Seasons of Love
by Mary Ann

Chapter 4

Chris was vaguely aware that a nurse came into the room several times during the night to check on Vin. He only woke up totally once, when Vin moaned in pain as he rolled onto his bad side, then squirmed back over to lay across Chris’s chest. As Vin settled down with a deep sigh, Chris pulled the blanket tightly over the small form, wrapped his left arm gently around the sleeping child, and slid into sleep.

Several hours later Chris came awake with a start, wondering for a moment where he was. Looking down he saw the top of a tousled light-brown head tucked under his chin; with a rush he remembered the events of the night before and forced himself to relax so as not to disturb the little boy nestled on his chest. Vin’s hands were fisted in his shirt and Chris could feel the warmth of the child soaking into him, a small smile crossed his lips. A noise at the door caught his attention, and the physician and nurse entered the room.

“Good morning Mr. Larabee. Looks like you had an interesting night,” Dr. Silverton said smiling at the figures on the bed.

“A little awkward, but not too bad,” Chris replied as he lifted his arm and looked at his watch.

The small body stirred at the sound of voices. Hearing a gasp, Chris put his hand on Vin’s shoulder. “Easy there Cowboy. Move slowly, I’ll help you.”

Vin nodded his head and Chris looked down at the bruised face, wide eyes filled with tears. Vin’s face flushed as he realized he had to go to the bathroom but didn’t want to move; his face reddened even more when he took note of where he was laying and he hurriedly tried to sit up. Pain shot through his back and he closed his eyes as the tears spilled over and rolled down his cheeks. “Hafta go,” he whispered in embarrassment.

“I do too,” a whisper sounded in Vin’s ear and he opened his eyes. “I’ll help you, okay? Just don’t move too fast. I’ll be right beside you.”

The man in black slid off the side of the bed. “We’ll be right back,” Chris told the doctor and nurse as he went around the bed to help Vin down.

“All right, I want to see him walk. I’ll check you over when you get back.” Dr. Silverton watched as Chris carefully lifted Vin from the nest of blankets and gently set him onto the floor.

“Can you walk?”

Vin nodded his head as they made their way to the bathroom, maintaining a death grip on Chris’ hand the entire time. Once they were finished Chris gently washed Vin’s face and hands, then opened the door for them. Vin held onto Chris’s hand tightly as they walked back into the room; as they neared the bed he stumbled tiredly and Chris quickly lifted him and placed him on the bed.

Dr. Silverton nodded to Chris then turned to his small patient. “You’re doing very well Vin. I need to check you over, but it looks like you’ll be going home today.” As he began his examination, the doctor asked Chris, “Was there any blood in his urine this morning?”

“No,” Chris answered instantly.

“That’s very good. He’s walking fine too it seems; he’s moving a little slowly but that’s to be expected with that bruising. Now son, I need to take a look at your back. You just let me do all the work, All right?” Dr. Silverton gently turned Vin around and eased the hospital gown open.

Vin glanced at Chris, then lowered his head as his pale face flushed pink. He felt Chris take hold of his hand and relief washed through him. ‘Chris is here and knows I’m afraid, he’ll help me,’ he thought.

“I’m sorry Vin, this will hurt a little, but I need to press on your spine to make sure it’s all right. Take a deep breath

and let it out slowly,” Silverton said.

Vin gasped at the pain in his back and chest as he tried to draw a deep breath. A warm hand rubbed his shoulder and the pain seemed to recede. He felt the gown drop back down over his exposed back followed by a tap on his other shoulder, and he turned his head around to looked at the doctor.

“Well Vin, the swelling has gone down quite a bit, but I want the ice pack on your back for awhile longer. In a couple of hours I’ll check you over again and if the swelling goes down even more, you’ll be able to go home before lunch,” Dr. Silverton reassured him. “Now let’s get you lying down again and ice on your back.”

Vin shivered at the thought of the ice on him again. “Too cold.”

Dr. Silverton paused, looking at the frail boy as he was helped to lie down and roll over onto his good side. With a nod, he decided, “Jane, get a warming blanket for Vin. Vin, that will help you stay warm while the icepack helps your back. Have you had breakfast yet young man?”

“No,” was the whispered reply.

“Okay. You eat first then we’ll get the ice on you. I’ll see you again in a couple of hours,” Silverton said. Turning to Chris, he asked, “Can I see you for a moment?”

Chris nodded and told Vin, “I’ll be right back, the doctor needs to talk to me a moment. I’ll just be outside the door.”

Vin nodded and watched as Chris followed the doctor out of the room.

“Here you are Vin, this is the warming blanket, and you’ll be nice and warm in a few minutes. Your breakfast is on the way, so you will have something in your stomach soon.” The nurse spread the blanket over him, then raised the head of the bed and helped Vin to sit up so he could eat comfortably.

Just then a young woman entered the room pushing a cart full of steaming trays of food. “Good morning,” she said cheerfully, removing one of the trays and placing it on the bedside table. I’ve got juice and milk here too.”

“Thanks you,” Jane said. “Looks like you have all sorts of good things to eat this morning. Are you hungry?”

Vin nodded as Jane placed a pillow behind his back and then put a large napkin over his lap, pulling the table closer so he could reach the tray of food.

“I’ll be back in a little while for your tray and with the icepack. Here comes your father too, just in time,” Jane said. With a smile at Vin and Chris she left the room, barely hearing Vin’s soft, “Thank you.”

Vin slid over some to make room for Chris beside him, then began devouring his breakfast, his fork filling quickly with scrambled eggs. The tray was loaded with toast, bacon, ham, hot oatmeal, fruit, juice and milk and Chris was beginning to wish that he had taken the time to at least get a cup of coffee.

“Hey Cowboy, think you can eat all of that?”

Vin smiled up at him as he stuffed a forkful of eggs into his mouth. After swallowing he replied, “You ‘kin have some bacon and toast if’n you’re hungry.”

“Thank you Vin, I just might do that. But right now I need a cup of coffee to wake myself up,” Chris said. “Will you be okay while I run down to the cafeteria to get a cup of coffee?”

A panicked look crossed Vin’s face briefly. “Guess so.”

“I’ll be back as fast as I can, just don’t eat my bacon and toast while I’m gone,” Chris teased, trying to ease the tension he could see in the boy’s posture.

Vin nodded and Chris went to the door, knowing he had to hurry; he didn’t want to leave Vin alone for too long. Striding down the hall towards the elevators he saw Vin’s nurse, Jane, hurrying towards him. A wave of her hand brought him to a stop near the bank of elevators.

Rushing up to him, she said, “Mr. Larabee, I was bringing you some coffee. I hope you take it black.” She handed him a large Styrofoam cup with a lid. “I didn’t think you’d want to leave Vin alone, and if you went to the cafeteria it would be awhile before you are back.”

“Thank you Jane. I was just headed down there. I appreciate your thoughtfulness. I’ll get right back to Vin. Thanks!” Chris told her and quickly turned back towards Vin’s room.

