The smell of fresh brewed coffee greeted Chris as he once again made his way down the stairs. Yawning, he shook his head as he thought most people would welcome the chance to sleep in for once. But he had always been an early riser and this was as late as he'd ever slept in. The only person he knew who was worse than him was Vin. He winced, thinking of the coffee. To say the Texan's brew was strong was an understatement. He stopped momentarily in surprise at seeing Josiah at the dining table reading the paper, a cup of steaming coffee sitting in front of him.
"Josiah," Chris greeted him smiling. "Beat Vin to the pot?"
"Nope," Josiah chuckled as his short answer stopped Chris from pouring a cup of coffee from the pot he held in his hand. "Don't worry, I made you wimps another pot, Vin's is on the stove. Started the chili warming in the crock pot too, for later."
Chris smiled in relief, "Did you see him this morning?"
"Nope, " another short denial again brought Chris's head up in surprise. Josiah chuckled. The strong leader was always so stoic in front of everyone, he wondered what Chris would say if he knew how transparent his feelings really were. "He was already heading out to the barn when I came down. Saw him out there when I got the paper."
Chris brought his cup over to the table and settled across from Josiah. "So . . . No crutches or slings?"
Josiah smiled and shrugged, "None that I saw. Heard them come in last night." He cocked an eyebrow at Chris. "'Me and Nate figured you would have given them the third degree already."
Chris shook his head. "Ezra had already hidden out in his room. Vin was bedded down on the couch." Chris smiled taking a sip of coffee. "Saw Buck though."
Josiah quirked an eyebrow in question.
Chris's grin broadened, "Nice shiner."
"Heard 'em come in, where are they?" Nathan entered the room forgoing any formal greeting.
"Vin's in the barn, Ezra and Buck haven't got up yet," Chris supplied the answer.
"You talked to them last night, right? They okay?"
"We're fine, Nate, I keep telling you guys," Buck slapped Nathan lightly on the back as he moved past him into the kitchen.
"You won't be if you keep sneakin' around like that." Nathan frowned and grabbed Buck's arm turning him to face him. He grabbed Buck's chin and eyed him critically, "Bumps and bruises huh?"
Buck slapped Nathan's hands away. "Yeah." He said pointing to his mouth. "This is a bump," and then he pointed to his eye. "This is a bruise."
Nathan frowned at Buck's attempt at humor, "And I 'spose the other two look as good as you?"
Buck grinned, wincing a little as it pulled at his lip and held his arms out, "Now Nate, you know no one could look as good as me."
"Buck, you're so full of it," J.D. laughed at his friend as he entered the kitchen heading for the refrigerator. He pulled out a gallon of milk and poured himself a large glass. He looked around at the others, "Any one else want any?"
Josiah moved up beside him and grabbed the plastic container from his hand, "No but I'm going to whip up some pancakes. That okay with everyone?"
They all nodded enthusiastically, glad for Josiah's culinary skills. Buck grabbed the pot of coffee and started to pour himself a cup but stopped looking up at the others, "Vin didn't make this did he?"
Josiah laughed, "No I put his back on the stove."
"Whew," Buck breathed a sigh of relief and finished pouring his coffee. He went over to the table and sat across from Chris.
Chris leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms and waited for Buck to start talking. Buck stirred a little sugar in his coffee and glanced at Chris. He knew his friend was waiting but it wasn't hurting him to wait a little longer. He smiled to himself; Chris was going to be surprised anyway at what he had to say. Damn fool was going to come back to the living, whether he liked it or not. He was going to realize he had a family again. Buck leaned back, tucking one hand into the waistband of his jeans. He sighed as he took his first sip of coffee. Chris glared.
J.D. sat beside Buck and watched the silent match between the two friends. J.D.'s gaze bounced between Buck's grinning, mustached face and the icy green glare of their stern leader. J.D. noticed the vein on Chris's temple begin to throb. Buck was stalling, playing some sort of game with his friend. The young man hoped Chris wasn't pushed too far or he might remember his promise to shoot the rogue.
Buck smiled as he saw Chris' irritation rise.
