ATF "Little Britches" Universe
Sequel to Daytime Nightmare
It had been two weeks since Buck had come home from the hospital after being shot by a suspected carjacker. Things around the Larabee ranch were settling back into a normal routine. At least, Buck told himself that.
At the moment, the boys were playing quietly in their room. Normally Chris would be home in a couple of hours, but the team was working a stakeout with Team Eight and the blonde was not expected before the early hours of the morning. Mrs. Potter had prepared supper and put it in the refrigerator for when the boys were hungry. Wilmington had walked the woman out to her vehicle and now stood on the porch, watching as she drove away.
Tomorrow was the Forth of July and Buck knew Chris had invited Ezra, Josiah, and Nathan out for a bar-b-que and fireworks. Buck had talked to his partner before he left for the stakeout and they had decided to go on with the party even though the team would be out late. Larabee knew the two orphans had been looking forward to the event since that was all JD could talk about after he found out they were having a party.
The week before being injured, Buck and Chris had taken the boys to the department store to buy decorations. Walking through the aisles, the dark haired boy had picked up a variety of items he thought they should have for both the yard and the house. Wilmington chuckled as he remembered the exasperated expression on Vin's face at the loud exclamations of the younger boy. Chris had finally put his foot down when the child wanted to buy party hats. Buck should have warned Larabee after the experience he had at Mother's Day.
Vin had managed to contain himself and only pointed out a couple of things he wanted for the celebration. Buck smiled, thinking of the pout on JD's face when he was told to pick out only three things. But he recovered quickly and set off in search of the 'most perfect' decoration. JD had tiptoed over to the party hats and was reaching for one when Chris turned to look. "No hats, JD." Much to the blonde's amazement, the boy just laughed and scurried away. Apparently, he had no intention of getting the hat, but was only teasing the man. Vin and Buck laughed as Chris caught the boy and quickly wrapped the wriggling body up and tickled the boy's ribs until he was hiccupping. Forty dollars later they were on their way home.
Buck turned back to the house, but stopped at the threshold. He absently rubbed at the ache in his shoulder as he walked over and sat on the porch swing. The memory of the shooting was vivid in his mind, but more vivid was the memory of the nightmares that followed. The nightmares had begun to invade his waking hours and affect his relationship with the small boy. The image of JD dying violently seemed to spring into his mind whenever he was near the child and Buck found himself pulling away. He had managed to purge the image of the shooting and the aftermath he had imagined, only to have them replaced with nightmares of people he had arrested or had dealings with coming after him and the boy getting caught in the middle. He realized he was being irrational, but he could not seem to overcome the fears. He thought back to the day after the shooting.Buck woke and stretched cautiously as his shoulder reminded him of his situation. Though sore and hurting, he was ready to go home. He had never liked the hospital, but since the boys had come into his and Chris' lives, the hospital was just too quiet, too controlled. He enjoyed the chaos that the boys had brought to the household. Wilmington was anxious to see the kids, to apologize for pushing JD away. As anxious as he was to get home, he was worried about yesterday's incident and hoped that it was a fluke, a left over fear from the shooting and the nightmares that followed, but he could not be sure until he could test himself.
Chris had ready called, saying they were leaving the ranch and would be there before noon. Buck had talked to both boys and was relieved to find they held no ill feelings toward him. That was something that always amazed him about the boys-their capacity to forgive. He found that he had learned a lot from the two small children, lessons in life, those kinds of things that humbled all parents.
Buck leaned back and tried to relax. He drifted off to sleep as he waited for his family to arrive and was soon dreaming, dreams that were not comforting. Buck woke with a start, cold sweat drenching his gown. His ragged breath sounded harsh in the quiet hospital. Cradling his arm, he collapsed into the pillow as he remembered the nightmare. It wasnt about the shooting this time, but the outcome was the same-the dark haired boy lay dead at Wilmingtons feet. He glanced up as the door opened.
"Good morning, Mr. Wilmington. How are you feeling this morning?" the doctor asked.
Buck nodded as he stated. "Good, Im good."
Doctor Nunez frowned at the answer. "Well, let's have a look." He moved to the side of the bed and began to check his patients vital signs. After a few minutes the doctor stood at the end of the bed. "Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Buck, but Im going to have to keep you one more night. Your temperature is up; heart rate is accelerated. Its probably nothing, but I want to keep an eye on you, make sure there is no infection. You should be able to home tomorrow."
