"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe
After their filling breakfast of a cold hamburger and an individual apple pie, Vin gave JD both Happy Meal toys and told him to stay hidden. He was going to get a surprise and he would be back soon.
He hated to leave JD behind because it always made JD upset, but Vin figured that one boy drew less attention than two. Besides, he really wanted to surprise JD with a new pair of shoes. He didn't know how much a blanket and shoes would cost. He thought about getting coats too since it was getting colder. So he had decided to take the money sack with him so he was sure to have enough money.
He kept an eye open for the creepy man from the day before, but didn't see him during the ten block walk to the thrift store. Vin entered the store with visions of JD dancing with delight over new shoes, a blanket and a coat. A toy! He could buy a toy!
"May I help you?"
Vin frowned. The lady didn't sound like she really wanted to help him. She looked kind of angry. Vin pulled out some cash, having quickly learned that money talked. She suddenly seemed nicer. Vin didn't like her. In his way of thinking, somebody who worked in a store for poor people should like poor people, not be mad at them.
"I need a blanket and some shoes," said Vin.
"Well, go pick some out and bring them here to pay for them," snapped the lady. She turned her attention to the woman shopper at the counter. "May I help you?"
Vin growled as he walked down the aisle to find shoes. That lady wasn't nice. He sat down in the shoe aisle and started measuring shoes to his feet. JD's feet were smaller than his, but he didn't want to get shoes too small. He settled on a pair of black sneakers. 'Socks!' He moved down the aisle to find some socks for both of them. He stuck the socks inside the shoes and started to thumb through the coats.
He found two coats in fairly good shape that would fit him, so they'd be big enough for JD too. He balanced the two coats and the shoes as he walked towards the blankets. They were folded and stacked on a high shelf. He immediately spotted the one he wanted. He didn't care if it was frayed or even if it had a hole in it. It had cowboys on it and JD would love it. Well, he would too, but JD would really love it. He looked over to the cashier for help. She was reading a magazine and had already told him by her attitude that she wasn't going to help him.
Vin carefully set his treasures on a shelf and climbed up the shelving to reach the blanket. He clung to the post with one hand and stretched out to reach for the blanket. He clamped on to the blanket, knowing he'd have to drop it on the floor to get it down.
"Get down from there!"
Vin almost fell as the woman startled him. He climbed down, pulling the blanket with him.
"You should have asked for help."
Vin bit his lip. He wanted to yell that she wouldn't have helped him anyway, but knew that it wouldn't do any good.
She snatched the blanket, the coats and the shoes and socks. "I'll hold these up front for you."
Vin watched her cautiously, making sure she did set them on the counter for him. Then he moved to the toys. He moved through the entire aisle three times before making his selections. He chose a stuffed toy horse and a ball, toys they both could use.
He took his selections to the counter and watched as the lady rang them up. It wasn't until he had paid for them that he realized how awkward it would be to take them back to their hiding place. She didn't have a bag for them, so he'd have to figure out something. Vin smiled as it came to him. He unfolded the blanket and then put everything else on top of it. Carefully he wrapped the blanket around the items so nothing would fall out of his makeshift bag.
He left the store and made his way towards their hideout. He was about five blocks from safety when someone grabbed his arm, jerking him into the alley. Shoes, socks, a blanket, jackets and toys scattered in all directions.
Vin gasped as he was pulled face to face with the man who had been following him.
"My money!" growled the man angrily. "Where the hell is my money?"
Vin just blinked his eyes; his terror seemed to have frozen the rest of his body.
"I'm going to rip your arms and legs off if you don't cough it up, right now!" He shook Vin harshly when the boy didn't respond. "I'll kill that little runt friend of yours!"
'JD!' Finally a thought other than sheer terror registered in his mind. Vin knew that this man would carry out his threats. He didn't want his arms and legs ripped off and he didn't want JD killed. Vin reached inside his shirt and pulled out the McDonald's bag.
Still holding Vin's shoulder, the man snatched the bag with his free hand. He tucked an edge of the top of the sack under his thumb, which was digging into Vin's shoulder. He pulled open the sack and looked inside.
"Where the hell is the rest of it?" He slapped Vin hard across the side of his face and head, knocking the boy out of his own grasp.
Stunned, Vin fell to the ground. He blinked several times and tried to breathe. Somehow it registered that he was free and Vin skittered away, crawling quickly under a parked car.
