[AnneACK's
 

Hello, DOlly

by




Yawning widely and stretching until his joints popped, Vin Tanner glanced at his watch and, smiling, started to shut down his workstation. The day was done and while he had not been out in the field, things were slow, so all of the team had been office bound for longer than was good for anyone; he had gotten a good days work done and was ready to call it a day.

Buck Wilmington had winced when he had heard his friend and teammate's body sounding like a bowl of popular breakfast cereal. The younger man's latest injury was likely giving him more trouble than he would care to admit to from the sound of things. But then, joints did tend to get loud and pissy on you when you abused them as much as Vin did his.

"Joining us at the Saloon?" Buck asked him. The team regularly relaxed at the end of a day at a local bar named the Saloon. It was decorated in a western motif and the `boys' of Denver's legendary ATF team Seven had found it fit them just fine.

Vin looked over and gave a half smile. "Sorry, got plans."

"Blonde, brunette or redhead?" Buck asked, raising his eyebrows. It was about time that Vin started dating, again, ever since the Charlotte Richmond episode, the younger man had retreated back to his shy ways and avoided most women.

"Long legged and thick black hair," Vin replied and headed out.

"Sounds like our brother may have found himself a little heaven on earth," Josiah Sanchez commented on the conversation he had overheard. Since Chris Larabee, the team leader, was the only one with a private office, any conversation in the bullpen was overheard by everyone.

"Hope so, he deserves it," Nathan Jackson added his two cents in before joining the other two on their way out.

"It's our duty as his friend to try and find out about this young lady," Buck said.

"As he evidently prefers to keep his romantic liaisons private at this time, I suggest that we leave him be," Ezra Standish, the team's undercover man, suggested.

"I don't think Vin wants to be pestered about her, I know I wouldn't," JD suggested. He was the youngest on the team, but never let that stop him from speaking his mind.

"I just think, that as his friends, we might want to at least find out her name," Buck argued.

Chris said nothing as he joined the others.

"You know who junior's new girlfriend is?" Buck asked him. If anyone knew about the tracker's new lady friend, it would be Chris, his best friend.

"Yes," Chris answered, simple and direct as always.

"At least give us a nibble," Buck pleaded.

Chris said nothing, but headed to the elevator with the others behind, and Buck continuing to beg for any tidbit of information on Vin's new friend. The others tried not to laugh; Chris would not tell anything.
 



Buck saw that Vin was leaning back in his chair and taking a break from typing up one of the thirty million forms that they had to complete at the end of any case. They had been backup for team six, the day before and were starting preparations for their own case that would hopefully involve a raid with in the next week or two.

"This lady friend of yours have a name?" Buck asked him, innocently.

"Dolly," Vin answered, smiling as he closed his eyes to give them a rest. Reading, particularly off a computer screen for long hours, would never be his favorite past time.

"Well, why don't you bring Dolly around to the saloon sometime so we can meet her, you've been seeing her almost every night for two weeks, here, Junior," Buck was trying not to sound desperate and failing. He really wanted to meet this, Dolly, who had Vin so enraptured.

"I'll likely bring her by Chris's before too long," Vin informed him.

"Well, alright then, she gonna be there when we go riding on Saturday?"

"Don't recon she's ready for that, but we'll see," Vin smiled and returned to the waiting computer screen.

"Would be nice to meet her, Brother," Josiah mentioned softly in passing.

"She's a bit shy of strangers," Vin explained.

Josiah nodded his understand and continued on his quest for coffee. He was curious about her, but pushing Vin about his paramour would not speed the process up. He would just have to be patient, and the Lord did love teaching him patience.

"Would the young lady perhaps prefer to meet us one at a time?" Ezra asked. He understood how daunting this group could be taken en mass; he had had a rather difficult adjustment, himself.

"Don't think it would make much difference to her, just need a little more time to prepare her."

"Indeed," Ezra concurred.

"Can't you tell us just a little," Buck asked, sidling up to the sharpshooter's desk.

Vin grinned, "She's got these unbelievably big brown eyes."

"Sounds like you have a real looker, there," Nathan commented from behind Buck, who he was trying to get to move off and leave the other man alone. Buck had been wheedling him for information ever since he had first heard that Vin had a date.

Vin nodded his thanks to the medic as Buck got the idea and returned to his own desk.

