JD Dunne stood watching as the stage pulled up in front of the hotel. It was a somewhat unspoken agreement among the seven peacekeepers that one of them always greet the stage, just to see who might be arriving. JD didnt mind the duty. He rather enjoyed seeing new people arrive, excitement showing on their faces as they undertook a new adventure, or town folk returning from a visit somewhere, their happiness at returning home obvious. Or maybe there would be someone there to receive a package or some mail.
JD watched as a woman stepped down, a basket in hand. She looked around, as though expecting someone, then approached him.
"Excuse me, but where might I find Vin Tanner?" she asked.
"Im sorry maam. Vins out on patrol right now. Should be back in a few hours. Is there something I can help you with? Im the sheriff here. Well, one of them anyway. Names JD Dunne."
The woman looked back at the stage, which was already preparing to leave. "I have to get back on that stage," she replied. "Could you see that he gets this?" she asked as she thrust the basket into his hands, then moved back to the stage, climbing inside moments before it drove off.
JD pushed his hat back on his head, puzzled over the unusual exchange. A sound drew his attention down to the basket in his arms.
Buck walked in to the livery, his eyes searching the dark building for his friend.
"Yeah Buck." Buck found him in one of the back stalls, rubbing down his horse.
"You about done? Chris wants ta see ya at the saloon."
"Jest about. Somethin wrong?"
"All depends on how ya look at it. Or whos lookin." Bucks eyes held a mischievous twinkle. Vin studied the mans face, but it revealed no more information. This did not mean good news. Whatever was up, Vin knew Buck was about to get a good laugh at his expense. He quickly finished up with Peso and the two men walked to the saloon together.
When Vin entered he saw the rest of his fellow lawmen clustered around a table. They were all studying something there, but their backs sufficiently blocked his view of what it was. His head tilted, studying the scene as he hesitated briefly. Bucks hand touched his shoulder, moving him forward.
Chris looked up as Vin approached. He struggled to keep the smile from his face as he looked at his friend. Watching Tanner squirm was going to be fun. "Looks like you have some explaining to do Pard."
"What cha mean?" Vin asked as he approached. The wall of his friends parted and revealed the table and the basket that they had been all staring at. Vin got a look at the basket and its contents.
Inside the basket was a sleeping baby.
"Cute little one. Whos it belong to?"
"Im guessing, you." Chris answered as he handed Vin an envelope.
Vin looked at Chris, startled, then slowly took the envelope. Looking back at the baby, confusion clearly on his face, Vin opened the letter. If he took his time, he might be able to decipher some of the letter, thanks to Marys teachings. But he didnt think he had the time, judging by the expectant looks on the faces of his friends. He studied the letter as though reading it, then handed it back to Chris. Chris took the move as an okay to read the note out loud.
It was Charlottes dying wish that this boy grow up with his father. She died just a few days after the child was born. I imagine I knew all along that the baby wasnt mine, but I tried to pretend that it was for several months. However I cant ignore Charlottes wishes and I also know that I could not pretend forever. The child was never given a name, as Charlotte was too weak after its birth to do so.
So Im sending the boy to you. He was born four months ago, on the 20th. Hes a good child. Take care of him.
Chris looked up at Vin, taking in the surprised look on the younger mans face, the widening of his eyes, as he continued to stare at the baby.
"Im sorry Vin. About Charlotte."
"A baby?" Vins voice was a whisper. The sound of the child stirring came from inside the basket. "Charlottes dead?" Realization began to sink in. "What am I suppose to do with a baby?"
It didnt take but a second for the rustling sounds to change to a soft mewing and then quickly into a wail.
"You might try feeding him."
"Chris...ummm...how do I " Vin was acquainted with the traditional method of feeding a baby, namely the mother took care of it. Chris reached inside the basket pulling out a bottle. He handed it to Nathan, who moved over to the bar and Inez, where they filled the bottle with milk and a little water to dilute it. It would work for now, hopefully, until they could get some of that new pre-canned formula from Mrs. Potter. Meanwhile Chris picked up the crying baby, who immediately began to quiet in expectation, its cries reducing to an occasional wail and a few hiccups.