“My pleasure,” Jane said, pausing a moment to watch the handsome blond man walked away, a smile of appreciation lighting her face as she watched Chris walk down the hall and enter the room. With a small sigh she hurried back to the nurse’s station.

Chris entered Vin’s room and hurried to his bed; the little boy’s head was down and he could see silent tears dropping onto the blanket.

“Hey there Cowboy, I’m back just like I said I’d be.”

Vin’s hands flew to his face and he quickly brushed the tears away, his face flaring red in embarrassment. Slowly he raised his head; Chris hadn’t lied, he had come back to him just as he said he would. A tentative smile crossed his lips. “I’m sorry.”

“That’s alright Vin. You have nothing to be sorry for. Now let’s eat before it gets cold.” Chris reached for a piece of bacon.

Smiling, Vin picked up his fork again to resume eating, and before long they had the tray empty of food. Chris was surprised at how much the child had eaten, then realized that Vin couldn’t afford to be picky about what he ate, and probably had to eat everything he could find as quickly as possible.

Chris pushed the table away and helped Vin to the bathroom and back to bed. It wasn’t long before the nurse returned. Vin shivered at the sight of the icepack and Chris sat down beside him on the edge of the bed. The boy scooted close against Chris’ side.

“I don’t want that,” Vin’s raspy whisper reached Chris and he placed his hand on Vin’s shoulder in comfort.

“Hello again Vin. You ate everything, that’s great!” Jane remarked as she glanced at the empty food tray.

“I ate a piece of bacon and toast,” Chris told her before she could ask.

“Thanks for telling me. But Vin ate the rest?” At their nod she smiled. “We need to get this on your back Vin. I know it’s cold but it’s only for a little while, then Dr. Silverton will be back to check on you. I need you to lay on your right side.”

Vin pressed against Chris who pulled him closer and helped him to roll onto his side. “I’m right here Vin. Are you comfortable?”

Vin’s head nodded where it was nestled against Chris on his left side. Vin’s left arm edged across Chris’ chest and he gripped his shirt again.

Jane quickly placed the wrapped pack against Vin’s lower back and pushed the foam block against it to hold it in place. She then adjusted the blankets over the slight form with the heating blanket around him as best she could.

Vin shivered from the cold and pressed harder against Chris, who draped his left arm over the boy’s shoulders and rubbed his exposed arm hoping to keep the child warm. Looking around he pointed to the TV control on the bedside table near the nurse and she handed it to him before she left.

Trying to distract Vin from the cold, Chris flipped on the TV and tried to find something that might interest the little boy. At eight thirty in the morning there wasn’t much on, and he finally settled on an old re-run of MASH. The tousled head rose a little as Vin looked at the TV. Chris began a running account of what was going on, adding some things that weren’t there.

“That’s wrong,” came a whisper from his side and Chris looked down to see the boy’s brilliant blue eyes on him, a smile on his face.

“Oh! Then what are they doing?”

Vin glanced at the TV, then back at him. “One of them’s playing Santa. See, he’s dressed funny and his beard is wrong.”

“Oh, I see that now. So, what’s going on now?” Chris was thrilled; it was the most Vin had said since he’d met him the night before.

“That little guy is helping give out presents … See that one gots a hat and he wants to cry,” Vin said sincerely, then looked away. “They’s got a nice Christmas.”

“What would you like for Christmas?” Chris asked as he gently rubbed Vin’s upper back and shoulders.

Vin looked up at him, then his eyes darted around the room as he wondered how to say what he really wanted. Finally, he looked back at Chris and spoke quietly spoke. “Stay with you forever, an’ JD too.”

Chris blinked hard, trying to keep the sudden moisture in his eyes from slipping down his face as he wrapped his arm protectively around Vin. In a hoarse voice he told him, “I’m going to do everything in my power to see that that happens. I want you with me too,” Chris finished in a whisper.

Blue gaze met green and both felt a shock of something go through them. With a small smile, Vin lowered his head to the pillow bunched against Chris’ side. He knew he could trust this man with his life and he felt loved for the first time in years. He sighed as he closed his eyes and let sleep overtake him, knowing Chris would be there when he woke up.

Chris watched the trust, hope and … love? … flash through the boy’s eyes and when they closed in sleep he held Vin close and rested beside him. He would do anything to adopt Vin and JD, he suddenly realized, though he thought that Buck was taken with JD enough that he’d seek to adopt the little mop-haired boy himself. His lips quirked at the thought of Buck and JD together; Buck as a father, who would have thought? Glancing at the door a moment he brought his gaze back to the boy tucked into his side, the doctor’s words going through his mind.

The doctor had told him that Vin’s back was slightly crooked, something that should have been taken care of when he was a lot younger. He would give the boy exercises to help but he would probably always have back problems. He had also found old scars on Vin and figured that the child had been badly beaten several times; he wasn’t sure how the beatings had affected his mind.

Chris closed his eyes as his hand slowly rubbed Vin’s shoulders. He was sure there was nothing wrong with Vin’s mind. It was a given that the boy was shy; he barely said anything, though his eyes didn’t miss a trick.

The phone on the small table beside him suddenly rang and Chris’ hand flew to it, not wanting to wake Vin.


“Hey Pard, cut the glare down. How’s the boy?” Buck’s smooth deep voice asked.

“Better. Sleeping. Doc thinks he’ll release him soon. Got ice on his back again for awhile, he’ll check him once more, then probably release him.”

“That’s good news! We’ll stop and get him some clothes and be there by ten.”

“JD can’t get in here ‘til eleven.”

“Don’t worry about that, we’ll be there.”

Chris smiled, he knew Buck could charm the rattles off a rattler, as long as the rattler was female, that is. “How’s JD?”

“Fine. Think he talked himself to sleep when we got home last night. He’s eating right now. That child can sure talk, and eat!” Buck laughed, his voice filled with affection.

Chris heard an excited voice behind Buck and his answer that Vin was fine but asleep, then his pertner asked, “Any idea what size to get for Vin?”

Chris grinned, looking at the boy against his side. “Small, but long legs. I don’t know. Something a little larger than JD’s size I’d guess. We’ll take them both shopping as soon as Vin is feeling better.”

“Okay, we’ll find something. Oh, I called the office and told them we won’t be in for a couple of days. It’s slow so there’s no problem with us taking a few days off. See you two in awhile.”

A high pitched voice yelled from behind Buck, “Bye Vin. See you soon.”

“Thanks Buck. Later.”

Hanging up the phone, Chris felt Vin shiver and pulled him closer to his side. He’d forgotten to call the office and was glad that Buck had; he wasn’t sure where his mind was lately. He thought over his conversation with Buck and smirled; from the affection he’d heard in Buck’s voice, he was sure the other man would be willing to adopt JD. With Ezra’s help things might go quickly. Ezra had connections that none of them knew about, and after what he had managed to pull off last night, he was sure that Ezra could do just about anything he set his mind to. He would have to talk to the younger man as soon as he could. 

