Standard disclaimer: the characters actually belong to a large organisation. The AU universe of the Magnificent Seven team in the 21st century, was I believe, created by Mog, and the Little Britches ATF by Barbretta H..
Rating: P- oh darn… we’re not supposed to use these now are we… Okay, I’ll tell you that there’s a little bit of nastiness, angst. The main protagonists are Vin, Chris and Buck.
Acknowledgments: Marnie was kind enough to beta the fic. Her advice and edits were invaluable, and in light of Marnie’s comments I have made some changes. Any errors belong solely to me, they’re mine, all mine.
Vin looked at the gun. He knew that he shouldn’t but it was just sitting there, lying on Uncle Josiah’s kitchen table. He folded his arms and rested them on the table top. He propped his chin on his arms and contemplated the gun lying a mere inch from his nose. Then, cautiously, he extended a finger and touched the barrel, it was cold and smooth.
“Whatcha doin’, Vin?”
Vin spun around. “Stay back, JD,” he snapped.
“What ya hiding, Vin?” JD rocked from foot to foot, trying to see around him.
“Nuthin’. You wanna do me a favour, JD?”
“Please, JD. Please,” Vin entreated.
Wide eyed, reading the seriousness of his protector, JD nodded furiously, black hair bobbing.
“Will you ask Unc’ Josiah to come here?”
JD stuffed his hands deep in his shorts pockets and toddled off as requested. The sounds of the football party in the front room increased as JD pushed open the door. Vin breathed a sigh of relief, before turning back to the shiny gun. The handle was black with a ridged surface. Vin laid his hand over the grip, his hand was too small to span the breadth, he couldn’t get a grip.
Vin spun back around, standing ramrod straight between Buck and the gun.
“Where’s Unc’ Josiah?”
“He’s watching the game. It’s his team playing.”
“Can you ask Unc’ Josiah to come here?”
“Why?” Buck jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “He’s just through there.”
“Vin--” Buck dropped down to one knee, “--what’s the matter?”
“Nuthin’? Really, come on, Scrappy, tell Buck.”
“I really, really, really got to talk to Unc’ Josiah.”
“Okay. Okay. One Uncle Josiah coming up. ” Buck ruffled his hair as he stood up. The big man froze. “Josiah, get your Freakin’ Ass in here, now!”
Buck picked up the gun, ejected the clip, checked the chamber, and in one smooth movement clicked a link of his handcuffs through the magnum’s firing mechanism.
“Josiah!” Buck bellowed, louder than Vin had ever heard him.
Vin dropped and rolled under the table. He remained curled up in a tight ball as three pairs of large feet tromped into view.
“Buck? What’s the matter?” Chris asked.
“Jesus!” Josiah blasphemed.
“What were you thinking of? There’s two little kids in here.” There was a loud smack and Uncle Josiah crashed down like a felled tree trunk.
Sitting on the floor, Josiah rubbed his chin. “I deserved that.”
Another set of feet entered the room. “What’s happening?” Nathan demanded.
JD cocked his head around Ezra’s legs, spotted Vin and arrowed under the table as if fired from a cannon. Vin caught him.
Vin curled over JD as the battle raged overhead. JD gripped his arm until Vin was sure it bruised. Chris yelled something as Buck roared.
“Will everyone calm down?” Ezra’s voice joined in.
“Shut up!” Something slammed heavily down on the kitchen table. The yelling stopped dead and then Ezra continued smoothly, “Where are the boys?”
Still on the floor, Josiah smiled sadly at them. Blood ran down his broad chin. “They’re under the table.” He spat out a broken tooth.
Chris knelt. “Hey, guys, what’re you doing down there?”
JD lifted his head, but stayed within the circle of Vin’s arms. “Buck’s mad.”
Vin shivered from head to tail.
Chris slowly opened his arms. “You guys want to come out from under there?”
Vin shook his head. He knew that he was in trouble and he didn’t want to get hit. JD stayed tight.
Buck ducked down. “Come on, guys. Come on, Little Bit.”
