Alternate Universe: "Regents"
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It was so quiet. J.D. had been quite surprised how quickly everyone had settled into their bunks, in their rooms after a loud and boisterous evening of cards, tales and teasing. Yet now it was all quiet. Well except for the snoring from across the room. It was now apparent Nathan was not exaggerating. Buck could get a noisy snoring action going and it filled the small bedroom almost drowning out the small breeze that howled softly around the cabin.
The moonlight lit up the window with its pale blue curtains and little boat pattern. He knew from their discussions earlier tonight that it was a full moon and his mind immediately conjured up bloodthirsty nocturnal creatures of the night that preyed on the weak and defenseless as they slept unaware in their beds in remote cabins. He frowned and shook the thoughts from his mind as he instinctively snuggled further into the bedcovers.
His gaze was brought back to the window, as a large shadow appeared then disappeared. J.D. sat up immediately his eyes widening and blinking as he stared at the window. The shadow reappeared and this time came closer until its huge shape filled the window. J.D. kicked off the covers and crossed the room quickly, shaking Buck aggressively.
The older boy protested by trying to roll away with annoyed grunts.
"Buck!" J.D. whispered urgently.
"Buck!" J.D. tried again. "Wake up!"
"J.D. What the..."
"Ssssshhhh," J.D. replied urgently. "Look!"
Concerned at the frightened tone Buck lifted himself onto one elbow. "Look at what, J.D?"
"Theres something out there!" J.D. replied in a hushed fearful voice.
Buck half rolled his eyes and began to scoff when he heard a low growl. Looking up sharply he too saw the large beast-like shape that moved outside their window. Buck tried to move too quickly and he yelped as his head connected with the top bunk.
"Shut up, Buck!" J.D. cried in a panicked voice.
"My head!" the older boy bit back.
The growling returned only this time louder and the both boys looked back towards the window gasping. There were several loud thumps as menacing shape pounded on the window. Both boys scrambled for the door both yelling loudly to try and wake the others. In the darkness they became entangled and fell to the floor and this was repeated until they managed to open their door and fall into a heap in the hallway.
The light came on and both boys blinked as their eyes protested the light.
Clint loomed above them.
"What the hell is going on?" he demanded.
+ + + + + + +
The next morning J.D. tried desperately to keep the smug look from his face but it was a losing battle. As he spooned another mouthful of breakfast into his mouth and looked up to see the still unimpressed face of Buck glaring back at him from across the table, he broke out into more giggles.
"Very pleased with yourself arent ya, kid?" Buck mocked.
J.D. smiled but it was Vin who was sitting to his right who answered. "You should have seen your face, Buck," Vin taunted with a huge grin while Buck threw him a glare. "I wish I had thought of that," he added to J.D. and the younger boy shrugged modestly.
"I hurt myself," Buck pouted showing once again the dark bruise on his forehead.
J.D. squinted at the small mark. "I thought footballers were the toughest of all athletes," J.D. teased.
"That aint the point," Buck grumbled.
J.Ds face lit up as they were joined by some of the others.
"Hey," he called cheerfully. "Its the beast!" he laughed as Josiah entered the room followed by Nathan and Chris. Josiah grinned broadly before baring his teeth and growling, mimicking his fierce sounding noises from the previous night as he had worked with J.D. to scare Buck.
They all laughed except Buck who heaved a great big put upon sigh. Not one to hold a grudge he soon couldnt resist all the laughing and teasing around him and eyeing Josiah began smiling.
"Well you do have big feet!" Buck commented loudly.
Another wave of laughter started up as Josiah humorously modeled his large feet before patting Bucks shoulder lightly. "You did scare well!" Josiah replied.
Buck began to protest but was immediately bombarded with cereal flakes.
And that was how Clint found them as he wandered into kitchen and meal area. The boys became subdued a little at his arrival. The cop had not been too impressed about being woken in the middle of the night even though he did not even try and hide his amusement once he learnt Buck had been set up and set up very well.
"Morning," he announced and received a chorus of replies. He checked the room.
"Hes still asleep," Vin answered. "He doesnt get up early."
Clint nodded with a smirk and made his first morning cup of coffee as the boys started to debate what they would all do that day. Once it was clear they all had different ideas Clint suggested they split up which led to more discussion and even arguing until thankfully he managed to get them all out the door and gone less than twenty minutes later.
Closing the door with a relieved and satisfied sigh he made his way back to the kitchen and prepared himself a decent breakfast. He would make the most of the peace and quiet until Ezra finally arose.
