"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe
Disclaimer: I claim no rights to the concepts of Magnificent Seven and its characters in any of their incarnations. Those rights are reserved for Mirisch, Trilogy, MGM, Watson, CBS, TNN, and the Hallmark Channel. Poffenberger and Berry are responsible for bringing the Little Britches universe into being.
Warning: As I said its Little Britches, which usually means smarm and cuteness at some point or other.
Chris heard the words, but couldnt quite believe them. Especially coming from the person who uttered them.
"Im sick a snow."
Looking down at his young, adoptive son, Larabees voice was filled with disbelief. "You are?"
"Yep. Caint go out without puttin on a ton a stuff. Caint run, cos I caint hardly even walk through th stuff. Caint play ball. Caint hardly do nothin."
"You can sled."
"Been doin that, cept I keep endin up bein th one pullin th sled n JDs th one ridin."
"How about making a snowman?"
"Done made a whole famly."
"Really?" The blond looked out the window, searching through the snow that was falling from the early morning sky for signs of a snow family. "Did they head south for the winter?"
"No. Me n JD took m back apart." The little boy said, giggling. He pointed toward a tumbled mound of oversized snowballs. "We cided we didnt think they looked very good, so we knocked m down."
"Ah. Well, what about making snow angels?"
Sighing, the seven-year-old said, "done that, too, but th wind keeps blowin th snow back over m."
"Thats too bad. What about a snow fort?"
Vins little face turned toward his adoptive father with a frown. "A what?"
Chris feigned a look of shock. "You dont know what a snow fort is?"
Shaking his head, the little boy said, "I heard of a fort Mz. Carlson told us bout m when wes studyin histry. Theys made a wood though, not snow."
"Well, we cant have that," Chris said with a shake of his head. "Wheres Buck and JD?"
"Out in th barn, I think."
"Well, get your coat, boots and stuff on. Buck and I have a job to do. Were gonna have to teach you boys about snow forts."
Still confused, the boy did as he was told, and soon he and his adoptive father were trudging, hand in hand, toward the barn. Entering the big structure, they looked for the other two members of their mix and match family.
"Buck!" Larabee called out
"Hey, JD!" Vins little voice rang out shrilly.
Muffled voices could be heard from above, and they looked to see both Buck Wilmington and five-year-old JD Dunne peering over the edge of the loft at the far end of the barn.
"Hey fellas, whats up?" Buck called down.
"What are you doing?" Chris asked.
Waving a big action figure in the air, the other man said, "me n JD were playin super heros an thought itd be fun t come up here. Whats goin on?"
"Weve got a dilemma, I just heard something really shocking from Vin," Chris said, struggling to keep a straight face.
Frowning, the bigger man said, "whats wrong?"
"Well, seems weve been remiss in our fatherly duties."
"Cowboy, just spill it," Buck was climbing down the steps from the loft, JD following close behind. "Whats wrong?"
Waiting until the other man and boy joined them, he said, "Vin just told me that hes never heard of a snow fort!"
It took a split second for Wilmington to change gears, and he barely stifled a broad grin. Instead he allowed his mouth to drop open and his eyes, glittering with mirth, to widen. "What?!"
Nodding, Larabee said, "yep. Pard, we just cant let this go on I mean, this is some serious stuff."
The two little boys were looking from one man to the other and back again, their eyes wide as they expected to hear of some horrible disaster that was about to befall them.
Glancing down at his young ward, Buck saw the beginning of fear creeping into the big hazel eyes and knew that they couldnt stretch this out much farther without dealing with a melt down. He moved with exaggerated movements, responding melodramatically. Clutching one hand to his heart and throwing the other across his eyes, he cried out, "oh no! Oh, how can I show my face at th market again? Whatll become of us?!"
The others watched him stagger across the barn and throw himself strategically atop a pile of fresh straw. He began rolling back and forth, calling out in a loud voice, "where did I go wrong? What can I do to make this up?"
Vin looked up at his father and saw the shadow of a smile on the mans face. Taking his cue from the man he trusted most in the world, he began to smile, then giggle.
JD turned from where he was focusing on his da, and looked with confusion at the older boy. Then, realizing that Vin no longer sensed disaster, he smiled as well. Running across the barn, he leapt onto a very startled Buck Wilmingtons chest. Pudgy little hands searched for ticklish flesh and he squealed, "Buck, youre crazy!"
