the first night, but they seemed to settle down after you called." Gloria chopped another carrot and tossed it into the salad bowl. "They weren't any trouble at all. In fact, my two just loved being here with them. The four of them hit it off well."

Chris had been concerned about what the boys would read in to Buck and him leaving them to attend the conference. In a three-day period he and Buck had called home at least ten times. Chris chuckled to himself as he realized it wasn't just for the boys' sake that they had called so many times. He finished rinsing JD's snack containers and opened Vin's lunch kit. His brow furrowed as he noted that it was almost full. "Gloria, did Vin forget his lunch today?"

Gloria looked over at the food still in the lunch kit. "No. He had it with him." She took everything out of the box. "Looks like the only thing he ate was the Jell-O and his apple juice." She pondered for a moment. "He hasn't been eating much the past couple of days, but I'm sure he will now that you're back."

Chris nodded and finished unpacking the containers.

"I can do that, Mr. Larabee," offered Gloria. "I'm sure you're tired after your trip."

Chris smiled at Gloria. She had been the perfect choice for a housekeeper. She was wonderful with Vin and JD, and she handled the big boys pretty well too. Chris looked at his watch. Half an hour was long enough to grab a shower and unpack. "Thanks, Gloria. And thanks for watching the boys."

"You're welcome, Mr. Larabee." Gloria smiled broadly and returned to the task of making dinner.

+ + + + + + +

"Hey, where is everyone? I'm home and I'm starved!" hollered Buck playfully as he came in the front door.

"Mr. Buck!" squealed JD. Buck dropped his suitcase just in time to catch JD as the five-year-old launched himself into his arms.

Buck hugged him tight and then began to tickle him. "Did ya miss me, Little Bit?"

"Yeah!" JD squirmed trying to get away from the tickling fingers. "Hey, Mr. Buck? Can I be an Indian for the Thanksgiving Dinner at school?"

"Well, sure!" said Buck as he twirled JD around in circles before tossing him playfully on the couch.

Hearing Chris clear his throat, Buck turned toward the hallway. Chris stood in the entrance to the living room with a frown on his face. "Did I miss something?" asked Buck.

Chris nodded. "We're going to talk about the Indian costume after dinner."

Buck grimaced. He had walked in and said 'yes' without knowing the whole story again. "Okay."

"But, Mr. Buck, you said I could!" protested JD.

"Well, now, Little Bit," said Buck, "You didn't exactly tell me the whole story, now did you?"

JD dropped his eyes to the floor. "No," he mumbled. "But I gots to be an Indian. Otherwise Jimmy will call me a sissy and pick on me."

"We'll see about that!" said Buck with a protective edge to his voice.

"After dinner," said Chris. "JD, go wash up and tell Vin to wash up too."

JD dashed off hollering for Vin as Chris made a hurried explanation to Buck of the earlier argument.

+ + + + + + +

Mrs. Potter had made one of Vin's favorite meals, but the seven-year-old sat with one elbow on the table leaning his chin on his hand, toying with the pot roast and mashed potatoes on his plate.

"Elbows off the table," said Chris quietly. Vin sighed and sat up straight, dropping his hand into his lap, but he still didn't look up.

It wasn't like Vin to mope over something. "You feeling all right, Vin?" asked Chris noticing that Vin was a little pale and his cheeks were flushed.

Vin nodded and continued to push his mashed potatoes around. He finally took a bite, closing his eyes as he swallowed. He reached for his glass of milk, swallowing the last dribble. Vin was usually very conservative with his milk, making it last the entire meal, but he wasn't even half way done and the glass was empty.

"Can I be 'xcused?" asked JD, wiping his mouth with his napkin. "I'm all done." JD looked at Mr. Buck and Mr. Chris. They were both watching Vin eat his food. "It hurts when he swallows," volunteered JD.

Vin shot JD a dirty look. Thanksgiving was this week and he wasn't about to wreck it by being sick. It was supposed to be a special time. He remembered Thanksgiving with his mom and how happy he felt with her. It wouldn't be fun for anyone if he was sick.

"That true, Vin?" asked Chris. Vin reluctantly nodded as Chris reached over and laid the back of his hand against Vin's forehead. He frowned. Vin definitely had a fever. "You're sick, Vin. Why didn't you say something?"

