"Would you hold still?"
Chris looked at his friend with an expression of complete exasperation. "I swear JD handles this sort of thing better than you do." He continued to swab the shallow cut in the bigger man's palm.
"Would you stop all ready?" Buck tried to pull his hand away from the peroxide soaked cotton ball. "Look, it's clean okay? Now will you slap a band-aid on it and let me get outta here?"
"This is the thanks I get for convincing the restaurant to hold your reservations for another hour? This is what I get for calling Kerry without you even asking me to and smoothing things over? This is the thanks - "
"All right, all right!" Wilmington held his good hand up in surrender. "I'm sorry and I appreciate it. And I owe you - "
"Big time," Larabee interrupted his apology. "I'm thinking that you can steam the carpets and polish the floor after things get back to normal."
With a grin, the bigger man said, "Okay reckon I can do that."
"And," the blond continued, "You get to chaperone the next party while I go out."
"Okay - "
"And, you take the boys to their next check-up at the dentist."
"Gees, Larabee," Buck groaned. He knew that the blond wouldn't follow through on most of it, but pretended that he believed that Chris would. "Okay, okay. Now, can I go?"
"Da!" The two men turned to find JD standing in the doorway. "I didn't know you was still here I thought you already went to Kerry's I was just lookin' for Chris 'cause Unca' 'Ziah asked me to come get him and ask if he could bring the dig'tal cam'ra 'cause he wants to wants to make a he wants to make a mem'ry can you bring the cam'ra Chris please?"
"Sure, buddy, I'll be right there," Larabee replied with a grin. Turning to the other man, he said, "I wonder what he's up to?"
Flexing his freshly bandaged hand gently, Buck said, "Only one way to find out."
Josiah sat on the floor, his broad back against the couch and Joey settled in his big lap. The boys were settled around him as he once more entertained them with a story. All eight of the children sat in rapt silence, some with mouths hanging open as he spun a tale of heroism.
Chris smiled as he recognized the story, that of a tin soldier who had only one leg. He glanced at the Grangers, seeing them listening from where they stood together to one side. Both of them wore smiles as the silver-haired man very gently guided the children toward beginning to accept Joey for who she was. Without a word he snapped several pictures of the children and the big story-teller.
Finishing the story, Josiah paused long enough to let the boys mull over his words. He knew that he had only made a dent in things. The tiny blond cuddled against him would still have to show the other children that she was not a 'worthless cripple' as one of the children had referred to her shortly after the accident. But, for now, the children were at least thinking about it.
"Now, how about I teach you all a New Year's song?" Sanchez asked. When the boys nodded he said, "All right then, this song is very, very old. It was written back in the 1700s by a man named Robert Burns. Now he took the words from a song that was even older, so who knows how old it really is.
"The song is called Auld Lang Syne. Have any of you ever heard of it?" When Daniel said he had, the profiler asked, "Well do you know what it means?"
"Um Happy New Years?" Daniel guessed.
Smiling gently, the older man said, "Well that's an excellent guess, Daniel. Auld Lang Syne means 'for old long ago'. The song is all about friendship and how important it is that we celebrate our friendships and our friends. It's sort of how JD has celebrated his friendship with Joey since her accident. He's a pretty smart kid, you know? He knows that she's his friend and he's her friend. He knows that she still likes the things she liked before her accident, like horses. He knows that she likes the same stories, and toys, and cartoons and games that she liked before her accident. JD knows that just because one thing has changed with his friend, he doesn't have to be afraid of her. He understands that Joey is still Joey, no matter what."
The room grew silent as Josiah's words sank in. Only JD was looking at the big man, the other boys suddenly finding the floors and walls of the room intriguing. Little Dunne's face scrunched up in a concentrated frown. "But she is still her Unca' 'Ziah."
Grinning now, Sanchez reached out and ruffled the thick black hair. "Exactly, Little Bit."
"Ah hell," Buck whispered.
Chris turned to glance at his friend, noting the tears that swam in the dark blue eyes. Wilmington met his gaze, a smile appearing beneath his mustache. Larabee whispered back, "Josiah does know how to make a point, doesn't he?"
Nodding as he swallowed past the lump in his throat, the big man wiped a hand over his face roughly. "Yeah and lord knows that kid makes me proud."