Chapter 5

Just then a nurse walked in the door, bringing Chris’s thoughts to a stop. She smiled at him as she stopped at Vin’s side of the bed. “I came for the icepack, it’s been on his back long enough,” she told him.

At Chris’ nod, she quickly lifted the blankets off of Vin and gently removed the pad and the icepack. Checking Vin’s lower back she nodded and replaced the blankets. As she stepped away from the bed, she smiled at Chris. “The bruises look bad, but the swelling is pretty much gone. Dr. Silverton will be in here shortly to check Vin once more. He’s almost finished with his rounds.”


As the nurse left, a small head rose and looked around the room, then up at Chris.

“How are you feeling, Cowboy?”

Vin cocked his head a moment, then with a small smile replied, “Fine.”

“Good,” Chris smiled back, knowing there was no way Vin could feel ‘Fine.’ “We’re to wait for the doctor, so you can rest until he gets here.”

“Okay.” Vin answered and snuggled down beside him again, his left arm on Chris’ chest. A moment later he was sound asleep.

Chris blinked in surprise at how fast the child had gone to sleep, and at the trust that Vin had given to him. He closed his eyes for a minute as a memory of his son Adam flashed through his mind. Adam had been the light of his life, but he had trusted Chris the way a son trusts a parent. Vin’s trust was something else, something deeper …

Suddenly he saw Sarah and Adam standing on the small hill overlooking the valley that held their ranch, and his heart constricted. A light breeze lifted Sarah’s dark hair, and she was laughing as she watched Adam, who was twirling around in a circle, arms outstretched. Suddenly she looked up and smiled directly at Chris. Trust your heart my love. Vin needs you. Take care of him for us. the sweet smile that he loved but hadn’t seen for over three years was on her face. She looked at the solitary little boy standing some distance from her and Adam. Grabbing his mother’s hand, Adam grinned. Vin’s my little brother now, Daddy, he said as he and Sarah started to fade away, leaving Vin alone and scared, looking around wildly. Chris reached out to him in desperation, and Vin ran towards him, a brilliant smile lighting his elfin face.

A noise startled Chris awake and he looked around, automatically reaching for his gun, his mind still on the dream. He shook his head as he realized it was a nurse entering the room with a tray of bandages. He dropped his gaze to the figure sleeping against him, then carefully sat and swung his legs off the side of the bed.

The nurse sat the tray on the table. Smiling, she said, “Doctor Silverton will be here in a minute to check Vin over.”

“Good,” Chris answered, reaching for his boots. He raised his eyes to the clock on the wall and took another look. 10:15! He’d fallen asleep with Vin; he couldn’t believe he’d slept for over an hour. Chris froze as he pulled on a boot, remembering his dream of Sarah and Adam. Tears stung his eyes as he tried to imprint their countenances in his mind again; he still missed them so much.

A hand suddenly rubbed across his shoulder and his eyes snapped open as he turned towards the comforting hand. Vin was kneeling beside him, his bright eyes locked on his face, a small hand rubbed gently across Chris’ shoulder. Gathering the boy into his arms and he held him close for a minute, his face buried in the child’s long hair, small arms wrapped tightly around him.

“Thank you,” he whispered hoarsely, feeling Vin’s hand pat him on the back as if he were the adult. Chris pulled

back and smiled at the worried look on Vin’s face. “I’m fine,” he reassured the boy as a small hand touched his chest.

“A pretty lady and little boy were there. They was happy, and I saw you coming,” Vin said, looking earnestly at Chris.

“Oh God!” Chris dropped his head as he hugged Vin closer. ‘How could this be happening; how could Vin see Sarah and Adam?’ Chris could barely breathe as tears prickled against his eyelids, and he blinked fiercely to disperse them, but before he could contemplate this any further Dr. Silverton walked into the room.

“Looks like you two would like to get out of here right now.”

Chris sat back as Vin pulled away from him, the little boy’s face flushing as he ducked his head. “Yes, we’d like to leave. I think it’s about time for a hamburger too.” He was awarded with a tentative smile from Vin.

“Well, let’s get this done then. Vin, I’m going to check you over and give you a new bandage around your rib. I promise, this is the last time, as long as everything looks good, okay? So let me get to work.” Dr. Silverton smiled kindly at Vin as he began his examination. Once he was done and the new bandage was in place he smiled at Vin.

“It looks like you can leave Vin. Everything looks good but you will need to take it easy for awhile. Your back and rib are going to be sore for awhile, so I am prescribing lots of rest and no rough-housing for at least two weeks. I

want to see you immediately if you have any problems. Mr. Larabee, I’ll have a prescription for a mild pain medication for Vin with his release papers, but use them only if they are needed. Now, you can get dressed and get out of here. The discharge papers will be at the nurses’ station for you.”

“Thank you Dr. Silverton. I think my partner is bringing Vin some new clothes; they should be here in a few minutes.”

“Oh yes! I believe I did see them at the nurses’ station. I’ll send them in.” The doctor shook Chris’ hand, then Vin’s. “You take care Vin, and get better.”

“Thank you doctor,” Vin answered shyly.

With a last smile, the doctor and nurse left the room to be followed almost immediately by Buck and JD, who walked in, hand in hand. JD was carrying a small sack and Buck a larger one; JD’s face was wreathed in smiles and he was bouncing in excitement, trying to look everywhere at once.

“Vin! Vin! You alright? Me an’ Buck went to the biggest store in the world! We walked and walked, it has everythin’ an’ toys an’ food an’ … we gots some new clothes. See? Mine’s really soft and warm. Buck gots you some too. Look I gots new shoes, Buck let me pick them out. We had pancakes for breakfast and they were hot, and I had syrup and peanut butter on mine. I had my own bed, it was big an’ has lots of warm blankets. I got skeered without you an’ Buck letted me sleep wif him. I gots a real bath! See I smell goods. You kin have one too an’ you’ll smell goods too.” JD talked non-stop as he reached Vin’s bed and climbed up next his friend, with Buck’s help. Buck handed the bags to Chris, a tolerant smile on his face as he kept a close eye on JD.

Chris pulled out a pair of dark blue sweat pants and a shirt from one of the bags and laid them beside the smiling Vin, who was watching JD and nodding his head. Suddenly his head dropped, but not before Chris saw his confusion and sadness. Leaning close to Vin’s ear he asked, “Does he always talk this fast? Does he ever breathe?”

Vin shot him a half smile as Chris helped him into the pants.

“What’s wrong Vin?”

Vin’s head dropped lower, and his fingers twisted together. Chris rubbed his shoulder then put a finger under his chin and gently forced it up, looking into Vin’s eyes. “Tell me what’s wrong,” he said again, unaware that Buck had lifted JD off the bed and was standing silently nearby.

Tears rolled suddenly down the small, thin face and Vin muttered, “I stink.”