"Sit," Chris instructed. Josiah pulled out a chair and the shocked tracker sank in to it. Chris positioned the trackers arms and placed the now squirming bundle into them. Vin looked from Chris to the baby and back again. Nathan handed the bottle to Chris who placed it in Vins hand, then directed the hand and bottle to the babys mouth. The child immediately quieted and began to eat.
"Well now, isnt this an unusual chain of events," Ezra murmured as he watched the nervous sharpshooter. JD had begun to explore the other contents of the basket, pulling out a few diapers, another bottle, a blanket and a single gown. The baby had quieted, the only sound coming from it was an occasional gurgle.
"Dont let him eat too fast," Nathan advised from behind Chris shoulder.
"Pull the bottle away now and then. Besides, hell need to be burped."
"Yeah. Put him over your shoulder, like this," Chris instructed placing one of the diapers over Vins leather-clad shoulder and positioning the unhappy baby there. The child did not want its meal interrupted. "Now kind of pat and rub his back till he burps."
"Whats the diaper there for?" JD asked, just as the baby burped quietly, then spit up a few bubbles of milk.
"That would be why." Buck retorted. Both Nathan and Chris moved in to help the confused tracker. Vin had no idea what to do. He was still dealing with the fact that this child was his and that Charlotte was dead. While he had put the whole Charlotte incident behind him, he still felt a loss at the news. And to say the least, the thought of having a child had scared him down to his bones.
Any torment the men had thought of inflicting on Vin had disappeared as they heard about Charlottes death. But watching their friend with the baby, seeing how Vins nose suddenly began to twitch, each one had to fight back laughter. They failed miserably with Vins next words.
"Umm Chris he uh well smells."
"I think your boy needs his diaper changed, Pard."
"Okay well uh I dont know how "
"Well, seems like its time to learn then. And from the smell of that diaper, I think you are on your own there."
"Nathan?" Vin looked at the healer as the baby began to fuss once more. Surely he wouldnt desert a friend in need.
"Uh uh .You gotta learn sometime Vin."
"Thanks guys. So glad I call yall friends." Vin let the sarcasm come out in his voice, but to be honest he couldnt blame them. He had no idea such a little thing could make such a bad smell.
But his savior pushed through the throng of men.
"Follow me," Inez said as she grabbed a diaper from the small stack. "One of you might want to see if Mrs. Potter has some more of these at her store. It wont take long for him to go through the ones here." With that, Inez took Vin to her room upstairs, and his first lesson in diaper changing.
Vin survived the diaper change, but when he and Inez came down the stairs, he did look a bit green around the gills.
While he was gone the others had jumped into action. They knew Vin had no experience with babies. Out of all of them, the only ones that did were Chris and Nathan. Buck admitted to being good at practicing making babies and playing with the ones that belonged to someone else. Josiah admitted to having been one.
So Nathan and Buck had gone off to Mrs. Potters store to get supplies, JD had gone to send off a telegram to verify the note and Josiah and Chris settled in to help the shaken tracker. The man suddenly had a lot to deal with.
The tracker sank into a chair, the small bundle snuggled contentedly in against his shoulder. Inez paused long enough to stroke the soft brown down on the babys head and give Vin a reassuring look before returning to work behind the bar.
"What am I gonna do? I caint raise a baby "
"Why not?" Josiah asked calmly.
"Why not? Because Ive got a bounty on my head. Because Im always lookin for someone ta walk up behind me with a gun. Because, until I came ta Four Corners I never stayed in one place moren a week or two. And because I never know when I might have ta do that agin. Besides, I dont know nothin about babies "
"You can learn." Chris injected. "Well all help where we can. And well watch your back, while you tend to more important things."
"But I " Vins next comment was interrupted by the return of the other lawmen, with two women in tow. Mary Travis and Gloria Potter had come along to check out the newest twist in the life of one of their peacekeepers.
"Vin? Is it true about Charlotte?" Mary asked as she joined the small group of men. In reply Vin just handed her the letter from where it lay on the table. She read it over quickly. "Vin, Im so sorry."