Yep, should have made that bet with Ezra. Too bad he's not awake to watch this. Oh well, it's better 'cause now I can let Chris in on him too. The mustached agent thought, as he took another sip of coffee and smiled at his angry boss.
Chris was becoming impatient he wanted to find out about Vin and Ezra and if they looked like Buck or worse.
"What the hell is going on, Buck!"
Buck held up his hand up, "Don't get your knickers in a knot." He grinned as Chris's glare deepened and the vein throbbed more. "I'll tell you if you'll listen for once."
"I've been ready to listen, Buck. Just get on with it!"
Buck shook his head, "No Chris, I mean listen." All hints of fun were gone from Buck's face now as he stared down his oldest friend. He tapped his chest, "Listen from here."
Chris sat up suddenly, afraid at the seriousness in Buck's demeanor. His green glare studied his friend intently looking for a hint behind his evasiveness. Resigned, Chris leaned back in his chair again and crossed his arms. "So talk!"
Buck gazed down at his coffee cup, thinking about the confidences he would be revealing. But it was for the good of the team and especially for the man in front of him. "First," he looked back up at Chris then over to J.D. and back to Nathan and Josiah in the kitchen, "If they knew I was telling you some of this they'd probably kill me, so just don't fuss, okay?"
"They hurt?" concerned Nathan slid into the chair beside Buck.
"No Nate, it has nothing to do with them being hurt," Buck calmed their fears quickly, then softly added, "Not physically anyway."
Chris sat up with a puzzled frown. "What do you mean, Buck?"
"It's amazing how much you can learn about someone when you're shut up with them for a couple of weeks." Buck let out a small chuckle. "Especially if you get a few drinks into them." His chuckle died when he looked at the frowning faces now surrounding him. "Hey guys, it's not that bad, they just they missed you guys."
"Buck. . ." Chris hissed, his frustration was building again because his friend wasn't making any sense.
"You know we had a little down time so. . . we'd go get a drink and sit around talking." Buck shook his head, "Ezra can talk a good game if you let him, but he's not always real good at covering things up, at least not this time." Buck's speech drifted off softly as he looked up at the expectant faces around him.
Smiling, knowing he had a captive audience, he continued, "You know me at first I wasn't paying them much attention. I mean, I had my hands full, you know, fresh territory and all," Buck grinned. It was common knowledge he had quite an eye for the ladies. His teammates could imagine him turned loose on a fresh contingent of unsuspecting females, like a fox in a henhouse.
Chris shook his head, "Go on Buck."
"Well, one night, it was late and it was just the three of us, we were drinking and we started talking about Christmas . . . families. . . and well . . ." Buck was suddenly at loss for words. "I don't know it's just those too are a lot alike." Buck didn't hide his surprise because he had always thought Vin and Ezra were as different as night and day. "You know they were really looking forward to Christmas this year."
"What?" Chris was surprised.
Buck nodded, "They were looking forward to being home just didn't want to admit it to you, or themselves." Buck eyed his friend critically.
Chris was still shocked. He didn't think Ezra was looking forward to spending time with Maude. Vin, unless he had something planned with the kids in his building or with Nettie, he didn't have any family to spend time with.
Buck read Chris's face and smiled sadly. His friend still didn't get it. He couldn't believe what he meant to these men and what they meant to him.
"Chris," Buck caught his friend's gaze and kept it. "They wanted to be here. With you; with all of us." He gestured around the room at the others.
Nathan was shaking his head, "Ezra . . ."
Buck eyed them all, knowing they were going to find this hard to believe, "Ezra was the most vocal about it. Oh yes," Buck nodded at their looks of disbelief. "He was on old Burt's tail every day about wrapping that case up and letting us get home for Christmas."
Assuming a snobbish persona, Buck straightened, pointing his index finger into the air he imitated Ezra's southern diction. "Surely sir, you understand that in our esteemed career of law enforcement and the horrendous sacrifices we must endure day in and day out to protect the innocent from the bad element, that we should be allowed this one day, this one day of holy reverence to regroup and spend quality time with our families."