"Where's my money?"
Vin screamed as he felt his leg grabbed. He kicked out viciously, but it had little impact on the man other than to make him lose his grip. Vin panicked when his shoe came off in the man's hand revealing the hidden money.
His heart was pounding so hard, and he couldn't seem to breathe. He no longer heard the words. But he knew the man was going to rip his legs off if he caught them. He kicked with all his might and let out another scream when he felt his other leg caught.
The man gripped tightly just above Vin's ankle and dragged Vin out from under the car with one tug. He pulled Vin's remaining shoe off and claimed his money. As soon as he released his grip, Vin scrambled to his feet and ran.
For a moment, the man considered following the boy, but something about the sheer terror he had seen on Vin's face struck a chord deep inside. He knew he had found all the money he could retrieve from the child. The kid had likely spent the rest. The man knew what it was like to be alone and scared on the streets. He shook his head. Big John would take the loss out of his pay, but at least he had retrieved most of the money.
When he reached their second hiding place, Vin hid in the crates and curled up into a ball. He pulled his knees tightly to his chest, silently sobbing out his fear. His face hurt where the man had slapped him. He wanted to go home, to be safe, to not be scared anymore, but he couldn't go home. And he would never lead a bad person back to JD.
Eventually the tears subsided and Vin realized that the bad man already knew where JD was. Maybe not exactly where he was, but he had stood by the window. The man knew the area where they lived and if he tried, it wouldn't be that hard to find JD. He had to go protect JD. Still frightened, Vin peered out of his hiding place, forcing himself to his feet. His cold, bare feet. He began the long walk back.
The route from the second hiding place to their 'home' took Vin past the thrift store and the very block where the man had grabbed him. He absently rubbed his sore cheek as he reached that spot. He was on the opposite side of the street, unable to make himself walk on the same side as the incident. But even from the far side of the street he could see that all his special purchases were gone. The horse. The ball. JD's shoes. Everything.
Feeling suddenly cold, Vin began to run. He had to get as far as possible from the spot. In minutes he reached the alley that housed their primary hiding spot. He looked around, checking for anything or anyone out of the ordinary, but could see nothing. He slipped through the window and down the stack of crates, hurrying to the far side of the basement, to their sleeping place.
"Hey, Vin," said JD.
Vin said nothing. He quickly picked up the two McDonald's toys and grabbed JD by the hand, pulling him toward the exit.
JD went along, knowing that Vin had his reasons.
"What happened to your face Vin?" he asked.
Vin brushed his hand gently on his sore cheek. "We have to find a new place, JD." He tugged on JD's hand and pulled him towards the window. "We have to go now."
JD could feel Vin's fear as the older boy pulled him along the street. He knew something bad had happened because Vin was so upset, and because of the angry red mark on Vin's cheek. Vin's eye was getting puffy and JD could tell that he was trying hard not to cry. And he had come home empty handed when he said he was getting a surprise. JD was sure that finding a new home was not the surprise Vin meant.
"Hey, you! Boy! You there! Stop!"
Vin wanted to run, but the lady was almost across the street. She would catch them easily. He stepped in front of JD, instinctively protecting him.
"We didn't do anything wrong," defended Vin, recognizing the grouchy woman from the store. He was surprised to see her features soften. She didn't seem so mad at him anymore.
"I know that, son," she said softly. "Here." She pressed a large paper bag into Vin's hand. "Not more than twenty minutes after you bought it, someone else sold it back to me." She reached towards Vin's face, intending to look at his injury, but Vin turned away and took a step back. "Where are your parents?" she asked with concern.
"My Mama is..."
"Down the street," Vin lied as he pinched JD's arm.
The dark haired boy looked up at his friend with tears in his eyes. It hurt when Vin pinched him, but it made him remember the rule. 'Never trust adults and never tell them anything.'
"Yeah. My Mama is down the street," agreed JD.
"We gotta go," said Vin. "They'll be looking for us."
The woman didn't believe a word of what they said, but the two boys brushed passed her and ran down an alley before she could do anything.
"Vin! Vin!" called JD. Vin was running too fast and he was having a hard time keeping up. He stepped on a rock hitting the spot where his foot was sore from the splinter, causing him to fall. He bumped his chin on the pavement and skinned the heels of both hands. He looked at his stinging hands and then looked up at Vin. He wanted to cry, but the expression on Vin's face stopped him. Vin had tears streaming down his cheeks, and as tough as Vin was, he looked scared.
