Disclaimer: I didn’t create Magnificent Seven, its characters, or even the incarnations in this story. I only mean to entertain.
Chracters: Chris, Vin, JD, Buck (and a little bit of Nathan)
Warnings: If I did it right, there be angst ahead.
Notes: Written in celebration of the third anniversary of the LB-AU listgroup.
Summary: Li’l Vin is badly injured and Chris finds himself dealing with not only the fear of losing his child, but his guilt over the accident.
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“Yeah, Little Bit?”
“When’s Vin gonna wake up?”
A sigh and then, “I just don’t know, son. I just don’t know.”
“Is he gonna go up to heaven?”
A strangled sound from behind them caught Buck Wilmington’s attention and he turned to find his long-time friend standing in the open doorway. The haggard features spoke eloquently of Chris Larabee’s exhaustion, the red-rimmed eyes spoke of his pain and fear. His eyes not leaving his friend’s face, he said with a determined tone, “No, he’s not anywhere, Little Britches. He’s gonna wake up and be fine.” His only response was another, heartbroken sound before Larabee turned and walked away with head hanging low.
Turning back to his adopted son, the peacekeeper ran his hand through the thick, black hair. “It’s time to go to bed, Son. Why don’t you come sleep in my bed?”
“I wanna stay with Vin,” wee Dunne complained. “I’m not sleepy.”
His voice growing more firm, Wilmington said, “The rooster’s gonna crow soon; you need to get a little sleep.”
“Come with me?” JD asked, hopefully.
Knowing that Chris would be back in to sit by the older boy’s bedside, the tall brunet relented. “All right, I’ll come with you.” He stood and took a tiny hand in his, and led the sleepy child from the room. As he suspected, the blond was standing just outside the room, waiting to return to the child of his heart’s bedside.
Vin Tanner had been unconscious for nearly two days after an accident that Chris Larabee was blaming himself for. The child had been helping with the horses after a long day of work on the little ranch. Chris hadn’t realized his adopted son was right behind him, the quiet child coming to tell him that he had finished with his current task. He was busy combing a tangle of burrs from one of the horse’s tail, when the animal began to fight the ministrations. Without warning, it lashed out, one shod hoof catching the diminutive child in the side of the head. The one saving grace had been that it was only a glancing blow. With only a whimper, the little one fell to the ground.
Chris had carried the injured child into the house, screaming for Buck the entire way. While he did whatever he could to care for Vin, Wilmington rode hard for town, and Nathan Jackson. It was nearly midnight when the two riders returned, the healer hurrying inside to tend his new patient.
It was just past dawn when Nathan proclaimed that he had done everything he could for the boy. He had cleaned the wounds left by the horse and managed to feed Vin some medicinal tea. Reluctantly he left several days supply of the tea and prepared to leave, his services needed next at the McCleary farm.
They were all startled to hear a single shot in the barn, followed by the startled whinnies of the horses housed there. A few minutes later Chris re-entered the little house, placing his shotgun back in its place without a word. Walking past the other men, he went to Vin’s bedside. He had scarcely left it since.
Buck woke with a groan, feeling a pair of knees digging into the small of his back. He moved slowly, trying not to wake the child behind him, but a murmur told him he wasn’t being successful.
“Mornin’, Son-shine.” He smiled at the giggle that comment earned him. “You hungry?”
“Yep. Can we have griddle cakes?”
A stab of pain caused him to catch his breath. Griddle cakes were Vin’s favorite. “Sounds good. Wanna help me?”
“Can I go see if Vin’s awake first?”
“If Chris is in there be real quiet, okay?”
“Kay.” The child nodded, dark bangs dancing. He climbed over his adopted father, heedless of where knees and elbows landed. The grunts he received only caused him to giggle. Dropping to the floor, dressed only in long johns and woolen socks, he trotted from the room.
Behind him, Buck rolled to his back, rubbing a hand over his sleepy face. Staring at the ceiling, he mumbled a prayer. “Lord, let that boy wake up soon.”
Chris sat, hunched over on a straight back chair, head down and long fingers rubbing his temples. He was exhausted, but sleep had eluded him since the accident. The couple of times he had lain down and closed his eyes, all he could see was Vin’s pale and bloodied face. If he fought the urge to get back up, that picture meshed with that of his dead son, Adam.
