"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe

Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.

Authors Note: This is a little slice of summer family life. My thanks to my proof-reader Phyllis and to all the talented writers who created the Little Britches universe. JD's reaction to being out of his depth is based on my mothers, only she was in the sea at the time - near gave my grandmother heart failure!

Chris felt the small hand in his tighten as they approached the window of the departure lounge. Chris looked down at Vin. The seven-year-old looked out at the planes with undisguised anxiety. Chris squeezed back.

"You okay pal?" he asked softly

"Uh-huh. I guess, is it that one?" He pointed to the aircraft closest to the windows.

"Yup that’s the one. Big isn't it?"

Vin moved hesitantly to the window, still holding on to Chris with one hand and his backpack with the other. Safely tucked into the bag was his precious cat, without which he couldn't sleep. Just a few feet away JD was standing with his nose pressed up to the glass, taking in everything going on outside and talking incessantly, asking Buck question after question about the aircraft, the ground crew, the baggage transporters, the radar, everything. Chris chuckled to himself as Buck tried to keep up with the boy. They both knew JD was academically gifted but it was only when you heard him like this, his thirst for knowledge, the way he suddenly understood things without having them to be explained, that it became clear just how smart he really was.

"Look, look Buck them boxes go in the plane, see the side is shaped to fit in the bottom of the plane. Is that where they put the luggage? " JD asked, watching as the silver containers were towed past below them. He was practically jumping up and down with information overload and excitement.

"I think so kid," Buck replied, grinning at JD's enthusiasm.

The airline staff opened the gate and Buck had to grab hold of JD's collar to stop him running straight on to the plane. Vin walked slowly next to Chris, following the bundle of energy that was JD. Neither boy had ever flown before, that they could remember. This trip had been arranged at very short notice and the boys' guardians hadn't really stopped to think how they would react to flying. It had all started when JD had been watching the Discovery Channel just one week before.

+ + + + + + +

Vin was in the boys' room with Chris, working on the additional assignments he had received from the special teacher he saw twice a week to help him with his dyslexia. Usually Ezra helped him but he was visiting with his mother that evening and Vin had assignments to finish. Buck and JD were watching TV. Although he loved cartoons, they had found little JD would happily watch documentaries as well. He loved anything to do with animals so long as it didn't show cute animals being killed in close up, and he liked programs about foreign countries. That evening they were watching a program about dolphins. In truth JD was watching, while Buck was dozing.

"Buck?" JD asked without looking around. He got no reply. "BUCK."

"What!" Buck snapped awake.

"What's the sea feel like?" he asked innocently still watching the screen.

Buck couldn't answer; he just sat there looking at the little form sitting cross-legged in front of the TV.

"Does it hurt?" JD turned around to look at his foster father. "Do the waves hurt? Can you taste the salt? How salty is it? Is it cold or hot?"

"JD. Stop." Buck needed to stop the flow otherwise the questions would just keep coming. "No, it doesn’t hurt; yes, you can taste the salt and it's quite salty; how cold it is depends on where you are. Some places it's quite warm. Small waves don't hurt, only very big one's and you don't swim where the are waves that big."

JD sat there processing this information.

"Did you want to know anything else?" Buck asked, learning from experience it was necessary to get all the questions answered now, or half way through the night he would be woken up to answer all the questions JD had forgotten to ask. Once JD needed to know something, he wouldn't rest until he found it out.

JD frowned, then looked up at Buck. "Do you like going in the sea?" he asked.

Buck hadn't been in the sea for a lot of years. "Yes, I like swimming in the sea."

JD got up and walked over to him, climbing on to his lap. "Would I like it?" he asked.

"I don't know, JD. Most children do, so I expect you would. You know the sea is a very long way from Denver don't you?" Buck didn't want him getting any of his bright ideas about going to see the sea.

"I know it's 975 miles away. Will you take me to see the sea one day?" At this point JD, chewed on his bottom lip, and gazed up at Buck with huge doe eyes, through his bangs.

"Sure, Little Bit, one day, but not now 'cause it's bed time." Buck stood up lifting JD on to his hip as he did, and wondering how JD knew how far away the sea was.

That evening Buck relayed the conversation to Chris. Both men suspected Vin had never seen the sea either. Chris could tell Buck had something up his sleeve.

"What?" he challenged. "I know you pal, you've got a plan."

"That conference you're making Nate and Josiah go to is by the ocean," he said casually.

The conference was on interagency co-operation, understanding and information sharing, plus public relations. It promised to be a major yawn, but the powers that be had insisted two of Chris' notoriously uncooperative, and less than diplomatic team, attend. So he had decided to sent the two most diplomatic and co-operative members of the team.

"So?" Chris asked, knowing full well where Buck was headed and knowing already that it wouldn't work. Buck loved to give the boys treats and new experiences but he rarely thought it through. Of course, if he did think things through, he would never have got JD in the first place.

"We could go and take the boys. The conference is Wednesday to Friday lunchtime. We would have a long weekend with them by the ocean. They'd love it."

"Yeah, they would but what are they gonna do while we're learning to be co-operative and sensitive? Come with us? Vin might sit still and quiet but JD…? I don't see it. Do you?" Chris said in quiet measured tones, not wanting to dent Buck's pride too much.

Buck sighed in exasperation, some times Chris treated him like one of the boys. Okay, in the beginning, he tended to jump in without thinking, but six months of being a parent taught you to think things through, and it taught you fast.

"No, I think they could stay here with Gloria or Nettie and then fly out to meet us on Friday; or, this being the twenty first century, the conference hotel will probably have a day care facility."

Considering JD had only mentioned it a few hours ago, Buck really had thought this through.

"The thing is," Buck continued. "I used to live by the sea when I was JD's age, for nearly two years. It was one of the best times I can remember. I just want the boys to have this experience."

Buck rarely talked about his own childhood, Chris knew it was happy for the most part but some what nomadic, and that it had ended abruptly when he was eighteen with the death of his mother.

"Where did you live when you were five?" Chris asked.

"Miami, the old town, it's all restored now, but when we lived there it was rundown. But man I was so happy there. Ma used to take me to the beach every evening before she went to work. On Sundays we used to camp out on the sand if the weather was right."

It was clear to Chris this meant a lot to his best and oldest friend.

"Okay, I'll see what can be done. Don't say anything to the boys yet," he warned.

+ + + + + + +

It wasn't difficult to organise. Nathan and Josiah were more than happy not to have to go. The two delegates from Denver had been assigned a double room each. All Chris had to do was make sure they were interconnecting and change the names on the reservations. The boys were given the choice and chose instantly to go with their guardians and stay in day care while the conference was on. That settled, the flights were booked and the boys' school informed of their absence. Chris had been uneasy about them missing three days of school, but Buck convinced him the experience would be very educational.

