Vin was halfway up the stairs and heard footsteps. "I know where m'room is, Chris."
Chris remained silent, letting Vin go in the room first. He flipped the light on and stopped, frozen in place. The guest room was gone and it was now Vin Tanner's room. His quilt, with an Aztec design in shades of coral, beige, blue and green, was on the bed. A large terracotta coyote was next to a small desk. An old throw rug, he'd gotten from a flea market years before, with Indian rainbow dancers on the front, was in the center of the beige rug. Two framed prints, one a sunrise in a Bryce Canyon and the other a profile of a coyote baying at the moon adorned the walls, along with a dreamcatcher. The small Native American artifacts he'd collected were displayed on the walls and chest of drawers. He'd forgotten about them, they were in a suitcase in the top of his closet. The bedside table had a terracotta lamp. A new CD-AM/FM radio was next to it. Two book shelves trimmed in southwest design, housed his growing collection of books. In the corner, on a stand,with a bow on the front, was nineteen inch color television with DVD player underneath.
Chris leaned against the doorway and soaked in the stunning rays radiating from his best friend. He didn't stop the drunken grin that formed, he let it rest on his face. He stowed the amazed look Vin wore away, knowing it was something he'd want to remember. He finally moved, coming abreast of the younger man, whose jaw was working soundlessly.
"You still breathing?" Chris teased, ducking his head to look at Vin's face.
"Chris...I..." Vin stammered, eyeing the warm room. "How...when..."
"Spoken like a true Tanner." Chris teased, walking over to the closet. He slid the door across, revealing Vin's clothes, some old and some new. "Drawers are all stocked too." He nodded, still grinning. He didn't think it was possible for Vin's eyes to become any wider.
"Merry Christmas, Junior."
Vin spun and saw the rest of the team in the doorway.
"All the guys chipped in..." J.D. said, as Vin stared mutely, gazing from his friends to his gifts. "Here..." J.D. pulled a box from behind his back.
Vin opened the lid and several DVD's spilled out, some of his favorite movies. Again, the mouth worked silently. He sat on the bed and felt the color flush to his face. He swallowed hard, feeling his eyes growing damp.
"You wanna keep it down, Vin." Josiah teased, "I can't hear myself think."
"Thanks, Guys." Vin finally managed.
"Does this mean we're forgiven for leaving you in a ditch?" Ezra inquired, and was rewarded with a grin.
"I reckon..." Vin nodded, "It's gonna sound silly, but it feels more like home...than my apartment ever did."
"Good thing," Chris sat down next to Vin, who eyed the bulky envelope in his hand. "Since you'll be living here for about four months."
"I can't do that, Chris...I appreciate ya bailin' me out but..."
"Let me finish..." Chris said, handing Vin the envelope. "Merry Christmas."
Vin's eyes narrowed suspiciously and he studied Chris's face, which was unreadable. He glanced at the team, who were grinning like fools. He eyed the envelope, but made no move to open it.
"It's not a bomb, Vin..." Chris goaded, elbowing the smaller man. "Open it..."
Vin opened the envelope and pulled out a bunch of documents and photos. His face formed into a puzzle as he scanned the photo's. It was a one story house, outside Denver. He recognized the area, with mountains in the background. The description on the back read three bedrooms, one and a half baths, a living dining room, kitchen and porch. His puzzlement deepened and he began to read the documents. "I don't get it..." He said.
"You will soon enough." Chris replied, pointing out a paragraph on the bottom. "You see...your rent is counted towards a downpayment. Once the landlord gets his downpayment back, he turns the title over to you."
"Yer kiddin' me." Vin jerked his head up. "Who's the owner?"
"You're looking at 'em." Buck sat on the other side of Vin and winked at Chris.
"Y'all?" Vin's head spun back and forth. "A house..y'all got me a damn house? I can't accept this...What the hell were ya thinkin?"
"Hold on a minute, Vin." Chris drilled, "Don't get upset. Just listen a minute, will you?"