+ + + + + + +
"Are we in a hurry?"
Vin looked back down the bush track and waited for Chris to catch up. "Cant keep up the pace?" he grinned.
"I can keep up," Chris replied with a quirk of his eyebrow. "I just dont see why we have to be moving so fast."
"Im used to running at this time of day," Vin replied. "You wanna do some running?" he offered.
"Id take it easy on you," the Texan drawled.
Chris snorted. "You dont think I could outrun you?"
"Nope!" Vin replied and smiled broadly again when Chris looked unimpressed at the hint of smugness in his tone.
"Well I aint trying so forget it," Chris decided.
Vin pretended to look disappointed before resuming walking, the pace the same as before, soon leaving Chris behind. Chris shook his head in resignation. Vin sure behaved just like a pain in the butt little brother at times.
The morning passed quickly as they hiked along the lake before starting to climb up a small ridge. It was at the top where they stopped, rested and ate.
"If youre joining the forces after you graduate you oughta think about getting in better shape," Vin teased after a mouthful of sandwich.
"I think Ill manage ok," Chris teased back.
"What are you going for?"
Vins eyebrows raised in reverence. "Special Ops?" he asked.
"Id like to," the blonde replied earnestly.
"You sure are aiming high, Larabee!" Vin whistled.
Chris shrugged a little but the Texan saw the determination light up in the blondes green eyes.
"Kinda suits you though," Vin continued. "No smiling, and all that glaring and scowling."
Chris narrowed his eyes into a frown and Vin chuckled. "So youve talked to your dad about it again?" the Texan asked seriously.
Chris gazed out at their view of the lake for a few seconds before answering. "Not since he got hurt," he replied. "But I know the answer. Theres a long history of men beings cops in my family. He expects me to continue the tradition."
"Cant you do both?" Vin asked knowing many cops started their careers in the military.
Chris shook his head adamantly. "Ever since the accident," he began and paused as he swallowed. "It's the only thing Ive been sure about."
"I want Special Ops," he added staring at Vin resolutely.
Vin nodded understandingly and they fell back into silence. Both drawn to military careers was another characteristic they had in common not that Texan was as sure as Chris was. But he figured he had a few more years in which to decide. And he was enjoying the life he had now. Foster parents who cared a great deal about him and friends. Close friends who he believed were possible to keep well into adulthood.
"I wonder if Ezra is up yet?" Vin asked Chris.
Chris smirked. "Or how hes coping with my dad?"
"We should have waited and brought him with us," Vin commented, still feeling guilty at leaving Ezra behind.
"He would have complained the entire time," Chris stated. "Thats if he came at all. He never does anything he doesnt want to."
"I think Im more aware of that than anyone," Vin replied with a smile. Having Ezra as roommate was as challenging as it was fun.
"You have got closer to him than anyone else," Chris admitted. "But dont get too used to having him around. His mother could yank him at any time even as soon as Christmas," he warned softly.
Vin grimaced. "Maybe," he replied softly. "But Id worry more about him than me."
Chris frowned. "What do you mean?"
"This is first time Ezra has really found people he can call friends. Friends that hes learning to trust. I dont know if hed find that again if he left Regents," Vin explained.
Chris studied the younger boy beside him. It wasnt the first time the Texans depth of understanding amazed him. He knew Vin had to grow up quickly. Probably too quickly and his instincts and feelings about people were usually very accurate and his insight here was probably very true. As much as he clashed with Ezra, Chris had no doubts that the southerner fit into their group for some strange reason and for the first time it disturbed him to think of Ezra alone again.
"I dont think any of us will," Chris replied.
+ + + + + + +
"Funny, isn't it?" Josiah said suddenly, breaking the silence.
"I don't know, Josiah, it might be if you let me in on the joke," Nathan responded good-naturedly teasing. He and the others often joked about how the older boy would make sudden comments that evolved in his thought processes but had to be explained to them. Every once in a while one or two of them could make that leap in logic with him, most notably Ezra and Vin, but most often the rest of them were left with puzzled looks until he could explain sufficiently to clue them in. And by then they were all too frustrated to recognize the import of what he had said in the first place. But it never stopped Josiah. And Nathan had to admit that he liked the round about way that the senior used. He had come to see that it was not so much because Josiah was attempting to show off a superior intellect but actually the exact opposite; his way of speaking actually kept his own opinions, his own conclusions, to himself and allowed the listener to decide for themselves. Out of the other six, Nathan knew he was the one who appreciated that the most and was most often the only one who put up with Josiah. Although he had never spoken about it to Chris, and he had to figure that since the two seniors had roomed together for a couple of years that maybe Chris appreciated it as well.