JD got up and quietly brushed the little bits of grit and gravel from his hands. He walked over to Vin and took the big paper bag. "Come on, Vin. We have to find a new house before dark time."
Vin nodded and rubbed his face on his sleeve, wiping the tears. JD was right. They had to find a hiding place where no one would ever find them, where the bad man would never come. An involuntary shudder shook Vin from head to toe. He looked around and could see no one watching them.
After walking most of the afternoon and part of the evening, both boys were exhausted. Vin had taken some of the money that was still tucked in the socks JD wore and bought a hamburger for each of them. He wanted to get another Happy Meal, but they cost more than the plain hamburgers and they didn't have much money left. This time they didn't stay and play with the kid toys. Somehow, today it didn't seem like much fun. Besides, this store didn't have as many play things it only had spring rocking horses and a slide. It seemed like it was more for grown-ups.
Vin and JD sat on the sidewalk eating their hamburgers and drinking the water that cost ten cents. Water shouldn't cost ten cents, but the girl said you had to pay for the cup.
Vin was watching the row of warehouses down the street. People came in and out of all of them except one, and that one looked really old. Vin scanned the neighborhood - McDonald's, a greasy looking restaurant, a small public park with restrooms and a drinking fountain, and an old warehouse that no one was using.
"Come on, JD," said Vin. I think I see a place."
JD drank down the rest of the cup of water they were sharing and carefully put the cup in the big paper bag. They could use it lots of times if they were really careful with it.
He followed Vin as they found a way into the warehouse. It was a lot brighter inside than their basement home had been even with just the last rays of the sunset streaming coming through the dirty windows. There was a pile of broken crates in one corner of the building, which Vin moved steadily towards. JD watched his friend sadly. Vin wouldn't want to play tonight. He looked too tired and sore.
"This one looks good," said Vin, crawling into a shipping crate.
JD rapped his knuckles on the wood. "Yep." He crawled in with Vin.
"Are you gonna look in the bag?" asked JD, holding the brown paper sack out to Vin.
"I'm tired, JD," replied Vin as he leaned against the back of the crate which rested on its side.
"Me too, but I want to see," pleaded JD.
Vin closed his eyes. "You look." He didn't want anything to do with that lady from the store or anything that happened afterwards.
"Oooo," JD gasped, "Cowboys!"
Vin's eyes blinked open as JD pulled the cowboy blanket out of the paper sack. It had a soft satin-like border around all sides and was brown with pictures of cowboys and horses on it. JD rubbed the smooth, soft edges against his face, thoroughly delighted with the surprise.
Vin grabbed the bag, hoping against hope that his other treasures were there as well, but to his utter disappointment, all he found was the empty paper cup.
"Is this my surprise, Vin?" asked JD with a big smile.
Vin nodded. "Part of it, anyway," he said sadly. "I lost the rest." He had wanted so badly to get those shoes for JD and now he had lost his own as well. They didn't have enough money left to get more. They barely had enough for food for a few days.
JD looked at Vin and then carefully touched his cheek. "Is that when this happened?"
Vin nodded again.
"Why did someone hit you?"
Vin didn't want to think about it anymore. He didn't want to scare JD, and he didn't want to scare himself more. So he kept it simple.
"He wanted the money we found. He hit me and took it."
"Oh," replied JD, staring at Vin's bare feet, noticing for the first time that his shoes were gone.
"Vin?" JD twisted the edge of the blanket in his grubby little hands.
"Yeah?" Vin found himself fingering another corner of the blanket, rubbing the silky edge through his fingers.
"Is your Mama... dreaming with angels now too?" JD asked with a slight hitch.
Vin looked at JD, seeing the five year old staring at his feet. He didn't know how to explain to JD that losing your shoes didn't always mean that your Mama was gone. But his Mama was dreaming with angels, so he told the truth. "Yeah, JD. She is."
JD popped his thumb into his mouth, a habit he usually only displayed while sleeping.
"Let's get some sleep," said Vin. "Tomorrow will make our new place out of these crates."
JD nodded and snuggled up to Vin as he lay down. Vin pulled the blanket over both of them and laid back. He had barely closed his eyes when Vin was assaulted again with the picture of the man yelling that he was going to rip his arms and legs off. As the unwanted scene played out, Vin flinched when the man slapped him.