Grabbing the small child up, Wilmington raised up his heavy sweatshirt and delivered a long raspberry to the little belly. "Im crazy, huh? Who says, Lil Bit?"
Squirming in his adopted fathers grasp, the child cried out, "me!"
Moving over and leaning down over his old friend, Chris said "so, Wilmington, what are we gonna do about this?"
Blue eyes gleaming, the bigger man said, "reckon were gonna go make us a snow fort."
+ + + + + + +
A short time later the little family had divided itself into two pairs, each one armed with buckets and shovels. They chose spots a few yards apart, leveled them out, and began work. Slowly two bits of construction made an appearance amidst the wide expanse of deep snow. The snow continued to fall in slow, lazy flakes, covering four heads, glittering on eyelashes, and tickling noses. The builders were unfazed, intent only on their creations.
By the time the finishing touches had been placed on each fort a red bandana on a stick above the Larabee - Tanner structure, a blue bandana on a stick above the Wilmington Dunne construction growling stomachs announced that it was lunchtime. It took some coaxing, but Chris and Vin got Buck and JD to go inside.
Hot bowls of vegetable soup and tuna sandwiches followed by hot cocoa and peanut butter cookies gave the four workers the energy to return to the cold.
Phase two consisted of stockpiling enough snowballs to begin the war.
From where he knelt behind the snow wall, Chris looked down at the neat piles of white projectiles, then smiled at his adopted son. Vin was busily working on a final ball, the tip of his tongue peeking between his lips as he carefully smoothed the sphere. "So, are we ready?"
Looking up, the child nodded seriously, "yep."
Leaning up to peer over the top of their fort, Larabee called out, "hey the blue fort!"
Bucks voice came from beyond their snow wall. "yeah?"
"THEN WE DECLARE WAR!" With those words, Chris lobbed a snowball across, soundly whacking the stick holding up the blue bandana.
The battle raged, white missiles sailing back and forth as each team tried to best the other. Heads peered above the fort walls long enough to take aim, and just as often received a face full of snow. Vin couldnt restrain himself when JD lobed a ball that landed right between his dads eyes. Chris coughed and sputtered, trying to wipe the snow from his face with snow caked gloves. Blinking the frozen stuff out of his eyes, he looked down at his howling son. "Think thats funny, huh?"
Unable to stop laughing, the small child stammered, "ye yeah!"
Laughing himself now, Larabee began shaking loose snow onto the little rolling form. Then his attention was drawn away as another projectile smacked him in the side of the head. Yelling in surprise, the blond ducked down, grabbed another snowball, raised up to throw it
And caught three more in the face.
Spluttering and coughing, Chris dropped back to sit on his heels. Managing to clear the largest chunks from around his mouth and eyes, the ATF agent mused "I think I need a face mask."
By the time the war ended, all four of the combatants were covered in snow. Their faces were red from both laughter and cold, and all four were exhausted. They stumbled through the mangled snowscape toward the big house, all of them sighing as they were hit by the warm air inside. Pulling off their boots, coats, gloves and hats, they padded through the house, dripping melting snow as they headed for the showers.
An hour later, all four were dressed in warm sweats and thick socks and settled before the television. They were drinking more hot cocoa while they watched Ice Age. The little boys were curled up on opposite ends of the couch, wrapped in quilts, while their adoptive fathers were settled into the twin recliners. From time to time giggles erupted from one end of the couch, quickly echoed from the other. The two men smiled, exchanging relaxed and happy glances as they enjoyed the quiet evening with their sons.
+ + + + + + +
Later, after Buck had tucked an already sleeping JD into bed, Chris settled at the side of Vins bunk. The little boy lay curled beneath the blankets, the top of his stuffed cat visible beneath his chin. Through half- closed eyes, he looked up at his father with a smile.
With a puzzled expression, Chris stroked a hand through the loose, dark blond curls, "for what, cowboy?"
"Fer showin me how t make a fort."
Smiling, the blond man said, "youre welcome." He planted a gentle kiss on the little forehead and stayed beside the bed until the blue eyes closed completely and Vin drifted off to sleep. He continued watching the little boy for some time afterwards, feeling the love and amazement well up from the center of his being.
He was still thrown off balance by the fact that he was, once more, a father. The fact that he had been given the chance to make a difference in the little street orphans life humbled him time and again. While he feared a future rife with mistakes he looked forward to a future marked by excitement and challenge.
He looked forward to a future filled with love.