"You see, Vin." Buck began, "Chris and me invested in some property out near Grand Junction about ten years ago. We never did anything with it."
"It's becoming a liability...so we decided to sell." Chris continued. "We've had it on the market about three months. Last week it sold and Buck got the idea..."
"We both got the idea..." Buck corrected. "It's not the Taj Mahal...and it does need a lot of work."
"But it's a good investment." Ezra added, "Prime location...wonderful view...equal distance between the city and here."
"...and I think I can scare up oh...six volunteers to do the work." Josiah advised.
"You should be all settled in by the time the playoffs start." J.D. grinned, knowing Vin shared his love of Ice Hockey.
"I don't know what to say." Vin's offered quietly.
"Say you'll take over the 'Sunday football and food frenzy'", Chris hoped. "I'm sure as hell gettin' tired of playing the obliging host."
"Fair enough." Vin grinned, then solemnly offered his hand to Buck. "Thanks Bucklin..." He started to say more, but couldn't find any words.
"You know, Junior." Buck said seriously, gripping the hand offered, winking boldly and leaning in closer. "You sure do blush pretty..."
"Get the hell away from me..." Vin laughed, shoving the larger man playfully. Buck stood to leave and Vin sent him another silent sign of gratitude. Buck's grin lit up the room.
"I didn't think it was possible to feel this good." He quipped. "...well...not standing anyhow..."
"Good night Buck..." Chris groaned, shaking his head.
"Goodnight Vin..." the others offered, leaving Chris and Vin alone.
For several minutes, neither moved, not wanting the good feeling to end.
"Here...y'all best hold on these." Vin gave the papers back, but kept the photo. He walked over to the desk and propped them up. He kept his back to Chris for a moment, suddenly overcome by the emotional tide he'd tried to control.
"Chris...I'll never ferget this." He said thickly.
"Neither will I Cowboy..." Chris returned. "Buck's right...It's one helluva good feeling." He looked over to where Vin stood, gazing out his bedroom window. "One thing I need to warn you about. Be careful sitting on that porch after dark."
"Why?" Vin took the bait.
"Heard a rumor there's a large Yellow Bellied Marmot lurking." He replied.
"Texan variety?" Vin guessed.
"Yeah..." Chris deadpanned, turning to leave. "...wears bunny slippers."
"They ain't no damn bunnies..." Vin protested, laughing. "They's racoons..."
Christmas morning 8 a.m.
Something wonderful interrupted the sweet dreams. The slumbering sharpshooter inhaled the intoxicating aroma of sausage and bacon. He peeled his eyes open, wincing as the daylight poured him, reminding him of his concussion. The bright red bow on the television eased the pain. He still couldn't believe it. The gifts that surrounded him were well appreciated and would never be forgotten, but the real gift wasn't something you could put a bow on. It was the six men who'd become his brothers.
He snuggled under the covers, which welcomed him like a lusty lover. A soft tap on the door, got one eye open again. "Yeah..." he croaked.
"Can I come in?"
"Sure Nate." Vin replied, but didn't move. "Merry Christmas..."
"Same to you, Vin." The EMT replied, "I'm sorry to bust in...How are you feeling?" He asked, sitting on the bed and taking Vin's pulse.
"Heads hurts a little..." Vin admitted.
"I can see that." the other agreed, seeing the painful squint. "You're gonna have bad headaches and blackouts for a few days. Don't overdo it. How's the stomach?"
"Hungry." Vin muffled, reluctant to leave his nest.
"Why don't you get up for awhile? You can take a nap later."
"Okay...I'll be right down."
He laid for a minute after Nathan left, enjoying how good it felt inside. It was better than he'd dreamed. Shame Christmas only comes once a year. A hot shower took some of the pain away. His head still ached, but his heart was jumping. He stopped at the top of the stairs, letting a smile ride on his face. The sounds of his friends laughter was the best gift. He trotted down the steps and through the hall, entering the kitchen. The six faces paused, and seemed startled.
"What?" Vin asked, spotting the blank stares. "I got toilet paper on m'shoe or something?"