Vin glanced left right, there wasn’t anywhere better to hide. Choosing the table had been a mistake, he should have run for the door. The chairs tucked around the table effectively prevented them crawling for the door.
“Come on,” Chris cajoled, “nothing’s going to happen.”
Vin locked eyes with his protector.
“Trust me,” Chris said simply.
Vin slowly relaxed his grip on JD.
“Come on, Cowboy,” Chris whispered.
Still holding JD, Vin shuffled towards Chris. As he moved, Chris reached out and gathered them both up. Vin kept a tight hold on JD and Chris held them both against his chest. Balancing their weight, Chris easily stood.
“You guys clear up in here,” Chris ordered gravely. “I’ll be in the front room with JD and Vin.”
Vin peered over Chris’ black clad shoulder, Josiah sat on the floor with head in his hands, Buck stood over him shoulders heaving. Uncle Nathan was trying futilely to get a look at Josiah’s face and Ezra was watching.
Vin perched on Chris’ knee, his thoughts a swirl. Buck had been very annoyed. He had touched the gun when he knew that he wasn’t supposed to. When he and JD had come to live with Chris and Buck they had had a sit down discussion where Chris had ‘laid down the law’: guns were dangerous and were not to be touched under any circumstances. Now Buck had hit Josiah because of the gun. Buck had promised never to hit. Vin gnawed on his thumb, pulling at the skin at the side of his nail. What if Buck lost his temper again? What about JD?
The television blared in the background. It was a distraction that Chris didn’t need, but to get up and find the remote would disturb Vin and JD. Chris regarded his foster son trying to read the small boy’s mind. JD sat as quiet as mouse on Vin’s lap, clutching Vin’s thin arm around his tummy, waiting for Vin to tell him what to do.
“Boys? Vin?” Chris began.
JD sucked his thumb.
“Do you want to talk about it?” The man winced at the triteness of the question. “I know that it was scary. Uncle Josiah shouldn’t have left his gun out. That was very… careless of him.”
“Ith Buc’ gonna hit ‘Thiah again,” JD lisped around thumb.
“No, that was because he was angry, but most importantly, scared.” Chris had managed to keep his own anger from erupting. When he had realised what had almost happened, Buck had literally beaten him to the punch. To see his even-tempered, happy friend so angry had been sobering. Buck didn’t react that way, the man was cheerfulness personified. Even during the worst of cases he maintained a positive outlook.
Chris knew that Buck would have scared himself today.
Ezra put the kettle on. He knew that he was acting completely out of character, but somehow, making a cup of coffee for everyone seemed like a really good idea. He cracked the seal on an obviously ancient jar of instant coffee and ladled out liberal spoonfuls of coffee into ceramic mugs. Sugar, he remembered, was good for shock -- Nathan’s lectures had been absorbed. The kettle popped off, startling him. Slowly, he poured out the water.
When there was nothing else he could do, the mugs’ contents had been stirred and stirred, he finally turned to the silent tableau. Josiah was sitting at the table, eyes fixed on the gun on the table. Nathan was rooting in the fridge for ice. Buck simply stood in the centre of the room, present but really miles away.
Ezra set two mugs before Josiah. “Drink that. Nathan, here’s yours.”
Mentally girding himself, Ezra slid up next to Buck, he considered several approaches and finally went with, “Buck, drink this – it will help.”
Buck swallowed hard and continued staring at the wall. Delicately, Ezra proffered the mug but it was ignored, or its presence not even registered. Ezra silently began counting, wondering on the various actions that he could take if he reached three hundred seconds without movement. By a count of sixty he grew bored and decided on, and ordered firmly, “Buck, sit, drink.”
As an automaton Buck sat at the kitchen table and drank. Josiah sat opposite holding a bag of frozen peas against his jaw.
“Buck,” Josiah finally spoke. “I… was irresponsible. I’ll understand if you never let me near the kids ever again.”
“What were you thinking, ‘Siah?” Buck hissed his name. “Vin was guarding the damn thing. What if he had picked it up? What if he had hurt himself or JD?”
“I’m sorry.” Josiah dropped his head to the table.
