Christmas Miracles and Dreams

by Winnie

Disclaimers: No copyright infringement intended and no money was made with this fic.

Comments: This story came about as a bit of a challenge from a wonderful friend named Dani. So this one is dedicated to the December birthdays girls and Dani as well. Many thanks to Antoinette and Marti for the wonderful beta job and the encouragement they always give. Thanks as always to Julie, for just being who you are.

Size: Approx 300K

WARNING: Contains violence, mild profanity, intense subject matter.

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The little boy cringed under his bed as he listened to the man screaming at his mother. At four years of age he didn’t know how to stop the cries of pain he heard, but he understood his mama was in trouble. She’d pushed him under the bed when she saw who was at the door and he trembled in fear of discovery as heavy footsteps sounded beside him. The voice he heard sent a chill down his spine as he heard the familiar weeping and a heavy thump as his mother was thrown on the bed.

“I’m warnin’ ya right now, Rosy, ya tell me where ya put the fuckin’ book or I’ll make that wimp of a son of mine wish he’d never been born.”

“No, Ray! Don’t you touch Vinnie!”

“Vinnie!” he spat and struck her across the cheek. “I told ya not ta be callin’ ‘im that sissy name, butcha just gotta keep on defyin’ me! Never wanted ta call ‘im Vincent in the first place butcha didn’t listen then and ya ain’t listenin’ now. Where is that little bastard anyway? Vin, get your ass out here now!”

“H...he’s n...not here!” Rosalind Tanner screamed at her ex husband.

“Don’tcha lie ta me, ya whore!” Ray Tanner punctuated his sentence with several slaps to the woman’s face until he heard a small whimper and he smiled as he released the woman and let her drop to the bed once more. He knelt beside the bed and lifted the edge of the blanket, calling in a deceptively quiet voice.

“Come out, come out wherever ya are, little Vin! Daddy’s home!”

Vin moved further back under the bed as his father’s hairy arm reached for him. He cried out as the fingers touched against his Spiderman pajamas and he heard his mother pleading with this stranger to leave him alone.

“Come out of there, Boy, or so help me I’ll tan yer hide fer ya!” Tanner spat, edging further under the bed.

“NO!” the boy screamed as his father snagged the edge of his shirt and began to draw him out. Vin Tanner, four-year old innocent child, was in the hands of a beast and he screamed in terror as he was drawn out of the darkness and into the bright light of his mother’s bedroom.

“Leave him alone!”

“Mama! Mama! Help me!”

“A real mama’s boy ain’tcha, Vin, but I’m gonna change all that!” He shoved his ex wife away and lifted his hand to strike the squirming child he held by the collar.

Rosalind leapt at the man’s back and wrapped her arms around his neck, covering his eyes as he cursed and finally released her son. She knew her ex husband was beyond angry now and she needed to get her son out of harm’s way.

“Run, Vinnie, get o...out of here!” she screamed as Ray pulled her over his shoulders and threw her to the floor.

“Mama!” The child screamed as he watched in horrified fascination. He couldn’t tear his gaze from the scene in the bedroom as his father’s big hands wrapped tightly around his mother’s neck. The big man slammed her head repeatedly into the hardwood floor, his cackling laughter washing over the horrified little boy.


Thursday, December 18th

Chris Larabee heard the scream from his son’s bedroom and threw the blankets off before bolting to the room across the hallway. He took in the scene with one look and reached for the trembling body sitting in the center of the bottom bunk. He could hear JD Dunne crying in the top bunk, and was relieved when Buck Wilmington reached up and took the child into his arms.

“Come on, li’l bit, let’s go make some hot chocolate,” the gentle rogue said. This scene had been repeated too many time in the last few weeks, and Buck knew Chris was the only one who could get through to the scared nightmare riddled child they loved so much. He could hear his partner talking to the young Texan and prayed he’d get through to the boy.

“Can we make some for Vin too, Buck?”

“Sure, Li’l bit, we’ll make enough for all of us?”

“Wit Martian-mallows?” the child cried softly as he tucked his head into the hollow of Wilmington’s neck.

“Sure with Martian-mellows,” the older man teased as they left the room.