Sanchez's rich baritone rang out as he slowly guided the children through the song he was teaching them. He patiently sang each line over and over, explaining the strange words of the original version with the recognized words of the modern variation. They giggled over attempts to pronounce words like 'guild-willie waught' but finally they managed to sing the entire song from beginning to end. Even the other four adults joined in, adding their voices to the mix.
As the song ended, the gathering settled into a joyful quiet. Then the tiny brunet looked up at his foster uncle with a puzzled expression. "Unca' 'Ziah?"
"Yes, JD?" The older man smiled as the big hazel eyes settled on him.
"What's wrong with Anne's eyes?"
"Yeah what's wrong with her eyes?"
Sanchez looked up at his boss as he tried to figure out who the child was speaking of but the blond only shrugged and shook his head. Turning back to little Dunne, he said, "I'm not certain what you're talking about, Little Bit."
With an exasperated sigh over the grown-up's failure to understand him, he tried again. "Old Anne. What's wrong with her eyes? That's what we just singed about Old Anne's Eyes. But you never said what was wrong with her eyes."
Then his dark brows furrowed as the adults began to laugh.
Seeing the son of his heart beginning to grow upset as the laughter continued, Buck knelt down beside the little boy. "It's not 'Old Anne's Eyes', Little Bit. It's Auld . Layne Syne," he pronounced the words slowly. "Remember? Those are the words that your Uncle Josiah said meant "
"For all long ago," Sanchez supplied.
Frowning as he processed the explanation, JD said, "Oh. Then Old Anne's eyes is okay?"
Smiling at the child's concern for this mysterious and non-existent woman, the mustached man nodded. "Yeah, her eyes are okay, Little Bit."
Chris stood nearby soaking in the big man's loving interaction with the little boy. Then with a frown as he heard the chimes of the Grandfather clock ring from the hall, Larabee said pointedly as he got Wilmington's attention and waved his left wrist at the big brunet, "Uh, Buck?"
Focusing on Chris' watch, the brunet sighed. "Well, maybe we can grab a burger somewhere."
"You can make it if you leave right now," the blond encouraged. "I'll call Kerry and let her know you're on the way and ask her to meet you at the restaurant."
Chuckling, the other agent nodded. Stepping around the other boys, he leaned down and said good-bye to JD and Vin. Waving good-bye to the rest of the gathering, he once more left the house.
"I'm afraid we're going to have to go, too," Matthew Granger said quietly.
"Ah, Daddy, do we have to?" Joey looked up from where she still sat on the big agent's lap. JD had brought over some of his toys so that they could play.
The tiny brunet said, "But Mr. Granger can't you stay a little longer so Joey can watch a movie with us and we can play and maybe you could even stay 'til the New Year gets ringed that would be really really really cool."
Smiling down at the twin, hopeful expressions, Matt said, "I'm sorry, kids but we have too." Turning to the party's adult host, Granger continued, "We really appreciate you inviting us, Chris. So many of our friends well, they've found it hard to be around us these past few weeks."
Abby Granger stepped forward and hugged the tall blond. Standing back, she said, "Thank you."
Smiling, Larabee said, "You're welcome, and please feel free to come out here any time."
Josiah stood, Joey still settled in the crook of his arm. Handing her over to her father, he said, "She's a wonderfully brave little girl."
As her husband carried their daughter into the entry way Abby hugged Sanchez as well. As she finally pulled away, she dabbed at her eyes. In an emotion filled voice she said, "Thank you thank you for letting her feel like a normal child again."
Returning the hug Josiah said, "You're more than welcome."
A short time after Buck and the Granger family left the boys were enticed to clean up with the promise of a party. Larabee wasn't entirely certain what his two foster boys had in mind for this part of the evening, having entrusted this bit of planning to Buck and Gloria. He just hoped that their housekeeper had most of the input.
He found himself pleasantly surprised when Vin and JD took command of the gathering, directing the activities. A guessing game was followed by BINGO followed by a coloring contest that was judged by the two adults. Close behind came ring toss followed by a scaled down version of a scavenger hunt that kept all the boys in the great room. The winner of each event received a Beyblade that had been 'donated' by Wilmington. Enough of the least expensive variety of the popular toy had been supplied to allow the boys a variety to choose from.
When an argument broke out during the scavenger hunt, Chris decided that it was time for a change. Checking his watch he saw that it was nearly the time he remembered being designated on Vin's 'genda' as time to get ready for bed.
"Hey, I'll tell you guys what. If you can get your PJ's on and get your sleeping bags laid out in the den without any problems, we'll make up some popcorn to eat while you watch a movie. How does that sound?"
