Disclaimer: Not mine I'm just playing. I'll put'em back when I'm done.

Rating: PG

Synopsis: Vin feels unbreakable and that worries his friends.

A ton of bricks, debris and other items of concern hit the ground and if it hadn't been for the general wetness created by the cascading water from the various hoses, it would have raised a billowing cloud of dust. For the briefest of moments, Vin Tanner stood frozen, his blue eyes on the pile of wet debris in front of his feet, while his mind struggled to comprehend how close he had come to being under that pile instead of standing right in front of it. Close calls were what he had every time they were called out to another fire, but he couldn't recall having been that close without getting as much as a scratch. To verify that thought, he glanced down himself and saw nothing but dust and soot on his clothes.


He knew that voice and especially the tone. Backing up a few steps, he glanced in the direction the call had come from. Chris Larabee stood a few feet away, where he and Buck Wilmington were fighting the stubborn main hose, and Chris did not look happy. Vin knew off hand that Chris had obviously witnessed this close call of his and their fearless leader was more inclined to see the dark side of things; as always.

Raising a hand, Vin gave him a grin. "I'm fine," he called back. "No harm done."

Larabee didn't look convinced, but Vin figured there wasn't time to make a big thing out of this. Not right now, at least. Grabbing the shaft of his axe more tightly, Vin returned his attention to the crumbling building in front of them and wondered if perhaps it wouldn't be a good idea to let this pile of bricks burn to the ground.

Considering such things was of no use, of course. The final decision lay with Larabee and the man was hellbent on putting the fire out. Vin couldn't understand why, really. There were no other buildings even remotely close enough to catch the fire, no matter what way the wind blew, and there was nothing but the metallic husks of old cars around the building. Basically, the place was a scrapheap and the last time Vin had checked, old cars didn't catch fire very easily.

"Why are we tryin' to put this out?" he called over to Larabee, who had returned his attention to putting the fire out.

"WHAT?" Larabee called back, not looking at him. He and Wilmington had trouble enough keeping the hose in one place.

"I SAID, WHY ARE WE TRYIN' TO PUT IT OUT?" Vin repeated his question more loudly. "THERE AIN'T NOTHIN' WORTH SAVIN' HERE."

For a moment, nothing happened and Vin had the oddest sensation that Larabee was either ignoring him or hadn't heard him. But then the older man turned his attention back to Vin and gave him a frown for his trouble. "BECAUSE THE BLOODY BUILDING IS ON FIRE. WHAT DO YOU THINK WE GET PAID FOR?" he yelled back.

"Paid?" Vin muttered and snorted. "You call that 'paid'?" With a shake of the head, he decided to relocate to the other side of the main hose and see if he could do some good over there. There wasn't much going on at his side.

He found enough to do on the other side. Ezra Standish had decided that he'd had enough of holding onto a hose and left that job to Vin as soon as he showed up. As the gambler explained, his hands were raw and if he wasn't replaced soon, he wouldn't be able to hold onto the hose.

"And that, I dare say, would not be fair to young Mr. Dunne, now would it?" Standish asked and relinquished the hose to Vin.

Vin arched an eyebrow at him, but said nothing. What was there, after all, to be said? Standish would worm his way out of working any day if he could.


After a few hours of fruitless attempts to put out the blazing inferno, the building had ended up a pile of rubble and nothing more. The fire had eventually burnt itself out with no flammable materials left to devour and too much moisture, which had left the 7th Fire Brigade in a state of dissatisfaction because they hadn't been able to save the building by putting out the fire in time. They had prevented the fire from spreading, something which Chris Larabee reluctantly admitted to himself was probably because there was nowhere for it to go.

The land around the building, an old factory hall of some type, was littered with old, burnt-out cars, empty oil drums and other non-flammable material and there wasn't a bush or a tree in sight. In other words, there was nothing that could catch fire and help it spread.

Back at the station, which also served all seven of them as a home, Chris dropped down on the couch in the common room after taking a shower, and grumbled with annoyance. What had really gotten under his skin this time around had been Vin's near miss. He had only been able to watch as a wall from the upper part of the building had collapsed and sent a shower of debris down over the very spot where Vin was standing. Chris had nearly dropped the hose to rush to his rescue when he had realized that Vin had been standing of the border of where the debris crashed to the ground. The puzzle of it all was that the young Texan had not really responded to a situation, which could have been fatal if he had only been two steps further into that area.

Chris looked up at the sound of footsteps nearing the open doorway to the common room and frowned when it wasn't Vin. He wanted a word with him about this situation. Something was bound to go wrong soon; he could feel it in his bones.