Vin shrugged. He didn't feel good. It hurt to swallow. It hurt to talk. He just wanted to go back to bed.

"How long have you been feeling like this?" asked Chris.

Vin shrugged again.

"His throat was hurting before you left," reported JD.

"JD!" growled Vin. He grimaced at the pain of speaking two little letters.

"Well, it was!" said JD.

Chris knew it wouldn't do any good to ask why Vin hadn't said anything. He was beginning to understand 'Vin logic' too well. Vin probably figured if they knew he was sick they wouldn't go. And in his head that would translate to losing their jobs. But he had been sick for three days! How had he managed to hide that from Gloria Potter? Gloria was a mother. She knew all the ins and outs of childhood illnesses. Vin's quiet mannerisms coupled with missing Chris and Buck hid the other symptoms until now.

Buck walked over to the sink and filled a glass with water and set it in front of Vin. Vin shook his head 'no'. "Drink up, Junior," said Buck. "You have to drink lots of fluids."

"Hurts," complained Vin.

"I know it does," said Buck, "but you have to do it."

They watched Vin pick up the glass and take a mouthful of water, gulping it in one swallow instead of sipping. He finished half the glass. "Can I go to bed now?" he asked softly. The quiet plea worried Chris. Vin had to be feeling pretty low to want to go to bed. He nodded to Vin and watched him shuffle down the hall.

"What do we do with JD?" asked Buck.

Chris shrugged. "Whatever Vin's got, JD's been exposed to. I don't see how it's going to make any difference to separate them now."

"Yeah, you're right," agreed Buck.

"I can watch Vin," said JD. "I can make sure he's okay when he's sleepin'."

Chris smiled at the offer. "I know you will JD. Thanks." Chris got up from the table to follow Vin.

"You want me to call Nathan?" asked Buck.

Chris nodded. "But he's probably worn out from the trip too. Don't let him come out here unless he thinks it's absolutely necessary."

"Right." Buck went to call Nathan while Chris made his way to the boys' room.

He stepped into the room and saw Vin standing beside the bunk bed, looking up at his bunk. Obviously it seemed too far to climb. "Want a hand?"

Vin turned and looked at him with tears in his eyes. He felt awful. Vin nodded and Chris boosted him onto the upper bunk and tucked him in.

"I didn't mean to be sick, Mr. Chris."

Chris swallowed hard at the mournful words. "I know that Vin. We can't help getting sick. It just happens sometimes."

"Will you let JD be the Indian?"

"Don't you worry about that now," said Chris as he smoothed Vin's hair back from his face.

"I heard what JD said to Mr. Buck about Jimmy Morton." Vin's voice cracked and he grimaced. "JD needs to be the Indian."

"All right Vin. I'll let JD be the Indian if you'll rest."

"Okay." Vin closed his eyes as Buck came into the room with the cordless phone.

"Yeah, Nate. Yeah. Here's Chris." Buck handed Chris the phone so he could relay Vin's symptoms and Nate could relay treatment.

Nathan seemed to think that Vin would be all right for the night but it would be a good idea to take him to a doctor in the morning. He told Chris it sounded like strep throat. He recommended plenty of fluids, rest, keeping him warm - all of the things Chris had already assumed.

An hour later, JD was tucked into the lower bunk while Vin slept restlessly. Chris left the door open to the boys' room as well as his. Buck turned on the night light in the hallway and both men headed for bed. It was early, but the conference and travel had taken a toll on them.

It seemed like only minutes later when Chris' alarm clock sounded. He reluctantly roused himself, showered and began to make breakfast. Mrs. Potter had the rest of the week off for the Thanksgiving holiday. He decided on oatmeal figuring it would be easiest for Vin to swallow. It wasn't long before Buck wandered into the kitchen and poured himself a cup of coffee.

"Morning, Chris," he said cheerfully.

"Morning," Chris replied as he put some bread in the toaster. "Are the boys up yet?"

"JD is. He's pestering Vin to get up and Vin is growling at him," reported Buck. "I figured I'd get a few sips of coffee before rescuing him."

