Disclaimers: The Magnificent Seven and its characters are the property of MGM, Trilogy Entertainment, the Mirisch Corporation, and the Hallmark Channel.
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, copyright 1947 by Harper & Row, Publishers, Incorporated.
Watching a local news report with a decided lack of interest, Chris Larabee looked up from the flickering television screen at the sound of his son's tremulous voice. Jumping to his feet, he rapidly crossed the living room and headed for the bedroom down the hallway. "Hey, Cowboy," he called quietly, entering the small room. "I thought you were sleeping."
One hand vainly searching the blankets, Vin Tanner drowsily mumbled, "Can't find Cat."
His eyes warm with affection, Chris picked up Vin's favorite toy from the floor, where it had apparently fallen from the top bunk during Vin's restless sleep. He straightened the disheveled covers before placing the toy cat in his son's arms. "There you go. Feeling any better?"
The small boy shifted in his bed. "I'm okay," he rasped.
"Vin," Chris said, raising his eyebrows in disbelief.
Vin sighed. "My head hurts," he admitted, "and my throat is real sore."
With a frown, the black-clad man felt Vin's forehead with the back of his hand. "Your temp is still a bit high, too. Ready for some more Tylenol?"
Vin nodded his head almost imperceptibly, whispering, "Yeah." The seven-year-old watched as Chris quickly retrieved a cup of water and the liquid Tylenol from the bedside table.
Measuring out the proper dosage, Chris lowered the now-half-filled eyedropper to Vin's lips. "Here ya go."
Vin opened his mouth, swallowing the medicine before taking a sip from the cup Chris offered.
"Good job," Chris praised, gifting the child with a smile, knowing how much his son hated to take "yucky tasting" medicine.
"Where's JD?" Vin asked, leaning slightly over the edge to peer at the empty bed under his own.
"He's sleeping in Buck's room, remember? We didn't want him to get sick, too."
"Yeah," Vin sighed, clearly missing the presence of his best friend.
"He can come back in tomorrow night, if you're feeling better, okay?" Chris reassured him.
"'kay," Vin yawned.
Chris smiled. "Looks like you're ready to go back to sleep, pard."
"Not tired," Vin protested, despite the evidence to the contrary.
"How 'bout I read to you for a while, until you do get tired?" Chris asked, rubbing Vin's blanket-clad arm gently.
Vin turned over on his side, facing Chris, curling his body around his toy cat. "'kay."
"What story do you want me to read?"
When there was no response, Chris glanced down at his sick son. His eyes were closed and his breathing was slow and steady, and for a moment he thought the boy had fallen asleep. Then Vin stirred, opening his eyes and rallying enough energy to say, "G'night Moon."
With a sigh, Vin blinked his eyes sleepily. "Yeah. Momma used to read it when I was sick. When she got to the end, she always kissed me and said g'night just like the bunny," he added in a dreamy tone, smiling at the happy recollection.
"That's a wonderful memory, buddy," Chris said softly. "Your momma loved you very much."
Vin smiled, stroking his stuffed animal's soft fur. "Yeah." He thought for a minute, then lifted his gaze to meet Chris's. "Did you read to Adam, when he was sick?"
Chris nodded, a wistful smile on his face. "I sure did. I think I even read Goodnight Moon to him a time or two."
"You loved Adam just like my momma loved me."
"Still do, buddy," Chris said, swallowing hard. "Just like you still love your momma."
"That's 'cause they're still in here." The little boy tapped his chest, right above his heart. "Uncle Josiah says even though they can't be with us right now, they still love us."
"Josiah is right," Chris managed to get out, his voice rough with emotion.
"Will you read it to me?"
"Of course I will, Cowboy. Is it in your bookcase?"
Vin nodded. "Got it at the book fair yesterday. JD put it on top of the bookcase when we got home, 'cause I wasn't feelin' good." His lean frame trembling, he started to push himself up.
"I'll get it," Chris quickly said, gently easing the small body back down on the bed.
"'k," Vin answered, his fingers resuming their gentle caress of Cat's fur.
Retrieving the book from the bookcase, Chris leaned his hip against the bed frame. He stared down at the cover for a few moments before slowly, almost reverently, tracing the title with his finger, lost in the bittersweet memories of a time gone by.
Larabee came back to the present with a start. "Hmm?"
"Read it?" Vin asked through a wide yawn.
"Yeah, Cowboy. I'll read it." Patting Vin's shoulder in reassurance, Chris turned to the first page and began to softly read."In the great green room
There was a telephone
And a red balloon
And a picture of-
The cow jumping over the moon"
As the sound of Chris's familiar, soothing voice began to wash over him, Vin's face softened, the lines of pain fading away."And there were three bears sitting on chairs
And two little kittens
And a pair of mittens"
Chris smiled as a sleepy voice unexpectedly repeated, "Mittens.""And a little toyhouse
And a young mouse
And a comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush
And a quiet old lady who was whispering 'hush'"
"Hush," Vin said faintly.
Shaking his head in fond amusement, Chris continued."Goodnight room
Goodnight cow jumping over the moon
And the red balloon
Vin rubbed at his eyes, whispering, "Chairs.""Goodnight kittens
And goodnight mittens
And goodnight socks
Goodnight little house
And goodnight mouse
And goodnight brush"
"Brush," Vin echoed almost inaudibly, his eyes closing."Goodnight nobody
And goodnight to the old lady whispering 'hush'
Goodnight noises everywhere"
Chris closed the book. Beside him, curled up around his toy cat, Vin mumbled softly.
Vin moved his head slightly, but his eyes remained closed, his face peaceful.
A tender smile crossed Chris's face. Reveling in his ability to soothe and comfort both of his sons, he gently brushed back a few wayward curls before dropping a light kiss on Vin's brow. "Goodnight Cowboy," he whispered, turning out the light. "Sleep well."
Murmuring incoherently, the small boy gave a contented sigh as he snuggled down into his pillows. Within seconds he was asleep.
Adapted from one of my own The Sentinel stories