Kathy M.

Characters: Buck, JD, Chris, Vin

This July 4th is certainly going to be a lot different than last year, thought Buck as he helped JD out of his car seat. They'd been doing a bit of last minute running around, and he couldn't help himself from chuckling as he handed JD the bag of sparklers and watched him skip towards the house with his chubby fist holding on tightly to the bag as though it contained a precious treasure. Buck couldn't remember exactly what he did last July 4th, but was pretty sure it involved a large party and at least one stewardess. Chris wasn't drinking as much last year as he had been, but he sure wasn't socializing either. Both of their lives had changed dramatically since they'd unexpectedly opened up their hearts to two little orphan boys, and he'd suddenly found himself foster father to a dark-haired five-year old whirlwind, and they were now living at Larabee's ranch with Chris and Vin, the much quieter seven-year old who managed to somehow sneak under Larabee's guard and into his heart.

Buck grinned, yes; this year was going to be great. The rest of ATF team 7, with Rain, Miss Nettie, Casey, the Potter's, the Travis's and some neighbors were all coming over for a huge barbeque and then fireworks. Everyone was bringing something and Mrs. Potter had made a huge cake and with the 'help' of two little boys had decorated it in Red, White and Blue, with little flags sticking up in each corner.

"Vin!" yelled JD excitedly as soon as he was inside, and Vin was there in seconds.

"Look, Da got us sparklers, lots and lots of sparklers," JD opened the bag to let Vin peer in at all the packages. "There's little ones and big ones, enough for everyone. I can't wait, it's going to be so much fun," and Vin grabbed the bag to keep it from flying as JD started twirling, waving one arm up and down and around as if he was holding a lit sparkler.

Vin stared at JD's gyrations. He'd seen fireworks on TV and in movies and he was really, really excited about actually seeing real fireworks tonight, but he just wasn't exactly sure what sparklers were or did.

"Now, JD," Buck grabbed him mid spin, crouched down to his level, and spoke seriously, "remember we talked about all the safety rules we need to follow with sparklers."

"Yeah, Da, I 'member all the rules, can't be near anybody or anything, can't touch nuthin' with them, and can't use them like in a sword fight. We's exper'enced at sparklering, right Vin?"

"Um,' said Vin, looking down and feeling sort of embarrassed. Just like sometimes in school, here was yet one more thing he didn't know about.

"Vin, you've used sparklers afore, right?" asked JD in his usual direct manner, not understanding why Vin didn't seem as excited as he was.

"Um, guess so," Vin shrugged, "don't rightly 'member."

"Oh," said JD quietly, not exactly sure how to respond to this revelation.

Buck had remained silent during their conversation, also surprised by Vin's admission, and glancing casually up he noticed that Chris was now standing quietly behind the boys, with a bittersweet half smile on his face. Buck realized he was probably remembering another little boy with sparklers. Of course this event was bound to dredge up old memories for Chris, and Buck felt he should have somehow taken that into consideration. Chris looked up at Buck, and nodded to let him know he was okay.

"Don't matter none," drawled Vin, looking at JD, "you can show me."

JD grinned widely and started to quiver with anticipation as he looked up at Buck.

"Da, I'se got a great idea! I thinks just maybe me and Vin needs some sparklering practice. Just so's I can show Vin afore everyone else gets here, and you know, to practice the rules, yeah that's it, so you'll know we know how to." JD was practically vibrating with excitement as he directed the full force of his puppy dog eyes at Buck.

Vin turned and looked at Chris. A half smile on his lips and blue eyes twinkling, he looked into green eyes as if they held all the answers in the world. Once again no words were needed between them as Chris looked back and felt another layer of ice melt from around his heart.

"Yeah, JD, sounds like a great idea," Chris said as he put his hand on Vin's shoulder and smiled. "It's been quite awhile since I did any 'sparklering', so I think maybe we could all do with some practice."

"Yeah," shouted JD. "Hurry Buck, come on Vin, I'll show you how to write your name with a sparkler."

Vin grinned at Chris and ran to catch up with JD.

Buck looked back at Chris and they both smiled. Yes, this was so much better than last year.