The Gift


Vin Tanner was in a funk. He had been here before and knew that it would work itself out over time. He knew that part of it was the holiday season, but Christmas hadn't gotten him down since he had found himself with not just the one brother he had always dreamed of having, but six brothers that he thanked God for regularly.

"Vin, you okay?"

The lean Texan nearly jumped out of his skin, as he turned to face the team profiler, Josiah Sanchez.

"Fine, just a little down," Vin assured the older man.

Josiah stood looking at him. He had known Vin when he was a teenager living on the streets and had taken him under his wing. A little over a decade later, he could still read the man fairly well.

"Got two ears if you need them. You know where to find me if you want to talk," he said, squeezing Vin shoulder and heading back to his own desk.

Someone had put a CD of Christmas Carols on as defense against another round of either Jimmy Buffet or Elvis Christmas CD's all of which Buck was proud to own.

"What's the first Carol you learned" JD suddenly asked the group.

Nathan looked up at him, "Away in a Manger, had to sing it for Christmas service when I was in children's choir. Momma loved carols so she had us singing them with her as soon as we were able, but I think that was the first one I remember knowing."

Josiah leaned back and thought. "Guess it's be Angels We have Heard on High. Um, um like that song. Mom taught it to Hanna and I, that was back when things were still okay. Mom loved to sing and Hanna and I would join in, but that was the first one I sang in front of anyone."

Chris took a sip of his coffee, and answered from the doorway he was leaning on. "Silent Night, it was for a school program. Folks liked Christmas music so we had carols around as long as I can remember."

"I was required to participate in a truly dreadful performance of the Twelve Days of Christmas as a child and was given the task of singing the song as I was the only one capable of remembering all twelve verses. It was less embarrassing than having to be one of the children acting it out," Ezra shuddered.

Buck grinned and sighed, "Jingle Bells, leaned it for my first school concert. Momma and I would practice while we did house chores and such."

"How about you JD?" Buck asked.

"Hark the Harold Angel, Father O'Malley had heard momma and I singing while we were making some extra money cleaning the church and asked if I would sing at Christmas Mass. She was really proud of me."

"I bet she was, brother," Josiah beamed at him.

"What was your first carol, Vin?" JD asked turning to face a now empty desk.

Everyone stared, it wasn't like Vin to suddenly get up and leave like that with no reason or explanation.

Chris headed for the door.

JD followed before anyone could stop him. Somehow the young tech had upset his friend, and he needed to apologize. He wasn't certain what for, but he still had to.

Vin was in the park across the street from the Federal Building. He often went there when in need of breathing space or to clear his head. He was a nature boy, but this would do in a pinch.

Chris sat down on the bench next to him.

The two men just sat there, silent.

"Mamma and I, we, we never had no money fer nothin', but she always said joy don't cost a thing and we'd make decorations from color paper and sing Christmas carols. That was about all we could do, but it made the time special," Vin explained, leaning his head back and closing his eyes.

"Adam and Sarah used to do that too," Chris sympathized.

"Used ta be that I could close my eyes and hear her singing with me. I can't hear her anymore," Vin almost sobbed. "It's been so long since I heard her that I can't remember her voice anymore."

Chris took a deep breath and let it out. Words of sympathy and "sorry" wouldn't help Vin anymore than they had helped Chris when he had realized he was starting to forget what Adam had sounded like calling him Daddy. He could still bring it up, but it was getting more and more vague all the time.

The blonde quietly laid a hand on the Texan's shoulder.

Looking over at the path he had taken here, he saw JD quietly step into view and sign that he would let the others knows they were taking a half-day. Chris nodded his thanks, and JD left.

The young tech bit his lip not to start crying. He had never wanted to upset Vin like that. He had heard the carols on the CD and remembered singing at the church and was curious if the others had done the same as children. He would apologize later, Vin needed Chris now not him.

By the time he reached the building, he was smiling. Maybe there was something he could do for his friend. Now, if he could just figure out how to do it.

"Conference room," JD called out, entering the team bullpen ten minutes later. He was already seated before he realized that HE had just ordered the remaining team into the room. And they had dropped what they were doing and followed him.

"As you've requested our presence, might I assume that you are in need our assistance?" Ezra asked when the younger man was silent.

JD swallowed, "We need to help Vin."

"What kind of help does he need?" Nathan, always practical and to the point, asked.

"He's losing his ma, he can't hear her anymore," JD explained.

"Painful time when that happens," Josiah sighed. He had long since forgotten what his own mother sounded like, but he remembered the pain when it hit him that he couldn't remember her voice.

"Any ideas?" Buck asked, ready to do whatever might be needed.

"It's just an idea, but this was what I was thinking," JD began.

He explained the plan to the other men. They organized, discussed, tweaked, and left ready to do battle on their friends behalf. Buck agreed to bring Chris up to date on Operation Tanner.

"JD!" Chris called from his office. It had been two days since the carol incident, as they were calling it, had happened. Even Travis had commented on how subdued the normally out of control group was acting. Vin was in a worse funk than before and the others were acting like normal, well-behaved civilized ATF agents. Orin's order to Chris had been clear: whatever was going on, fix it and fix it yesterday! Chris had assured him everything was under control. Now to find out if he had been lying or not.

The young tech came in as bellowed for, and was motioned to sit down. Chris got up and shut the door.

When Chris left the blinds open, JD started to breath again. Closed door only meant that the conference was private, closed blinds meant that you were in deep kimchee and about to get the chewing out of a lifetime.

"Buck brought me up to date on the plan and what you needed from me," Chris told him, having returned to his chair. He slid a folder across the desk to JD. "That should cover what you need from me. Let me know if there is anything more you want from me."

