Little Britches Universe

Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven belong to Mirsch, Trilogy, etc. The Little Britches Old West universe was created by J. K Poffenberger and S. Berry. Many thanks!

Author’s Note: This is just a slightly more detailed version of a drabble I wrote in response to the 12-01-03 challenge of "preparing for the holidays".

Nathan reached down an felt Vin’s forehead. A smile lit his face as he felt it was cool. He knew the boy hadn’t liked the idea of being cooped up in the clinic while JD and Billy Travis were outside running around, but the cold Vin had been fighting had taken a lot out of the boy. Still, Nathan reflected, Vin had done much better fighting it off than he would have even a few short months ago. The regular feeding, play, exercise and most importantly, the love of a family had brought the little orphan a long way. Besides, Vin was only here until Chris and Buck got back from patrol.

Shaking his head, Nathan moved back toward the table where he pulled out the project he had been working on for the past several days.

He thought about this particular tradition of his, one his mother had always insisted they do in order to prepare for the holidays. As a slave, they never had much more than each other and even then it was always a question of how long they would have even the comfort of family. Still, their mother had insisted they have something that was theirs alone, something that they could all carry on into their lives a reminder of who they were and where they came from, as well as a memory of the one day a year they could be together.

So each year, Nathan’s mother would bring an orange home and somehow she or his father would find cloves. They would then sit together as a family, passing the orange around and each inserting a few cloves as it passed from person to person and one of the parents would tell a story, usually about the season, but always something to keep them together.

The stories and project would continue for several weeks until the creation was completed. His mother would then wrap it up and hide it away somewhere. Nathan smiled as he thought of the game they had made of finding the orange. While his parents tried to keep it hidden, the children would try to find it, knowing that if they could be the first one to find it on Christmas day, they would get to say the family blessing at dinnertime - a coveted honor.

Nathan’s smile faded slightly as bitterness rose in his heart. He remembered once asking his father where his mother would get the cloves, knowing that spices such as this were expensive treats. His father’s face had turned fierce and his voice was full of pain when he replied it was payment.

Nathan hadn’t understood what hid father meant at the time. But now, after knowing what he did, after hearing his father’s testimony at the trial...

Nathan shook his head and pushed those thoughts away. He didn’t want to think about the bad times, about the sad times, he wanted to remember the stories and the warmth of his family.

Picking up a clove, he focused on the memory of his mother’s voice as she related one of their stories.

+ + + + + + +

Vin slowly rose to awareness. A familiar smell had penetrated his sleep. It was an odor he hadn’t smelled in a long time - a safe smell, a warm smell, a happy smell... "Mama," the boy whispered as his blue eyes fluttered open.

He was momentarily confused when he found himself in Nathan’s clinic rather than at his home with his mother. What had he been dreaming of?

Taking a deep breath and stretching, he blinked his eyes as the familiar scent once more invaded his senses. He knew that smell, the smell of home, the smell of Christmas...

Sitting up quietly on the bed, he watched the Healer begin his delicate work. He knew he was supposed to be resting and should be asleep, but as his emotions and memories began stirring, his curiosity got the better of him. "What are you doing Uncle Nathan?" the boy asked.

Nathan looked up, startled, but not surprised to see his young charge awake and sitting up. The boy just hated to be sleeping when there was daylight outside. Smiling he informed, "It’s sort of a tradition, a way my family would get ready for Christmas" before turning his attention back to his project.

"Oh," Vin responded as the sound of his mother’s voice laughing and telling a story filled his mind. He could remember sitting on her lap, her arms wrapped around him as she held an orange and would sometimes let him put the little sticks in it. It made him happy and sad all at the same time.

Nathan heard something in the boy’s voice and turned to look. He spotted a familiar sadness in the boy’s eyes; familiar because he’d seen the same look in his own eyes far too many times. He knew that they were both remembering their mothers. Wondering if maybe this was something that Vin had done, he made a quick decision. "Why don’t you come and help?" he asked, taking another orange and setting out cloves for Vin.