It was much easier to stay awake.
He turned, finding a half-dressed JD in the doorway. “Hey, Little Britches,” he responded in a scratchy voice.
“Did Vin waked up yet?”
The hope in the little boy’s voice threatened to break his heart. Swallowing hard, the gunman said softly, “Not yet.” Reaching out, he motioned the child forward.
Quickly trotting across the little room he shared with his friend and surrogate brother, JD climbed into Larabee’s arms. The gunman held him in his lap, snuggling against the little body still warm from bed. Without conscious thought he sighed, laying a stubbled cheek against the child’s head.
Dunne didn’t move; something unusual for him. On some level he understood only too well that the big man needed this little comfort. They simply sat like that, watching the slow rise and fall of Vin’s tiny chest in silence. Neither of them responded when, a short time later, Buck came to the door.
Getting no response, Buck finally cleared his throat and then cleared it with more force. Finally he said, “You two hungry? I’ve got griddle cakes and ham on the table.”
In response to the little boy’s call, Larabee lifted his head and released his hold on the child. JD slid down off his lap, turned, and held out his hand, a questioning look on his little face. “I’m not hungry, Little Britches, maybe later.”
“It’s warm now, and you need to eat,” the child said wisely, “then me and you’ll come back here and wait for Vin to wake up.”
Managing a weak smile, he bowed to the child’s logic. Taking the tyke’s hand, he groaned as he rose then followed the others from the room, his entire body protesting its need for rest.
Breakfast was a quiet affair, the three members of the makeshift family too worried about the forth to come up with anything to talk about. And, talking about Vin was just too frightening and painful.
As soon as breakfast was over, Buck coaxed JD to go get washed up and dressed. Chris dallied only long enough to take a few draws off a cheroot before stubbing it out and heading back to the boys’ bedroom. His shoulders drooped when he saw that the little blond was still unconscious. He slumped back onto the chair, and resumed his vigil.
He wasn’t certain how long he’d been there when a small sound pulled him from his thoughts. Turning, he found JD standing in the doorway once more. The child was holding a tin can filled with wild flowers. Managing a smile, he said, “You pick those yourself, Little Britches?”
The tyke nodded and then tiptoed across the room to set the makeshift vase on the little table beside the bed. Then, turning toward the bed, he sighed as he leaned against the mattress. “I miss you, Vin.”
Larabee’s breath caught at the mournful tone in the child’s voice. He started to say something, but stopped himself when JD continued.
“I wish you’d hurry and wake up. Maple’s gonna have her babies soon and you promised me and you would watch her if she didn’t have ‘em too late at night. I was just talkin’ to Papa and he said that maybe we could even watch ‘em then, if you’ll wake up. And, ‘member? Me and you and Papa and Uncle Chris is gonna go to Eagle Bend and we’re gonna get to buy a whole suit of clothes, each. Brand new! Papa says it’s ‘cause we’ve been their sons for a whole year, and we’re gonna cel’brate. So you need to wake up soon, so we can go. And… and… well, I just want you to wake up.”
The child’s sniffles alerted Chris that JD was becoming upset. He reached out and ruffled the thick, dark locks. “It’s gonna be fine, Little Britches – “
With a gasp, the hardened gunman turned at the faint, almost inaudible sound, to find a pair of glassy, blue eyes staring up at him. “Hey, Cowboy!”
“VIN!” JD squealed, then more quietly when he saw the pained expression on the other boy’s face, “You waked up!”
“Huh?” Pain was nearly pushed aside by confusion. Blue eyes moved from one blurred face to the other. “Pa?”
Wrapping one arm around the little brunet, who was trembling with excitement, and pulling him close, Chris reached out to touch his son with his free hand. “It’s okay, Cowboy. You… you got hurt. Out… in the barn. One of the horses… I’m sorry, son. I should have had better control…” He stopped when he realized Vin was sleeping once more.
JD looked up at the sorrow filled blond with a frown. “Uncle Chris? Papa said it was a ax-dent. And Mr. Josiah says that we don’t have control of ax-dents.”
