JOY RIDE by Phyllis Loafman

ATF "Little Britches" Universe

Disclaimer: Don't own them or they would still be on.

"Boys, get your bags packed. We're leaving early in the morning." Buck called to the two boys from the hallway.

"Alright" two voices called back. Buck stepped into the dining room to see Chris Larabee standing in the kitchen, shaking his head. "What?" Wilmington asked.

Larabee laughed softly. "You don't really think they'll get packed, do you?"

"Oh, I think Vin will pack everything, including that cat, and still have room to spare. JD on the other hand, will get in half of what he needs and it'll be in a wad." Buck had to laugh with his old friend and partner. "I figure if he keeps trying, he'll eventually get it."

Chris looked a little skeptical, but Buck was the one that would have repack the bag later. Wilmington went through into the living room as the blonde ATF team leader turned back to start the dishwasher. He could hear the boys in their room as they argued about how to pack.

"No, JD, put it in your bag. They ain't my socks." Vin protested.

"Yeah, Vin, but you got room and I don't. Please?" the younger boy begged.

Chris started down the hall as Vin said, "If you wouldn't wad everything up, they'd all fit."

The man entered the room to see the boys unpacking the younger boy's bag.

"Here, let me show you." Vin offered. He laid the clothes out and straightened them. JD watched as the wads of cloth once again began to resemble the neat clothes Mrs. Potter had folded for him. Vin picked up a pair of shorts and placed them in the bag. Turning to the five year old, he instructed him, "See, you just lay them in and smooth out the wrinkles." He turned his head to find JD looking away, reaching for a toy. "JD! Pay attention or you'll never know how to do it right."

JD turned back to the older boy, a smile on his face and his eyes wide. He grabbed the edge of the bag and pulled it toward him, peering inside. Releasing the bag, he gazed up at the taller seven year old and nodded. Vin placed a hand on the slender shoulder of his friend. "Why don't you try?"

"Okay." JD grabbed a shirt and stuffed it into his bag. Chris struggled to suppress a laugh as Vin threw his hands up and hid his face.

"JD!" the older boy cried.

Chris stepped into the room. "JD, why don't you let Buck finish that for you? I need to go gas up the truck. Anyone want to go with me?"

"Me! I wanna go!" JD ran across the room and wrapped his arms around Chris's legs, looking up with big hazel eyes. Chris reached down and took the boy by the waist and flipped him up and over his shoulder.

"You do? Are you sure?" Chris wiggled his fingers and tickled JD as he hung over his shoulder. The giggling youngster pulled at the hands holding him. Finally out of breath, he boy went limp, hanging over Chris' shoulder like a rag doll. Vin ran over and pulled on Chris' free hand. The man squatted down and took the boy onto his other shoulder. With a child draped over each shoulder, he walked into the living room. Buck was sitting in a big recliner with his eyes closed and his hands clasped across his stomach. Chris quietly approached and leaned down, sliding the boys off his shoulders into the other man's lap.

Wilmington grunted as he received the weight of both boys. His eyes opened as they squirmed around to sit on his legs. "Hey, what's all this?" He wrapped an arm around each boy and drew him close. "What are you doing? Packed already?"

"No, Chris said you would finish for me." JD stated.

"Oh, really?" He looked up at the blond and Chris merely shrugged.

"Chris is going to get gas. And he asked us to go. You want to go, too?"

"Nuh, I better stay here. I need to feed the stock and check on Bandit. I don't think she'll foal yet, but I want to check once more before we leave for the weekend."

Chris nodded his head. "She should be okay 'til we get back. She's not due for another week. And she's always been pretty predictable."

Vin looked from one man to the other. "Chris, I want to help Buck. Okay?"

"Of course. You stay with Buck and JD can keep me company. That alright with you, JD?"

The dark haired bundle of energy leapt off Wilmington's lap to the floor. "Yeah. Can I ride in front?"



Both men answered at the same time.

"JD, you know you have to ride in the back and in the car seat."

"Vin doesn't have to."

"Vin doesn't ride in front any more than you do. He doesn't have to ride in a car seat because he's older. Next year, you won't have to either. But until then, you know the rules." Chris explained.

Accepting the explanation, the boy smiled and reached up to the blond. "Ready?"

Gathering the boy into his arms, Larabee headed to the door. He paused when Buck called out to him.

"Chris, check the air in that left rear tire. It looked a little low."

"Okay. Do we need anything while I'm out?"

Buck's brow creased as he gave the question some thought. "Nuh. We can pick up some ice in the morning if we need more than's in fridge."

"Okay. We'll be back in a little bit. The boys still need to bathe." That prompted moans from both boys.

Vin asked, "Why do we have to take a bath, if we're going to go camping? We're just going to get dirty again as soon as we get to the camp."

Buck ruffled the boy's long brown hair. "Because we have to ride in the truck with both of you and we'd like to start out with clean boys and not dirty little imps."

"What's a 'imp'?"

"That's a mischievous child and that's what you are." Buck informed JD.