Ezra coughed loudly. “Might I point out that if Vin was guarding the weapon he has in fact absorbed your careful instructions on the subject of weapons safety and conducted himself in an adult fashion. And he was in no, actual, danger.”
“It doesn’t excuse leaving it lying around. JD might not have been so ‘adult’.”
“I think that Josiah has learned a valuable lesson.” Ezra took a gulp of his own coffee and gagged.
Abruptly, Buck pushed back from the table. “’Siah, I…” he struggled to speak.
“Buck, it’s okay,” Josiah said softly, “I won’t --.”
“No, don’t say anything. I…” Buck threw his head back as he fought for words. “You…” He shook his head, and with a dark glare, Buck stormed out.
“Phew, well, I see the old adage about those that normally don’t lose their tempers blowing up most spectacularly is correct.”
“Ezra,” Nathan chastised.
Ezra ignored his bête noire. “So, Josiah, how are you feeling?”
Josiah glared balefully.
“Hmmm, that bad I see,” Ezra said lightly. “I would say that: you need to buy a safe, you need to apologise to Chris, Vin and JD and Buck and then move on.”
“Then alternative is,” Ezra said simply, as he set the foul coffee aside, “that you have nothing to do with the children again, which, quite frankly is foolish. And would be a great loss for yourself and for Vin and JD. If you’ll excuse me, I will ascertain whether Buck took the car or not and depending on that, I will either track Buck down or offer a lift home to Messrs. Larabee, Vin and JD.”
Chris dabbed antiseptic on Vin’s thumb; he had bitten it down to the quick until it had bled. Chris hadn’t realised until they had returned home and he had been helping Vin out of the back of his SUV. JD sat on the bathroom vanity unit next to Vin as close as skin could be, watching the ministrations, eyes wide. Gently, Chris wrapped a band-aid around Vin’s thumb.
Chris wiped Vin’s bottom lip. “Why did you do that?”
Vin didn’t or couldn’t say a word.
“What happened, Vin? You were calling for Uncle Josiah, was it to tell him about the gun?”
“You didn’t want him to get in trouble.”
Vin nodded again.
“You were very good.”
Explicably, tears welled in his eyes.
“Shush, why don’t you tell me what’s wrong?”
Vin shook his head.
Ezra pulled up outside Chris’ ranch. The deck lights were on, illuminating the wooden balcony and the pebbled drive against the jet black night. Larabee sat on the porch, supping on a whisky, watching their approach. Ezra slid a glance at the silent, normally gregarious, ladies’ man in the passenger seat. Buck had been at Inez’s bar, soaking up cigarette smoke, beer, Irish whiskey and remorse.
“We’re here,” Ezra said unnecessarily.
“Thanks, Ez,” Buck said sadly. He popped open the door and slowly dragged his body out.
“Buck,” Ezra began. The man froze, he didn’t turn, but his posture was one of listening. “Your anger was deserved, and Josiah is truly repentant, but speak to him sooner rather than later otherwise Josiah will do something rash.”
Buck craned his head round and regarded him levelly. Many thought that Buck was an uncomplicated soul, Ezra knew otherwise.
Ezra smiled, flashing his gold tooth. “Just a thought. You know we’re all allowed to make mistakes.”
“Thanks for the lift, Ez.”
Ezra saluted his friend and colleague noting the deliberate omission, advice rarely was digestible. He winced as Buck slammed the door of his beloved car. Always knowing when he wasn’t wanted, Ezra put the car in reverse and peeled away.
“Buck,” Chris acknowledged. He proffered the bottle of Ledaig whisky.
“I’ve probably had too much,” Buck said, but he took it. He flopped down on the chair beside Chris.
Light flared as Chris lit a match and puffed on his cheroot.
“Kids in bed?” Buck asked.
“They all right?”
“Damn.” Buck took a slug straight from the bottle.
“What happened, Buck?”
Buck took another drink. “I saw the gun and I lost it. Vin was terrified. I shouldn’t have hit Josiah.”
“Hitting Josiah wasn’t really necessary. The man’s gonna rip himself three ways to Tuesday with guilt. Hitting’s never the answer.” Buck heaved a sigh and slumped.
