Come on, JD! It's time to do the computer.
I don't want to.
I got to think about things.
What do you have to think about?
OK, well think about it later. Right now we need to do our computer.
You go first, Vin.
Monday Uncle Nathan was late picking us up from school.
Yeah, and we got to help kill the germs.
Right, JD. That was cool.
I didn't like the part about the rats, though.
???? JD, that's why Mr. Tobias took the garbage, so we wouldn't get rats.
So anyway we got to help keep things clean and safe. It was cool.
Yeah, we was soldiers in the war against germs.
"I hate waiting, Vin," JD whined as he leaned against the wall in the entryway to the school.
Vin sighed. He didn't like waiting anymore than JD did, but he knew it wouldn't help to whine about it. Still, as the older brother it was his job to keep JD entertained. The only problem was, he was tired and really didn't want to think of any games to play. Wracking his brains for something to do, Vin smiled in relief as he saw Mr. Tobias approach. "Hi, Mr. Tobias!" the boy greeted. Ever since Vin's incident with the spray paint, he had looked forward to seeing his new friend.
"Hey, little dudes," Mr. Tobias greeted, turning off his walkman and removing his earphones. "Waiting on your ride?"
"Yeah," JD answered with a heavy sigh. "And we's bored."
"That so?" Mr. Tobias asked, nodding sympathetically. He knew about waiting and how long time could be, especially to little boys. Looking at his cart and then at the boys, an idea struck him. "How would you boys like to help me in the war against the germs?"
Both boys perked up at this and stood straight, eyes wide. "War against the germs?" Vin repeated.
Mr. Tobias nodded seriously even as his eyes twinkled. "Oh, yes. That's what I do. I fight the germs in the school that try to make you sick."
"Cool!" JD enthused.
Vin smiled. "What can we do?"
Mr. Tobias turned to his cart and took two pairs of disposable gloves from the box. Handing them to the boys he said, "First, you have to put on your gear. All soldiers have to have gear to fight with." Watching with an amused smile as the boys struggled to get their hands into the gloves that were far too big for them, he then took the window cleaner and told the boys to step back from the doors. Spraying the lower windows on the door, the returned the cleaner to its place and tore off two groups of paper towels. "Now that you have your gear on, it's time to take out some germs. Here are your weapons," he instructed, handing each boy a wad of towels. "Take these and begin scrubbing down those windows. The shinier they are, the more germs are dead." He smiled as the two boys responded with "yes sir!" and then turned to do their best at cleaning.
The boys were just polishing the last of the cleaner off of the windows when a sound from behind caught their attention. Turning they spotted Mr. Tobias removing the liner from the garbage can.
"Why're you taking the garbage? It ain't isn't full yet?" Vin asked, curious. They always waited until the garbage bag was full at home.
Mr. Tobias turned to look at his two helpers and smiled. "I take the garbage every night so we don't get rats," he explained, startled by the look of fear that passed over both boys' faces. He suddenly remembered that the boys had lived on the street and probably knew more about rats than most. Upset with himself for scaring the boys, he amended, "At school, because it's empty so much we have to do that. At home it's different. You don't need to worry about it there." He blew out a breath of relief as he saw the fear retreat from the boys' faces. Just then a motion outside caught his eye. "Looks like your ride's here," he said nodding toward the door. "Just drop your gloves in the garbage, and thanks for all your help." He was rewarded with two brilliant smiles as the boys grabbed their bags and ran out of the building.
I was a little scared when he said about the rats.
I know, JD. I don't like them either.
But Da and Chris said we didn't have to worry about them cause we clean a lot.
Uncle Nathan was sorry he was late. He said he should have listened to Aunt Raine and Chris. He said his tummy pillow didn't help as much as he thought.
Yeah, but Aunt Raine said he was grounded when he got home.
I didn't know adults could get grounded.
Me neither, JD, but she sure didn't look happy.
"You're sure you want to watch the boys in the afternoon?" Raine asked, skepticism evident in her voice. "You probably shouldn't be driving yet. Why don't you give it a few more days? I'll get out of work and pick up the boys. I can drop them off here."
Nathan sighed. He was feeling better, though still occasionally sore. The truth was, he was just tired of sitting around the house and wanted to feel useful again. "I'll be fine, babe. Don't worry about it. I'm just going to go get the boys and bring them home. I'll wait there until Chris and Buck pick them up after work. With Mrs. Potter out of town and their aversion to daycare, I think it's best."
"I'll tell you what," she said, looking her husband in the eye. "I'll take a late lunch and you can ride with me to get the boys. Then I will drop you off and the three of you can spend the afternoon together." Seeing the protest forming, she gave him a quick kiss. "No driving yet," she commanded. She saw Nathan nod his agreement and rewarded him with a bright smile as she kissed him again and left for work.
That had been this morning. But as time to leave drew closer, Raine hadn't shown up. Calling the hospital, he discovered that she was busy. Not wanting his nephews to wait around, he had decided to go against his wife's wishes and drive to get the boys. After all, he was feeling better.
Now Nathan was regretting his decision. It wasn't that he didn't think he could handle watching the boys for a few hours, but the seatbelt was hurting him more than he could have imagined, even with the pillow. He had had to stop a few times to undo the belt and wait for the discomfort to pass. Thanks to the delays, he was late picking the boys up.
Pulling into the school, he turned off the car and took off his belt - relieved to have the added pressure off his still-healing stomach. Standing outside the car, he was rewarded with loud greetings as two small balls of energy came racing out of the building calling to him.