The others chuckled at Buck's attempt to mimic the southern conman's formal speech.
Buck shook his head somberly. "You know Chris it's really sad, I mean, I had my eyes opened. Those boys have no family, but us. They never did. I knew I had it hard growing up but my Mom was there and she did her best. Even if it was bad I have some really good Christmas memories. Then I fell in with you," Buck nodded toward Chris, "and there was Sarah and Adam." Buck stopped and eyed his friend sadly. "I always knew what a loving family was," Buck continued. "Vin he lost his mom real young and then the system lost him. Christmas was just a time strangers brought socks and a peppermint sticks for the kids at the orphanage. Usually weren't enough toys so they had to share. What kind of Christmas is that for a kid? And he doesn't know what having a family means, passed around like he was."
Buck looked at the others somber faces, "And Ezra," he shook his head. "Here I thought he always had it made. Well I'll tell you, Maude sure didn't win any Mother-of-the-Year awards. They never spent Christmas in the same place. Most of the time he was left with some relative he barely knew and if he was with her she left him alone in a hotel room. Best Christmas he remembered was sneaking into the employee area of the hotel and watching them have a Christmas party, exchanging gifts and such. He said it was just so amazing seeing people who weren't even family having that much fun and caring about each other to make the best of the day even if they had to work."
There was silence as each man absorbed what Buck was revealing to him.
Chris was still in disbelief that the two men who were usually so guarded about their past and their personal lives were so open about memories that obviously hurt them deeply. "They told you all this?"
Buck shrugged his shoulders, "Told you we'd been drinking a bit. Mostly I think they just forgot I was there. Some of this I think they had talked about before, they seemed comfortable together, I guess from working so much together lately."
Chris nodded, knowing they had worked several long assignments together recently.
"Anyway," Buck continued. "They were both real maudlin. Vin talked about being confused and lost after his mom died. Christmas is the worse time for him, being a time for families, it reminds him too much of what he's missed, how lonely he's been." Buck studied the sad faces of teammates. "Ezra agreed with him. He could never understand always being abandoned, wondered what he did wrong. Even when he was with relatives he said he didn't fit in and felt alone. I was floored when he said being on our team was the closest he has ever been to being a part of a family. Said he wondered if dying and going to heaven could feel any better than being part of a family."
"Ezra admitted that?" Nathan questioned.
Buck looked up at Nathan's shocked face and nodded sadly.
Chris glanced up and caught Josiah's eye and thought about their conversation the day before. Yes they were a family, an unconventional one at that. His family, whether he liked it or not. It seemed they all had a lot of hurts and insecurities to heal too. From the day he began to form this team there was a bond with each of them that was unexplainable. As Josiah said often enough, it must have been fate that brought them together. Now as Chris thought about it, maybe that was true. Their bond was a chance for them to heal, to be family.
Chris was hurting for this new family. They were all strong men and he had seen them hurt and vulnerable before, but now he understood why they kept so much of themselves so guarded. They too were afraid of being hurt again, like him.
Chris cleared his throat, Chris locked his green eyes with Buck's dark blue ones for a long while. He then gave his oldest friend a slow half grin.
Okay, Buck, message received. I'm coming back to the living.
Buck smiled widely when he realized Chris understood. The grin faded quickly as he noticed a subtle change in Chris's expression.
"So if my family was so anxious to be here for Christmas," Chris's smile turned devilish. "What took ya'll so long to get here?"
Buck swallowed hard and gazed around at the others, but could see he was not going to get any help from them either. "Ah well, we had to stop and get the present. . ." Buck was trying for any diversion he could get.
"Present?" Chris remembered a brief mention on the phone about a present but with his worry over the three he had forgotten about it. "Buck, we agreed no. . ." The untimely entrance of one of the missing duo stopped the leader's denial.
"Chris, what the hell did ya do to Peso. . ."
"What the hell happen to you?" Vin's tirade was cut short by Nathan's exclamation as he moved toward the sharpshooter.
Vin looked like a deer caught in headlights and glanced over at Buck as he backed away from Nathan, "Didn't ya warn them?"