"Not all education comes in books and from teachers you know pal. Life has to be lived as well," Buck had reasoned. "Besides, they can take assignments with them to do while they're in the day care center."

Swimming wouldn't be a problem. The first time they had taken the boys swimming they had both been so excited the men hadn't considered they might not be able to swim. Vin had clearly been to a swimming pool before and could swim; after a fashion, his 'dog paddle' wasn't very elegant but it got the job done. Clearly his mom had taken the time to teach him early and make him feel confident in the water. From JD's reactions on that first day at the pool, he had never seen one before and couldn't swim. But he also didn't seem to understand that he needed to learn. He had been playing with Buck in the shallow end when he moved just a little too far into the pool, suddenly he was bouncing up and down, his head disappearing under the water.

Each time he rose, he shouted to Buck with undisguised glee, "I can't touch the bottom! I can't touch the bottom!"

Buck decided right then and there, that he and JD would go to the pool as often as possible until JD could swim. It took just over a month before little JD was able to swim a width of the pool unaided and without putting his feet down. He had a tendency to swim under water, and when on the surface of the water, to swim vertically rather than horizontal, but he was just as confident as Vin, who with some help from Chris, was looking more elegant in the water.

+ + + + + + +

They had wanted both boys to have window seats, so they had checked in early and taken two pairs of seats one behind the other seating the boys next to the windows. The ATF had paid for business class seats, but by trading them in, they had almost enough for four economy tickets. Not only did this save them some money, but both men felt they and the boys would be more relaxed if they were not surrounded by business travellers, who would be less than tolerant of two overexcited boys.

True to form, Vin had sat quietly, taking in everything around him, while JD babbled and bounced. Buck had buckled him into his seat as soon as possible for fear he would bounce out of his seat with excitement. When the aircraft actually started to move, both boys were glued to the windows. It was a clear summer day and they would get a good view, which would hopefully keep them occupied for some of the trip. The aircraft had levelled out, and Vin was happily watching the miniature world pass by below.

Both boys listened and watched the safety instructions carefully, even Buck and Chris found they were listening for the first time in years; after all they had never had to think about some one else in the plane before.

When it was over, JD turned to Buck and asked. "How does the plane stay up in the air?"

"Um well…" Buck did his best to explain, although he only had a limited understanding of it himself, he knew it had something to do with the air being passed over and under the wing by the engines pushing the plane along. He could hear Chris sniggering behind him. Laugh it up Larabee, he thought. You wait until Vin asks you where babies come from?

"So, if the engines break down, the plane will fall down?" JD asked as the understanding hit him. Sometimes having a gifted foster son was a curse, not a blessing; Buck thought to him self. Behind them, Vin was listening intently.

"JD, the plane can fly on three engines, no problem. So don't worry about it, an' they look after them engines real good, even better than Chris looks after the Dodge," Buck assured.

"But what if…" 'What if' was JD's second favourite question after 'why', "two of them break?"

"JD, it can fly on one engine if it has too, not very far but far enough to land safely, I promise you. Don't worry about it."

"But what…"

"Look, they're engines, right?" Buck interrupted. JD conceded they were engines. "Just like in our cars. Now you can't count my truck 'cause it's very old, planes don't have old engines. How often does the Dodge, or Ezra's Jag break down? Or even Nathan's car? Now, I know Josiah's car breaks down sometimes but it's old and he don't look after it right. But when have all four of the cars broken down all at the same time?"

JD's little brow furrowed in thought. Finally he had to admit that had never happened, and he relaxed. Chris looked down at Vin and silently asked him if he was okay. Vin gave him a small smile to say he understood and was all right.

The rest of the flight went without incident. The boys discovered the video screens in the seat backs and watched one Disney movie after another, in between eating every bit of food that was put in front of them. As usual, JD and Vin charmed the flight attendants, the way they did waitresses, and far more food appeared in front of them than any of the other passengers. When they landed, the boys were weighed down with airline merchandise, and both Buck and Chris had had phone numbers pressed into their hands.

+ + + + + + +

The hotel was very much the kind of anonymous chain hotel identical to the one in the next city and the one after that, it catered to passing business travellers, conference delegates and travellers making one night stops. They stood, the four of them, in front of the check in desk, while Chris dealt with the formalities. It was only four in the afternoon and they were the first delegates to arrive. JD and Vin stood and gazed in awe at their room. To the men it was a fairly average hotel room, two double beds, its own bathroom in gleaming white and chrome, a TV, and a small fridge stocked with drinks; drinks that Chris and Buck swiftly removed, much to the boys dismay. They didn't care about the whisky and other alcohol that disappeared, but looked on imploringly as the Coke, Dr Pepper and Seven Up disappeared next door. This disappointment was tempered by the discovery of the chocolate mints on the pillows, which they ate before they could be stopped. Still the room was a palace to the two former waifs, who instantly began bouncing on the huge beds as Chris and Buck unpacked for them. After that they changed into some lighter clothes the four of them set out to explore.

They didn't get far. Once the boys hit the beach, that was it. They paddled, they ran - just because there was so much space to run in - they dug their toes into the sand. Chris made quick trip to a nearby stand while Buck played tag with them. When Chris returned, he had buckets and spades as well as a plastic bat and ball. They made sandcastles and played baseball; drank milkshakes, ate burgers, fries, and ice cream. It was all the men could do to stop the boys from stripping down and racing into the sea. Only when the sun was beginning to go down did they return to the hotel; even then, Buck had to pick JD up and tuck him under his arm to make him leave and not keep running back to the water. By the time they reached the hotel reception, JD was draped over Buck's shoulder, dead to the world, and by the yawns Vin was trying to stifle, he wouldn't be far behind him. Many of the customers in the reception area grinned at the two boys and their guardians, with their bright coloured, sand encrusted beach toys and exhausted, but contented expressions.

JD didn't wake even when his clothes were stripped off, his sandy feet washed and his beloved Buzz Lightyear pyjamas were tugged on. He made an insignificant little mound in the centre of the big bed, only a small tuft of jet-black hair visible. Vin had needed some help to undress and wash; he was just too tired to do it himself. Eventually he made his way into the room as Chris turned down his bed. For a while he just stood and stared at the empty bed before Chris understood. He replaced the covers and lifted the cover of JD's bed. Vin climbed in and lay next to JD. JD would be afraid if he woke up in a strange place alone, and in a new environment, Vin needed the company himself.

Chris and Buck flopped down in their own room, Chris in the armchair; Buck fell back onto his bed.

