"Little Britches" Universe

Disclaimer: No infringement is intended in regard to The Magnificent Seven, owned by MGM and Trilogy. No profit is being made from this activity.
Thanks: To J. K. Poffenberger and S Berry, the originators of the Little Britches Universe, who have kindly opened it for all of us to play.

JD waited impatiently by the steps, bouncing from one foot to the other. Vin finally appeared and JD grabbed his arm and yanked him toward the shady tree where Peso waited patiently. The cantankerous animal was kept safely tethered away from the other children’s horses.

“Come on! Come on!” JD urged.

“I’m comin’ JD. Quit tuggin’.”

“It’s Buck’s turn so I don’t wanna be late!” JD knew it would be easier to convince Buck to let them skip chores and play.

When the boys had begun school, Chris and Buck had organised a rotation to be sure that one of them would be home in the afternoon, waiting for the boy’s on their return.

Vin led Peso over to the mounting block and saddled him up. Settling himself astride, he reached a hand down and pulled JD up behind him. They set out at a face past, taking advantage of the lack of adults to ride the way they preferred. Vin considered it only fair to Peso, who had to stand waiting for them.

Buck had been keeping a watch for the boys and stopped his work as they entered the yard.

“How was school today?”

JD slid down to greet Buck while Vin took Peso into the corral.

“We did more ‘rithmetic again. I’m gonna learn times tables soon.”

“How about you Vin?” Buck asked as he helped unsaddle the big horse.

Vin shrugged wordlessly in reply.

“What? Nothing new?”

“Nothin’ special.” The older boy shrugged again.

Originally Buck had been concerned at JD attending school so soon, being the youngest and still small for his age. Buck thought that he would be a target for any bullies. However, JD had settled in quickly and now chattered about the different friends he’d made. Instead, Vin had become the concern. He was quiet and shy, rarely mentioning anyone else at school. The boys had started part-way through the semester as Chris had held them out of school until they seemed more settled and confident in their new home. Now winter was on them and the Christmas holidays had arrived.

“Hey, homework first,” Buck yelled as the two boys headed off to play.

“Hah Buck,” JD laughed. “We got no homework. It was the last day today.”

“Okay, but remember I want your chores done before dinner. The firewood boxes are getting low inside,” he reminded them as they ran off.

Chris arrived home just after dusk, pushing the front door open to find Buck preparing dinner and the boys inside, arguing over checkers. The fireplace was blazing taking the early chill from the air. Chris paused on the threshold for a moment as he took in the aroma of dinner cooking, the clatter of kitchen pans, children’s voices and the warmth of the fire. The tableau caught him for a moment, familiar yet somehow not quite right.

Buck’s yell from the kitchen to close the door against the draft slammed home the difference. He pulled the door shut behind him and hung his coat on the nearby hook.

“Hi Chris,” two voices called in unison.

“Evenin’ boys. How was school?”


He took in the matching grins. “Don’t get too excited. Two weeks and then you’re back at school again. Pack that up now,” he indicated to the checkers. “Go and set the table for Buck.”

Places were set and Buck soon served out his chicken and dumplings, much improved after some helpful hints from Nettie Wells.

“Well Christmas holidays are here, so that must mean we need to do a little decorating around here. Time for a tree!” Buck enthused.

“Buck, we’ve got a week, you don’t want it too early,” Chris discouraged.

“It’s never too early. We’ll just water it a little and it’ll be fine. We need to get this place all festive and we’ve got supplies to pick up for Nettie. If we’re all going to be at her place for Christmas dinner, then we need to stock up her kitchen.”

Chris could see everyone was excited at the thought and tried to get into the spirit of things. Maybe when they had the tree he’d feel better about it.
There was no trouble raising the boys from their beds the next morning. They were eager for Christmas and the tree was just the beginning.

JD and Vin bounced along happily on the back of the buckboard.

“Can we have snow for Christmas?” JD asked, eyeing the distant white-capped peaks.

“I don’t think we’ve got much call on that. You might want to check with Josiah on that one,” Buck suggested. The town would get frost and icy temperatures, but rarely move than a dusting of snow that soon melted in the sunlight.