 Chris concentrated on the trembling child he held and wondered why one so young had seen more tragedy than most people saw in a lifetime. At six years old Vin Tanner had already witnessed a murder, and not just any murder. He’d watched as his father choked the life from his mother and been so traumatized that he’d spent several months in an institution, months in which the child was diagnosed as being catatonic. The child never reacted to anyone or anything until the day Chris Larabee walked into the building. Chris was there to ask about a boy who was to testify at an upcoming court hearing, but something clicked when he spotted the tiny child sitting in a corner, arms wrapped around his knees and staring straight ahead. Chris had ignored the physician, walked over to the boy and knelt down in front of him. For several long seconds there was no reaction, but Chris kept looking into the most spectacular blue orbs he’d ever seen. The boy’s eyes finally showed some reaction and over the next few weeks Chris visited him on a daily basis. Within two months of Chris’ first visit, Vin Tanner was talking and laughing, a complete turnaround that had the medical personnel marveling at the bond between the two. During the third month Vin spent weekends at Larabee’s ranch. As a ward of the courts, with no living relatives, no one protested when Chris decided it was time Vin had a home instead of a number on a chart. That was nearly two years ago and since that time Buck and JD had moved in with them and they were as close as a family could be. It was times like this, when the boy woke up screaming that cut Chris Larabee to the bone.

“Vin, you’re safe. I’m here and no one is gonna hurt you.” He ruffled the shaggy hair and kissed the top of his son’s head, for that was what Vin Tanner was to him. A son, a child he loved and who loved him in returned, unconditionally and unequalled.

“I...I’s sorry, Chris...” the boy sobbed against Larabee’s shoulder.

“You have nothing to be sorry for, Vin.”

“W...woke ya up...woke JD and Buck and…”

“Hey, that’s not such a bad thing, Vin. After all it means Buck’s making hot chocolate,” the blond said, smiling hopefully at the boy.

“With Martian-mellows?”

“Is there any other way to have hot chocolate?”

“No…Mama used ta make it fer me before she...before she died. Why’d she die, Chris?”

“I don’t know, Vin. Sometimes God just needs to call his special angels home. Your mama was special just like my Sarah and Adam were special. Right now they’re our special angels. They’re looking out for us and they won’t let anything bad happen to us.”

“I m...miss her,” the child sniffed and clung tightly to the man kneeling in front of him. He felt the strong arms wrapping him in a protective cloak and felt safe once more. No matter how bad his dreams were, this man, his protector, could always drive them away.

“I know you do, Son, and you always will, but when times are really bad and you need her, she’ll be here. All you have to do is look inside yourself and you’ll feel her there. She’s part of who you are and she’s given you a wonderful heart. I love you, kiddo.”

“I love ya too, Chris, promise me ya w...won’t leave me l…like mama did? I d...don’t w...want ta be ‘lone ag’in!”

“I promise I’ll try, Vin, but you have to remember if something does happen to me you won’t be alone. You’ll have JD and Uncle Buck. Josiah, Nathan, Ezra and Nettie won’t let anything bad happen to you either. They’ll all take care of you...”

“But they ain’t ya, Chris. I wantcha here, ya m...make t...the monsters g...go away and t...they don’t h...hurt me more and I ain’t scared.”

“Well then, Son, guess we’ll just have to do our best to make sure neither of us goes anywhere, because you’ve chased away the dark monsters that were chasing me, Vin. You make me feel safe too.”

“I do?” the boy asked, disbelief written on his little face.

“You sure do, Vin...”

“You two want some hot chocolate?” Wilmington asked from the doorway.

“I he’ped make it, Vin. I even put extra Martian-mellows in yours.” The younger boy said as he bounced onto the lower bunk and waited for Buck to hand them their drinks.

“Thanks, JD,” the older boy said, smiling as he sipped the sweet liquid.

“Hey, Vin, you gots a mouse’s-tash just like Buck!” Dunne said and frowned as the two men laughed. “Wa’s funny?”

“You are, li’l bit,” Wilmington said, ruffling the dark locks.

“This is good, Uncle Buck,” Vin said, smiling as Buck suddenly produced two chocolate chip cookies from behind his and JD’s ears.

“How’dja do that, Buck?” Dunne asked, frowning as he reached behind his ear but found nothing there.

“It’s magic, Kiddo, I think you and Vin have a cookie factory behind your ears,” Wilmington said, smiling as the two boys ate the cookies.

“You’re spoiling them, Buck,” the blond said with a smile. His best friend and partner had a heart of gold, and when it came to the two boys he overindulged them most of the time. Chris smiled inwardly as he realized he did the same thing.

“Yes, yes I am,” the rogue said with a grin. The two men watched as the boys polished off the cookies and drank the hot chocolate. Once the cups were empty, Buck placed them back on the tray and looked at Chris.

“All right, boys, it’ three o’clock, so what do you say to brushing your teeth and we try to get some sleep?” He saw the look of fear come over the small face and smiled knowingly at the child. “And since I find it cold tonight why don’t you sleep in with me, Vin?”

“Can I?”

“Sure. Now go brush your teeth and I’ll get your pillow,” Larabee said as he reached for the oversized Spongebob Squarepants pillow.


“Come on, Li’l Bit, you can share my bed for tonight,” Wilmington said, picking the boy up and heading for the bathroom. Fifteen minutes later the house was silent and the occupants were sleeping peacefully.

