Cast Away

by Joy K

Little Britches ATF Universe

Nathan sat in a chair, resting his elbows on the kitchen table, his chin in his hands. Rain gently massaged his neck and shoulders.

"It will be all right," she assured.

Nathan shook his head. "Did you see their eyes? They were counting on me to make everything right again. And all I can say is wait and see."

Rain smiled and kissed Nathan on the top of his head. "It will be all right," she repeated. "The boys know that you can't fix everything. Why don't you call Buck and clue him in on what's happening? Maybe he can give you a suggestion."

Nathan nodded. He hated the look of disappointment he had seen on his nephews' faces. Those two little guys had stolen all of their hearts and to a man they would do anything to make life the best it could possibly be for the waifs.

Rain handed him the phone and Nathan dialed Buck's cell phone.


"Hi Buck, it’s Nathan."

"What's up? Something wrong with the boys?"

"Indirectly," Nathan replied.

"Sounds like an Ezra comment. Now what's going on?"

"Well, we seem to have a mini-crisis. The tortoise won't eat and the boys are afraid it's sick."

"Did they try broccoli?"

Nathan smiled. "Yes. He wouldn't eat it. Seemed to want to go into his shell. Apparently it's been going on for several days, but the broccoli brought it to a head. Thought I'd give you a 'heads up' so you could check it out with a vet or something."

"Thanks Nate. I'll make a call. We'll be home in about a half an hour."

"See you then," answered Nathan.

"Oh, and Nate?"


"Don't worry. They still love you even if you can't fix Torkus."

Nathan snorted as he hanged up the phone. Buck was pretty good at reading him, or perhaps he just knew the boys' reactions to situations very well.

On the way home, Buck made a call to the Exotic Pet Store. It was where they had obtained advice on what to feed the tortoise and basic care after the boys had brought it home from their road trip with Uncle Ezra. Fortunately, the resident tortoise "expert" was in and gave Buck a good idea of what was going on. The tough part would be explaining it to the boys and getting them to believe it.

He and Chris had barely walked in the front door when he heard it.


JD's distressed wail was unmistakable.

Buck nodded a greeting to Nathan and Rain as he and Chris headed to the boys room.

"Buck! Torkus is sick!" cried JD as they entered the room.

"Hold on, now, Little Bit," said Buck, scooping JD into his arms. "Why don't you start at the beginning and tell me what happened?"

"Torkus wouldn't eat the broc'li trees we sneaked from the kitchen." JD paused to sniff loudly. "And he wouldn't eat his food last night or the night before or the night before."

"An' he wants to go inside his shell all the time," added Vin quietly. "He don't feel good."

"Actually, Junior," said Buck gently, "He feels fine. He's getting ready to hibernate."

"What's hiberbate?" asked JD, looking at the tortoise intensely.

"Hibernate," clarified Buck. "It means he's going to go to sleep for the winter."

"Sleep?" said Vin.

Chris winced seeing the distress on Vin's face. They should have seen this one coming. He knew exactly what “sleep for the winter” would mean to two boys who had lost their mothers. He sat in the small chair next to the table and gently pulled Vin onto his lap.

"Just for the winter," Chris assured.

"Is he going to dream with angels?" JD asked sadly, voicing the question Vin couldn't ask aloud.

"No!" said Buck. "No, JD. He's just hibernating for the winter. It's what a tortoise is supposed to do. When he's ready, he'll wake up."

"But I don't want him to sleep," JD cried.

Vin shook his head negatively, in agreement with JD's statement.

"Boys," Chris intervened, "It's what Torkus has to do. You've heard stories about bears going to sleep for the winter. This is the same thing."

"But Torkus ain't a bear and I don't want him to go away," JD paused and looked up at Buck with big tears running down his cheeks. "I don't want him to go 'way like Mama."

Chris felt Vin tense up, digging his fingers dig into Chris' forearms, obviously feeling the same fear as JD, although he wouldn't - or couldn't - voice it.