Chris smirked. JD's natural exuberance could be hard to take when you were having your best day. He could only imagine the frustration Vin would feel with JD trying to get him moving when he was sick. He watched Buck head down the hallway as he heard Vin squeak hoarsely, "Leave me alone, JD."

"What are you doing, Little Bit?" Buck asked as he entered the room. JD was dressed and ready for school, except for his stocking feet. He was standing on the ladder to Vin's bunk and had Vin's pillow in his hand. From the look on Vin's face Buck figured JD had just yanked the pillow out from under his head.

"I's helping Vin get ready for school."

Buck lifted JD off the ladder and set him on the floor. "Vin's not going to school today," said Buck. He looked at Vin. The seven-year-old seemed okay with that idea. "He's going to the doctor." Buck smiled sympathetically as Vin's eyes widened. He obviously didn't want to go to the doctor's office. "Come on, Junior. Let's get you dressed." Vin sighed and let Buck lift him out of bed and sit him on the lower bunk.

"Mr. Buck, I need help with my shoelaces," said JD. "I'll be late for the bus."

"Nope. You won't be late for the bus, JD," said Buck as he pulled Vin's pajama shirt over his head, "Because you're going to the doctor too."

"But I'm not sick!" protested JD.

"Nathan says Vin might have strep throat, and if he does, you might get it too." He gave Vin a sweatshirt and jeans to put on, then reached down to tie JD's shoes. When he turned back to Vin, the lethargic boy had managed to get one arm in a sleeve and the shirt pulled over his head. Buck shook his head with a grin as he helped Vin find his other armhole. "JD, Chris has got breakfast ready. You head for the kitchen. It's going to take us a couple more minutes."

As JD ran down the hall Vin protested again. "I don't wanna go," his voice squeaked, "to the doctor."

"I know, Junior, but you might be sicker than you think." Buck steadied Vin as he stood and pulled on his jeans.

"My throat hurts," said Vin softly.

Buck smiled sympathetically and pulled Vin into a hug. "I'm sure it does, Junior." He picked Vin up as he stood and started to walk out of the room.

"I can walk." Vin's voice cracked as he protested being carried.

"Yep. But I haven't been able to hug you for almost four days, so I need a really long hug." Buck chuckled as Vin just rested his head on Buck's shoulder and let him carry him. Buck saw Chris' concern as they entered the kitchen. He winked, trying to reassure Chris. Buck settled Vin into his chair as Chris set the bowl of oatmeal in front of him. He had toast next to the bowl but figured Vin wouldn't want the toast.

Vin made a valiant effort to eat some oatmeal, but after two spoonfuls, he pushed his bowl away. It hurt too much to swallow.

"At least drink your juice," encouraged Chris.

Vin looked at the juice and shook his head.

"You've got to drink," insisted Chris.

"Orange juice hurts," whispered Vin, his throat raw and aching.

Chris closed his eyes, kicking himself mentally. Of course, the acid in the orange juice would aggravate a sore throat.

He moved to the refrigerator. "How about apple?" Seeing Vin nod, he poured a glass of apple juice. He watched Vin closely as it took almost ten minutes to finish most of the glass of juice. "All right, let's get going. Buck, grab a blanket and we'll wrap him up in the SUV."

"I wanna go to school," pleaded JD.

Buck grinned, knowing it was more that JD didn't want to go to the doctor than that he wanted to be in school. The five-year-old liked school, but he enjoyed being able to stay home too. "Come on, JD. Let's get your coat on."

+ + + + + + +

Three hours later the family was back home. JD had already missed most of the school day, so they just brought him home as well. His rapid strep test had come back negative, but they would have to wait two days for the throat culture results. Vin's rapid strep test had come back positive removing all doubt. The young boy definitely had strep throat. The doctor had prescribed amoxicillin and Vin had to stay home from school tomorrow too. Looked like JD would get to be the Indian after all.

To make things easier, they switched Vin to the lower bunk until he felt better. JD was thrilled that he got to have the top bed for a couple days. Vin sat on the bunk scowling as Chris held out the measuring spoon to him. He didn't like medicine. Especially that yucky pink stuff that smelled like bubble gum. It tasted awful. "Don't want it."

"Vin," chided Chris. "It's amoxicillin. It will fight your infection and make you feel better."

