[AnneACK's
 

A gift from the heart

by


The printer finished the last card Vin had made and he carefully folded it and sat it with the recipient's gift. A couple of years ago JD had put a card making program on Vin's computer so he could make his own cards and he had been doing it ever since. It let him put his own poems on the cards, which was what he had wanted to do. That way he could say exactly what he wanted instead of hunting all over for a card that came close.

He grinned at Cleo sniffing the tree he had put up that afternoon. He finally had to shut her in the bedroom until he was done because she kept getting in his way wanting to check everything out. He really did love Christmas. Maybe it meant so much to him now because until he had joined his friends here he had never really done much to celebrate. Part of the fun was figuring out the perfect gifts for everyone.

Going to the closet he pulled out the wrapping paper and snatched the scissors and tape out of the drawer of his computer table.

Chris's was wrapped first because his was easy, a framed photo he taken of an eagle soaring over the mountains and a poem of his that Chris had liked. Ezra had written out for him in calligraphy. He was also getting a model horse that was an exact replica of his beloved horse, Pony.

With it was a photo of the team that he taken that summer while they were on a camping trip. Everyone was getting a copy. Josiah and Nathan were in back grinning, Buck was between them and they had grabbed his arms so he couldn't harass JD. The look on Buck's face was hysterical as it was half big huge smile and half surprise at finding himself restrained. JD was in front of Buck grinning like a cat locked in a creamery. Next to him was Ezra who had forgotten to take his usual invisible shield with him on that trip and was smiling broadly, gold tooth shining. Chris was on JD's other side, looking happy and content. Next to Ezra was Vin himself, grinning as he combined the two things he loved best, the outdoors and his family.

Nathan was next. Vin had found a Biography of Dr. James McCune Smith, the first black doctor in America. Nathan had mentioned being interested in him. It was quickly and easily wrapped.

He chuckled as he wrestled Bat Masterson, Legend of the west and all his gear into a box with a complete set of the classic TV series Bat Masterson on DVD. He was one of JD's hero's and watching reruns of the old show was part of what had gotten the Bostonian heading west after his mother died.

Vin was almost swearing by the time he had shoved Buck's new top of the line sleeping bag, rated to 10 degrees, into the box. Buck's old one had been dying a hard death and a couple of months ago had given up all together. The explosives expert was always saying that he wanted a good one next time, so Vin was getting him one.

Ezra's gift, like the man himself, was tricky. Vin wasn't quiet certain how to wrap it. He finally settled for two packages. The first was a bottle of fine white wine. The second was his copy of the group photo, as well as one of him emerging from a mud fight he and Buck had somehow gotten into. Buck had probably started it. It was in a frame that said, `Image is Everything.' It also included the first two seasons of the Muppet Show on DVD. Vin had discovered when he had been staying at Ezra's for the weekend that they both had loved the bizarre variety show.

That left Josiah. He hadn't found anything that was right for the large, graying profiler. It wasn't just that possessions meant almost nothing to the large man; it was that Vin could never find anything that showed how he felt about him. If not for Josiah, Vin would not be where he was, he most likely would have died before getting out of his teens. It wasn't until he had enlisted in the army and was truly on his own that he had realized just what the older man had done for him. Josiah taught him to drive in his old beat up carry-all. Most weekends he was invited to Josiah's or Nettie's; camping, hiking and fishing he had first done and learned from Josiah on trips into the national forests. The times that Vin had nearly dropped out of school, not seeing how it would do him any good, Josiah had done everything short of physically dragging him into the place, and likely would have done that as well, had it been necessary. How did you thank someone for guarding and protecting you until you were able to do it for yourself?

Thankfully, he still had almost a week to get something for the large profiler. It would likely end up being something rather impersonal. That didn't mean Josiah wouldn't like it. Just that unlike the gifts he gave the others, it wouldn't be something special or unique to the relationship he and Josiah shared. Every year Vin was able to find gifts that said something about the connection he had to the person, except in the case of Josiah, and he had never been able to find the right thing for him.
 


Vin drove slowly through the area once more. Eric should have been around here somewhere. He knew the kid was in need of the warm winter jacket he had for him. He had met the teen while helping do some repairs at the soup kitchen a couple of blocks from his apartment building. Vin had seen him outback, needing the meal but too scared to come in, like he had been once. He had filled a plate and taken it out back for him. He hadn't been able to convince the kid to go with him to the Challengers Club, but he had told him how to get there and the teen had gone on his own. Teri had called half an hour later to confirm that Eric was there and safe.

In the three weeks since then, he had found out his name was Eric Larson and that he was living on the streets in the area. A quick check had also shown that his parents were dead and he was changing foster homes about once a year. His last foster family had not even bothered to declare him missing. Vin looked out for him and usually caught up with him a couple of times a week to see how he was doing. Teri had called as he was leaving work to tell him that Eric hadn't come back from school yet, and Vin had gone looking for him.