"What's 'mus-chev-us?" JD asked.

"That's your middle name, little bit."

"No it's not. It's D."



The two men looked at each other. They knew that JD stood for John Daniel. They had decided that until JD was ready and asked about his past, they would not discuss anything with him.

Chris patted the boy on the bottom. "Come on, JD. Let's go."

All four headed out the door. Chris loaded the dark haired boy into the back seat of the 4x4 Dodge and, climbing into the front seat, started the truck and drove away. Vin and Buck headed to the barn.

Vin looked at the tall man as he asked, "Vin, you looking forward to the baby horse?"

"Will we get to see it get born?"

"Sure will."

"I saw kittens get born one time. It was pretty neat." Vin said as they entered the barn. Buck grabbed a feed bucket as Vin headed down to Bandit's stall. He glanced into each stall as he passed. Buck soon joined him. The two stood quietly, watching the heavy-bellied animal. The man leaned over the stall door as the boy scaled the railing and joined him. Vin sighed as he watched and Buck smiled at the wistful sound. Vin always seemed most relaxed when he was around the animals on the ranch.

+ + + + + + +

"Chris, how far is the lake?"

"Oh, it's about two hours drive from here."

"Can we go swimming?"

"It may be too cold, but we'll see."

"Are the boys coming?"

Chris frowned as he glanced in the mirror. "The boys?"

"Huh-ha. Mr. 'siah, Nathan, and Mr. Ezra."

Chris chuckled. "Nathan and Raine are going to meet us there. Josiah is going to try to come later. Ezra is going to meet his mother this weekend."

"Mr. Ezra has a momma? What's she like? Does she talk funny like Mr. Ezra?"

"Maude is.. well, she's a pretty lady. And, no, she doesn't talk like Ezra. She doesn't live around here, so Ezra doesn't get to see her very often."

"Oh, that must make him very sad." JD's voice had a sad note to it.

Chris heard it and changed the subject. "Do you want to go fishing or hiking? Which one do you want to do more?"

"Fishing. I like fishing. I just don't like to take the fish off the fishing pole. They won't hold still."

"That means they're fresh."

"I don't like fresh, I just like to fish."

Chris shook his head. He could see that JD had his eyes closed as he talked. Chris knew he would soon drop off to sleep.

"Are we going to sleep in tents?" JD yawned as he spoke.

"No, we'll be staying in cabins. You'll like it. Vin and you have your own room, just like at home. You'll have to share a bed, but it's a big bed." Getting no answer, the man glanced in the mirror and saw that the child had fallen to sleep. JD had a wonderfully cheerful and inquisitive expression most of the time. But when he was asleep, he took on the look of an earthbound angel, with his black, glossy hair and pale, smooth skin. In his sleep, his mouth gaped open slightly and his head tilted to one side. Chris smiled as he pulled into the convenience store and parked at the pumps. He glanced at the child to confirm that he was still sleeping and then got out of the big truck.

Larabee reached around and pulled his wallet out of his back pocket. Removing out his credit card, he inserted it into the pump and started the gas flowing. He stood with his back against the vehicle and watched the activity that was taking place in the small parking lot. There were a few cars that came and went. Three teenagers stood near the phone, laughing and shoving each other. Inside the store, he could see a young man flirting with the attractive cashier. The pump clicked off and Chris turned and removed the nozzle. Waiting for the receipt to print, he saw a familiar van pull in and park at the curb. Gloria Potter got and waved at him as he called to her.

Chris moved to get back in the truck, when he remembered to check the tire Buck said might be low. He opened the truck and grabbed the tire gauge. He ran his hand around the tread after checking the pressure and finding it low. Finding nothing impaling the rubber, he made a mental note to check the pressure again before they left in the morning. He moved the truck over to air machine and added air to the tire. He had started the Dodge and was backing out as Gloria Potter came out of the store. He pulled up behind her van and rolled down the window.

"Evening, Miz Potter. The kids drinking ya out house and home?" noticing the milk and juice that she was carrying.

"If I could get them to do one thing for me, it would be to not put the cartons back in the refrigerator with one swallow left. I can leave the house and there will be a full gallon of milk and when I return, it'll be all gone. I don't understand why they don't call and let me know. It is so much easier to stop on the way home." She loaded the groceries into the van as she spoke.

Chris grinned, nodded with understanding. Buck was bad about drinking the last of the coffee without letting anyone know. It was a bad morning when Chris rose to find there was no coffee in the house. He waited as she got in the van. He started rolling forward to leave as she started the van. Or at least she attempted to start it. Chris listened as the vehicle only clicked. He stopped and waited. She had had trouble starting the van a couple of times this past week. He thought about asking her if he could get it looked at it. Larabee didn't like the thought of her or the kids getting stranded by the unreliable vehicle. He and Buck had talked about it and decided to use the excuse that she sometimes took the boys with her. The ATF agent knew the woman would not accept their help without a good reason. She was extremely independent and on more than one occasion refused assistance from the two men she worked for.