"No." Vin turned his face away from the measuring spoon. "It tastes yucky."

"Vin, you haven't even taken it yet," said Buck, gently turning Vin's face back toward Chris.

"No," said Vin firmly. "Makes me itch."

 Vin pressed his lips together tightly and shook his head. He wasn't going to let that yucky pink liquid that made him itch get past his lips.

"Vin Tanner. Take your medicine," ordered Chris sternly.

Vin sighed. He knew the medicine made him itch but he didn't want Mr. Chris to be mad at him. He opened his mouth and swallowed it with a shudder, quickly following it with the glass of water that Buck held. His scowl and abrupt motions told them he wasn't happy about it, but he had complied. Vin lay down on the pillow. It was bad enough that his throat hurt, his head hurt, his stomach hurt. Now he was going to itch too.

Vin slept most of the day and complained mildly every time he woke and was forced to drink fluids or take his medicine. He was totally miserable. Not only did he feel horrible, but if he didn't get better really fast he was going to wreck JD's first Thanksgiving with Mr. Buck and Mr. Chris.

"Quit your worrying," said Buck with a grin as he brushed a hand lightly across Vin's wrinkled forehead. "Everybody gets sick, Vin. Nobody is going to fault you for something you couldn't help. So just relax, enjoy laying around and maybe tomorrow we'll bring the TV in here so you can watch cartoons." Buck tucked the blanket closer around Vin's small frame. "Get some sleep. Ol' Buck will check on you in the morning."

Vin nodded and snuggled into his pillow as Buck grabbed JD and tossed him onto the upper bunk. Vin closed his eyes and listened to JD's giggles as Buck got him settled into bed. He drifted to sleep to the sound of Buck reading a bedtime story.

Next thing he knew, someone was shaking him. "Vin?" He opened his eyes realizing it was Chris by his bed.

"One more time, Vin," said Chris. Chris hated to wake Vin, but Nathan had drilled it into him that prescriptions were meant to be taken on a specific schedule, and Vin needed another dose of the antibiotic.

Vin sighed and pushed himself up in bed. He took the amoxicillin, almost gagging on the thick pink fluid. Chris rubbed his back. "You all right there, cowboy?" Vin nodded and sipped a little more water trying to rid the chalky taste the medicine left. If anything, it seemed to him that his throat felt worse instead of better.

"Need anything else?" Chris asked softly.

Vin shook his head and Chris tucked him back in. "I'm just down the hall if you need anything."

"'Kay," replied Vin hoarsely. He absently scratched his chest as he drifted to sleep.

Chris left the room and headed for his bedroom. It was almost one o'clock in the morning. He smiled to himself hearing the snore coming from Buck's room. Buck was turning into a pretty good daddy. With a sigh, he slid into his bed hoping that Vin would feel better in the morning.

About an hour later both men were awakened by JD's shriek. "Mr. Buck! Help!"

Buck tripped over his blankets trying to get out of bed, stumbling towards the door. Chris was already jogging past his door. Both men stepped into the boys' room and Buck flicked on the light switch. JD was standing next to Vin, leaning over him.

"JD?" asked Chris.

"Vin can't breathe!" cried JD with tears running down his face.

Then they heard the wheezing efforts Vin was making to get a breath. Chris felt like his heart had stopped beating. After a stunned moment, all of his instincts kicked into gear. He struggled briefly to get the panicking boy to sit up, then pulled him onto his lap as Buck ran for the phone. "Easy, Vin. Try to breathe slow." Vin whimpered in fear as he struggled for air.

"Buck, we have to go now," Chris yelled urgently. "We aren't waiting for an ambulance."

Buck hurried back into the room holding a pair of jeans and a T-shirt for Chris as he pulled on his own pants. "The ambulance will meet us on the highway." He turned to JD who was still standing in the middle of the room sobbing. "It's okay, Little Bit. Grab yourself a pair of pants, a shirt, some socks and shoes and throw them into your backpack." Buck pulled on his T-shirt. "I got him, Chris," he said as he lifted Vin from Chris' lap so Chris could dress.

Vin was gasping but couldn't seem to get any air. He was panicking. "Easy, Junior, easy," soothed Buck. "Slow it down a bit."

