by Joy K.
Little Britches ATF Universe
Placing the back of his hand gently against the small cheek, Chris sighed. He could feel the fever still burning. He knew it had been too much to hope for that Vin would be rid of his cold in time for Trick or Treating. The seven-year-old would be extremely disappointed, but there was nothing they could do but wait it out.
Vin had picked up some kind of cold at school and was suffering with a fever, congestion in his chest and a stuffy nose. The poor little guy had been coughing so hard at times that his gag reflex had kicked in causing him to vomit in a couple of instances. Fortunately, he wasn't really nauseous on top of everything else, but even as it was, Vin Tanner was absolutely miserable.
Chris tucked a sweaty curl behind Vin's ear, and pulled the comforter up, tucking it around the son of his heart. It wasn't fair that Vin would suffer such disappointment, but life wasn't fair, and at this moment, Chris Larabee was glad of that simple truth.
If life were fair, Vin Tanner and JD Dunne would never have been a part of his eclectic family.
Chris smiled at the raspy words.
"I'm here, Vin," he replied. "How are you feeling?"
Vin blew out a big sigh.
"Not so good, huh?"
The little boy shook his head sadly. "I tried really hard."
"What?" Chris asked as he gently rubbed Vin's chest through the comforter.
"I did ever'thing Miz Potter said. I ate my soup, even though it maked me throw up."
Vin coughed from the effort of his words. It was an ugly hacking sound that made Chris wince at the discomfort he knew it was causing Vin.
"I stayed in bed all day and even slept most a' the time."
Chris looked at the pleading blue eyes. They were begging him to say Vin could go Trick or Treating and go to the party at Uncle Nathan's house. Chris brushed his finger back and forth under Vin's chin soothingly.
"You did all you could, Cowboy."
"But I can't go," said Vin sadly.
"I'm sorry," said Chris.
"Dumb cold," Vin muttered.
Chris smiled at the sentiment. "Do you want to try some soup?"
Vin shook his head, wincing at the headache the movement caused. He didn't want to try soup again, even though Mrs. Potter told him he threw up because of the coughing, not the food.
"7-Up?" Chris raised an eyebrow.
Vin nodded. He'd try that, but it wasn't as good as the candy he'd be missing tonight.
"Okay. I'll be back in a few minutes."
As soon as Chris left the room, Vin let his tears fall. It wasn't fair. He and JD had been looking forward to this night for several weeks now. He had a great costume. He and JD were going to be the Lone Ranger and Tonto. But now Tonto had to go alone and the Lone Ranger costume would be wasted at home.
Not to speak of Tonto getting all the candy and having fun at the party while the Lone Ranger stayed in bed... or worse. Vin's crying aggravated an already sensitive nose and throat, and the coughing started again. Vin instinctively knew that he needed to get to the bathroom. He scrambled down from the bed, covering his mouth, coughing and gagging miserably, hoping that he made it in time.
'Ah, Vin,' Chris thought sadly, as he approached the trembling form slumped over the toilet bowl. He appeared to have finished this bout, but didn't seem to have the energy to go any further.
Chris rubbed his back soothingly with one hand, reaching for a washcloth with the other. He moved to the sink, dampened the cloth and offered it to Vin. His natural instinct was to wash Vin's face for him, but Vin was seven and was fiercely independent.
A shaky hand took the cloth from him and wiped a very pale face. Chris pulled a paper cup from the dispenser by the sink, and filled it with water, holding it out to the seven-year-old.
Vin gratefully accepted the tiny cup, rinsing and spitting the awful residue from his mouth. Suddenly, it just seemed like too much effort to even throw away the cup. Fresh tears formed and escaped against his will. At least Chris would think he was crying because he was sick, not because he was disappointed.
Chris took the cup and tossed it in the wastebasket. "You all right?" he asked softly.
Vin shook his head and found himself swallowed up in an embrace, his father's strong arms holding him, protecting him, and his soft words soothing a broken heart.
It was too much for the fever-weakened boy, and his tears became silent sobs as he pressed his face against Chris' shoulder.
"Shh," Chris soothed, shifting Vin's weight so he could support him on a hip with one arm and rub his back with the other. Chris slowly shifted his own weight back and forth from one leg to the other, in essence rocking Vin.
"It's okay," he murmured softly. "It's okay."
A couple of minutes later, there was a soft knock on the doorpost. Chris kissed Vin on top of the head, and then turned his attention to Buck.
"No go?" asked Buck in a hushed voice.
Chris shook his head.
Buck grimaced. He remembered the pain of being stuck at home when everyone else was out having fun. On the other hand, he also knew it was going to take some wrangling to get JD to go without Vin. He slipped away from the door and walked back to the den where JD was trying to contain his excitement about the coming events.
"Feet off the couch," Buck warned as he entered the den.
JD quickly kicked his feet out and plopped on his bottom, bouncing on the couch. "Is Vin ready?"
Buck sat down on the couch next to his boy. "Well, Little Bit, Vin's still not feeling good." He paused to make sure JD was listening. "He's not going to be able to go tonight."