The large tree stood next to the fireplace, the ornaments spread over it in a haphazard way that spoke of a child’s hand. Christmas day was a week away and already the gifts were stacked on either side leaving little room for Santa’s presents. Red and green garlands were strung from corner to corner and a sparkling centerpiece of silver and gold hung in the middle of the ceiling. The decorations had been put up that day, the lights already adorning the walls and roof on the outside of the split-level ranch house. The Santa clock chimed on the mantle, a solemn signal of warmth and friendship that would be shattered before the end of the next day.

+ + + + + + +

“Look, I don’t hold to hurting a child and I’m paying you enough to make sure that doesn’t happen!” Craig Harrington spat as he paced the length of his office. He was a desperate man right now and unless he retrieved the journal, his life would be in shambles. Ray Tanner was dead, but not before he’d stolen the journal with times and dates of bank deposits and illegal operations. Now it looked like it was all coming back to haunt him and he couldn’t afford to let that happen. He needed a clean slate to run for Senator and if word of his illegal activities got out, his career was over and he’d be in prison for the rest of his life.

“You want the book back or not?” Rudy Marshall asked, playing with his trademark four-inch switchblade.

“I need that fucking book and if you hadn’t been so incompetent in killing Tanner I’d have it already!”

“I told you Tanner didn’t know where the book is. Before he died he said his wife had it, but she didn’t tell him and he’d killed her. He was pretty certain his son knew where it was and he’s the only one who can tell you. It might have to get rough...”

“No! You won’t hurt the child! Find some other way to get him to tell you what he knows!”

“Well, there might be another way.”

“Tell me!” Harrington ordered hopefully.

“We kidnap the boy and make sure he doesn’t see our faces, but we also take his adoptive father.”

“What good will that do?” the older man asked as Marshall cleaned his fingernail with the tip of the blade.

“Well, since you won’t let me hurt the boy I’ll need another method of persuasion. How long do you think young Tanner can hold out if the man he thinks of as a father is a victim of torture. I figure we snatch Tanner and Larabee and take them to that little place outside Denver. I work Larabee over while the kid is there...”

“Not in the same room. I don’t want him seeing what’s happening to Larabee.”

“Look, Mr. Harrington, its kind of hard to get the kid upset enough to talk if he doesn’t know what’s happening to his father.”

“I don’t care! I don’t want him witnessing something like that! You can maybe blindfold the kid while you’re working Larabee over. That way the kid knows something is going on, but he isn’t forced to watch it!”

“How come you’re so soft on the kid?”

“I saw some things when I was a kid and I wouldn’t want that to happen to any one else. Tanner saw his father murder his mother and that’s more than enough trauma for him to deal with. Make sure neither one of them sees your face since I’d rather not add accessory to murder to my list of crimes.”

“All right, I’ll do my best. Make sure you deposit the money into my account by tomorrow afternoon.”

“It’s already been arranged. Get me that book, Rudy, but don’t hurt that boy!”

“Your wish is my command,” Marshall said before standing and leaving the office.

Friday December 19th

Chris looked at his watch and shook his head as he realized he had to hurry. He needed to get to the school and pick Vin up in less than half an hour. JD was home with Buck after spending a sleepless night with a tummy ache. He walked out of his inner office and looked at the men seated at their desks. Josiah, Nathan, and Ezra were busy finishing up the files in an effort to get everything cleared up before the New Year.

“Well, Boys, I’m going to pick up Vin. You guys might as well make it an early day as well.”

“Why thank you, Mr. Larabee, I believe I can find a more fitting way to spend the afternoon than reading overdue reports and making sure I have dotted my Is and crossed my Ts.” Standish smiled, the light flashing off his gold tooth as he closed the file.

“Overdue, Ezra? Perhaps you should stay behind and finish them,” Larabee suggested.

“I assure you it was simply a figure of speech, Mr. Larabee. My case load and files are completed and will surely pass your inspection.”

“I hope so, Ezra. Okay, Boys, see you in the morning.”

“Goodnight, Chris,” Jackson said.

“Goodnight,” Larabee said, grabbing his jacket and gloves from the hook.

“Drive carefully, Brother, there’s a lot of snow down already,” Sanchez warned.

“I will, Josiah, you boys do the same.” With those words the blond hurried to the stairwell and exited the ATF building.

+ + + + + + +

Vin stood in the doorway and watched as the familiar black Dodge drove into the schoolyard. The snow continued to fall, but he was dressed in his skidoo suit, Kodiak boots, and gloves. His backpack was beside him and he smiled as his teacher fixed his scarf.

“Thank you Miss Davis,” the boy said as Larabee pulled to a stop in front of the doors.

“You’re welcome, Vin.”