Buck looked sheepishly at Vin. "Didn't get a chance to Junior."
Now Chris understood why Vin's speech sounded funny this morning, and why he'd been hiding from them. The entire right side of Vin's face was swollen and displayed a multitude of colors; predominate at this point was black and blue. A small bandage was secured along the hairline protecting the stitches there.
Vin brushed past Nathan. Shrugging out of his jacket, he threw it across the back of a chair and headed to the kitchen. "It ain't nothin', not as bad as it looks."
Nathan looked to Chris hoping he'd get Vin to stand still so he could get a look at him. Vin reached in the refrigerator and pulled out a carton of orange juice. Josiah handed him a glass before he cold take a gulp out of the carton. Vin eyed the others looking at him as he took a long drink of juice, then refilled the glass and put the carton back in the refrigerator.
He looked over the ingredients on the counter, "Ya makin' pancakes Josiah?" Vin asked hopefully. "I'm starved, didn't feel like eating much yesterday."
"I bet you didn't," Nathan huffed out. "Concussion?"
Vin glared at him, "Slight one, I'm fine." He sidled out of the kitchen, avoiding Nathan's attempt to stop him again and went to sit beside Chris at the table. "Thanks Buck." Buck grinned, held his hands up and shrugged.
Nathan continued to glare at Vin, he pointed to the bandage. "Stitches?"
Vin glared back, "Only five."
Nathan rolled his eyes.
Chris glared at Vin, but it was hard to be stern when he was worried about his friend.
Vin caught the look and glared back, "I'm fine."
"I think we ought to hear what happened at the bust now, don't you Buck?" Chris sat back and waited to hear the tale.
"It was strange really," Buck started. "It was going great. Then Merchant, the guy we were taking down figured he was being set up and decided he wasn't going to be taken so easy. He went crazy on us. His bodyguard grabbed Ezra and while he was holding his arms back ole' Merchant started pounding him the stomach." Buck stopped as Nathan groaned and shook his head. "He didn't get hurt Nate."
Nathan looked up at Buck, yeah sure, his expression said.
"Really," Vin added in. "His shoulder got dislocated again and a few bruises to the stomach muscles." Nathan looked at them like he couldn't believe they were so casual about Ezra being held and beaten. "It could've been worse," Vin continued. "No one got shot."
"You know that was really strange," Buck broke in. "I mean maybe they were thinking about Christmas too or something but none of those guys pulled their guns. And it wasn't like they didn't have any, 'cause we confiscated plenty of them."
"Thank God for small favors," Chris replied sarcastically. "Go on, how were you so lucky not to get shot?" Chris turned his glare back to Vin.
"I really don't remember that much," Vin looked to Buck for help.
Buck sighed and knew he had to get this part over with. "Well Junior being Junior, jumped in there to back Ezra. I guess we didn't feel like doing any shooting either. Anyway ole' Vin comes flying through the air and takes Merchant down. Well that lets Ezra get loose, I guess that's how he popped his shoulder, anyway he turns around and takes out the guy that was holdin' him. Well ole' Vin here gets off Merchant, but as he stands up this other bodyguard blindsides him with a 2x4."
"Ouch!" J.D. exclaimed.
Chris pinched the bridge of his nose. "Go on."
Buck sighed, "Well Vin's laying there pretty much out of it at this point and this guy kicks him."
Nathan rolled his eyes, "Ribs too?"
"Just bruises," Vin quickly assured Nathan. "Don't hurt none." Vin looked at the disbelieving faces, "Okay maybe a little bit. . ."
"Okay, so I finally get over there and jump on this other guy trying to use Vin as a football. We had a nice little go around," Buck motioned to his face. "And then Ezra comes up behind him and takes him out, with the 2x4 he used on Vin, fitting punishment. That boy's got a great one-arm swing, by the way. That was it, the rest went quietly."
Chris eyed Buck stoically, wondering at his partner's enthusiasm about the fight that could have ended much worse. "Where the hell were Burt's men?"
"They were chasing some perps. . ." Buck shrugged then grinned, "But hey, they were lucky they had the best team in the west backing them up."