Understanding hit Chris and Buck at the same time. Chris gathered Vin into his arms and pressed his tangle-haired head against his chest. “Hey Vin, you’re fine. You don’t stink, you smell like little boy. I’m the one who stinks; I need a shower and a shave. As soon as we get home we’ll get you cleaned up, and as soon as I get my chores done, I will too,” Chris told Vin as he released him, wiped the tears off his face, and picked up the shirt.

“Chores?” Vin asked as Chris eased the shirt over his head.

“He gots horses Vin! Lots an’ lots. An’ Buck said we could go for a ride, and we could help Chris feed them. Vin! Chris gots horses!” JD’s voice faded away, a far away look in his dark eyes as he slowly stopped bouncing in Buck’s arms. “Horses Vin!” he murmured in awe.

“Why don’t you take JD and go get Vin’s release papers and all? We’ll be finished here in a couple of minutes and meet you by the elevators.”

“Sure Pard. Good idea. We’ll meet you there in a minute or two,” Buck grinned as he threw JD over his shoulder. Giggles erupted from the upside down boy as they headed out of the room.

Chris smiled at Vin as he carefully lifted a narrow foot to put on a heavy sock. “Are you warmer now?”

“Yes, feels good.” Vin ran his hands over the soft, warm material covering his chest and arms. “Thank you.”

“It’s nothing. Now, let’s get these shoes on so you can leave.” Chris slid his foot into a sneaker and pulled the Velcro tightly closed over his foot, glad that the shoe fit pretty well.

“Looks like Buck did a good job picking out these clothes for you, everything fits you nicely.”

“And they’re warm too.”

“Yes they are!” laughed Chris as he finished with the second foot just as the door opened and a nurse walked in pushing a wheelchair.

“Your ride is here Vin.” She stopped beside the bed.

Vin’s eyes widened. “I’m fine. I kin walk,” he told her as Chris helped him into the warm jacket that Buck had brought.

“Sorry. The only way any of our patients can leave is if they take a ride in this wheelchair. So I guess if you don’t want a ride, you’ll have to stay here with us.”

Vin glared at the woman for several long moments as Chris hid a smile. ‘That glare could almost match mine,’ he thought.

Vin looked up at Chris, who cocked an eyebrow at him and shrugged his shoulders. He thought for a second that he heard Chris say, ‘Only way to get out of here.’ With a resigned huff Vin nodded his head and a moment later he was seated in the chair. The nurse pushed him out the door and down the hallway, Chris striding beside them. Ahead of them they could see Buck and JD waiting for them, JD hopping impatiently from one foot to the other as Buck kept a hand on his shoulder.

They paused at the elevators and when the doors slid open the nurse pushed the wheelchair in and turned them around. Vin stiffened immediately. “No!” he exclaimed as he felt his breath leave him. In a panic he tried to get out of the chair as JD and Buck stepped to the left of them. The elevator door began to close and he pushed himself up, taking a step towards the doors. A pair of hands grabbed him as he reached the doors and picked him up as he fought to get loose, ignoring the pain that exploded in his back. “No, no … let me go …” he screamed in full blown panic.

“Vin, Vin, it’s all right.” Chris spoke calmly and quietly, trying to get through to the screaming boy, but it only spurred the child to fight harder. “Vin, ENOUGH!” Chris finally ordered, his mouth close to Vin’s ear.

Vin froze, his face a mask of terror, his eyes wide and unseeing, tears flowing down his face.

“I’ve got you Vin, its Chris. You’re safe with me.” Chris held the stiff, trembling body in his arms. “Look at me. You’re safe.”

Slowly Vin turned his head and blinked his eyes. He could see Chris’ face inches away, a look of concern in the green eyes. He felt the strong arms holding him, and then he saw JD in Buck’s arms, his face buried against Buck’s neck.

The door suddenly opened and Chris stepped out. “I’ll take him now,” he said curtly, headed for the exit with Buck and JD right behind him. The nurse stayed on the elevator and watched them leave as the doors closed again.

“Breathe Vin, breathe, or you’ll pass out. You are fine, we’ll be outside in a minute,” Chris told the stiff, trembling boy in his arms.

Vin suddenly gasped and sucked air deeply into his lungs, having forgotten to breathe in his panic. Tears rolled down his face, but the panic brought on by the small, enclosed space was beginning to recede. Another few steps and they all were outside, a bitter cold wind whipping around the hurrying figures. The dark overcast sky above their heads promised a storm soon to follow.

Breathing deeply, Vin buried his head in Chris’ shoulder. “I’se sorry. I’se sorry, I’ll be good …” he cried, afraid that Chris wouldn’t take him home now.

Chris stopped beside the truck as Buck unlocked it. He held Vin closer to him. “It’s alright Vin, we’ll work this out. Just remember you are safe with Buck and me, we would never hurt you or JD. Come on now, relax, and let’s go home.”

Inside the truck JD leaned against Buck as Chris slid in the other side, still holding Vin in his arms. JD patted Vin’s leg that was close to him. “Vin don’t like little places. They skere him like that,” he said suddenly. “It’s okay Vin, it was just the ’vater, they go fast. There’s no ‘vators in Buck’s house Vin. Is there one in yours Chris? Can I see your horses when we gets there? I like horses. I gots to ride one once; it was fun. We went really fast and faster. His name were Scout an’ he was black and white. Do you have a black and white horse? What’s his name?”

“Hey JD, take a breath son, you’re making my head spin.” Buck rolled his eyes at Chris who smirked back at him.

“Does he always talk like this Vin? Non-stop?” Chris asked the silent boy on his lap, whose small face was still buried in his shoulder. The shaggy head nodded once, but Chris pressed him. “I can’t hear you.”

Vin was worried that Chris wouldn’t want him, but once they settled into the truck and he felt the strong arms holding onto him he started to relax. He was still embarrassed over what had happened in the hospital and tried to push it behind him; he felt his face flush when JD told the two men about him being scared of small places. It was the truth but he didn’t know what to do about it; he couldn’t get the nightmare of what he’d gone through out of his head. Burying his face in Chris’ shoulder was the safest thing to do he thought, but now Chris was talking to him, and he had to answer. Finally he turned from the soggy shoulder and another blush crossed his face as he realized he’d cried enough to make Chris’ shoulder wet.

“I’se sorry.”

“Vin, it’s alright; it’s only a shirt and can be washed,” Chris answered, knowing instantly what the boy was talking about. “Now, does JD always talk like that?”

“Yes,” Vin answered and smiled down at JD.

JD giggled and added, “I like to talk. Are we there yet? I can’t see anything, I’se too small. Where are we?”

“Hold on Little Bit. We have to stop at my place so Chris can get his belongings and his truck, then we’ll head out.”

“You all packed?”

“Yeah, I think so, for now anyway. Though I can clean out my fridge I guess.”

“You better do that; it’ll probably be at least a few days before you get back here. You can put your stuff in the backseat of the Ram; it looks like it might be raining before we get out to my place.”