“Oh,” JD frowned, disappointed. “Can we get a really big tree then?” he asked, trying for his next best option.

“How big?” Buck asked warily.

“Has to touch the ceiling!” Vin declared.

Buck grinned sideways at Chris, but noticed that their driver didn’t appear to be very interested in the conversation. Buck decided to ignore the dark mood.

They drove for some distance into the hills to find just the right stand of trees. Eventually the buckboard was abandoned as the tree hunters decided to head off the trail in search of the elusive perfect Christmas tree. JD wouldn’t agree to the tree Buck selected. Vin thought JD’s tree was crooked. Chris’ suggestion was ignored by all for being too small. Vin’s favorite was declared to be lumpy by JD.

“Look, we’ve been here nearly two hours. You two choose one,” Chris ordered, halving the decision makers in an attempt to speed things up. Fingers snapped out to point to their respective selections. Chris sighed as the fingers pointed in opposite directions.

“Mine wants to be picked!” JD begged.

“It’s a tree, it doesn’t know anything about Christmas,” Vin argued.

“Does too!”

“Does not!”

“Does too, and yours is lumpy!”

“It’s not, it’s perfect!” Vin turned to the waiting axe men. “It’s perfect!”

All the trees had begun to look the same to Chris some time ago. “Buck?”

“No way,” he protested. “I’m not going to be the one to break a heart. You cut that one and I’ll cut this one.”

“We don’t have room for two trees Buck,” Chris explained impatiently.

“Nettie can take one,” Buck explained.

“Boys?” Chris asked. “One tree for us and one for Nettie.” Chris decided not to break a sweat until everything was decided. “Who’s tree is going to Nettie?”

Vin looked at JD’s tree carefully, circling it slowly, studying it from all angles. He could see the obstinate look on his cousin’s face and decided that JD’s tree was acceptable for them. Nettie could have his tree because it was the best one.

“My tree goes to Nettie,” Vin instructed.

The decision made, the trees were quickly felled and the branches tied neatly for transport. Chris and Buck carried them back to the buckboard and loaded them under the scampering supervision of the boys.

It was decided to head directly to Nettie’s to unload half of their cargo.

“Move! You’re sittin’ on my tree!” JD cried out shoving at Vin.

“Am not. I’m over as far as I can.”

“You’ll squoosh it!”

“Will not. I’m not touchin’ it!”

“I’ll sit on yours!” JD threatened.

“Don’t you dare. It’s Nettie’s tree.”

Chris quickly tired of their bickering. “Will you two settle down! If I have to stop this wagon and come back there, then you’ll both be walking to Nettie’s,” Chris warned.

Vin and JD sank into silence, mouthing threats at each other in defense of their respective trees.

Nettie saw the familiar wagon approaching. She wasn’t expecting visitors, but these ones were always welcome.

“What have you got there?” Nettie asked as the boys jumped down from among the spruce branches.

“It’s a tree!” JD declared. “It’s for you ‘cause we got two. Vin picked this one.”

“You didn’t have to go to all this trouble.”

“Trust me Ma’am, it saved us a lot more trouble. You don’t already have one do you?” Chris asked.

Nettie scoffed at the idea. She’d long ago give up on the bother of a tree, only putting out token decorations for visitors during the Christmas season. Well, this Christmas would be different so she happily waved them inside with their gift. Buck and Chris wedged the tree into a small barrel Nettie found, and placed it in the room under Vin’s careful instructions.

“My, that is a big tree,” she said, eyeing the upper tip just brushing the ceiling.

“Gotta touch the ceiling Nettie,” Vin explained, eyes glowing at the sight of his big tree in the corner.

“Well I think it needs a few decorations now.”

“We can help you string popped corn,” JD offered. “We’ve gotta do ours too.”

“I think you’ll need barrels of popcorn to make enough strings for these trees. How about you make me some strings in exchange for some of my decorations.”

Nettie disappeared into her room and opened the old trunk in the corner. She removed a smaller box and returned to her guests.

“Here we are.” Nettie opened up the box and pulled out wide red ribbons tied into bows, pressed tin stars and a dozen porcelain figurines.

“Nettie, we can’t take any of those,” Buck exclaimed at the delicate items.

