Contents Fragile

Author's: Mary Ann, Kathy M and Judy S

Characters: Vin, the Seven
Universe: New AU - In The Year created by Mary Ann

This was a 3-part Round Robin written for the VFB group, using the word 'letters.' I opened my new AU and invited Kathy and Judy to write a part with me, and this is what we came up with. Thank You to Kathy and Judy!

Note: Vin and Chris have a bond, a connection, and can communicate without words. Dialogue that way is shown as ** (words) **

Part 1 by Kathy

The arrival of the bi-weekly bus that carried both mail and passengers to the town of 4C was sort of a town event and many people came out to meet it, including the seven peacekeepers. Ezra, proprietor of the best hotel, to greet potential customers. He usually received some mail, catalogues, or the occasional letter from Maude. Buck, to see if there were any new women in town. Nathan received the latest medical journals. Josiah and Chris both received books ordered from the city library. JD usually received technical newsletters. Vin accompanied them even though he never received mail.

Hearing the bus the seven strolled from the saloon joining the gathered crowd. The bus driver told everyone about a fire in the area's central post office several weeks ago. Although quickly contained it caused delays and some mail had suffered damage.

"It would seem 'Neither snow nor rain nor burning buildings will stay these couriers from their appointed rounds...'" misquoted Standish quietly, as the crowd moaned their disappointment and lined up politely as the Potters quickly sorted the mail.

"Here you go, Mr. Larabee," said Mrs. Potter handing over a couple books. "Here's your newsletters, JD. Guess they were near the fire, they look a little worse for wear."

"Thank you," answered JD politely, scowling after he turned. "Damn, I was looking forward to these, looks like they're only half readable," he muttered sadly, walking away with Chris and Vin.

"Yours looks damaged, Vin," Mrs. Potter called after them.

"What?" questioned Vin, turning around to see her holding a plastic baggie with the remains of a charred letter. Stuttering a shy 'thank you' Vin took it, walking away holding it like fragile glass, not stopping until he was away from the crowd.

Vin, Chris and JD looked at the envelope. Even through the smudged soot they could read Vin Tanner.

**I don't understand. I never get mail!** Vin communicated silently to Chris.

Looking at the confusion on Vin's face, and feeling left out of yet another silent conversation JD muttered something and headed across the street where Buck was.

Vin continued to stare at the letter.

"Won't know who sent it, or what it says if you don't open it," encouraged Larabee smiling.

"Aw hell, Cowboy, can't figure this out," Vin growled, scowling at the page, peering at all the soot, smudges and burnt parts.

"Maybe we can work it out together," offered Chris, knowing the younger man never had any formal education, and was embarrassed about his limited reading skills.

Larabee frowned, trying to decipher what was left of the scrawled handwriting, reading aloud ".....found to let you know out for......Phillips."
"Oh, no," Vin said, looking slightly pale. Chris guided him to a chair in the saloon where everyone else was. Taking one look they knew something was wrong. He told them about the neighbors named Phillips who were supposed to take him in after his mother died when he was five, and how he'd been scared of the man so he'd run away. He thought the man was probably still looking for him because he'd caught Vin when he was fourteen but Vin had managed to escape.

**Stupid, I should never have settled in one place.** thought Vin.

**No one's going to get you, this is your home now, we're not going to let anything happen.** vowed Chris. Vin could feel his strong determination through their bond.

Immediately promises were made that Vin would never be alone, one of the others would always be there to watch his back. Chris suggested that he and Vin head back to their ranch right away. The others all promised to come out the next day for a barbeque. The team wanted, needed, to be together.

When the other five reached the ranch the next afternoon they found Chris and Vin working on the corral fence. The weather was warm enough that even though the two men had stripped their shirts off they still dripped sweat. As soon as they had their horses un-tacked and let loose in the corral JD suggested a swim to cool off. Quickly agreeing Vin raced him to the pond. Soon they were laughing and splashing as Buck joined them in some sort of game. The others followed at a more sedate pace, all of them vowing to keep a close eye on Vin while they waited for whatever the letter was warning him about.


Part 2 by Mary Ann

JD ran out of the Police station and glanced around. Spotting Buck across the road, he yelled for him to come fast, then ran back inside.

Buck flew through the door looking to JD who was listening to another report coming over the radio behind the desk. Buck stopped and listened too.


"We've got to warn the people. Could this be that Phillips guy?"

"Don't know JD, but we need to let Chris and Vin know. Radio them while I go tell the others," Buck told JD as he headed out the door. JD turned the radio on and tried to raise the ranch.

Miles away, Chris heard the noise of a call coming in. He hurried into the house and grabbed the radio. Several minutes later he went outside and back to the corral where Vin was busy working with a young horse. There he quietly waited while Vin put the horned horse through its paces.

**What's up?**

**Robbers headed this way. We need to get to town.**

**Saddle Peso for me would you? I'll be done in a couple minutes.**

By the time Chris had their horses saddled, Vin had turned the horse out in a pasture and ran up to the house. Chris dropped their horses' reins at the porch and hurried into the house too. Minutes later, with blasters and guns strapped to them, both men mounted their horses and moments later were racing up the trail out of the valley.

After stabling their horses, Chris and Vin went straight to the station. They noted that many of the stores and houses had been closed up; the town had been warned and was prepared. Entering the police station they nodded to the others and JD filled them in on the details. Though there wasn't much to go on, they had a feeling it was Phillips and his men.

Chris shot a look at Vin, **Don't even think it!** Knowing instantly when Vin had started thinking of riding out and meeting the man.