“So what’s next?”
“Speak to Josiah before he loses himself in a bottle. That man’s got a painful way of turning to drink when he’s upset. Then I’ll talk to JD and Vin.”
“You going to do it now?”
“I’ll phone Josiah now.” Buck took a mouthful of Dutch courage. “Speak to JD and Vin tomorrow, no sense in waking them.”
Chris nodded, reached over and took the bottle back. He poured the fine whisky into his glass and drank. Buck stood girding himself and then stalked into the house. Holding the whisky in the well of his tongue, Chris inhaled a lungful of aromatic smoke, held and then exhaled. He kept trying to give up the nicotine weed, but after a day like today there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in Hell of it happening.
A creature of habit, Chris always showered before bed, something about washing all the detritus of the day away. Clean and somewhat relaxed, he padded into the boys’ room to check on his charges. Vin and JD were a covered lump on the top bunk. They were wrapped in both Vin’s ‘Nemo’ quilt and JD’s ‘Chris Colorado’ quilt in a rainbow of colours. Only a shock of JD’s black hair was visible and Vin’s little hand. Eschewing the pillow, they were huddled up against the foot board. It didn’t look very comfortable, but -- Chris leaned closely -- they were both breathing deeply and regularly, truly asleep.
Unable to bestow a good night peck on smooth foreheads, he crept back to his room. Buck’s bedroom door was closed. Sighing, he climbed into bed and pulled the quilt tight around his shoulders.
Sleep was a long time in coming.
The weight of a watcher woke him. Chris knew without opening his eyes that Vin stood at his side. Sleepily, Chris lifted his quilt, expecting a small visitor to creep in to bed. Cold air wafted along the length of his body. Curious, Chris cracked open one eye.
Vin stood balanced mainly on one foot as he tugged on the hem of his pyjama top. He was picture of indecision and worry.
How long had he been standing there? Chris wondered. “Hey, Cowboy.” He patted the mattress coaxingly.
“I touched the gun,” Vin whispered.
“What?” Chris opened both eyes.
“I touched the gun,” he repeated. “I know it was bad, but I just wanted to. I didn’t pick it up or anything. I just touched it.”
“Ah,” Chris sighed, profoundly disappointed.
Vin waited eyes wide, shivering in the chilly air. Chris realised that he was disappointed but in some way pleased that Vin had had the faith in him to come, finally, to his side. Things had progressed in the Larabee-Tanner household. He mentally reviewed his response to the quiet confession. If he had seen Vin with his hand on the gun, he knew that he would have instantly spanked him. And that would have been a mistake of monumental proportions.
In the cold, dark of night the only thing that he could think of was to hug a frightened child. Chris patted the mattress again. Slowly, Vin crept onto the bed.
“Is Buck gonna hit me now?” Vin asked sadly.
“What?” Chris was sitting up before he realised he moved.
At the movement, Vin tipped over half falling off the bed, Chris grabbed him before he could tumble off. Long fingers curled completely around Vin’s skinny bicep with finger tips to spare.
Vin flinched, violently.
Dispirited, Chris pulled him close, holding him. “Sssssh, nothing’s going to happen. Nothing’s going to happen.”
Vin was a fairy stock in his arms, for all he knew he held a piece of wood, rather than a living, breathing boy.
“Buck was scared for you, Vin. And he was scared so bad he hit.”
“And Buck’s sorry,” Buck said from the doorway.
Vin squeaked, wrenched out of Chris’ grip and flew to the corner of room. Spinning around he realised that he was backed into a corner. Back against the wall, he hunted for a way out of the room. Chris switched on his bed side light.
“Vin,” he said softly, then more loudly. “Vin, look at me.”
Eyes seemingly impossibly big in the pale face, Vin focussed on him.
“Nothings going to happen, Vin. You’re safe.” He slowly slipped off his bed and slid so he sat on the floor opposite the terrified child. The wooden floor was freezing cold against his butt. Reaching behind him, Chris pulled his quilt off the bed.