"He's not, JD. He's going to sleep for the winter and then wake up." Buck couldn't absolutely guarantee that Torkus would wake up. Many tortoises didn't survive hibernation. But if that were the case, they would deal with it when the time came.

"When's my Mama gonna wake up?" asked JD.

Vin nodded unconsciously, his body displaying his own insecurity.

Chris wrapped his arms tightly around his son of choice, willing the embrace to take the edge off of Vin's pain.

Buck now held JD. He caressed the little boy's cheek wishing away the loss, the grief that JD was experiencing again.

JD took a deep, shuddering breath, and then began to sob uncontrollably. Somewhere inside he knew the answer to his own question, but he didn't want it to be true.

Moved by JD's tears and the ache in his own heart, Vin turned around in Chris' embrace and pressed his face against Chris' shoulder… but the tears flowed anyway.

Dinner was a somber affair with the boys' fears about Torkus outweighing Vin's excitement about the liberation from his cast. They remembered to be polite and thanked Uncle Nathan and Aunt Rain for making dinner and watching them. JD even gave Nathan a hug before they left, assuring the agent, as only JD could do, that he held no grudge.

That evening Chris and Buck talked to the boys about hibernation and guided them through an Internet search to confirm the information. The websites gave instructions for the care of Torkus while he was hibernating. As the boys sifted through the information they were able to settle themselves with the assurance that Torkus hibernating was a perfectly normal event for a tortoise. When they were dressing for bed, they discussed where Torkus would sleep for the winter.

Chris did not want to see a tortoise in the refrigerator every time he opened it, so it was decided that Torkus would spend the winter in the barn, which in the Colorado climate would be cool enough. They found a small box, slightly larger than the tortoise and lined it with straw. The box had to be small enough that Torkus couldn't accidentally flip upside down and suffocate. For the next few days Torkus would stay in the box, and when he was ready, they would move him to the barn for the winter. Reassured that they still had some time before Torkus hibernated, the boys climbed into bed.


Chris smiled. It warmed his heart every time Vin used that simple word. He should have known that the boys wouldn't stay in bed tonight.

"What's up?" he asked.

"My arms don't match no more." Vin held up his bare arms so Chris could see them.

Vin was right. His right arm was thinner than his left after six weeks of immobility in a cast. It was also paler than his left. Chris had first hand experience with this phenomenon having broken his arm as a child, too, and he heard Vin's underlying fear that his arm would never look right. He wished he could have been with Vin at the hospital today, but meeting with Ezra while he was undercover took precedence.

"Give it some time, son. Before you know it, it will look normal again."

"Are you sure?" asked Vin.

"Absolutely. The more you use it, the stronger it will be," assured Chris.

Vin considered this carefully. He wanted his arm to be strong and not break any more. "Dr. Steve said that, too. Can I use your weights?" he asked.

Chris smiled. "No. They're too heavy for you. Besides, that isn't what I meant. Just use your arm normally. Don't over do it. It will take a few weeks, but by Christmas you won't even know it was broken. The doctor gave you some exercises to do, right?"

Vin nodded and sighed.

"What?" asked Chris, resting his hand on Vin's shoulder.

"That's a long time to wait. It ain't even Halloween yet."

Chris ruffled Vin's hair and chuckled when Vin pushed his teasing hand away.

"What are you going to do with that?" Chris asked, nodding to the remains of Vin's purple cast.

"Doctor Steve cut it off real careful like so I could keep it."

"Yes, he did. And?"

Vin grinned. "I'm going to keep it in my treasure box."

Chris watched as Vin ran down the hall smiling, carrying the remains of his purple cast. He shook his head, not bothering to correct Vin for running in the house, or for getting up when he should be sleeping.

It had been a long six weeks, but there were moments Chris regretted had now come to an end with the removal of the cast. He would miss the nightly ritual the broken wrist and sore muscles initiated.

It had started the second night after Vin's fall when the tired boy with achy arm and shoulder muscles stood silently next to his recliner. Chris smiled, remembering Vin's initial reluctance…

"Hey, Cowboy," Chris said as he closed the newspaper and placed it on the end table.

