Author: Joan Curtin
Disclaimer: They arenít mine. They belong to the alphabet folks. But at least they get to have Thanksgiving at my house!
Note: This story takes place very shortly after Vin joins the ATF. Thank you Mog, for the universe that suits the guys so well. And since it is a Thanksgiving story, it is dedicated to you, dear readers, and to my best beta and pard, Sue N., and her beloved Dallas Cowboys.
Hearth and Home
Late November sunlight spilled through the tall windows of Vin Tannerís apartment, crept across the floor, and eventually spread warmth across the couch where Tanner lay. Heíd dropped there last night, fully dressed but for his boots, intending to just rest his eyes for five minutes. But his exhausted body had other ideas and heíd slept the night through despite the chilly temperature, the narrow cushions, his bad back, and the way the butt of his gun dug into his ribs. He was out until the touch of the sun and the awareness of discomfort nudged him awake.
At first he sat up quickly, gasping as his first thought was, "Shit, Iím late for work." Then he sank back down, recalling that he didnít have to be at work that day. It was Thanksgiving.
He felt a blessed relief that he didnít have to be anywhere. He could stay at home, watch football, sleep ... God, sleep. Heíd been on stakeouts three nights straight, snatched a few hours rest in the morning and been back in the office mid-afternoon. It was his first official assignment on his new job with the ATF, and he wanted to get it right. He had been driving himself hard on this, not wanting his new teammates to think that he was a layabout or a shirker. Orrin Travis had taken him on despite his reputed difficulties with the Marshals Service, his lackadaisical approach to paper work, his cavalier attitude towards regulations. Amazing that the man had hired him at all, considering all that negative bullshit. But the one thing nobody could argue with, not even that asshole of a supervisor heíd had in the Marshals Service, was his ability to shoot. Vin knew he was one of the best. No false modesty there, just cold hard statistical fact. And Travis had needed a sharpshooter for his crack ATF Team Seven.
If he had nothing else to be grateful for this Thanksgiving, he had that.
He stood up, hobbled by the inexorable ache in his back, and went to the window. The streets of Purgatorio were lightly frosted with snow, the sunlight pale and warm through the glass. Wasnít much traffic out there. A few kids hanging around the street corner, smoking and slouching against the buildings, looking furtive. Probably waiting for their holiday fix from the local dealer. Vin swallowed hard. Heíd been about two steps from that kind of life when heíd been picked up off the streets by a sympathetic beat cop named Abel Nunez. Heíd been half-dead from a beating, and Nunez, instead of hauling him off to prison as soon as he was out of the hospital, had taken him in hand, found a place for him in a group home for former street kids, got him into GED classes, and ultimately into the Army.
Something else to add to his list of blessings.
He turned away from the window, a slight smile on his face at the memory. His stomach rumbled and he rubbed his concave abdomen. He wasnít about to starve anymore, either, even if Cocoa-Puffs werenít exactly considered gourmet food. He went into the kitchen, put a mug of coffee in the microwave, made a bowl of cereal and milk, and ate and drank standing against the breakfast bar. After, he showered and shaved off the two-days stubble that was beginning to make him feel like a derelict.
Dressed in his usual faded jeans, long-sleeved Henley, and a flannel shirt, he flopped down on the couch to watch the tail-end of the Macyís Thanksgiving Day parade and to await the beginning of the annual torture known as the Cowboys-Redskins game. He had a Hungry Man Turkey dinner in the freezer to nuke at half-time, and he figured life didnít get much better than that. At least his life didnít.
He closed his eyes and wondered what the other members of the team were doing this holiday. He knew Nathan Jackson was married, so his day would be filled with family doings. Buck and JD shared a loft and were probably sharing a dinner. Seemed JD had been ordering something on-line from one of the local caterers. Hell, they had dates, most likely. Wilmington seemed to have a never-ending supply of willing females in tow and was always offering to arrange dates for the less fortunate. Ezra Standish, who had barely said more than eight words to him since heíd joined the team, had been equally close-mouthed about his Thanksgiving plans. No reason why he should say anything, Vin figured. Josiah Sanchez had told him he was cooking dinner at the half-way house where he volunteered as a therapist during his free time. Heíd even invited Vin to join them, but heíd declined, feeling too much of an outsider, and not wanting to sit at a table with a bunch of folks wondering who he was and why he didnít have someplace else to be.
And Chris Larabee? He hadnít even hinted at his own plans. The man had a ranch and probably wanted some peace and quiet for a few days. That pressure-cooker job of his didnít leave much time for R&R. Buck had alerted Vin to Larabeeís hair-trigger temper this time of year and the tragic reasons behind it. To lose a wife, an unborn child, and a son in a still-unsolved car bombing Ė God, it was a wonder the man had the heart to get out of bed in the morning Ė much less celebrate anything.
But Larabee had extended a hand to him, had given him a job and a future, and something that Vin hadnít felt in a long time. Friendship, solid as rock beneath his feet. A chance for redemption without conditions.
Guess he ought ta check that box off on his list, too.
Vin chuckled softly to himself and sank down in a slouch, drowsy and comfortable, and not as alone as he had been feeling. He was nearly asleep when somebody pounded on his door.
Trouble? Vin sat up, his hand reaching for his shoulder holster on the table. "I hear ya!" he hollered. There was always some sort of mischief brewing in Purgatorio, but he had hoped this would be a day of peace. He stood at the side of the door. "What ya want?"