The consensus was very much in favor, and the boys quickly forgot their differences. Splitting them into groups of three and four the men chaperoned the change over. Larabee took the older three boys to change in his bathroom while Josiah was left to supervise the other four in the bathroom the two boys used. As soon as they were all in pajamas the men herded them into the den. There, while Josiah organized each boy's claiming space for their sleeping bag, pillow and other sleeping paraphernalia, the blond went to make popcorn.
Just as the first bag began popping into the microwave, Chris heard a light pair of footsteps padding into the kitchen. Although he had a very good idea of who it was, he still turned to see. Smiling when the child of his heart appeared in the kitchen, he said, "Hey Cowboy."
"Hey," Vin said with a grin.
Sensing that the normally quiet little boy needed a break from the group he could hear chattering in the other room, he said, "Would you like to help?"
Together they popped corn, opened bags, filled bowls and lined up juice boxes on a tray. As the last bag of the buttery treat was placed in the microwave, Chris settled on one of the kitchen chairs. Vin made his way over from where he was adding napkins to the tray, stopping at the end of the table. He traced a pattern on the tabletop, not quite looking at his father. Taking the actions as a hint, Larabee reached out and tugged gently at a soft sleeve. With a shy smile, little Tanner moved closer, soon settled with his back against his father's chest.
With a contented sigh, the tall blond wrapped his arms around the child, holding him snugly. Leaning his chin on a slender shoulder he said softly, "Having fun?"
"Yup," the little boy responded with a contented expression etched over his elfin features.
They said nothing more, nothing more needed. The silence was broken only by the sound of the popcorn popping and the muffled giggles and chatter coming from the den. Father and son simply enjoyed being together for a few moments of peace.
Peace was a rare commodity the rest of the evening.
The boys were settled on their sleeping bags, Josiah having made a game of it after Jason and Sam had begun to argue. Sam insisted that Jason had intentionally walked over his sleeping bag as he came back from a trip to the bathroom. After that the floor of the den became the ocean and each colorful pallet became a boat. Each boy's mission was to stay inside their 'boat' in order to keep the carpet sharks from finding them.
While Chris held the heavy tray, Vin passed out bowls of warm popcorn and brightly colored paper napkins while JD helped by giving each of their guests a juice box. Even Josiah received a bowl and one of the little containers.
"Okay, everyone get comfortable and we'll start the movie," Larabee instructed, his voice pitched loudly enough to be heard over the general din. The boys slowly settled down, sprawling out on their makeshift beds with their treats.
Finding Nemo was already in the DVD player and Chris stood by the big screen television waiting. On the screen, Scooby Doo and Shaggy were running from ghosts as he said, "Everyone ready?"
"Wait Chris!" JD cried out. "We gotta wait 'til Shaggy and Scooby git done!"
"No!" Jason disagreed. "This is a dumb episode. I wanna watch Nemo!"
"No, Scooby Doo!" Sam added.
Before things escalated, Larabee said, "Okay look. We'll vote on it. If you want to watch Scooby Doo raise your hand." When the only pudgy hands in the air belonged to the two youngest, the blond knew that things could very well get ugly. "Okay, who wants to watch Finding Nemo?" Four hands waved at him. He saw that the only abstention was his adopted son. Big blue eyes peered up at him, telling him that while he wanted to watch the movie, he didn't want to disappoint JD.
Taking up the role of bad guy, Chris looked into the expectant hazel eyes. "Sorry guys, Nemo got the vote."
Little boy Dunne heaved a heavy sigh and then shrugged. "'kay."
"Yeah, it ain't a very good ep'sode anyway," Sam added.
Larabee's mouth opened, closed and opened again. Then he looked over at his friend. Blue eyes twinkling, Josiah simply shrugged. Who knew how little boys would respond.
Pressing play, the blond agent moved to his recliner, grabbing up a bowl of popcorn as he went. Sanchez was stretched out on the couch, sipping at his juice box. With a chuckle, Chris detoured, going to the kitchen. He came back a few seconds later with two gasses of ice tea. A year ago it would have been spiked, but they needed to be on top of their game tonight.
Nemo was found and the movie ended a little before midnight. The boys were drowsy, sprawled out on the floor as they struggled to see the New Year in. Larabee turned the DVD off, switching the TV over to where partiers were awaiting the dropping of the ball in New York.
"What's that, Mr. Larabee?" Jason asked.