"Hi," Vin responded quietly.

"What's up? Are you all ready for bed?"

Vin nodded.

"Okay. I'll be in to say goodnight in a few minutes."

Vin responded with a big sigh and Chris knew this visit was more than just Vin saying was ready for bed. The hard part was getting Vin to actually voice what was on his mind. He decided to take a guess.

"Is your arm bothering you?"

Vin nodded.

"Is your wrist hurting? Do you need some pain medication?"

Two shakes of his head and Chris suppressed his own sigh. It would be so much easier if Vin would just talk.

"It's the rest of my arm," said Vin, finally putting words to his need. "It's all tired and achy and I don't think I can go to sleep."

Chris smiled. "Well, we can't have that. Why don't you climb on up here and let me work on those muscles?"

Vin scrambled onto Chris' lap, failing to hide his need to be close and to have the security of his father's arms around him.

Chris helped him settle, and then began to gently massage the muscles in Vin's upper arm and slowly working up to his shoulder and neck.

A big sigh confirmed that the massage was working. A soft snore a few minutes later indicated that it was time for bed.

Chris carefully climbed out of the recliner and held Vin close as he carried him to bed.

Chris sighed. It had been a nightly ritual for almost six weeks. The only change had been the addition of reading a book together.

Every evening, either he or Buck would read a story to the boys before they were tucked in for the night. A few weeks ago Vin and JD's teachers had encouraged the boys to read aloud at home. Both of the boys had willing shared in the evening reading time, until JD laughed at a mispronunciation by Vin.

The younger boy had no evil intent, He wasn’t being mean. He had simply been amused by Vin's misinterpretation of a word and he laughed.

Chris could still hear that spontaneous, uncontrollable mirth. "Vin, that's not cow-guh. That's cough."

The laughter had silenced Vin – it had cut him deeply and reinforced his erroneous perception that he was dumb, that he was too stupid to learn. No apology from JD, no encouragement from Buck or Chris could coax him to open his mouth to read again. They had tried everything they could think of, but Vin's progress in reading had stalled.

They compromised by Chris or Buck reading a story to both boys just before dinner, and Buck working with JD on reading individually at bedtime while Chris massaged Vin's arm.

After a few days, Vin showed up for their special time with a book in hand. He didn't read aloud, but he seemed to miss the bedtime story, so in hopes that Vin would start reading again, Chris would read while he massaged Vin's arm and shoulder.

When the boys read together, Vin would usually let JD select the reading material, often pushing aside his own desires for the younger boy's preferences. During the first few nights of reading separately Chris discovered that Vin liked mystery stories or stories where good triumphed over evil. But he particularly liked Dr. Seuss. He had told Chris that he liked the rhythm of the words, although he hadn't quite described it in those words. In fact, his exact phrasing was, "I like how the words go duh-duh duh-duh duh-duh." He also claimed that it didn't matter if some of the words were mispronounced because they were all made up anyway and nobody except Dr. Seuss knew how they were supposed to sound. Except for the "rhymy" words. Chris wondered if Vin truly liked the poetry, or if it was because the words could be mispronounced and no one would laugh.

But now the cast was gone… and the excuse for the nightly ritual. Chris rubbed his hand across the arm of the recliner, feeling the loss of moments that would be no more. Quietly, he stood and walked towards the boys' room, feeling the need to tuck Vin in and kiss the boys good night.

The next day at school all of the kids were excited about Vin's cast removal and asked him all kinds of questions. They ooh'd and aww'd as JD told about the gigantic saw the doctor used to cut off the cast. Vin enjoyed the attention for a while, but soon grew tired of being the focus. Eventually he slipped off to be by himself. He sat down at his favorite table and looked out the window for a few minutes. JD went over to a toy box and played by himself. While it wasn't unusual for Vin to sit alone, it certainly was for JD.

It didn't take too much coaxing to get JD to tell him why he was feeling sad. Mr. Beidler believed in making the most of educational opportunities as they presented themselves, and it was obvious that the science lessons this week should focus on hibernation. It was something that all of the children would eventually learn about, but studying it now would give Vin and JD the practical knowledge and reassurance that the boys needed.