"But they're already headed in to pick me up." The doctor raised one eyebrow. Buck tried again. "I just woke up; had a bad dream is all."
"Well, be that as it may, you arent leaving today." Buck started to protest, but closed his mouth as Nunez held up a hand. "Buck, you're probably right, but I don't want Nathan coming back in here with you on a stretcher, berating my care of the team. Chris can come back in tomorrow and get you. So just accept it and relax. I'll send in a pretty nurse for you to drive crazy."
Buck smiled. "You know me too well, Doc."
The doctor shook his head as he left. Buck relaxed into the pillows as he stared out the window. He watched the clouds float by slowly. Nothing was visible from this height, no buildings, trees, nothing but blue sky. Another beautiful day he was forced to watch drift by from a hospital bed. He sighed as he remembered the plans he had with Chris and the boys. The noise level in the room rose as the door opened. A big smile flashed onto the agent's face as Chris entered and held the door open for the two young orphans.
Chris strolled over to the bed and patted Buck's knee. "So, what's this about fever?"
Buck tossed his hand. "Ah. Doc's just being overly cautious. There's nothing wrong that going home won't cure."
The blonde's eyes narrowed as he studied his partner's face. Chris knew something was not right, but he wasn't sure what it was.
"Hey, boys. Ya gonna give me a hug or not?" Buck asked. Both boys smiled and headed to the bed from the center of the room where they had cautiously stopped. Vin scrambled onto the bed and gently wrapped his arms loosely around Buck's neck. Buck, in turn, rubbed the boy's back.
Chris noted that the normally jovial agent's smile did not extend to his eyes. Chris was beginning to worry that something serious was going on with his partner.
Vin pulled away. "I wish you was coming home with us, Buck."
"You and me both, kiddo."
Vin jumped off the bed and reached for JD, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him. "I'll do that, Vin." Chris took the five year old under the arms and lifted him onto the bed. Larabee kept an eye on his partner, watching for any reaction to the boy's presence. As the boy settled on the bed, Chris noticed that Bucks eyes flicked to the window and back again. The motion was quick, but it was there.
Buck smiled and laid his hand on JD's knee as he sat near the edge of the bed. "Hey, little bit. Ya got yourself quite a shiner, there."
The boy absently reached up to rub his eye. Buck took hold of the little hand to prevent him. "Now, don't be rubbing on it. Makes it sore." Buck winked as he said, "I've had a few, so I know about black eyes." His heart fluttered as the boy giggled and moved up to hug him. He glanced at the window, seeing only blue sky.
Carefully wrapping his short arms around the man's neck, JD squeezed lightly. Buck felt the fear as an image flashed through his mind, but his only reaction to the visual assault was a slight tremor that hopefully JD did not notice. Buck smiled at the dark haired child even as he sat up and moved back a little against the pillows. His eyes darted to the window and back to the child.
Watching closely, Chris saw the small tremors in Buck's hand as the boy had hugged him, the paleness under the tanned features, neither of which had been there before. He had seen Buck glance at the window at least three times so far. Larabee frowned as he tried to figure out what the man was afraid of.
"So, what are ya'll planning to do today? What am I going to miss out on?" Buck fought to remain calm when every nerve in his body was screaming to him, 'Get the boy away. He'll die if he stays near you. Get him away. He'll die.'
"Well, we were going to go home and take care of you, but we can't do that now." JD explained. "Can we take care of you here, Buck? We'll be quiet."
Buck's laugh was half-hearted and he looked to Chris for help even as he said, "I dont know that the nurses will like you doing their job, JD." He glanced at the open view of the sky through the glass.
"Please, Buck. Vin can go with Chris and I promise to be good." Big hazel eyes pleaded with the man. "I miss you."
Buck closed his eyes and swallowed pass the lump in his throat. Finally, looking at his partner, he asked, "Chris would you mind drawing those drapes closed? Its just a little too much light in here."
"Sure thing." Chris walked over and glanced around the exterior before pulling the heavy curtains closed. He turned back and could see Wilmington visibly relax. He watched as Buck pulled the little boy close and snuggled him to his shoulder.
