"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe
Disclaimer: Not mine, not making any money.
Acknowledgements: To all the great writers who created the little guys and to my proof reader Deborah - thanks.
"Come on JD hurry!" Vin urged.
With out looking behind him to see if JD really was there he waded across the stream at its shallowest point. Once out on the bank on the other side he turned and looked at JD still standing nervously on the far bank.
"Hurry JD or theyll catch us, come on its not deep!"
JD put one foot down into the fast flowing muddy water. Instantly his small booted foot sank in the soft silt and ice cold melt water poured in over the top of his Wellingtons. Grabbing a nearby branch for support he pulled his water filled boot back to dry land.
"Oh come on JD, its only water!" Vin was getting exasperated by now.
"Nooo I dont wanna. My foot's all wet, I wanna go back now," whined JD already turning away.
"No JD we wont win if we go back, sides I dont think we can get back."
JD looked up at the steep wooded valley side they had just climbed down and knew Vin was right. Either he crossed the stream or he was stuck, but he didnt want to put his feet back in the water, one was already wet and cold. Unsure what to do about this dilemma JD began to cry, as he stood forlornly on the bank.
"Please JD itll be alright, hurry they're coming," Vin pleaded. They could clearly hear the sound of their pursuers crashing through the woods.
"JD, Vin!" Bucks voice boomed out through the trees.
JD spun around instantly. He didnt want to play the game any more, he wanted Buck to take him home and make his foot all better.
"Buck!" he shouted. "Im here!"
+ + + + + + +
It had seemed like a good way to end the afternoon. A race back to the house through the woods. The weather was glorious, clear bright and frosty. After days of rain the two boys had so much energy they were driving everyone crazy and Chris and Buck decided to run off some of that energy with a walk in the country. Vin couldnt get enough of the out doors. He would walk for miles given the chance and absorbed every scrap of information about the wildlife, the trees and plants even the geology. Chris had been forced to do some surreptitious research in order to keep up with his thirst for knowledge about the environment. JD always had boundless energy and was also naturally inquisitive although his attention span was somewhat limited and he was more interested in collecting things and poking things than listening about them.
They had walked up and around the hill behind the ranch and were now at the beginning of the trail that led back down to the ranch. The trail was wide enough for a four-wheel drive to negotiate with care; it zigzagged down the narrow little valley crossing the stream via a wide plank bridge about half way down. Buck and Chris reckoned they could follow at a distance close enough to make sure nothing happened and far enough back to let the two boys think they were winning on their own.
"Boys what about a race?" Chris asked squatting down in front of the youngsters.
"A race?" JD asked unsure what was meant.
"Yup, well give you a head start, first one back to the house gets to choose where we go for supper tonight, okay?"
Vin thought a moment, then he took hold of JDs collar and pulled him back a fraction before whispering in his ear. A big smile came over JDs face and he nodded enthusiastically. Since they intended to let the boys win the two men were resigned to eating at McDonald's tonight, given the choice the boys always chose McDonald's, Buck would choose pizza and Chris fried chicken.
"So if we win you have to take us where we want to go?" Vin liked to have the rules of any game clearly defined and got very upset when they werent adhered to.
"Yup, wherever you want to go," Chris confirmed.
JD looked up at Buck for final confirmation that this was alright. Buck just bent down beside him.
"Hey Little Bit you want me to carry your treasure for you?" he asked.
JDs treasure was in an old canvas bag he always took on walks to keep all the things he found. Mostly it was pebbles and rocks, fir cones, acorns, feathers and leaves.
JD nodded and handed over his precious burden.
"You will lookted after it wont you?"
"I promise Little Bit Ill guard it well."
They had given the boys a count of twenty before they set out after them. Chris calculated that they would be able to see them through the bare winter trees on the level below them at all times. What they hadnt counted on was Vins competitive streak and his unerring sense of direction.
Once out of sight Vin had led JD off the track and straight down the steep valley side. The two small agile boys had made light work of the dense steep woodland, Vin stopping every now and again to help his young companion down a particularly steep bit. It took the men a while to work out the boys were not ahead of them. To make matters worse the wind had picked up, not only was it noticeably colder now but it effectively stopped them hearing the boys moving or talking ahead of them. They decided to split up. Chris would run on down the track while Buck descended down through the woods.
+ + + + + + +
Vin waded back into the stream. "Shhh JD! We dont want them to catch us we gotta get to the house." He reached the weeping five year old and held out his hand. "Come on Ill help you," he offered, taking hold of JDs hand.