Chris backed in next to the van and got out. Gloria was sitting behind the wheel, glaring at the dash. Chris had to laugh. "Gloria. Pop the hood." She looked up and shook her head in frustration. Then she gave a little wave and reached down to pull the hood release handle. She got out as Chris raised the hood.

"I'm so sorry, Mr. Larabee. I hate that you have to interrupt your evening for this. I can call the auto club."

"Don't be silly. I'm here. I can look and that'll save you having to wait for a wrecker to show."

She nodded at the wisdom of his statement. Chris looked around under the hood, wiggling wires. He found what he was looking for. The positive battery cable was loose and the battery was dead. Chris straightened up and told her, "Your battery is dead. Let me turn the truck around and I'll give you a jump."

"Thank you, Chris."

Larabee pulled the truck around and popped the hood, but did not release the secondary latch. He looked to see that JD was still asleep and jumped out, leaving the truck running. He opened the toolbox in the bed and took out the jumper cables. He moved to the front of the van and attached the cables to the battery. He was turning to Gloria when he heard the pitch of the truck engine change. He turned as the truck dropped into reverse and backed out.

"NO! JD!" he growled as he dropped the cables and sprinted toward the accelerating Dodge. The truck picked up speed as it backed into the street. Chris couldn't see into the cab for the headlights shining in his eyes. Hearing the truck change gears, he made one last ditch effort to grab the bed rail. Diving forward, he felt his hand grip the rail, but the evening coolness had left a film of moisture that denied his hand a good purchase on the metal and he lost his grip. He felt his palms slam onto the pavement and felt the sting as the skin was scraped off.

Chris rose and stared up the road, watching in anger as well as terror as the truck pulled away and disappeared. He could just make out the top of the little boy's head in the lights. Quaking, he threw back his head and screamed, "JD!"


The man leaned forward and placed his wrists on his thighs. He had closed his eyes and was startled when Gloria placed a hand on his shoulder. He jerked upward, tensing and drawing his arm back. As his mind registered her presence, he relaxed and stepped forward. "Sorry, Gloria. I need to call the police."

As Chris reached for the cell phone in his pocket, she reached out and stilled his hand with her own. "It's already done, Chris. They're on the way."

She watched as the emotions played across the man's face. She watched as he stared up the road. And she watched, as fear for the little boy in the back of the stolen truck gripped him. She placed a hand on his arm, drawing his attention back to her.

"I am so sorry. I don't know what to say, Mr. Larabee. I didn't realize that the boy.." The words caught in her throat as she realized the extent of the theft.

He looked at her with haunted eyes. Taking her by the elbow, Chris guided the distressed woman back to the storefront. The cashier was standing in the doorway along with a couple of curious customers, asking questions. Larabee could hear sirens approaching as he sat the older woman in the front seat of her van. He patted her shoulder in an attempt to reassure her. The boy was a part of her life almost as much as much as he was Chris' and Chris' knew this. He did not want her to feel any responsibility for this incident. She looked up with tears in her eyes. Chris shook his head. "We'll get him back. Don't worry." She nodded slowly and took a deep breath.

Chris backed away as the police cruiser rolled into the parking lot. Turning, he pulled his phone out, but did not open it. He met the patrolmen as they exited the car. Chris pulled his ID out of his back pocket and identified himself. Telling them what happened, he stressed the need to find the little boy more than anything else. Both officers acknowledged the urgency of locating the truck and child. While one officer called in the information on the Dodge truck, the other officer questioned Chris.

"Mr. Larabee, did you notice anyone hanging around or any cars parked with people just sitting in them?" Officer Reynolds asked.

Chris closed his eyes as he tried to remember anything. Opening them he said, "There were three teenage boys hanging around the phone. They're gone now. I don't know that they saw anything, but seems odd that they're not still hanging around, what with all the excitement."

"I'll check inside and see if anyone knows them." The officer stepped away and moved to the door.

Chris uncurled his hand and stared at the instrument he had clutched in it. He punched in a number and hit call. Taking a deep breath, he brought the phone to his ear. "Buck…"

Twenty minutes later Buck and Vin arrived at the store. The police were just getting into their cruiser, as they pulled in. Wilmington drove up beside the patrol car and Chris moved to get in. He turned back to the police officers and told them he would meet them at the station.

As the cruiser pulled away, Chris opened the door of Buck's old truck. "Hang on just a minute, Buck." Wilmington nodded.

Chris walked over to the minivan. Gloria Potter sat quietly behind the wheel. He could see the streaks her tears had left on her face.

"Gloria, are you sure you don't want us to wait? It's no problem."

"No. You should go on to the police station. I'll be fine. The wrecker service said they would be here within thirty minutes."

Chris must have looked hesitant, because she patted his hand. "Go do what you need to do. Go find the boy. Please."

In an uncharacteristic move, Larabee leaned into the van and planted a kiss on the woman's cheek. "I'll call as soon as we find him."

She smiled and Chris walked away. He got into the truck. Vin and Buck both looked over. "Where to, partner?"