Saturday was a perfect summer day with a clear blue sky and a breeze to keep it from getting too hot. Josiah and Nathan had arrived early enough that they got to put the sandwiches together for lunch; past experience had taught the men that if they wanted anything even marginally healthy, they had to pack the food themselves. Buck had been forever banned from food detail after what the group only referred to as the cold pizza incident. Ezra arrived soon after them, complaining about the early hour, but Maverick was recovering from a stone bruise and Chris thought it best to warm him up before the group left so they would know if the gelding was up to the long ride or not. JD and Buck were next to last; usually they were among the first, but both men had had dates the night before and had had trouble getting going that morning. Ironically, Vin, who was normally the first one there assuming he had not spent the night, was the only one not there when trouble brothers, as Chris called them, arrived.

The group headed towards the barn where Chris was finishing the morning chores. A nice, long-legged bay mare they hadn't noticed before was loosed in the pasture and was Getting the eye from Chris's black gelding, Pony, much to the annoyance of Vin's Peso, who was trying to get her attention himself.

All the men looked at her and started grinning, Buck blinked.

"A horse! He's been spending all of that time with a horse! Why didn't he just tell us that he was getting a new horse?" Buck sputtered.

"Long legs, big brown eyes and black hair, I think we just meet Dolly," JD grinned.

"She does indeed fit Mr. Tanner's description perfectly," Ezra added.

"She's just Vin's type, too" Nathan shook his head, chuckling; he should have guessed.

"Amen, brother," Josiah agreed, laughing out loud. Of course, Vin's idea of the perfect female would be equine. The shy tracker had always been more at home with animals than with other people.

Chris stood back watching the others and enjoying the humor. If conclusion jumping were ever offered as an Olympic event, Buck would likely get a gold medal. The look on Buck's face was priceless!

The laughter died down when a Honda Accord they were not familiar with turned in the driveway and parked next to Ezra's Jaguar. Visitors, outside of the seven men were rare. Vin's jeep breaking down was nothing new, but if it was him, why hadn't he called one of them for a ride or take his Harley?

Vin nodded at them in greeting before opening the back door. A few moments later he came towards them holding the hand of a long legged, dark haired child with large brown eyes. Five jaws dropped. Chris just smiled.

"Something you want to share with us, brother?" Josiah asked the long-haired tracker.

"Guys, this is my god-daughter, Dolly, she's staying with me for awhile; Dolly these are my friends. Remember my telling you about them?" Vin asked, crouching down to her level.

She nodded silently as she made an attempt to hide behind him.

"Hi," Chris said, moving to where she could see him, the one other person here she knew. "There's a real nice, quiet, friendly horse here for you to ride, just like I promised."

"Fank you," she said softy as she examined the ground, only Vin and Chris heard her.

"We haven't quite decided if we're going to join everyone in the ride or not, we might just ride in the arena," Vin replied. She tended to be shy with new people, so he had given her the option of them going with the group or staying back at the ranch.

Chris nodded, Adam had gone through this phase as well, and the boys were a lot of new people for any child to meet all at once.

"You knew! You knew who Dolly was," Buck glared at his oldest friend, who was grinning at him.

"Yep, and it was real funny watching you try and find out who she was, all week," Chris smirked. "And then thinking Dolly was the horse.

Vin smirked, "The mare is my new horse Bayberry, she's gaited so the doc doesn't think she'll be as hard on my back and joints."

"That mean you're finally getting rid of that obstinate, cannibalistic cuss of a mule?" Nathan asked, hope in his eyes. Peso was not known for behaving himself like a civilized animal.

Vin looked at the tall dark man in horror, "Of course I ain't getting' rid of Peso, just have another horse for when I'm going out all day or somethin's acting up. Not my fault your magnetism doesn't work on smart animals like him."

Buck snorted at his friend and turned to the child. "Well, hi there, darlin' It's real nice to meet you, you sure are a pretty thing. I'm Buck!"

She bit her lip and smiled up at him. Buck's Animal Magnetism evidently worked on four years old girls as well as grown women.

"This is Nathan, he takes care of us when we get hurt," Vin introduced the healer.

"Hi there, your Mama sure picked the right name for you," he smiled at her.

"Mama named me Molly, but grandpa said I was a doll, so everyone started calling me Dolly," she explained

"And a beautiful doll you assuredly are, my dear," Ezra responded, flashing a gold tooth as he smiled

"That's Ezra; and that big man's, Josiah," Vin pointed him out.