"It's a party, dummy," Sam growled sleepily.
"I ain't a dummy!" Jason yelled. Several tiny, relaxing bodies jerked at his loud tones.
"Sam, no calling names," Chris ordered. "This is the big party they have in New York every year to celebrate the New Year. See that round thing there? Just before midnight it will slide down that pole."
"Why does it slide down the pole?" Sam asked.
"Uh " Larabee looked over toward the couch, only to find that Josiah had drifted off to sleep. "Well um it's just a symbol, a way to mark the beginning of the New Year."
"Oh." It was clear that the boys weren't overly impressed with either the tradition or the explanation.
Just then they all heard something that sounded like distant thunder. All seven boys sat straight up, eyes going to the blond. Vin asked, "Is it gonna rain?"
Smiling gently Larabee said, "No, someone's a little ahead of themselves. Its fireworks. That's another way people celebrate the New Year."
Seven pairs of eyes brightened. "Fireworks?"
With a chuckle, Chris said, "If you go over by the glass doors, you should be able to see them from there."
The boys scurried across the room, plastering their faces against the double doors. Larabee moved to join them, smacking Sanchez on the shoulder as he passed the dozing man.
Laughing, the blond said, "Remind me not to put you on late night surveillance."
The sky lit up with the colors of celebration accompanied by pops and cracks outside echoed by oohs and ahhs inside. Chris moved up behind the two boys he had brought into his home. With a hand on one of the shoulders of each of them, he watched along with them.
Behind them horns and whistles sounded on the television, but the children were far more impressed with what was happening outside. In the midst of it all, the phone rang, answered by Sanchez's sleepy voice. He stepped up beside his boss and friend.
"I have a telephone call for a Master Dunne and a Master Tanner." Passing the cordless across, he handed it to Vin.
Holding the receiver so that both he and his friend could hear, young Tanner said, "H'llo?"
Chris felt both children tense as two excited voices squealed in unison, "Unca' Ezra! Happy New Year!" He turned and regarded the bigger man. Both of them could only grin and shake their heads.
Peace and quiet.
Larabee sighed as he sank deeper into the recliner, the footrest extended, back as horizontal as it would go and an afghan spread over his lower body. He held a glass of wine, which at the moment he saw as more medicinal than anything else. He looked across to the couch, where Josiah was stretched out, snoring softly beneath a quilt. Then his gaze wandered to the floor. Seven little bodies sprawled in boneless, contented slumber amongst the litter of popcorn and empty juice boxes.
It had taken only a little persuasion to get the boys into their sleeping bags once the fireworks had ceased. He had turned the television to Nickelodeon, turning the sound low. The boys had gradually given in to the long hours of activity, little bodies twitching now and then as tiny muscles began to relax. By one there was only the flicker of the television and the soft sounds of slumber keeping the man of the house company.
He contemplated going to his own bed, trusting Josiah to take care of anything that came up. He knew that he wouldn't sleep well though, waking to even the slightest sound. Instead he stretched out in the rich comfort of his recliner, watching over his little flock. His eyes settled on the television screen without really focusing on the action as he finally allowed himself to relax. Finishing off the glass of wine, he sat the glass aside and leaned more deeply into the thick leather cushions. With a yawn he drifted off to sleep.
The pale morning sun touched the blonde's face, causing pale brows to draw together. Hazel eyes blinked open slowly, then widened quickly. He had overslept! Sitting up quickly, Larabee's mouth opened as wide as his eyes as he beheld the sight before him. Seven little boys sat cross-legged on their sleeping bags, watching television. Each of them had a plastic cup of chocolate milk and a large cinnamon roll, eating as they watched the early morning cartoons.
And they were being quiet.
Looking around, he saw that Josiah was gone from the couch. As if the big man heard his thoughts, he entered the den. With a smile he handed the bleary eyed blond a steaming cup and a warm roll. In a whisper he greeted him. "Mornin' boss."
"Morning," Chris said as he gratefully accepted the food and drink. Sniffing the heady aroma wafting from the mug, he sighed.
Sanchez disappeared from the room, returning quickly with his own coffee and roll. Settling into the other recliner he nodded toward the boys and said, "They're having a contest."
Grinning, the older man said, "We're seeing who can be quiet the longest. You looked like you could use a few more winks."
Smiling broadly, Chris said, "Think I'm gonna have to put you in for a commendation."
