Triple Play

by Purple Lacey

The first dim rays of the sunrise could be seen when Vin dragged his weary body from the bed in Buck's guest room and made his way to the bathroom down the hall. Vin felt half-dead as he shuffled into the bathroom and his jaw popped with the size of the yawn that escaped him. He couldn't remember the last time he had ever felt this tired. The traumatic events of the previous day had taken an emotional toll that was only magnified by the intermittent sleep he had managed the night before. Even with Buck and JD's help with the triplets during the night he had managed to steal only about two hours sleep. Vin's internal clock had roused him at his regular waking hour, but if not for the call of nature, Vin felt he could have stayed in bed for the rest of the day.

He shuddered to think how he would feel in a week if he felt this bad after only one night. It didn't bear thinking about.

Vin suddenly felt the need to apologize to his friend for all the jokes he had made at Buck's expense when the exhausted man had dragged himself into the office those first few weeks after he became a father.

Vin was just starting to appreciate what Buck had gone through. He found his respect for the big man growing with every hour he spent taking care of his own little ones.

That Buck and JD would voluntarily go through that again, knowing it would be three times worse this time, served to prove the depth of their friendship. Vin wasn't a religious man but he found himself sending up prayers of gratitude that these loyal and caring men were in his life.

Vin jerked his head upright and stretched his eyes wide in an effort to stay awake when he caught himself falling asleep standing over the bathroom sink while washing his hands. He glanced at his reflection in the vanity mirror and didn't recognize the face peering back at him for a moment. His hair was in one rat's nest of a tangle, and a thin line of dried drool led from the right side of his mouth to his chin. His cheeks were dark with early morning stubble and his eyes were so bloodshot he could have been waking up from a weeklong bender. The beginnings of dark circles could be seen under his eyes and gave him a slightly raccoon- like look. Any other morning, he might have been startled at how awful he looked, but at that moment he was just too tired to really care.

He padded out of the bathroom and started down the hall back to the lovely, warm bed that waited in Buck's guest room. Vin pulled the covers on the bed back and had one leg on the mattress as he started to crawl back in it, when the early morning quiet was broken by the thin wail of one of the newborns. The single cry was swiftly joined by two others. Vin's heart-felt groan joined the early morning tumult as he cast a longing look at the bed before dragging his leaden body upright again and went to tend to the infants.

Vin stepped into the hall once more and bounced off the large jeans- clad body of Buck. Buck was running a tired hand through his sleep tousled hair as he passed Vin's door on his way to the babies' room. Buck barely registered the impact, and continued, zombie-like, to the children's room. Vin managed to catch his balance on the door frame and then followed behind the large man.

Vin heard the shuffle of JD's feet behind him but didn't have the energy to turn and look at the shape his friend might be in. Each man unconsciously moved to the positions that they had established during the long night. Buck headed to the bag filled with diapers and grabbed three, automatically tossing two to the others. Vin was just awake enough to catch the diaper when it sailed in his direction, but JD was caught in the middle of a yawn and the diaper rebounded off his bare chest and landed at his feet. JD blinked in confusion for a minute before bending down and retrieving it.

Diaper changes were done swiftly and three exhausted men lifted three now calm babies and started down stairs in the ritual that had started the night before. They trudged to the den where Buck and JD each chose a recliner and sat with the babies they held. Vin handed the child he held to Buck to hold and made his way to the kitchen and proceeded to warm the three bottles waiting in the refrigerator.

Vin folded his arms on the kitchen counter top and laid his weary head on them as he waited for the formula to warm, and had almost drifted off to sleep standing there when the timer for the warmer went off, jerking him to wakefulness again. Vin grabbed the prepared bottles and trudged back to the den to find his two friends dosing in their chairs, arms wrapped securely around the wriggling bodies of the children. Vin grunted at his friends and punched each one on the shoulder to get his attention before passing them a bottle. Vin took the baby Buck handed him and dropped onto the couch. He guided the bottle's nipple into the hungry little mouth.