"So, what did you two boys do yesterday without me?"
JD immediately launched into a detailed accounting of their day at the ranch. He told the man about going to McDonald's and what everyone had. JD had gotten the Elvis version of Stitch while Vin had gotten the surfing Stitch. They had climbed into the tubes and played with other kids until Chris had threatened to come in and drag them out.
"Vin, he dragged me out and I swatted 'im when we got to the opening and Chris got all red in the face cause we was making so much noise, but I 'pologized and Vin said he was sorry and some lady told Chris what good little boys we were cause we made up."
The little boy was playing with his fingers as he talked, but he turned his face upward to look at the mustached man. Giggling, he covered his mouth with his hands. "She told Chris we was cute and that Vin looked just look him and I must look like my momma. So I told that I sure did, but Momma was sleeping with the angels now. And she said she was so sorry and patted Chris on the shoulder. And then she gave Chris her phone number. But Chris just stood there, so Vin told her thanks and we left."
Buck looked at his partner and long-time friend, "Way to go, stud. I'll get you trained right yet."
"Shut up, Buck" was the blonde's only response.
Vin had climbed on the foot of the bed and sat listening as JD prattled on. He tossed in a few corrections and additions to the commentary. Chris sat and listened to the boy's rambling as he watched the man.
It wasn't long before the man and the little boy were dozing together on the bed. Chris lifted Vin off the bed and the little blonde settled quietly on the man's lap. Larabee felt the boy's weight sag in his arms as Vin napped also. Chris sighed as he sat and watched his family sleep. Not the most interesting way to send an afternoon, but he wasnt going to complain. He was exactly where he wanted to be-with his family. Leaning back against the high-backed chair, Chris closed his eyes and drifted into a light slumber.
Thirty minutes later, Ezra, along with Nathan and Josiah, arrived and found the foursome still napping. Vin was draped over Chris arm, totally relaxed as the mans arm supported and restrained his limp form. Larabees head drooped on his chest and his ankles were crossed as his legs stretched out in front of him. On the bed, JDs head was tucked into Bucks armpit and his limbs lay splayed out from his body. Buck was snoring softly, his hand resting on the boys stomach.
The three men hesitated in the doorway, but the sound of footfalls already had Chris sitting up straight and Vin sat up with him. Rubbing his eyes, the young boy slipped from the mans lap and stood up. He smiled slightly at the men as they moved into the room. Movement on the bed indicated that Buck and JD were also aware of the company.
Josiah strode in and patted the boys head as he moved past. "Afternoon, brothers. We came to see if we could help pass the time for Buck."
Nathan took possession of a straight back chair, straddling the back with his long legs. Ezra stopped at the foot of the bed, watching as Buck raised the head of the bed to a more upright position as JD crawled to the end of the bed to hug, first Ezra and then Josiah. He then climbed off the tall bed and moved over to Nathan, giving him a hug also. JD moved back to the bed and started to clamber onto it.
Ezra lifted the boy onto the bed and settled him on the mattress. "So, Mr. Dunne. How are we doing today?" His hand was turning the boys head examining the bruise that adorned his face.
JD smiled as his head moved from one side to the other. "We went to McDonalds and played in the tubes." He had moved on to his knees as he talked. Leaning toward Ezra, the boy put his hand to his mouth in a conspiring manner. "Chris got a ladys phone number."
Ezras eyes widened at this information. Smiling, he turned to face the senior agent and was met with a glare. The undercover agent could not resist the temptation even knowing he would pay later. "I had hopes that your sense of duty and reserve would inspire Mr. Wilmington to raise his standards once he was in your abode. Instead, I fear that you have lowered yours. The idea that you would accost some woman in front of the children... Tsk. Tsk."
JD had sat back, his hands covering his mouth as he giggled. Vin glared at his friend. The serious eight year old had a strict code of ethics and one of the things he did not allow was someone teasing Chris Larabee, not even one of his own men. It was a wasted effort because JD was totally immune to the glares of both Vin and Chris. He merely stared at his friend, wide-eyed and smiling. Vin shook his head and gave up trying to intimidate the younger boy.
Buck chuckled at the antics. He shifted on the bed, trying to get comfortable, as JD started to crawl back up to him.