"No...uh..." J.D. stammered. "You been in the Den yet?"
"No...why?" Vin asked suspiciously.
"No reason...didn't hear Sam barking."
After breakfast, they went in the den. Vin was the last in, Chris detained him in the kitchen. He spotted Buck with a camcorder and was about to question why he was being taped, when his eyes hit the tree. The beautiful tree he'd left the night before, now had a small mountain of gifts under it.
"Where'd they come from?" He asked to nobody in particular.
"Dunno?" Chris shrugged, "Guess we should read the tags."
Vin walked over and began scanning the packages. "Hey...this one's fer me." He said, bending over "Santa? What the hell's this?"
"Maybe you should open it and find out." Ezra offered, sipping a cafe-au-lait.
Vin plopped down and sat cross-legged. Someone stuck a Santa hat on his head. He was wearing a green sweatshirt with Tigger on the breast pocket, also wearing a Santa hat. His eyes lit up and he split a wide grin as the first gift was revealed.
"A supershooter..." He exalted of the high-pressure water gun. "Aw, hell. I love these..." His head spun "Thanks J.D."
"It ain't from me." J.D. denied, standing behind Vin, then eyeing a simliar box. "Hey...I got one...Hey..." He dropped down next to Vin and produced a similiar weapon. "Awesome...this is gonna be great."
"Good Lord." Ezra moaned, seeing the two youngest already planning sneak attacks on their unsuspecting friends. "Mr. Claus must have been embibing liberally before he set his sleigh down here."
"Shut up Chris..." Buck whispered as Chris Larabee shot him the evil eye. Vin with one was bad enough...adding J.D. was trouble.
Vin couldn't get the paper ripped off fast enough. Every gift produced a series of drawling praise and blue-eyed wonder. The others sat back and drank it in. From Rock 'em Sock 'em robots, to Electric Football, Boxing Gloves, the latest Playstation and several games, a new hockey stick and Roller blades, Vin was nearly hoarse from exalting when he finished. Chris sat across the room, sipping a large thermal mug of coffee. The grin plastered to his face, watching the child Vin, so long deprived of Christmas, basking in the glow, was one he was proud to wear. It didn't get much better than this. One box remained, and Vin popped it open to reveal a holster with two colts, a tin star and a red cowboy hat.
"Just like the O.K. Corral." Nathan teased.
Vin stood and slipped them on. He walked cockily across the room, fingers riding on the belt. He narrowed his eyes as he stood in front of Chris.
"I'm callin' y'all out, Larabee." He tossed, with one of the colts.
Chris's returned the evil grin and stood, weighing the gun. They turned simultaneously, and stood back to back.
"A wager gentlemen..." Ezra inquired.
"It's the Lord's birthday, Ezra. Have some respect." Josiah reprimanded.
"You got no shame..." Nathan agreed. "I got five on Chris."
"I'm in." Buck agreed.
"My money's on Vin." J.D. said as the count was nearing an end.
"...nine...ten..." both counted and spun around.
"Damn...talk about greased lightning..." Buck amazed of his oldest friend. Chris's gun was drawn and the cap fired, before Vin even had his up.
"Ya cheated..." Vin accused.
"Don't have to." Chris replied, spinning the gun and doing tricks. "I'm good..."
Vin rolled his eyes and began bent down to pick up some of the reams of scattered wrapping paper. "Whoa..." He grappled blindly as the room began to spin.
"Sit down before you fall down." Nate hollered, grabbing him. "I warned you about overdoing it. You gotta rest for awhile."
"I can't rest...I been waitin'..." Vin shook his head and sat on the coffee table.
"You got all day," Chris advised, "Mary and Billy are coming for dinner. Best you get some rest."
"Can I stay down here?"
"You set one toe off there and I'm locking you in your room." Chris warned, handing Vin his medication. The tracker took it quietly and shuffled towards the sofa.
"Yes, Pa..." Vin mocked, lying down and pulling the blanket over him. "Chris?" He whispered. "I don't see 'em..."