"Aw, hell," Vin muttered to himself as he crossed the street to check this side of the park. He was in the Diablo's territory now, and it would not be a healthy thing for Eric if he had wandered over here. The local gangs knew Vin and tended to steer clear of him and his friends. It was also understood that the younger children were under his protection and not up for recruiting. Eric, being a street kid, might have been seen differently. Also Rio, the head of the Diablo's had been trying to egg Vin into a confrontation. It was just possible that he would use the boy to send Vin a challenge if Eric had wandered into his territory.

Vin swore and turned into the third alley. Two boys in their late teens saw his headlights and leapt over the fence blocking the end of the alley and disappeared into the night, like rats. Vin shook his head; he had recognized Lupe and Cruz, Rio's right and left hands. Running over he saw the boy they had been beating. It was Eric.

Flipping open his phone he called the paramedics. His second call was to Teri to let her know he had found the boy. He started doing what little he knew to help while waiting for the medics to arrive. Opening his phone again, he called for personal back up.

"Larabee," came the terse answer.

"Hey, Cowboy, I'm needing a favor."

"Name it," Chris instructed.

"Got a call as I was leaving about a kid I know being missing. Found him, but he's banged up good. Could you come with one of the others and take my jeep back to my apartment so I can go with Eric?" Vin asked.

"Where are you?"

Vin gave him the address.

Chris snorted, "In that place, I suggest keeping your gun out and ready, you'll need it. We're on our way."

Vin smiled slightly as he sat back against the building, the whole team would by now be out of the Saloon and diving into their cars to come and help. Colonel Custer's cavalry had nothing on Denver's Team Seven!
 


Six men walked into the emergency waiting room. Sadly they were so familiar with Denver General Hospital, and particularly the location of the waiting room, that they had not needed to stop for directions. Teri Greer and Vin were sitting together waiting for news. Teri had taken over Challengers Club from Nettie Wells about five years earlier and while very different in her methods, was just as effective as the older woman had been.

Nathan went up to the desk to talk to the nurse and see what he could find out. The others stopped by Vin and Teri.

"He got beaten up bad, and hasn't been conscious since I found him," Vin answered Chris's question before he could ask.

"Hey, Tanner, see anything?" A cop asked, joining them.

"You got this one I take it, Marks?" Vin looked up to see a middle-aged patrol cop he had worked with before.

"Yep, this baby is all mine."

"Lupe Rodriguez and Cruz Garcia jumped the back fence when I pulled into the alley," Vin replied.

"Would you swear that it was those two you saw?" Tony Marks asked eagerly.

Vin snorted, "Been chasin' `em off the kids in my area ever since I moved back here. I know `em and it was them."

Marks tried to refrain from kissing the Texan, since his wife would not have like it and Vin likely would have shot him. "Thank you! Maybe this time they'll actually pay for what they did."

The others waited quietly while Vin gave his statement to the officer. Marks thanked them, said he'd buy them all a beer if the two man assault wave was finally taken off the streets, and left.

Nathan rejoined them as a doctor came out.

"I'm Dr. Louis Wynn, are you here for Eric Larson?" The doctor asked.

"He lives at the Challengers Club, Vin has been working with him and the others are friends of ours. Can you tell us how he's doing" Teri explained.

"There doesn't appear to be any lasting harm. We can't know for certain until we get an MRI, that's scheduled for tomorrow. In the mean time, we have him in a private room in pediatrics so we can monitor him until he regains consciousness."

"Can one of us stay with him?" Vin asked.

"One, yes; all of you, no," the doctor replied.

Vin turned to Teri, "Why don't I stay here, you've got Olivia to get back to and the other kids that'll need you at the club?"

"Thanks Vin, I'll be back in the morning when I've got everything and everyone settled for awhile."

The other men said their goodbyes as well, and eventually only Vin and Chris were left.

"You need me to stay?" Chris asked.

"I ain't tryin' ta sleep so I should be okay," Vin replied.

"Call me if you need me, Cowboy," Chris instructed.

The two clasped forearms in farewell and Chris left.

Vin made his way up to pediatrics and settled into the chair in Eric's room for the night. He sighed as it hit him. It was two days until Christmas and he still had not figured out what to get Josiah.
 


The lean Texan walked in stiffly and winced with every movement. A couple of hours in a hospital chair was bad enough, all night in one could kill a person.

Chris shuddered just looking at his younger friend who was doing a good impersonation of an arthritic, geriatric patient. "Sorry, Vin. Rafael and team Four have a raid and their back-up sniper is out with a sick kid."

Vin hung his head, turned around and left the bullpen to meet up with the other team. So much for a nice, quiet, easy day at his desk. Unfortunately, with budget cuts, very few teams had two snipers so when a second was needed a back-up was borrowed from another team.

It was almost five when Vin reappeared in the bullpen. The raid had gone well with no agents down and thankfully even most of the criminals had decided against a bloodbath and given up fairly easily. But, of course, the one that had been "taken out" was Vin's, so he had the fun of a mountain of paper work.

He had to smile, sitting on his desk was a box labeled "Emergency Texan Care Kit." Inside was a can of coke, icy and heat packs for sore muscles, Excedrin, two Hostess cakes, band-aids, and a hot cocoa mix.

"Vin?"