“Of course you can.”

“They might get broken!”

“They’re decorations, let them do their job. Now, how about something for the top of your tree?”

“Ooh Nettie, wow!” JD exclaimed. Vin was silent, held spellbound by the object. Nettie held a multi-point star, woven from fine threads of copper and silver. It need a little polishing to really brighten it, but it still glowed warm and soft after all these years.

“We can’t take that Nette.” Chris tried to politely refuse the delicate item.

“You have to keep that for your tree Nettie,” Vin said. “We’re all having Christmas here, so it should be on your tree.”

“Well, all right,” Nettie agreed, refolding the star in the cloth. “But you have to take the other things.”

Chris studied the items before abruptly turning away. “I’ll go check on those repairs we did for you.”

Nettie gave Buck a questioning look at the odd departure.

“The season has him a little moody,” Buck offered by way of an explanation.

“How about some milk and cookies for you boys?”

“Yes please Nettie!”

“But how about…”

“Yes, two milks and one coffee,” Nettie amended for Buck.

“Chocolate cookies?” JD asked, eyeing the cooling trays.

“No, oatmeal or sugar cookies.”

“What are those then?”

They’re ginger molasses cookies. Those are for Christmas, so no sneaking them.”

“How come you ain’t made ‘em before?” JD asked.

“Because they’re a Christmas tradition for me. My own Grandmother would make these. They were always my favorite.”

“But if you like them so much, why not make them all the time?” Vin asked.

“Because I like to keep some things special, just for Christmas.”

“What else do you do?” JD was hoping to take part in other special treats.

“Well, I’ll hang garlands over the fireplace and put a wreath on the door. These cookies of course, my special turkey stuffing, spiced cider.”

“We don’t have any traditions. I don’t know if what we did was ordinary or a tradition,” Vin explained.

“That’s all right Vin. All traditions have to start somewhere so you can start some of your own.”

“Traditions are important aren’t they?” Vin asked surprised. “I can’t just do somethin’.”

“Traditions are just reminders of people and things past. Some things everyone does, like decorate a tree or sing carols, because they’re remembering Christ on his birthday. Other things, like my ginger molasses cookies are for me to remember my Grandmother. A tradition only has to be important to you.”

“Nettie, we have to head off now.” Chris had returned without anyone noticing and startled the group with his interruption.

“Would you like a coffee?” Nettie offered.

“No, we have to get home, but thanks. Boys!” he called, urging them onwards.

Nettie made sure that Buck took the box of decorations with him.

“Vin?” Nettie called, halting the boy on the porch. “Some people have a tradition where a special decoration is hung on the tree to remember a loved one.”

Vin realised what she meant and nodded slightly at the new idea. “Thanks Nettie.”

“You all take care,” Nettie called.

“We’ll be back tomorrow with your share of the popcorn string,” Buck reminded.

Nettie laughed at the idea. He’d surely underestimated that task.
The four arrived home and JD was eager to have his tree put up. Buck located a suitable tub to stand it in and wedged it upright with some small logs.

Chris stared at the sight of the big tree in the corner. Christmas had now encroached on the house and was becoming unavoidable. JD’s voice suddenly cut through his thoughts.

“Let’s decorate!”

“No. Leave it for tomorrow. We’ve still got a ranch to run,” Chris chided. Very little work had been done today.

“Aw, but…”

“No. Chores boys. Get going.” Chris ordered, delaying Christmas a little longer.

“Chris…” Buck started to complain.

“No. We’ve got shorter days and a ranch work still to be done. Everything doesn’t just stop for Christmas.”

Buck watched the disappointed faces as they headed for the door. “Well, we’ll get the damn work done and the tree will still be decorated tonight,” Buck challenged, slamming out of the house after the boys.

Buck found them already hard at work, mucking out the stalls.

“Are we still makin’ popcorn strings Buck? We promised Nettie some.” Vin was worried at having taken Nettie’s ornaments and now having nothing to give her in return.

“We sure are. If we all work hard and quick, we’ll have plenty of time before and after supper,” Buck reassured him.

Buck made sure the animals were taken care of and all the essential work done. Chris had gone to check on some of the more distant paddocks. Buck brought the boys back into the house and set about popping the corn they would need.