JD got the opportunity to voice his feelings by telling the class about Torkus and describe what was happening to the tortoise. The class learned that a tortoise would stop eating for up to a month before it hibernated allowing it's system enough time to cleanse itself before it slept. They learned that some people kept their tortoises in the refrigerator for the winter, but the boys informed them that it was cold enough in Colorado that the tortoise would be safe in a box in the barn.

After a couple days of studying, the boys felt better about Torkus, but they still weren't completely ready when Torkus pulled inside his shell and stayed there.

As a family, they sat down and marked on the calendar two days each week when Vin and JD would take turns checking on Torkus. Tuesdays were marked with a V for Vin and Fridays were marked with a J for JD. The boys would be responsible to make sure that Torkus was upright and to see if he had peed, a sign of coming out of hibernation.

Buck and Chris also made it clear that the boys were not to try to "wake" Torkus too soon because that could harm him.

So two somber boys said goodbye to their beloved Torkus, placing him in the box and trying to keep their tears in check.

"Are you sure he has to sleep all winter?" pleaded JD. "Who's gonna play with G.I. Joe?"

Buck smiled and tousled JD's hair. "Yes, I'm sure, and G.I. Joe will be fine." Buck lifted JD's chin with his finger. "And so will you."

JD sighed. " 'Kay, but Torkus will be lonely."

Chris smiled empathetically at Buck. JD was having a tough time letting go and would have to talk through every angle of the situation. But Buck would do a great job of helping the youngster through it.

He looked down at Vin, standing as close to him as he could get without touching – and thus displaying his own insecurities. Chris placed his hand on Vin's shoulder and squeezed reassuringly. Vin looked up and Chris nodded that it would be okay.

Vin slipped his hand into Chris' hand and leaned his cheek on Chris' arm, his body language again expressing what his words would not.

"What is it, Vin?" Chris asked quietly.

Vin sighed. "Everybody's goin' away."

Chris glanced at Buck and JD, seeing that they both were watching and listening to their part of the conversation.

JD, with his thumb in his mouth, nodded in agreement to Vin's statement.

Either the boys had talked about this or they simply understood the other's feelings.

"What do you mean?" Chris prompted gently.

Vin chewed on his lip, not willing to explain his comment.

JD pulled his thumb out of his mouth. "Our Mamas goed away. And Torkus goed away."

Vin nodded.

JD looked up at Buck. "And Unka Ezra goed away, too."

Vin sniffed.

Chris closed his eyes. So that was it. It wasn't just Torkus. It was Ezra.

"Ezra will be back soon," he assured.

"When?" demanded Vin, verbalizing his distrust.

"Soon," said Chris. It was the best he could offer.

"That's what they said about Mama."

Chris sucked in a breath and pulled Vin to his chest, wrapping his arms tighter around his son. He closed his eyes wishing more than anything that the boys didn't have to deal with the harsh realities of life. Normally Vin didn't linger in a hug, but this time he stayed. All of a sudden, Chris felt him get heavier.

Still clinging to his son, he opened his eyes and understood why Vin had gotten heavier. His feet were off the ground. He had curled his legs up and his heels were only inches from his backside.

He clung.

Chris clung.

Sometimes no words were needed. As Vin folded his legs up and trusted Chris to hold him, they shared the load of his heavy heart. The touch and embrace made both, parent and child, feel more secure.

Chris would hold him as long as he needed - as long as they both needed.

"What day is 'soon', Buck?" asked JD.

"Guys," said Buck, "You're gonna have to trust us on this. It might be a few days, it might be a few weeks, but he'll be home."

"He's not gonna stay away all winter, like Torkus?" asked JD.

"No," Buck assured.

"And he's not gonna be gone with angels like Mama?"

Buck kissed JD on the top of the head. "No, Little Bit."

"I miss him," Vin whispered.

"Me, too, Cowboy," Chris answered softly. "Let's put Torkus in his special place and go inside where it's warm."