"Police station." Larabee leaned back against the seat. He closed his eyes as he fought the warring emotions within him. He felt warmth on his leg and looked down to see Vin's hand resting there. Pale blue eyes peered up at him, full of worry. The man tried to smile, but did not really pull it off.

"Don't worry, Chris. We'll find him." The words were said with such confidence that the dam in Chris' soul broke. He sobbed silently as he clutched the small hand of the boy next to him. The outburst did not last long. Chris wiped his face and straightened up in the seat. This time, the smile worked. He leaned down and ruffled the long hair on Vin's head and the boy looked up. The boy smiled back and squeezed the man's leg.

Pulling up in front of the police station, Buck parked and turned to the blonde team leader. "Chris, you alright?"

"Yeah. I'm fine." Larabee turned to his oldest friend. He could see the haunted look in the blue eyes. "Buck.."

"Chris, don't even say it. Sometimes, no matter what you do, you just get caught up in events. You didn't do anything wrong. You were trying to do something nice. It just didn't work out." Buck's voice broke slightly with the last words. He was afraid for the boy, but he knew in his heart that Chris would die before letting anything happen to either of the boys. The events of this night were beyond Larabee's control. Wilmington reached across the truck and squeezed the other man's shoulder. "Let's go inside."

Larabee nodded and the three got out of the truck and went into the station. Telling the desk sergeant who he was, Chris was directed to the detective in charge of the investigation. They took a seat in the small room and waited as Detective Michaels took Chris' statement. Vin sat in Chris' lap and gave the man something to anchor himself too.

"Okay. I think that about covers it, Mr. Larabee. If you will get me a moment, I'll get this printed up and ask you to check the statement for accuracy and then sign it." Michaels stood and walked over to the printer as it began to hum.

Chris straightened and flexed his back, trying to work out the kinks. Buck noticed and told Chris that he needed some coffee, asking if he wanted one. Chris nodded and Buck reached for Vin.

"Come on, cowboy. Let's go get something to drink."

Vin glanced up at Chris. Patting the man's hand, he climbed out of Chris' lap and, taking Wilmington's hand, left the room. Chris rubbed his eyes and stood up to stretch. Michaels returned and handed him the report. Sitting back down, he carefully read the account of what happened and signed it.

He handed it back and Michaels looked over it. "Thanks, Mr. Larabee." He turned as the phone rang. Picking it up, he listened for a moment. He replaced the receiver and turned back to Chris. "Excuse me. I'll be right back."

Chris nodded as the detective moved away. Once again, he stood and moved around the room. He heard Buck and Vin coming back. They entered the room to find Chris standing at the front of the room, looking out to the front desk.

"Chris, come drink this while it's still hot." Buck called to him. Larabee was about to turn when the front door opened and Josiah walked in. He glanced over his shoulder at his partner.

"Buck, did you call the team?"

Buck glanced down and then met Chris' gaze. "Yeah, I called Ezra. He told me that he would call Nathan and Josiah and they would meet us here. You don't have a problem with that, right?"

"No. I was just surprised to see Josiah walk in." Chris turned back to the window. Ezra was just coming in the door. Nathan followed him. Chris started to step away from the window, when another look revealed a fourth body between the last two agents.

Chris turned quickly and sprinted across the room. Buck put the cups in his hands down and followed. Vin was right behind him. Detective Michaels was coming through the door as the trio reached it. "Mr. Larabee?"

Buck called over his shoulder. "Not now." He didn't know what set Chris into motion, but he knew nothing was going to stop the man until he reached his destination.

Josiah looked up as Chris came around the front desk. He stepped aside as the team leader approached. The three teams members were smiling. But Larabee only had eyes for the dark haired youth standing with them. He went down on his knees as he reached the child.

JD was smiling. His eyes twinkled as he waved at Vin and Buck. His eyes moved back to Chris as the man knelt in front of him. Chris reached out and caressed the boy's face.


"Chris, the boys found me." JD was smiled, but when he sensed the man's distress, he asked, "Are you okay?" Larabee nodded as a tear rolled down his cheek.

The boy frowned as he leaned in close and placed two small hands on the man's cheeks. He looked the man in the eye a if trying to look into his soul through his eyes. The boy was so close that Chris had trouble focusing on the small face and had to laugh as the boy studied him. "You don't have to cry, Chris. I wasn't scared."

Running his hands along the boy's slender shoulders, Chris took a deep breath and released it slowly. His relief at the boy's safe return was quickly replaced by anger at the person that had taken him. His brow knitted in that anger. JD saw the change and backed up. Crossing his arms in front of him, he looked at Chris with a pout on his mouth and then asked, "Am I in trouble?"

Chris realized he was frowning at the child. He smiled and ruffled the dark hair. "No, kiddo, you're not in trouble. Why do you think you would be in trouble?"

JD chewed on his lip and looked away from the man in front of him.

"JD?" Chris questioned.

Buck came up behind Larabee and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Maybe, we could take this out of the front entrance?"