Nathan reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope, which he handed to Larabee. Chris pulled out the papers and began to read them. He turned his body to get more light on the sheets, squinting as he did.
Ezra noticed and stepped over to the curtains, reaching for the drawstring. "Perhaps more illumination will help." A yell stopped his motions.
'NO!" Wilmington cried. He lurched forward, drawing his knees up as he did. Unfortunately, JD was just moving pass and the man's knee caught the unprepared child on his hip, knocking him toward the edge of the bed.
Feeling the contact, Buck's head turned to see the wide-eyes and flaying arms of the little boy. Forgetting his injury, he reached out to the boy only to have the pain in his shoulder stop him cold. He yelped at the burning sensation that started in his shoulder and quickly enveloped his entire arm.
Nathan's chair clattered to the ground as he propelled himself forward, only to tangle his feet in the rungs. Papers fluttered to the floor as Larabee also flew to his feet. He was stopped when he realized that Vin was standing between him and the bed and he had to grab the boy's arm to prevent him from being knocked to the ground. Josiah lunged across the narrow expanse of the bed and latched onto to JD's thigh and pulled him back safely onto the bed.
The only sounds for a few moments were mumbled curses that Buck muttered to himself as he sat clenching his shoulder and rocking slightly. Nathan gathered his feet under him and rose. He moved over to the man to check the wound. Chris moved around behind as Nathan passed and placed a hand on the dark haired boy's head. He could feel the trembling even as he saw the silent tears running down the pale face.
"JD? You alright?" The little boy nodded as he held out his arms to the blonde.
The question had Buck's eyes jerk open and scan the scene in front of him. Nathan was at his side and the medic was pushing on his chest, saying, "Buck, relax back. Let me take a look at that shoulder."
But the man insisted on leaning forward, trying to get closer to the boy. "He all right? JD? I'm sorry, son. Are you all right?"
Chris glanced over at the man. He knew that it had been an accident, but he still blamed the man. Larabee wasn't sure what was going on in Buck's head, but until he had it worked out, the blonde decided that the boys should stay away from Wilmington. "He's fine, Buck. Just had a scare is all. You okay?"
Nathan looked to see Buck nodding his head. He reached across the man and hit the call button as he shook head in contradiction. "He'll be fine. Popped a couple of stitches, though."
Chris saw Buck's lips clamp down between his teeth as he grimaced at the pain. Beads of sweat stood out on his forehead and he looked pale as he closed his eyes and lay back against the pillows.
A nurse entered the room and Nathan told her what had happened. She nodded as she checked the bandage. She patted Buck's arm. "I'll be right back. You just rest easy for a minute." She left as quietly as she had entered.
Chris stood supporting JD with one hand as the other lay across the slender shoulders of the other boy. Vin had moved next to Chris when he saw the spot of blood on the pillow as Buck sat forward for the nurse. He stood looking from Buck to Chris and back, his fingers lightly wrapped around the black clad leg of Larabee.
"Buck, I think I'll take the boys home. I'll call you in a little while." Chris frowned as he studied his friend's face. Buck didn't open his eyes as he nodded in acknowledgement. "You gonna be okay?"
Josiah moved around the bed and stood opposite Jackson. "Don't worry, Chris. Nathan and I will take care of Buck. You take care of the boys."
Chris saw the compassionate expression on Sanchez's face. The man's eyes narrowed slightly as he shook his head. Reading his men was Larabee's strength and he knew Josiah planned to have a talk with Buck. Hopefully, he could help the man come to grips with whatever demons were plaguing him. Larabee nodded back.
"I'll call you later." He said as he headed to the door. Neither of the boys said a thing. Ezra trailed behind the trio. Larabee's comment could have been directed to either Buck or Josiah, but Josiah was the only one to acknowledge him as he dropped his head in a deep nod.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah sat quietly reading. He had stayed with Wilmington as had Nathan. Doctor Nunez had returned with the nurse and they repaired the stitches and bandaged the wound again. After a dose of painkillers, the man had drifted into a heavy sleep. Nathan had informed Sanchez that he had arranged to meet Raine and told the profiler he needed to call the woman and change their plans. After a bit of convincing, Nathan had finally departed. The medic had the feeling that Josiah wanted to give Buck a chance to talk, so he bid his farewells and left the task of talking to Wilmington to the compassionate anthropologist.