Vin fought off the tears and the fear as hard as he could, but in the dark time you couldn't always make things go away.
"It's okay now, Vin," said JD, patting Vin's chest. "We gots a new blanket and a new place to stay. We'll be okay."
JD rustled around under the blanket for a moment, then clunked Vin on the arm in the darkness with his McDonald's toy. "Here's your toy."
"Thanks," mumbled Vin, starting to drift off to sleep despite his efforts to stay awake. His body was winning the battle. It had been a long, hard day. He gripped the toy in one hand and the silky edge to the blanket with the other. The last thing he remembered before falling asleep was JD throwing his arm over him protectively.
JD woke up safe in his bedroom at the ranch house. He rubbed fists in his eyes trying to rub away the sleepiness. Vin was in his bed with him, but JD didn't remember having a bad dream. Vin's leg jerked drawing JD's attention as he yawned. It wasn't even light outside yet, so why did he wake up? JD heard a sniff.
"Vin, are you crying?" he asked. Vin didn't respond to him, except for his legs twitching. JD pushed off his covers and turned on the lamp by his bed. He looked at Vin's wet cheeks. Yep, he was definitely crying. "Vin are you 'wake?"
JD touched Vin's leg. Vin jerked away and banged his leg into the wall by the bed.
"Vin?" JD frowned as he remembered how upset Vin had been before they went to bed. He had been screaming and kicking at Buck. Now he was crying and wouldn't wake up.
JD's thumb popped into his mouth as he padded down the hallway. He stopped at Buck's door but didn't knock on it. If he woke Buck up, it would be so he would feel better, not Vin.
JD turned towards the voice and saw Chris standing in the hallway a few feet away. He was in his t-shirt and pajama pants.
"Are you all right?" Chris asked softly.
JD nodded, but Chris wasn't convinced. The giveaway tell was JD sucking his thumb. He had broken himself of the habit during daylight hours, but when he was feeling insecure he reverted to the comforting behavior.
Chris bent and scooped JD into his arms. "What's up?"
JD pulled his thumb out of his mouth. "Vin's crying," he said softly. "He got scared bad before bedtime, and now he's crying and won't wake up."
Buck's door opened, revealing a sleepy Buck Wilmington. He yawned and stretched. "JD? You all right?"
"Yeah," said Chris. "He said Vin is crying. You wanna take him?" Chris leaned JD towards Buck and the sleepy agent took the five year old, who immediately wrapped around Buck's neck.
"Chris, I should talk to Vin," said Buck.
JD shook his head vigorously. "You scared him."
Buck rubbed JD's back. "I know, Little Bit. But I don't know how or why I scared him. Can you help me out?"
JD shook his head. "Somethin' made him remember."
"Remember what, JD?" prompted Buck.
"The bad man who hit him and took our money." JD looked at Chris and whispered, "He taked Vin's shoes."
Buck and Chris exchanged glances. They understood the significance to JD of losing your shoes. The young boy tied losing his shoes to the fact that his Mama was dreaming of angels.
A scream of fear from the boys' room ended the discussion. Chris hurried down the hall, followed closely by Buck and JD.
"JD!" Vin called frantically, not seeing his friend.
"Vin, I'se here!" answered JD.
No one was prepared for Vin to launch himself off the bed, barreling into Buck. "Let him go! Don't hurt him! Let him go!" Vin kicked and flailed with his fists with the single thought of freeing JD from his captor.
"Vin, stop!" called Chris as he wrapped his arms around Vin and sat down on the floor with the struggling boy.
"Don't hurt him. He didn't do nothin'!" sobbed Vin.
"Vin, it's Buck. It's Buck, Vin," soothed Chris. "He's not going to hurt JD."
"I took it," said Vin, "JD didn't do anything bad."
"Shh, Little Bit," soothed Buck though he felt anything but calm. It broke his heart to have his own fear confirmed. He was the reason Vin was feeling such terror.
"We taked the 'Donald's bag," said JD.
Vin looked at JD, and thus Buck. Chris felt the shudder that shook Vin's entire body.
"It's Buck, Vin," assured Chris. "Buck, why don't you turn on the light so Vin can see you?"
The continued trembling and the rapid breathing of the boy in his arms disturbed Chris. His mind clicked back to the argument with the doctors prior to Vin's placement with him. They had warned Chris that he was not prepared for Vin's trauma, and he knew they were right. He had gone to all the classes they recommended. He had been in Vin and JD's therapy sessions. He still felt as if he knew nothing, but Chris Larabee never backed away from a challenge. He just hoped he was good enough to help Vin through this until he could see the therapist.