"They'll be there when you wake up." Chris soothed, of the missing gifts. "Sleep."
Vin didn't remember falling asleep. It was after noontime when he woke up. Buck and J.D. were playing electric football. Josiah and Nathan were playing chess. Ezra and Chris weren't in the room. He sat up and nodded a mute greeting, before shuffling to the kitchen. He fumbled in the cabinet, seeking Tylenol.
"Thanks, Ez..." Vin croaked, taking the can of coke. "Listen, I'm sorry about ruinin' yer sweater and messin' up yer plans."
"I'm not." Ezra replied, tapping Vin's can with his glass of mineral water. "and I thank you." He said quietly, and slipped away.
Vin took his soda into the den and saw the bow-bedecked trash bags around the tree. He counted twice...there should be four and their were five. He frowned and went closer, but the door opening and an exhuberant greeting halted his steps.
"Hey Billy." Vin croaked, backing up as the boy embraced him.
"Merry Christmas everybody." The blond boy announced as he was greeted by the team. "Whose toys? He demanded.
"Santa brought 'em for Vin." Buck said, winking at Mary, who was grinning.
"You must have been really good." Billy amazed, seeing the collection.
"More likely Santa accepts bribes." Ezra whispered, for Mary's benefit.
Vin patiently listened to Billy's description of his school play and his toys from Santa, but his eyes sought Chris. The blond and Mary were absent and Vin suspected they were exchanging gifts in private. When Chris finally returned, he motioned with his head to the trash bags and held up five fingers, frowning. Chris just shrugged, his face blank. He made his way over and firmly sat Vin down. The pale face and scrunched up eyes were telltale signs of the headache. Chris handed Nathan, Josiah, Buck and J.D. a large trash bag. All four were stunned at the craftsmanship and labor of love their friend offered. Vin felt the warm glow again and smiled. His eyes were glued on Buck's face as the mustached man's gentle hands traced his grandfather's initials and picture in the corner.
"Open it, Buck..." J.D. winked at Vin.
Buck pulled out the treasures, one by one. His eyes glazed at the sight of the repaired watch and new fob. "Thanks, Kid..." He choked, drilling the hazel eyes warmly. He lifted the top portion off and found the poem, entitled "Ace of Hearts." "Vin...I'm honored. From Captain.Ethan Jefferson Wilmington and myself...I thank you. It's beautiful..." He choked, swallowing hard. "Damn allergies..." He whispered, wiping his eyes. Chris squeezed Buck's shoulders and saw Vin's face blush warmly, his blue eyes shining with pride. He suddenly realized how much he'd wasted in those three years he'd thrown away and how much brighter the future was.
He saw Vin's face fall, eyeing the empty spot where Ezra's gift should be. "Uh...Ezra...about yer gift..."
"It's right here." Mary said, pointing to a large bag behind the sofa.
"What?" Vin attempted to stand and felt Josiah clamp a hand on him. "No...don't please..."
He apologized as Ezra opened the bag. "Aw, hell...I'm sorry...I can explain."
"No explanation is necessary, Mr...Vin." Ezra spoke softly, pulling out a beautiful wine rack, which had slots for two dozen bottles. Over the top was the name Standish and a family crest.
"Your eloquence is gracefully exhibited in these fine works of art, as well as from the noble heart you bear. I stand in awe and I thank you."
Vin mouth dropped open in muted astonishment. "Uh...Uh...but...Chris?" He sought the green eyed man, who shrugged.
"Santa sure was busy." He said, winking at the stunned face. Vin's blue beacons were sending a strong thank you.
"Here Vin." Billy produced a small box. "I made it myself...well sorta. I hope you like it."
Vin's face fell and his hands trembled slightly. "Thanks Billy...Iffen y'all made it, I know I'll like it."
Chris saw Vin's heart hit his throat and nodded to J.D. The youth slipped quietly out onto the porch off the kitchen.