"That was fun with a capital F!" he announced.

Chris poured them both a whisky from the now double-stocked mini bar and held one out to Buck, who managed to haul himself up to take it.

"Yup, it was and I don't know about you, but I'm as wiped out as them." Chris downed the shot in one go. "So, I'm gonna take a shower and hit the sack."

Buck looked at his watch, noting it was just nine o'clock, but he couldn't argue with Chris' strategy, so snuck into the boys' room to use their bathroom. By ten, both men were in bed and quickly asleep, just as their fellow delegates were starting to explore the nightlife.

+ + + + + + +

Vin looked at the day care centre with horror. All the children in there were JD's age or younger. There were about ten or eleven children and three adults in the room. There was no way he was spending the day in there, he decided. Buck and Chris were talking to the lady who appeared to be in charge. JD was looking around, working out what he wanted to play with first, the computer in the corner was inviting but the big rocking horse was calling to him. He itched to run off and explore, but loyalty to Vin made him wait. Chris came over to them.

"Guys, this is Miss Jenny, she's gonna take care of you guys and help you with your school work. We'll come back at lunchtime and take you out to eat. Alright?"

JD looked up at the slim, pretty looking black woman smiling at him. She knelt down to his level. "H’lo," JD held out his hand. Miss Jenny took the proffered hand and they shook. "C'n I ride on the horse?"

Jenny suppressed a laugh; Buck had warned her JD was very direct. "You must be JD, right?"

"Yes ma'am, c'n I play on the horse?" JD was not one to be deflected from his chosen gaol.

"Yes JD, you can…" JD was moving before she had finished, only to have his flight arrested by Buck's hand on his collar.

"JD," he said sternly. JD stopped and looked up at Buck. He tried his 'big eyes and chewed lip' act but it wasn't working. "JD, you apologise to Miz Jenny right now." JD sighed, looked down, and turned back to the teacher.

"I'm sorry, ma'am. I shouldn't have run off before you was finished, sorry."

"That's alright, JD, but before you play on the horse or with any of the toys, you have some school work to do, don't you? Mr Wilmington has given me the folder your teacher sent." In his excitement JD hadn't taken in that all the other children were sitting at the tables, working in some way, drawing, or doing puzzles. "We always do formal work first thing, before we get too excited or tired." Jenny Goodyear explained, more to the adults than the boys.

"Yes, ma'am," JD conceded reluctantly. Buck knelt down beside him.

"You okay with this Little Bit?" he asked. "Don't forget, we'll be back for lunch and Miz Jenny has my cell number, alright?" JD nodded, then he wrapped his arms around Buck's neck.

"Will you miss me?" he asked.

"I always miss you, Little Bit. Be good for me."

"Miz Jenny is real pretty, ain't she?" he whispered.

Buck glanced over to her and back to JD. "Yup, she is."

Vin looked up at Chris imploringly; he tugged on Chris' sleeve as JD spoke to Buck, In response, Chris knelt down.

"I don't wanna stay here, they're all little kids. I can come with you an' Buck I'll be good, I c'n do m' work while you listen to the dic..," Vin stopped him self before he repeated Chris' opinion of the speakers. "I'll be real quiet, I promise," he implored.

"I know you would, you're a man of your word after all, and as an honourable man, you don't turn your back on your responsibilities." Chris looked into Vin's clear blue eyes and held his gaze.

Vin's eyes eventually slipped past Chris to where JD was sitting down to start on the work his teacher had sent for him to do. He knew he had to stay with JD. JD's veneer of confidence was based on having Vin around when Buck wasn't; at school, at home with Mrs Potter, sleeping over at Ezra's, he couldn't leave JD alone.

Chris spoke quietly. "You know he can't sit still like you can," Vin nodded and looked down. Chris smiled to himself as he placed a finger under his chin and lifted his head again so they were looking eye to eye. "You have your work to do. Miss Jenny will have other things you can do; painting? You like painting, don't you?" Vin nodded. "And I'm sure you can be a big help to Miss Jenny and the other teachers. I'll be here for lunch and we'll pick you guys up just after five tonight, okay?"

"Will you take us to the beach again?"

"You bet, we'll go straight there I promise. We okay, pal?"

"Uh-huh, love you."

Chris gave him a hug and whispered the same words back.

+ + + + + + +

The conference was as dull as the two men had expected it to be, and both found themselves looking at their watches repeatedly as the morning drew on. At around eleven, they broke for coffee. Buck fidgeted with his cell phone, which he had switched on as soon as he exited the conference hall. A woman, tall, attractive if you looked beyond the dull business suit, her hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, looked at him and smiled. Women often smiled at Buck, he sent out welcoming, non-threatening, sexually charged signals without even being aware of it. She peered at his nametag.

"You expecting a call, Agent Wilmington?" she asked.

"Oh…er… no, not expecting exactly." He hurriedly put the phone away.

"I'm Barbara Curry, FBI, out of Philadelphia," she explained, extending her hand.

"Buck Wilmington, ATF, Denver, pleased to meet you."

"I think we're in the same discussion group this afternoon," she explained. Buck hadn't bothered to read the schedule for the individual discussion groups.

"Well, I'll take your word for that darlin', can't say as I've even looked." He flashed her his best grin.

"Do you want to go to lunch together?" she asked her face suddenly becoming more animated.

"Aw, I'd love t' darlin, but I got a lunch date already, sorry 'bout that." He looked at her again, taking in her figure properly for the first time. "Real sorry, but this is one lunch date I don't wanna miss." He gave her a slightly embarrassed smile and moved on to Chris. She had noticed the tall, black clad man earlier, equally attractive as Wilmington, but he just didn't send out any welcoming signals. As she watched the two men, they looked at their watches, drained their coffee and very purposefully, and obviously, walked back into the conference hall. Where ever Wilmington is going at lunchtime, they are going there together, and they really want to get there fast. She thought to herself.

When the second session was over, the two agents couldn't move fast enough to exit the hall. They didn't bother to speak to anyone, they didn't interact or co-operate with other agencies, they barely spoke at all in their haste to leave. Curry followed; she wasn't really sure why, just her natural curiosity, she was an FBI investigator after all. The two men walked back to reception and then entered the elevator. She wasn't aware the hotel had a day care facility located on the tenth floor, so to her it just looked like they were headed to their rooms.

"Now, where are those two off to you suppose?" Curry spun around to find herself looking at another woman, shorter than herself, with auburn hair in a neat bob, and green eyes fixed on the closed elevator doors. Barbara shrugged.

"Nowhere that is any of our business, I reckon." She turned back to look at the doors.

