"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe
DISCLAIMER: What a Christmas present that would be, but alas they are not mine, never will be, and no remuneration will be coming my way
AUTHOR'S NOTES: As always a very special thanks to my beta Sherri. This little story was spawned by an article in my local newspaper. It is based on a true story that touched my heart and I just had to share it. Of course, this is my way of doing so with a touch of poetic license involved. May the true spirit of Christmas bless us all.
It was only a few more days until Christmas and Chris Larabee stood impatiently in the excruciatingly long line at the local Wal-Mart, silently cursing himself for ever allowing himself to get talked into this. Another figure stood just as anxious by his side, but little Vin Tanner's manner was fueled by excitement and anticipation rather than displeasure.
It was the two young orphans second Christmas within the home of Larabee and Wilmington. The first had been spent still trying to adjust the boys to a real home and the sense of love and security it could provide. This year would be different, as the boys had adjusted rather well to their new life and family. Even when the occasional bump in the road developed there were two very willing fathers; as well as three adopted uncles, numerous friends, and even a substitute grandparent or two; to help lend a helping hand and smooth the way.
Last year had been a struggle, not only for the two apprehensive orphans, but for Chris as he tried to reconcile the memories of the family he had lost with the new family he had gained. Celebrating Christmas had not been a priority until the two unorthodox children had traipsed right into his life and his heart. He had made a promise to himself to make this year different, better. But as the pressure to get things finished at work before the holidays warred with the need to get things ready at home, all of the hustle and bustle of the season had sapped nearly every ounce of his holiday spirit. Still, there were other people to consider and one of them was standing beside him full of the wide-eyed joy of all the good things that had seemed to slip from his own grasp.
Vin's tiny request, just two months earlier, had seemed so sweet and endearing at the time. The young eight-year-old had wanted to buy gifts for his new family all by himself, doing extra chores and saving his allowance to afford the small tokens that to him meant a great deal. Chris had known that to even offer to pay for the items himself would not only have made Vin angry, it would have hurt his deep seeded sense of pride. So he had conceded to his young son's plan.
Now, standing knee deep in the peak of the shopping frenzy and having been waiting in the layaway line for what seemed like half of the day just to retrieve the items Vin had determinedly paid for in weekly installments, he was beginning to regret ever sending Vin to school. One of the other children had somehow explained the entire process of laying items away and paying for them over time and his quick thinking young charge had formulated his plan of attack.
Chris remembered the entire scene so well, as the overly adult-like Vin had explained how he wished to get everyone gifts himself. Not just picking them out but actually paying for them. Furthermore, he elaborated on his knowledge that money was tight and that it made sense for him to pay for the things with his own money. That was when Chris had decided that he and Buck would have to be more careful when discussing the finances with mouse ears like Vin's around. Then the young boy had gone into great detail about the process of layaways and how it was the perfect solution to the problem.
It had warmed Chris's heart with pride that his son could be so thoughtful and intelligent to put such a plan together and present it to him in such a way, while also saddening him to the core that this worldly wise young boy had been forced to live with such a grownup sense of the world around him. The look of determination, mixed with an underlying fear of denial, he had witnessed within the deep blue depths of Vin's eyes had left him with no choice but to agree. And that very weekend they had shopped for hours to find just the right gifts for everyone on Vin's, list save one. With a mischievous grin on his face and a twinkle in his eyes Vin had said that Buck was going to help him out with that one.
Zoning out as the line seemed to creep along and doing his best to ignore the Christmas music that blared from the in store radio, he was suddenly brought back to the here and now by the quiet sobbing of someone ahead of them. Noticing a lady up at the counter he realized that he and Vin were only about five people back.
'Thank God! Maybe we'll actually get out of here before New Years.'
His sarcastic thoughts were interrupted as he felt a small fist grab on to his pants leg and looked down to where Vin was staring toward the same lady at the counter that he himself had barely taken notice of.
Now that he had he began to understand why everything seemed a touch more quiet around him and why Vin had clutched at his leg.
The lady at the counter looked to be in her late thirties or early forties. From the bare glimpse he could get of her face he wasn't sure, but he could definitely make out the red-rimmed eyes and the telltale signs of wetness on her cheeks. Her words were interrupted with hitched breathing as she relayed her problem to the young clerk working the counter.
The young mother had been in just a few days before to retrieve her layaway of nearly $400 worth of merchandise for her family for Christmas only to discover just a few days later that she had lost her job. With little option and a broken heart she had made the only decision she could and brought back the layaway items in hopes of getting a refund. Being able to see the clerk's face clearly Chris witnessed the empathy he saw there and was both relieved and saddened when the young girl readily agreed and went about taking care of the transaction with as much speed and discretion as was possible. But he had heard and obviously so had Vin as he felt the grip on his pants leg tighten even more.