JD hung back; he didnt want to do this. Normally he wanted to do whatever Vin did, he wanted to be a big boy but not now, his foot was so cold now it hurt.
"No Vin I dont wanna, Im cold and my foots all wetted, I wanna go home now."
"We're gonna go home now, come on if your foots wet it cant get any wetter, please JD or we cant go you know that."
Without waiting to see if his arguments had worked Vin gave a little tug on the hand he was holding. JD reluctantly stepped back into the water once again the water over flowed into his boots and he began to cry even harder as he turned to retreat once more to the bank. Vin gave a harder tug on his hand to make him go forwards rather than back and with this and his feet stuck in the mud of the stream bed little JD finally over balanced and fell over in the stream, splashing down on his bottom. Instantly, he was soaked to the skin and covered in black mud, he stood up only to over balance again and fall head first into the muddy water. Splashing and spluttering he pulled himself up. Vin was frozen for a second before he climbed onto the bank and trying to help JD out of the water he reached for him.
"I want Buck!" JD wailed pushing Vin away as he stood, now waist high in water.
"Please JD you have to get out now," Vin implored, reaching out again for JD.
"I want Buck I dont want you, I hate you! Go away!" JD shouted through his tears.
"JD!" Bucks voice behind him made Vin jump.
"Buck!" JD reached his arms up to be lifted.
In a second Buck was beside him and lifting the shivering dripping child out of the water pulling him in a tight embrace and leaving his boots stuck in the mud.
"Hey, hey its alright now, youre safe, Im here, dont cry," Buck soothed. "What happened?"
"V V Vin pulleded me in!" JD wailed between shivering sobs.
Buck looked down at Vin, guilt and distress writ large on his young face.
"Is that true?" he asked.
"I didnt mean for him to fall over I only wanted to win the race," he pleaded; suddenly he too was cold and wet and feeling aggrieved. "Its not fair!" he shouted, and then he turned and ran across the stream and straight into Chris who had heard the commotion from the track and come to investigate.
"Whats going on?" he asked.
But Buck wasnt really listening he was more worried about JD who was shivering more and more his lips turning blue. Wading across to Chris he explained.
"Vin pulled JD into the water Ive gotta get these things off him Chris can you take him from me for a sec?"
Chris frowned at Vin.
"You," he said harshly. "Stand there and dont move do you understand?"
Vin nodded, retreating to the tree trunk Chris had pointed to.
"Nooo," JD murmured as he was prised away from Buck.
"Just for a little while JD I promise." Buck explained.
Then he stripped off his own sheepskin lined jacket and lay it on the ground, once that was done he turned to JD and as Chris held him, stripped him of his socks, trousers and boxers. He had expected some kind of protest from JD about being cold, though not about being naked, about which JD had no inhibitions, but the boy was alarmingly quiet. Now Buck took JD back and stood him on the jacket's soft lining and stripped off his other clothes, finally when JD was divested of all his wet clothes Buck wrapped him in the jacket. Chris had pulled off his own heavy coat and this too was wrapped around the small bundle in Bucks strong arms.
"Go! I'll get the rest of the stuff," Chris assured as Buck was already running up toward the track.
Chris turned to Vin, still looking very upset, silent tears streaming down his cheeks.
"Help me pick up JD's things we'll talk about what happened once we are home and you have dry feet."
Vin didn't say a thing as he helped to pick up the sodden mud soaked clothes. He groaned when he realised JD had been wearing his Avalanche tee shirt, the one Buck got for him when they went to the game, it was covered in sticky black mud. They were about to go, Chris told Vin to leave JD's boots, they were already ruined, when Vin turned back and once again waded across the stream.
"Where do you think you're going?" Chris asked, not bothering to keep the annoyance out of his voice.
Vin just walked on and picked up JD's treasure bag from where Buck had dropped it, then waded back to Chris. It was no more than a five minute walk from where they were to the house but to Vin it felt like an hour as he trudged behind Chris carrying JD's precious treasures and his mud soaked favourite tee shirt, his pride and joy.
+ + + + + + +
Buck ran all the way, he was totally unaware of the burning sensation in his lungs, or how his legs trembled with fatigue as he pounded down the rough track to the house. Stopping only to kick off his own boots and pick up the cordless phone, he took JD straight to the bathroom and began to run a bath still cradling the drowsy boy in his arms. Once it was run he unwrapped JD and lowered him into the warm water.
"Come on tiger wake up," he called softly.
"'M tired," muttered JD. "Cold,"
"I know yer cold but yer gonna be warm soon, look we got bubbles and your frog."