Chris nodded and picked the little boy up. Buck reached out and tousled the dark hair as Chris stood up. He grinned as JD swatted at his hand. "You little imp. Can't take you anywhere without your getting into trouble." Wilmington told the boy.

"Can, too." JD called back over Larabee's shoulder.

Buck mouthed 'can't'' and JD mouthed back 'can, too'.

Everyone followed the two into the detective squad room. Michaels nodded as they entered. "That's what I was coming to tell you."

Chris nodded and took a seat, holding JD in his lap. Vin sat down beside Chris and JD, placed a hand on his friend's leg.

"So, why would you be in trouble?" he asked the child. JD plucked at the thread on the cuff of the man's shirt.

JD ducked his head. "Cause I made Johnny wreck your truck," he said quietly.

"Who's Johnny? And how did you make him wreck the truck?"

"Well, I woke up and I saw you wasn't driving, so I said "Hi. I'm JD. Who are you?" and then I was going to ask where you were, but he screamed and the truck went off the road. I didn't mean to make him cry."

"I'm sure you didn't make him cry." Chris told the young boy. "What happened after Johnny wrecked the truck?"

"Well, he got in the back with me and took off my seat belt." The boy missed the reactions of the two men he lived with. Their eyes met briefly and then returned to the boy, holding their breath and waiting for the boy's next words. JD continued. "He was crying and kept saying, 'oh my god,' and 'I'm sorry,' and 'are you alright, oh my god.' He's talking real fast and I couldn't hardly understand him. He helped me out of the car seat and looked me over, like Mr. Nathan does when I fall down. Then he just held me and cried. He kept saying he was sorry and that his momma was going to kill him."

JD stopped talking and cocked his head to one side. Looking very serious, he looked at Larabee and asked. "His momma wouldn't really kill him, would she? Momma's aren't supposed to hurt their kids."

Chris stroked the dark hair and smiled. "No, she wouldn't really kill him. That's just something people say when they know that they are in trouble."

"Oh. That's good, cause I wouldn't want Johnny's momma to kill him. He was real nice to me. He sat and held me, so I wouldn't get cold. And he talked to me and told me that the police would get me back home. He looked so sad, Chris. He kept saying that he was so stupid and that he would never get talked into something so stupid again."

Chris and Buck listened to what the boy said and their opinion of the young man changed. At least, they would give him a chance to explain before they beat the hell out of him. They looked at each other and then laughed, each knowing what the other was thinking. Chris felt the boy lift his hand. He looked down to see tears in the hazel eyes.

"Chris, you're bleeding." A note of panic could be heard in the small boy's voice. Larabee looked at the palms of his hands and noticed the scrapes and dirt embedded in the raw skin. He looked up as both boys took hold of his right hand and examined the road rash. "It's okay, boys. I'll get it cleaned up in a minute."

Nathan shook his head. Turning to Detective Michaels, he inquired. "Do you have a first aid kit in here?" Michaels nodded and the two men moved to the other side of the room and closet that contained supplies. Nathan returned and squatted in front of the man.

"Hold your hands out, Chris." Larabee complied. Nathan began to clean the wounds. Both boys watched as the scrapes were cleaned and ointment was applied.

Buck turned to Ezra and Josiah. "So how did you boys end up with JD?"

Josiah looked at Ezra as he nodded his head. "After you called Ezra, he called me and Nathan. I picked both of them up and we headed in this direction to see if we could help. Much to our surprise, we came around a curve and there sat Chris' black Dodge in a ditch, lights still on and the engine running. The teenager was sitting in the passenger seat, holding JD and crying. JD smiled and waved when we came up, so we knew he was okay. We walked over and identified ourselves. The boy handed JD over to Nathan and he checked him over."

Josiah continued. "Apparently, this John Darnell lost control of the vehicle and slid into the ditch. Truck wasn't damaged really, I think that the boy was just so scared that he didn't even try to get it out."

Suddenly, JD wiggled his way off Chris' lap. The agents were startled as he ran out the door. Buck reacted quickly and followed in the child's footsteps. He slid to a stop as the boy ran up to two officers and a suspect as they entered the station. Buck was aware of the rest of the team coming up and stopping behind him.

JD ran up the young suspect and wrapped his arms around the slender legs. He looked up at the youth. "Johnny! Are you okay?"

The teenager looked down at the innocent face and smiled. "Yeah, kid, I'm fine. Is your dad here?"

Pointing at the group of ATF agents, he stated, "That's them over there." John Darnell looked over at group and his eyes grew wide. 'I am so dead,' he thought to himself.

Chris walked over and looked the youth up and down. "You're one of the boys that was hanging out around the phone. Where are the others?"

Detective Michaels joined the group. "Gentlemen, let's take this to the squad room, please."

Buck picked up JD and took Vin by the hand. Chris reached out for JD. "Chris, why don't you give those hands a rest?" Larabee looked down at the raw palms shiny with ointment.