JD's smile disappeared. His lower lip began to tremble. "But, he's gotta! We're the Lone Ranger and Tonto."
"I know, but it can't be helped," said Buck. "You wouldn't want him to go and make everyone else get sick."
"We can stay away from everyone," JD pleaded. "We'll stay real far away."
"Sorry," said Buck, "That won't work. Besides, Vin really isn't up to going out."
JD's shoulders slumped in disappointment. He picked at the top edge of his loincloth, which he wore over a pair of sweatpants since it was cold outside. His instinct was to stay home with Vin, to hold on to his security, but the lure of candy and a party was very strong. It was hard to believe that people would just give you candy for free. And if there was one thing JD liked, it was candy. But Vin would be hurt if he went without him. He sure wouldn't like it if Vin went without him.
"I stay home, too," said JD softly.
It was obvious to Buck that JD didn't want to stay home, but his loyalty was with Vin. Both of the boys had depended on each other to survive on the streets, and each was reluctant to do anything without the other boy. Buck sighed to himself, keeping his emotions in check.
"We're going to go," said Buck. "You and me."
"No," said JD. "I need The Lone Ranger as part of my costume. It won't be right just by myself. Tonto needs The Lone Ranger."
Buck and JD were both startled by Vin's raspy voice. Neither had seen him come into the room during their conversation.
Vin held out his black mask he had made for his costume. "You be The Lone Ranger."
Buck hesitantly accepted the offering. He knew how much this costume meant to Vin. The two boys had planned everything and Vin had spent hours drawing pictures of his ideas and finding the things he needed for his costume. He had even made his own mask from a black neckerchief he had found. And now Vin was offering it to Buck.
"You sure?" he asked.
Vin nodded. "Tonto can't go without the Lone Ranger."
Vin used the word "can't" but Buck heard what Vin was really saying. The older boy knew that JD wouldn't go without him and was offering a way that JD could be convinced.
Buck straightened up proudly. "It would be an honor."
That drew a hint of a smile from the otherwise miserable seven-year-old. Vin watched as Buck tied the small mask around his eyes, shifting it into position. When it was satisfactory, Vin turned his attention to JD.
"Save me some candy?" he asked.
JD grinned and nodded. Vin had told him it was okay to go without him.
"Buck, can I take Vin's candy bag with me?" asked JD. "You can carry it and we'll get some candy for Vin, too."
Buck nodded his approval.
"And tell me all about the party when you get home, Okay?" added Vin. He covered his mouth as he started coughing again.
"Yeah, Vin, I will," JD assured. "I'll tell everyone you say, 'Hi.' Okay?"
Vin nodded and yawned. As Buck and JD left, he climbed up on the couch and laid his head on the pillow.
More than an hour later, he woke. Disoriented at first, Vin quickly determined he was in the den. He noticed the television was on and an old black and white western was playing. He yawned.
"How you doing?"
Vin liked that question. He liked how it made him feel inside when Chris asked him how he was doing. He liked knowing that Chris really cared about him, even if he was reluctant to answer the question with anything but "fine."
He started to sit up, but his body was so tired and achy that seemed like monumental effort. He leaned against the arm of the couch, allowing it to hold him upright.
Chris walked over and felt Vin's forehead. "You're a little bit cooler."
Vin nodded. "I feel a little better."
Chris smiled, wondering just who Vin was trying to convince. He looked absolutely miserable.
"How about that 7-Up now?"
Vin shrugged. It didn't sound good, but it didn't sound bad, either.
"Yeah," Vin answered as Chris tucked the blanket around him.
"All right, toast it is. I'll be back in a couple minutes," said Chris.
Vin occupied himself trying to figure out what was going on in the movie on the television until Chris returned. Chris helped him sit up and then handed him a small paper plate with toast on it.
Vin looked at the toast and giggled.
"Something wrong with my toast?" Chris growled playfully.
Vin held up a piece and poked two fingers through the eyeholes. Chris had cut the toast into a circle and had carved out a small face in the bread. Vin took a healthy bite, enjoying the taste for the first time in two days.
"Want some?" he mumbled around the partially chewed toast.
Chris let the poor manners slide this time. "I've got my own," he said, holding up his plate. He settled into his recliner and ate a piece of toast.
"It's a little chilly in here tonight," he commented.
It was enough of a suggestion for Vin to act. He carefully balanced his plate with one hand and pulled his blanket behind him. He climbed up into the recliner with Chris, settling quickly on his lap.
Chris pulled the blanket over both of them and they sat quietly munching on jack-o-lantern shaped toast. Chris held the remote control, turning on the DVD player and starting the movie.
Vin smiled when he realized what movie Chris had chosen. It was an old black and white version of The Lone Ranger. It didn't take long until eyelids got heavy and Vin was snoozing again. The last words he remembered from the movie were "Hi-ho, Silver! Away!"
Chris smiled down at his son. Yes, indeed, there were times when he was glad that life wasn't fair.