“Oh, God,” Buck breathed and hung his head.
“Vin, look at me.”
“Come on, Cowboy,” he said brusquely, “you’re freezing.”
Chris held the quilt out, for a moment he thought that Vin was a bit to canny to allow himself to be wrapped, but the siren call of warmth and comfort lured him in. One eye clearly on Buck, he crept forwards to his protector and burrowed into the down quilt.
Chris enveloped him, and couldn’t help but crack a smile at the sight of him tucked in the folds of the quilt. Vin lifted the edge of the quilt up and regarded him through a veil of sandy hair.
“Buck isn’t going to hit you, Vin, not today, not tomorrow or ever,” Chris said levelly.
Vin canted his head to the side and regarded him, eyes clear and preternaturally wise. In that instant, Chris realised that Vin trusted him, that he had come to him, he had ran when danger threatened, but when sanctuary was offered Vin came forwards with hands and heart open.
“Vin.” Buck walked slowly around the bed and crouched.
Vin poked his head over the curve of Chris’ chest.
“Vin, I ain’t ever going to hit you. I’d cut off my own hand first.”
“And if’n you lose your temper?”
“Nothin’ would make me hit you.”
“I touthhed it,” Vin lisped and dropped his head on Chris’ shoulder and bit his lip.
“Ah.” Buck rocked back on his heels. “Oh, Junior, even that wouldn’t make me hit you, or JD. Are you ever going to touch a gun again?”
Vin wriggled violently. “Never. Never!”
“I figure you learnt your lesson, Vin.” Slowly, Buck rested his hand on Vin’s quilt covered shoulder. “In a bad way, though.”
“Vin,” Chris spoke softly. The words were hard. “I understand, guns are exciting and shiny and you see them on television. But they’re tools, dangerous tools. You’ve got to be responsible, you got to have training before you can touch one. They’re not toys. They’re not for kids, and even some adults shouldn’t be allowed to touch them.”
“Are you going to take Uncle Josiah’s gun away from him?”
“Uncle Josiah will be going to some seminars – classes on appropriate gun uses and a training course on gun safety. He volunteered to go himself.” Buck smiled toothily.
“You remember when you and JD came to live here?” Chris explained. “We told you about the guns that we used at work. The workmen came and put a safe in Buck’s bedroom like the safe in the back of my wardrobe. As soon as we come home the guns go in the safes?”
“That’s basic gun safety when you’re in a house with kids. Josiah never should have left the gun out so he’s going to have some refresher lessons. But we’re going to have our own little class here at the ranch.”
Vin squinted at him.
“You touched the gun, Vin, and that, you know, is naughty. What would have JD done it he’d seen the gun?”
Vin pursed his lips in a blatant, although unconscious, imitation of Chris. “He wouldna thought that it was real ‘cos guns live in safes.”
“And that’s why you sent him after Josiah. But you did touch the gun; we’re going to sit down and you’re going to learn all over again about guns. JD’s going to be included.”
Vin flopped over his lap sighing deeply. “Am I gonna be grounded?”
“Yep.” Chris stroked along the length of Vin’s narrow back. “No riding or Play Station for two weeks. I reckon a couple of hours lecturing from Buck tomorrow evening and then again next weekend, is punishment enough.”
“I guess,” Vin said into the quilt. Chris continued his soothing stroking, feeling tense muscles relaxing. He jerked his chin towards the door, sending Buck back to bed.
Buck paused, his posture screaming indecision.
“Go,” Chris mouthed.
He waited until his friend had crept out of the room, before getting his legs free of the all-encompassing folds of his king sized quilt, which probably weighed double the amount of Vin, so he could haul boy and quilt back on to the bed.
“Whatcha doing?” Vin asked as Chris untucked the quilt and pulled it over both of them. Vin lay flat on Chris’ chest his knobbly shoulder blades feeling like razors. Chris shifted and the chilled form slid down to be cradled at his side.
“K” Vin was half way to sleep.
“Buck will never hurt you,” Chris whispered.
Vin rested a heavy head on Chris’ shoulder. “I know.”
“Tell him that.”