"Unca Nathan!" JD's exuberant cheer came as he raced up to his uncle, threw down his backpack and carefully hugged the man, not wanting to hurt him.
Vin approached a little more slowly, but no less joyfully. "Hi, Uncle Nathan," he greeted, moving to give the man a hug of his own. Stepping back his brow furrowed. "I thought Dad said you weren't supposed to be driving yet and that Aunt Raine would come with you?"
Nathan smiled down at the boy, feeling a little guilty. "Aunt Raine got caught up at work and I didn't want you to wait any longer," he said, avoiding the question.
Vin noticed that his question hadn't been answered; he'd done the same thing to Chris when he knew he was doing something he shouldn't. Nodding anyway, he moved around to climb into the car, figuring Uncle Nathan knew what he was doing.
Nathan watched the boys get in the car and checked to make sure they were securely fastened into their seats. Closing the back door, he stood and took as deep a breath as he dared; he mentally prepared himself for the discomfort of driving. Settling into the driver's seat, he asked the boys, "So, what happened in school?"
The two boys explained their day. JD did most of the talking with Vin adding comments here and there to clarify or correct.
"Then we gotted to be soldiers and fight the evil germs," JD said, his voice filled with awe.
Nathan smiled. "You did?"
"Yep," JD assured. "Mr. Tobias says that's what he does. He fights the germs and keeps us safe."
"Sounds like a tough job. Germs can be pretty bad and make people sick," Nathan observed. "Without him and other people like him, we'd all get sick a lot more."
In the back seat, Vin tilted his head to the side as he thought about what Uncle Nathan had said. Slowly an understanding dawned on him. "So, Mr. Tobias is like a hero keeping us safe?" he asked cautiously.
Nathan smiled. "I suppose he is."
"Miss Lottie cleans up all the germs in the 'teria after lunch so she's a hero, too, then!" JD said, proud that he'd discovered this.
"Yep," Uncle Nathan agreed as he turned into the driveway of his house. He sighed as he saw his very upset wife standing in the driveway, her arms folded across her chest, waiting on him.
"Uh-oh," JD observed. "Aunt Raine looks mad. Did we do something bad?" he asked, nervous and scared that he'd done something wrong.
"Not you boys," Nathan hastened to reassure them. "I think she's mad at me."
Shutting off the car, Nathan undid his seatbelt and got out of the vehicle. Moving around to the back, he opened the door and helped JD get out of his seat.
Walking up to his tall uncle, Vin tugged on Nathan's leg and waited for him to lean down. "Do you want us to stay with you and pro-tect you?" Vin asked, his voice serious.
Nathan smiled and almost took his little protector up on his offer. "That's OK, Vin. I'm sure I'll be fine." He was rewarded with a sympathetic smile and a pat on his arm.
He let the boys go before him as Raine smiled and greeted the boys with warm, loving hugs before shooing them inside. Just before he entered the house, Vin turned back and gave his uncle a sympathetic stare. It wasn't fun to be in trouble.
"What did you think you were doing?" Vin heard Raine demand as the door shut behind him. He didn't envy Uncle Nathan at all.
A few minutes later, the couple came into the house, where Raine prepared a snack for them. Setting the cut-up fruit and juice on the table with the boys, she set about cleaning up the small mess in the kitchen.
Two sets of concerned eyes settled on their quiet uncle.
Nathan, feeling the weight of their stares, smiled at the boys.
"You get in trouble?" JD asked in a whisper loud enough to be heard throughout the house.
"He's grounded," Raine supplied, sitting at the table for a few minutes before heading back to work. She almost laughed as the wide eyes grew wider at her declaration.
"Grounded?" Vin breathed, his eyes turning toward Uncle Nathan.
"'Dults can get grounded?" JD asked, amazed and curious.
"Yes," Raine supplied with a steady stare at her husband. "Uncle Nathan is grounded from the car for three days," she supplied.
Nathan had the grace to blush as he studied the table. "Looks like your Aunt Raine will be picking you up tomorrow and Wednesday," he supplied, feeling guilty as he watched the twin expressions of sympathy on the boys' faces.
Glancing at her watch, Raine stood and quickly kissed both boys on the cheek, smiling at the faces they made. "I've got to go back to work. You boys behave," she commanded, looking her husband in the eye. "All of you." With that command, she kissed Nathan goodbye and headed out.
You gonna tell them about your idea?
I will, JD.
It was really cool.
Yeah it was. But it was kind of scary going to the principal's office.
But you wasn't in trouble.
????? I know. But it was still scary.
"Mrs. Roquette?" Vin asked timidly, approaching his teacher before class started Tuesday Morning.
"Yes, Vin?" the teacher responded, smiling at the boy before her.
"You know how Thursday is our awards program? I was thinking. Maybe we kids shouldn't be the only ones getting awards. Maybe the teachers and others should get them too."
Mrs. Roquette beamed at the boy. "That is a wonderful idea, Vin. Would you like to present it to the class? Maybe you can tell them what you had in mind."
Vin's eyes went wide at the thought of speaking in front of the whole class. "What if they don't listen?" he asked, shifting nervously from foot to foot.
"Oh, I think they will. It's a really good idea and we'll be sure to watch everyone. Do you know who is going to present your awards at the assembly?" she asked.
Vin gulped, suddenly very nervous at the thought of having to speak in front of so many people.