JD soon discovered that it was going to take a lot more work than he expected. He was soon distracted by Nettie’s box of ornaments while consuming handfuls of popcorn.

“Hey! You can only eat ‘em if you’re threading them,” Buck ordered, hoping to blackmail the youngest back to the task.

Chris returned to the ranch and saw all was quiet. He expected that they would all be inside on that tree again. He pushed open the door and watched the preparations. The boys hadn’t noticed his arrival, laughing with Buck as they were raised up to hang items from the upper branches. They were all so happy and excited. Chris saw the item that Vin had picked up to place next on the tree and he stepped further into the room.

“No angel Vin,” Chris ordered, startling the occupants of the room into silence.

“Chris? But?” Vin was confused at the order.

“I said, no angel.” Chris threw a dark look at the innocent tree before turning on his heel and leaving the house again.

Buck followed Chris outside, furious at his order. He found him already leading Pony from the barn.

“Chris!” He was ignored as Larabee kicked Pony into a hard run, stones flying up from the racing hooves. Defeated for the moment, Buck returned to the house.

Buck shook his head at Vin’s questioning look. “We’ve got plenty to get done,” he encouraged. “Let’s get back to all that popped corn.”

Buck tried to distract them and began the tale of the Littlest Donkey, one of his favorite Christmas stories. As the story ended Buck realised that Vin had never spoken or asked questions like JD. He looked over and saw Vin still with his head down, furiously stringing more corn. He had accumulated quite a pile of lengths before him.


The small hands stopped, but the head stayed down.

“How about we start putting some more of those up?” Buck was rewarded when the head was raised and the long hair pushed back.

Vin was surprised at the question. “We can keep decoratin?”

“Of course. Why shouldn’t we decorate?”

“Chris didn’t seem real happy about it.”

“Well Vin, Chris gets a little sad at Christmas time, but that’s no reason for us not to celebrate the season.”

“He’ll be with us on Christmas Day won’t he?” Vin couldn’t even picture Christmas without Chris.

“I guarantee it. He wouldn’t miss Christmas with us.” Even if he had to kick Larabee’s ass all the way to the Well’s ranch, he’d make sure he was there.

“Anyone for a late supper?” They had worked through their normal meal time but there’d been few complaints due to the amount of popcorn that had traveled from the bowls to little mouths rather than on to strings.

“I’m too full Buck,” JD sighed, laying back on the floor.

“Well, how about you two get ready for bed then.”

Buck had them organised and settled easily as they had tired from all the activity of the day. He waited for evening prayers then tucked them in.

“Chris back?” Vin asked quietly.

“Not yet Vin,” Buck consoled, pulling the blankets up a little higher.

Buck delayed going to bed, but still Chris didn’t return. Buck made one last check of the house and the boys before retiring for the night.

Buck didn’t know what had disturbed him. He was usually a heavy sleeper and Chris was the one to answer the boy’s midnight calls. Buck couldn’t hear anything unusual although he was convinced that something wasn’t right. He threw back the warm covers to investigate.

He couldn’t see anyone at first. Finally his eyes picket out the blanket wrapped figure in the rocking chair. Buck wasn’t sure if he should disturb the young boy as the night meetings in that chair were Chris’ domain.

“Vin?” he called quietly. Vin didn’t turn or even appear to hear him.

The fire had died out and the heat from the stove didn’t extend very far into the larger living area. Buck moved around to face Vin, only to find he was asleep, curled up tightly in the hard chair. Buck didn’t want to consider how long Vin had waited there. He reached down and slipped one arm under Vin’s knees and the other behind his back, picking him up carefully. He hoped not to wake him, but Vin murmured softly at the disturbance. Buck lifted him a little higher, settling him more comfortably to carry him back to bed. He heard a sleepy voice in his ear.

“ ’ris?”

“No pard.”


Buck didn’t take offense at the note of disappointment in the voice. Vin finally realised he was moving.

“No, I’s waitin’.”

“Shh, Vin. It’s too cold to be up. You need to sleep in you bed.”