Glancing down he couldn't see Vin's face but the rigid stance of the small body told him that this had had a sincere affect on the young boy. He made a mental note to talk to him about it as soon as they were in the truck and headed home. Vin was a strong-willed child with a deep sense of responsibility and a heart almost too big for his tiny chest. Even the smallest hardship of others often had a profound affect on the little boy who had known so much pain and hardship himself in his short life. A talk was definitely in order.
It wasn't that Chris was immune to the unfortunate woman's plight, but he saw a lot of the worst side of life in his line of work. Not to mention the fact that times were tough for a lot of people these days. The economy wasn't at its best and everyone was more cautious on how they spent their money. The unemployment rate had risen locally and many a family was facing a bleak Christmas this year. But there were many organizations around the city that helped with that and both he and Buck had given to a few of them.
As the line shuffled forward once again Chris noticed that the woman was gone and that he was moving closer to his goal. Getting out of this store, away from this crowd, and well out of earshot of this ever-maddening music. His mind had already dismissed the woman with the renewed urgency of his own holiday chores.
Though the plight had been terribly easy for him to think no more of, it had not been so easy for one little sandy-haired boy.
Vin had listened with his mouse ears to every single word the woman had said, heard every sob and every note of sadness in the distraught woman's voice. And with every word and every sniff the war within him had grown. He knew all about disappointment. In his mind he could almost see the faces of her family, her children, as they sat on Christmas morning with no gifts to open and share. He could feel their hopelessness and sadness as it weighed heavily on his own heart. And as he stood there, fighting back his own tears and gripping tightly to Chris's pants leg, he knew what he had to do. It made his heart hurt to even think of it. His new family would be sad, but he hoped they would understand.
Chris felt the insistent tug on the pants that he was sure were going to be beyond wrinkled once they got through this ordeal. The face that stared up at him made him frown with concern. Big blue eyes looked up pleadingly and he began to look for a quick escape. He knew Vin wasn't very fond of being crowded and enclosed spaces were a touch hard for the young boy to handle due to past trials. Maybe all of these people and the wait were finally getting to the scrawny sandy-haired child. Chris knew it was definitely getting to him.
But then again they were only three more people away from their goal. A long hard-fought battle of endurance and restraint that the big bad ATF agent wasn't sure he was brave enough to face again. Even for the sad little face now peering up at him.
Bending down to Vin's level, Chris hoped that he could reassure him long enough for them to get the items they needed and get outside where he could properly deal with whatever had caused the sudden change in his previously delighted child. And he also prayed silently that he wasn't overrun by the mob of shoppers pressing against him from what felt like all sides.
"Vin, we're almost there; just hang on a little longer and then we're out of here." He kept his voice low and soothing, knowing Vin heard him by the intense look in the sky blue eyes that bored right into him. "Okay?"
Chris watched Vin closely and saw him swallow hard before the quiet words came out of him in a rush.
"Can we just get the money back?"
Even as the words left his lips, Chris watched the slender form pull back as if expecting him to explode in anger. It saddened him to see Vin still sometimes react in such a way. But he wasn't angry, just confused. This had been so important to Vin. He had spent weeks working extra hard and saving up all of his money to buy these gifts especially for the ones he loved.
"But Vin " Chris words were interrupted as he saw the subtle change in Vin's facial expression. The light of conviction began to shine in the young boy's eyes and his shoulders seemed to straighten with determination.
"I wanna get my money back. I can, can't I?" Vin's voice quavered slightly as he hesitated.
"Well, I suppose so, but why would you " Once again the leader of Denver's premiere ATF team found himself stopped in mid-sentence by one small boy.
"I can get my money back and then we can use it to by some of that stuff that the lady couldn't get and had to put back cause she lost her job and couldn't 'ford to have a Christmas for her family and then we's can just take it and leave it at where she lives, kind of like Santa Claus. Can't we?"
If anyone had told Chris that Vin was not much of a talker, right now he probably wouldn't believe him. JD was well known for talking endlessly and barely breathing for minutes on end as he hurried to get the words out. But in all of the months that they had spent with the two boys he had never heard that much come out of Vin at one time. And if that occurrence itself hadn't been enough to shock him into silence, what Vin actually said was.
For several seconds he just squatted there in front of Vin, staring at the too blue eyes so full of fear, hope, and determination all at once.
This little boy who had worked so hard to buy some gifts for his friends and loved ones was willing to give it all up. His son was willing to sacrifice all of it to help some poor woman he didn't even know. And he felt mortally ashamed of himself.
Feeling his heart beating furiously in his chest he knew without a doubt that he had seen the true spirit of Christmas reflected in Vin's eyes. And without saying a word he reached and pulled Vin into a fierce hug.
A loud 'ahh umm' behind him broke the incredible moment as he realized it was now his and Vin's turn at the counter. With all impatience and discomfort forgotten and a brand new outlook on Christmas and what was really important, he stood up and moved toward the counter.