Gloria Potter moved over to Vin. "May I?" she asked nodding toward the now sleeping child. Vin nodded and the woman picked up the baby, cuddling it in the crook of her arm. Vin watched, marveling at the ease in which the woman handled the small bundle. Vin felt like he was balancing a raw egg on a pin when he held the baby, constantly feeling like he might break it. Mary moved to Mrs. Potters side and the two women began to coo over the child.
"Hes beautiful," Mary looked up from the angelic face directly in to one that looked completely lost.
"I think Vin will be taking a week or so off. Take some time to get to know his son." Josiah announced.
"Hell be looking for a teacher or two. Just to help him along," Chris added. "Would you ladies know anyone that might help out?"
"Chris, you know all you have to do is ask and well help. You dont have to drop such obvious hints." Chris smiled his thanks at the blonde woman.
"Thanks Mary." Vin murmured as Mrs. Potter handed the baby back to him.
"By all means. Its been a while since I got to fuss over a baby. Ill be happy to help out." Mrs. Potter added.
And so began the education of Vin Tanner.
Chris walked down the boardwalk in the early morning quiet. He stopped and watched his friend, who sat in a chair in front of the saloon, the chair tipped carefully back on two legs. A smile crossed Chris face. Tanner had the baby lying on its back across his chest. With one hand Vin held a cup of coffee. With the other he held a bottle as the child contentedly ate his breakfast. Chris moved on, taking the chair next to Vin
"Morning Pard. Hows it going with the little guy?"
"Not bad atall. Slept clean through the night agin. Woke up smilin."
Chris watched the baby, his tiny little hands placed as though holding the bottle himself, his bootie clad feet kicking out happily every few minutes. Chris smiled again as Vin pulled the bottle from the babys mouth, set the chair legs down on the ground and gently patted the babys back until he got a burp, then returned to his previous position, offering the baby the nipple again. When the child pushed it out, Vin sat the bottle aside and sat there holding a perfectly content little boy on his chest.
"You catch on fast."
Vin glanced at Chris from under his hat brim, then grinned at his friend, remembering the days that he had spent with Mary, Inez and Mrs. Potter learning as much as he could about caring for a baby. "Yeah. Reckon I aint as thick headed as I thought I was."
"Got a name for him yet?"
"Been thinking on that some. I was wonderin if I mean ya kin always say no it would be okay "
"Vin? Spit it out, Pard."
"Well, I kinda like the name Adam Christopher, ifn thats okay with you." Vin looked at his feet, somewhat worried about the request, not sure how Chris would take to the idea. "I mean, I dont have ta use that name. I could call him somethin else "
"I like it." Chris voice was quiet and filled with emotion.
"The name is a fine one Vin. Im honored."
"I reckon no one has to call him Adam outright. Could come up with a nickname. Or could change it to Christopher Adam if that would be better." Vin was rambling, something he never did.
"Its fine Vin."
There was a pause while Vin gathered up the nerve to ask his friend another question.
"I was talkin ta Josiah and he says he kin do a christening. Kinda like a namin ceremony. Says he kin do it this Sunday ifn I want."
"Sounds like a good idea."
"He says I need some Godparents. Someone ta take care of the little one should somethin happen ta me."
"Also a good idea."
"Chris would you be his godfather? Id feel a lot better if I knew he was with ya if I wasnt around."
Chris was fighting hard to keep his emotions under control. Vin had totally thrown him an unexpected curve with the name and now this. It was Vins way of showing him how much their friendship meant.
"Count on it."
"I figured Id ask the others too, but I wanted ta make sure youd do it first. Josiah said I also should make up a will and name a custodian in it. That would be you, Cowboy, if thats okay."
"Yep, thats fine."
"Okay. Good." Vin nodded at the decisions and paused again. The baby still lay on Vins chest, cooing quietly and playing with its toes. Vin rested his hand gently across the babys stomach to keep him from rolling off. "Thought maybe Id go out ta Netties tomorrow. See if shed come in ta the christening."
"I think it would be hard keeping her away."
Vin nodded. The two men sat in comfortable silence as the town came to life.
Vin approached the little homestead at a comfortable walk. He carried the baby in a sling that looped over one shoulder and across his back with the babe resting comfortably in the front. The rig left his hands and arms free.