Buck wound up the little clockwork frog Nathan had given JD for Christmas and set it in the water, where it swam slowly in a circle, its little legs doing a good impression of the breaststroke. JD opened his eyes to watch but was uncharacteristically uninterested in playing with it. As he supported the lethargic JD with one hand he used the speed dial to call Nathan on the cordless.
"Nate? It's Buck I need some advice."
Buck told Nathan what had happened and described JD's current condition, he had Buck take JD's temperature under his arm which was only 96.' which considering he was sitting in a warm bath was nowhere near high enough. He advised Buck to wrap JD warmly and give him a warm drink in a warm room.
"Don't worry Buck I don't think he was cold enough long enough for there to be significant problem but I'm on my way over. Okay?" Nathan assured.
Buck thanked Nathan and hung up. He heard Chris coming in and called to him. Chris' head appeared around the bathroom door.
"What can I do?" he asked.
"Can ya get a comforter and put it in the dryer 'till it's nice and warm, make JD some hot chocolate and stoke up the fire in the living room for me?"
"Sure pal, you call Nate?"
"Yup he's on his way over, say's not to worry though."
Chris retreated knowing whatever Nathan said Buck was worried, and he wouldn't stop worrying until JD was his old self again. JD was very small for his age and in Buck's eyes that made him more vulnerable, he tried not to smother the boy but sometimes smothering was called for. Vin had been sent to his room to put on dry socks and wait for Chris. Ten minutes later Buck had dried JD with a warm towel, wrapped him in the warmed comforter and made him drink the chocolate, then he settled himself back in the recliner by the fire with JD lying cocooned on top of him. Buck lay one hand on the boys still cool forehead and the other he slipped inside the warm soft wrapping to lie it over JD's little heart, reassured by its steady beat.
+ + + + + + +
Chris let himself into the room Vin shared with JD. The tousled haired seven-year-old was sitting on his bed, knees pulled up to his chin, his head down still sobbing silent tears. Chris sat down on the bed beside him.
"I'm very angry you know that don't you?" he said quietly.
Vin nodded with out looking up.
"But I want you to know I will never stop loving you and I will never send you away from here." Chris felt he had to say that first, Vin was in so many ways still very insecure.
"Is JD okay?" came a small muffled voice.
"Nathan is going to look him over but I think he is okay really. Vincent Tanner I'm not going to talk to the top of your head." Chris remarked sternly.
Slowly Vin looked up, his face streaked with tears.
"Now tell me what happened," he said more softly.
"I wanted to win so I made JD come with me down the hill I knew where the stream was shallow. JD didn't want to cross 'cause he got water in his boot."
"What did you do then?"
"I went back for him, he came at first but then he turned to go back and I "
Vin nodded. "I just wanted him to come, I didn't want him to fall over I didn't!"
"I never thought you did. Why Vin? Why was it so important to win that you would try to make him do something he didn't want to do and treat him so badly, he's only 5 and he's very small."
Chris was surprised to see anger spark in Vin's sapphire blue eyes.
"That's what everyone always says, 'JD's so small', 'JD's so young', 'we have to look after JD'! He gets away with anything! It's not fair!" His head went back down and the sobs became harder.
Chris was unsure how to proceed; this was a development he had not expected. It was Vin who had voluntarily taken on the care of JD when living on the streets. He had protected JD, taught him how to survive and kept him safe from those sick individuals who would have prayed upon a lone five year old, while all the time doing the same for himself.
"It's not fair that JD is younger and smaller than you?" Chris ventured.
"No I mean yes I mean thats not it."
"So it's not fair that JD gets away with things you think you can't?"
Vin nodded his head.
"Vin look at me," Chris instructed.
Slowly Vin looked up again.
"Why do you think JD gets away with things?"
"'Cause he do. All he has to do is look up all innocent and hold up his arms an' Buck picks him up an' says 'don't worry it'll be okay Little Bit' every time! An' at school he keeps taking things apart to see how they work, then he can't put them back together and the teacher never gets mad! It ain't fair!"
"Do you wish that JD didn't live here, that Buck and JD lived in the city at Buck's old place?"
"No! I love JD, I like having him around, it's jist he's so small and he can't do stuff but he always wants be with me."
"Well thats what it's like to have a little brother, more than anything JD want's to be like you, he copies you, wants to do what you do, go where you go, he looks up to you, you know?"
Chris was trying to work out how to convey to Vin how important he was in JD's life without scaring him. Vin was altogether too serious a child as it was. He had taken on responsibilities no child should ever have to even think about.