Buck settled Vin back with only a few sleepy grumbles. Buck was sure he’d heard Chris return in the early hours of the morning, but he was concerned that Chris hadn’t heard Vin. He entered his friend’s bedroom carefully, not wanting to startle him. Buck could smell the reason that Chris hadn’t heard Vin or himself. The open whiskey bottle sat on the nightstand, three quarters empty. Buck couldn’t swear to it’s contents before this night, but Chris had drunk enough not to hear Vin get up and not to be disturbed by someone else in his room. Buck took the bottle and glass back out to the kitchen. Buck understood that the Christmas season and having the boys here had brought back a lot of memories, but he wasn’t standing for this. Much as he wanted to wake Chris and blister his hide with a few choice words, he knew the boys might hear. He’d corner Larabee tomorrow when he knew the boys would be out of earshot.
Chris Larabee pried his eyes open late the next morning. His pounding head and the fuzzy coating on his tongue reminded him of his previous night's’ activity. He moved slowly to dress and decided to find some strong coffee. He didn’t recall that a hangover could make your eyes hurt when you breathed, but then he hadn’t hit the bottle like that for a while. Not since the boys had joined them at least. Chris shuffled around the house, but found it empty. He headed outside in search of the others.

Buck watched the black clad figure emerge from the house and appear to go in search of something.

“Lost something Larabee?” Buck demanded.

Chris squinted over towards the voice, the glare from the morning sun playing hell with his headache.


“I took ‘em over to Nettie’s.” Buck’s cold tone warned Chris.

“What’s your problem?” Chris snarled as Buck’s voice reawakened the hammers inside his skull.

“You. You never drink like that in this house again,” Buck ordered.

“A man can drink in his own house.”

“No he can’t. Not while those two boys are under this roof. You were so drunk last night you never even heard Vin.”

“What’s wrong with Vin?” Chris asked. He didn’t remember much of last night after returning late.

“What’s wrong!” Buck yelled. “You and your attitude to Christmas is what’s wrong!”

“Leave it alone Buck,” Chris warned, turning away.

“What? Are you going to up and leave again? Go and get a few more bottles?”

“Buck!” Chris spun around and glared at his friend, trying to force him to back off.

“I’m not going to explain to Vin again why you’re still in bed at 9 o’clock in the morning. He was worried that you were sick, and he’s worried you won’t be with us Christmas Day.”

“It’s not Vin’s fault.”

“At least you realise that much. It still hasn’t stopped you from making him pay the price.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s just…”

“It’s just what? Too hard? Too painful? I know you’ve got bad memories, but this is their first Christmas with us.”

“It’s the little things that keep bringing back Sara and Adam,” Chris tried to explained.

Buck had given Chris all the time and space he could. It had to end. “What is so bad about that. Of course you’re going to think of Sarah and Adam, especially at this time of year. But you’re not just thinking of them, you’re focusing on them. You’re making Vin compete with ghosts. What chance has he got?”

“I can’t just put them aside Buck, and pretend they were never here,” Chris denied angrily.

‘I’m not asking you to. I loved ‘em and miss ‘em too. Vin understands that, he knows that loss as well. But he doesn’t know anything else about them. Try sharing them with him.”

“He doesn’t need to hear about the people I’ve lost. He’s had enough to cope with.”

“Then don’t tell him what you lost, tell him what you gained. You had six wonderful years with Adam and even longer with Sarah. Share the little things. Tell him why you didn’t want the angel, not just snap at him and disappear.”

“I’m not going to go around talking about them to everyone.”

Buck felt his fingers curl into a fist. Tempted as he was, he knew he couldn’t face Vin if he gave in to the impulse. He uncurled the fingers and dragged his hands through his hair in aggravation.

“I didn’t ask you to share your family with everyone, I asked you to tell Vin about the rest of HIS family.”

Chris was surprised by the words being thrown at him. He and Buck had had their share of arguments over the years, but Buck rarely pushed him on issues involving his family. Chris didn’t realise that he’d become lost in his thoughts.

Buck could see that he’d lost Chris’ attention. He threw up his hands in disgust, tossing one last warning at the man.