“Thanks Pard.”

A few minutes later they pulled into the apartment complex and parked beside Chris’s black truck, and then made their way to Buck’s apartment. JD was telling Vin about the room he’d slept in before going to Buck’s room. Vin held his hand and smiled as they walked to the door, then waited for Buck to unlock it. 

Chapter 6

It was almost three hours later when the two pick-up trucks turned into Chris’ long, tree-lined driveway and made their way to the parking area outside the garage beside the house. Vin, who was seat belted into the passenger seat beside Chris, stared out the window at several fenced fields full of horses. His eyes drank in the sight of the beautiful animals as they drove down the driveway, then his eyes grew wide as a large, sprawling house came into view. A second story covered over half of the lower floor and seemed to lord over the whole house. The yard was dotted with large shade trees that had already lost most of their leaves and there were cars parked near the garage. Vin also spotted a large barn set back a ways from the house, complete with fenced paddocks and corrals as well as additional horses.

As they parked, the sliding glass door on the large covered porch slid open and Josiah stepped out, followed closely by Nathan and Ezra.

“Welcome home Vin and JD,” Josiah greeted the youngsters as they were helped out of the trucks, their small bundles of belongings clutched to their chests.

Chris’ heart ached as he helped Vin out of his truck, seeing again the pitifully small bundle he held tightly onto. After leaving Buck’s apartment they had stopped for hamburgers at a nearby McDonald’s. The two boys had been thrilled to be able to go inside and eat, and JD ate as fast as possible so he could go out to the playground area. Vin quietly watched him play with a smile on his face, then asked if they could get their things from their old home.

They headed to the warehouse district; slowly driving past the rusted cars, vans and other old heaps that had been abandoned along the narrow streets. Reaching their warehouse, the men took in the dilapidated building in front of them, and exchanged a frown. Vin was too stiff and sore to retrieve his belongings, but JD assured him he’d get everything and led the way through the musty, smelly building. The two men almost gagged at the rank smell of rotting garbage and refuse. JD took them to a pile of boxes and pallets in a back corner of the building and disappeared through a tiny opening between the wall and a stack of what looked like haphazardly discarded boxes and pallets. Within minutes he was back, dragging a threadbare blanket that held some clothes, another blanket, and a small, well-used cardboard box. JD gently handed the box to Vin, then laid the second blanket on the floor and quickly sorted the clothes, placing a pile on each blanket. Once finished he started to fold the first blanket; Buck stepped forward to help him as Chris rolled the second one together and held the small bundle for Vin.

“Is that all boys?” Buck asked, fighting to keep tears from falling.

Vin nodded as JD looked once more at the pile of boxes that had been his home for almost a year. “Yes, I gots everything ‘cept the old mattress; I can’t move it.”

“That’s alright, you don’t need it,” Buck choked out.

“Let’s get out of here.” Chris took Vin’s hand and headed across the littered floor to the doorway. The small bundle clutched in his other hand, wishing he could just destroy it.

Once in the truck Vin opened his bundle and carefully wrapped the small box in with his clothes. Chris watched out of the corner of his eye but didn’t ask; he could see that the box was something special to the boy.

Before reaching the highway they had made one more stop, at Wal*Mart to purchase several more sets of clothes for the boys. JD had talked a mile a minute as Buck pushed him in a basket, while Vin walked silently, clinging tightly to Chris’ hand. Buck and Chris selected clothes, socks and underwear, allowing the two boys to choose the colors and styles they wanted, then headed for the registers. Along the way JD asked if they could have some donuts and the men, seeing the longing on the two boys’ faces, detoured through the grocery department, loading up on Twinkies, Suzy Q’s, HoHo’s, and cookies along with cereal, milk, and other necessary staples. With the boys safely in the trucks, they quickly loaded the Ram with the bags and headed for the ranch.

JD skipped to Josiah with a smile on his face. “Hi J’siah! That’s Vin, he don’t talk much. Vin, this ’s my friend J’siah, he’s tall, an’ that’s Nathan, he’s taller an’ that’s Ezra, he’s shorter. They work wif’ Buck and Chris. Are you goin’ riding? Chris has horses. My Buck tol’ me I could ride sometime. I like horses, can we go see them?”

“I’ll take him to the barn while you get things settled,” Nathan spoke quickly into the suddenly amused silence, while JD was taking a breath of air. He’d looked closely at Vin and saw that the boy was moving and walking slowly but not tired and his eyes were looking everything over.

“Chris, we fixed up the large spare room for the boys. Hope you don’t mind. Come on JD, I’ll take you to see the horses if you’d like.” Nathan held out his hand.

“Yes!” With a yell JD dropped his little bundle and grabbed Nathan’s hand as they started for the barn. JD struggled to keep up until finally the tall man reached down and picked him up, tossing him onto his shoulders; JD had been trying to walk on his tiptoes, his short arm stretching high to reach Nathan’s hand.

The rest of the men smiled and headed inside, carrying bags of clothes and groceries. Vin’s hand was tucked warmly in Chris’s.

“Shall we check out your new room Mr. Tanner? You can put your belongings there too. Would you like me to show you the way?” Ezra asked moments later, seeing the child’s wide eyes darting around the room.

Vin looked at the smartly dressed man. “I’m Vin,” he said warily, glancing over at Chris, who was placing bags of groceries on the kitchen counter. At Chris’ smile Vin took Ezra’s outstretched hand and they headed into the other room towards the stairway.

Shaking his head, Josiah waited until Ezra and Vin went up the stairs. “We’ve checked the boys out. JD’s mother was found dead in a parked car in an alley half a block from the warehouse district almost ten months ago. According to the autopsy, Mary Dunne died of cancer. They found a child’s seat in the back seat of the car but they never found the child, nor could they find any living relatives anywhere. They presumed that the child, John Dunne, had been given to a foster home, or had died before her. He will be six years old in February. A Vincent Michael Tanner was placed in Social Services two and a half years ago in Amarillo, Texas. His mother died in a hospital there when he was about five. He has been in several foster homes; he disappeared from the last one over a year and a half ago. The authorities found out later that the foster parents had been badly abusing the children in their care to the point that several of them had to be admitted to the hospital; they’d been raped and beaten and were suffering from malnutrition. Vin was hospitalized twice, but once he disappeared it was like he vanished into thin air. Social Services was never able to locate him and they closed the book on him last year. He’ll be eight years old next May.”

For long minutes there was total silence in the kitchen as Buck and Chris digested the information. Both men’s hearts ached over what the two little boys had gone through. With a glance at Buck, Chris turned to Josiah. “We’re going to adopt those boys come hell or high water. They’ll never be abused in any way ever again. What do we have to do?”

“We figured that, but wanted to be sure before we moved forward.” With a smug grin Josiah continued, “Ezra has some great connections and he will get the ball rolling. He believes things can be worked out quickly. We’ll have to contact Social Services and they will have to do background checks, home studies, things like that, but he is sure there won’t be any problems, even though you’re single men adopting two boys. We will get right on it as soon as he and Vin get back down here.”