He closed his eyes and, for one moment, let his head drop against the back of the sofa as he held the greedily nursing little girl in his arms.

Vin grasped at the words Buck had given him with a grin at 2:30 that morning as a drowning man does a lifeline.

“Just remember, it's not forever.

They'll be sleeping through the night before too long.”

“I can do this,” Vin murmured to the tiny girl watching him over the top of the rapidly emptying bottle. “If I can make it through survival training in the Rangers, I can do this… right? Piece of…,” Vin broke off with a yawn, “cake.”

When the baby had had enough formula Vin pulled the bottle from the little mouth and set it on the coffee table and raised the little one to his shoulder. He gently patted her back until the little burp signaled he had made it through another feeding. Vin stretched his tired frame out on the sofa, and carefully laid the now sleeping baby on his chest. He just needed to rest for one minute then he would have the energy to take the baby back upstairs to bed. That's all he needed… just one…(yawn)… minute, then… he'd…

The sun was shining brightly into the den when Rita entered it at about eight o'clock. She had to suppress her laughter at the sight that greeted her, but couldn't stop the fond smile from taking possession of her face. Buck and JD were both kicked back in the recliners sleeping soundly. Vin was lying on his back across the sofa snoring lightly. He had one knee raised against the sofa back and the other hanging over the edge, his bare foot resting on the carpet. Although sleeping deeply, each man had his hands folded protectively over the child lying on his chest so peacefully. Rita silently slipped out of the room and returned minutes later with JD's camera, snapping several pictures of the three men and their little charges. This was a one picture that had to be preserved for posterity.

7 7 7 7 7 7 7

Vin came awake slowly, pulled reluctantly from a sound sleep by the sound of a tiny voice singing near his ear. He managed to open one eye and found himself gazing at the top of a little brown head. It took him a few seconds to recognize it but eventually his tired brain managed to make sense of his surroundings. Angel was standing by the sofa, bent over a little at the waist, and had her head turned parallel to the baby lying on his chest. The little girl had one small hand stroking the baby's back as she sung to it. Vin had to smile at the sight.

“…see the little puffer-bellies all in row. See the station master turn the little handle. Puff, puff, whoo, whoo, off they go,” Angela sang.

Vin recognized the song Buck had sung for her since she had been a baby herself and felt a rush of affection for the child flood through him. It gave him a warm, connected feeling to have his friend's little girl, the child that he had doted on since her birth, sharing such an important piece of her own childhood with his daughter—giving her a legacy of love and affection with the softly sung song.

“Mornin', Sweethearts,” Vin. His voice captured Angel's attention and she raised her head to gift him with a merry smile. “How are my two sweethearts doin' this morning?”

“Morning, Uncle Vin. Can I help with your baby? I'll be real careful, Uncle Vin. I can go get my bears and we can play picnic. Can she play with me, please, Uncle Vin. We can have a lot of fun. I can show her everything about the house, and…” Angel spoke in an excited rush.

Vin placed a finger across her lips to interrupt her. “Uhh, Angel, the babies are still too little to really play with you yet. About all they can do right now is sleep, eat, and cry.”

Angel's face dropped into a tiny pout. “Then what can I do? I'm a big girl now. I can help, Uncle Vin. Uncle JD and Daddy get to help. I want to help with the babies, too!”

“But you're already helping, Munchkin,” Vin cupped his hand on the back of the Angel's head and pulled her down to place a kiss on her cheek. “Every little baby needs a lullaby. You were doing exactly the right thing for her when you were singing so sweetly to her. I'm sure she likes to listen to you.” Vin assured her.

“Really?” Angel beamed.

“Yep,” Vin smiled. “Absolutely!”

“Should I sing some more then?” Angela asked. “I know lots of songs!”

Vin cast a look at the two men still sleeping deeply in the reclined chairs and shook his head.