“Vin thinks the sun rises and sets with you, but he’s been disappointed by people before and if you disappoint him you’ll lose everything. You sure as hell disappointed me, drinkin’ like that in the house, and you’re dangerously close to disappointing him over Christmas. I promised him you’d be at Nettie’s. If you don’t turn up and celebrate like a family you’ll break Vin’s heart.” Buck decided it was time to make Chris realise what was at stake. “If you do that I’ll make it very clear to Vin that he can look to me first for anything he ever needs.”

Chris heard the threat to his position with Vin, but the surge of anger was tempered at the realisation that Buck thought this was needed to protect Vin.

“I've got work to do, seeing as how we’re running a ranch here.” Buck turned and left the man standing by the empty corral.

Chris stayed there for a long time considering Buck’s words. So many things had brought Sarah and Adam to mind in the last few days. He was tired from trying to hold back the memories. He had to admit that Buck was right as he realised he’d tried to hold back Christmas as well. The boys didn’t deserve to have their holiday ruined. He hadn’t seen so many smiles, or heard so much laughter since their arrival. It wasn’t just the boys. Buck had always tried to spend Christmas with the Larabee family. Buck and JD together were just like watching Buck when Adam was growing. Every game, every story, every joke was ready on request. He was spoiling Buck’s holiday as well.

It wasn’t until well after lunch that Chris saw Buck again. Buck was saddling his horse, going to collect Vin and JD who’d ridden over on Peso. Chris went and collected Pony, saddling him without an invitation from Buck.

The ride to Nettie’s began in silence. Buck never held onto his anger long, and he truly missed Sarah and Adam himself.

“Chris.” Buck began, trying to bridge the gap.

“No Buck. You were right. I haven’t let you remember them either, have I? Seeing you with JD, playing games and telling those stories again. I’m sorry for doing that to you,” Chris apologised.

“We’ve both got another chance here. We could turn this into a helluva good Christmas Chris,” Buck grinned.

Chris and Buck both entered Nettie’s home at the call of welcome from inside.

“Hey. This is wonderful Nettie,” Buck complimented. The living area was transformed, the tree decorated, garlands of spruce over the doorways and red cloths over the table and sideboard.

“Certainly is Nettie,” Chris added. He saw the tree, decorated so like theirs. Nettie’s had a few more ribbons tied in much neater bows. His gaze caught on the white and gold figure hanging front and center. It looked like the angel Nettie had given them.

Vin and JD had appeared from the kitchen. Vin saw the object of Chris’ attention and moved defensively between it and Chris.

“Nettie’s tree,” he warned with a younger version of a familiar glare.

“Vin!” Nettie called the boy back to the kitchen. “You go and get cleaned up with JD.” Nettie was curious at the unusual exchange. “Chris?”

“Sorry Nettie, I had a problem with the angel.”

Nettie frowned, confused at the odd statement. “Vin returned it, but he didn’t explain why.”

“Could I take it back?”


“No Nettie!” Vin cried, as he returned to see Nettie removing the ornament.

“Vin, Chris would like it back. You and JD both have something special, and Chris would like to have this.”

Vin and JD each had a personal item for the tree with a lot of Nettie’s assistance today. She had sewn and embroidered two small hearts, a blue for Vin and red for JD. Vin was confused by Chris’ change of heart, but he’d do as Nettie asked. Buck caught his friend’s eye then nodded in understanding.

“Thanks for taking the boys today,” Buck said.

“Oh, my pleasure. I hope you two got all that work done.”

Buck look to Chris, who comfortably supplied the answer. “I think we’ve got everything covered for Christmas now.”

“Is there something else we can help with?” Both felt guilty at the work they were sure Nettie was undertaking.

“No, no. I’m best left to myself in the kitchen. It wouldn’t be Christmas without all the baking. You just make sure you all turn up hungry on the day.”

“Nettie, is it really all right with you to have us all here?” His recent thoughts of Sara and Adam had brought him to consider the widow who’d taken on so much for them.

“It’s a joy Chris. I’ve not bothered much with Christmas in recent years, but that’s not because it’s difficult or unpleasant. It’s never seemed worth the effort for just myself.”

“It must still bring back memories.”