Chris' mind wandered to a certain green-eyed undercover agent, hoping that he had a warm place for the night. He stood and put Torkus’ box on the shelf, where it wouldn’t be disturbed by curious critters and slowly the family made their way back to the house.

Their bedtime routine had been disrupted for the past few days with Torkus fears and tears. Chris and Buck both felt it was important to get the boys back into a normal routine, but when Buck suggested reading a story before bed both boys refused. Likely for two very different reasons. JD didn't feel like reading. He was sad for Torkus and missing Uncle Ezra. And Vin, while sad for Torkus and missing his uncle, still wanted nothing to do with reading aloud ever again. Not even for Chris.

Both the boys had special sessions scheduled with Dr. Lowery, their therapist, for the next couple weeks. Hopefully he would be able to make some headway with Vin, and ease some tortoise grieving for JD.


Yeah JD?

I'm still sorry about laughing. I didn't mean to.

I know. It was a hard word and I did say it funny.

But I make did you sad.

It's okay JD. Sometimes it's just hard because you're so smart with reading and I'm so dumb.

Vin, we talked about that word.

I'm sorry, Chris. I know I'm not dumb, but sometimes I just feel dumb.

Just because you have a hard time with reading does not mean you are dumb. You and JD are two of the brightest boys I have ever met.

That's right, Junior.

Hi, Buck.

Hi, Little Bit. What are we doing?

We're telling our stories so the computer can write it. Say something.


??? See it wrote what you said.

I see that. And what are those question marks?

That's me giggling. I'm tired. Can we go play for a while and finish later?

All right. We'll write some more after supper.

After Chris Larabee's recent parent-teacher visit, Mr. Beidler had become more concerned about Vin's reading. The boy was painfully shy when it came to some things. He had difficulty reading and that difficulty meant that he would stutter and stammer over the words, which impaired his fluency when reading aloud. It would be difficult for any child to stumble over the words in front of his peers, but judging Vin's reaction, he had been harshly ridiculed at some point in time and was very reluctant to take that risk again, even with people he trusted. JD's laughter had compounded the issue for Vin.

The local public library had started a reading program with therapy dogs to give children like Vin a non-threatening atmosphere to test their skills. Specially trained dogs, along with their owners would be available to listen to children read. Having a loving dog at their side that wouldn't judge or laugh or ridicule seemed to help the children excel.

With this in mind, Mr. Beidler left the latest children's magazine on the table next to Vin. He knew that Vin enjoyed the magazine about kids and animals, and because it interested Vin, he would make the effort to read it. And it didn't hurt that the magazine contained a story about reading therapy dogs.

Vin smiled and leafed through the magazine, stopping when he found a picture of a dog that looked like his malamute, Ringo.

Mr. Beidler smiled as Vin ran his finger along under the words, sounding them out quietly as he read. It was hard work, but despite the extra effort required, Vin Tanner did like to learn.

A few minutes later, Vin was at his elbow, shyly asking for his attention.

"Mr. Beidler?" he asked.

"Yes, Vin?"

Vin opened the magazine to the page with the picture of a little boy reading to the therapy dog. He held it so Mr. Beidler could see it.

"Is this true? Do people really read to the dogs?"

"Yes, Vin," answered Mr. Beidler. "In fact, the reading dogs come to the public library once a month. I've been thinking about taking a field trip to the library on the day they come."

Vin smiled. "This dog looks just like mine. Do you think Ringo would like it if someone read to him?"

"Well, these dogs are specially trained," said Mr. Beidler. He wanted Vin to catch the idea of reading to the dogs, but he didn't know if Vin's dog would stay still long enough to listen. "But you could try it and see if your dog likes it. And if you're interested, I'll give you a schedule of when the dogs come to the library."

Vin nodded with excitement. "Thanks, Mr. Beidler."

He hurried back to the table with the magazine to see what other treasures it held.

"Sit still, Ringo. You's s’posed to be listening."

Chris paused outside the door of the boy's room, listening curiously.

"Now lay down. Good boy."