Vin wasn't sure, but it certainly looked like Papa Chris wasn't mad at him about his decision. Sure didn't feel like it either and he already missed the feel of having his father's strong arms wrapped securely around him. But that was acting too much like a baby to his taste and he quickly brushed the thought aside as he followed along behind his father. He certainly did like the warm feeling he got inside every time he thought of that word. 'Father.' He had a father, two, in fact. With that, a little brother, the best uncles on the planet and a whole bunch of other friends, it was all the gift he needed for Christmas. Maybe he could even talk Chris into taking back whatever he had gotten him to help pay for even more of the lady's stuff.
His mind was still wandering along when he saw Chris give the young woman behind the counter his layaway slip and the money. No, no, no! This wasn't what he had asked for. They were supposed to get the money back, not get the gifts. He tugged on the blonde's pants leg frantically, his face a mask of confusion.
Chris had anticipated Vin's reaction, but the look of betrayal on his son's little face was almost more than he could bear. Holding his finger up to the clerk to signal he needed a few seconds, and not really caring if it irritated anyone behind him by taking an inordinate amount of time picking up a simple purchase, he knelt once again in front of Vin.
"Do you trust me, Cowboy?" His green eyes bore into the blue ones of his son, asking for a lot more than that. 'I'd never hurt you, Vin. Trust me to know what I'm doing.'
Just the way Chris spoke and the gentle use of the nickname 'Cowboy' that Vin had come to relate with security and love was enough, but the genuine look of devotion in the pale green eyes assured him that all would be just fine. Taking a halting breath Vin just nodded.
Chris had not wanted to reveal his plan right here in front of everyone, but Vin needed to know what was going on. Any other child would have been satisfied with just the reassurance; their own attention quickly diverted and off to something else within minutes, but Vin was anything but any other child. Sometimes he wondered how much child was even left within the small frame of the man-child he called 'son'. So he quietly laid out his plan of action.
"Well, this is what we're going to do." Chris lowered his voice as much as he dared. "We're going to get your stuff and then I'll see about getting that lady's things after that."
Without letting Vin finish what he already knew the youngster was thinking, he continued. "And I'll just keep your allowance for the next couple of weeks to help pay for it. How's that sound?"
It was a lot of money. He knew that and so did Vin, but some things were more important than money. This was not a decision he had made without some thought. He had been planning on getting a new saddle within the next few months, but that could wait a little longer. It wasn't a necessity. This had been Vin's idea, his decision to help, and it was only fair that Chris let him help out even if only in a little way.
Watching as Vin thought it all over, Chris almost thought he could hear the boy turning it all over in his mind as he concentrated.
Chris knew exactly what Vin meant, but did not want to give in to the demand too easily.
Chris let out a breath of mild frustration. "One."
"One and a half." Vin stood, crossing his arms across his chest with a look of complete resolve on his tiny face. It was as far as he was going to give.
Vin might not be flesh of his flesh, but the boy had a stubborn streak in him that was achingly familiar.
The two of them grabbed each other's forearm in a handshake that they had developed as a special bond of trust between them, Vin's small hand barely grabbing hold while Chris's larger one practically enveloped a large portion of the boy's forearm.
"Agreed." They said simultaneously.
It was a happy pair that left the Wal-Mart that afternoon with a renewed sense of holiday spirit practically radiating from them. The sounds of 'Run Run Rudolph' blared from the radio as the big truck pulled out of the parking lot, two other voices singing along loudly as they made their way home.
Chris had gotten Vin's layaway items out before asking more questions about the lady with the returns. It had taken a lot of fast talking with an understandably hesitant clerk, but the ATF badge had convinced the young woman of his sincerity. No doubt the endearing young face with the big blue eyes that stood beside him with a look of innocence that could melt the hardest of hearts had also gone a long way in getting Chris not only the merchandise, but the address of the unfortunate lady who had been forced to leave it all behind.
Another pleasant surprise had occurred as the father and son had made their way out of the layaway area of the store. Bills, both large and small, were thrust into his hands and words like 'bless you' and 'that's one fine son you have there' echoed around them. He was obviously not the only one who had been touched by Vin's willingness to sacrifice for the happiness of others.
Even the rest of the team had contributed to the fund after hearing all about the trip to Wal-Mart. Ezra had leant his skills in covert operations when they went to deliver the items to the lady's door the next evening. The boys had both insisted on going along, staying in the truck to watch as the presents were discretely left on the doorstep with a note that said simply 'Merry Christmas'.
It was Christmas morning when Buck noticed the article on the front page of the local paper. It noted no names but spoke all about the good Samaritans who had helped out a family in need and brought back the true meaning of Christmas to those who had been present. It had provided more than a few smiles and a very big blush from the instigator of the entire scene.
This was going to be one of the best Christmases ever and it was all because this year they had been able to see it more clearly for what it truly was, through the eyes of a child.