“Oh course, but they’re wonderful memories. It’s sad but true, that some memories are fading with the passing years, but like that old star on the tree, it only takes a little effort on a special occasion and they can shine bright and true again. You don’t have the advantage of the years to take the painful edge off yet. It will get easier,” she reassured him.
Buck settled for a simple meal that night, the soup accompanied by a loaf of fresh bread supplied by Nettie.

“Can we have another story Buck?”

“I think we’d better take care of the dishes first.”

“Go head, I’ll do them,” Chris offered.

“You don’t want to hear the story?” Vin asked, disappointed.

Chris had heard these stories so many times and even told them many times to another boy. But this was all new to Vin and JD. There were so many firsts he could share again. “Guess those dishes can wait.”

Chris saw the relieved look on Vin’s face, regretful of the upset he’d recently caused.

They all gathered close to the tree for Buck’s next story. Chris saw the two new decorations in the tree. Vin followed his gaze.

“The blue heart is for my Ma, and the red is for JD’s, so we can remember them and share Christmas with ‘em. Nettie said I could pick traditions I like, and I like this one,” he added a little defensively.

“It’s fine Vin. It’s a very nice tradition.”

Chris could feel Vin’s eyes on him, waiting silently for him to make the next move. Chris found that he couldn’t yet explain. He looked over expecting to see the disappointment Buck had predicted. Instead he just found the steady blue gaze and patient acceptance. Vin settled on the floor, close but not quite touching. Chris knew he often neglected to say the words, but he and Vin both still found words easier under the cover of darkness. He trailed a hand along Vin’s shoulder as Buck started the story. Vin took up the silent offer, scooting back a little to rest against Chris’s side.

“You haven’t lost your touch, but you’ve lost your audience,” Chris commented as Buck finished the story.

“You take the big one and I’ll take the little one.”

Chris saw a suspicious twitch from JD. “I don’t know. I think they need a bath tonight. We could sneak them in while they’re sleeping.”

Two pair of eyes snapped open in horror.

“Ain’t Saturday!” Vin complained.

“Oh! So you are awake.” Buck poked at JD’s ribs with a finger, causing helpless giggles.

“Ain’t Saturday. No bath!” Vin demanded.

“How long have you two been scamming rides to bed? I think we’ll have to change a few things here Buck.” Chris grabbed Vin and tossed him over his shoulder, Vin’s arms dangling down his back. Buck followed his example, dangling JD over his shoulder as they carried the boys back to their room. Both were dropped on to their beds still in fits of laughter. JD continued to giggle so hard he rolled onto the floor with a soft thud.

“Oh no!” Buck commanded, picking up the squirming boy and dropping him back on the bed. “In bed you stay.”

“Three sleeps ‘til Christmas!” JD reminded them all, scrambling into his nightshirt.

“Don’t worry, we’re not gonna forget it,” Buck laughed.

After the boys were settled, Chris and Buck finished clearing up from dinner and settled back for the evening. Buck retired to his room after a few more hours, but Chris never settled into bed.

Chris unwrapped Nettie’s angel and studied it closely. It was wasn’t the same as Sarah’s but that hadn’t been the problem. Just being an angel had been enough. He selected a branch in the front and hung it carefully. He settled back into the rocker, keeping the fire stoked low, staring at the white and gold figure.

Vin padded out from his bed in nightshirt and socks. He immediately saw the extra decoration on the tree and Chris’ rapt attention. Vin knew Chris had been sad and upset over the angel, so he moved a little close in silent offer. Chris accepted readily, stopping the rocking and reaching over to help Vin climb up. Chris pulled the afghan over both of them as Vin rested back against his chest, the chair moving again slowly and rhythmically.

“Nettie’s a very smart woman.”


“Every Christmas Sarah would hang her angel on the tree. She said it was her guardian angel."

“Her tradition?”

“Yeah, I don’t really know why. It just had to be there.”

“Did she have lots of traditions?”

“Yes. She loved the holidays.”

“Why didn’t you keep on with ‘em. It’d be nice to have family traditions and remember folks for them.”

Chris hugged a little tighter. “It just hurt too much to remember.”

“I think it would hurt more to forget.” Chris bent low and rested his head against Vin’s.

“I’m beginning to think you’re right.”

“Did Adam have traditions?” Vin decided to dare to ask.