Chris could hear rustling pages and the thumping of the dog’s tail on the floor. The next sound brought a smile of pride to his face.

"I went to s-sleep with gum in my ... muh-ow-th, mouth! And now there's gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the

Sk- skuh- Hey, hey, gray ape! How much do you weigh? What’s your name? Where’s your tail? What do you like to play? Yep. Sk-ate

Buh. Orville the Goat stubbed his toe on the garden hose. Yep. That’s right. Skate-Bo-are-d. Skateboard! I tripped on the skateboard. See Ringo? This word is s-skateboard."

Chris almost gave his presence away by laughing at the odd sentences inserted into the middle of the story as Vin sounded out words. He had seen some of the review sheets the boys had brought home from school, and knew that they used fun phrases and stories to help them sound out words, but that didn’t lessen the surprise of actually hearing them in action.

He smiled at the idea that Vin was reading a story to his dog, but his heart swelled that the boy who had such a hard time with his letters was reading aloud, not worried at all by his slight lisp or his stumbling words. If Vin was reading to Ringo, maybe, just maybe he'd try to read aloud to someone else again.

"I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there's gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater - Uncle Ezra teached me that word. He's working right now, you know. He's been gone a long time. I wish he'd come home. He's really good at reading with me and stuff.

I dropped my sweater - in the sink… wuh- The next brother is Whitey. He is always trying to whistle, but he can’t quite do it. He runs around the house all day saying, “hw, hw, hw”…

hw…I… My island has five trees. They are so high, they almost touch the sky…

Hw-eye-luh. While!

While the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day…"

Chris slipped away from the door, afraid that his presence would disturb the reading. Was Ezra's absence another piece to the reading puzzle? No question about it, Vin felt safe with Ezra reviewing his schoolwork. He walked back to finish preparing dinner, trying to think of what Ezra would do in this situation. How would he coax Vin to read to him without scaring him off?

The evening flew past and all too soon for the boys it was time for bed. After lengthy bedtime prayers for everyone they could think of, especially Uncle Ezra and Torkus, JD asked Buck to read a story. Chris smiled. Maybe some normalcy was returning to their nightly routine.

"Vin, you wanna come down here and join us?" asked Buck.

"I'm too tired," Vin replied quickly.

Chris sighed internally. The boys had come so far. Vin had made leaps in his reading and writing as well as his interpersonal skills. It just hurt that something as simple as laughter had brought it to a screeching halt.

"I'll be in the den if anyone needs me," Chris said quietly before he left the room.

Vin laid back on his pillow listening to Buck and JD reading for a few minutes. He thought about Chris sitting in the den all by himself and remembered how good it felt to sit with him and read when his wrist was still in the cast.

After a few minutes, he peered over the edge of the top bunk, almost laughing as Buck and JD appeared upside down to him.

"Can I go get a drink of water?" he asked.

Buck nodded and continued reading.

Vin slipped off the bed and walked barefoot down the hall, followed by his devoted pup. Somehow his feet led him to the den instead of the kitchen.


Chris smiled as Vin sidled up close to his chair. Maybe the evening ritual of reading together transcended a healed arm.


"My arm is kinda tired and achy." Vin handed him a book and climbed into his lap, snuggling into the familiar embrace.

Chris smiled to himself as he noted that Vin had chosen the same book he had been reading to Ringo earlier. Vin didn't see Chris tap his hand on the side of the chair inviting the dog to come.

"Looks like Ringo wants to read, too," said Chris.

"Sit, Ringo," ordered Vin. The pup whined a little but obeyed.

Chris began to massage Vin's arm as he opened the book.

"Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day," read Chris, before he let out a sigh.

Vin turned to look at him with concern. "Are you okay?" he asked.

"Yes," said Chris. "I'm just tired. It was a long day and my eyes are tired."

"Do you want me to call Uncle Nathan? He'll come over and…"

"No. It's all right, Vin. You don't need to call," said Chris. "I'm just tired. But I really want to read with you. Looks like Ringo wants a story, too."

"Do you want to hear this book again?" Vin asked the dog.