Vin held up the small clay figure of a boy holding a drum. It was hand made and painted, with a child's love. Vin loved every crooked line and misshaped limb. He ruffled the blond head and kissed the top of it. "I love it, Billy. Y'all did a great job. Ya know why this is best kinda gift?"
"'cause it comes from where your heart is." Billy replied. "Right?"
"Right, Pard." Vin agreed, holding the boy on his lap. '
"I 'membered Vin." He proclaimed, "that he's your favorite right?" He asked of the story of the Little Drummer Boy.
"Right." Vin agreed.
"How did you come to that conclusion, Young Master Travis?" Ezra asked.
"'member when we came for lunch?" He asked of their recent trip. "...and we watched the cartoon about the Drummer Boy?" he paused as they nodded. "Well...I was watching Vin...and he had happy eyes...so I knew."
"Looks like he lost his 'happy eyes'" Buck fretted, watching Vin struggling hard. "Chris?"
"Yeah..." the blond agreed, and gave J.D. the high sign.
"Hey, Billy, you got a big box on the porch." J.D. said putting the box in front of the boy, who was still perched on Vin's lap.
"It's from Vin." He said excitedly, ripping off the paper. Vin's head shot up and he drilled Chris, who remained stoic.
"A train...MOM, LOOK..." He gushed, flying off Vin's lap and over to his mother. "I can't believe it...LOOK...LOOK..." He dragged the smiling woman over to the box.
"Vin..." Chris shook his head, silencing the anxious Texan.
One by one the pieces came out. A dozen woodland creatures, dressed in winter gear. An engineer and crew. Then the train itself; a locomative, four cars and a caboose. The signs of the repair were visible and Mary was shocked. Chris told her about the robbery. She knew, with one glance at the man she loved, that he'd done this...for Billy and for Vin. She felt him behind her and reached back, squeezing his hand tightly. Her blue eyes were shimmering with tears. He returned the squeeze and kissed the back of her neck.
"Something's wrong with it." Billy said hesitantly in a small voice, which nearly undid Vin Tanner. "The train is..."
"...the very best Billy." Chris supplied, eyeing his best friend, who looked like he'd been gutshot. "I think the book will explain."
"What book?" Billy and Vin said at the same time. Vin moved foreward, eyeing the large box. He'd wondered why such a large box. He saw the beautiful Alpine Mountain Tunnel, complete with snow, skiers, a ski lift and a town with shops, cars and people. As Billy pulled the pieces out, Buck's eyes shot open. He recognized them...they were Adam's. Vin sensed the change. Chris struggled for a few moments, seeing another small boy's shining face. His eyes were full and he turned away, moving into the foyer. Mary followed him.
"My God, Chris..." She whispered, realizing what'd he done. "I love you Cowboy." She took his pained face in either hand and kissed him tenderly. She brushed the tears away and grasped his hand tightly, then leaned against his chest, relishing the strong arms that held her. "Thank you..."
"It needed to be done...Adam would have wanted it this way." Chris hissed, then took a deep breath, and composed himself. "...and Vin needed it."
They returned as Billy got to the bottom of the box and pulled out a handmade book . The cover was a colored illustration of a train on a moutain. The story within, printed from a computer, told a special tale.
"Can you read it to me Vin?" Billy handed the book to the startled man.
"Sure, Billy." Vin's hands were trembling as he began. As the story unfolded it told the tale of the special crew on the train and their friends. The train was in an accident on Christmas Eve, rushing to get the woodland creatures gifts to them. The company threatened to get a new one, and the crew and the woodland creatures of the town, decided to pitch in and fix the depressed little engine, who'd given up. Now, the train was better than ever, his steam shot high over the mountain as he carried his friends through the dangerous pass safely. By sharing and caring, they'd given each other the best Christmas ever.
Vin only got halfway through and handed the book to Josiah, who was closest. His didn't trust his voice. He was barely holding on, until at the end of the story, Billy picked up the train and ran his small hand on the cracks where 'Santa' had lovingly glued it back together. He turned to Vin and buried his face in the emotional man's neck. "It's got happy eyes too...like you, Vin. It's makes me feel good inside, that you made it, just for me."