"Your namthes are in the Bible," she lisped slightly.

"Indeed they are! My daddy was a preachin' man and said good names come form the good book, so that was where he and mama got my name," The large man beamed at her. "I'm right glad to meet you."

"Mine happens to be an old family name, but you are quite correct that it is indeed in the bible," Ezra replied.

"And that there's JD," Vin finished, pointing to the last of the men.

"Sure would be nice you came ridin' with us ma'am," JD told her.

"What do you think, Dolly, should we go out with them or should we stay and ride here?" Vin asked, shifting a bit from his leg starting to cramp at staying crouched down to her level; next time he would remember to kneel, instead.

"With them," She said, very deliberately saying her th sound.

Chris smiled, "I've got a helmet and small saddle in the barn, I'll get them."

"Could ya get the lead rope as well, I think it'll be safest to pony her horse until she's had a little more experience?" Vin asked, while nodding his thanks to Chris for the loan of the horse and equipment.

"A helmet?" Buck asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Yeah a helmet," Nathan responded immediately. "Think about how far from the ground she is if she should fall, and even a trot will be fast for her. Safety comes first and with a child that young that means a helmet! Good grief children wear them on bikes, and that's a lot easier fall than a horse would be."

Buck raised is hands in surrender. "Helmet sounds like a right good idea."

Six men held their breaths, as a large black head with a white blaze poked down at the girl and sniffed at her. She giggled and patted the `nice horsy'. No one had ever accused Peso of being nice, before, but here he was nuzzling and fussing over the girl who was stroking his nose and patting his cheek, something he would not have allowed any of the men to do, including his owner. Well, not the cheek, and only Vin could get away with stroking his nose.

"That, brothers, is a miracle," Josiah commented, once he was able to speak.

"I had no idea that that insidious creature was fond of children," Ezra blinked.

"Never had him around kids, didn't know he liked em' so much," Vin chuckled, scooping the girl up so she could pet the horse's neck and shoulder.

"Back home, there was a horse in the stable that liked women and children but was nasty with men, guess Peso's the same way," JD commented, patting his own horse, which had come up to say hello.

Chris reappeared leading a placid old Appy with a children's saddle on it, and about passed out when he saw Peso, who he privately referred to by a name that should never be repeated in polite company, blissed out under the child's loving attention. When Buck saw the saddle, he sucked in his breath; the saddle had been one Chris got for Adam, likely the helmet he was carrying had been for the dead boy as well.

Dolly took to riding like a duck to water, and by the time the men had stopped for lunch, she was chattering away with Buck like she had known him for years and was happily parked on Ezra's knee for a card show. Vin smiled, he had thought, once she got to know them, she would like the men he considered family.

"And by what divine miracle has this child been brought to us?" Josiah asked, settling himself next to the younger man.

"I'll tell ya later, for right now let's just say enjoy the day," Vin asked, looking at his friend.

Josiah nodded, he had been right that there was more to this than a child visiting a family friend over summer vacation. "If you need to talk about whatever it is, I'm here."

Vin said nothing but nodded his thanks as the graying man got up.

"They know anything more now than they did before?" Chris asked a few moments later as he took the place Josiah had vacated.

"Nah, just have her doing more tests today, seemed like a good day to take Dolly some place fun, might not get much fun, later," Vin sighed.

Chris nodded, Vin had come to him with the whole story a few weeks earlier. "Anything I can do to help, let me know."

Vin gave him a half smile, knowing his friend was serious. "For right now, all we can do is let Dolly forget about it as much as possible."

Chris sighed, "How much does she know?"

Vin shrugged, "Don't know really, but she's a smart kid, likely she's picked up that something's going on. For today she's just having a fan day riding and making friends on a picnic."

"She's a good kid," Chris said, and got up to get the group going again.

Vin got up and lifted Dolly into her saddle. Stardust, the mare, getting more pats and hugs as her rider got situated. And then mounted his new mare, Peso had been miserable at getting left behind, but Vin's back wasn't up to the gelding's antics and he wasn't certain if the horse's like for children would extend to a beginning rider on his back, and this was not the time to find out. He smiled at the men in front of him as he brought up the rear, leading this placid and plodding old horse. He would deal with tomorrow when it came, for today he could just relax and enjoy an outing with his adopted family and god-daughter.


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