"But it's intriguing isn't it. I mean, I don't know about you but I don't see them as a couple, so where are they off to in such a hurry."

Barbara smiled, "Yeah, it is intriguing." She turned back to the other woman and introduced herself.

"And I'm Ellie Carter, DEA, Miami," the other woman explained.

Curry raised her eyebrow. "Tough beat," she commented.

"What ever. You want to go to lunch?" Ellie replied.

+ + + + + + +

"Chris!" the shrill cry welcomed the two men as they walked into the bright room. Vin looked up from the desk where he was working on some kind of art project.

Buck scanned the room and located JD in the corner, working on the computer. JD spun around and waved at Buck and Chris, before spinning the swivel chair he was perched on back to face the screen. Chris sat down beside Vin.

"What ya doing?" he asked gently.

"I'm doin' a picture with pastels look…" he pointed at his work. "It's a picture of the sun settin' over the mountains at home. See you can rub one colour into the other, it's real good."

The picture was a riot of reds, oranges and yellows. It was really very good, and although in Vin's eyes it was an accurate representation of a sunset, it was, in fact, a wonderful bit of abstract art.

"Vin, that is really quite wonderful. It's beautiful, just amazing." He gave Vin a quick hug across his shoulders. "So did you have a good time this morning?"

Vin grinned. Not just because he had indeed had a good day - with a staff ratio of one to three he had received the kind of one to one help that made his work seem so much easier - not just because Chris liked the picture he had worked on for so long; but also because he had just had a wicked idea.

"Yup," he said, then quicker than lightning he placed his hands either side of Chris face.

"What was that all about?" Larabee asked somewhat puzzled. Then he groaned as Vin held up his multi coloured pastel encrusted hands.

"Why you little…" Vin bolted from his seat still grinning like Cheshire cat. "Vincent Michael Tanner, you come back here," Chris called.

Buck squatted down next to JD and studied the picture the five-year-old was composing on the screen. It was clearly an underwater scene; Buck could see a starfish and something that he thought was a dolphin but might have been a shark.

"Well, that is some picture JD, is it done?" Buck asked.

"No, not yet, I'm gonna save it and do some more later. Miz Jenny said she'd let me keep the disc," JD explained as he quickly and efficiently saved his work.

It always amazed Buck how such a young boy, who until six months ago had never used a computer, was so confident and so skilled. He sometimes needed assistance naming his files, but other than that he rarely required any help. Back watched as JD named his file 'C' which seemed logical to Buck.

"Can we go eat now?" JD asked jumping down off the seat and wrapped his arms around Buck's neck.

"We sure can, Little Bit, just as soon as ‘rainbow face' over there, gets cleaned up." Buck pointed over to the wash area where Chris was bent double over a sink meant for five-year-olds to use. JD giggled as he watched Chris struggling to remove the pastel while one of the staff supervised Vin's hand washing.

+ + + + + + +

If Agents Curry and Carter had really wanted to know what Agents Larabee and Wilmington were up to, all they needed to do was stake out the back of the hotel. But they wanted food and followed the herd to the various eateries near the hotel and the beach. While they did this, Buck, Chris and the boys strolled out of the rear of the hotel and following Miss Jenny's instructions, found their way to the old part of town and the working fish wharf. Here they dined at a harbourside shack on fresh prawns. The boys sat excitedly watching the fishing boats come in and unload their catch. They learned how to peel a prawn, revelled in being allowed to eat something other than fast food with their fingers, and had great fun seeing who could throw a prawn shell the furthest into the harbour waters - Buck won that contest. Their only disappointment, was that they couldn't see the crabs their fathers assured them would devour the carcasses as soon as they floated to the bottom.

On their return to the hotel the boys chatted excitedly about the coming visit to the beach, this time they would get to swim. The wait of a few hours was almost more than JD could bear.

"But, Buck, will we dive through the waves like you said you used to? Will we? Will we? Oh and can we dive off of you like in the pool and can we…"

"JD!" Vin cut in. "Yer gonna make yerself sick with all yer yammerin'. Stop it!"

The two adults had to stop themselves from interfering. "But Vinnnnnnn…" JD pleaded.

"Don't you 'but Vin' me JD Dunne, you jist calm down and wait, you hear me?"

"Yes, Vin."

JD looked crestfallen and stopped bouncing beside Buck and, instead, walked with his head down. This was the first time either man had seen Vin seriously admonish JD. It gave them an insight as to just how he had kept the younger boy safe for the weeks they lived alone on the streets, and how Vin had kept himself safe alone on the street for much longer before he even found JD. Every paternal instinct in Buck was screaming, 'bend down, scoop JD up and tell him everything was all right'. But he couldn't and he knew it. He couldn't undermine Vin now. JD did get over excited at times and it was easy to indulge him; much as he hated to admit it Vin was right to rein JD in a bit.

+ + + + + + +

With the boys safely back in day care, Chris and Buck headed back to the conference center. The afternoons were given over to discussion groups and small work groups. Larabee and Wilmington - as they discovered - were in group E, along with Barbara Curry, a group led by Ellie Carter. Chris and Buck were late.

"Well, evening, gentlemen," Ellie announced sarcastically as the two agents entered. "Nice of you to finally join us."

While Chris found her physically attractive, he took an instant dislike to Carter.

"We had better places to be." The comment was delivered as only Chris could, and it had an effect, even on the steely Carter.

The topic for discussion was 'Public Relations'. Chris said nothing; he made no comments and only answered questions put to him directly and then, only with perfunctory answers. Buck took his lead from Chris and said very little. His answers were more polite, and good humoured but, none the less, limited and short. The faster the discussions were over, the better they liked it. Eventually they got to the bit Chris was dreading - roll play. Buck was to be the first to represent the honour of Denver.

Agent Carter called upon Barbara Curry to play the scene with Buck.

"You, Agent Curry, are a reporter. You have observed a huge operation, multiple agencies, local police, lights, guns, dogs, the whole shooting match. Agent Wilmington, your job is to answer her questions but tell her nothing."

Buck recognised the woman before him as the agent who had asked him to lunch. 'Well that made it easy'. She was already attracted to him.

"Er…Um…" Barbara struggled to get into her role. "Agent Wilmington can you tell me what is happening here?" She didn't sound very convincing.

"Now darlin', I'd love to but my lips are sealed. Security you understand?" Buck gave her his best grin.

"Come now, Mr Wilmington, this is hardly a secret operation. You've cordoned off a whole city block." She winked at him mysteriously.