“I think maybe we'd better be quiet right now and let your Daddy and Uncle JD sleep while they can, Munchkin. They had a long, hard night last night. I'm sure they'd appreciate the sleep. I know she'd love for you to sing to her later, alright? Why don't we go see if Rita has any coffee ready? I could use about a gallon of it right now and maybe some breakfast.”

Angel threw one more look at the baby on his chest then reluctantly agreed. Vin held the baby against him with one hand as he pushed himself upright with the other. He rose from the long sofa and rolled his head in an attempt to ease the crick he had gotten from sleeping with his head on the arm of the sofa, then settled the baby in the crook of his arm. He reached down and took Angel's hand and headed for the kitchen.

Rita threw a look over her shoulder as the kitchen door swung open and the trio entered. The housekeeper smiled at the tousled man, pre-schooler, and baby as they entered her domain and turned from the stove where she was frying bacon to reach into the cabinet and take down a large mug. Rita filled the mug with coffee and sat it on the table in front of Vin when he sat down. Angel walked to Rita and gave the woman her morning hug and kiss.

“Good morning, Angelita,” Rita said, “And good morning to you to, Vin. I see you survived your first night of fatherhood.” Rita grinned down at Vin. “How is the little one this morning?”

“Doing fine, Rita. A lot better than her old man, let me tell you. I can't remember when I've felt this tired, and I don't really know why. I mean… I've stayed up for longer periods when on duty, but I've never felt like this. Never felt like…like…like someone just inserted a vacuum in my body and sucked all the energy out.”

“Welcome to parenthood, niño,” Rita laughed.

“You're such a comfort, Rita,” Vin sneered sarcastically and glared at the laughing woman.

“Drink your coffee, Vin,” Rita said and pushed the sugar bowl towards him.

“Maybe this will help sweeten your disposition this morning, yes?” This earned her another glare.

Rita turned back to the stove to check on the bacon and Vin shoveled several spoons of sugar into his coffee hoping for a quick energy boost. He raised the mug to his lips and inhaled deeply, appreciating the aroma as never before. Vin took a big sip and sighed in satisfaction. He just might survive the morning after all.

The baby held in the crook of his elbow came awake with slowly blinking eyes and began waving her little fists in the air. The motion immediately caught Angel's eye and the little girl scurried around the table to stand at Vin's side.

Angel reached out and took one of the little fists into her hand and shook it back and forth gently.

“Morning, Baby,” she said with an excited smile and kissed the small hand she held in her own. “Uncle Vin?”

she turned her head up to look at the man. “When are you going to tell us her name?

Doesn't she need one?”

“Well, Angel, I gave that a lot of thought during the times I was awake last night. I think I've decided. What do you think about calling her Dallas? Dallas Nayeli Tanner.”

“That's a beautiful name,” Rita told him, “very unusual. I've never heard the name Nayeli before.”

Vin threw the woman a shy grin from behind his coffee mug. “It's a Native American word. It means ‘I love you'.”

“Dallas,” Angela nodded her approval. “Good morning, Dallas. I'm Angela. I'm you're cousin. I'm a big girl. I'm gonna help take care of you. I promise I'm gonna take real good care of you. I'll sing to you, and play with you. You'll like it here. We got a big house and there's lots of fun stuff to play with. I tell you all about the rules. That way you won't get in trouble.”

“That's right good of you, Munchkin,” Vin leaned down to kiss Angel's cheek again. “I know you're going to be a great little helper.'

“Why don't you be a helper and run upstairs and get a diaper for Dallas? I'm sure she's going to need one soon,” Rita told the child with a smile.

Angel looked at Vin for permission and took off out the kitchen door at a run when he nodded to her.

“I made up some more bottles of formula and put them in the refrigerator, Vin,” Rita threw over her shoulder as she reached into the frig for the eggs.

“Thanks, Rita.”