"Hello the house!" Vin called out as he entered the yard. It took but a second for Nettie to move out onto the porch. Wiping her hands on a towel she moved down the steps, a smile crossing her face.
"Well, well. Vin Tanner what brings you out here? Or maybe I should ask how you knew I just finished baking a fresh apple pie?"
"Miz Nettie, I kin smell one a your pies clear back in town. But I come out ta introduce ya ta someone."
Nettie noticed the bulky cloth sling around Vins shoulder. "Vin? Son, what do you have in there?"
Even as she was asking Vin was lifting a cooing bundle from the carrier. He cradled the babe in the crook of one arm. "Nettie, this here is Adam Christopher. Adam Christopher Tanner. My son."
Nettie looked at the baby and back at Vin in surprise as the tracker spoke. "Boy, you have some explaining to do. Come on inside. Coffees on."
Once inside, Nettie poured two cups of coffee, sitting them on the rough wood table. Then she placed her hands on her hips expectantly.
"Well give me that boy and start talking," she demanded. Vin chuckled as he handed over his son then took a seat at the table. Nettie sat also, placing the baby gently on her knee and watching the babys face as he studied this new big person in front of him. The childs eyes studied her with a curiosity beyond his years, but made no move to fuss or cry. Vin watched the two, still fascinated by the reaction babies had on people, and by the reactions little Adam Christopher gave back.
"Vin?" Nettie urged sending the young man a meaningful look as she cocked one eyebrow upward.
"Oh yeah. Well ya remember that wagon train we went on a year or so ago?" Vin quickly explained how the baby had come to be in his care. Even saying as little as he could, it was still the longest speech Nettie had heard come from the sharpshooter. Without missing a beat, Vin handed over a bottle when the little boy began to fuss almost silently. The babys care had already become second nature to him.
"Well he must take after his daddy," Nettie replied when he was done. "Because he sure doesnt raise much of a fuss. Hes almost as quiet as you."
"You shoulda heard him the day he got here. He kin make plenty a noise if he wants ta."
"So what are you going to do son?"
"I gotta tell ya, I thought about finding him a good home with a proper ma and pa. Might still be the best thing for him. A kid deserves a real family. But I dont think I kin do that now." Vin paused as Nettie laid the baby over her shoulder, eliciting a burp. "Kids already gotten under my skin."
"Well you do seem mighty comfortable handling him."
"Still have a lot ta learn. But both Mary and Inez have offered ta watch him when Im workin. Mrs. Potter has too. And theyve all been teachin me what needs doin. Reckon the boy will just have more parents than most."
Little Adam began to fuss just a bit more and Vin held his hands out to take him. Once cuddled up against Vins shoulder, the baby settled right down, his tiny mouth puckering up in a big yawn. Within moments he was sleeping peacefully.
"I do have a question for ya." Vin continued to sip on his coffee while holding the baby in place with one hand. Once he was certain Adam was sound asleep he would move him into the sling. Until then he rather enjoyed the soft sounds his child was making. "Were havin a christenin tomorrow. I was hopin maybe youd be able ta come?"
"Son, nothing would keep me away." Nettie rose and uncharacteristically moved around behind Vin. She placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder and a light kiss on his cheek.
"Well, I was also wonderin ya see Chris and the others have agreed ta be godfathers. Adam Christopher here is gonna have plenty of uncles. But Im thinkin he might be needin a grandma. You willing ta take on the job?"
Nettie was only momentarily speechless. "Id be honored," she finally replied.
Chris ducked behind a water trough as gunfire broke out around him. Glancing about he spotted Ezra emerging cautiously from the saloon, guns seeking the source of the unfriendly fire. Buck appeared in the doorway of the boarding house. Josiah could be seen making his way down the street from the church. JD ducked into the alley behind Chris and Nathan had taken up a position in the doorway of the mercantile.
Chris quickly counted off eight men who were causing this latest trouble. Seemed about the right odds, he thought as he picked off one of the raiders. A second one fell to Bucks gun. But the remaining six had taken their own cover. It would now take a bit more work to smoke them out into the open once more.
The battle continued on with neither side making any progress. Another two of the raiders finally fell to the ground. Two more tossed out their guns, hands raised toward the sky. When the remaining two men finally broke their cover and headed toward the livery, Chris quickly followed.