“Hi, Vin, Miss Davis.”

“Hi, Chris,” the child said as Larabee picked him up and hugged him.

“Hello, Mr. Larabee.”

“Sorry I’m late. The roads are bad and the salt trucks are only just making their rounds so please drive carefully.”

“I will, Mr. Larabee. Vin, I’ll see you on Monday.”

“Okay, Miss Davis, “ the child said as he was placed back on the ground.

“Why don’t we stop off and pick up McDonalds for dinner, Vin?”

“Can we really?” the child asked, gripping Larabee’s hand in his own.

“Sure, I’ll call and let Buck know.”

“Okay,” Tanner said as they reached the truck. He used his left hand to grab some snow off the front bumper and threw it at Larabee.

“Hey!” the blond laughed and ducked as more snow was fired towards him. He grabbed a handful of snow and threw it at Vin as he ran around the back of the truck.

“Missed me!” Tanner laughed, ducking as Larabee lobbed one over the top of the Ram.

“Not on your life!” Larabee said, rounding the front of the truck and throwing a handful of snow at the child. He smiled as he advanced on Tanner’s position, but sputtered as a handful of the powdery snow hit him in the face.


“Sure did, but now it’s my turn!” Larabee laughed, grabbing the child and making a show of forming the perfect snowball. “I think someone needs their nose rubbed!”

“No!” the boy squealed in delight as they continued to play in the snow. Finally, out of breath and laughing hysterically the duo climbed into the truck and put on their seatbelts.

“I think we have to challenge Buck and JD to a snowball fight!” Larabee declared and smiled as the bright blue orbs sparkled with childish delight.

“We could build a snow fort and snow men!”

“Sure can and a snow horse too!”

“I can’t wait ta tell JD!”

“Hey, maybe we should keep it a secret and launch a surprise attack,” Larabee suggested as he drove carefully out of the school parking lot. It was slow going as the drivers were careful and stayed within the speed limit or lower. By the time they reached the road leading towards the ranch most of the roads had been ploughed and salted. Chris kept glancing at his son smiling as the child seemed to be filled with excitement at the mounting snow. He knew the meal in the paper bag beside him would be cold by the time they reached the ranch, but they could warm it in the microwave. His attention returned to the road as he watched a car approaching from the opposite direction. He knew whoever was driving was having problems as the small car seemed to skid across the road in front of him before coming to rest against a high drift. Chris stopped the Ram and looked at the child beside him before reaching for his seatbelt.

“Vin, stay put. I’m just going to check the driver okay?”

“I...I Chris, don’t go. Okay?”

“Vin, I have to. Whoever was driving could be hurt. You just wait here and keep the doors closed. I won’t be long.”

“Okay, Chris,” the boy said as Larabee opened the door and snow blew into the cab of the truck.

“I’ll be right back,” the blond said before closing the door and wading his way through the snow to the stalled car. He turned to look at the small boy and smiled as Vin lifted his hand and waved at him.

Chris made his way to the stalled car and knocked on the driver’s side window. His feet were cold and he wished he’d worn his boots instead of the Nike runners he now had on his feet. He rubbed his hands together as the window was slowly rolled down and he looked at the man behind the wheel

“Are you all right?” Larabee asked, knowing the driver could very well be in shock.

“I…I’m perfectly fine, Mr. Larabee, now if you would be so kind as to take a look at your truck we may be able to dispense with the pleasantries and get on with the business at hand,” Marshall explained.

Chris turned as he heard the scream from the cab of the truck and everything else faded in the wake of the threat to the child he’d grown to love. He could see Vin being held tightly against a broad chest and anger flared in his eyes as he made a move towards them, but was brought up short by the sound of a gun behind him.

“That is not advisable, Mr. Larabee. You see Gregory could snap the boy’s neck with a flick of the wrist. He would be dead before you reached him!”

“What the hell do you want?” the angry blond bit out through clenched teeth.

“Well, we actually need some information the child has stored inside his head. Now, if you would be so kind as to put your hands behind your back we can get back into the warmth of my car. I am allergic to cold you know!”

“Let him go!” Larabee spat.

“That is not possible right now, Mr. Larabee. As I just told you he is the reason we stopped you!”

“Don’t hurt him!”

“Chris!” the boy screamed as a thick arm wrapped around his neck.

“You bastards, let him go!”

“Not until you put your hands behind your back! I have no desire to see the child hurt, but if that’s what it takes then so be it. Gregory…” Marshall called and smiled as the blond ATF agent finally acquiesced to his orders. “Much better!”

Chris felt a set of cuffs attached to his wrists, but his gaze remained fixed on the squirming boy. He tried to instill a sense of calm, but he could see the blue eyes and knew that Vin was trying hard to remain calm.