"See, Vin? It's just Buck," said Chris. "Buck won't hurt JD."
Vin watched Buck. The tall man came back and sat down on the floor with JD, a few feet away from Vin.
They were all silent for a few moments, no one knowing what to do next. Vin dropped his head back against Chris' chest. Chris leaned forward and whispered, "Did Buck scare you?"
Vin nodded and squirmed his hands and arms up through Chris' grasp so that he could wrap them over Chris' arms, keeping Chris' tight grasp even closer.
"What scared you?" asked Chris in the same low tone.
"He grabbed me," confided Vin.
"When he pulled you out from under the table?"
Vin nodded. "It 'minded me of him." Vin tipped his head back and to the side looking for Chris' face. "He grabbed my leg and pulled me out from under the car." Vin gripped Chris' arms tighter.
Chris and Buck now understood the significance of the trigger. When Buck had grabbed Vin's leg and pulled him out from under the table, it had thrown wide open the memory that Vin had blocked. But that didn't explain the reaction to Buck holding JD. Maybe it was because Vin was only half awake and still caught in his nightmare, but Chris didn't think so.
Chris looked down at his arm where Vin was absently rubbing with his thumb. Vin didn't even seem to be aware that he was stroking Chris' arm. Chris was sure it was an act that brought comfort to Vin, a simple motion that released his tension.
"He took our money!" said JD.
"We found money in a garbage can," explained Vin. "He said it was his." Vin sighed, but the tension he felt still kept his body rigid. Vin tipped his head to look at Chris again and whispered, "He said he'd kill JD and he'd rip my arms and legs off."
Chris pulled one arm free of Vin's grip and gently folded Vin's cheek against his chest, kissing the boy on the top of his head. More than ever he wanted vengeance on the low life that would terrorize a child, but he held his feelings close. Vin needed his calm attention.
"He won't hurt you now."
"He had black hair and a mustache," said Vin.
Buck cursed and Vin tensed. JD looked at Buck's face and wiped Buck's tears with his pajama sleeve.
"Don't cry Buck," said JD.
Vin pulled away from Chris' chest and looked at Buck.
"Junior..." said Buck, "I'll do anything... anything." He touched his mustache. "I'll shave it off, Vin." Buck swallowed, "I don't want you to be afraid anymore. I love you Vin Tanner, and I can't stand that I'm hurting you."
Vin was very quiet, obviously taking in what Buck said, and trying to sort everything out in his mind.
"You would do that...for me?" he asked incredulously.
"In a hot second," said Buck. He didn't want to part with his mustache, but it was only hair. It didn't come close to the worth of a child.
"It's your call, Vin," said Chris. One of the things the classes had taught him was to give a traumatized child not only protection and comfort, but to give him choices and some sense of control.
Vin looked up at Chris. "I don't want to be scared."
Chris nodded his understanding. "Then you want Buck to shave? Will that help?"
"Okay, Junior," said Buck. He stood JD up beside him and struggled to his feet. "It goes, right now." Buck walked out of the room towards the bathroom.
Vin pushed against Chris' arm and Chris let him go. Vin ran down the hall after Buck. Chris picked up the confused JD and followed.
When Vin reached the bathroom, Buck already had his shaving kit out and was preparing the razor blade.
"No, Buck! No!" cried Vin, grabbing Buck's arm.
Buck was startled and quickly set the blade aside to prevent harm.
"I love you, Buck," said Vin throwing his arms around Buck. "I know you won't ever hurt us, but my dreams don't know that yet."
Buck blinked back the tears.
"I love you," repeated Vin.
"Can I pick you up?" asked Buck softly.
Vin nodded and opened his arms to Buck, who happily scooped Vin into a hug. "I love you, too, Vin. And we'll just keep working on it until your dreams know that we love you too." He squeezed Vin. "Until your dreams know."
"Are you 'kay, Vin?" asked JD, from Chris' arms.
Vin thought about the fact that he didn't have to face his fears alone anymore. He didn't have to find a place to live or food to eat. He had Chris and Buck to help him now. They would help him watch out for JD. He was loved and safe. What more could he want?
Vin leaned his head on Buck's shoulder. "I am now."
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