Seeing the panic rise in the expressive blue eyes, Mrs. Roquette, quickly assured, "Why don't we ask the principal to do it?"
Vin's relief was visible. He could ask the principal. "That would be great. Thanks Mrs. R.!" he said as he headed off to be with the other kids.
Soon after the morning bell ran, Vin was called up in front of the whole class. He was nervous as he looked around until he saw JD making silly faces at him. Smiling a little at the antics, Vin looked up as Mrs. Roquette told the class Vin had a very good idea. Ceding the floor to Vin, the nervous boy stepped up and cleared his throat.
"Thursday morning is our awards presentation," he began, his voice sounding steadier than the butterflies in his stomach would suggest. "I thought it would be a really great idea to let the teachers and staff know how much we appreciate everything they do for us by giving them awards, too." Encouraged by the excited murmur of his fellow students, Vin continued to explain his idea.
Before he could blink, Vin found himself wandering from table to table supervising the kids who were making awards for their teachers and staff. He liked most of what was being done and offered a suggestion or two to the teams working on them.
Before long, the awards were finished and morning snack time had come. Vin asked if he could go talk to the principal and received permission.
Walking down the hall, he licked his lips nervously, wishing someone had come with him. He didn't mind the principal, really, it was just that everyone knew only kids who got in trouble went to see him. And Vin didn't want to be in trouble.
Slowly pushing the door to the office open, he headed in and stood before the secretary's desk, waiting to be recognized.
Less than ten minutes later, Vin was on his way back to class, a smile on his face and a spring in his step. That had been easier than he thought and now everything was set.
They were a lot of fun to make, except for Stinky Freddy gluing his star over my picture.
That's OK, JD. It was a good picture and Miss Lottie liked it anyway.
Yeah, but we almost gotted in trouble when Stinky Freddie and Eli Joe said those things about Da and Chris.
I know. But we didn't and we had a better day anyway.
"Two Sundays 'til Father's Day," JD said to Vin as they played before class started Wednesday morning. "What are you going to get Chris?"
Vin sighed. He hadn't really thought about it. "I don't know, JD," he admitted.
"You don't have to get nothin'," Eli Joe said, shoving Vin to the side to take the toy he'd been using.
"Hey!" Vin called out, upset by the move.
"Yeah," Freddie chimed in. "You don't got real fathers."
"We do, too!" JD retorted hotly. "Da is my dad just like Chris is Vin's!"
"They weren't with your mamas," Eli Joe taunted.
"Just cause they're not our borned dads doesn't make them not our dads!" Vin exclaimed.
"Yeah, but they're just FOSTER dads," Freddie said. "They didn't even adopt you!"
"So what! They're still our dads and you can't say nothing different!" Vin shouted as he stood and shoved Eli Joe and Freddie, trying to hide how much Freddie's last words had shaken and hurt him. Chris was his dad and that was that. It didn't matter if he was adopted or not. Chris would always be his Dad.
"Boys!" Mr. Beidler called, causing all four boys to come to attention. He had caught the end of the conversation and had been disturbed by what he heard. "Tomorrow is the last day of school. I don't want any fighting today. Now who can tell me what this was about?"
Silence reigned until JD's anger got the better of him. "Eli Joe and Freddie said Da and Chris aren't our dads," he said, sending a brown glare at the two boys in question.
"I see," Mr. Beidler said, an idea coming to him. "Why don't you boys take your seats?" Watching the boys heading toward their seats, he headed off to have a word with Mrs. Roquette.
As the bell rang and everyone settled into their seats, Mr. Beidler stood before the class and announced. "As most of you know, there is a very special day coming up soon. Does anyone know what it is?"
"The last day of school?" one child asked.
"Yes, but that's not the one I mean," he replied with a smile.
"Father's Day?" Matthew Torres asked.
"That's right!" Mr. Beidler encouraged. "Now I'm going to ask you a question and I want you to think hard before you answer." Seeing the serious faces of his students, he continued, "What makes a father? What do they do that makes them special?"
Vin smiled. He knew the answer to this one. He and Chris had talked about it before. Raising his hand, he waited to be called. "Dads keep their kids safe from bad things," he said confidently.
"Good, Vin," Mr. Beidler smiled.
"They help you feel better when you feel bad," Matthew supplied.
"They comfort you after a bad dream," a young red-headed girl said.
JD listened to the kids and watched the list grow. It made him start wondering something. It's true that Buck did all of that for him, which meant he was his dad, but Buck wasn't the only one that did those things.
I was glad we didn't get in trouble.
What's wrong, JD?
You look like you're thinking again.
Oh. Um Do you want to tell what Chris told us Wednesday night?
Sure. You sure you're ok?
Yeah. I thought it was neat when he said Grandpa Matt was coming.
Chris smiled as he hung up his phone. Looking up, he saw Buck standing in the doorway of his office leaning against the doorway.
"Good news?" Wilmington inquired.
Chris smiled. "My dad's going to be able to make it after all. He'll be flying in Tomorrow and leaving Saturday morning."
Buck grinned at his friend. Matthew Larabee was a good guy and a good father. Buck had always enjoyed the time he spent with them. Back when Chris had broken his leg, his father had offered to come out and help if needed. Chris had put him off, but the man wouldn't be put off forever. Things just seemed to work out that he'd be able to spend a few days with his son and the boys. "You tell Vin and JD?" Buck asked.
Chris settled back in his chair. "I'm not even sure they remember he was supposed to come." A look of concern crossed his handsome face. "Do you think it will be OK?" he asked, knowing he didn't have to list all his fears.