Brushing the fingers of both hands through his still moist hair, Buck dropped down on a chair opposite Chris, and then felt his freshly shaven chin for a moment. "That was one close call our little Texan had today, huh?" he asked, voicing what Chris was thinking.

"Sure was," Chris agreed and sighed heavily. "That's the third time in a very short time that he's gotten this close to getting buried under a pile of rubble."

Buck shrugged, obviously unable to see the potential for danger in this situation. "What can I say?" he asked. "The kid's charmed."

Chris could do nothing more than sigh again. "Charmed or not, he's bound to get hurt if he doesn't look out for himself. And he didn't even seem to care."

"Aw, I think he cares. He just doesn't show it like the rest of us jumpy cats," Buck replied with a screwed grin. "Besides, we can't all worry about doomsday all the time. We're leaving that to you," he added.

With an annoyed glare, Chris refused to acknowledge that he might be guilty of being a pessimist. He just couldn't help worrying about the next-youngest member of their team. Vin was a good friend, a replacement for the younger brother Chris had never had, and it irked him beyond reason whenever the kid got himself in trouble. Vin was good at that. For some reason, which Chris would never learn to fully understand, Vin had enemies. It appeared that there were parts of his darkened past that none of them knew about. All Chris had cared about in the beginning was that Vin had a clean record, which he did. But he had learned the hard way that just because someone had a clean record, that didn't necessarily mean that he hadn't been in trouble in the past.

One excellent example of that was Ezra. The gambler had more enemies than any man should have. Sometimes, Chris could understand it, too. Ezra had a habit of being overly annoying at times, especially based on his loathing toward menial labor, as he called it; but also because of his lofty attitude towards life. The man lived for enjoying himself and only worked because he had to. He had proven himself to be useful and despite his constant bellyaching whenever he was asked to perform a task he didn't like, Chris knew that he could count on him to do as he was told. He just wished Ezra would do it with less verbal complaint.

What it all came down to was that Chris couldn't really understand why both Vin and Ezra had enemies who would go to extremes to get back at them. Vin had never talked about his past and Chris had never asked. He was uncertain whether Vin would actually volunteer information if asked, but he was going to try some time soon.

"You know, there is that old saying, Chris," Buck interrupted his train of thoughts.

Chris focused on him, feeling rather tense. "What saying?" he asked somewhat reluctantly.

"Curiosity killed the cat, my friend," Buck replied with a grin.

With a frown furrowing his brow, Chris leaned forward a little. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" he demanded, knowing deep down what came next.

"Chris, I've known you for a great many years," Buck said, his tone of voice slightly overbearing. "I know that look in your eyes, buddy. You're gonna grill Vin until he tells you what's up. Am I right?"

Yup, he had been right. That was exactly what he had thought Buck would say. Being friends for a long time was both good and bad. The good thing was that Buck could never corner him. He always knew what the big guy was going to say. The bad thing was that Buck knew him too well. Making a face, Chris leaned back again. "I have no intention of 'grilling' anyone," he claimed. "I'm just worried that Vin's getting too careless. If he starts getting Superman-ideas, he's going to be in a world of trouble."

That made Buck blink in surprise. "Superman-ideas?" he asked, sounding both confused and amused. "What the hell is that?"

Only reluctantly, Chris felt a small smirk spread over his lips. Buck didn't know him that well and it was somewhat pleasing to know that he could still surprise his oldest friend. "The kid seems to think he's invincible. You saw him today. He didn't even jerk when that load hit the ground right at his feet. If he had been one step closer, he would have been hit by the majority of it."

The temporary mirth of the situation quickly subsided again and Buck grew serious. "Well, Chris, I hate to burst your bubble of dark thoughts here, but he didn't get hit by the majority of it. He didn't even get a scratch. Hell, if I saw right, he didn't even get dirty from that one. Why is it so hard for you to see the bright side of this?" he asked, trying to get a point across. "I know you love to wallow in misery and despair, Chris, but maybe the kid is charmed. Ever think of that? Maybe he gets away from all this shit because he can. Who knows, maybe he was born under a lucky star or something."

Chris eyed his friend for a moment, then shook his head. "I take it you've never seen Vin with his shirt off, have you?" he asked, his expression sinister.

That in turn caused Buck to frown. "I fail to see your point, as Ezra would say. What the hell does that have to do with anything?"

"Let's just say that I don't think he's had an easy life, Buck. You can ask him about it sometime if you have the gall for it. But I doubt he'll talk about it," Chris replied and once again felt compelled to sigh.

"I still fail to see why you bring this up," Buck said, still frowning.