Josiah chuckled, saluted the smaller man with his mug, and drank deeply. Both men settled back in the chairs, watching the contestants with amusement. Vin looked up, seeing that his adoptive father was awake. Blue eyes glittering, he waved at him turning back to watch the cartoons only after Larabee returned the wave.
Seeing the motion, JD looked up next. His little mouth flew open but, at the last second he remembered the contest. Clamping his lips together, he too waved at the blond agent, smiling when he was acknowledged with a return wave.
The contest continued through breakfast, each boy polishing off the big roll and their milk. Chris retrieved the wastebasket from the kitchen, collecting the plastic and paper breakfast ware. The cartoon ended just a minute or two later, and it was clear that the boys were beginning to get antsy.
Noting the increase in fidgeting as well, Josiah announced in feigned shock that everyone had won, which drew a round of laughter from the seven boys. To Chris' amusement, the big man produced seven gift certificate packets from McDonalds, passing them out to the little gathering.
Checking his watch, Larabee said, "Okay, guys. You need to get your things gathered up, roll up your sleeping bags and get dressed, okay? Your parents will be here in an hour. The quicker you get everything done, the longer you can play, how does that sound?"
Another chorus of "yeahs" and "okays" rang out through the room in response. Quiet was once more a thing of the past as the boys began readying themselves for the trip home. They were finished and dressed in record time, once more enjoying Vin and JD's toys in the great room. The two adults took turns supervising the play while the other man enjoyed a hot shower and a change of clothes.
Chris almost envied Josiah, knowing the older man would spend the remainder of the day in the peace and quiet of his little home. Almost. But one look into the bright blue and shining hazel eyes that looked up at him with love, and he couldn't think of better company to spend the rest of the day in.
"Buck's coming," Sanchez announced a short time later.
Larabee looked out the front window, a smile on his face. "Hope his head's up to the noise level in here."
They watched as the black Ram eased up the drive and into the garage. Leaving Josiah to watch the children, Chris went to meet his friend at the back door. Watching the big man coming up the walk he tried to see just what sort of shape he was in. "Well, you don't look any the worse for wear."
"Yeah, well, looks can be deceiving."
With a chuckle, Larabee noted the red rimmed eyes as his friend climbed up onto the deck. "You get there okay? No more trouble after you left here?"
"Uh well just a couple of little hitches."
Something in the brunet's tone didn't set right. "Buck?"
"Can we talk about it later, Chris? I haven't had a wink of sleep. Are the kids still here?"
"Yeah. Buck? What aren't you telling me?"
"Later, I promise. Right now I want half a dozen aspirins and - "
"Wilmington, so help me did you do something to my truck?"
"To your truck?"
"Yeah, big black vehicle you just got out of?"
"Did I do anything to it?"
"Wilmington, I swear - "
"No I did not do anything to your truck. Scout's honor."
"You were never a scout. I was planning on taking the boys out later. Do I have to worry about the Ram breaking down or something falling off?"
"Chris I didn't do anything to your truck, it's safe to take them out in it. I would love it if you'd take them out in it soon. Now can I please go to bed? I'd really like to get in there without JD seeing me. Don't think I can handle him right now."
Looking at the pale hue on the normally tanned features, Larabee relented. If something was wrong with the truck, Buck would tell him. Anything else could wait until later. "Yeah, all right. Good night, sleeping beauty."
With a grin, the ladies man left for his room. Chris watched as he crept down the hallway as quickly as possible, slipping into his bedroom without JD seeing him.
Once more Chris was surprised to see that Vin's 'genda' was almost exact to the minute. The last little guest left at 10:15 am, waving out the back window as the family SUV pulled out of the drive. Andy's father had been able to come pick him up, so relative quiet settled over the house with only two little boys within its walls. Josiah gave his foster nephews hugs and bade his boss Happy New Year as he headed toward his Suburban.
Larabee and the boys walked back into the great room, surveying the aftermath of the party. Toys were strewn over the floor and scattered across the furniture. "Tell you what. You guys pick up the toys in here and I'll take care of the kitchen and dining room. We'll meet in the den and see what we need to do in there when we're through. Okay?"
"How 'bout later? Maybe we could -" JD began, aiming big eyes at the tall blond.
Shaking his head now, Chris said, "No, Little Bit. The quicker we get done, the quicker we can do something else. Tell you what, though. If you boys help get everything put back together we'll go to McDonalds and then oh, I don't know maybe we'll go see Cat in the Hat?"