Buck sighed and thought about it. He understood Chris' trepidation. After all, the man had lost his grandson. The truth was, though, given the way Matt and Claire Larabee had accepted him into their family, he had no doubt that the boys would be welcome as well.
The only question he really had was how Vin and JD would respond to Chris' father. Would Vin worry about pleasing him? About being compared to Adam? About not measuring up? JD would probably be excited about meeting someone new. Still, if things didn't go well, there was always the trip to the fair they were going to surprise the boys with on Friday.
"I don't think it will be a problem," Buck assured, straightening to a standing position. "Ready to go round up our little ones?"
Chris stood, "Yep. Let's go, Pard."
The drive to Nathan and Raine's was quiet, each man relaxing after the long day. Buck noticed a little tension in Chris and knew the blond was worrying over how to tell the boys and how they would react. He also knew nothing he would say would help ease that tension. They'd just have to wait it out.
Pulling into the driveway, Chris had just turned off the engine when two bundles of energy burst out of the house, calling their names. Buck caught the small dark-haired boy as he practically ran into his father.
Chris braced himself as Vin literally launched himself at his Dad. Catching the boy in mid-air, Chris spun Vin around in a circle, relishing the laughter before drawing the boy in tight for a hug. "Why so happy to see me?" Chris asked, pleased more than he could say by the atypical greeting.
Dancing blue eyes looked up into happy green ones. "Love ya, Dad," he said before his arms wrapped around his father's neck, almost choking the blond with the ferocity of the hug.
Hugging back, Chris decided to just enjoy the moment. He'd find out what was up soon enough. "Ready to head home?" he asked once Vin let go enough to let him breathe. He was rewarded with a smile, a nod and a wiggle to be let down. "OK," Chris said, placing his son on the ground. "You go get your stuff together while I talk to your Uncle Nathan."
"'K!" Vin agreed. "C'mon, JD!" he called, racing toward the door.
"Wonder what got into them?" Buck asked as he and Chris made their way to the door.
Chris shrugged. "Don't know, but I sure hope that energy goes away before bedtime." He was rewarded with a laugh.
At the dinner table that night, the four family members sat around eating. Buck had been shooting Chris meaningful looks as they ate their casserole and peas. Finally taking the hint, Chris cleared his throat. Immediately, Vin and JD turned their eyes to him. "You boys remember a few months ago when I said my dad might be coming out to visit us?" He received an enthusiastic nod from JD and a careful nod from Vin. "Well, I just spoke to him today." He watched both boys to see how they would react. Both were looking at him with expectant faces. "He's going to be coming out for a few days starting tomorrow afternoon and leaving Saturday morning." For once he couldn't read Vin's face, though JD was smiling. The little brown-eyed imp was always excited to meet new people.
Feeling he had to say something, Vin asked, "We still going to have our picnic?"
"You betcha, Junior," Buck said, reaching out to ruffle the little blond's hair. Receiving a smile for his efforts, he continued. "Ol' Chris there is going to go to the airport and pick him up on his way home from the assembly. Then we'll have our picnic and loads of fun."
"Yea!" JD called out, bouncing in his seat.
Vin smiled quietly, still a little unsure about all this. Maybe he could bring it up at their nightly Pow-Wow, but he thought maybe he'd wait to ask Chris about what was bothering him later.
Dinner finished with JD's happy chatter about the next day, their soon to be arriving guest and everything he wanted to do during the summer.
That night at the Pow-wow, it was Buck's turn to start. He didn't have a lot to say, but told the boys about work and how much he was looking forward to Thursday, the awards ceremony, the picnic and spending time with the boys.
Chris went next and spoke about how he was happy his father could come out and meet his boys - which made Vin and JD smile - and that he couldn't wait to spend time with the two the next day.
"We did a lot in school and had fun, but I'm glad we didn't get in trouble this morning," JD said when it was his turn.
"JD," Vin hissed. He thought he'd told his brother not to say anything about that morning.
Buck and Chris shot each other a look. Trouble at school? This couldn't be good. It also couldn't have been that bad if no one had called them. "What happened at school, Little Bit?" Buck asked cautiously.
Chris looked at Vin as the boy folded his arms across his chest. He didn't like that Vin was willing to hide this from him. "You have some problems, Vin?" he asked softly.
Vin looked into his father's face and swallowed. He didn't want to tell them about the almost fight, even if it did end OK.
"Eli Joe and Stinky Freddie said you weren't really our dads and Vin said yes you were and then he pushed Eli Joe and Mr. Beidler came over and we talked about what made a father and "
"Breathe, Little Bit," Buck cautioned, smiling in spite of the seriousness of the incident.
"Is that true, Vin?" Chris asked softly, reaching over to tilt his son's head up so the boy's blue eyes would meet his. "Did you push Eli Joe?"
Vin sighed, knowing he would be in trouble. "Yes, sir," he admitted softly. "But he took my toy and pushed me and then said that you weren't my dad and Buck wasn't JD's." The little chin came up defiantly as blue fire blazed in the eyes. "He's wrong. You are my dad and no one can take that away."
Chris smiled at the boy and motioned for him to climb into his lap even as JD climbed into Buck's. "You're right, kiddo," he agreed. "No one can change the fact that you're my son and I'm your dad. Just like no one can change the fact that Buck is JD's dad. But that doesn't make pushing people the right thing to do."