Josiah was a patient man and he made himself comfortable. He had already spoken to Ezra and learned that the southerner had left with Larabee and boys. Standish filled in the oldest member of their team about the events that transpired after leaving the hospital.
After taking a side trip for ice cream, the boys seemed better, calmer, but they were still too quiet for the man's taste. He had tried to apologize to the team leader for his 'inconsideration' in attempting to open the blinds, which started the incident, but Chris would have none of it. The problem was not the blinds, but Buck's reaction. Ezra confessed that he was a bit confused by the outburst, but felt it was not his place to pry. He parted company with the trio as they headed back to the ranch.
The southerner expressed concerns over the incident and Wilmington's reactions. They were unsettling to say the least. Ezra confided in Josiah that he would wait and see if the situation resolved itself, but only as long as the situation did no further harm to the young boys' mental well-being. The abuse a parent could inflict on a child's psyche, whether intentional or not, was something he was very familiar with and he vowed to prevent it from happening to these two boys. They had been through more than enough in their short lives. If he had to fight both Larabee and Wilmington, then he would do exactly that.
Josiah told Ezra he hoped it would not come to that and told the younger man he would call him after speaking to Buck. Ezra thanked Josiah and they ended the phone call. Two hours later, the bedside phone rang again and he quickly answered, trying to not disturb Buck. A short conversation followed in which he learned Chris and the boys had returned safely to the ranch. Both boys were down for a nap at the moment and Chris wanted to know how Buck was. Josiah filled the man in on what little had happened since his departure. Sanchez informed Chris that he would call if he learned anything. As he replaced the receiver, a voice drew his attention to the man in the bed.
"That Chris?" Buck asked softly.
"Yeah. He wanted to let you know that he and the boys were at the ranch."
Josiah watched as Buck brought his arm up and laid it across his eyes. They sat in silence for a few minutes. Josiah had began to think Buck had gone back to sleep, when the man spoke.
"I don't know what to do, Josiah. I think I'm losing grip."
Josiah rose and moved to the bed, planting one hip on the mattress. He leaned forward with his elbow resting on his knee and his hands clasped together. "Grip on what, Buck?"
Haunted deep blue eyes stared at the ceiling as the man lowered his arm. "Dont really know, Josiah. My sanity or reality?" He chuckled humorlessly. "I guess they're the same thing, though, aren't they?"
"Buck, what happened could shake up anyone."
Buck pushed himself up in the bed. "It's not the getting shot, Josiah. It's JD." Wilmington's gaze was intense as he looked at the older agent. "I know Chris told ya about the nightmares; that I kept dreaming about the boy getting killed by the guy that Ezra shot."
"Well, now I " Buck hesitated, swallowing excessive salvia in his mouth. He felt queasy, remembering the images. Irrational fear seized his throat at the idea of putting his thoughts into words. Suddenly his mouth was bone dry and he wished he had the spit that he had just swallowed. He found a glass poised in front of him and turned grateful eyes to Josiah as he took the glass and, all but drained it. He covered his mouth as he choked on the last drop. Josiah took the glass and poured more, but Buck shook his head.
The profiler placed it within easy reach.
"I can't stop the images. All of them different, but they all have the same ending. JD's dead. Gun, car, bomb, it doesnt matter, I can't save 'im. Just like Sarah and Adam. Dead. Gone. My fault." The last words were spoken so softly that Josiah almost didn't hear them. But he had heard and he responded.
"Buck. What happened to Chris' family wasn't your fault." He started, but Wilmington cut him off.
"It was." He hissed. "If I hadn't asked him to stay, Chris would have been home. He could have saved them."
"Or he could have died with them. Everything happens for a reason, my friend."
"What reason is there to snuff out two beautiful souls, innocent souls? Why wasn't it me, or Chris? We were the ones they were after, not Sarah, not Adam. Us. What reason Josiah? What good do we do?"
Josiah studied the tortured face of the man. Tilting his head, he asked, "If Sarah and Adam hadn't died, do you think Chris or you would have joined the ATF?"
Buck looked puzzled. Shaking his head, he stated, "No."
"So after Chris quit the force, Travis hand picked him to head up this unit?"