“Good. We’ll do anything for those boys! No matter what they throw at us.” Buck injected, his mind on the little mop haired boy.

“We’ll do what they want us to do, but those boys will not leave this ranch. If we have to fight SS to the Supreme Court, we will,” Chris stated, his eyes hard.

Josiah nodded in agreement. Looking at Buck he asked, “Your place?”

“I’m moving in here with Chris this weekend, right Stud?” Buck shot a look at Chris, then added, “I’ll need some help moving and setting up things here.” Grinning widely Buck rubbed his hands together. “Well, what are you waiting for? Let’s get this stuff put away and get to work.”

“Don’t ever change Brother Buck!” Laughing, Josiah reached for a bag.

That evening the five men sat in the large comfortable living room working out details of Buck’s move and the

adoption of the boys. After a hearty meal of beef stew and hot rolls Vin had fallen asleep on a couch and Chris had carried him up to his new room and gently put him to bed. He sat beside Vin for a few minutes as he settled, smiling as Vin snuggled deeply into the blankets until only the top of his head could be seen, then laid his hand on the tousled head and said, “Goodnight Cowboy.” Turning the lamp low, he left.

Less than an hour later, Buck tucked a sleepy JD into his bed and left the room, wondering where the little boy got all that energy and wishing it could be boxed and sold. As he returned to the living room he contemplated the changes he was about to make in his life. Chris had been after him to move to the ranch for years but he’d resisted, not wanting to put his close friend out and definitely not willing to give up his lifestyle of chasing girls. With a snort, he realized he would give up everything to be with the little brunet boy that had stolen his heart. His blue eyes lit on Chris, and he saw another man there, more alive then he’d been in the last three years. Dropping into the recliner he grinned to himself; Chris had smiled more in the last hours then he had in at least a year. Vin Tanner dropping into his life had brought back the man he’d known before the loss of Sarah and Adam; Chris was smiling, relaxed, and happy. Vin and JD had already changed their lives, and brought Chris back from the brink of self-destruction, and Buck would do anything to keep it that way.

As he listened to the plans being made and provided his own input, Buck knew that they were doing the right thing. Chris was alive now, and Buck wanted it to stay that way forever. Turning his head to Ezra he asked a question and the conversation continued.


Christmas Eve Day arrived and the two boys were up early and ready to head for the barn before the coffee maker stopped gurgling. Buck or Chris would prepare the coffee when they retired the night before, and the first one up turned it on. Usually that was Vin; he was normally up a half hour before anyone else, and being taller than JD he could reach the ON button. Outside snow was blowing and the bright night light on the end of the barn was dim in the snow and darkness. The two boys were up earlier than normal and had snuck downstairs. Vin turned on the coffee while JD waited impatiently on the couch for him to turn on the Christmas tree lights. Vin turned them on and joined JD on the couch, pulling an afghan around them as they sat and watched the twinkling lights in awe.

Chris and Buck found the boys, wrapped up warmly, huddled on the couch whispering to each other as they tried to count the blinking lights. The two men joined them on the couch, coffee cups in hand, before real life interrupted. Finally they all returned to the kitchen and with Christmas music wafting through the house, breakfast was made and eaten. The boys, anxious to get out to the barn, tried hurrying the men along.

As the sky started to lighten they all headed for the barn to get chores done. Vin and JD, happily plowing through the snow, were laughing and throwing little snowballs at each other and the two men.

Chris and Buck followed, smiling at the antics of the two little boys ahead of them, tossing snowballs at them and marveling over the changes in all of their lives in under two months’ time.

During the last month and a half....

Ezra had gotten things going on the adoption while Chris and Buck, as leader and member of the elite ATF Team Seven, looked for someone to take care of the boys while they were working.

Chris knew his neighbor, Nettie Wells, had recently lost her husband after a long illness. She had quit her teaching job two years before in order to take care of her husband of almost forty years. She was managing her small ranch and working now as a substitute teacher whenever she was needed at the various grade schools. Chris had visited her, then invited her to dinner so she could meet the boys. It had been a tense meeting for the first few minutes, until she’d brought out a plate of her homemade chocolate chip cookies. The little boys had helped her divide them between everyone there, JD talking a mile a minute and Vin smiling shyly and adding a word or two. Nettie had let the boys lead her; she didn’t push them for anything and by the end of her visit both boys were sitting beside her. When she left, Vin had quietly asked her to come back again. She’d quit her part time job and went to work for Chris and Buck three days later, staying with the boys until one or both of the men returned home at the end of the day. Between the care she gave them and the love of Chris and Buck, the two little boys were thriving.

As the days passed, Nettie started teaching the boys. She found that JD could easily be in the second grade; if not third, he had all sorts of things stored in his little head. Vin, on the other hand, had had some problems in the first grade, and his last foster parents pulled him out of school, insisting he was needed at home, but instead of helping him they’d abused him. Nettie worked patiently with the shy boy and soon discovered that Vin was dyslexic. She began employing different teaching methods with him and suddenly he was learning things that he had previously found to be very difficult. She found that both boys enjoyed history, so she read simple stories to them, explaining what was happening to the little boys.

Social Services had been out several times to check on the boys, and had tried finding any living relatives of either child, to no avail. There was nothing to be found on JD; no one ever came forward with any kind of information about his mother. Tracing Vin was a little easier as he’d been in the system for several years, but nothing was found other then when and where his mother had died. No one claimed to know of a Michelle Tanner or where she came from, and Vin had no memory of anyone else in their lives. All he remembered of his mother was that she had told him over and over that he was a Tanner and never to forget it. He had an old photograph of a young woman with long curly light brown hair holding a small wide eyed boy on her lap; both of their names were written on the back of the photo. That picture and a small broken harmonica that she had given him were all that he had left of his mother.

Vin rarely spoke of the foster homes he’d been in. He had run away from the last one after landing in the hospital a second time, but all he would say about it was that he tried hard to do the work that he was given to do every day and that the people there had hurt him badly anyway. Silent tears rolled down his face as he spoke, then he would throw himself into Chris’ arms, burying his face in his neck. After the third SS worker asked him the same questions with the same results, Chris put his foot down; glaring at the woman he told her in no uncertain terms to lay off, that they had it all down in their records and just needed to read them before questioning the child.

That night Vin had the worse nightmare he’d ever had, waking everyone in the house with his screams. Chris and Buck flew into the room, where they found a sobbing JD pressed into the corner of his bed. Buck instantly gathered JD into his arms and hurried him to his room while Chris tried to calm the screaming Vin without scaring him more. He’d finally gathered the slight figure to him and carried him to his bed; holding him close he’d talked as he rubbed Vin’s back. Finally Vin settled enough that the screams dissolved into heart wrenching sobs, and a bit later those stopped as well. A shaking Vin finally looked up at Chris, eyes bright with tears, and apologized to him. Chris hugged him close and assured him nothing was wrong, that he would always be there for him. Vin finally fell asleep in Chris’ arms, content and feeling loved.