“I think we need to talk a few minutes about what will happen when you have to return to work, niño,” Rita said as she cracked eggs into the frying pan and started to scramble them. “It will be my pleasure to help take care of the babies for you, Vin, but I don't think I can do it by myself. With the housework and Angel to deal with and now adding three more little ones to the mix, I don't think I will be able to do it alone. It will require additional help.”

Vin nodded his head and said, “I know, Rita. Three babies and a pre-schooler is more than I could ask you to take on. I guess I can find a day care for them…”

Rita swung around angrily and put her fists on her hips.

“You will do no such thing, Vin Tanner. I never meant to suggest that. Taking those babies out of their own home and sticking them in daycare when there is a perfectly acceptable alternative would be a crime.”

Vin stared at her in confusion, “But you just said…”

“I said I would need help. If you would pay for someone to come in everyday to help me care for the children then they would not have to leave here. That was all I said.” Rita glared her disapproval at the now contrite man.

“Oh. Sorry,” he apologized.

Rita turned away with an offended sniff and resumed her cooking.

“I know of a few good women that would be interested in the job,” Rita relented enough to say.

Vin felt a wave of relief at her suggestion. He felt much more comfortable with the idea of the children remaining with Rita all day that putting them in daycare. It would probably be cheaper that way as well.

Vin, Buck, and JD had discussed money matters the previous night. Buck had been prepared to let Vin stay for free, but Vin had been adamant about paying his own way. They had come to an agreeable arrangement and Vin was surprised to find he would actually be paying less to live in the large, comfortable home that he had been paying to live in his tiny apartment in Purgatorio. Buck and JD were happy as well since their monthly housing expenses would be reduced.

With the money he was saving on rent, Vin could more than afford to hire a full time helper for Rita and still have more at the end of the month than he had before.

Vin cast an appreciative eye around the kitchen of his new home, and heaved a glad sigh. Problems that he had seen in his path when he had first found out about the babies seemed to be working themselves out without a lot of effort on his part. Vin knew he owed the sudden smoothness of the road ahead of him to the group of friends that had banded together to support him. Vin didn't know what he had ever done to deserve such consideration, but he would hold these friendships close to his heart and thank God for them everyday.

7 7 7 7 7 7 7

Vin was kicked back in his chair, his long legs stretched out under the table, when Rita outlined her plan to a replete Buck and JD while they were sipping a final cup of coffee after a big breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and pancakes. She also mentioned she already had someone in mind for her helper. Vin witnessed the flash on concern that crossed Buck's face at her words. Buck's eyes rose to his and Vin could see his friend was uncomfortable.

“Having help does sound like a good idea, Rita. I can see where four children, keeping this house, and doing the shopping and cooking would be too much for one person. But… umm, with them coming into the house … I, uhh, well…” Buck stammered.

Rita turned from her task of loading the dishwasher to face him with a knowing look.

“You want a chance to pass judgment on this person before she is hired,” Rita stated.

Buck looked at Rita and then back at Vin before speaking again. “Well, yeah. I mean … it's not that I don't trust your judgment, Rita… but she'd be with Angel and I…” Buck broke off then started again, “I don't want to sound unreasonable or something, Vin , and I sure don't want to start off your living here sounding like the house dictator or anything, but I just got to be careful when it comes to Angel's welfare, you know what I mean? I…”

Vin had to smile at his friend as he struggled to express his concerns without alienating the housekeeper or Vin. Vin watched in amusement as Buck verbally stumbled around for a few seconds before deciding to put the man out of his misery.

“Buck! It's okay. Really, I understand what you're saying and I agree with you. You should have a say in this since the decision will affect you and Angel, too. I have no problem with that. It's only fair. If the tables were turned I'd feel exactly the same way. I'm sure Rita understands your concern too, don't you Rita.”

“Si, Buck. I never meant to make you think otherwise. Angel is your first concern and that is how it should be. The person I have for the job is someone you and Angel already know. I believe you will approve,” Rita assured him.