Looking slightly embarrassed, he nodded. "I forgot."

They moved back to the squad room. Darnell was seated in a chair and the two officers left.

The teenager rubbed his wrists and didn't look at anyone for several minutes. Finally, he squared his shoulders and looked at Chris. "I.. I really am sorry. I know that I screwed up, but please believe me when I say that I never, ever intended to kidnap that boy. I didn't even know he was back there until he said something. Liked to of scared the sh…sorry," he stammered, looking at the two young boys. "He scared me. I just took the truck on a dare. We were standing there, just horsing around and you stopped to help that woman and left the truck running. It was just so easy. I swear, I would never have done it if I knew he was in the back. I should have done it at all. I don't know what I was thinking. It was stupid, just stupid. My folks are going to be so mad."

Chris and Buck listened to the young man and said nothing. They looked at each other and a silent agreement was made. "Buck, would you mind taking the boys out to the other room. I promised Gloria Potter that I would call when we found JD. Why don't you call her and let the boys say good night?"

"Good idea, Chris. She won't sleep until she hears something." He took the hands of the two boys and led them out.

Chris turned back to the young man. "So, Johnny.. is it alright if I call you that?"

The teenager nodded.

"Johnny, have you ever done something like this before?"

"No, sir. This is the first time I ever had a run-in with the law."

Chris nodded. "Why? Why did you do it?"

The teenager shrugged. "Stupidity. Pride. Honestly, I was only going to go for a ride and leave it somewhere it would be found. Pe.. my friend said I was a chicken shit if I didn't do it. I just.. just got stupid." The boy drew a deep breath and looked Larabee straight in the face. "I know I'm in big trouble. I thought about just running after I ran the truck into a ditch, but I couldn't leave that kid. I mean, what if something happened or someone came along.." The boy paled as he thought about what could of happened to the child if he had abandoned him on the side of the road.

Chris caught the hint of a smile pulling at the young man's lips. "He's so sweet. He kept saying that 'Chris will take make it better. He can do anything.' He was so sure of you and someone named Buck. He just kept patting my hand and face. God, he wasn't even scared. I never meant for this to happen. I know that I screwed up and I know I have to go to jail. I can't deny that I stole that truck and I need to be punished for that; and for taking the kid, too. It was a mistake, but I'm still responsible for his kidnap." The teen's eyes filled with tears. "I can't believe it; I'm a kidnapper." The boy swiped at the tears that ran down his face. Looking Chris straight in the eye, he said. " I'm just thankful that the kid wasn't hurt."

Chris studied the teenager. He found that he believed the words and the emotion with which they were spoken. He stood and turned to leave, but stopped and turned back. "Johnny, I want to thank you for not leaving JD in the truck all alone. I think that reflects well on you. Of course, it wouldn't have been necessary if you hadn't taken the truck in the first place. JD was only in danger because you put him there. I will press charges, but I will also speak to the judge. I believe you when you say that you're sorry for what happened. Also sorry for the right reason-because you committed a criminal act and not because you got caught."

"If the judge agrees, I'll see about you doing community service. I just hope that you've learned your lesson."

The teenager nodded his head, as he extended his arm. Chris looked at the outstretched hand and after a moment's hesitation he gripped it. "Mr. Larabee, thank you. I appreciate it. Could you give JD a message for me?"

Chris nodded. "Tell him that I'm sorry that I worried him and I hope that I didn't scare him. He's a hell of nice kid."

Chris chuckled. "Yeah, well you haven't seen him around Vin. Those boys have wicked mean streaks in them. JD just makes a good first impression."

Chris turned and left. Detective Michaels followed him out.

"Do you still want to press charges?"

"Kid seemed sincere. Should probably send him through the system, just to drive home the point." Chris glanced over and saw JD talking animatedly with Ezra and Josiah. Shaking his head, he looked Michaels. "Call his family. Tell them I won't press charges if they will call me. I'll talk to Assistant Director Travis and work out a program for the boy."

Both men looked at the forlorn figure of the teen. They both knew the pressures that teenagers faced each day. The boy made a bad decision under pressure from his friends. Luckily, the only damage was to the truck and that could be fixed.

Chris reached out and shook hands with the detective. "You have my number. Be sure his parents get it and ask them to call me on Monday. I'll have something worked out where Johnny can repay me for damages to the truck."

"Sounds good. You're a fair man, Mr. Larabee. You all have a good weekend. Certainly am glad everything worked out."

Chris smiled. "You and me both. Good night."

Michaels turned and reentered the squad room.


Chris found Buck sitting at a desk near the front desk. JD was sitting on the desk, talking on the phone. Vin was standing quietly with the rest of the team.

"Okay, Miz Potter. See ya on Monday. Love ya. Bye." The bright-eyed boy handed the phone back to Wilmington. He sat with his hands clasped in his lap, his feet bumping the desk as he swung his legs.

"She okay?" Chris asked.

"She's better now that she's talked to JD." Buck reached up and ruffled the glossy black hair. JD brought his clasped hands up and giggled into them. "You ready to go, pard?"