Things had calmed down for everyone for the last two weeks as the Christmas holidays got closer. Ezra, Josiah and Nathan took the boys shopping to find Christmas gifts for their guardians and Nettie. Then Chris took Vin while Buck took JD; the boys were thrilled to be able to shop and wanted to buy everything they saw for their new friends and family. Chris and Buck managed to hold them back, but loved every minute as the wide-eyes boys ooh’d and ahh’d over everything they saw. They let the boys pick out items for the rest of the team and Nathan’s wife Rain. It was dark when they were ready to head for home and Chris drove through an area of the city where the houses had been extensively decorated with Christmas lights and scenes. It was a treat to the men just seeing the looks on the small faces.

After they got home, and a quick dinner, the men helped the boys wrap the gifts they had picked out, laughing as they passed tape or cut the wrapping paper. A few days later the team showed up early and they made a memorable day for the boys by going out for a tree. With Vin and JD bundled warmly they rode to one of the stands of trees on Chris’ property.

They ended up with several trees, one for the ranch house and the others for Josiah and Nathan, and a small one for Vin and JD’s room. As they made their way home through the snow the boys talked all the way about how they were going to decorate ‘their’ tree. As soon as they reached the house they hurriedly helped take care of the horses, then rushed to the house to start making paper chains and stars for their tree. The boys worked until bed time making ornaments and decorating their tree after Chris and Buck set it up for them.

Christmas Eve Day

Once they had cleaned the stalls, fed the horses and turned them out, Chris and Buck and the two boys hurried back to the warmth of the house. The rest of the team was coming that afternoon for dinner and to exchange some early gifts. Christmas Day was set aside for a big Christmas dinner with Nettie, and Rain, who had to work Christmas Eve, coming. Orin and Evie Travis were stopping in for a little visit later in the day. A huge turkey with all the trimmings was ready to go into the oven the next morning and the two women had promised to bring some pies for dessert.

Vin and JD were excited as they straightened their room and whispered back and forth about the gifts they’d gotten for Nettie and the two men who now made up their family.

Vin paused, remembering his last Christmas; he’d been living in the warehouse for over six months and knew all the food places within a mile. He’d been lucky to find some warm clothes and a blanket earlier in the month; not knowing for sure what day was Christmas he scrounged enough food to last him for several days. He stayed hidden and emerged only when he’d gotten hungry again, and had been rewarded by finding enough food for almost a month. He made several trips out during the late afternoon and brought back as much as he could carry. In his hidden home he’d loosened a board to the outside and since the snow was deep on that side of the building he’d dug a hole in it and stored his foraged food in there. He had also found some clothes that had been thrown away and carried them to his ‘home.’ Most of his findings were way too big for him, but he used them to make his ‘home’ warmer and cozier. He didn’t venture far out for days on end, and only to get water and to use the old bathroom he’d found in another building that still had cold running water.

Vin had found JD several months later in the back of a car with a dead woman at the wheel. He’d gotten the crying boy away from the car, grabbing a small ice chest that held snacks, sandwiches and bottled water. Though he wasn’t related to JD he’d found it was easier to tell him that he was his cousin, and by the time they were found by Chris and Buck they were closer than brothers.

The two boys, bathed and dressed, planted themselves on the long couch facing the Christmas tree and waited for Ezra, Josiah, and Nathan to arrive, both so excited they could barely sit still.

Chapter 7

Christmas Eve ~~ Late Afternoon - Evening

When the rest of Team 7 arrived, loaded down with more food and gifts, the boys met them at the door and ushered them inside. JD gave them a quick account of their day. Smiling shyly, Vin helped carry a sack to the kitchen, then followed the men back into the front room. Josiah held his arms out to the quiet child, and Vin settled onto his lap as they listened to JD and watched a Christmas show.

Two hours later, Vin trailed Josiah into the kitchen where Chris was slicing the prime rib roast for dinner. Buck ladled mashed potatoes into a large bowl while Nathan took care of the vegetables and Ezra finished slicing tomatoes for his salad. Josiah sliced the homemade bread, then poured gravy into a bowl. Vin carried the napkins into the dining room while JD followed him, carrying the basket of sliced bread. The men carried the rest of the meal into the room, setting platters and bowls on the large trestle table. Glasses of milk for the youngsters were brought in and water and wine for the men were placed at each setting. Within minutes they were all sitting at the food-laden table. Josiah asked the blessing, and then began passing around the food. Chris and Buck served the boys.

When everyone was too full to eat any more, they decided to wait until later for dessert. Before long the table was cleared, the food put away, the dishes rinsed and placed in the dishwasher, and the kitchen was clean. Retiring to the living room they all made themselves comfortable and turned on a Christmas movie, the two little boys snuggled against Chris and Buck’s sides.

To the side of the room the Christmas tree’s lights twinkled merrily, drawing the children’s eyes often.

“Can we open some presents?” JD finally couldn’t wait any longer; the Christmas gifts under the beautiful tree were calling to him.

With a smile, Buck declared it time to open gifts, and that the two boys could pass them out. Ezra offered to help. To everyone’s surprise, he sat down by the tree and started handing gifts to the boys to pass around. The last thing he gave to each child was a decorative envelope, one for Chris and another for Buck. JD danced to Buck’s side with the last item as Vin carefully carried his to Chris. Ezra rose and stood near the fireplace where his gifts were stacked, watching closely as Chris and Buck accepted the envelopes from the children. The boys seated themselves beside Chris and Buck, waiting eagerly for the men to open the gifts they’d picked out for them.

Chris and Buck opened the envelopes first, wondering what they could possibly contain. Both men froze in place and all eyes locked onto their shocked faces.

“Ez … Ezra!” both men exclaimed at once, looking at the conman.

“Just sign on the dotted line, in front of witnesses of course. Perhaps you should ask Judge Travis to act as one of your witnesses. Once you get the papers to Social Services, the adoptions should be legal as of the first of the year.”

With a whoop Buck jumped up and before Ezra could move, he had wrapped the smaller man in a bear hug, turning him around and around in a circle as Ezra struggled to get loose. Chris wasn’t as enthusiastic as Buck; he waited until Ezra was released, then shook his hand gratefully. As an after thought, he threw his arm around him and gave Ezra a quick hug, to the embarrassment of the undercover agent.

Stepping back, Chris looked at his smiling teammates, then at the two wide-eyed boys. Dropping to his knees he held out his arms to the boys, who threw themselves at him. Buck plopped down beside them; JD hugged Chris then went into Buck’s arms while Vin gave the big man a hug before returning to Chris’ lap. Both boys swiped tears off the men’s faces as they were wrapped in strong arms again.