‘It’s okay, Vin,’ he sent with his eyes.

‘I’m scared,’ the blue eyes seemed to say, but there was nothing more as the newcomer moved to stand in front of him.

“Now, Mr. Larabee, if you will remain still for a minute while Gregory seatbelts the child in my car we’ll all be warm that much sooner.”

Chris remained outwardly calm, but his insides were in turmoil as the man named Gregory carried Vin to the car and seat belted him into the front passenger seat.

“Your turn, Mr. Larabee,” Marshall said and pointed to the car.

Chris knew he had no choice and moved to the back door of the car, but was brought up short by Marshall’s voice.

“I’m afraid you won’t be riding with us, Mr. Larabee. Gregory, would you kindly open the trunk?”

“Certainly, Rudy,” Gregory Linden agreed. He climbed into the driver’s seat and pressed the button that would release the locking mechanism.

“I’m afraid we can’t take the chance of someone stopping us and seeing your hands in cuffs. They might get the wrong idea and call the police. It will be a little cold back there, but I’m sure you’ll be just fine.” Marshall lifted the lid of the trunk and gestured with his gun.

Chris looked at the child in the car and knew there was little choice but to do as he was told. He walked to the back of the car and looked into the empty trunk.

“Mr. Larabee, Gregory will kill the boy if someone comes along and takes an interest in what’s happening here.”

Larabee turned a heated gaze on the shorter man as he whispered in a deceptively calm voice that left little doubt as to the truth behind them. “I’ll kill you if you touch him!”

“Threats, Mr. Larabee? I’m afraid they are falling on deaf ears right now. You see we hold all the cards and there’s nothing you can do about it!”

“Don’t bet on it,” Larabee snarled and sat on the edge of the trunk. He smiled as the man moved back out of the way of his legs and knew he’d rattled the man’s calm demeanor. He lifted his legs and curled his body enough to fit into the trunk.

“Very good, Mr. Larabee. Now I know you’re an experienced ATF agent and I’m sure you’re thinking you can count the twists and turns and possibly hear the traffic signs amongst other things, but alas I can’t let that happen. Say Good night, Mr. Larabee,” Marshall said as a needle suddenly appeared in his hand.

Chris tried to move out of the way, but his body was jammed into the small cramped space and he felt the sharp needle enter his thigh. His breath came in hitching gasps as he tried to fight the effects of whatever was in the syringe. His eyes slid closed and his mind shut down as the drug did its job and put him to sleep. His last conscious thought was of the little boy in the front seat and the hope that the man had told him the truth and that he wouldn’t be hurt.

“Sweet dreams, Larabee, because real life is about to take a painful turn for you,” Marshall said, slamming the trunk. He dropped the syringe in the snow before hurrying to the side door. He climbed in and smiled at the child in the front seat.

“W…where’s Chris?” Vin asked, his voice trembling as he fought back the tears.

“Mr. Larabee is taking a nap, but don’t worry because you two will be reunited very soon,” Marshall assured him.

Vin stared out into the snow as he tried to feel the thread that kept him anchored to Chris. He didn’t understand what it was or why he only felt this with his new ‘father’ but it always soothed the fear from his mind. Right now the thread was there, but it felt so close to breaking that Vin knew he needed to hold onto it with everything he had.

“I’m s…scared, Chris, I…I’m s…so scared,” he whispered, unaware that the two men heard him.

+ + + + + + +

“Buck, when’s Vin and Uncle Chris gonna come home?” JD Dunne asked from where he stood in the window watching for Larabee’s truck. The snow had gotten thicker and there was now more than three inches on the ground.

“It’s really snowing out there, Li’l bit. Chris is probably just driving real slow to make sure they get home safe.”

“I’s gettin’ real hungry.”

“Me too, kiddo. I tell you what we’ll do. You go find that bag of marshmallows while I call Chris and see where they are. That way we can have hot chocolate ready for them when they get here.”

“Vin loves hot choc’late wit’ lots o’ Martian-mallows. Can we put in extra?”

“Sure we can,” Wilmington smiled as the little boy hurried into the kitchen. He looked at his watch and frowned. Larabee had called well over two hours ago and Buck knew if something happened with the truck his partner would’ve called. He grabbed his cell phone and hit rapid dial while he continued to gaze out on the snow-covered landscape. He let the phone ring until Larabee’s answering service picked up and he listened to the voice-activated message.

“Hey, Chris, li’l bit’s getting a mite hungry out here. Call me and let me know how much longer before you and Vin get home?” He hung up and turned to find JD holding a bag in his right hand while the left one shoved a fluffy white marshmallow into his mouth.

“Arsh thash comin’?” JD asked around the mouthful of sponge.