"I don't think he's born under a lucky star, Buck. That's all I have to say about that," Chris countered and rose. "I'm gonna take a walk. Beep me if something comes up," he added and left a rather befuddled Buck behind.


Vin sat on his bed, one leg dangling over the side, the other angled beneath it, his hands folded in his lap, while he stared ahead of himself with a somewhat worried expression. A million thoughts were tumbling through his mind like dust devils racing across the plains in high winds, and he was mainly thinking of today's near miss. It wasn't so much the close proximity to the site that had him wallowing in thoughts, as it was his own reaction to what could have been a one-way ticket to the morgue. It bothered him that he hadn't responded at all to the fact that deadly debris had hit the ground right in front of him. It hadn't even raised his pulse rate and that, he figured, was worrying.

So, why was that? Was he getting careless? Being unafraid in this business was generally considered equal to being suicidal. But he wasn't feeling that way, not in the least. He just hadn't been afraid of the falling debris. He hadn't feared injury or death. It had been as if he had been somewhere else and had only watched the whole thing from a safe distance.

Thinking about it now, though, it did raise his pulse rate. He felt apprehensive about how close he had come to injury. Sure, they had all had broken limbs, more burns than any of them cared to remember, bruises, bumps and the likes. Some of them, like for instance Chris, had been in very close contact with death more than once. But none of them had died. None of them had any side effects, any lasting damage or other. Was that why he didn't feel any fear any more? He just could not readily explain this newfound indifference to real danger.

What he couldn't understand was his obvious ability to not get hurt lately. He sometimes thought that dark clouds had hovered over him since the day he was born. Not much had gone his way in his life. At least not until the day that he had found work in the 7th Fire Brigade. There had been an immediate connection between himself and Chris Larabee, a connection he hadn't been able to put in words. To him it had mostly felt like he had found his way home after wandering in the desert for many years.

A knock on the door ripped him out of his contemplations and he gave the door a frown for a second. "Come in," he then called, not really in the mood to talk to anyone right now.

The door opened and Buck stepped inside. Vin eyed him thoughtfully, wondering what the big guy had on his mind. Although they did get along fairly well, they didn't have a whole lot in common apart from being part of this team and hence the two of them rarely hung out together.

Buck looked a little uncomfortable, a little out of place. "Hey, Vin," he said.

"What's up?" Vin asked, never taking his eyes off the older man.

Buck walked past the bed over to the window and looked outside for a moment. "You've really got Chris worried, you know," he said and turned back to face the Texan. "With that stunt you pulled today, I mean," he added as if unsure whether Vin knew what context he was talking about.

Vin nodded in understanding. "It got me worried, too," he confessed. "That slide took me completely by surprise. I ain't never been that close to a collapsin' wall before."

Buck looked somewhat surprised by that revelation. "Are you telling me that you didn't know it was gonna come down on you?" he asked.

"Nope. I didn't see it comin' until it hit the ground right in front of my feet," Vin said and started chewing on the inside of his cheek. No matter how close he felt to Chris, there were certain things they just didn't talk about. Actually, come to think of it, they didn't talk much when they were together. Words seemed unnecessary. "You think it's a bad thing that I ain't afraid of getting hit no more?" Vin always switched to poor grammar whenever he was worried about something.

For a long moment, Buck just stared at him, then he pursed his lips and leaned back against the window sill. "Yeah, I think it is," he said and folded his arms over his chest. "What you got going there is what we old rats in this business call a hardening," he said. "You don't get hurt a few times and suddenly you think you're invincible. I've been there. I know what that can do to you. If it hadn't been for Chris, I would have been dead and buried by now."

"How come?" Vin asked, genuinely interested in Buck's background. He didn't know much about him as such.

Buck shook his head almost a little sadly. "It's not something I like to recall," he said. "But, just as an example, I'll tell you about it." For a moment, he was lost in thought while he gazed off into the distance. Then he focused on Vin again. "I had a streak of good luck, just like you've had. The one that really convinced me that I was untouchable was when a damned house came down around my ears and I didn't even get a scratch. I just stood there in the middle of it, untouched, unharmed, and it gave me a rush like nothing I've ever tried before. There is no artificial drug that can compete with the rush of adrenaline when you think -- even if it is wrong and you ought to know it is -- that you're different than others, that you can do things they can't." He chuckled halfheartedly. "Chris calls it Superman-ideas," he added. "The basic thing is that you have to get out of that state of mind before you get hammered into the ground by the next cross beam that falls from the ceiling, if you catch my drift."

Vin frowned. "How do you do that? I mean, when I stood there today, I just didn't feel the need to get out of the way. Not even afterwards," he replied.