"Let's go." Chris had his jeans on and was pulling the shirt over his head. He let Buck carry Vin to the door, where Chris pulled on his cowboy boots before taking Vin from Buck. Buck grabbed the keys to the SUV, Chris' cell phone and scooped up JD and his backpack. He grabbed Vin's prescription and ran to the SUV. He quickly buckled JD into his child safety seat as Chris struggled to climb in to the back seat with Vin.

"Go!" Chris ordered.

Speed laws were ignored as Buck raced their precious cargo down the road towards the highway. He threw the police lights on the dash and glanced in the mirror catching sight of JD in the back seat, sobbing. He wanted to reach over and hug the terrified child, but comforting would have to wait until they reached the hospital. His eyes strayed to the seat next to JD where his best friend cradled Vin and tried to will each breath into him. Vin seemed to have calmed some with Chris' constant soothing words, but each breath was a deep wheeze.

Buck flipped open the cell phone and hit speed dial and then the number three. He kept his focus on the road ahead of him while the phone continued to ring. Finally a groggy voice answered.

"Nate. It's Buck. Vin's sick." Buck didn't waste any words. "Yes we took him to the doctor today. He has strep throat. He's on antibiotics. JD woke us up about ten minutes ago and Vin was wheezing. He can barely breathe, Nate." Buck listened to Nathan for a few moments. "Yes, we're meeting the ambulance on the highway..." Buck stopped talking as Vin coughed harshly and flailed his arms as he fought for air. Buck cursed and shut off the cell phone abruptly. Stepping on the gas pedal harder, he was grateful for the lack of traffic at such a late hour.

Buck flashed his headlights and laid on the horn as he saw the ambulance heading towards them. He barely had the truck stopped before Chris shot out of the SUV with Vin cradled in his arms.

"He can't breathe!" Chris yelled at the first person he saw. He laid Vin on the gurney and Vin croaked out a cry between the gasping breaths. Chris grabbed his hand and began to answer a barrage of questions from the paramedics. They started Vin on oxygen and loaded him into the ambulance. Chris was allowed to sit up front, and they left for the hospital, sirens blaring.

Buck turned back to the SUV and saw barefoot JD standing beside the vehicle holding his backpack. He walked back towards the forlorn figure choking back his tears. JD was upset enough. He didn't need Buck's tears to upset him more.

JD sobbed as Buck knelt down in front of him. "They didn't take me with Vin." Buck smiled and wiped JD's tears with his thumb.

"It's okay, JD. Chris is with him. And you and me? Well, we'll follow them to the hospital. Okay?" Buck pulled JD into a hug and picked him up. Carrying him back to the SUV, he started to put JD in the child safety seat again.

"No. I'm a big boy," JD protested.

"I know you are, Little Bit, but the law says you have to ride in this until you're a little bigger."

JD huffed but let Buck buckle him in. Buck climbed into the front seat and they headed for the hospital at a safer pace.

+ + + + + + +

As the ambulance came to a halt, Chris jumped out of the cab. They were already wheeling Vin towards the doors. A staff person intercepted Chris. "Are you the boy's father?"

"Foster father," said Chris distractedly, trying to step around the woman.

"I have some forms you need to fill out. If you'll come with me."

'Damn it!' thought Chris. There was always paper work. He needed to be with Vin. "Let's get it done," He growled in frustration.

Chris couldn't believe the paper work. Insurance information. That was the easy part. The medical history was what really threw him. He realized how little he knew about Vin's medical history. He didn't know if Vin had allergies. He couldn't answer any family history questions. He didn't know of any previous illnesses. He hastily filled out the information he did know.

"Mr. Tanner?"

It took Chris a second to register that the nurse was asking for him. "It's Larabee. Chris Larabee."

The nurse looked at her notes. "You're with Vin Tanner?"

"Yes. He's my foster son. How is he? Can I be with him?" Chris asked anxiously.

"In a few minutes. I need some more information."

Chris ran through the same type of questions the paramedics had asked, plus several more. She took the prescription bottle he offered and promised she would be back in a few minutes.