Buck took the opportunity to step in. "He's right. Just because someone says something you know is wrong doesn't mean you can go around pushing them. Just like taking a toy from you isn't a reason to push people." He watched Vin as he saw the knowledge sink in. He knew Vin was a good kid and Eli Joe's and Freddie's comments must have really hurt if it caused him to act out.
"I know," Vin said, softly. "I'm sorry."
Chris hugged his son slightly, upset that the other boys had hurt his feelings, but pleased that things seemed to be settled for now. "I don't think it's us you need to apologize to," he prompted.
Vin's head came up; a look of horror evident on his face. "You don't mean " he began unable to go on.
"Mean what?" JD asked, confused.
Chris nodded and watched as Vin looked to Buck who also nodded. "But that's not fair! He pushed me first. Why do I have to apologize to him?"
"Vin's gots to 'pologize to Eli Joe and Freddie?" he asked, horrified by the thought.
"Yes, he does," Chris said firmly. "Just because you don't like them that doesn't mean you get to push them."
Vin let out a heavy sigh. "Alright," Vin said grudgingly, "I'll 'pologize tomorrow." When Vin's turn came around in the Pow-wow, he kept his worry about Chris' dad to himself and didn't say much else.
That night after the boys went to bed; Chris settled into his chair and waited.
"Think he'll be coming to talk?" Buck asked, passing his friend a glass of iced tea.
Chris sighed, his brow furrowed slightly. "I suppose. I just wish I knew what was bothering him."
"Don't reckon it would have anything to do with the discussion JD mentioned in school, do you?"
"Maybe. I wish I knew what was said. Vin has to know that I'm his dad and he's my son. We've discussed it before several times. I thought we'd be done with it."
Buck nodded. "Think it might have to do with Matt coming?" he ventured.
Chris paused and thought about it. Vin had seemed more quiet after he mentioned Matt was coming, but why would that upset Vin? Taking a deep breath and releasing it, Chris shook his head. "I just don't know, Buck. I guess we'll have to wait and see. If he doesn't come out tonight, I'll talk to him tomorrow morning."
Buck nodded his head and settled in to relax for a little while.
Finally Buck rose and stretched. "Want me to leave the TV on for you, pard?" he asked.
"Nah, that's OK. I'm just going to read for a few more minutes and then hit the sack," Chris assured, assuming Vin wouldn't becoming out to talk to him. Being honest with himself, he was a little disappointed, over the time Vin had been with him, he had come to cherish their nighttime conversations. Picking up his book he settled in to finish the chapter he'd been reading.
He had just closed the book when he looked up and smiled. Vin was standing just inside the room, eyes half closed, cat dangling from his arm. "Come here," Chris encouraged as he opened his arms to receive his son. He waited while the seven-year-old walked over to him and climbed into his lap. Waiting for Vin to settle, he grabbed the afghan from the back of the chair and laid it gently over the boy.
The two sat in silence for several minutes, Vin resting his head on Chris' shoulder. Finally, the boy asked softly, "Dad?"
Chris smiled and rubbed Vin's back a little. "Yes, son?" He felt Vin smile and smiled himself.
"What if your dad doesn't like me?"
Chris raised his eyebrows and took a deep breath. So that was it. Vin was worried about Chris' dad not liking him. His immediate reaction was to say that Vin was being silly, of course Matthew Larabee would love the young Texan every bit as much as he did. But he knew an easy denial wouldn't convince his son. "Why do you think he won't like you?" Chris asked.
Vin shifted slightly on Chris' lap, a frown forming on his face. He hadn't really thought about why Chris' dad wouldn't like him, he'd just been afraid he wouldn't. Thinking about why he felt the way he did, he tipped his head back and allowed his puzzled blue eyes meet Chris' loving green ones. "Don' know," Vin admitted with a shrug.
Chris smiled down at the baffled face. Maybe now was a good time to tell Vin a little about his dad, a few things he'd almost forgotten himself. "Do you know that when you were still in the hospital, I talked to my dad about you?"
Vin's eyes reflected his surprise. "Really?" he asked, not sure how he felt about it.
"Yep," Chris admitted. "I wanted you to come home with me, but I was afraid I wanted you for the wrong reasons." Reading the question in his son's eyes, he explained, "I was afraid I wanted you to replace Adam, or because I felt guilty about you not having a home, not because I wanted you, because I already loved you. He helped me talk things out and realize that I wanted you to live with me because I loved you for being Vin Tanner and because I wanted you to be my son."
Vin's mouth dropped open a little. "You loved me way back then?" he asked, a little awed by the admission.
Chris smiled, knowing he wouldn't lie to the boy "I wouldn't admit to myself that I loved you, not yet, but looking back now, yes, I loved you even then."
"And your dad helped you decide to keep me?" Vin asked, processing the information.
"Yes, he did," Chris admitted, wrapping his arms a little tighter around his boy, waiting for Vin's pronouncement.
Vin mulled over what Chris had told him. It was kind of neat that when Chris had questions he talked to his dad just like Vin talked to Chris. He also liked that Chris' dad helped convince Chris to keep him because he didn't want to think about his life without Chris.
After several minutes of silence, during which Chris felt some tension leave his son, he added, "I should also tell you that my dad's been really excited about meeting you."
Vin looked up, eyes wide in surprise. "Really?" he asked, incredulous.
Chris smiled and nodded. "Really," he assured. "In fact, he wanted to come a long time ago to meet you, but I didn't think it was time. Now, I think it's time for him to meet you and for you to meet him." He read the acceptance in his son's eyes, but still saw a flicker of doubt there. Though he knew he'd told Vin many times before, he figured one more time wouldn't hurt. "You're my son, Vin. Nothing is going to change that."