"That's exactly what happened to me," Buck said. "I got real cocky. I thought I could handle it all. Chris broke his leg, trying to save my ass from being buried under a ton of bricks. I think he's seeing the same happening to you and it's got him worried."

Unhappy about this development, Vin made a face in sheer frustration. "I ain't exactly sure how I'm gonna get over this," he confessed.

"Well, for me it took a close call including a ton of bruises and a dust contamination of both lungs to understand that I wasn't invincible," Buck clarified. "Just try to keep in mind that you're only made of flesh and bone, Vin. No matter how hard a head you've got, it's not hard enough to withstand the onslaught of a collapsing wall." Pushing away from the sill, Buck walked back over to the door. With one hand on the door knob, he stopped short and glanced back at Vin. "I think you know by now that Chris doesn't worry about others for no reason. He is a pessimist, but he's also very clear-sighted. It's better to listen to the man than ignore his advice. He doesn't give it often, so you do better in taking it to heart when he does give it." With that said, he left, closing the door behind him.

Vin sat very still for a long while after Buck had left, mulling over what he had said. He could see the sense in Buck's words, but he was afraid of his own reactions when he was faced with a situation like that the next time. And situations like that arose all the time.


Spring had come early that year and it made the long walks Chris liked to take much more pleasant. For the first time in years, he didn't have to wade through knee-deep snow to get some exercise. Going to the gym didn't give him the same sense of accomplishment that he got from walking for hours without end. Not that he had the luxury of doing that too often. With his chosen profession, having spare time was considered a luxury.

He stopped on one of the many bridges and looked down at the river snaking its way through town while he let his mind run free. For a long moment, he thought of nothing in particular, but only recalled good times. But, invariably, his mind returned to more pressing matters, such as Vin and his newly evolved hardening.

For the briefest of moments, Chris smirked. That expression had always struck him as being just a tad lewd and he was quite certain that it did have certain undertones, which were meant to be misunderstood. But the meaning of that expression was no laughing matter. He could quite easily recall Buck's touch of megalomania. That was some years back now, but it could still send a shiver up his spin and give him the occasional bad dream.

Staring down into the murky water of the river below, he tried to come up with a solution to this problem, which did not involve anybody getting hurt. Buck had been trying to cough up his lungs for about a month after that incident and he himself had been in a cast for that long, too. A cross beam had come down on top of both of them and it had only been at the last possible second that Chris had managed to push Buck out of the way. They had both been lucky that day. The whole building had crumbled around them and it had only been because they had been under a reinforced overhang that they had survived it. The dust had been horrible, of course, and Chris had cursed every living thing straight into hell until the rescue team had dug them out of the rubble, but they had survived it.

So, how did he handle Vin without having to get in the same situation once again? He had no particular wish of getting another broken bone or other injuries, but he knew he would go through hell to protect his friends. With a heavy sigh, he figured he would just have to have a talk with Vin when he got back.

Before he could decide where to go next, his beeper went off. He pulled it off his belt and gave it an annoyed look. Another fire somewhere, he thought, and flipped his cell phone open. As soon as he got an answer, he sneered, "I'm on the river bridge. Pick me up on the way," he said and cut the connection again. Then he leaned against the rail to wait for the fire truck.


The fire was fortunately quickly put out, but the building was so ramshackle, that Chris was afraid it would tip over when the next gust of wind blew around it. It was two storey building, old and abandoned, but nonetheless a fire hazard. Years ago, it had probably been a nice house with a fairly large garden around it, but now it was condemned and ready to be torn down. The sooner the better, Chris thought and squinted somewhat angrily at the building.

Buck clapped a hand onto his shoulder. "That was a quicky, huh?" he asked.

Chris gave him a sideways glance. "Yeah, but this place should have been torn down years ago. Look at the way it's leaning to one side. It's a matter of time before it falls over on its own," he said. "Whoever is responsible for this house should be sued into an early grave," he added with a growl, then glanced around. JD and Nathan stood at the far end to his right, watching the building with obvious apprehension. Ezra was on the phone again, his back to the scene, not caring one way or another. Josiah was sitting on a big boulder a few feet from him to his left, his helmet in his hands, his eyes on the leaning building. The only one who wasn't in his immediate line of sight was Vin. "Where the hell is Tanner?" he asked while looking around for the younger man with a sudden cramp in his stomach.

Buck looked around, too. "I have no idea," he confessed. "He was here a second ago," he added helpfully.

Feeling the need to deck his oldest friend, Chris settled for giving him a dark look. "I realize that," he growled under his breath. "But he's not here now, is he?" he added, stating the obvious in the form of a question.