Chris slumped into the nearest chair rubbing his forehead tiredly. Vin had to be all right. Having time to think, Chris' emotions started flooding in. He realized he hadn't been this frightened since Adam had the croup and he and Sarah had stayed up all night steaming him so he could breathe. No, that wasn't true. He had been just as frightened when he found Vin in that warehouse so near death. That night two little boys he hadn’t even known had stolen his heart.

"Mr. Larabee?"

Chris looked up.

"You can come with me now," said the nurse as she led Chris to the exam room.

Vin was on the table in the middle of the room looking terrified. The head of the bed was elevated to help his breathing. Vin looked so frail. An oxygen mask covered his thin face, and wild eyes tried to take in every movement around him.

"Ow!" he complained as a medication was injected into his thigh.

"It's all right, Vin," said the Doctor. "Remember, you need to be calm and breathe slowly."

Vin pushed away at the nurse's hands. He didn't want that IV anywhere near him.

"Vin. It's all right."

The doctor smiled at the effect of the words. At the sound of Chris' voice, Vin stopped fighting. He turned his head toward Chris and reached his hands toward him. Chris smiled and stepped forward taking a hold of Vin's left hand. "You need to let the doctors do what they need to do. All right?"

Vin nodded but watched the nurse with the IV warily. He remembered that from when he was in the hospital before and he didn't like it.

Chris could tell that Vin's breathing seemed a bit easier, but he was still wheezing.

"Okay, Vin. I'm going to have the nurse start an IV on you. It'll be a little uncomfortable but it will help us give you medicine and fluids so you don't have to swallow. Because your throat hurts, right?"

Vin shook his head 'no'.

"Vin," said Chris.

"Don't want it," croaked Vin, his voice muffled by the oxygen mask.

"Look at me," said Chris. With the simple distraction of turning his head, his arm was captured and fortunately the IV was successful on the first try.

"Sorry about that, Vin," said the doctor. "That Epinephrine seemed to help, didn't it?"

Vin hesitated, but nodded.

"Good. Now I'm going to have them put some medicine in your IV, okay? It's got a really funny name," said the doctor. "It's called aminophylline. It's going to help your muscles relax a little and help with that wheezing. That sounds okay, doesn't it?"

Vin nodded and pulled his hand away from Chris for a moment to scratch his chest.

"And while we're at it, I'm going to give you some benadryl to help with that rash so it won't itch so much."

Vin nodded. He would be glad to stop itching and be able to breathe without hurting. When he caught sight of the nurse carrying another needle however, he almost changed his mind. He started to cry when he was given a shot in the opposite thigh from the one he had already received.

"It's all right, Vin," soothed Chris. "Don't cry, cowboy. It just makes it harder to breathe."

Vin knew that but he had reached his limit and couldn't seem to stop the tears. He was too tired, he hurt too much and he was too scared to force himself to stop. Fortunately the benadryl didn't take long to kick in and Vin found himself getting very drowsy. He tried to keep his eyes open, but Mr. Chris' soft voice was too soothing.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah was the last to arrive. He joined Buck and Ezra in the waiting area. JD sat on Buck's lap sucking his thumb.

Buck didn't have the heart to stop JD from sucking his thumb. The poor kid must have been terrified to wake up and find Vin like that. Buck hadn't taken the time to dress JD except to add some socks. JD didn't seem to mind that everyone could see his cowboy pajamas. About that time, JD's thumb popped out of his mouth and he cocked his head to look up at Buck.

"Is Vin okay yet?" JD asked softly.

"He's pretty sick right now, Little Bit," said Buck, "but the doctors are going to help him."

"Is Vin going to... Is Vin going to..." JD buried his face into Buck's shoulder unable to voice his fear. Three grown men were just as afraid of that possibility.

Buck crushed him with a tight hug. "Shh, now, JD." He couldn't think of an answer that would be truthful. He didn't know if they had arrived in time.

"How is Vin doing, Buck?" asked Josiah.

"Nathan's getting us an update. The doctor thinks he might be having a severe allergic reaction."

"To what?" asked Josiah.

Buck shrugged. They hadn't given him anymore information. JD shifted on his lap and Buck hugged him a little tighter. JD's sigh brought a slight smile to Buck's face. He didn't know how the little guy was still awake, but he was pretty sure that the adrenaline would wear off soon and JD would succumb to the sleep he was fighting. Buck looked up as Nathan came back to their corner of the waiting room.