Josiah chuckled and rose to go start breakfast. He patted Buck on the back as he past him.
"And you couldn't tell me this over the phone?" Chris glanced between the two. Vin squirmed a little in his seat but remained quiet. Buck just grinned at his old friend.
"We didn't want to worry you. . . Dad."
"And you think I didn't worry not hearing from you for hours?" Chris retorted, green eyes glaring.
Buck's grin got bigger; when he glimpsed the old Chris Larabee he remembered coming back.
Chris sat in stony silence, thinking on what Buck had told them. He thought back on his conversation with Josiah, and about decorating the tree with J.D.
Damn, he cared about these guys. Hell yes he was going to worry. They were his family now, he chastised himself.
Spotting the smug look on Buck's face, he knew his friend had been playing with him just waiting for him to admit he cared. All of Buck's work at looking after him and pulling him back from the brink of despair was finally paying off, but the rogue didn't need to know that, yet.
Josiah flipped another pancake onto the stack on the plate. "Breakfast is almost ready," he called out. "Somebody want to wake our missing brother?"
All heads turned to look at Vin who was studying the water rings left by his glass of juice on the tabletop. He felt the scrutiny of the others and glanced up. He frowned when he realized they were expecting him to wake their still slumbering partner. "Why me? I'm hurt, remember?"
"Oh so now you want to admit it," Nathan scowled.
The others just laughed. "Go in low," Buck advised. "Remember he shoots high."
"Alright, alright," Vin resigned himself. He headed toward the back room then stopped and came back into the room. He grabbed his jacket off the back of the chair where he'd tossed it earlier and eased into it, hiding his wince of pain from the bruised ribs from Nathan. He then headed out the back door. The others frowned at each other wondering what the resident trickster was up to this time. It wasn't long before Vin returned and headed back to the backroom again.
Buck grinned when he saw what Vin held behind his back and formulated a plan of his own. He tapped J.D. on the arm and nodded toward the door. J.D. grinned, understanding what his partner was suggesting. They rose, retrieved their coats and quickly went outside.
The others didn't have long to wait for the ensuing plans to reveal themselves.
"YOU ARE A DEAD MAN, MR. TANNER!" The bellow from Ezra followed Vin as he ran from the backroom and out the back door.
"AW HELL! Ya'll don't play fair."
Vin's frustrated yell could be heard from outside as he was subsequently ambushed by Buck and J.D.
The three left inside chuckled as they listened to the ensuing snowball fight escalate outside. After a few minutes Ezra appeared hopping on one foot as he tried to get a boot on while on the run. He only had one arm in his leather jacket; the rest was dangling behind him. He was headed toward the rear door to go after his attacker.
"Good morning, Ezra," Chris greeted.
Ezra stopped and tried to straighten his attire with a little more decorum. He pushed his other arm through the dangling sleeve of this jacket and tried to brush the damp tendrils of hair from his forehead. "Good Morning, Mr. Larabee."
"The report from Utah came in, good job." Chris smiled at the stunned expression on Ezra's face.
"Ah," Ezra shocked at the unexpected compliment from their leader, stumbled for a moment. "Thank you, sir."
"Ezra you aren't planin' on doin' something to re-injure that arm are you?" Nathan admonished.
"I assure you Mr. Jackson," Ezra tugged at the lapels of his coat as he straightened it, reminded now of his quest. "My injury was quite minor and shall not hamper me in the least in giving that long-haired miscreant what he is due."
Ezra gave his customary two-fingered salute and headed for the rear door. He stopped and stared at the door for a few minutes as if trying to see through to the outside. He then turned and went back through the house to the front door.
The three laughed again as they figured Ezra's attempt at clandestine activity backfired on him.
Nathan rose and stretched, "I better go see that they don't go injuring themselves any further. I don't think we need to spend this day in an emergency room."
"Amen, brother," Josiah agreed and winked at Chris.
Nathan shrugged into his coat and headed outside. "Alright boys," he called out, "Don't you go and do anything to aggravate those injuries." There was a moment of silence before a few thumps were heard against the door and they heard Nathan's voice rise out in jovial anger, "You know I can make you boys hurt."