"Itís Larabee. You gonna let me in?"
Vin swallowed. Jesus, what had he done or not done, now? "Sure, hang on." He stuck his pistol in his jeans and opened the door. "Sorry about that."
Chris came inside. He pulled off a pair of leather gloves, looked around him with interest. "Doesnít seem like youíre having much of a holiday," he said.
Vin locked the door and stood awkwardly, wondering what his boss was doing there. "Well, it ainít like I got someplace else ta be," he said. "Címon in."
Larabee prowled inside, lightly, like a cat. He was wearing black jeans, a dark blue turtleneck sweater, black leather bomber jacket. Off-duty gear. Vin watched him warily. "There somethiní goiní on I donít know about?" he asked.
"With the job?"
"Yeah, with the job. Itís a holiday in case ya ainít noticed." Vin couldnít suppress a smile. "íCourse, I reckon that means more tísome folk than others."
"Yeah, it does." Chris stuck his hands in his pockets. "Listen, the reason Iím here is that Buck and JD showed up last night with this pre-ordered feast."
"Pre-ordered?" Vinís skepticism showed, and Larabee laughed with him.
"Yeah. Well, Buckís been known to let his enthusiasm run away with him. So, Iíve got this turkey and all the fixinís at the ranch. And I figured there was enough to feed a battalion. Thought you might be hungry."
Vin canted him a glance. "Hell, ya coulda called. Saved yerself a trip down here."
Chris nodded. "I could have." He looked at Vin, unspoken words there. He knew that if he had called, it would have been too easy for Vin to refuse the offer. "So, you in?"
Vin looked around his empty apartment, thought of the Hungry Man dinner in the freezer and the silence that no football game would fill. "You aiminí tíwatch the Cowboys game?"
"Oh yeah. Iíve got a TV so big youíll feel like youíre on the fifty-yard line, free beer, and every flavor of chip known to man."
"You rootiní fer the Redskins?" he asked suspiciously.
"Sure ... when Hell freezes over." A wide grin spread over his features.
Vin knew he was blushing and grinning back at Larabee like an idiot. And Chris didnít seem to care that a grown man could be that transparent. "Iím in," he said, his voice cracking in his throat.
"Then letís ride," Larabee said.
Three hours later, Vin sat slouched on the couch in Larabeeís den, his hands folded over his not quite so concave stomach, transfixed by the sight of his beloved Cowboys on the biggest damn TV set heíd ever seen.
Buck was stretched out on one of Larabeeís big leather recliners, a contented smile on his handsome face and a sprinkling of pie crust crumbs dusting his moustache. JD had pulled the throw pillows off the couch and was sprawled on the floor in front of a blazing fire, cell phone in hand as he carried on an unintelligible conversation with his girlfriend, Casey. Nathan and Rain had stopped by on their way back from her folks to have a cup of coffee, and Josiah had arrived just as they were leaving. He was snoring quietly in Chrisís other recliner. Even Ezra had called from New Orleans where he had met his mother for the holiday. That still had Vin bemused. Heíd sworn Ezra was raised by wolves.
Chris came in from the kitchen and handed Vin a mug of hot chocolate topped with whipped cream. His own mug was plain, but he enjoyed the look of ecstasy on the young sharpshooterís face as he sipped at the confection.
"Gotta hand it to ya, Chris. Ya know how títreat yer guests," Vin sighed. "Thanks."
"Is that what you are?" Chris asked.
Vin looked at him, puzzled. "Yeah. Least I thought I was."
Chris gestured around the room. "They look like guests to you?"
Vin laughed as his gaze swept over the various recumbent, replete bodies. "Reckon they look like family," he said a bit wistfully. "Sífar as I can tell ..." he sighed.
"They are. You join my team, you join my family. You got that?" Chris set his hand on Vinís shoulder. "You go out there with us, watch our backs, risk your life, thatís the same as having our blood in your veins. And youíll probably have that, too, before the year is up. Get used to it."
Vin felt warmth grow and blossom in his heart and rise clear up to his cheeks. "I-I ainít ... ainít never had that, Ďcept when I was a little feller. Might take a while."
"You take your time, Vin. Welcome to Team Seven." He offered his hand, and when Vin extended his own, they didnít shake hands, but clasped each otherís forearms in an affirmation stronger than friendship. Chrisís clear green eyes looked into his, into his heart and soul. They offered so much; friendship, brotherhood, security. All the things Vin hadnít had in his life for a very long time. A great feeling of peace came to him almost unrecognized.
"Thanks, Chris." So quiet, but filled with gratitude, and oddly, relief. Like laying down burdens after a long journey home.
Vin sank back against the cushions, picked up his cocoa and sipped at it, hiding the overwhelming emotions that were still too close to the surface. Seemed his list which had started out so short this morning had grown too long to count.
Content, warmed by food and friendship, welcomed and accepted, Vin sighed and let his spine sink into the deep couch cushions, settling in to watch the game. Might be greedy to ask for more than he had already been given, but heíd sure like to check off one last item.
Chris stretched out his legs, put his feet up on the coffee table in front of the couch. "Think theyíll give you something to be grateful for?" he asked, raising his mug to the screen.
"Yeah, I think they will," Vin said. "Itís been that kind of a day."
Happy Thanksgiving Everybody!