Fully aware of what he was doing to Chris' temper, Buck looked around again, then shook his head. "Nope, he's not," he agreed and grinned broadly at the deadly expression in Chris' eyes.

"Would you cut the crap and find him, damn it?" Chris snapped. He figured it was good thing that he didn't carry a weapon. If he had, he might have shot Buck right where he stood. "God damn moron," he muttered under his breath and stalked off in search of Vin. "I am damned tired of his attitude."

Chris cleared the left side of the building, keeping his distance in case the whole thing should decide to give in and come down on top of him, and that was where he found Vin. The younger man was kneeling on the ground, his back to Chris, while he was making odd, clicking noises.

"What the hell are you doing, Tanner?" Chris asked, too surprised by this odd behavior to put much venom in his voice.

Vin ignored him and continued to make those noises.

For a moment, Chris watched him with a frown, then he shook the need to know what Vin was up to and glanced up at the house. Vin was far too close to the end wall. "Tanner, get the hell away from there. This whole ramshackle shed is about to come down right on top of you," he demanded.

Vin glanced back at him, but didn't move. "I ain't movin' till I get this kitten to come outta the basement," he said.

Befuddled, Chris just stood there for a second, trying to make sense of what the Texan had just said. "Say what?" he asked. "You're gonna risk your own life for a kitten?"

"Be quiet. You're scaring it," Vin replied somewhat harshly.

Chris stepped closer and peered into the basement window, where a little white kitten was sitting, staring at both of them with big eyes. Before either the kitten or Vin could respond, Chris had reached out and snatched the elusive animal, dragging it out of the open window and into his arms. "There! It's out. Will you move now?" Chris asked and stepped a few feet backward.

Vin gave him a startled look, then nodded and got back to his feet. "You got a good grip on animals, Chris," he said and took a step forward. An odd sensation in his guts made him stop short, though. Frowning a little, he glanced at the house and at the same moment realized that the ground beneath his feet was trembling lightly. "What the hell?" he muttered and that was all he managed to say before the whole building gave up its struggle against the pull of gravity and crashed down on top of him.

Chris' response was immediate. Without consideration for his own safety, he tossed the kitten aside and lunged forward in an attempt to grab Vin and drag him out before the wall could hit him, but he couldn't reach him and instead was pounded to the ground by what felt like a ton of crumbling bricks.


Buck looked up at the building when he felt the slight tremble in the ground and saw it starting to keel over. It seemed to be going in slow motion at first, but then suddenly gave way as if invisible strings had been cut. The whole thing just tilted to the left, raising a billow of dust.

Unable to move for the seconds it took his mind to register what had happened, he stared open-mouthed at the destruction. Then he pulled himself together and raced toward the place where he had last seen Chris. That place was littered with knee-high rubble now.

"CHRIS!" he yelled and came to a skittering stop of the somewhat wet, overgrown lawn when he spotted his friend amidst the rubble heaps. He rushed forward again and started clearing what little debris had hit Chris away. "Chris, buddy, are you alright?" he demanded as he carefully turned him over.

Chris blinked a few times and then groaned when he sat up. "God dammit," he growled and coughed half-heartedly while slipping a hand behind his head to feel for the bump sure to be there. His fingers came away bloody and that made him sneer angrily. "Stitches again," he grumbled, then glanced back at the heap of rubble which had once been a house. "Where the hell is Tanner?" he asked.

"Don't worry," Buck assured him. "We'll find him. The kid's got a hard head." Eyeing their fearless leader for a moment, Buck tried to assess his condition. "Anything broken?"

Chris shifted a little, testing his limbs by moving them. "No, not this time," he then replied and got back to his feet. "Let's find that Texan," he added, a dangerous tone in his voice.

"I can see him," JD inserted. He had turned up on the other side of the rubble and pointed toward the end of the pile. "Over there!"

"Let's dig him out," Josiah said. He sounded a little bit tired and worried.

Chris glanced around and spotted Ezra a few feet behind them. "Call the paramedics," he called.

"Already done," Ezra replied and came over to join them. "Looks like he overstepped the line there, huh?" he asked, then glanced downward when something bumped against his leg. With a frown, he reached down and picked up the white little kitten, which was less than white now. It started purring and rubbed it's head against his chin.

"For that critter," Chris agreed, one hand pressed against the gash in the back of his head.

"Let me take a look at that," Nathan suggested.

Chris shifted away from him. "No, check on Vin first. He's probably in need of more help than me, that damned fool."