“JD? How about you come help me in the barn?” Buck said softly from the doorway.
“Okay. Papa, did you know that Vin waked up?”
“No kidding? Come tell me all about it.”
Chris released the wriggling child, scarcely aware when he left. His mind was spinning, trying hard to make peace with the little boy’s words. But, in the end, all he could think was how close he had come to losing a second son.
Vin woke on and off through the day, seeming confused sometimes, but clear and lucid others. His vision continued to be blurred, and even trying to raise his head off the pillow caused the child to gasp in pain and choke with nausea. He managed sips of the tea Nathan had left as long as Chris was holding him. The rough gunman was only too glad to hold the fragile little boy, tenderly stroking the long hair and whispering words of encouragement for each swallow taken and kept down. He bathed the ashen face and stroked the trembling shoulders each time the tea didn’t stay down, speaking words of support. And love.
As soon as dinner was done and the sun was nearing the horizon, he lay down beside Vin, strong arms wrapping his son in a warm, comforting embrace. Both were asleep before darkness fell. Buck stopped at the doorway, shaking his head and smiling at the peaceful sight. Taking JD into his room, they settled in for the night as well.
Fred, the rooster, had just crowed for the first time when Buck climbed out of bed. Chased off the mattress by sharp knees and elbows, he stumbled out of the room, yawning and scratching. He stopped at the open door, peeking in to check on the two blonds. It didn’t look as if Chris had moved a muscle the entire night; he was still curled around the little boy protectively. Then he smiled when he realized that a pair of blue eyes were open and looking in his direction. Vin smiled, waggling the fingers of one tiny hand at his surrogate uncle. With a chuckle Buck waved back before moving on to the kitchen.
It was another two days before Vin felt well enough to do more than sit, propped up on a stack of pillows. He was still plagued by dizziness and blurred vision, but both seemed to be getting better. Nathan had come out to check on him, declaring that the wounds looked good; there was no sign of infection and he felt more confident that the boy would make a complete recovery. He cautioned against him getting up on his own until the dizziness was gone and his vision cleared, but that didn’t seem to be an issue. As soon as he felt well enough, Chris was only too happy to carry his son everywhere, and to continue caring for him. For his part, Vin seemed to welcome the attention, something surprising to the men who’d become his family.
“Hm?” They were sitting on the porch, Vin curled up quietly in Chris’ lap while his father peeled potatoes for dinner.
“Which horse was it?”
There was no need for clarification; Larabee knew which animal the child was asking about. “The colt… the one we bought last month.”
Chris nearly smiled at the name, when he remembered the night the boys had discussed what they should call the new addition to the little ranch. Buck had unintentionally mentioned that the horse’s main reminded him of a girl named Abigail. The name had stuck, much to the mustached man’s chagrin. “Yeah, Abigail.”
“Can I… can I go see her?”
Larabee winced. “Why do you want to see her?”
With a shrug, the child said, “I just do.”
Heaving a sigh, he dropped the knife into the bowl with the potatoes.
Father and son stood in the barn, just outside one of the stalls. Chris shifted Vin in his arms, so the child could face the stall. He couldn’t help but notice that the hole he’d put in the ceiling above the animal’s stall had been patched up. He would have to thank his old friend for that.
Vin squinted his eyes, working to focus on the animal. “Hi, Abigail.”
As if in response the horse whinnied and shook her head, golden mane glittering in the sun that came through the open door.
With a giggle, the little boy said, “I wanted to come tell you I forgive you.” He reached out, gently stroking a hand down the animal’s head. “I know you didn’t mean to hurt me.”
Chris swallowed hard, his eyes once more going to the repaired bullet hole. He hadn’t understood what had made him pull the shot; perhaps this was why. If his son could forgive the animal that had nearly killed him, the least he could do was to do the same.
Turning in the comforting embrace, Vin said, “Mr. ‘Siah says that we should always forgive folks when they hurt us. I reckon that goes for horses, too. Do you think so, Pa?”
Blinking back tears and feeling greatly humbled before those too wise, blue eyes, Chris Larabee could say nothing more than, “I reckon so, Son.”