He looked over at his boss standing in his doorway, leaning against the frame. "I'm fine, Chris, just tired. Heard from Teri?"

"She called an hour ago to leave a message for you. While the MRI didn't show anything serious, Eric still hasn't come to. At this point, it's a waiting game. Nathan relieved Teri so she could get back to the others without leaving the kid alone."

"Best get a move on then so Nathan can get home to some of Rain's cookin'."

"Saloon first, Nathan left strict orders that he was not to see you there until you had eaten something. He wants you to get some sleep too but wasn't holding his breath for that one," Chris passed on the instructions left by their long-suffering medic.

Vin yawned and collected his jacket, too tired to fight the orders for a change. The blonde locked up his office and, grabbing his jacket, guided the other man out. Vin really did need to go home and sleep, but there was no way he would leave Eric to face a night alone in the hospital even if he was still unconscious.
 


Vin settled himself once more in the chair by Eric's side. The doctors thought he should be rejoining the world soon. Before joining the team, Vin had woken up a few times in a hospital on his own, and he knew how disorienting that could be.

Out in the waiting area, only one person being allowed in Eric's room at a time, was Chris. If Vin nodded off, and he likely would, someone should be there for him. Chris was the only one that knew about the violent nightmares Vin was prone to when sleeping in hospitals, so the older man would stand guard out here in case his help was needed against the demons that came in his sleep.

It was nearly midnight when the scared wide eyes of the boy blinked open to find the calm blue eyes of the tracker watching him and smiling encouragement.

"It's okay, Eric, yer safe now," Vin assured him.

"You found me," Eric sighed contentedly.

"Ranger thing, I always find who I'm lookin' for. Why did you go over there?" Vin asked the question he had been wondering since he found the youngster.

"I hadn't meant to, I was taking a short cut back to the club, Teri got me back in school and I was coming home through the park but I left at the wrong gate. And then Cruz was blocking it so the only thing I could do was run through their territory and hope I didn't get caught," Eric shuddered.

"Figured it was something like that. Lupe and Cruz both got picked up and the police will need to be getting' yer statement, now that you're awake. Rio and I had a little talk as well, the Diablo's won't mess with you as long as you try and stay out of their territory," Vin explained.

Eric nodded.

"I see you're back with us, young man. Let's see just how bad it is, shall we?" the doctor asked, entering the room.

Vin could see Chris and nodded his thanks for having called the doctor. The blond mimicked talking on the phone and Vin knew that Teri had also been contacted. His friend had quietly taken care of everything so Vin could stay with the frightened teen.

The day before Christmas and all was well in the world once more.
 


Vin yawned and stretched. It was good to be back in his own apartment. Getting up from the couch he had been sleeping on, he glanced into his bedroom. Eric was curled up and asleep with Cleo beside him. The doctors had agreed to let him out yesterday. Provided that he got quiet and rest and was under supervision at all times. Vin volunteered to take him home with him, knowing that the Club was not peaceful or quiet, being full of rambunctious and energetic kids.

Looking at the gifts under the tree, he sighed, he never had figured out what to get Josiah.

A knock at the door had Cleo bouncing up like a bobble head and running to see who it might be. Vin shushed her before she started barking, and opened the door to find the large profiler with a crock-pot.

"Hey, Josiah," Vin stood back and let the man in.

"Good you see you awake, brother," The man grinned setting the pot down and plugging it in.

"I'm doing Christmas this year?" Vin asked, hoping he had not said something and forgotten in the craziness of the last few days.

"Eric's not up to traveling and shouldn't be left alone, so as you couldn't join us, we're joining you."

Vin grinned, nope he was never going to suffer another Christmas alone.

"Josiah, I hate to tell you this, but I never found anything to give you," Vin admitted softly. He wanted to get this over before the others arrived. Josiah didn't set anything on worldly goods, but Vin didn't want him thinking he had forgotten about him.

Josiah stared at him, "Vin, if you couldn't find anything that's fine, you don't need to get me anything."

"Aw, hell, I got somethin' fer everyone else, but I can never find anything that comes close to thanking ya fer all ya done fer' me," Vin explained, his accent thick with emotion.

Josiah took the younger man by the shoulders and lead him to the bathroom and pointed him at the mirror, "Brother, that man is the only gift I ever need from you. When I think about where you came from and I see who you are now, that is the best gift you could ever give me. As for what you owe me? Vin, you don't owe me anything. I helped out a little, guided a bit when it was needed, but YOU were the one that made something out of yourself. If you feel like you need to pay me back, you keep doing what you've been doing and taking an interest in Eric and we'll call it even."

Josiah pulled Vin in and hugged him, just as there was a knocking on the door. Half an hour later the entire team plus Casey and Nettie had arrived. Eric was up and ensconced on the couch. The small apartment was cramped, but love, life, and laughter were flowing freely. Eric was nervous until JD hooked his Nintendo Wii to the television and the two got a friendly competition going. When the gift opening started Eric was speechless at the presents he received. Vin made a mental note to thank them all later, as he knew they had done some last minute shopping. It was a very merry Christmas indeed.



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