JD, Josiah and Nathan quickly excavated the young Texan, who was unconscious but otherwise alive. He had a nasty gash over his right temple and Nathan asserted that he had a broken arm. As for the rest, Vin seemed to have gotten away with cuts and bruises and that was it.

"Damned fool," Chris repeated angrily.

"Remind you of something?" Buck asked, grinning. He couldn't help it. Despite the fact that the situation was anything but funny, he just couldn't stop himself.

Chris rolled his eyes. "This is no laughing matter, Buck," he growled. "He could have gotten killed." Glancing at his oldest friend, Chris nearly sneered. "You and he have got too much in common. You're both pigheaded idiots who won't listen to reason before you're nearly hammered into the ground. What the hell is wrong with the two of you?"

All Buck did was smile to himself while he watched the others carefully carry the Texan out of the rubble.


To say that he was hurting was an understatement. Vin was in severe pain. His back hurt from his neck to his waist, his right arm was in a cast from the shoulder to the wrist and his head was a big, throbbing mess. But that didn't stop Chris from lecturing him, despite the doctor's insistence that Vin needed some downtime.

"What the hell were you thinking? Have you ever considered using the inside of your head, huh? I am sick and tired of you always getting in trouble, Vin. This isn't the first time and I'm sure it won't be the last time that you've pulled a stunt like that. You and your goddamn Superman-ideas. Jesus Christ, what does it take, huh?" Chris ranted on, knowing he was doing so and not caring one bit.

"Could you give me a break, Chris?" Vin begged. "My head's killin' me."

"Serves you right," Chris growled. "Maybe this little incident will make you think twice before you stand under a collapsing wall again. You should know better, dammit. You have seen shit like this happen before. And why? Because of a goddamn kitten?"

Vin blinked somewhat sluggishly, wishing desperately that someone would give him a shot for the pain so he could fall asleep. But that was not going to happen while Chris was giving him a piece of his mind. "How is the kitten?" he wanted to know, fully aware that he was in the process of giving Chris a mental heart attack.

"Forget about the goddamn kitten, will you?" Chris snapped. "You could have gotten yourself killed, Vin. Do you understand that? Has that registered with you at all?"

Bending his right arm, Vin gingerly scratched his brow just where the tape from the compress covering the gash over his temple was and wrinkled his nose in annoyance. "Are you done?" he asked.

"No, I'm not done. I am not even halfway done," Chris replied angrily. "I cannot have you on the team if you're suicidal, Vin. You're not only a danger to yourself, you're also a danger to everybody else. Do you understand that? I cannot even begin to tell you what a stupid thing you did today," he went on, his expression tense, his eyes cold with anger. "Are you trying to get kicked off the team? Is that it?"

Vin closed his eyes for a moment, bone tired and still very much in pain, and then sighed heavily. "No, Chris, I ain't tryin' to get kicked off the team. I'm tryin' to do my job. I didn't think that damned house was gonna fall on me, okay? It didn't fall over when we hosed it down. I figured it would remain standin' for a bit longer. I was only tryin' to save the kitten."

Whatever Chris had been about to say got stuck in his throat. For a long moment, he tried to come up with a response, but eventually settled for pulling up a chair, which he sat down on. "I know you were only trying to save the kitten, but... Vin... you gotta think about what you're doing before you do it. This... crash... if it had been a bigger house... if you had been closer to the end wall... you would have been dead now. Or disabled for the rest of your life. I know we all take chances that we shouldn't take... and sometimes the reason isn't as sound as we'd like it to be... but, hell, Vin, you gotta think it through before you do stuff like this."

Vin pursed his lips, slightly embarrassed by the whole thing now. "I reckon I shoulda thought about it," he agreed, "but I couldn't think about nothin' but that damned kitten at the time. So, did I go through all that for nothin'? Or is the kitten okay?"

"The kitten is fine. Ezra took care of it," Chris replied and shook his head in defeat. "I figure Buck told you about the time he... well... had the same delusions about his ability to not get hurt, right?" he asked and Vin nodded. "He learned the hard way that he wasn't invincible. Like you have now, I hope. The thing is, I just wish that you could have understood how dangerous that state of mind is before a damned house fell on you."

For some reason, Vin couldn't help smiling at that. "Well, as long as the kitten is alright," he replied.

"Oh man," Chris muttered and shook his head again. "You just think this is funny, don't you?"

"No, Chris, as a matter of fact I don't. My head's killin' me, my back's hurtin' and my arm feels like it was pulled through a wringer. I don't think this is funny at all, but I gotta try and see the bright side of it. I didn't die. I will not be disabled for the rest of my life. That gotta count for somethin'," Vin replied.

For a moment, all Chris did was stare at him. Then he sighed and settled back on the chair. "Yeah, I guess," he reluctantly agreed.