"Vin's doing all right." He grinned. "He's okay, JD," said Nathan as he ruffled JD's dark hair. "They're moving him up to the pediatrics unit right now. As soon as they get him settled they'll let us know."

"He has to stay here?" asked JD.

"Yes, JD," said Nathan. "He's still pretty sick, but he should be okay in a couple days."

"I want Vin to come home," yawned JD.

"We all do, Little Bit," said Buck. He gently leaned JD's head on his shoulder and JD yawned again.

Chris walked into the waiting area with a cup of coffee in hand.

"Chris?" asked Buck.

"He's asleep. They're moving him upstairs. When they get him situated we can go up."

"You all right, Pard?" asked Buck

Chris sat down next to Buck and leaned his head back against the wall. "The doctor was asking all these questions, Buck. And I didn't know the answers. I didn't know his family history or if he's ever had a problem with amoxicillin."

JD's thumb popped out of his mouth and he lifted his head off Buck's shoulder. "Vin said 'cillin maked him itch."

Buck paled. "Dear God."

Chris turned to Buck at the solemn words, not quite making the connection. "He told us, Chris," said Buck with remorse, "but we didn't hear him. He said it made him itch." Buck thudded the back of his head against the wall. "Damn. I thought he was making an excuse to not take his medicine." He leaned forward and kissed JD on top of the head. "He meant he was allergic."

Chris' jaw dropped as the realization set in. Vin had told him he was allergic and he had forced him to take his medicine. He had done this to Vin. It was his fault. "I did this to him," mumbled Chris.

"Chris," scowled Buck. "That won't help. We didn't know what he meant."

"He's right, Chris. You can't blame yourself for something you didn't know," said Josiah.

"You didn't see him!" spouted Chris angrily. "He couldn't get a decent breath. He almost died."

"But he didn't Chris. And you know why he didn't?" said Nathan. "Because you got him the medical care he needed immediately, Chris. Your actions saved his life."

"Wouldn't have needed saving," muttered Chris.

"Chris, I hardly see how any of this matters now," added Ezra. "Master Tanner needs you."

Chris stared at Ezra for a moment, angry at his words until the truth sank in. Ezra was right. He could spend a bunch of time beating himself up or he could be with Vin. Chris gave a nod of acknowledgment and took a small sip of his coffee as an orderly appeared and said they could go upstairs.

+ + + + + + +

Five men and one very sleepy boy entered the private room on the pediatric floor. Ezra had worked his magic again and procured the private room. Not wanting to disturb Vin's much needed rest, but needing to assure themselves that he was all right, Josiah and Ezra reached out and rested their hands on Vin's legs. The head of the bed was raised and an oxygen mask rested over Vin's nose and mouth. An IV flowed into his right arm. Visions of the last time Vin had been hospitalized sprang to the forefront of their memories. Vin had nearly lost his life to the bullet of a gunrunner. By some twist of fate, the team had searched the wrong warehouse and had stumbled upon one grungy JD Dunne. JD had led them to Vin. Here they were again, having come far too close to losing him. Ezra turned away first feigning that he had something in his eye. Josiah just chuckled and draped his arm around the southerner's shoulder.

Nathan read the vitals, examined the IV drip and generally fussed. He straightened Vin's pillow slightly. They all grinned when Vin sucked in a deep breath and sighed. An hour ago he couldn't have done that. Vin rolled his head restlessly. Chris reached out and took Vin's small hand into his callused hand and Vin quieted.

"Okay, Little Bit," said Buck softly. "You've seen Vin. Now it's time to get you home."

"Wait!" JD scrambled out of Buck's arms and grabbed his backpack from Josiah. He sat on the floor and unzipped the backpack and began to dig through it. He flung the unwanted items on the floor as he dug for the hidden prize. With a big smile, he pulled Vin's stuffed toy cat out of the backpack and stood up. He walked over to the bed and sat the toy next to Vin. "Night, Vin," he said softly.