Josiah eyed Chris as he chuckled, imaging the snowball hits Nathan had drawn. "Feeling better?"
Chris thought a moment then took a deep breath and smiled, "Feel like I'm in heaven, preacher."
+ + + + + + +
Chris and Josiah finished cleaning up the kitchen from the breakfast dishes then went into the living room to find the rest of the team. Nathan was setting up the chessboard for a match with Josiah. J.D. and Buck were playing a video game and Ezra was in the recliner with his eyes closed. Chris didn't think he was sleeping though as he saw him smile at some of the constant banter going on between Buck and J.D. Chris glanced around the room again as he settled on the couch. Josiah joined Nathan at the chessboard.
"Where's Vin?" Chris asked.
"Right here, Cowboy."
"TANNER!" Chris jumped up when he felt the icy cold hit his head and dribble down his back. He turned his icy green glare on his friend doubled over in laughter behind him.
Vin looked at him wide-eyed, "What?. . ." His blue eyes were crinkled in mirth, despite the smoldering green eyes glaring at him.
"Paybacks are a bitch," Chris warned, staring hard at Vin.
Vin adopted a look of wide-eyed innocence, "Aw, hell Chris, I'm wounded remember?" He pointed to his injured face.
"Oh sure, play it up when it suits you" Nathan groused at the sharpshooter.
Chris flopped back down on the couch as he rethought his earlier plan of shooting the three rogues.
Vin came around the end of the couch and sat a large box wrapped in red wrapping paper and tied with a large green bow in front of Chris.
Chris eyed the box and turned his expressive eyes up to his friend. "Vin I thought we agreed no. . ."
Vin cut him off, "It's from all of us" He cocked his head toward the others in the room. "And we don't want to hear nothin' 'bout that 'no gifts bullshit' this year. Go on. . ." Vin's blue eyes pleaded with Chris to accept the gift.
Chris glanced around the room at the others. "This is the other thing you were keeping from me." He received a unanimous nodding of heads. He looked at Buck, "Another reason you were late getting back?" He inquired as Buck nodded again.
"Don't worry Chris you'll like it," J.D. encouraged.
Chris knew that much was true. It was a gift from his new family, and he'd love it, no matter what it was. He stopped untying the bow. . . the box moved. . . or did it? He eyed Vin suspiciously. He was perched beside him on the edge of the couch looking like an excited kid waiting to open his own Christmas present.
"Come on, Cowboy," Vin urged. "Don't take all day."
Chris looked back down at the box. Yep it moved. He finished untying the bow and tore into the paper. Getting the top of the box clear, he opened it and jumped back when the small black head of a puppy popped out. He looked around at the grinning faces of his team as he lifted the small dog out of the box. The puppy squirmed in Chris's arms and cocked his head, studying his new master. Deciding he liked what he saw, he flicked his pink tongue across Chris's face in welcome. Chris's thoughts jumped back to another puppy he had given Adam. That dog was gone now, with his son.
"First the horse and now a puppy? You trying to start a menagerie here Vin?"
Vin eyed Chris suspiciously a little hurt by his tone. He glanced over at Buck to get his reaction. Buck shook his head and nodded for Vin to go on. Buck knew what his friend was thinking, but he was going to let him go back there, not this time.
"We thought he'd help ya," Vin paused a minute thinking over his words. He reached out and patted the squirming puppy in Chris's arms. "Keep ya company. . ." Vin paused again and swallowed hard. "So ya won't be lonely no more."
Chris looked down at the wiggling puppy and patted its shining black coat. He was rewarded with several wet puppy kisses across his face. Studying the young man beside him, he was amazed at the depth of compassion. Deep within the walls the Texan built around his soul, to protect it, was the heart of a lion and the unbridled spirit of a warrior. The last few years he'd been busy building his own wall, which was falling fast. He couldn't look at the others just yet; the wetness from the licking puppy was threatening to be joined from the dampness from his own misting eyes.
"Tell him the story, Vin." J.D. prompted.