Vin was in the hospital for three days before the doctor decided he was well enough to go home. He did admonish the Texan to take it easy and be careful of his back and his head. A light concussion wasn't something Vin hadn't tried before, but the doctor wasn't happy about it in any event. As he said, it had happened too often already.

Keeping in mind what overdoing it could mean to his future mobility, Vin decided to do what the doctor had told him to and did take it easy. Once back home, he eased down on the couch in the common room and let out a heartfelt sigh.

"Good to be home?" JD asked as he settled down on a chair across from Vin.

"Yeah, it is," Vin agreed. "Damn, I feel like I was beaten up," he added.

Before JD could come up with an appropriate reply to that one, Ezra stepped into the room. "Mr. Tanner. How are you feeling today?" he asked with a vague smile.

Vin gave him a somewhat pained grin. "Like I was hit by a house," he replied and relished the briefly startled expression on the gambler's face.

"Well, I dare say you were," Ezra said and gave him a crooked smile in return. "I do believe there's someone here who would like to thank you," he added and stepped aside.

The white kitten bounded across the floor like a little ball of fluff on legs and landed easily in Vin's lap, where it at once started purring happily. Vin could do nothing more than grin and pet the affectionate critter.

"Chris has more or less decided to let it stay. He seems to think it's some kind of good luck charm," Ezra explained and settled down beside Vin.

Vin continued to stroke the incredibly soft fur of the kitten and smiled to himself. "Nah, he ain't. I asked him if I could keep it. He wasn't too fond of the idea, but I reckon he changed his mind."

Buck joined them a little later and sat down on the easy chair across from Vin. JD took off after a bit and Ezra left only moments later. When they were alone, Buck eyed the younger man thoughtfully. "So, how are you doing?" he asked.

"Like I said to Ezra, I feel like I was hit by a house," Vin replied and smirked. "Which I guess I actually was."

"Yeah, you could say that," Buck agreed with a lopsided grin. "So, I suppose Chris gave you hell for that, huh?" he asked on.

Vin shrugged lightly. "Kinda. I just don't understand why he's gettin' so upset. I mean, it could have happened to any of us. To him, even."

"Yeah, it could," Buck consented, "but it didn't. It happened to you. The fact that he responds that way should be seen in the right light, though. He was worried sick about you before that. Ever since Chris lost his wife and son, he's been very... protective about the people he cares about. He didn't come down that hard on me when I had my brush of megalomania, but back then Sarah and Adam were still around. He didn't have a reason to be so overprotective. Now, however, it's different. The thought of losing a friend is just too much for him to handle. God knows he's lost plenty of friends and colleagues along the way. So, don't take it too hard if he comes down hard on you for this. It's just his way of saying that he cares."

Chewing thoughtfully on his lower lip, Vin stared ahead of himself for a moment, then looked up to face Buck again. "I ain't never had nobody worryin' about me that much except for Harry," he said, his tone of voice somber when he mentioned his father. "I can't remember ever havin' anybody worry about me before Harry," he added as if on second thought. "Except for my ma, of course. But she died when I was five. And my dad..." He shook his head, saddened by the memories surfacing from the murky depth of his mind. "Well, he ain't worth talkin' about," he added and shut his memories down again.

Buck frowned a little, actually a little surprised that Harry wasn't Vin's biological father, then sighed and rose again. He figured he would find out about that later. Right now was not the time to push the younger man. "Well, I got a few things to take care of. You just take it easy, Vin. Remember what the doctor said," he said. No matter how much he wanted to push Vin to talk more about his past, he knew it would do no good to press this issue. When Vin stopped talking, that was all Buck would hear about it for now.

Turning, Buck came to a brief halt when he saw Chris standing in the doorway, leaning against the doorframe, his arms crossed over his chest. Their eyes met for a moment and Buck knew he was going to hear for talking about Chris' business without his say-so, but right now, Chris was obviously more interested in Vin. Buck gave him a brief nod and quickly left the room.

Vin looked up at Chris, his expression somewhat tense. "You heard that, huh?" he asked.

"Yeah, I did," Chris agreed and took the seat Buck had abandoned. "You wanna talk about it?" he asked.

"Not really," Vin replied and dropped his gaze to the kitten now asleep on his lap. "Ain't nothin' to talk about. It won't change nothin' if I do," he claimed.

"It won't change the events, no, but it might change how you feel about it," Chris replied. "I never want to talk about... Sarah and Adam, but whenever I do, I feel better afterward. It sometimes makes things easier to bear if you can share them."