“Well he had favorite things. He loved Buck’s Christmas stories. He couldn’t get enough of the peppermint candy canes. We couldn’t keep them on the tree as decorations. He and Buck stripped the tree clean every day. He was just so excited by the holidays.”

“Sounds a lot like JD,” Vin sighed.

“Well you’ve been getting a little excited yourself.”

“Well, you weren’t really doin’ your part, so I had to cover for both of us,” Vin chided.

“How about if I start doing my share.”

“’bout time,” Vin sighed. “You were beginin’ ta wear on m’ nerves.”

Chris could definitely hear Buck’s influence in there somewhere. “We should head back to our beds.”

“Mmm, s’pose,” came the muffled response.

“Yeah, maybe in a few more minutes.”

Chris settled back, content in the silence. He’d never seen a child who could be so still and quiet for so long. Adam had been a lot more like JD. Always with questions, always getting into mischief with Buck. He stared at the firelight and let his minder wander. Memories flooded in, but this time he didn’t try to dam them up; the creak of the chair, just like Sarah would rock slowly as yet knitted or sewed; the scent of pine from the Christmas tree that would bring such a look on wonder to Adam’s sweet face.

Vin was right. It did hurt less to remember than it did to try to forget. Chris could feel the change in Vin’s weight as he started to drift off into sleep. He decided to stay where he was a little longer, content in the peace of the moment.

Buck tried sneaking in with the presents before dawn. He cursed silently as he saw the room was already occupied.

Chris cracked an eyelid open at the disturbance and saw Buck with his arms piled high in gifts, jerking his head toward the boy’s room. Chris grunted as his stiffened limbs remembered they’d spent the night in a chair. Vin began to stir as the human pillow beneath him moved.

Buck silently urged him to get Vin away before he awoke. Chris knew there was no way he was standing without waking Vin. Buck was grinning as he set down his load and moved up beside Chris to help him stand. He laughed silently as Chris held back groans of complaints from stiffened muscles. Vin stirred restlessly again, but thankfully stayed asleep. Buck’s smug grin followed him as he carried Vin back to bed.

Chris kept Vin wrapped in the afghan, hoping not to wake him by the touch of cold sheets.

“No,” the sleepy voice complained at the abandonment.

Chris stayed silent, not wanting to disturb him further, rubbing slow circles on his back until he settled more deeply into sleep.
Buck and Chris made sure they were up before the boys in the morning. Both grinned as the two boys skidded to a halt, eyes wide and mouths falling open. Buck and Chris took a moment to appreciate the stunned speechlessness. From Vin it wasn’t so unusual, but from JD it was a minor Christmas miracle.

“There’s so many!” JD gasped, finally finding his voice.

“Well they’re from Me, Chris, Nettie, Ezra, Nathan and Josiah,” Buck explained.

“Presents from everyone? All at once?” Vin asked in amazement.

“Well it is Christmas,” Chris explained patiently.

“But we didn’t get them anything,” Vin worried.

“Don’t worry Pard, we’ve got you covered.”

“When can we open them?” JD asked, on hands and knees under the tree inspecting the pile.

“Two more sleeps JD,” Buck reminded him.


“Three minus one. That’s definitely two.”

“Could be wrong,” JD tried, looking to Chris for confirmation. He’d started arithmetic at school and he was sure it was right, but the prize was worth checking.

Chris hid his grin at Buck’s outraged look at being questioned on simple math.

“Definitely two, JD”.

JD considered it for a moment before disappearing back in his bedroom.

“JD? What are you doing?” Buck asked.

“Goin’ back to sleep. I’m startin’ on those two now,” JD called back.

Buck hauled JD out of bed again, trying to explain that sleeps only counted if sunrise was involved.

“What’s on today?” he asked, desperate to change the topic.

“We’ll go pick up those supplies for Nettie. There’s a leg of ham in the smokehouse we need to take over as well.”

“I thought we were having turkey.”

“That too. Nettie’s planning on visitors. Nathan is going to drop by on the way out to visit Rain, Josiah said he’d visit after morning service and I suspect Ezra will find some reason to drop by.”

“Hot damn. I knew it was gonna be a hell’uva Christmas!”

The End

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