"I know, Dad," Vin replied with a huge smile and a hug.
After the hug, Chris wrapped his arms around Vin and said, "I think it's time for you to go to bed now, Cowboy." So saying, he stood and slung Vin over his shoulder much as he did with bags of feed, garnering him the desired giggles. Pausing outside the boy's door, Chris brought Vin down to a more comfortable position and carried him in to bed. Tucking the covers around his son, he gave Vin a kiss on the forehead and was rewarded with a kiss on the cheek and a "night, Dad."
Smiling, he walked out of the room, closing the door behind him.
Then it was Thursday and that was really cool! But Da sure didn't seem to want to get up.
That's because you woke him up at 4:30, JD. Buck says even the roosters aren't up that early.
Yeah, but we ain't got roosters, Vin.
???? It's just something adults say, JD. He meant it was too early to be up yet.
JD stood beside Buck's bed, staring at his father and waiting for the man to wake up. Heaving a sigh as he grew impatient waiting, JD reached out his hand, tapped on Buck's cheek and called softly, "Da, wake up. It's Thursday." He watched as his father's face scrunched up and twisted. He almost laughed once at how funny it looked. Eventually, though, he saw the smallest sliver of blue eyes. A huge smile broke out on his face as he called, "Da! You're awake!"
Buck winced at the loud volume. He wasn't quite thinking straight yet, but knew that was way too loud. "Shh," he cautioned, blinking several times to try and clear the sleep from his eyes. Feeling the lethargic weight of his limbs, he wondered just how early it was. Allowing his eyes to wander toward the clock, he was unable to stifle a groan as he read 4:30. "Something wrong, Li'l Bit?" he asked as he was suddenly overcome by a yawn.
Releasing an exasperated sigh, JD rested his hands on his hips as he explained, "It's Thursday!"
"Thursday?" Buck questioned, reaching up to rub his still mostly closed eyes. "Son, the rooster's aren't up yet. Thursday doesn't begin 'til dawn. Why don't you go back to bed?"
JD released another sigh. "Da " he whined.
Releasing a sigh of his own, Buck scooted over on his bed. "Tell you what," he said, willing to cut a deal with the boy in order to get a few more hours of sleep. "Why don't you snuggle in here with me and I'll let you know when Thursday begins."
JD's brow furrowed. Something about this didn't seem quite right, but at least he'd get to be with his Da. " K." he agreed, climbing into the bed.
"Good," Buck said, covering the small boy with his covers and already sinking into slumber.
You got up later than usual after that.
I know, Da made me fall asleep again and I almost missed the whole day!
Did not, JD. Chris made sure you got up plenty early. Sides I was worried when I didn't know where you were.
So you worry about me, too?
Course I do, JD. You're my brother. I want to make sure you're safe.
You're looking all thoughtful again. What's up?
Nothing. Can I tell about the sembly?
"Dad!" Vin hissed at his father, his urgency over the missing JD overriding his normal caution at waking Chris. He had woken up early and found JD missing. Checking the living room and kitchen, he began worrying when he could find no sign of his brother. Deciding he needed some help, he sought out Chris.
Chris felt his dream shatter as he heard the Vin's urgent voice. It was a shame because it was one of his favorite dreams - he, Sarah, Adam and Vin were all on a picnic by one of the ponds on the ranch. The boys were playing as he and Sarah relaxed under a tree. "Vin?" he asked, his voice rough with sleep. "What's wrong, Cowboy?"
"Can't find JD," he said, his worry evident in his voice.
"You check the den?"
"You check the kitchen?"
A snort of disgust. "Course."
"Check in Buck's room?"
Vin paused and tilted his head to the side. How could he have forgotten to check Buck's room? He was so used to JD seeking comfort from him whenever the boy had a bad dream; he never thought that his brother might seek Buck for comfort. He felt kind of funny inside at the thought that JD would look to Buck instead of him, but at the same time knew it was Buck's role as JD's dad. "Nope. I should go check," he said, determined to locate JD.
Chris sighed. It was only a few minutes before he would have been getting up anyway, so flipping his alarm off; he climbed out of bed and said, "I'll go, too." It wasn't that he didn't trust Vin to be quiet, heck, the boy was about the quietest person he knew, but he wanted to spend a few minutes alone with his boy before the very busy weekend started.
Making their way down the hall, the two stopped outside Buck's door. Chris held a finger to his lips indicating Vin should be quiet and then slowly opened the door just wide enough that they could peer in. Vin's relief at finding JD in Buck's room was evident as his shoulders eased slightly.
Chris looked down at his son and was met with a smile and a nod. Easing the door closed, he and Vin made their way down the hall. "Best get ready for school," Chris encouraged as he headed for his own room to get ready for the day, surprised at how nervous he felt.
"Rise and shine, boys!" Chris called, a smile on his face as he looked at the two dark heads asleep in Buck's bed.
"Huh?" Buck asked, blinking at the sudden noise. Glancing at the clock he noticed it was 7:30. They were actually running a little late.
"Take it he had some trouble sleeping?" Chris asked quietly nodding toward the little brunette who was just beginning to stir.
Buck chuckled softly. "Came in at 4:30 this morning insisting it was time to get up for the day."
Chris chuckled as the boy in question began blinking his way to wakefulness. "Guess he's a little excited. Good thing we have that camcorder," he said.