+ + + + + + +

Vin had to stay at the hospital the next day so that the doctors could keep an eye on him to make sure that there were no complications. This meant he had to miss the Thanksgiving dinner at school, but Chris assured him that JD had indeed worn the Indian costume and returned home unscathed. The bully had not picked on him and he had gotten to be the wildest Indian in the entire school for a day. Vin wanted to go home, but the doctor wanted to make sure he didn't have any further reactions from the amoxicillin. He also wanted to monitor him for twenty-four hours as they started him on a new antibiotic for the strep infection.

The next evening he was finally released to go home and as far as Vin was concerned it was just in time. Thanksgiving was the next day. He was feeling a lot better although he wasn't quite over the strep throat yet but he was home and that was good enough for him. Everyone was going to come for dinner tomorrow and it would be a good day, just like the ones he remembered sharing with his mama.

+ + + + + + +

When Chris called to the boys that it was time for dinner, he had to chuckle when they entered the dining room. They had obviously found a way to settle the dispute over who was the Indian and who was the pilgrim. And Chris had no doubt that if Vin had been able to go to school, they would have done the same thing for the school dinner. Standing before him in a pair of buckskin britches was Vin. He also wore a pilgrim shirt. JD wore pilgrim britches and a buckskin shirt. Chris winked at the boys, proud that they had found a solution to their argument.

Josiah, Ezra, Nathan and Raine had joined the four men of the Larabee and Wilmington household for the feast. Vin sat in his spot grinning. Some of the foods would be too hard to swallow with his sore throat, but Mr. Nathan had made him a turkey and gravy shake in the blender, and he knew he could eat the mashed potatoes.

Mr. Josiah said a prayer and then everyone started grabbing food. There were a couple minutes of pandemonium as bowls were passed around. Chris was just about to take a bite when Ezra stopped him.

"Chris," he said softly, nodding towards Vin. Vin sat there with an empty plate in front of him and tears streaming down his face.

"Vin, what's wrong?" asked Chris.

"It's wrong. It's all wrong," sobbed Vin.

"What is, Vin?"

"It's supposed to be like dinner with Mama." Vin whispered as he wiped his tears on his sleeve.

Chris swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat and laid his fork down next to his full plate.

"Tell me," Chris said softly.

"Mama and me said what we were thankful for. Mama said there was always something to be thankful for even at the soup kitchen."

Hearing those quiet words, the six adults were properly chastised. It wasn't that they weren't thankful, they had simply overlooked expressing it.

"Why don't you start, Vin," said Chris.

"Really?" asked Vin.


Vin looked at each person at the table and said, "I am thankful for my family." He looked at JD. "Your turn, JD.

JD frowned then crawled up on his knees in the chair. He whispered something in Vin's ear and Vin whispered back to him.

"Okay," said JD. "Vin said it's okay if my thankful is like his." JD beamed. "I'm thankful for my family." He looked at Ezra who was seated on his right. "Your turn, Mr. Ezra."

Ezra flushed slightly and then made eye contact with each person at the table. "I, too, am thankful for my family ."

"Mr. 'siah? Are you thankful for your family too?" asked JD.

"As a matter of fact, John Dunne, I was just about to say that I am thankful for my family too."

"Me, too," agreed Nathan and Raine.

JD was amazed. Everyone was thankful for the same thing. "What about you, Mr. Buck?"

"Me, Little Bit?" asked Buck teasingly. "Well, I think I'm thankful for..." Buck paused seeing that JD was hanging on every syllable. "I'm thankful for JD and Vin and all of my family."

Vin looked at Chris expectantly. Chris was quiet for a moment. "I am thankful for two little boys who remind me daily what it is to be alive. I'm grateful for friends who stand beside me even when things get nasty. I'm thankful that Vin's mother took the time to teach her son, who in turn have taught all of us to appreciate what we have." Chris lifted Vin's chin, hoping that the mention of his mother hadn't dampened his spirit. "And most of all, I am thankful for my family."

Vin smiled. Now it was right. Thanksgiving wasn't about pilgrims and Indians, or even food. It was about giving thanks. Vin scooped up a large spoonful of mashed potatoes, stuffing them in his mouth. He looked around the table. Everyone was staring at him. "Now, we eat!" he instructed through a mouthful of potatoes. Everyone laughed and the sound of family warmed the house.


November 2001

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