"You see Vin because JD wants so much to be like you, the kind of person he becomes is partly down to you, your example, and until now no little brother ever had a better big brother to copy."
Vin's young heart swelled with pride just for a second then it sank again as he remembered JD's out burst. "Not now, he hates me he said so."
"JD couldn't hate anyone, he was just mad at you thats all."
A small smile appeared on Vin's face. "Sure?" he asked hopefully.
"Quite sure. Vin I still want to know why you wanted to win so much, we will go to McDonalds's again you know that."
Vin looked down again. "We didn't want to go to McDonalds's," he said quietly.
Chris leaned I closer. "Where did you want to go?"
Vin mumbled something Chris couldn't hear. "What was that?"
"We wanted to go to I Scream-You Scream," Vin whispered.
Chris groaned inwardly. I Scream-You Scream was a new ice cream parlour; the big attraction was that you could help your self to as much topping and sprinkles as you wanted. The boys had been pestering, even pleading to go there ever since it opened. Chris and Buck weren't keen, especially as JD got even more hyperactive if he was allowed to over load on sugar and Vin had such a sweet tooth he would eat too much with the inevitable consequences. But they had resolved to take the boys as a surprise treat for Vin's up coming 8th birthday. Vin had protested loudly the last time they were turned down that 'everyone at school had been except him', Chris had forgotten what peer pressure was like at 7. Putting that aside he looked at Vin.
"Was it worth it? Was it worth JD falling in the stream, getting so cold, so upset he said he hated you?"
Vin shook his head. "I'm sorry Chris, really I am I won't never do it again, I don't want to hurt JD not ever, even if he does get away with things, and follows me every place." He uncurled his legs revealing JD's ruined T-shirt. "Will it be alright?" he asked with some desperation.
Chris took the little T-shirt and looked at it. In his experience the black silt from the stream never came out.
"Maybe but if it doesn't I will get him a new one and you will pay for half of it from your allowance at 50c a week, you understand?"
Vin nodded. "It won't be the same, Buck gave it him."
"No it won't but he will get over it. What punishment do you deserve for not looking after JD properly?" Chris asked, he felt it important to give Vin a voice in his destiny and make him look at his own behaviour.
Vin shrugged "I don't know, maybe you should take JD to I Scream-You Scream and not me?"
Chris had considered this, but unless it happened now, tonight, it wouldn't have the same impact and Buck wouldn't be taking JD out tonight.
"Well I thought of that," Chris admitted, Vin's face fell even further. "But I don't think that would be fair. I do think there are a lot of dirty boots out side need washing and will need washing all week, I think JD should be excused chores for the rest of the weekend so you will have to do them and I think you owe Buck and JD an apology."
"Yes Chris," Vin said meekly, he looked up imploringly at Chris, who reached over and pulled Vin to him, enveloped in a huge hug.
+ + + + + + +
Vin walked out with Chris to stand in front of Buck.
"Is JD alright? Is he asleep?" he asked quietly.
"Yes I think he's alright and yes he's asleep." Buck was looking uncharacteristically stern and serious. Vin actually found this scarier than Chris because it was so rare.
"I'm sorry Buck, I won't ever do anything like it again, I'd never hurt JD, I'm sorry."
Buck studied him for a long time in silence, feeling JD's comforting warmth against him. He wasn't a man who could stay angry long, especially at a child.
"I hope you are Vin, this could have been much more serious you know, much more," Buck emphasised.
"I know Buck." He looked down.
"Come here." Vin looked up to see the hand that had been on JD's forehead stretched out to him. He walked up to stand beside the chair, Buck's long arm curling around him and pulling him close. "See JD's nice and snug now," he whispered in Vin's ear. "Everything's gonna be okay junior, don't you worry."
Vin suddenly smiled and flung his arms around Buck's neck and hugged him.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan pronounced no permanent damage was done, though he did warn Buck to watch for signs of fever or upset stomach considering JD had almost certainly swallowed some of the dirty water. JD woke up and demanded to know where they were going for supper, but had to make do with pizza delivered to the house. JD was, as usual, treating Vin as if nothing had happened, just like Buck he just wasn't capable of holding a grudge. Vin was however mindful he owed JD an apology.
"JD?" he started.
"Yeah Vin?" JD was eating the cheese scrapes out of the pizza boxes and playing with the little plastic tables that came with the pizzas.
That was it, as far a JD was concerned the incident was already over. But Vin had a new resolve that from now on JD would have the best big brother anyone ever had.
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