Buck smiled. "Can't believe Travis wouldn't let us out of the office without it."
Chris beamed back. "Better than that, he threatened extra work if he wasn't invited."
The quiet laughter of the two men filled the room. Who would have thought that hard-as-nails, no-nonsense Orrin Travis would fall under the spell of two remarkable little boys?
"Wha's so funny," JD asked around a yawn, his energy level visibly rising to its normal exuberant state as he sat up in the bed.
"Nothing, Little Bit," Buck assured, ruffling the boy's hair. "Time to get up."
"Yea!" JD cheered loud enough to make Chris wince and Buck to close his eyes, saying a quick prayer he hadn't been deafened by the shout. The small bundle of energy then launched himself out of the bed calling for Vin and heading toward their room.
A slow smile spread across Buck's face. "Can't wait to see what they have to say tomorrow when we take them to the fair," he said.
He was met with a twin smile from his friend.
The two men dropped the boys off out in front of the school. They had taken the full day off both today and tomorrow so they could start the boys' summers off right. The assembly wasn't supposed to begin until 10:00, so with more than an hour to kill, they headed off to a local diner for a more complete breakfast than what they'd eaten that morning and to pick up their tickets for the county fair.
Though neither man would admit it out loud, they were both excited about the following day. Prior to the boys being in their lives, they hadn't paid attention to things like the state or county fair, but when Buck had heard about it from one of the ladies at work, he had been reminded of all the fun he and his mother had had at their local fairs. Bringing the idea up with Chris, the blond had offered a wide grin. It would be the perfect way to start off the summer - a day of fun together as a family. Both men still had time off left - having accumulated more than they thought they would ever use in the years prior to the boys' arrival, so with Travis' permission, they were taking two days off.
Initially, they had planned Thursday to be a day of celebration with just them and the boys. When they'd been told about the awards ceremony at the school the last day, all of the boys' uncles as well as their Aunt Raine, Nettie Wells and Mrs. Potter had insisted on being present. When the requests for all of Team Seven to be off Thursday reached Orrin Travis' desk, the A. D. had visited Larabee in person to find out what was happening. Hearing of the ceremony, he immediately informed Larabee that he and Evie would be there as well.
With everyone they knew taking time to be with the boys on this day, Chris and Buck felt it only fair that they offer food to the group, so it was arranged that after the assembly, everyone would return to the Larabee/Wilmington/Tanner/Dunne house to partake in a picnic and some fun.
When Gloria Potter discovered that she wouldn't be around to see the boys because her niece was having her baby, she'd requested that the whole event be taped so she could watch it with the boys when she returned. Buck and Chris had readily agreed. After everything Gloria had done for them, it was the least they could do for her. The fact that she was returning Saturday morning and would be back at work watching the boys Monday made the men even more eager to fulfill her simple request.
As for the fair, with Nathan off Friday and feeling more like his old self, the duo of Larabee and Wilmington had decided to invite him along on their trip to the fair. It only seemed right that Nathan be given a chance to do something fun with the boys since he'd been so sick the week before. And with Matt showing up, that brought the total number of tickets needed to six.
Completing their errand, Chris and Buck noted they would be able to get to the school just in time for the assembly.
Walking into the gymnasium that doubled as an auditorium, the two men smiled and waved as they found Nathan, Raine and Ezra already saving seats. Josiah was toward the back setting up the video camera they had borrowed and the two men waved at him while making their way toward the other group.
"Glad you could make it," Wilmington said, his smile wide and genuine.
"As if I'd miss seeing my boys," Raine said, dismissing Buck's thanks as she accepted the hug he gave her.
A twinkle dancing in his green eyes, Chris had to ask, "You ungrounded yet, Nate?"
The adults laughed as Nate rolled his eyes. He knew it had been foolish to think the boys wouldn't say anything about that.
"He's been a good boy," Raine teased, patting Nathan on the leg. "He's free to drive again. He's just not allowed to lift anything heavy."
"Good!" Chris said, settling into his seat. "Because Buck and I have a favor to ask, if you don't mind," he finished, still speaking to Raine.
"You know, I am an adult who can speak for himself," Nathan interjected.
Chris ignored him, a smile on his face as he continued to address Raine. "Buck and I are going to surprise the boys tomorrow and bring them to the county fair along with my father. We thought that if Nathan didn't have anything else planned, he might want to tag along."
"I'd love to Chris," Nathan said, a warm smile gracing his face. He felt honored that Chris and Buck would want him along on what must be a very special day for the family.
"Well," Raine replied, still pretending to ignore Nathan. "I'm not sure he's been that good "
"Hey!" Nathan protested.
"But if he's a good boy today, I think he can go play with Vin and JD tomorrow," she assured before beginning to laugh. Turning to her husband, she kissed him and he began to laugh as well.
"Great!" Buck said. "Why don't you meet us out at the ranch around 9 and we'll head off after that."
"Sounds good," Nathan agreed.
Looking over at the very quiet Ezra Standish, Buck felt a momentary pang of guilt that they hadn't invited the boys' other uncles.
Ezra saw the guilt flash in Buck's eyes and smiled, hastily assuring, "Josiah and I both have meetings with the DA that can't be rescheduled."
Buck sighed in relief. He had forgotten that they were busy.