"We did? Now, hun, I wasn't aware it was so big, but I can't say a thing. You wouldn't want me to compromise brave agents still undercover would you?" Buck leaned closer. "After all an intelligent and astute woman like yourself will understand the ramifications." By now Buck was almost close enough to kiss Curry, holding her eyes with his own smouldering midnight blue ones now.

"Couldn't you…er…well just give me a hint…please? Agent Wilmington?"

"Call me Buck darlin'. And I'd love to give you a hint, love to give you all kinds of hints… but I can't, it could cost me my job. You wouldn't want me to lose my job, would you? I got a little one to feed you know? By the way, did you know you have the most dazzling eyes I've ever seen?"

"Oh, please!" Carter exclaimed. "This is just the kind of ill-prepared, condescending approach to the press that is getting us a bad reputation!"

"We don't have a bad rep in Denver," Chris pointed out. "An interestin' rep, but not bad," he added with a smile.

"Agent, do you really speak to members of the press like that?" Carter asked Buck in exasperation.

Buck was about to answer when Chris cut in. "No, he doesn't. Mostly we let Ez talk to the press. By the time he's done with them, they're so confused they don't know which way is up, but he's always real polite and proper like. But if I do let Buck talk to the press, I only let him talk to the female members of the press. His 'approach' only works with them, well them and what? Ten per-cent of the men, but it's hard to tell which one in ten to choose." He winked at her.

"Oh, good grief! Do you really expect me to believe it works?"

"Always has before," Buck explained innocently, he looked back to Barbara. "Well?"

She was flustered. He had been playing her, using her. 'Damn! I had almost forgotten it was just a role-play.'

"Yes it worked," she ground out. "You bastard, you used me!"

"Now darlin', I never ever use women, not ever…" He turned back to her and lowered his head kiss her cheek." "never," he reiterated.

Barbara felt herself melt. Somehow she knew this was not a line, he was just so damn alluring, how did he do it?

"You don't really have a little one? Do you?" she suddenly asked, her face practically touching his.

"Sure I do; you saying I don't?" Buck asked, all arched eyebrows and innocent eyes.

"Yeah, right!" she returned. 'Now I've heard everything!' she thought.

At this point the two of them realised they were not alone, they were in the middle of a crowded seminar room, being watched by a group of enthralled fellow agents. This simultaneous realisation caused Buck to - if it was possible - broaden his grin and Barbara to turn away and reclaim her seat.

Eventually Chris could hide no more; he had to participate in a role-play. Infuriated by her apparent failure to get Agent Wilmington into the 21st Century, Carter decided to take on Larabee herself.

"Agent Larabee, I am a resident of a street that has been closed due to a suspected car bomb. I wish to return to my home. You are on crowd control," she explained.

"I don't do crowd control," Chris ground out through clenched teeth. "Ever!" he added for emphasis.

"Well, today you do." Chris shot her one on of his 100% strength killer glares, but she didn't waver.

Buck suppressed a smirk; not many people could stand up to the glare, especially the first time.

"Shut up Buck," Chris muttered.

Before Chris could compose himself, Ellie launched into the role-play.

"But officer, I have to get home to my baby, you must let me through!" she wailed dramatically.

"I'm a Federal Agent, ma'am, not a police officer. Are you telling me you left an infant unattended at home? That's a criminal offence." Chris continued to glare at her as he spoke.

"My poor baby, he's used to his mama leaving him for a while, he plays in the yard, please…"

Chris knew she was trying to trap him and quickly surmised where she was going. "Well, ma'am, if your DOG is in the back yard he will be safe, but until the devise has been made safe, I can't let you through, so stay here."

"Oh you can't do that, this is my home. I have a right to go there. You don't understand he will be frightened."


"I take full responsibility for my actions, let me through."


"I have rights, I demand you let me pass!"


"You can't stop me!"

Chris's expression suddenly changed from killer glare to evil grin and before anyone except possibly Buck, could react he pulled his gun -safety on- from his shoulder holster.

"Yes. I can." He looked briefly over his shoulder at Wilmington, who was still smirking. "Buck."

"What? Oh er… bang," Buck responded.

"What was that?" Carter asked, looking around Larabee to Buck, who was stretched out in his chair, feet crossed at the ankles.

"That was the bomb," Chris explained. "It just went off. If I had let you pass you'd be dead, you are now very grateful and will throw yourself at me and kiss me in gratitude."


"Always works," Buck explained from behind them. "Cowboy, we done? 'Cause it's nearly four an' we got places to be pard?"

"Sure pal, lets go."

With that both agents from Denver headed for the door. "You can't go yet. We're not done," Carter fumed.

"You're not done, we are." With that Chris and Buck were out of the room and gone, leaving the remaining agents sitting in stunned silence.

+ + + + + + +

That evening, as promised, they swam. They bounded, they played games in the water, Buck taught the boys to dive through the waves, both boys 'rode' on their fathers backs as the men pretended to be dolphins. They made another sandcastle, this time with real water in the moat; they played ball and ate more junk food than was good for them. Both boys needed sun screen rubbed all over them, JD wouldn't or couldn't stay still long enough for Buck to get it all over him so he just concentrated on his face and shoulders, JD seemed to tan naturally anyway, just like him. Chris would turn beet red with out lotion and the fact that he was using so much was the only thing keeping Vin still long enough to have his own put on.

This time when they returned to the hotel, they used the same rear entrance they had used at lunchtime. It wasn't that they were hiding, just that the elevator close to that door opened almost next to their rooms - it was just easier. JD was asleep on Buck's shoulder, one moment he had been running back to the sea for one last swim, with Buck in hot pursuit, the next he was fast asleep. Buck always said JD had two speeds - flat out and stop - the moment Buck had lifted him up, still dripping wet to prevent another escape back to the sea, he had fallen asleep, creating an ever spreading damp patch on Buck's shirt. Vin dragged his feet; almost too tired to put one in front of another and by the time the elevator doors opened, Chris had picked him up as well.

"Did you enjoy today?" Chris asked Vin, as Buck fumbled with the key card while trying to keep JD steady. He wanted to keep Vin awake long enough to get him undressed.

"Uh-hur, what -yawn- are we gonna do -yawn- tomorrow?" Vin gazed at Chris with eyes so tired-looking it was almost painful to watch him try to keep them open.

"Don't know yet, but something fun." He gave Vin's hand a squeeze as they entered the room.