Buck smiled in relief.

“Thanks for understanding. I just want what's best for everybody, you know? I want to help you, and I really don't mean to tell you what to do when it comes to your own children, Vin,” Buck turned a serious face to his newest roommate.

“No worries, Bucklin,” Vin assured him. “I'm sure we'll all have to settle into this arrangement. It's gonna be strange for me for awhile because I haven't lived with anyone for years, and you and JD and Rita all have your routines and ways of doing things worked out. It'll take time and a lot of adjustments to fit me and the triplets into it all that. I'm sure there's gonna be a lot of rubbing each other the wrong way until things work themselves out.

I really appreciate what y'all are doing for us, and I want this to work out. I can be patient with y'all if y'all will be patient with me.”

“You got yourself a deal, pard,” Buck grinned and reached a hand over the table to shake Vin's.

“You bet,” JD shook Vin's extended hand too. “This is going to be great!”

Vin smiled his usual contained smile at the young man's enthusiasm.

“So Rita,” Buck turned his head to look at the woman who had been silently observing the three men, “you said you had somebody in mind to help? Who were you thinking of asking?”

“Mrs. Wesley,” Rita informed him.

“Judith Wesley?” Buck asked in surprise, “The lady that lives down the block?”

Rita nodded her head in affirmation.

Vin looked at Buck in concern and said, “There something wrong about this lady?”

Buck hastened to assure his friend by answering, “No, there's nothing wrong with her that I'm aware of. I'm just surprised Rita might think she would accept the job. I mean… she's a widow and I know she's not hurting for money. From what I understand her husband left her pretty well off. I know she has kids and grandkids of her own because I've met them a couple of times. They're really nice people, and I know she and Angel get along great.

She'd be wonderful if she was interested.”

Vin looked between Buck and Rita, observing both but not feeling comfortable enough to voice an opinion without meeting the lady in question.

“What makes you think she might like the job,” Buck asked the housekeeper.

“I think she would jump at the chance to help. She has three grown boys and 4 grandchildren, but they are spread out across the country. The son that was still living in Denver got a promotion and had to move his family to Boston two months ago, so she doesn't have any relatives left in the city. She was a good mother and a doting grandmother. Now she's lonely and misses her grandchildren. I believe she would love to have someone to focus her attentions and affections on. You would be very lucky to have her if she agrees. She's a very caring woman, and the best part…” Rita smiled at Vin in triumph as she prepared to lay down her trump card, “she raised triplets of her own so has a wealth of experience to draw on.”

“She's right, Vin,” JD hastened to say, “Mrs. Wesley is a really nice person, and gets along with children very well. You couldn't do better, if she's interested.”

Vin glanced at each approving face and made his decision. “Okay. If you think she'd be good then I'd be willing to meet her, providing she'd be willing to take it on.”

“Good,” Rita smiled. “I'll talk to her this morning about it. If she says yes, I'll bring her by to meet you and the children. I know you'll like her, Vin, but if you don't I still know of some others who would do.”

“Okay, Rita. You just let me know what she says and we'll go from there.”

Vin was a little nervous when Rita informed him later that morning that Judith Wesley would be coming by that afternoon at one o'clock. He was anxious to find a sitter for the children, but worried that the woman coming to interview for the job might not be the best person to care for his little ones.

He knew he had to leave the children to work, but he couldn't do it unless he could place his complete trust in the person he was leaving them with. With the sudden arrival of his three newborns, Vin had discovered a protective streak in himself that seem to reach ten miles across, and he found his priorities had shifted in the blink of an eye. Nothing was more important to him than those little blessings.

Vin was seated in the den, watching the triplets snooze in the large blue playpen Buck had given to him, when the doorbell rang at one o'clock and he involuntarily tensed. All his senses seemed to go on alert as he prepared to vet this stranger as a potential caretaker for the triplets. Vin had to force himself to remain seated when his instinct was to jump up and stand guard in front of his children like a lioness protecting her cubs. He took a few deep breaths and tried to force himself into a calmer state of mind. He was only partially successful when Rita escorted her friend into the room.