Chris' face grew serious. It wasn't just a meeting; it was a very important meeting. The team had worked for months to bring down the ring and had finally succeeded. Unfortunately, the suspects had a lot of money at their disposal and had hired all the best lawyers. The conviction rested on Team Seven, their evidence and the testimonies of Ezra and Josiah. "Do good, Ez," he said.
Ezra gave him a cocky grin. "I always do, Mr. Larabee. I always do," he assured.
Just then Orrin and Evie Travis appeared followed shortly afterward by Nettie Wells. As the large group settled in and greeted each other, they waited impatiently for the assembly to begin.
Soon the children entered the auditorium. It didn't take long for Chris to spot Vin and they all had no trouble spotting JD who was waving franticly at them.
The parents knew that every child would be receiving an award, but that didn't diminish the pride they felt in their children's accomplishments.
The principal started addressing the whole assembly and, after a few special presentations by the classes, it was time for the awards to be given out. The group waited patiently as the award was announced and then the student.
"Our next award is for the most enthusiastic student," Mr. Beidler announced. "This student has an abundance of energy and a love of learning that is a rare combination. His quick mind has little problem seeking appropriate outcomes whether it's on a logic problem, or the problem of helping a friend in need."
Buck began beaming with pride. That description could only fit his boy.
"His example has been an inspiration to adult and child alike. His kindness and compassion work together to make J D Dunne the winner of this year's 'Most Enthusiastic' award!"
With a shouted "Yes!" and a leap up from his seated position, a beaming JD charged up on stage, accepted his award and pumped his teachers' hands as he demonstrated exactly why he had won the award.
The crowd laughed at the cheer the little boy gave; then cheered as he accepted the award and thanked his teachers. There wasn't a face without a smile as JD accepted his award. Glancing at Buck to see the man's reaction, Chris swore if Buck looked any happier, he would actually burst his buttons.
As the awards kept being given out, Chris watched Vin surreptitiously. His boy had been excited when JD's name was announced, but Chris had seen the slow withdrawal as name after name was called and his wasn't. Finally they reached a point where Vin was the only one whose name hadn't been called. Chris wanted to go up to his boy and assure him that it would be okay, but stayed in his seat and waited.
Waiting for the audience to quiet down after the last presentation, Mrs. Roquette stepped up to the microphone. "Our final award goes to a very special young boy who time and again has amazed us with his compassion and quiet caring. This young man has set an example for his fellow students that any parent would be proud of. His quiet nature and innate modesty keep him from seeing himself in this way, but we, his teachers and the whole staff of the school want to take this opportunity to let him know, that we see what an amazing young man he is and to show him what he means to us. You'll be hearing a bit more of this boy's thoughtfulness in a few minutes, but right now, we would like to announce that Vin Tanner is the winner of this year's leadership award."
Cheers went up from Vin's family, Chris' louder than any of the others. They all beamed and watched with pride as the quiet, blushing and beaming boy made his way to the stage, shook hands with his teachers and accepted his award. He was about to exit the stage when Mrs. Roquette whispered something to him that made his eyes grow wide in surprise. After a few more encouraging words from both his teachers and the principal, they saw Vin nod and stay up on stage.
Walking up to the microphone, the principal addressed the crowd once more. "As you can see, we've asked Vin to stay up on stage for a few more minutes. The reason is that this boy presented his teachers and myself with a very wonderful idea. Knowing that we were having an awards ceremony today, he asked if the teachers and staff would be receiving awards. When he found out that wasn't a normal part of the assembly, he explained his idea to his class and they created their own set of awards to be presented. Later that morning, he came and asked me to present the awards to everyone. I agreed, but didn't want to take the credit for this amazing boy's idea. I've asked Vin to hand the awards to everyone as I call them up."
"The first award goes to Mr. Tobias for keeping everyone safe from germs and rats." Applause filled the room as Mr. Tobias, a pleased smile on his face, approached the stage to accept his award.
Buck couldn't stop beaming as he made his way to his son. He was so proud, not only of JD but of Vin, too. Reaching his boys before any of the others, he engulfed them both in a huge hug. "I am so proud of you both," he said, giving them one more squeeze before relinquishing them to Chris.
"You guys are absolutely the best," Chris said as he too engulfed both boys in a hug. "I am so proud of you."
JD and Vin giggled in pleasure, eyes shining bright. This was definitely one of the best days they'd had. As Chris released them, they saw everyone else and happily accepted the hugs and congratulations.
As the large group made their way out of the building and headed toward the parking lot, Chris stopped a little behind the others. Squatting down to be on eye-level with his boy, he said, "Vin. I have to go pick up my dad at the airport, now."
The light in Vin's eyes dimmed slightly as his worry once more asserted itself. "Can I go with you?" he asked.
Chris saw the excitement and pride dim and cursed himself. Smiling at his boy, he said, "It's been a while since I've seen him. I'd kind of like some alone time with him," Chris explained. In truth, he wanted a few minutes alone with his dad to tell him a few things about the boys and what to expect, also what to and not to do and say around them.
"Like when we have alone time?" Vin asked.
Chris smiled. "Just like that," he assured. "That and I want to brag about you and how well you did today." He saw Vin's smile brighten again and couldn't stop his own smile from broadening in response. Confident Vin would be OK, he caught up with the others.
"All set?" Buck asked, looking at Chris to see if there had been any problems.
"Yep," Chris said, helping Vin into Josiah's suburban.
"Good deal!" Buck said, having already strapped JD into the big vehicle. The boys would be riding back to the ranch with Josiah and Ezra in Josiah's suburban, while he rode with Nathan and Raine.