He was surprised to hear guns bark before he reached his destination. Carefully entering the livery he saw Vin standing over the two, now injured, men. Chris gathered up their guns and quickly ran ropes around their wrists.
"These the last of em?" Vin asked.
"Yeah," Chris answered. Vin almost knocked the gunslinger over as he ran out of the livery. Chris quickly followed him, puzzled over the mans actions, even more puzzled as the younger man continued running toward the church. Then he remembered the baby.
The other peacekeepers had emerged from cover. Nathan and JD quickly escorted the two remaining raiders to the jail, then the men moved toward the church, where they could see Vin and Chris heading. Vin waded into some bushes, emerging moments later holding his son in one arm. His left arm hung at his side, blood dripping down it from a wound in his shoulder. The baby was crying and Vin talked calmly to him.
"Shh. Its okay little fella. The bad guys are all taken care of."
Chris almost laughed at the sight. But Vin was injured and needed Nathans care. He stepped up to Vin.
"Vin, Nathan needs to look at that shoulder. Let me take the boy and well get you over there."
Vin almost refused. Adam was still crying. But Vin also knew that Chris could handle a baby. He handed his son over to his best friend and together they walked toward Nathans clinic. Nathan moved on ahead of them to gather supplies, while the others moved on to clean up the streets and take care of prisoners.
Chris followed Vin up the stairs, his precious cargo nestled in one arm while watching Vin, hoping that his friend didnt suddenly succumb to shock and blood loss on the way up. But they made it up the stairs and inside without any further incident.
Nathan took over as Chris tried to quiet Adam Christopher. At best he managed to get the baby calmed to a slight hiccuping sob, even after a diaper change and an offered bottle. Vin kept an eye on the pair, worried about why the baby was still crying, while Nathan removed his shirt and checked out the shoulder.
"Bullets still there Vin." Nathan stated, knowing that it was something more than obvious.
"I know Nathan. Do what ya gotta."
As Ezra and Josiah entered the clinic, Nathan had Vin move over to his newly acquired exam table. Reluctantly the tracker lay down and let Nathan work. Josiah and Ezra helped hold him down just in case he moved suddenly.
The bullet was lodged tightly against bone and under muscle, having entered at an awkward angle. By the time Nathan was done, Vin was hurting more than he had with previous injuries, and didnt object a bit to being assisted to a nearby bed. Nathan and Ezra propped pillows behind his back so he was sitting up slightly and Vin sank, exhausted, into the downy mound.
The last thing he did was reach for his son. Chris propped the still fussing baby against Vins uninjured shoulder. Within seconds the baby quieted.
"The infant already knows who his father is," Ezra murmured.
"And he already has that father wrapped around his little finger," Josiah added as Vins eyes closed and his breathing regulated into sleep. Chris left long enough to get the basket Vin still used for the baby to sleep in, transferring the now sleeping child inside it. Then he settled in for the night, intending to watch over his friend and godson.
Vin awoke and quietly looked around the clinic, getting his bearings. Chris was sleeping leaning back in a chair. Nathan was stretched out on a cot nearby. A soft mewing sound got his attention and made him realize what had awoke him in the first place. He glanced over the edge of the bed, stifling a groan as he moved his bandaged shoulder.
Adam Christopher lay in his basket, his mouth moving slightly in a sucking motion, his face wrinkling occasionally as he began to awaken. Vin glanced at the window. The sun was just rising.
Silently Vin pushed himself from the bed. Foregoing his boots and shirt as impossible to get on by himself, he reached down with his good arm and hoisted the basket by the handle. Then he made his way to the door, slipping out and heading toward his room. His boy was going to be awake soon and would be hungry. And Vin had no doubt that he was ready for a diaper change, although he wasnt sure how he would be able to do that one handed.
He was saved that task by Mary. The blonde newspaperwoman was standing in her doorway, a cup of coffee in her hand when she saw Vin move uncomfortably down Nathans stairs. She left her doorway to meet Vin as he began his trek to the boardinghouse.
"Vin? You shouldnt be carrying him right now. Let me help," she said as she moved up alongside him.