Vin shrugged again and fingered the long, fluffy tail of the kitten. "Maybe so," he said, somewhat reluctantly.

"So, is your real dad responsible for those scars on your back?" Chris asked, feeling that getting straight to the point might be better in this event. Vin always managed to worm his way out of talking about things if Chris wasn't direct enough in his questions.

For a long moment, Vin remained silent while twirling the kitten's fur between two fingers. Then he glanced up at Chris. "Yeah," he said. "For a long time, I believed that I deserved what he did to me back then. I wasn't bein' a good kid, you see. That's what he always told me." He inhaled deeply, nearly dragging the air into his lungs, and let it all out in a sigh. "It took me a lot o' time and... Heaven forbid... counselin' to get over that. I didn't have much self-respect, you see."

Chris figured that if he wanted to know something about Vin's past, now was the time to ask. The kid was actually opening up, talking about memories that were probably still very painful for him. "What exactly did you do before you joined us?" he asked.

Vin dropped his gaze again, feeling slightly uncomfortable about the whole thing. He wasn't keen on talking about his past. Mainly because he was afraid of the reaction of others. More than once had he met people who had become very uneasy when they had realized that he'd had a tough life. They didn't want to talk about things like that and he had stopped mentioning them very early in life. "Well, you know what I was doin'," he said, somehow hoping that Chris might drop the subject.

"Yeah, you were at the police academy," he agreed, "trying to become a police officer. But what did you do before that?"

Vin rolled his eyes. Chris was like a dog with a bone. Once he'd gotten a hold of something, he wouldn't let go until he had the whole story. "I was... homeless."

There wasn't much that could rattle Chris, but this did. It came as a shock to him to learn that Vin, who despite his ability to get into trouble had a very winning nature, had been homeless. "You mean..." he tried, but couldn't get himself to say it.

"I was a street-kid, Chris," Vin finished for him, looking up to meet his stare dead on. "Alright? When I left home, I didn't have anywhere else to go. The social service didn't give a damn about me or how my dad treated me, so I ran away. I was fifteen at the time. I spent quite a few years on the streets, getting by as best I could. Which wasn't very well, by the way. One day, I ran into this social worker. I guess the man felt sorry for me or somethin', but he offered to help me and... I guess I could feel he was alright, cause I trusted him. He helped me a lot, got me back on my feet, helped me finish my education. And he sent me to this shrink once a week until I got over my inferiority complex, as he called it. Then he got me into the police academy. I ain't got the faintest clue how he did it. He must have pulled some strings. But I got in and I kinda liked it. Then I met you and... well... the rest you know."

Slightly overwhelmed by the amount of information Vin had suddenly volunteered, Chris took a second to digest it all before responding. "So, Harry isn't your dad," he said, stating what was now obvious.

"Nope, he ain't. He's just about the only person who ever gave a damn about me before I came here. I reckon that makes him good enough to be my dad, since my real dad wasn't worth shit," Vin said, his tone bitter. "You know, I never did understand why my ma stayed with him. There were plenty of other men out there she could have hooked up with who would have treated her far better."

Chris eyed him thoughtfully, trying to come up with the right thing to say. As he thought about it, he realized there was really only one thing he could say. "You can't ask why in situations like that. Not without having the whole picture," he said. "I'm sorry you had such a rough childhood, Vin. But if Harry has taught you nothing else, I'm sure he's restored your faith in other people."

Vin sighed deeply. "It ain't so much that I've had a rough childhood, Chris. It's the talkin' about it that makes me sick to my stomach. It makes me angry, rememberin' what I put up with back then. I figured I'd be better off on my own, not trustin' anyone. Harry kinda put a spoke in that wheel, but... I ain't totally over it."

"And you probably never will be," Chris agreed. "But you should be able to tell your friends from your enemies. And one thing's for sure. We are your friends. And you've had me worried there for a while. Are you going to be more careful now?"

For a few heartbeats, Vin just sat there and caressed the kitten, then he looked up and gave Chris a somewhat shaky smile. "Yeah, I reckon I will," he said. "That house fallin' on me put the fear o' God in me," he added.

"I'm not much in favor of your methods, but I'm glad you've come to your senses, Vin," Chris said and rose again. "And one more thing. Keep that cat away from me," he added, giving the sleeping kitten a dark look. "That critter almost cost me one of my best men." That said, he turned and left the common room.

Vin grinned weakly and scratched the kitten's back. "Don't you listen to him. He likes you just fine," he said quietly and sighed. This time, it was a content sigh. He did feel like he'd found a home, albeit a temporary one. He knew this union wouldn't last forever, but he would damned well do what he could to make it last as long as possible.