"Chris selected you to join. He recruited myself, Nathan, Ezra. Why us? There was a reason. Why did we end up in the wrong warehouse that day? Five minutes later and we wouldn't have seen JD, Chris wouldn't have found Vin." Josiah leaned in closer. "What would have happened to those boys, Buck? Vin would have died from the infection. JD would have been left alone. How long would a five-year-old child have lasted? If he lived, what would have happened to him?"
"But what if he gets killed 'cause he's with me, Josiah? I don't think I could live with it." Buck's voice was rough with emotion.
"Then he will die knowing that he was loved and cared for. Whether he has six months with you or sixty years, he knows that you love him." Josiah reached out and grasped Buck's wrist. "It all happens for a reason. Just because we don't know what it is, doesn't mean that there isn't one. If you waste your time worrying about what could happen, you'll miss what is happening."
One tear ran down Buck's nose and disappeared into his moustache. He nodded as he lay back. "I'll try, Josiah, I'll try."
The big chested man flashed him a brilliant smile. "That's all any of us can do, brother."
+ + + + + + +
Chris arrived early afternoon the next day, having left work early. He entered the main entrance of the hospital to find Wilmington sitting in the lobby, his overnight bag next to him.
Larabee glanced around as he approached. "Whatd they do, pard, toss you out?"
Buck stood gingerly, smiling. "Nah. Got tired of the scenery." The two men started toward the door. "Im just ready to go home."
Chris opened the door on the Dodge truck and tossed the bag in the back seat. He stood close as Buck slowly got in the vehicle, in case the injured man needed assistance. After getting him buckled in, Chris closed the door and went around to the drivers side. They were on their way in a minute.
They rode in silence for a while. Both men were comfortable with the others company and did not feel the need to fill the air with words. They were half way home before Buck spoke.
"Chris, I need to " he paused, trying to collect his thoughts.
Larabee glanced over to see the man struggling with his words. "Did I tell you that I talked to Josiah late night?"
Buck turned in order to see Chris profile easier. "And just what did you talk about?" he asked softly.
"A friend. A good friend."
Buck laughed quietly as he shook his head. "Yeah. A friend that's creating problems." The man scrubbed his hand across his face.
Chris glanced over and then back to the road. "Hell, Buck. It's not like youre doing it on purpose."
"Yeah, but Im still creating a problem. Josiah told me that everything happens for a reason." Buck leaned back into the seat and let go, his head dropping back and his shoulders slumping. He sat with his eyes closed for a few minutes.
Chris thought the man had dropped off to sleep and he started a bit when Buck spoke without moving. "Just dont see what good can come of this. I feel like the boy has a target painted on his chest whenever Im near him." Buck yawned as his said, "Im scared to get too close, Chris. What if something happens to im?"
Buck rolled his head toward Larabee. His voice softened as he told the man driving, "I dont know how you managed Chris. The thought of losing that boy is making me crazy. As bad as you were after , Im afraid that I'd be much worse. Ive always had a lot of respect for you, but no more than right now."
Buck had closed his eyes and settled back into the seat. Chris listened and watched, relieved when the man in the passenger seat went to sleep. He loosened his grip on the wheel and ran a slightly shaking hand through his hair. Wilmington always knew just what to say to get to Chris. That was one of the things that Chris hated about Buck and one of things that endeared the man to his soul. It was one of many reasons Chris loved the man like a brother.
+ + + + + + +
The men had arrived at the ranch house and were warmly welcomed home by the two little boys. Mrs. Potter had told Buck how glad she was to have him home again. She informed the men that the boys had prepared a welcome home party for them and smiling she bid them good day after confirming that she would be needed the following day. The men enjoyed a leisurely evening with the young boys entertaining them with stories and plays. JD and Vin had asked Gloria Potter to fix Bucks favorite dessert and they served the pie and ice cream in the backyard under a clear sky. Before tucking the boys into bed for the night, Buck read a story to them, sitting on JDs bed. The young boy was curled against the mans leg. Chris sat on the floor in front of Vins bed, the young boys hand draped over the mans shoulder. By the end of the story, both kids were asleep and Buck was totally relaxed. He felt better than he had in two days-no terrifying images assaulted him as he ran his fingers along the smooth skin of JDs cheek. Maybe his nightmare was finally over.
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