"I kin do it Mary. He just needs a changin and some breakfast and I didnt want ta wake the others." Vin tried hard not to be self conscious of his state of undress. If it bothered Mary, she didnt show it.
"Well it would be my honor to change him. Besides, I have something for him. Do you have diapers with you?"
"Looks like Chris put some in the bottom of the basket. Couple a bottles too."
"Then why dont you come in and have a cup of coffee. Ill change him and you can give him a bottle while I show you something."
Mary thought that Vin was about to refuse so she was a bit surprised when he relinquished the basket to her care and followed her to her home.
Mary ushered him in, depositing the basket on her table and pulling a chair out for Vin before turning and pouring the tracker a cup of coffee. He accepted the mug gratefully, keeping one watchful eye on the basket as he took a sip of the strong brew. Mary moved off into another room, returning a moment later with a piece of white fabric.
"I was wondering," she said as she pulled up a chair across from Vin and laid out the frilly white garment, "If you would do me the honor of using this for the christening?"
Mary watched as Vin looked at the white baby gown, a puzzled look on his face. "Its a christening gown. Its been in my family for generations. Billy wore it when he was christened, and I would love it if your little boy wore it too."
"Mary thats right nice a ya. Thank you." Both pairs of eyes moved to the basket as the baby began to stir. Mary stood, and giving Vin a wide smile, scooped the baby up along with a clean diaper and moved off into the other room to change him.
The coffee did a lot to chase the last of the cobwebs from Vins mind and he was fully alert and hurting by the time Mary returned. Without complaint he allowed her to give the baby his morning bottle.
"Id be willing to bet hell sleep a bit more." Mary said as she gave the now contented child a final burping. "Why dont you do the same? From what I saw you lost a lot of blood. The rest would do you good, especially if youre still planning on having the christening today. It wouldnt be a good idea for you to be passing out during the service."
"Reckon yer right." Vin began to stand when a wave of dizziness overtook him. He reached out and grabbed the edge of the table as Mary rushed to his side, one arm moving around his back to steady him.
"Im okay. Jest got up to fast. Probly shouldve woke Chris and had him take care a the boy."
"Ill tell you what," Mary said as she began to move the still wobbly sharpshooter toward another room. "You lay down in here and get some sleep. Ill look after the baby. I have some cooking to do for the luncheon were having after the christening anyway and hell just be sleeping so he wont be any extra work at all." Mary was a bit surprised when she got no argument. Instead the man sank onto the feather bed and showed no resistance when Mary plumped up a couple pillows and helped him lean back into them. His eyes closed almost immediately.
"Thanks Mary." The soft voice could be heard as Mary began to pull her bedroom door closed.
"Youre welcome Vin."
Vin woke several hours later, feeling much more rested and steady on his feet. Slowly, so as not to tempt fate, he sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed and looked around, getting his bearings. Then he silently padded across the floor and opened the door.
Chris looked up from his coffee cup to see the half naked bounty hunter leaning in the doorway of Marys bedroom. He tried to suppress the smile that threatened to curl his lips.
"What do ya think the town folk will think Vin? You and Mary shacking up and all."
Vin pushed off from the doorway, moving cautiously across the room to the coffee pot sitting on the stove and poured himself a cup before joining Chris at the table. He leaned back in his chair and took a long pull on the mug, one eyebrow cocking over the rim at the dark clad gunslinger.
"Marys got him with her at Mrs. Potters," Chris answered the unasked question. "Theyre going to get him all gussied up in that fancy gown."
"Nice a Mary to want him ta wear it," Vin replied.
"She gave me a job before she left though."
"Get you all gussied up." Chris smile broke through on that one.
Vin snorted in reply.
All the same, an hour later Vin and Chris were at the church when Mary, Inez and Gloria Potter arrived with the baby, four of the other regulators following behind them. Chris had helped Vin shave and they were both dressed in their nicest clothes; Chris in a suit long forgotten and Vin in his newest trousers and a deep blue shirt he had held back for special occasions. Josiah waited for them inside. Nettie and Casey pulled up as the small group gathered outside.