When they had returned at about four to get themselves and the boys changed and gather the beach stuff, the rooms had been visited by the housekeeper. The beds were made to perfection, fresh chocolates on the pillows, chocolates that were devoured within seconds of the boys entering the room. Vin's cat had been placed on the bed, propped up on the pillow, against the headboard. Now, Chris noted, the maid s had been back. More chocolates had appeared, the boy's bed had been turned down, clearly the maid had worked out that only one bed was being used. The boys' brightly coloured pajamas were neatly folded on their respective pillows; Cat was now tucked under the covers on Vin's side. JD hadn't wanted to be left out, even though he didn't have a special comfort toy (when he needed extra comfort or reassurance he would stick his thumb in his mouth, and seek out Buck, and once safely in his arms gently stroke his fathers neck with his fee hand), so he had brought along a very soft, floppy toy dog he was fond of. This too was now tucked up in bed on his side. Chamber maid's didn't normally come twice a day in this kind of hotel, so Chris reckoned the boys -even without meeting them- had won over the maids, who in their own way were spoiling the boys. He made a mental note to leave a big tip when they left.

With chocolates safely placed on the bedside cabinets, where no doubt they would be found and consumed in the morning, two boys were put to bed to sleep soundly for the night. Nothing short of an earthquake was going to wake them, and even then Buck wasn't sure JD would wake up.

+ + + + + + +

Thursday was much like Wednesday except this time they had more time for lunch because they didn't have to wait for Chris and Vin to clean up first. On another recommendation from Jenny, they went to a local diner to eat homemade pasta and huge slices of chocolate cake. JD tried valiantly to eat all of his but was defeated, then became very upset when Buck told him he couldn't take the rest back in a doggy bag. Buck hated to upset him, knowing how both boy's still felt about wasting food, but it was made with fresh cream and would have spoiled and melted, probably before they made it back to the hotel. While Buck placated and washed JD, Vin ate steadily until his plate was so clean it almost looked as if he had never had any cake at all. He grinned up at Chris through the thick chocolate ring that decorated his face.

"So you liked that, did you?" Chris asked. Vin just grinned harder and nodded. "You puke on me Tanner and there'll be hell to pay, you know that don't you?" he added in a voice that was clearly not serious. Vin nodded still grinning. "You gonna puke?" Vin shook his head. "Well it's a good thing you two aren’t going swimming yet, you'd most likely sink!"

Much to the boys' annoyance, their fathers told the teachers at the day care center they needed a nap, and although both protested that they didn't need it, they fell asleep on the little camp beds provided almost instantly.

+ + + + + + +

The morning session at the conference had been as boring as the other; the afternoon working groups were on interagency co-operation. Once again, Buck and Chris found themselves in the same group as Curry and Carter, who were still intent on finding out what the two men's 'secret' was. They were given examples of interagency operations that had gone wrong and then discussed why. Chris said nothing, Buck very little. Their theory being the less conversation, the quicker it was over. Ellie hadn't missed that neither man had contributed to the discussion. Finally, they came to a case involving the FBI and the ATF. There were no names or locations but as the case was read out, Chris and Buck began to smile. It was a tale of a power struggle between the operation commander from the FBI and a local team leader from the ATF. It claimed to be a tale of arrogance and petty territorialism.

"Agent Larabee," Carter looked directly at the blonde, both he and Buck were stretched out lazily in their chairs. God he's handsome! She thought. "Would you care to comment?"


"Is that you stock answer to everything?"

"No." Buck tried to stifle a laugh. "Shut up Buck."

"What, in your opinion, was the main reason for the breakdown of communication and co-operation in this case?"

Chris shrugged.

"Come now, Agent Larabee, you must have some opinion; you are a tactical team leader yourself, would you act like this man did?"

"Hell no, that FBI commander was an idiot!"

Carter just stared at him. "The FBI commander?"

"Oh God. Do you remember that pencil neck's face, then you shot his tires out?" Buck laughed as he remembered it.

"Oh yeah, he was shittin' himself. God, he was an asshole."

"Are you telling me you're the ATF team leader who pulled a gun on an FBI Assistant Director?"

Chris nodded.

"You…you…are just the kind of agent who is holding back inter-agency co-operation!" she fumed. "You are the reason we need conferences like this in the first place!"

"Look lady! That asshole was endangering my men. I had two men undercover and his over eager, Boy Scout, grandstanding nearly got then killed; got one of them shot!"

"Damn straight! Hurt like hell too. I could 'a bled to death." Buck rubbed his left arm dramatically. It had been little more than a nick, but no one there knew that, might as well get all the sympathy he could, Barbara was looking very concerned already.

"Buck, I think we're done here, don't you?"

"Done and dusted pard, done and dusted."

With that, the two men got up and left, for a second time leaving their appointed group in stunned silence.

As they watched the two men leave, both women vowed to discover just what they were up to.

+ + + + + + +

That afternoon they took the boys to a local theme park. It wasn't that the boys were tired of the beach, far from it, but both Chris and Vin could do with a break from the sun. So, after a drive and a proper meal in a restaurant, they enjoyed an evening of roller-coasters and carousels. Both Buck and Chris had a go at the shooting gallery, winning huge stuffed toys for the boys, JD had a pony, almost big enough for him to ride and Vin, a dog, that was scarily lifelike. Vin also had a go, and did very well for some one so small, winning a toy stuffed snake, which he quickly named 'Snaky'. JD's arms weren't long enough to hold the gun, so he had a go at a game where he had to hit things with a mallet. At this he proved to be a natural, he had very quick reflexes and boundless energy. His accumulated prize tickets were spent, along with the ones Buck won at another shooting gallery, on a kite.

When it came to the rides, JD was fearless; he would have happily gone on any ride. Luckily there were height restrictions which diluted his search for excitement and saved Vin's pride. He didn't have JD's confidence, unlike JD he could imagine what the ride would be like. He didn't want to appear less brave than JD, so the height restrictions, which kept JD off most of the faster rides, were blessing. All of them rode the log flume; Buck and JD sat at the front with Chris at the back, with Vin safely seated between his legs. Chris could feel the tension in the small shoulders under his hands.

"You alright?" Chris asked, leaning forward to whisper in Vin's ear. In the line, Vin had seemed as excited as JD. Now that they were moving, albeit very gently, he wasn't so sure, that drop he had seen from the line was very high.

"Can we go back?" Vin asked quietly, though there was no chance JD could hear them, he was talking too fast, and bouncing, or trying to bounce, while Buck held him down.

"No, not now. You'll be fine, you'll love it, trust me." Chris gave his slight shoulders a gentle squeeze before wrapping his arms around Vin and hugging him close. "Relax, just let it happen, don't think about it," he advised the nervous boy.

As the 'log' began its climb up the first smallish drop, Vin's arms came up and he gripped Chris's forearm as it pressed reassuringly against his chest. As they tipped over the edge, JD squealed, Buck let rip a huge whoop of joy, and Vin's hands tightened on Chris's, then as the water sprayed over them in a light shower, Chris felt his son relax, he craned his head back to grin at Chris.