“Hey, what did I tell you about talking with your mouth full of food?” Wilmington teased as he picked the child up in his arms.

“Chris says they’s not food…they’s candy!”

“Wise guy,” Wilmington said, tickling the little boy as he walked towards the living room. His senses were reeling as he tried to figure out what could have happened to keep Larabee from answering the phone. Chris was meticulous when it came to letting him know where he was when he had one of the boys with him, especially during a storm of this magnitude. Visions of the truck stuck in a high drift clouded his mind, but he pushed it away as he plopped JD down on the counter. He reached into the cupboard and pulled out the can of instant hot chocolate before pouring milk into he saucepan and turning the stove on low.


“Yes, JD?”

“Are they gonna git here soon?”

“They sure are, Kiddo, but why don’t I make us a sandwich until they do, okay?”

“But I wants a hamburgler and fries and a coke!”

“I know and you’ll have them as soon as Chris and Vin get home, but right now my belly’s about to take a bite out of my backbone…”

“It is?” the child’s blue eyes lit up with wonder.

“Sure is. Why those teeth are so sharp I might end up eating myself!”

“Ah, Buck, yer just bein’ silly. Yer belly ain’t gots no teeth,” JD said, shaking his head at the older man.

“Now how would you know that, Li’l bit?”

“’Cause yer teeth are in yer mouth. Dr. Carrie said mine are real clean. No cav’ties!” the boy said smiling widely and showing his teeth.

“That’s because you brush them and do a real good job of keeping them clean. Do you have any loose ones?” Buck asked as he stirred the milk.

“No, not yet, but Vin does. Dr. Carrie says it’s only his baby teeth and that he’s gonna lose all of ‘em. Is that true Buck? Will Vin lose all his teeth? How will he eat if he ain’t got no teeth?”

“Hold on there, JD. One question at a time,” Buck laughed as JD tried to wiggle his front tooth. “Dr. Carrie is right and you and Vin will lose all your baby teeth, but then you’ll get your adult teeth and those will stay with you all your life so you’d better make sure you brush and floss all the time.”

“But, Buck, I’s just a li’l kid. How can I have adult teeth?”

“I know it sounds strange, but that’s just how it works.” Wilmington said and opened a bottle of water. He tilted it to his mouth and began to drink.

“Where do babies come from?” JD watched as the older man began to choke and frowned as the man looked at him wiping the water from his mouth and nose.

“Now where did that come from, Kiddo?”

“Me and Vin’s watchin’ Rugrats and Tommy’s mommy had a baby in her tummy. How did he get there?”

“Well, JD, see it’s like this. When daddies and mommies want to have a baby they…well, you see they show each other how much they love each other by touching and kissing. Then they wait and see if they’re going to have a baby.” Wilmington hoped the child would stop there and accept his simple explanation, but the next question set off another round of choking.

“So what’s sex?” JD jumped down off the counter and began to pound the man’s back. He frowned as Buck sat in the chair and waited for him to catch his breath.

“Where’d you hear that word, JD?” Wilmington asked when he had his breathing under control.

“Me and Vin were in the school playing and two of the older kids were talking about having sex and I asked Vin what it meant and he didn’t know, Buck, but I knew you’d know because you and Chris knows everything!” The boy looked at Wilmington and he smiled inwardly at the innocence of childhood naiveté.

“Well, li’l bit, if me and Chris knew everything we wouldn’t need to work so hard would we?”

“I thought you likes what you do, Buck?”

“I do, Kiddo. I like making this world safer for li’l bits like you and Vin. Now, I’d better check the milk before it burns. How about getting the cups ready?” The gentle rogue smiled as he stood up and moved to the stove, grateful that the child seemed to have forgotten the question he’d asked only a few moments before.

“Sure, Buck, but you didn’t tell me what sex is?”

Wilmington groaned as he realized he hadn’t dodged the bullet after all and tried to come up with an answer that was not an out and out lie, but would also not reveal too much. “Remember what I said about a daddy and mommy touching each other to show their love?”

“Yep and they makes a baby!”

“That’s right, kiddo, well that touching is sometimes called sex, but most people prefer to call it love. Okay?”

“Okay,” the child said, seemingly placated by Wilmington’s explanation. “Can I put in the chocolate?”

“Sure, Li’l bit,” the rogue said, ruffling the child’s hair and trying to calm his own nerves as he looked out the window over the sink. ‘Where are you, Chris?’ he thought before forcing a smile to his face and turning his attention back to the task at hand.

+ + + + + + +

To say Vin Tanner was scared would be an understatement as the car pulled into a snow covered driveway and pulled up in front of a house that seemed in need of repair. He shivered as the car came to a halt and the two men got out. The man in the back seat came forward, opened the door and pulled him from the car.