What’s wrong?” Vin worried in his head, looking Chris in the eyes. He was afraid that something bad had happened and stiffened in the older man’s arms as fear crept over him.

“Nothing’s wrong Vin. It’s all good. Those papers Ezra gave us … Well, they say that from now on, Buck and I are

fathers to you both. JD is Buck’s adopted son, and you are mine. We are your fathers now and forever.”

“You’re my Dad?” Wide eyed, Vin smiled, tears prickling his eyes, then wrapped his arms around Chris’ neck, “Forever?”

“Yes son, forever and ever.” Chris held him tightly a moment longer, letting his joy envelope them both. “I think we have a few presents to open, how about finishing that?” Chris whispered into Vin’s ear.

Vin leaned back, then placed his small hands on either side of Chris’ face and looked deeply into the sea green eyes of his father. “I love you Chris, and I’m happy to be your son, forever and ever,” he said seriously. Forever.

Tears slid down Chris’ face as he buried his head in the child’s neck, feeling the long soft hair against his face.

“I love you too son and I always will.” Forever! He promised tightly hugging his son to him, feeling Vin’s nod..

“Can I call you Dad?” A whisper asked in his ear as Chris fought to get himself under control.

Fighting back the tears, Chris looked into Vin’s serious eyes and smiled. “Yes, you can call me Dad; I’d be honored.”

Vin nodded solemnly, then gazed at the other men, pausing on Buck and JD who were laughing together. “What should I call Buck?” he asked quietly.

“I think you can call him Buck or Dad too. We have time to work it out; anything that you’ll be comfortable with should work.”

Nodding seriously again, Vin looked at the others in the room. Stepping closer to Chris he whispered, “ J‘siah, Ezra and Nathan are family too. Can I call them Uncle?”

Chris hugged the slender boy to him. “I think they’d be thrilled if you did. Just ask them.”


Buck and JD were whispering into each other’s ears as Buck hugged the little boy to him. He kept blinking his eyes as JD said softly, “I loves you Buck. I wanted you for my Da an’ now you is! Can I call you’s Da? I neber had a Da a’fore ... I will be a good boy. I want to stay wif you all the time ... Can I?”

“Oh son ...” Buck choked up, not able to go on, but his arms tightened a moment around the small body in his arms. Finally he got himself together and managed to whisper, “I love you Lil’ Bit. You are a good boy and I am so happy to be your Da. I love you, son.”

JD looked Buck in the eye then wrapped his arms around his neck for a moment grinning widely.

Just then Vin moved to JD’s side and pulled him away from Buck with a small smile. Standing near the tree the two whispered together for a minute, then JD, bouncing on his toes, grabbed Vin’s hand and they turned to the three men seated nearby.

In his breathless way, JD started talking. “We’s just got some new Dads. Chris is now Vin’s Dad and Buck is my Da and we are really happy. An’ you are family to us. ‘Kin Vin an’ me call you Unca J’siah, Unca Ezra, an’ Unca Nathan now?”

“Uncle, JD. It’s Uncle,” Vin told the smaller boy.

For a moment the three men were silent, surprise written on their faces. Finally Ezra rose and knelt down in front of the two boys. “We would be deeply honored to be named as your Uncles. You are already members of our family, so be assured we’d love to be your official Uncles.”

“Yeah!” JD threw himself into Ezra’s arms for a hug, then rushed to Josiah and Nathan who returned his embrace with their own bear hugs. The more reserved Vin shook hands with Ezra who, to the surprise of all, gathered the boy for a quick hug, then released him so he could go to the others. Ezra quickly hid his face so no one could see the tears that had gathered in his eyes.

Joyful greetings out of the way, Chris and Buck put the paperwork safely away, then everyone opened their gifts as pictures were snapped, creating memories for them all. Nathan disappeared for a few minutes as the two boys were opening the last of their gifts amid squeals of surprise and happiness; when he reappeared he was carrying something that wiggled under his coat. The youngsters immediately moved to his side, looking up to see what he was hiding. With a smile he opened his coat and brought out a small tri-colored dog that immediately licked the boys’ faces as they giggled in delight.

“Vin, JD, this is Ace; she is housebroken and loves kids and other animals. Her previous owners had to move into a small apartment and couldn’t keep her. She’s been living with Rain and me for a month, but we aren’t supposed to have pets where we live either so we have to find a home for her. She’s 11 month’s old and is a registered Shetland Sheepdog, which is called a Sheltie for short. Do you boys think you can take care of her and love her?”

Vin was already on his knees petting the little Sheltie. JD was looking her over with a wide grin on his face. “She’s for us?” he asked in awe, dropping to the floor beside Vin to pet the young dog.

“Well I don’t think your dads will mind, IF you take good care of her.” Nathan smiled at Chris and Buck, who had agreed several days ago to let the boys have the puppy on a trial basis. Seeing the looks on the little boys’ faces, Nathan knew that he had found a permanent home for the dog.

“Da, can we keep her?”

“Dad, please? We’ll take care of her.”

“She can sleep with us too, and be warm.”

“I’m oldest; she can sleep with me tonight and you tomorrow night.”

“Ok Vin. But, I gets to feed her. Hey Da, do we have food for her? She looks really hungry. Can she have leftovers? Please Da, she’s hungry, and I gets to feed her,” JD asked, looking over his shoulder at Buck.

“Hey boys, I think she’s fine, she was fed before we came out. I have her food in my car. I’ll bring it in before I leave,” Nathan cut in quickly.

“Well boys, what do you say to everyone for the gifts you received?” Buck asked, looking at the two boys.

JD jumped up and ran around the room giving each man a big hug and saying thank you. Vin followed, shaking the men’s hands and thanking them sincerely for the gifts they’d given him. When they reached Nathan both boys gave him a hug and thanked him for the dog, which had followed the boys from man to man, her tail wagging.

“This’s the bestest Christmas I’s ever had,” JD exclaimed as he plopped down on Buck’s lap.

“It’s the only one I can remember in a long time, and it’s great,” Vin added quietly, leaning against Chris with Ace curled at his feet.

“And now we will make wonderful memories from this day onwards,” Buck told them as he hugged his little son.

“Together, as one family,” Chris added as he gathered Vin into his arms.

“You know, we’s really lucky to trick or treat at your ‘partment Da. Well, not that Vin got’s hurted, but we meeted you an’ Chris. That was good wasn’t it Da?” JD looked up to Buck for a moment.

Before Buck could answer, Chris replied, “Yep, JD that was the luckiest “treat” we could get. We found you two, and since then, we have been very happy to have you two boys with us here.”

“Forever and ever,” Vin whispered as he smiled shyly at his and JD’s new family. It had been a long time since he had felt the love of an adult, the joy of a family; these men had become more then just friends. He had a loving father now who cared for him no matter what happened. And Uncles, he grinned, he had never had an Uncle before. This was a new experience for him, and he loved it. His smile widened as he pressed into the arms surrounding him. He would never forget this special Christmas ... a holiday Season of Love.