Chris rolled his eyes. "Oh, yeah. I'm beat."

Buck grabbed JD's out stretched arms. "Come on, little bit. Let's go home."

They joined the others and Chris reached out to the eight year Vin. The boy shook his head and, instead of taking the man's hand, he gripped a finger after examining it. He turned his head up and smiled.

"I don't want to grab a sore one," he explained at the questioning look from Chris.

Chris smiled. "Thanks, Vin."

As a group, they walked out the front door of the police station. Chris stopped when he caught sight of Buck's old truck.

"Fear not, Mr. Larabee. While you interrogated young Mr. Darnell, I took the liberty of arranging for a rental for you and Mr. Wilmington to use for the weekend, as there is not enough room in his vehicle for all four of you." Ezra informed Chris as he handed the keys to Buck.

Buck looked over at the 4x4 Suburban sitting in front of the station. "I wondered where you disappeared to. Thanks, Ezra. What do we owe you for the deposit?"

"Not necessary, sir. I have a friend, who has a friend. You need only pay for charges incurred for the days you retain the vehicle." Ezra informed him. "I took the liberty of having young Mr. Dunne's seat transferred to the rental, also. You have no reason to not continue with your planned expedition for the weekend. We have all earned some time away."

Chris scrutinized the southerner as he spoke. The man was definitely full of surprises. "Thanks, Ezra. Sure you won't change your mind and join us?"

A flash of fear showed in the green eyes for a split second and then was gone, hidden behind that proper southern gentleman's mask. "I think not. As much I would love to bypass this debacle of a weekend with my mother, I would rather be subject to her structured two-day reunion than sleep in the 'piney woods', but thank you for your consideration, sir."

Buck grinned at the impeccably dressed Standish's discomfort. Hitching JD higher on his hip, he turned to the others. "Boys, we appreciate your help tonight."

Everyone's eyes flicked to the dark haired child that the man held. JD had laid his head on Buck's shoulder and his eyes were closed. Buck's hand was rubbing the boy's back almost of it's own volition.

Ezra bid goodnight to Chris and Buck. He placed a hand on Vin's shoulder. "You have fun this weekend, Mr. Tanner. I will see you next weekend and we will continue that project of which we spoke."

Vin nodded knowingly, a smile tugged at his mouth, as Chris just looked on with a puzzled look on his face. The southerner ruffled JD's hair and told him to try not to get in trouble on the trip. Sleepy eyes glanced at the man, as the boy mumbled something that could not be understood. It looked as though the evening's events were catching up with the little boy. The other two men said good night also, adding that they would both be at the cabins by noon the next day. The three loaded back into Josiah's truck and headed back to town.

Buck turned to Chris. "Do you want me to take the boys or do you want to take them?"

Chris shook his head. "Looks like I can take them both in the rental. JD's car seat is suppose to be in there, so let's just put them both in the suburban."

"You okay to drive?" Buck reached down and turned Chris' hand palm up, inspecting the scrapes Nathan had tended to earlier.

Flexing his hand, Larabee smiled. "Yeah, I'm fine. They're a little tender, but I don't think I'll have a problem." The men smiled as Vin took each of Chris' hands in turn and examined them.

"Sting?" he asked.

Chris started to shake his head, but instead, squatted to eye level with the child. "Yeah, a little, but that won't stop us from fishing." He was rewarded with a smile from the boy.

They headed for the vehicles and Buck strapped the sleeping five-year old into the car seat, checking that the rental people properly installed it. He smoothed the dark hair down and placed a kiss on the child's forehead. Whispering, he requested, "JD, I wish you'd stop scaring us this way. We're getting too old for this." He smiled at the mumbled 'o'ay' from the child.

Chris took Vin around to the opposite side and got him in. As Chris adjusted the belt around the small waist, Vin asked, "Do we still have to take baths?"

Larabee glanced at his snickering partner and told the boy that they could wait until they reached the cabin and bathe the next night. He could see the relief in the boy's face. He tousled the boy's long hair and, stepping back, closed the door. Chris gave Buck a quick wave as he got in the rented vehicle and started home. It had been a long day and he was more than ready to go to bed. The plan had been to leave around six the next morning. He would need all the rest he could get to get up and get the boys going that early in the morning. The two men got in their vehicles and headed for the ranch.


It had been six weeks since the one of the worst nights in Chris Larabee's life. His truck had been repaired and life was pretty much back to normal. After a week of light cases and paperwork, he was looking forward to going to a basketball game Josiah was arranging at the community center he volunteered at.

The four residents of the Four Corners ranch pulled up to the community center in Chris' truck and got out. The boys ran inside, leaving the two men trailing behind. When the men entered the building, they found the boys wrapped in Sanchez's arms. He had taken both boys into his arms and lifted him up in a big bear hug. The big man released the boys and they ran into the room.

"Evening, gentlemen. Ready for a game of basketball?" the profiler asked.

"I'm ready for the workout, that's for sure," Larabee said.