Ringo thumped his tail on the floor, happy that Vin was paying attention to him.

Vin took a deep breath and started reading.

Chris wasn't listening too closely to the first part. It was a repeat of what he had already heard. But he was thoroughly enjoying the fact that Vin was reading aloud.

"At breakfast… A- Annie the Alligator abhors apples. Any time she sees one she says, “Aaaack!” yep…

Ant- ho- ny…

No wait. Th. The third brother is Theodore. He makes rude noises. He sticks his tongue out and says, “th, th, th.”

An-thuh-nee. Anthony!

Anthony found a Corvette Sting Ray car kit in his cereal box and Nick found a Junior Undercover Agent code ring in his cereal box but in my breakfast cereal box all I found was breakfast cereal. I think I'll move to Australia.

Hey! Does Uncle Ezra have an Undercover Agent code ring?"

Chris laughed and squeezed Vin with the arm that was wrapped around his son while he continued his massage. "He might. But not from the ATF."

"Is Uncle Ezra really okay?" asked Vin.

"Yes," Chris answered. "I talked to him today."

"Does he miss us?"

Chris kissed Vin on the top of his head. "Very much, Vin."

"Will he be able to come home for Halloween?" Vin asked.

"Maybe. He's going to try, but he might have to work," Chris hedged.

"I miss him. I like it when he helps me with my homework." Vin tipped his head to the side so he could look up at Chris. "You do good, too."

Chris smiled. "Thanks."


"Yes, Vin?"

"Do you think Uncle Ezra would like it if we wrote some stories for him while he's working?"

"I think that would be a great idea," said Chris. "Do you want to make another book?"

"Yeah, but Uncle Ezra helped us last time," said Vin. "He's not going to be gone as long as the whole summer, is he?

"Oh, no," Chris assured. "A couple more weeks maybe."

"Oh," Vin sighed. "That's not enough to make a book."

"Well, what if we all worked together on it, and we made a book for all of us to keep, we could just keep adding to it until it fills up."


Chris nodded.


Vin looked at the next page and began to read.

"There were lima beans for dinner and I hate limas. There was kissing on TV and I hate kissing. My bath was too hot, I got soap in my eyes, my marble went down the drain, and I had to wear my railroad-train pajamas. I hate my railroad-train pajamas. When I went to bed Nick took back the pillow he said I could keep and the Mickey Mouse night-light burned out and I bit my tongue. The cat wants to sleep with Anthony, not with me..."

Chris listened to the stumbling pace, thinking it was the sweetest sound he'd heard in a long time. It had been a tough week for all of them. Torkus was now hibernating. Vin's arm was free of the cast. Ezra was still undercover, but it looked like Vin was venturing past his reluctance to read aloud. All in all, even with the seemingly scattered, harried events of the week, he realized that this was typical of life with two energetic little boys and one slightly eccentric ATF team. He let Vin's words wash over him and gave him a comforting squeeze.

"...It has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. My mom says some days are like that. Even in Australia. The End."

And so we decided to make a new book and everyone can help us, right Buck?

That's right, Little Bit.

And Vin?

What JD?

Me and Elvis really liked it when you read to us. And it was really funny when Elvis kissed your face.

Yeah, right before him and Ringo started playing and knocked me over and made me lose my place in the book.

I can't wait until Uncle Ezra comes home and sees we're making a new book.

Me either, JD.

Time to shut her down, boys.

Okay Buck. Night computer.

Night computer.


The End

Next: Legends in Litter...


Thanks to Marnie for the use of her "vowel sound" and "H Brothers" stories for Vin's reading. Thanks also for the impromptu beta duties. Gotta wrangle those commas!

The story Vin reads is "ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY" by Judith Viorst, and is one of my personal favorites (I even have a copy in my desk at work!)

Thanks to Carrie for the use of her cast. :)

Thanks to the Bad AOeLement for your support, encouragement, ideas and all around good humor.

Torkus was created by NancyW in "Are We There Yet?"

Ringo and Elvis belong to LaraMee and first appeared in "Merry Christmas and Chicken Pox To You"