"Alright?" Chris asked.

Vin nodded and turned back to watch for the approaching big drop. He did tighten his hold on the way up, but on the way down he joined JD in a scream of excited joy. And laughed out loud as the water cascaded over them, soaking them all from head to toe.

"Again! Can we do it again?" Vin asked as soon as they were moving slowly to the exit.

+ + + + + + +

Barbara and Ellie were determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. Once they were finished and having established that Larabee and Wilmington had left the hotel, they went about their self appointed task, like the trained agents they were. It didn't take them long to discover that Larabee and Wilmington were sharing Larabee's room and two children were staying in Wilmington's room. The chambermaid told them she thought it was two boys but hadn't seen them.

"They're good boys," she attested. "No mess, no sticky finger marks, only using one bed."

"How old are they?" Ellie asked.

"Well their clothes are very small," she ventured. "Is something wrong?" she asked worriedly, remembering the two federal badges that were flashed at her.

"No, no, nothing is wrong at all," Carter assured hurriedly.

"Well, what do you know?" Barbara mused. "He said he had a 'little one' didn't he."

"Want to wait until they get back?" Ellie asked.

"Oh yes."

Supplying themselves with coke, popcorn and chocolate, the two agents staked out the hotel rooms.

"How do you suppose two single agents came to have sons'" Carter asked. "You sure they're not a couple?"

"Oh believe me hun, the way Wilmington was coming on to me, no way! No way in hell."

"Yeah, I have to agree with you on that one. I mean the way Larabee was looking at me, and you and Wilmington in that seminar, I mean that was intense - wasn't it?"

Barbara smiled wistfully, a warm fuzzy feeling rising unbidden in her. "Intense, you could say that."

It was just before nine when the elevator dinged. Out strode Agent Chris Larabee clutching a huge toy dog in one hand, and the hand of a slim, sandy haired boy with piercing blue eyes, trailing a toy snake behind him, in the other. Behind him came Wilmington, he was clutching a large toy horse by the tail and a kite in one hand, and had a small boy draped over his shoulder. The three that were still awake looked tired but happy. Chris looked up in the direction of their rooms only to see the two female agents pulling themselves to their feet.

"Oh," he said ominously.

"Agents." Ellie smiled as she acknowledged them.

Vin looked at the two women and then up at his father, trying to work out what was going on.

"You know, you two didn't have to be so secretive, we would have understood." Barbara smiled at Buck. "I take it this..." she pointed at the bundle of denim, tee shirt and raven black hair on Buck's shoulder. "…is your 'little one'?"

Buck grinned, then turned his back slightly, so she could see JD's face. Buck knew, in all modesty, that JD was adorable when he was asleep.

"Ahhh, he's just adorable," she cooed.

"Every time." Buck thought, "He gets them every time."

Ellie turned to Chris. "And who do we have here?" She looked down at Vin.

"Agent Ellie Carter, DEA, may I present Vincent Michael Tanner."

She squatted down in front of Vin and held out her hand. "That is a very fine name. Which bit do I use?"

Vin looked up at Chris one more time, then, after getting a reassuring smile and a hand squeeze, he looked back at Ellie. "Vin," he said quietly.

+ + + + + + +

The next morning, the women met Chris and Buck as they entered the conference hall.

"Well, good morning, gentlemen," Ellie smiled as they strode up. "How are your 'little ones'?"

"Just fine, in day care, well at the moment that is." Chris smiled back at Carter.

"We…er, we were wondering?" Buck looked at Barbara. "How you felt about, um…" he looked over at the notice out side the conference hall, "Communications in the 21st Century, and how Federal Agencies can make best use of them."

"Well I think we can best make use of them by letting specialists worry about it and letting field agents like us get on with our jobs," she replied.

"In that case, would you consider missing it?" Chris asked, eyeing Ellie.

"I might, if there was an interesting alternative," she admitted. "What are your plans for the day?"

"Well, we were heading for this little beach. We wondered if you wanted to join us? And the boys, of course. Don't say anything yet, you gotta know that it won't be a nice lazy day in the sun, they are…well you won't ever be bored!" Buck warned.

The two women barely even looked at each other, before they answered. "We would love to," Curry said.

Chris and Buck had asked around and been given directions to a beach about a half-hour drive down the coast. It was also a good half-hour walk from the road, but that made it all but deserted most of the time, and it was backed with sand dunes and even a small stand of trees that gave some protection from the sun. The two men had made arrangements yesterday to rent a car and had packed most of what they would need in it without the boys knowing. All that was needed was to pick up the perishable food and collect the boys and their various art projects, while the women changed their clothes. Once the men and boys had also changed, the six of them set out. JD had not met the two women, but being the outgoing trusting boy he was, he just accepted them and continued as he normally would, talking non stop for the whole thirty minute trip.

+ + + + + + +

They had a wonderful day, they swam, made sandcastles, Barbara helped JD to bury Buck in the sand. Ellie demonstrated a remarkable degree of knowledge about all kinds of sea creatures, and Vin was happy to listen and learn as he brought her each new creature he and Chris found. But all day Ellie had been trying to work out just what the relationship between the boys and the men was. So far, all she knew was that the older boy, Vin, didn't share either man's name and was clearly more attached to Larabee. She didn't know what JD's second name was, though he could easily be Wilmington's son. They were very close and shared the same colouring, though their eyes were different. But JD had told her he was five, and even with her limited knowledge of small boys she knew he was very small for five. She seriously doubted that Buck had ever been small, even as a very young child.

"Tell me, JD?" Ellie asked as they sat down, in a rare moment of stillness while the boys had a drink and more sunscreen was applied. "What is you other name, is it Wilmington?" she asked.

"Nope, my name's Dunne, JD Dunne." JD was more interested in the carton of apple juice he was drinking, than answering questions.

"So, how did you come to live with Buck?" she asked, trying to sound casual and ignoring the glares she was getting from both men and one boy.

"Buck choosed me. I was a 'terial witness, so I had to stay with Buck, but then Buck choosed to keep me. That makes me very special, 'cause most grown ups just get the kids God gives um' an' they don't get no choice, but Buck could have choosed any kid he wanted - 'cause he's the best dad in the whole world…" Buck blushed as Barbara and Ellie both looked at him. "…and Chris is the second best, but only to me, 'cause to Vin he's the bestist dad in the world. Anyway, Buck choosed me so I'm very lucky and special." JD spoke so matter of factly it was hard to take in what he had just told the two women. "And I'm a magnet, ain't I Buck?" With that JD continued to drain his juice carton noisily.