Vin sighed and slid the boy off his lap. He excused himself and left the warm den. He staggered a bit, taking deep breaths to get control again. He didn't realize where he was until he saw Chris on his knees in the redone office. His hands were caressing the grooves and spindles of the desk that Vin labored over. He saw the absolute raw emotion and deep pride in the green eyes. Vin's head jerked, back towards the end of the foyer, where he caught Buck's eye. The older man merely nodded, raising a beer and acknowledging Vin's thanks. Chris's strained voice drew him back.
"My God..." he gasped, stunned at the sheer beauty and craftsmanship of the magnificent gift. He was unaware the benefactor was behind him. "It's the finest thing I've ever laid eyes on..." Chris cut him off, and expelled a deep breath. "My God, Vin...how many hours...I can't imagine the patience..."
"It ain't nothin' compared to what y'all gave me...but..."
Chris stood and placed one hand on Vin's shoulder. "Without you...there isn't any reason, Vin...I didn't realize how much I'd missed. These talented hands of yours," he said, taking each wrist and turning them palms up. "tracked down that damn marmot...and saved his sorry hide." He placed a hand on each shoulder and pressed firmly.
"Chris..." Vin said thickly, "About the train...and book..." he struggled for several seconds, swallowing down the emotional tide, "Ya done good, Cowboy..."
"Wasn't me..." Chris disarmed, taking a breath and heading for the door, the younger man behind him. "Kris Kringle..with a 'K', remember?"
"Y'all need a computer," He retorted, "Ya can't spell worth a damn."
"Watch your mouth," Chris tossed, "Cursing on the Lord's birthday isn't good for your position on Santa's list."
"Naughty or nice?" Vin asked. "Chris....Hey Chris..."
"You even gotta ask?" The blond replied, clapping Vin's back.
There was a grand feast, rich music, high-spirits and it was after eleven when they'd all departed. Chris eyed the trash, plates, cups, utencils, food, paper and other debris scattered around the first floor. He was in the kitchen, getting trash bags and thought on Buck, the only guest remaining.
"Buck, lend a hand, huh?" He called out, without response. "Buck?" He moved closer to the den , where he'd last seen his oldest friend.
"No Way," Buck whispered loud enough for Chris to hear him in the foyer. "I've got the best seat in the state and I'm not movin'"
Chris didn't understand, but resumed his cleaning. Five minutes later, the phone rang.
"Put that damn broom down, make us two Irish Coffees and get your ass in here...now!"
"Buck?" Chris frowned, as the line when dead. "What the hell?" He muttered, pouring the coffee and getting out the whiskey and whipped cream. He was one foot inside the den door, when the smile started. There were two long sofa's intersecting with the fireplace. Buck was sitting on one, his long legs stretched out ahead of him.
"Camcorder..." he whispered, and Chris nodded, setting the steaming mugs on the table next to Buck.
Chris flipped on the camera and zoomed in on the sight that gave his oldest friend such a deep, warm smile. Vin was sound asleep. Someone stuck the cowboy hat on his head. He wore the holster and tin star. In one hand was the supershooter, laying across his chest. The other hand had on a boxing glove. The Rockem-Sockem robots were between his knees.
Buck had already taken several still shots. Chris zoomed in on the contented face, sleeping peacefully. "Merry Christmas, Cowboy."
He turned the camera off and sat on the opposite sofa. Vin was sprawled on the floor, his back to the sofa by Buck's feet. Chris realized the drunken grin he wore, was a duplicate of Buck's.
"You won't be seein' those baby blues of his 'fore noon." Buck predicted, "The boy done wore himself out."
"Blissful." Chris said. "Utterly contented...look at him."
"Been doin' just that." Buck chuckled. "You know something, Chris...This was the best damn Christmas I've ever had." He said, one hand touching the beautiful box Vin made. "Damn sorry-assed Texan..."
"I'll drink to that." Chris leaned over and clinked Buck's glass.
The next morning, eight a.m.