Vin swallowed and looked at Chris again and then back at Buck. Being Chris's oldest friend, he'd asked the older man to go with him, when purchasing the pup. Buck supported him, knowing after hearing the story that Chris could not remain unmoved by it. It would be pulling another nail from that coffin wall Chris had erected around himself. Buck nodded at Vin again to continue.
"He's got papers," Vin pulled an envelope from the back pocket of his jeans. "He's a registered Labrador. Ezra helped me find the breeder."
Chris looked over at the Southerner. The man was a mystery and he was wandering if he would ever figure out the aloof character. Ezra smiled and saluted him with two fingers. Chris took the papers from Vin and glanced at the registry. The bitch was Miranda Sky and the Sire was Samurais Seven.
Chris looked at the pup's registered name, "Seventh Heaven?"
Vin nodded, "Me and Ez went up to the breeder's farm right after the pups were born. Seems the mother had a hard time of it." Vin reached out once again to pet the puppy, now content in his new master's arms. "They have a boy." Vin's wary blue eyes watched Chris's reaction. "His name's Adam."
Chris sucked in a startled breath and hearing the name but remained silent.
"His mom told us that 'Sam', the pups dad, was given to Adam by his grandpa. The boy was real close to the old man and he was teachin' Adam all about breedin' dogs. This was going to be his first litter. Well, his grandpa died 'bout six months back." Vin paused and took a deep breath. Chris could see he was feeling the boy's pain.
Vin shook himself and continued his story looking back up at Chris with sad eyes, "Adam was really missin' his grandpa. He was countin' on these puppies in memory of 'im. Adam's mother said when Miranda started havin' problems that they were afraid the puppies weren't gonna make it. They were afraid of what that would've done to Adam. He sat through the whole delivery with 'em and kept talking to Miranda telling her stories his grandpa used to tell 'im, keepin' her calm."
Vin paused for moment, again. He nodded toward the puppy, "This was the last one born, the seventh one - he wasn't breathin'. Adam picked 'im up and cleared his mouth and started rubbin' 'im all over with a cloth, like his grandpa showed him. Tellin' 'im he had to live or his mama would be sad 'cause she'd be losin' a piece of heaven." Vin stopped and raised his expressive eyes to Chris, "Seems his grandpa always said that every child born was God's way of givin' parents a piece of heaven."
Chris sucked in a searing breath at the look in Vin's pain-filled eyes. He thought of his own Adam and blinked away the unshed tears.
He was a piece of heaven and so is this man." Chris glanced at Vin and then at the others in the room. These men. . ."
"The puppy started breathin'," Vin continued. "When they was sure he was okay, Adam looked at 'em and said, 'Now Miranda is in Seventh Heaven, cause all her babies are alive.'" Vin smiled and rubbed the pup behind his ears, "So that's how this little feller got his name, Seventh Heaven."
Chris didn't trust himself to look at the others. "Kind of appropriate, don't ya think, Pard?" Chris's startled gaze glanced up at the knowing grin on Buck's face. He nodded his head slowly.
Chris cleared his throat, not really trusting himself to speak, "I don't have a gift for any of you."
"Yes you do, Mr. Larabee."
Chris's questioning gaze raised to Ezra, the man who continued to surprise him.
Ezra waved his hand around at the other men in the room, "You gave us each other."
"Amen, brother," Josiah smiled and clapped Ezra on his shoulder.
Chris smiled gratefully at Buck and winked. He reached over and gave Vin's shoulder a slight squeeze. Glancing back at Ezra he nodded his head slightly. His eyes drifted up then, to the gold star shimmering on the small tree. He looked back down at the puppy resting in his lap, picked him up and brought his face up to eye level with his own, "Well Seven what do you think of your new family?"
When I see their happy faces smiling back at me
I know there is no greater feeling than the love of family
Where can you go?
When the world don't treat you right
The answer is home
That's the one place that you'll find
| May you have the gladness of Christmas, which is hope;
The spirit of Christmas, which is peace;
The heart of Christmas, which is love.
Ada V. Hendricks
Comments to: email@example.com