Buck's laugh came from the bottoms of his feet. "Josiah, he's so ready, he was practically twitching on the way over. These slow weeks are hard on the old man." Buck had placed his hands on his friend's shoulders as he spoke. He could feel the tension that inactivity had left there. Yeah, Chris was ready for something physical.

The three men followed the boys to the court and stripped out of their sweats. The rest of team was there. Buck called to the two boys, pointing to the bleachers. "Boy's, take a seat, okay?"

They both headed to the bleachers. They had greeted the others and were looking forward to the game. JD climbed up two rows and turned to Vin. "Vin, let's go to the top." "No, you know we're not supposed to go more than two rows up. Sit down right there."

JD took a deep breath and sighed. But he sat down. Vin joined his friend and they turned to watch the game. They were playing four on four with some of the bigger teens at the center. The ATF agents played hard and the teen returned in kind, everyone had a good time. The game was intense and physical. Afterwards, both teams sat sprawled around the bleachers. As the men relaxed, the two boys and several kids from the neighborhood tossed the basketball around.

The door opened and closed as two teens entered from the back. They were carrying mops and rags to clean the court surface. JD broke away from the rest and ran up to one of the teens.

"Hi, Johnny. What's ya doing?"

"Hey, JD. We're working." Pointing to the other teenager, Johnny Darnell told the little boys, as Vin had joined them, "This is my best friend Pete. Pete, this is JD and ..":

JD wrapped his arms around Vin's waist and told the taller boys, "This is Vin. He's my bestest friend in the world. He lives with me and Buck and Chris. He takes care of me."

The two teens laughed as JD rambled on, much to the older boy's embarrassment. Finally, the boy turned and placed a hand over the smaller boy's mouth.

"Dang, JD, don't you ever run outta words?"

Wide-eyed, the small boy shook his head. Vin smiled as he removed his hand. Glancing back, he saw that Chris and Buck had risen and headed in their direction. JD squealed as Buck scooped him up into his arms. Chris stopped in front of the teens and extended his hand to Johnny Darnell.

"Evening, Johnny. I thought you finished your community service last week?"

"Yes, sir. I did, but I had so much fun, that I volunteered to work weekends and some after school."

"Well, that's good. I know Josiah and the other counselors really appreciate the help." Buck said. He had placed the struggling five year old back on the ground and squatted down on one knee, whereupon the little boy decided to use his knee as a chair.

Johnny turned to his friend. "Mr. Larabee, this is Pete. He has something to say to you."

Chris moved his gaze from one boy to the other. He could see the flush as blood rushed to the teenager's face.

Pete cleared his throat. "Mr. Larabee? I want to tell you that I was the one that dared Johnny to take your truck. We were bored and acting stupid. I really wanted to apologize to you. Johnny told me about the arrangement you made for him and I felt that I should be paying for my part in what happened. We sure didn't mean any harm. I told my parents and I talked Mr. and Mrs. Darnell also. They were pretty ticked off, but at least they didn't ban us from being friends anymore."

Pete extended his hand to the ATF leader and waited. Chris looked at the hand and after a moments hesitation, he took the offered hand and pumped it once. "Apology accepted. I hope this means you boys have learned something from this."

Both boys nodded. Johnny laughed. Seeing Chris glaring at him, he drew himself up. He looked the blond square in the eye. "Mr. Larabee, I know that what I did was wrong, but I have to tell you that, now that it's over, I have to say, I'm glad it happened. I would have never have thought I would be interested working with kids, but I love it. I talked to my counselor at school and have adjusted my classes to work toward a career in child development. My parents are amazed that I really like this. Heck, even Pete is having fun."

The men listened to the boy. They were glad that he had found a positive direction out of the negative incident. Once again, the teen extended his hand to the both men and shook them with a strong grip.

"Thank you for seeing me and not my crime. Your intervention with the court is what got me this opportunity." He turned to Pete. "We better get to work or we'll never get finished. JD, we'll see later, right?" The dark hair flew around at the intense nodding.

"Vin, it was nice to meet you. I heard a lot about you. It's nice to put a face to the friend JD told me about."

The teens nodded and walked away. Buck stood and placed a hand on Chris' shoulder. "Amazing ain't it?"

Larabee turned to the tall man. "What?"

"Why the way God works, brother." Chris had not noticed as the three remaining team members joined them.

Chris had to shake his head at that one. His thoughts were interrupted by the voice of JD.

"Game's over. We get pizza." The statement was yelled as the boy jumped up and down as he looked from one man to the other. Chris reached down and grabbed both boys and lifted them off the ground.

"Okay, who's hungry?"




Chris heard JD, Vin, and Buck answer. He turned to see the rest of the team nod.

"Okay, let's go eat."

As a unit, they headed to the door and the local pizza parlor. While Chris was upset by the events of that night, he had to admit that good things had come out of it. He glanced over his shoulder to see the teenagers working with young kids still hanging around.

"'Yeah, definitely some good things," he told himself.

The End

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