"Wooo hooo, would you look at these two! Youd think somethin special was happenin today!" Buck made a big scene of walking around and looking Vin and Chris up and down, inspecting how well they had cleaned up. "Oh! Thats right! Somethin special is happenin. That little boy is getting baptized and well finally find out if hes gonna have a name or not."
"Yeah Vin? What are ya namin him?" JD asked. Vin hadnt seen the others much since he had gotten permission to use the name and he purposely hadnt mentioned the name in case Chris changed his mind.
"Youll find out soon enough," Chris jumped in. "Shall we go inside?" Chris offered his arm to Mary as Nathan took the basket carrying the baby and the group moved inside where Josiah waited. They gathered around the pulpit and baptismal font and Josiah began the ceremony. He kept the ceremony brief, knowing Vin would likely tire quickly, but combined many different beliefs, knowing Vins background with the Kiowa and Commanche. He brought the ceremony to a close.
"In the name of all that is Holy, and in the eyes of the Gods, I name this child Adam Christopher Tanner." Josiah dribbled water over the quiet babys head as Chris held him over the font. Nettie smiled as the eyes of the other four men opened wide in shock and stared between Vin and Chris. Bucks mouth dropped open, almost as if he were going to object to the name, until he saw the look on Chris face as he handed the baby to Vin.
"Well Pard, I figure thats a damn fine name! However I think the sound of Adam Bucklin has a better ring to it, dont you?" he said, effectively breaking the air of suspense and tension that had formed while waiting to see Chris reaction to the name.
"How could you even do that to that little boy?" JD asked. "People would hear that middle name and figure he had animal maggotism too." Buck made to swat at the non-existent hat on JDs head.
"Well ole Pard, I think this boy likes his name just fine as it is," Chris replied, running a hand over the childs hair as it burrowed its head into Vins shoulder and searched for his fist. "And so do I." Everyone laughed as little Adam Christopher let loose with a loud gurgle of pleasure, as if agreeing with Chris comment.
"Gentlemen, these women have prepared a scrumptious repast for us. Shall we retire to the saloon and partake of these fine victuals?"
"Did he just say we should go eat?"
"That he did JD, that he did." Josiah put his bible away and followed the group of friends out the door.
Four years later
Vin smiled as a bundle of raw energy topped with a head of wavy brown hair charged at him and threw himself into Vins arms, instantly wrapping legs and arms around the sharpshooter.
"You know what today is dont ya?" the little boy asked excitedly.
Vin smiled. "Sure do. Its Tuesday."
"Papa!" The boy pulled back and looked at his father in consternation. "You know what it is!"
"Ya mean it aint Tuesday?" Vin chuckled as Gloria Potter stepped out of the door of her store. "Did he behave himself today Mrs. Potter?"
"As always Vin."
"I helped her sort buttons! She gave me a peppermint stick cuz I did such a good job!"
"Well good job Boy." Vin gave the child an extra squeeze and a wink.
"Is it time Papa? They didnt forget did they?" Adam Christophers face showed concern the way only a child can.
"No Boy, they didnt forget." The boys face lit up and Vin swung him up onto his shoulders. "Are ya coming Miz Potter?"
"I wouldnt miss it. Just let me put this apron away." Gloria Potter turned to reenter the store, untying the apron as she went.
"Can we go Papa, can we go?"
"Jest a second boy. Were gonna wait for Miz Potter and walk her over."
"Okay." The child did not act disappointed at the delay but took it in stride, watching as people moved about the town that was the only home he had ever known. "Theres Mrs. Travis Papa! And I saw Grandma Nettie earlier today. She came in and bought some yard goods!"
Vin had to smile. The boy normally didnt talk so much, or so loudly, except when he was alone with members of his family, but today was a special day and the childs excitement was contagious. Gloria Potter emerged and the threesome moved happily toward the saloon.
"I dont know, Boy. Maybe we should just forget this and go fishin," Vin teased as they stepped up onto the boardwalk and he swung the child down off his shoulders.
"Aw Papa, youre just joking! Come on! Theyre waiting for us!" Adam Christopher grabbed Vins hand and began to pull the man towards the swinging doors. Gloria laughed as she followed the pair but was brought up short just inside the door where the boy had stopped.