Vin's hawk-like gaze swept over the smiling woman who was laughing at something Rita had just said. She was tall for a woman, only an inch or so shorter than himself, and he guessed she was somewhere in her late fifties. Her long salt and pepper hair was pulled away from her face in a casual pony tail that just seemed to accentuate the fine bones in her face. Vin watched the amused light shining out of her chocolate brown eyes and noticed the laugh lines than appeared at the corners of her eyes and mouth. This was a woman that smiled a lot. When she turned to face Vin as Rita introduced them, he could see the kindness beaming out of her as she held out her hand. Vin was pleasantly surprised by the firm handshake she gave him, and felt the deep velvet of her calm voice soothe more of the tension from his body as she spoke a greeting.

Vin had always relied on his instincts when it came to people. They had kept him alive more times than he could count. Most times, with the notable exception of Charlotte, they were right on the money. Vin's instincts were telling him this was a woman that could be trusted.

“Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Wesley,” Vin murmured politely.

“The pleasure's all mine, Mr. Tanner,” Judith corrected him. “Rita has told me all about you and the children. I'm absolutely thrilled that she thought of me when she needed help. I adore children. I have three boys of my own and always wanted more, but it wasn't to be. Now that my son Derreck has moved with his wife and two children to Boston, I just miss the little sweethearts so much! I hardly know what to do with myself any more. I got so used to having my grandchildren around that now they are gone I find it very hard to fill my time. Having a few little ones around to see to would be a joy for me, Mr. Tanner. It certainly beats rattling around in that big old house alone. I was seriously considering getting a cat…and I've always been allergic to cats,” she laughed, “So you will be doing be a favor and saving me a fortune in doctor bills.”

Vin had to laugh at the woman that seemed so secure in herself. Judith Wesley just seemed to radiate love and good humor.

Vin found that last little tense part of himself relaxing at last.

“Always willing to help a lady,” Vin grinned at the smiling woman, “If you want it the job's yours. Now, about the wages...”

Judith stopped him from proceeding farther with a raised hand.

“Mr. Tanner, I really have no need for money. My husband left me very comfortable in that respect. I would be doing this for the satisfaction alone.”

Vin's faced her with his closed, stubborn look and stated firmly, “Ma'am I ain't no charity case. Never took it in the past and I never will. I pay my own way, and I'll pay for my children. We better get that straight right up front.”

Judith watched the proud father for one moment then smiled at him gently, “Alright. I can see that being independent is important to you, so I believe we can reach a compromise we can both live with. How about…”

Judith named an amount that Vin knew was far below what anyone else would have charged for their services.

“That's sounds a little low to me,” Vin replied.

“Compromise, Mr. Tanner, remember?” Judith reminded him, “I give a little, you give a little and we're both happy.”

Vin stared for a moment at the woman who met his gaze unwaveringly. He considered her offer for another minute then his face broke out into a smile and he reached out his hand to shake hers.

“It's a deal, Mrs. Wesley” Vin said.

“Wonderful,” Judith replied as she grasped his hand again, “and it's Judith. Now, let's see those little ones.”

“Alright, Judith it is, and I'm Vin.”

Judith stepped up to the play pen and looked down on the sleeping children with appreciative eyes.

“What are their names, Vin?” Judith asked without raising her eyes from the children.

“Dallas Nayeli, that's her there. She's the youngest and smallest,” Vin pointed out. “Austin Hunter, he's the one with slightly darker hair than the other two, and Houston Wyatt, he's the oldest by about half an hour.”

“Oh, Vin, they're adorable. Oh, Rita, just look at how sweet they are,” Judith cooed.

A smiling Rita approached and laid a hand on Vin's shoulder as he stood proudly accepting the compliments he knew were his children's due.


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