Swallowing, Vin nodded at Chris and eased his stance by the door. He was afraid it was Phillips and he knew the man would kill anyone who got in his way when he came for him. Vin didn't want anyone hurt on his account.

"Vin … Vin …" Vin startled and looked up, he hadn't heard a thing that had been said in the last ten minutes. He felt a blush redden his cheeks and quickly said, "I'll be on the saloon roof. I can see the whole town from there," then hurried out the door and down the street to the saloon. Within minutes he was on the third story roof and studying the countryside. A half hour later, a smudge on the horizon came into view. Keying his radio, Vin let the others know someone, or something, was coming from the east, and received reassurance that they were ready.

It was dusk when the first riders appeared at the end of town. Vin had already let the others know the riders had split up, seven coming in from the east and the rest from the west.

Suddenly the riders charged in, blasters firing at the shuttered buildings as six men made for the bank. The seven peacekeepers opened fire when all the men were close to the bank. Deadly blaster and gunfire rang out as the seven men carefully picked their shots.

Chaos reigned for several minutes as the bandits tried to first get into the bank, then leave when it proved impossible. The man on the brown horse called out, his men gathered together, and firing steadily raced out of town. From Vin's vantage point, he took out several riders as they came towards him. As blaster bolts whizzed past him from below he ducked as the survivors raced by. A last shot took another man down who was almost run over by the following horned horses.

Vin rose and looked after the men. He hadn't recognized the brown horse's rider; it was no one he knew. He breathed a sigh of relief then smiled.

**Not him huh? Good, you can relax now. You alright?**

**Yes, Mom, I'm fine.**


Part 3 by Judy

Vin scowled, pushing past Buck's cautioning hand. He left the saloon and stalked across to the livery. He was fed up. He didn't need a babysitter.

Chris watched Vin enter the livery, his eyes narrowing with concern. He followed, sending a thought so as not to startle him. **What's wrong?**

Vin's hand paused, resting the brush against Peso's flank. The horned horse shook his head, growling at the interruption. "I don't understand, Chris. It's been weeks since that letter. Phillips should have shown by now."

Chris leaned against the stall door. "Maybe it was a mistake." Vin shook his head. "Maybe he's playing head games with you."

Vin snorted. "Jake ain't that tricky."

Chris grinned briefly. "He really that bad?"

The tracker shrugged, turning back to attack the black's stiff coat with the brush. "Bad 'nough."

"Vin!" JD shouted, causing both men to reach for their guns. "Vin!" JD repeated, sliding to a halt inside the door. "There you are. You gotta come to the Potter's," he exclaimed.

"What's wrong, JD?" Vin asked, leaving Peso's stall.

"Come on," JD repeated, already heading out the door.

Vin shared a frown with Chris as they followed.

"Vin," Mrs. Potter said. "You've got a package."

"A package?" Vin repeated, shocked. "From who?"

The shopkeeper shrugged. "It only has a return address," she said, handing the hat sized box to Vin.

Chris read the address over Vin's shoulder. "St. Louis." **Sound familiar?**

Vin shook his head as he looked at the package.

"Open it," JD urged. Ezra was the only one of them who got regular packages. JD was so excited, he didn't notice Vin's apprehension.

Vin thanked Mrs. Potter absently, then led his small entourage to the jail. Along the way, the others joined them, sensing their friend's anxiety.

Inside the jail, Vin opened the package. Another envelope rested on top. He opened it slowly, staring at the letter for a long moment before handing it to Chris. **Could you? I can't…**

Chris nodded and took the letter. He squinted at the small, tight cursive writing. **Same person wrote this one,** he assured silently, then started to read.

"Dear Vin,
I hope this package finds you doing well. I'm sorry it took so long. I had to save up some money first. Jake spent so much time hunting you, I finally moved home and divorced him. I was cleaning our attic recently and found some boxes belonging to your momma.

You shoulda had them years ago, but Jake was always… Well, I recall hiding them so he wouldn't sell or destroy them like he did your other belongings. I forgot I had them. I hope you got my first letter. I wanted to warn you that I'd be sending this so it wouldn't surprise you. The small box inside was supposed to go to you that first Christmas after your momma died. It belonged to your grandfather.

I hope you are happy.
Your friend,
Cora Phillips"

Vin removed the packing material in the box as Chris read. He found another, larger envelope containing several photos. Most were of him, from birth to about five years old, but two were of him and his mom. Vin blinked at the sudden moisture in his eyes then set the pictures gently on the table and reached into the box again.

He pulled out a small, oblong box. Vin slid the faded red ribbon off the box and lifted the lid. A worn, metal harmonica glinted in the cotton padding. He ran a calloused finger along the top of it, then set it beside the photos and reached into the box again.

Gently unwrapping the stained cloth, Vin revealed an exquisite crystal rose that fit in the palm of his hand. "I remember this," he whispered hoarsely, memories of his mother overwhelming him.

Chris shot a look at the others who nodded and started to leave. Chris turned back to Vin. **You going to be all right?**

Vin nodded, not trusting his voice.

**Okay. I'll leave you alone. Join us at the saloon when you're ready.**

**Thanks, Chris,** Vin thought, his blue eyes shimmering with emotion.

Chris smiled slightly and left the jail. He stood on the porch for a long moment pondering the quirks of fate. Vin had found a few more pieces to his past. Chris just hoped another part of Vin's past didn't find him. Phillips was still out there and next time, they might not get a warning letter.

The end