"JD honey?" Barbara asked quietly.

"Mmmm." JD was trying to get the very last drop out of his carton.

"What's a magnet?"

"I make girls come to Buck."

"Er…um…I didn't say…that is…" Wilmington flustered.

"Yeah you did, you said I was a - 'A number one, babe magnet'!"

"Oh really, is that what he said?" Barbara frowned at Buck with mock annoyance.

"JD!" Vin scolded.

"What? He did! He said we had to go to the mall all the way over to, um… I don't 'member, but it was much further than the stores near Buck's old place - before we came to the ranch - anyway we went to this other mall 'cause it's were all the 'vailable women go, an' I 'ttract them, 'cause I'm a babe magnet."

Buck looked desperately at Chris for help, but Larabee was laughing too hard to be of any help, he could barely talk, as both women scowled at him.

"You're on yer own pal," he gasped out.

JD, who was oblivious to the trouble he had just caused, then saved Buck from further embarrassment.

"Buck I'm finished, can we fly my kite now?"

"Sure Little Bit, come on." Buck pulled himself up off the sand and gratefully followed the little bundle of energy that was heading for the top of the dunes, kite in hand.

Chris finished putting lotion on Vin, by putting bright red sun cream on his face like war paint, this being the only way he would have it put on without complaining and fidgeting.

"That’s it 'Big Chief Sun Screen', you're done. You gonna go fly the kite too?" Chris asked. In response, Vin just nodded and then high tailed it up the dune.

Ellie turned to him after watching Vin scamper away. "That how you came to have Vin? As a material witness?"

"Yeah, pretty much." Chris admitted, "They came as a pair."

"Two single men were just given custody, just like that. Don't they have any family?" A tone of indignation was creeping in to Ellie's voice.

Chris shrugged. "It wasn't all smooth sailing, JD has family, but…well, let's just say he's better off with Buck." Chris was now getting defensive.

"Anyone can see how happy they are," Barbara said, hoping to soothe what was heading for a tense confrontation. "I think what is most important, is that they are happy and safe.

Ellie stood eyeing Chris for a long time, but as she listened to the two boys shouting to each other as they raced up the dune she relented.

"Yes, yes I have to say they are delightful boys. You two seem to be doing a remarkable job… I don't think I could do it," she admitted.

Chris looked up at the retreating figure of Vin. Unbidden, the image of Vin, filthy, emaciated, and desperately sick, lying on bed of rags in an abandoned warehouse filled his memory. "Oh you could, if you fell in love," he said softly.

Buck sat back cross-legged with JD on his lap. He had actually got the kite up, then handed the reel to JD while he stayed behind him ready to grab it if needed. JD had a few near misses but had done very well. He had even asked Buck if the kite stayed up in the sky the same way the aeroplane did, which floored Wilmington for a moment.

"Er…I think so, sort of," he had hedged, not sure of the science and not wanting to be drawn into a JD question marathon.

Vin had been watching them quietly and patiently.

"Little Bit?" Buck asked.


"What ya say we let Vin have a go?"

JD wasn't sure, it was his kite after all, but the two boys always shared and he knew if it was Vin's kite that he would let him have a go.

"Okay," he said quietly, letting Buck take the kite back from him.

Now JD sat on Buck's lap and watched Vin. In his usual way, Vin had watched the other two, noting what was needed to keep the kite up and now, was doing a good job. Only occasionally did the kite falter.

As he watched, Buck remembered his own childhood days on the beach, he too, had had a kite. There were no dunes at Miami, but often there was a good enough breeze to fly the kite, which he remembered was red. His mom had helped him, and repaired it on numerous occasions. As he remembered it she enjoyed flying it too, but then she was only twenty or twenty-one at the time. He remembered sitting on his mom's lap just as JD was sitting on his now; he remembered just sitting there together, watching the sea and the stars. More than anything right then he wished she could have seen her grandson – no… her grandsons - for he knew, with as big a capacity for love as she had, his mom would have loved both boys equally. He wanted to show her that all she had shown him about good parenting, he was - he hoped - applying, that her example was helping another little dark haired boy grow to manhood.

"Buck?" JD's voice was unnaturally quiet; so quiet Buck didn't notice him to begin with. Then a small finger came up and brushed a single tear, a tear he didn't even know he had shed, away. "Why are you sad?"

"I'm not, Little Bit."

"But you're crying." JD turned around in Buck's lap and knelt to face his father.

Buck always tried to be honest with JD when he could. "I miss my mom sometimes," he confessed. "I wish she could've met you."

"It's all right to miss moms, you said so." JD frowned at Buck. "Don't cry. 'Cause she can see me, can't she? Our moms' are watching us, aren’t they?"

"Yes, she can see you, of course she's watching us, all our moms' are watching us," Buck confirmed.

"And Chris's wife and Adam, too."

"Yes, them too."

"My mom will looked after your mom, don't worry." JD stood up on Buck's lap, his small feet planted on Wilmington's strong thighs. Once upright he wrapped his arms around Buck's neck. In return, Buck enveloped him with both arms and held him close. "See Mom, see your grandson. I hope you're proud, 'cause I sure am".

Just then their private moment was interrupted by a sudden shrill shout of. "Look out!"

The wind had died suddenly and now JD's precious kite was heading straight down, straight at Buck and JD. On instinct, Buck let go of JD and rolled back, JD rolled with him and then off to the side onto the sand. Buck reached up with both hands and caught the descending kite between his flat palms, thus saving not only JD and himself from harm, but also saving the kite from damage.

"You caught it! You caught it!" JD was still lying on his back in the sand, but elated that his new toy was still in one piece.

Vin came running up to them, reeling in the string as he did. "Wow Buck, that was so cool, the way you did that!" he exclaimed. "Are you okay?"

"Yup. You okay, Little Bit?"

"Yes, but I think I'm going to go down now, bye!" And with that he rolled away from Buck and down the side of the grass covered sand dune, laughing all the way.

Buck sat up and watched him, then he looked over at Vin. "Well?" he asked.

Vin needed no second bidding to join in the new game, he handed Buck the reel and, dropping where he was, rolled over the edge. JD's squeals had alerted the three adults at the bottom, who sprung up and prepared to receive the sand-encrusted bundles as they reached the bottom.

+ + + + + + +

That evening, after a very long, tiring, but happy day, Chris and Buck, said good-bye to the two women, phone numbers mutually exchanged and loaded the rent car with all their luggage, before strapping two exhausted and sound asleep boys into the back. When they awoke the next day, it was in a place called Chincoteague. But that is a different story.

The End

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