"It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons." - Johann Schiller
He's late as usual and the house is dark except for the oil lamp in the window. Daisy always leaves it burning when he or Slim are away, a light to find their way home.
He comes in quietly, easing the door closed behind him. He takes one step across the room and stops as the glow of the lamp falls across the small form curled up on the hearth like a cat.
It's Mike, sound asleep. He bends and touches the boy's hair gently, tousling the strands between his fingers. The child stirs and blinks sleepily up at him, followed by a yawn.
"Yeah, Tiger." He kneels next to the boy. "Why aren't you in bed?"
Mike rubs his eyes.
"I was waiting for you." He yawns again, wider this time.
"You'd best get onto bed now."
"Can't sleep." He gets to his feet, overgrown nightshirt flopping over his hands.
Jess tugs the rocking chair closer to the fire and sits down.
"Come on, then."
Mike scrambles onto his lap, an arm around his neck, head on his shoulder. He smells of firewood, of cherry pie from supper, and of that oddly sweet scent all young children seem to have. Jess runs a hand over his hair, stroking like he'd pet a small animal, tenderly as not to harm, but to comfort. He starts to rock faintly.
It's moments like these he could get down on his knees in gratitude for the day he first set eyes on Laramie and the day he carried Mike into their cabin. He doesn't remember when exactly they became a family, only that one day he opened his eyes and realized he couldn't live without any of them. Someday Mike will be too big to be held, too old to be rocked. Slim may move on to other jobs, Daisy may find a home of her own. Even he may change. But there will always be something lingering between the four of them. Love.
Mike has fallen asleep against his chest, head nodding beneath his own. He should go tuck him into bed but he doesn't move. Because tomorrow may find things different, tomorrow he may not have time to just sit and hold the boy he loves as he would his own son. For now he just wants to hold on to this fragile moment and never let it slip away. He has everything he could ever need right here in his arms.