“Well, Vin, why don’t we get you inside and make you comfortable before we take Larabee from the trunk,” Marshall suggested.

“But he’s c…cold,” Vin trembled as they walked past the trunk. His head turned and he kept staring at the closed lid hoping and praying his ‘father’ was okay. The snow was higher than his boots and Vin felt the cold clear through his bones as they made it to the stairs and his captor opened the door.

“Come on, Kid, the faster we get you settled the faster I can bring Larabee inside. You don’t want him freezing to death because you were staring at the trunk do you?”

“N…no,” the boy said as he was dragged into the dimly lit interior and pulled towards a closed door. He watched as the big hand reached out and unlocked the door before it opened revealing a dark maw that sent a chill down his spine. His fear of dark places made him skittish and he balked as his captor nudged him towards the basement stairs.

“Get on down there, kid, Larabee’s probably freezing his ass off out there!” Marshal said and laughed as he watched the heightened fear on the boy’s small face. He knew Vin was probably scared of the dark like most kids, but he didn’t care one way or the other. The child needed to know he meant business and he stood his ground as he watched the warring emotions on his captive’s young face. “Your choice, Kid, we can stand here all day or you can get your ass down there so Gregory can bring Larabee in here.”

Vin closed his eyes tight and his little hands fisted by his sides as he took a deep breath and moved his right foot onto the top step. He swallowed back the nausea as he struggled to get his left leg to move and finally was able to move a little easier as he opened his eyes. The big man followed him down the steps and Vin stood at the bottom as the man moved further into the darkness. A light flashed and he saw the man now held a battery- operated lamp.

“Now see, I’m not a monster, Kid. I wouldn’t leave you down here without any light. There’s a mattress in the corner for you to sleep on and I‘ll bring you down a couple of blankets when we bring Larabee down here,” Marshall said. He placed the lamp no the shelf and headed back up the stairs. At the top he turned and looked back to see the boy standing in the same spot and he smiled as he closed the door behind him.

 Vin shivered as the door was closed, sealing him in his prison. He looked at the mattress and felt the tears forming in his eyes as he looked into the deeper shadows of the old basement.

“Chris,” he whispered as his eyes grew round as saucers and he stared into the corner where the sounds of scratching were coming from. He shivered and moved closer to the circle of light and stood watching the stairs, his eyes darting left and right as his small body shook with the force of his sobs.

+ + + + + + +

Rudy Marshall smiled as he locked the door leading into the basement. He could hear the child’s sobs and let the sound wash over him. In school he’d taunted the other kids and had a cruel streak when it came to those smaller and younger than he was. Harrington’s orders were that Vin Tanner not be physically harmed, but there’d been nothing said about mental abuse. He pushed away from the door and signaled for Linden to follow him out. He opened the trunk and smiled as he noticed the blond was still sleeping and that his breathing was shallow sending billowing wisps of air upwards.

“All right, Gregory, let’s get him inside and let him wake up,” Marshall ordered as the bigger man reached in and pulled the unconscious ATF agent from the trunk.

“Where do you want him?” Linden asked as he settled the body on his shoulders.

“We’ll put him with the kid until he wakes up,” Marshall said, slamming the trunk and moving back into the house.

+ + + + + + +

Vin looked up as the door screeched open and Marshall appeared framed in the doorway. He swiped at the tears and stood with his hands at his sides as he waited to see what the man was going to do. He continued to stare as his captor stepped through the door and started down the steps.

“Would you like some company, Vin?” Marshall asked as Linden’s large form filled the doorway.

“Chris!” Tanner cried as the two men started down the steps.

“Move back, Kid, or else Gregory will hurt your friend,” Marshall warned and smiled as Vin moved back.

“Where do you want him, Rudy?” Linden asked as he reached the bottom of the steps.

“Just drop him anywhere,” the smaller man answered, his gaze never wavered from the boy as he heard a heavy thud behind him. He watched the child hurry forward and signaled for Gregory to follow him up the stairs. He stood watching as Vin knelt beside the sleeping form.

“Chris, wake up, Chris,” the boy said as he tapped Larabee’s cheek. His ‘father’s’ face was cold to the touch and Vin pulled off his coat and used it as best he could to cover the blond. He knew the man named Rudy was watching him, but he didn’t care as his attention was completely on the sleeping man.

“Here, Kid,” Marshall called and tossed down several well-worn blankets before shutting the door once more.

Vin grabbed the blankets and looked around the basement. His gaze lit upon the mattress and he knew what he wanted to do was impossible, but his mother’s words came back to him even as more tears formed in his eyes.

‘You’re a Tanner, Vinnie, and no matter what happens you be proud of who you are!’