Any thought of slacking disappeared, the little boys whooping with joy as they started gathering up toys. Then Vin paused, looking up at his foster father. "But Buck's got your truck an' his truck's outta gas."
"He came home while ago," Larabee replied, already moving to intercept the five year old that began running full out across the room. "Whoa there, JD, we've got work to do."
"But I wanna go see Da!" Little boy Dunne protested loudly.
"But he can go with us to McDonalds an' th' movie."
"He's tired, cowboy." Seeing the tears beginning to swim in the big eyes, he added, "He's been up all night. If you wake him up he'll be grouchy, and that won't be fun. He'd fall asleep in the movie and snore so loud we wouldn't be able to hear what the Cat says. When we get back he'll be awake, okay?"
"Can we get my train out when we get back?"
"If it's not too late. If it's too late tonight we'll get it out first thing in the morning. Deal?"
Setting the younger boy back on the floor, he watched him tear back across the room to return to the cleaning. With a smile Larabee started toward the back of the house, only to stop at the sound of someone knocking at the door. Moving into the entryway he looked out, confusion on his face when he saw Josiah standing on the porch. Opening the door he said, "something wrong?"
"Only with my memory," Sanchez said with an embarrassed smile. He held up a small, brown paper wrapped package. "This came to the office yesterday and I forgot to give it to you last night."
Taking the parcel Chris read the return address, recognizing that it was from Randy Carpenter, the major at Fort Huachuca in Arizona who had known Vin's father. He shared that information with his friend. "I wonder what Major Carpenter sent him?"
"Guess there's only one way to find out," Josiah replied.
Nodding, Larabee moved back into the house, the big man right behind him. Entering the great room, he said, "Hey Vin, you've got something here."
"Me? What is it?" Little Tanner asked as he hurried to where his foster father stood, holding a little box.
"Don't know, cowboy, it's from Major Carpenter Randy Carpenter."
A smile split the little face. "The guy that knowed my Mama an' Daddy?"
"Yep." Chris knelt in front of the child, holding the gift out.
Vin took it, holding it almost reverently. He could feel his heart pounding harder as he hefted the little package, turning it over and over as if he could find the answer on the wrapper.
"What is it Vin?" JD asked as he joined the little gathering.
"Dunno, it's from that soldier that knowed my Mama an' Daddy," the older boy answered absently. He carried the box to the couch, climbing onto a cushion while still holding the package.
JD started to climb up beside him, but Chris stopped the younger boy. Turning to the blue eyed waif he said, "Would you like to open it privately?"
His mind processing what his father was asking quickly, Vin said, "Nah, it's okay. Yer s'posed t' open presents when yer with yer family."
With a grin at the little boy's logic, Larabee nodded to JD, watching the five year old climb onto the couch beside his friend. He perched on the couch at Vin's other side while Josiah moved to sit on the other side of the little brunet.
Slowly little Tanner pulled the brown wrapping loose, revealing a simple wooden box beneath. Frowning as he studied the container, he said, "It's a box."
"Yeah," Chris replied.
"Why did he send me a box?"
"Maybe if you open it up, you'll be able to figure it out."
Nodding, sandy brows still furrowed, the little boy lifted the top with a faint creak. Inside the lid a piece of paper had been glued to the wood. In fading letters it declared the box 'the property of Michael Vincent Tanner'. "That's my Daddy's name."
Reading the inscription as well, Chris said softly, "Yeah, it is."
Looking up at Larabee with glistening eyes, the seven year old smiled. The guilt he had felt at wanting to know about his birth father had been laid to rest after discussing things with the man who he was learning to call 'Dad'. He had come to understand that wanting to know the one took nothing from the relationship he had with the other. Or, as he had informed JD one evening, "I c'n love my Daddy an' my Dad both it's okay with Chris."
Growing bored with how slowly things were progressing, the siren call of the golden arches making him impatient, the little brunet said, "Well, what's in it?"
With a soft huff of displeasure, Vin flashed the briefest of glares at the younger boy before exploring the contents of the box. First was a neatly folded sheet of paper. Unfolding it, he found a note from the soldier who had known his birth parents:
I found this while going through some things and thought you might like to have it. Your mother left it with me after your father died, for safekeeping. This was the box your father kept his most important things in.
Vin lifted a bandana wrapped object from the container, opening the folds of faded and frayed material to reveal a somewhat battered silver and red object. Picking it up, he turned it over and over, studying it.