Chris Larabee groaned and stumbled into the shower. The strong stream of hot water assaulting him did little for his aching head. After getting Vin settled in bed, he and Buck had quite a party. He had no idea when or how he got to bed. His stomach rebelled twice already and his mouth sought liquid comfort. He threw on some clothes and padded downstairs. He was shocked to find the whole downstairs cleaned up. He almost made it into the kitchen. A jet stream of water hit his face and chest, sending him sputtering backwards.
"Goddammit Vin...I'm gonna break that fuckin' thing over your head."
"Scrooge..." the drawl replied.
Chris glared into the empty kitchen, grabbing a linen towel and wiping his face. He braced himself for another dose. At first glance the kitchen was empty. He turned back to where he'd been standing and followed the projection of water. His green glare sought the Utility Room, next to the kitchen. He spotted the trail of cookie crumbs and followed it. Just as he was about to open a closet, the jet stream hit him from behind, soaking his shoulder and neck.
Vin heard the long string of curses and slid from his hiding place. "I can't believe y'all fell fer that...following crumbs like that German kid."
"You're dead, Tanner...You're..." Chris paused. "What German kid?"
"The one what got lost in the woods and some crazy old crone tried to eat him."
"Hansel and Gretel..." Chris grumbled, drying his neck. "You need to start reading something besides comic books."
"Ya look like shit, Cowboy." Vin winced, eyeing the horrid, hangover face.
"After I kill you, Buck's next..." He predicted, taking the blender out and pouring the ingredients to 'the cure' inside.
Vin took his hot chocolate into the den and returned to the kitchen. His hand went towards the top of the refrigerator and felt around in vain. Chris watched the scowl forming and gloated.
"Where'd ya put 'em?" Vin asked of the large tin of cookies Mary brought.
"Someplace you'll never find them."
"Aw, hell...I'm hungry..."
"There's cereal, pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage, bagels...take your pick" Chris offered watching the blue eyes dart around for potential hiding places. "No more shit for breakfast...cookies and the other crap you eat."
"Four months..." Vin grumbled, shuffling back to the den. "Gonna be worse than a Goddamn boot camp."
"I heard that..." Chris warned, pouring a second glass of 'the cure' and almost feeling human again.
An hour later, he had a cup of coffee and entered the den. Vin was sitting on the floor, staring at the nativity set. Chris sat down and flipped the paper open. He looked up twice in the next twenty minutes and Vin hadn't moved. He placed the paper on the sofa next to him and moved over. He stood behind the younger man and saw that Billy's clay figure was standing at the foot of Jesus's crib.
"I know he ain't pretty like them figures of Sarah's" Vin said. "But he needs to be in there. Funny, the movie I seen and the story I read...they ain't gave him a name. He's important...ya know...what he done..."
"Yeah..." Chris said, recalling the tale of the boy who had nothing to give the newborn King but his heart. "I know his name...it's Vin Tanner."
He patted the flannel shoulder once and went back to the sofa. He finished his coffee and got another cup. When he returned a few minutes later, he saw Vin carrying something. Curious, Chris followed and grinned, spotting the Yellow Bellied Marmot not standing proudly next to the Three Kings in the Nativity.
"Vin...I don't know..." Chris wrinkled his face.
"I do..." Vin said. "He's home now..."
"Yeah..." Chris realized the analogy. "I guess he is."
"Ya know, Chris." Vin took his hot chocolate and returned to the sofa, sitting across from his best friend. "I used to wonder...what it would feel like." He paused, eyeing the tree, and savoring the wonderful gifts of brotherhood he'd been bestowed with. "When yer heart finds Christmas..." He sat back, sank his curly head onto a pillow and yawned. "There ain't nuthin' like it..."
Chris sipped the steaming brew and watching Vin's contented smile as he slept peacefully. He left his seat, stoked the fire and pulled an afghan onto the slumbering Texan. His mind flashed to the figure Buck and he saluted the night before. The picture brought a smile.
"Merry Christmas, Vin Tanner."
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