"Really?" Vin asked, uncertainty and hope playing equally in his voice.

Nathan smiled and waved the boy over. "Really," he assured, watching as the small form climbed off the bed and crossed over to the table. A pang of sadness at the boy’s loss struck his heart as he watched the careful way Vin lifted the orange and the tears which filled the blue eyes. Knowing Vin hated to have others see him cry, Nathan turned his attention to his orange and said, "Every year we were together, my family would make one of these together."

Vin looked up at Nathan, feeling the tears that had threatened abate. "You did this with your momma too?" he asked, his voice hushed.

Nathan smiled and nodded before continuing to tell Vin about the tradition and the stories. He was surprised to find them both laughing over some of the antics of Nathan’s siblings. It felt good to share this with Vin.

Vin loved to hear Nathan tell the story. He could hear the love and happiness in the man’s voice. Josiah had once tried to explain to him about slavery and how Nathan hadn’t always had a good time of things either. Vin had tried to understand, but it just didn’t make sense to him. What he had understood was that a bad man had hurt Nathan when he was little. Vin understood about being little and being hurt. He had made up his mind right then to try to be nice to Nathan if he ever ended up in the clinic again, no matter how hard it was.

As he listened to the story Uncle Nathan was telling, he could hear his mother’s voice telling a different story. He smiled at the thought and wondered if Nathan was hearing his mother’s voice too. When Nathan’s story finally ended, Vin said politely, "I like that story Nathan." He hesitated briefly over his next request. "Would... would you tell me another sometime?" the boy asked, afraid he might offend the Healer by asking for too much.

Nathan smiled at Vin. He could read the boy’s expressive eyes easily and realized he’d probably thought about his own mother. Having enjoyed the first story, Nathan considered the request. If nothing else, it could prove a way to keep the boy from over-exerting himself until he was well enough. Nathan’s smile broadened as he replied, "OK. But I want to make a deal with you."

Vin’s eyebrows drew down in confusion. Uncle Nathan didn’t look mad, but adults didn’t usually make deals with him... well Uncle Ezra sometimes, but... Tilting his head to the side Vin looked into the brown eyes across from him and only saw love and warmth. Deciding whatever Uncle Nathan had planned wouldn’t be a bad thing, he nodded his head.

Biting back a laugh at the serious expression that had appeared on the boy’s face, Nathan presented his proposal. "If you come back tomorrow, I’ll tell you another story and we can keep working on our oranges." He saw Vin nod slowly. "But," he added and saw an immediate tensing in the young boy, "when you feel like it, if you feel like it, I want you to share your memories with me too." He read the reluctance in the boys eyes and tried to explain a little further. "Vin, talking to you about my family, telling those stories, that made my family seem closer, it made them seem alive in my heart. Sometimes sharing those memories is a good thing, a happy thing." Seeing Vin begin to acquiesce, he continued with a smile, "I’d sure like to know who taught you to make one of these so well. You’re really good at it."

Vin smiled with pride as he looked down at his orange an over at his Uncle’s. It wasn’t just empty praise, he saw. His orange was almost as good as Uncle Nathan’s. Thinking on his uncle’s words, he finally nodded his agreement. "Was my momma taught me," he said quietly.

Nathan reached over and squeezed Vin’s shoulder. It had been more of an admission than he thought he’d get today, but he was glad Vin trusted him enough that he would share such a precious memory. Quietly he encouraged, "Maybe tomorrow or the next day you’ll tell me about her." Seeing the blue eyes meet his and a small nod, Nathan reached for the orange and took it gently from the small hands. "Good. But for now I think it’s time you went out to play. Seems to me there’s going to be a blond gunslinger looking for you any minute now."

With a brilliant smile, Vin hopped off the chair, quickly put on his boots and headed for the door. He grabbed the handle and pulled the door open only to pause and turn back. "Thanks Uncle Nathan," he said quietly before exiting with a slam of the door behind him.

Nathan smiled at the door. "You’re welcome, Vin." he replied quietly, glad he’d been able to help bring the boy some good memories.


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