"It's a harmonica," Chris supplied, in a tone of surprise.
"I but it's what "
"You wanna learn to play a ha'mon'ca, Vin!" JD squealed when the older boy stumbled over his words.
"I know." Turning a shocked face toward his father he said, "My Daddy played a harmonica."
Brushing a thumb over a little, freckled cheek, Larabee stroked away a tear. "And now his son can learn to play it, too."
With a bashful smile, little Tanner stroked his finger over the red surface, tracing letters that had been scratched into it. "M.V.T. Michael Vincent Tanner."
"Hey Vin," JD's chirped into the silence. "Your name's Vincent Michael Tanner almost like your borned daddy."
While blue eyes clearly conveyed the message 'well, duh!', Vin said only, "Yeah, JD, I know." He moved to the other objects in the box. He found a letter written in faded ink that Chris informed him was a letter from his Mama to his Daddy. Deciding that he wanted to save that for a time when he could be alone with his Dad, he carefully folded it, placing it back in the box.
Next came several pictures. Some were of his birth parents together, others were of one or the other of them. He giggled when they found one of his mother who was very obviously pregnant.
Chris leaned over, moving his finger just above the slick surface. "Hey, look here I think this must be one of Vin's first baby pictures."
At the bottom of the stack were several of the little boy who now looked on these memories with tear-filled eyes. He hesitated as he came on one of a tiny blanket wrapped bundle lovingly cradled in the arms of his father. The look on the man's face was so clearly one of love that even little Dunne noted it.
"Your borned daddy sure loved you a bunch, Vin."
Unable to find his voice, the older boy simply nodded. Lingering on the photo a little longer, he moved on, committing each image to memory.
Seeing that the shy child needed a little space, Josiah nudged JD, coaxing the younger boy off the couch. With only a little persuasion he focused the boy away from his friend and on picking up the scattered toys.
Tenderly stroking the loose, dark blond curls, Chris said, "It was very nice of Major Carpenter to send you these things."
Nodding once again, Vin said in a hoarse whisper, "Sure is. Can can I send 'im a letter t' thank 'im?"
"Sure, if you'd like."
Smiling now the little boy said, "Yeah, I'd like to. Maybe maybe we could send him a picture, too?"
"Sure. How about when we get home we take some pictures. Then we can print them out and send them to him. We can even find a nice thank you card while we're in town if you want."
Blue eyes widened and the seven year old's mouth flew open. "Town! We're s'posed t' go to McDonalds an' the movies!"
With a chuckle, Larabee said, "We've got time. Would you like to look at the pictures some more?"
Hesitating briefly, his eyes roaming across a picture of his infant self with his smiling parents, Vin made a decision. Carefully replacing each item in the box, he wrapped the harmonica back in the bandana, he gently closed the lid. "I need t' help clean up. We c'n look at them all again tonight if that's okay?"
Gently hugging the child, the blond said, "That's very okay, cowboy."
I like New Years
Yeah, me too. It was a lot of fun. How many New Years do you get a year?
??? One, JD.
Hi Kiddo. Are you boys about finished?
Almost. What else do we need to tell the computer Vin?
Well, we told about the party and Joey and my Daddy's harmonica. We told about how Buck almost didn't go on his date with Ms. Kerry -
What's the matter Da? Do you got a tummy ache?
?????????? No Little Bit.
How come you went ???? then?
Because I hate to think about most of those things.
You mean getting a flat tire?
And running out of gas?
And wrecking Chris' truck?
And hurting your hand.
Yes. Could we -
And driving too fast when you was meeting Ms. Kerry?
And getting pulled over by the policeman?
And getting a ticket?
And Chris yelling at you since you got a ticket an you was driving his truck?
???? Boys could we -
Real funny guys.
Yes, and what about the fact that you'll be spending the weekend steam cleaning juice stains and crushed popcorn out of the den carpet, chili out of the dining room rug, and buffing scrapes and scratches out of the floor in the great room. As well as buffing the scrapes out of both Chris and Josiah's bumpers and replacing the cover on the Ram's tail light. And I believe that the beautiful Ms. Fox has leveled some sanctions on you as well.
Uncle Ezra how come Da's face is turning red? Da, are you okay?
Fine, Little Bit ?????????????????? Just fine.
Wishing you all a MAGNIFICENT NEW YEAR!
Next: It's A Museum - What Could Happen? - Phyllis
Things We Learned (Index)