"Woooowwww!" The child looked around in amazement. The whole saloon was festooned in bunting and streamers. A cake sat on the bar next to a pile of packages. And all their friends were gathered there to celebrate with them. The decorations were the same as those used the year before, and the year before that, but Adam Christopher didnt care. He understood the meaning of the decorations and was suitably impressed each time he saw them.
"Well Ace? Ya just gonna stand there or are ya gonna let your pa and Miz Potter come in too?" The boy looked at Buck a bit sheepishly then moved on into the room, pulling Vin along as he went. Suddenly dropping his fathers hand the little boy threw himself at Chris, who happily picked him up, receiving a hug in return. Adam Christopher surveyed the people gathered there then looked back at his father. "See? They remembered what day it was!"
"But Master Tanner, how could we possibly forget? Youve been reminding us for a week now."
"Uncle Ezra!" The boy held out his arms and was quickly switched into Ezras arms, giving the man a hug before pulling a coin from behind Ezras ear. "Ive been practicing!"
"And it shows my young man. Well done!"
The boy made his way around the room, being passed from one person to the next, giving each a warm hug and sharing a bit of childish wisdom with each.
"Can we do it now Papa? Please?" the boy asked as he reached the last of the people in the room.
"I reckon we kin."
Inez put the boy up on the bar and stepped behind to place several glasses on the counter as Ezra popped the corks on two bottles of expensive champagne, then proceeded to pour some into each glass. Inez poured a smaller glass of sarsaparilla into one for Adam Christopher. Then the glasses were distributed and all eyes moved toward Vin, who, as usual, became suddenly self-concious of the attention. But clearing his throat he began to speak anyway.
"Four years ago taday my life changed. That was the day my boy come inta my life. And it sure aint been the same since." Everyone chuckled and he continued. "That was also the day that I realized that I could have a home and a family, somethin I never thought Id ever have. Maybe I was a bit thicker than yaall cuz I think ya knew we was already family, right from the day we all met. But it took a little baby for me to realize that I already had one in all a you." Vin lifted his glass into the air. "Ta family."
"To family!" came the chorus of voices in reply.
"Can I do the presents now Papa?" The childs voice broke the adults reverie. Vin smiled and moved over, picking his boy up and giving him a huge hug.
"You bet we kin! Mary? Could ya give us a hand?"
"Certainly." Mary stepped forward as Vin set the boy down and stood back to watch. One year to the day after Adam Christopher, more commonly known as A.C. or Ace to Buck, had come into his life Vin had thrown a party to celebrate his family. Vin wanted his son to know how to give, so the party involved a gift from A.C. to each one of the men and women that had helped raise him. The boy looked forward to this party even more than he did his birthday or Christmas because he understood the importance of the day.
Chris moved over and joined Vin leaning against the bar as the small boy delivered gifts, hugs and kisses to each member of his family with Mary helping him read the tags on the gifts.
"Youve done a good job, Pard."
Vin shook his head. "Ive had a lot of help. WE did a good job. It sure werent just me." The two men watched as the adults reacted to each gift the child gave them, treating the gift as though it were gold, which to the men it was. A.C. came over and grabbed Chris hand, pulling him out into the center of the room.
"Its your turn Uncle Chris." The now solemn child handed Chris a package and waited impatiently as the man in black opened it. Inside was a framed picture of a childs drawing. The picture was of a stick man with yellow hair and a black hat. On either side were smaller stick figures, one shorter than the other but both with brown hair and their hands in those of the stick man. "See Uncle Chris! This is you. And this," the boy pointed to the shorter of the two smaller figures. "This one is me. And that one is your Adam."
Chris swallowed hard. "Adam Christopher, its perfect. Thank you." He gave the child a hug, fighting hard to keep the emotions from overflowing. Planting a kiss on Chris cheek, the child ran off to give another gift, not realizing that he gave the best gift of all with a simple hug and kiss. Chris rose and looked across the room, touching his forehead as if touching the rim of a hat. Vins gift was in sharing his son with the others.
Vin nodded and raised his glass once more in a toast. "To fatherhood," he said quietly.
"To fatherhood," Chris answered just as quietly and smiled.
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