“I am, Mama, I am,” the child said as he stood and tried to drag the ATF agent towards the mattress. He cried out as his fingers locked onto Larabee’s hands. He tried again and again to pull the blond towards the mattress, but finally gave up and sat down as tears threatened once more. Vin moved to the side and tried pushing the unmoving man, but it was too much for his small body to accomplish. With silent tears flowing he opened up the two blankets and covered his ‘father’ before settling in beside him.

“I l…love ya, C…Chris,” he whispered as he tucked his head under Larabee’s chin and cried himself to sleep.

+ + + + + + +

Buck looked at the clock and knew something was definitely wrong. JD was asleep on the sofa and he was trying to decide what to do. His calls had continued to go unanswered and Larabee was now three hours overdue. He reached for the phone to try again and was surprised when it rang in his hands. He hit the button and placed it to his ear.

“You’d better have a damn good explanation for being so late, Chris.”

“Buck, it’s Josiah…”

“Ah, hell, sorry, Josiah. I was hoping it was Chris.”

“I could tell. Isn’t he home yet?”

“No, he called from McDonalds and said he was bringing dinner home, but he never showed up. I’m worried Josiah. He has Vin with him and he’s not answering the phone.”

“They may just have stopped off somewhere and maybe the phone is turned off or the battery’s not working.”

“I don’t think so, Josiah. If they’d stopped off Chris would’ve called. I want to go out and check the roads, but I don’t want to take JD out in this storm.”

“You stay put, Buck. I’ll take the highway out towards your place and see if I can find them.”

“Thanks, Josiah, just be careful,” Wilmington said and hung up the phone. He knew Sanchez had a small plough attached to the front of his Cherokee and would have little or no problem getting through. He looked at the boy curled up on the sofa and tucked the blanket around him.

“Is Vin h…home, Buck?”

“Not yet, Li’l bit. You go on back to sleep now and I’ll let you stay up longer when they get here okay?”

“O...okay, where’s Tigger?” the boy asked sleepily. He smiled as Buck handed him the well-worn stuffed toy and held it tightly against his chest.

“Good night, Li’l bit.”

“Night, Buck, I loves you.”

“I love you too, JD,” the gentle man said, ruffling the dark hair before moving towards the window once more.

“Bring them home safe, Lord,” he whispered as the snow continued to fall.

December 20th

Josiah followed the trail already cleared by the snow ploughs and sand trucks, but so far saw nothing the remotely resembled Larabee’s Dodge Ram. There’d been several stalled or parked cars and vans, but he knew instinctively they were abandoned. He’d seen two patrol cars helping people, but again there’d been no sign of Larabee and Tanner. He kept his window slightly rolled down in order to keep them from fogging up. He turned onto the highway leading north and soon left the city of Denver behind as he watched the road and the snow covered ground on both sides. The driving was slow, but half an hour after leaving the city behind he spotted a dark shape on the right hand side of the road and slowed the Cherokee down. Coming to a complete stop he exited the vehicle and moved closer.

Josiah knew the truck belonged to Chris Larabee and he silently prayed that things were not as bad as they looked. The driver’s door was open and snow was piling up on the floor and the seat. Snow had been piled against the back panel by the ploughs that had gone before him.

“Damn!” he cursed as he saw the McDonalds bag on the seat and the cell phone next to it. He pulled his phone from his pocket and hit the 911 buttons and within a few minutes he was told the police had been dispatched, but it could be some time before they reached him. Sanchez thanked her, hung up and dialed Wilmington’s cell number.

“Chris!” the voice sounded hopeful.

“No, Buck, it’s Josiah.”

“Josiah, where are you? Did you find them?”

“I’m about a mile south of the access road. I found Chris’ truck but they weren’t in it.”

“What do you mean they weren’t in it? Chris wouldn’t just abandon the truck without calling me!”

“Hold on, Buck! I didn’t say he abandoned it. I said they weren’t in it.”

“Then where are they?”

“That I don’t know. I called the police…”

“The police! Why? What aren’t you telling me, Josiah?”

“The door was open and Chris’ phone and the McDonalds bag were still on the seat. There’s a lot of snow on the floor and it looks like whatever happened was quick. The truck’s been here a couple of hours at least.”

“Damn it! Where the hell can they be?”

“That’s what we’re going to find out, Buck. Call Orrin and tell him what’s going on and have him ask Ezra and Nathan to meet me here.”

“All right, I’m on it,” Wilmington agreed. “Just make sure you call me if you find out anything!”

“I will, Buck, there’s a patrol car heading this way and I’m going to have them stay with the truck while I drive up there. Chris and Vin could still have left the truck and tried to walk home and if they did then it’s a safe bet that they’re mighty cold right now.”

“I’ll keep watching for them and I’ll call if they show up.”

“All right, Buck, try not to worry.” Sanchez said, but knew they were just token words.

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