"I will, thanks, you were the only one that had access to this information. Well, legally at least," JD added.

Chris gave a half smile, "Let's keep things legal JD. We are law officers."

"Hacking is what I do as a law officer."

"Not without permission," Chris reminded him. "How is the plan going?"

"Great, all I was needing was this," he held up the folder.

"If you don't want Vin to know about it where are you going to work on it?" Chris asked. Vin was in and out of Buck and JD's condo all the time.

"Peaches and Misty are letting me work on it at their place."

Chris stared at him in disbelief. Buck was evidently corrupting him.

"Buck's never told you about the twins?" JD asked wide-eyed.

Chris closed his eyes. JD was hanging out with Buck's twin lady friends. This was NOT good.

"You're sure that's a good idea?"

"They're out of town and we're keeping an eye on their place, so it seemed like a good idea," JD answered.

"Let me know it there's any way I can help," Chris instructed.

JD nodded, and getting up he left.

Once at his desk he looked in the folder. He had a starting place. The information was quickly and quietly e-mailed to all but one team member. Now came the hard part.

Janet Tanner collected the day's mail and stopped for coffee as long as she was in town. Yawning, she scanned the pile. She stopped at one that was addressed to her and from someone named JD Dunne. She didn't know anyone named JD. Opening it she read.

Dear Mrs. Tanner,

My name is JD Dunne. I work with your nephew, Vin Tanner. I have a favor to ask of you. I am making a memory book for him about his mother. If you could write down any memories you have of Elizabeth Tanner and send them to me in the enclosed envelope, I would really appreciate it. If you have any spare pictures that would also be appreciated. I am especially looking for any audio tapes that might have her on it.

Thank you,

JD Dunne

Taking a deep breath and biting her lip she made a decision. She was not going to allow her husband to stop her from helping. Her heart still ached for the sad little boy with big blue eyes that she cared for for two years. She should have left back then and taken him with her, but she had always been too frightened to go. "I failed you once Vin, when I should have protected you, I swear I will not this time."

It was Team Seven's Christmas Party, but somehow the usual festive spirit of the day was missing. Vin's funk seemed to have spread. JD was the only one not there. When he arrived they would start the festivities.

In classic JD style, he came barreling out of the elevator and into the bull pen. He was carrying a wrapped gift. Josiah raised an eyebrow as the younger man snagged the radio/cassette player box off his desk.

"I sure this works kid, Junior is lower than the Titanic," Buck told him.

"Trust me, Buck, this is gonna be great," JD assured him.

He laid the gift on Vin's desk. "We're starting the gifts with you opening this."

The Texan lifted it up and looked at it. "Who's it from?"

"All of us," JD answered.

Vin carefully tore the wrapping off and gapped. It was a scrap book full of letters people who had known his mother had written with stories about her. A great many had pictures as well.

JD reached behind him and clicked on the tape player.

Vin's head shot up and he whirled around as a voice he could identify as his mother's was heard singing The Little Drummer Boy. It had been their favorite duet, Vin loved doing the Par rum pum pum pum part.

"We tracked down everyone that we thought might have known your mother and asked them for contributions and to alert us to anyone else that might have known your mom and the results are in the book. Your aunt Janet sent this tape that your mother made in the hospital so you would have it on your first Christmas without her. But the woman you were staying with misplaced it and when she found it she mailed it to your aunt. She apologized for it not having gotten to you before and sent it.

Vin bit his lip as he eyes watered. He had never thought he would hear that voice again.

"I can put it on CD for you if you want, then it won't wear out," JD offered.

"Reckon I'd like that," Vin sniffed sitting and closing his eyes to listen to that wonderful voice he loved and had missed for over twenty years.

Chris laid a hand on JD's shoulder. "Good work."

The computer tech beamed. He had inadvertently hurt his friend, and now he had been able to give him back something he thought he had lost forever.

It was insane. It was crazy. ADA Orin Travis looked at the man next him in the elevator and sighed. It was also unavoidable. You did NOT just drop in on ATF Team Seven in the bullpen unannounced and unexpected, especially when they were scheduled to have their office Christmas party. Crandon Masters IV, the new DA, was just going to have to learn that lesson the hard way.

"It'll be great to meet our most effective team," Crandon looked over at him.

"Don't bet on it," Travis mumbled under a cough.

"I didn't catch that."

"It's sure to be memorable," Travis responded, wishing again that he had had time to alert Chris they were coming so he could tell the others to try and behave like the mature and professional men they were. Of course the last few weeks, that had become their norm, which with that crew meant that the insanity should be starting any time now.

The elevator opened and the two men entered Team Seven's bullpen.

Crandon's eyes bulged and jaw dropped. Orin tried not to smile too broadly.

JD was laughing like a loon and running around with Buck hot on his heels swinging a rubber chicken. Ezra was building a house out of cards. Nathan was flying a remote control dragonfly around and landing it on unsuspecting heads. Josiah was demonstrating a native dance of some type for the medic. Vin and Chris were quietly in a corner looking through a scrapbook.

"MISTER JACKSON! I must protest your abuse and request that you keep that menace out of restricted air space," Ezra growled as the dragonfly buzzed his house, crashing the elaborate creation.

Crandon blinked, turned and left for the elevator.

Orin chuckled. His boys were back, "Merry Christmas, Gentleman"

Seven voices returned the wish, and with a nod he left.

Chris watched and knew that tomorrow he would learn who the stranger was and get yet another lecture on controlling his men. For now, Vin had his mother back, and the next crisis had yet to appear. It was a very Merry Christmas indeed.

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