A self-effacing smile crept across Josiah's face briefly before he answered. "How we all came up here to be together and now we've all separated."
"Well, you've got to expect it," Nathan stated. "I mean look at us, Josiah, the only thing the seven of us really got in common is that we go to the same school. And seven is a hard number to keep together."
"You're just looking at the surface there, Nate," the other boy pointed out as he gazed out the windshield watching the road they were traveling on.
"No, I'm just talking about how you and Chris are going to graduate this year. Things will be very different next year," Nathan responded quietly as if it were only now that he was voicing that thought that the full weight of its meaning hit him. Josiah nodded, allowing his eyes to leave the road only briefly as he turned and caught Nathan's gaze. That reminded the younger boy of something he had been meaning to ask the senior. "So what exactly are you going to do once you graduate?"
Josiah did not reply as they pulled up to the Railroad Museum. Instead he concentrated on pulling into the lot and finding a space to park. Nathan knew that the older boy was not ignoring his question but pondering it and that he would answer it in his own good time, most likely when Nathan had forgotten he had asked it. So he left it alone and together the two boys exited the SUV and made their way over to the museum. They wandered around to see the sights and buy the tickets to take the ride on the old style train. They talked about the items of interest that they found and even talked about what it would have been like when these trains were the most marvelous and powerful of creations.
Then when it was finally time, the boys eagerly climbed aboard the train and quickly found seats that they hoped would give them the best views of the scenery. It was not until they had traveled for a bit and both found themselves a bit lulled by the comforting motion of the train, that Josiah picked up the topic of conversation from the drive in. There was enough room that Josiah sat in one chair with Nathan behind him. This way they could both see out the window and converse at the same time. "I don't know," the older boy stated. He gazed out the window for a long moment before continuing, "I haven't given much thought about what I will do once I graduate."
Nathan's surprise had him sitting back in his seat, staring at the back of Josiah's head. The other boy just continued to watch the scenery go by as if he had not just dropped a bomb. But Nathan found it unfathomable that someone as methodical as Josiah could not have already worked out exactly what he was going to do for the rest of his life. Josiah was their rock, their anchor. Yes, they all knew that his family life was just as imperfect, if not more so, than the rest of theirs. But simply because he was the one who saw so much deeper into things, they all simply figured that he had his life all figured out as well. It was then that Nathan realized that they had all allowed Josiah to guide them, never once realizing that he himself was adrift.
"Youre going to go to college, arent you?" Nate blurted out.
"Yes, that will be one of the avenues by which I continue my education," the older boy said cryptically.
"One of the avenues?" Nathan prodded, wishing that Josiah would turn and look at him, instead of staring out the window.
"Look at the world around you, Nate. Its gorgeous! Full of so much life, so much vitality. So very much to learn and see." Finally blue-gray eyes turned to meet Nathans brown. "You know what you want to be, how you want to live your life. You always have. I admire that about you, Nate. And maybe I envy it a little."
"Youre one of the smartest people, Ive ever met, Josiah. You can be and do whatever you want," the younger boy was quick to reassure.
"I know only what my father wants me to be."
Nate shook his head. "Just because its what your father wants doesnt mean you have to do it."
"Oh I know that," the senior answered, "the question was if you knew it and believed it."
Realization dawned and once again Nathan was in awe at how Josiah had twisted things around so that he was looking more deeply into his own motivations and his own life. Shaking his head, he answered, "Dont worry about me. Being a doctor has always been what I want to be. And its not because its what my parents want and not just following in their footsteps. In fact, my dad has tried to talk me into being a lawyer, but thats not what I want. I want to help people and I want to be hands on about it. Sure, the fact that both my parents are doctors has something to do with it. But what I become is my decision, not theirs."
Not once had Nathans gaze wavered from Josiahs. But once he finished speaking the junior felt a flush of self-consciousness and his eyes flicked out to the landscape rolling away beside them.
"Well if youve convinced yourself, then youve convinced me," Josiah stated as he, too, turned back to his window.
"Thats what you oughta do," Nathan said to the back of Josiahs head in frustration. "You oughta become a psychiatrist. You just love messing with peoples minds."
A deep chuckle resonated from the seat in front of him. "Now I do believe that a psychiatrist is supposed to help straighten out a persons mind, not mess with it."
Nathan rolled his eyes and stated in exasperation, "The devil's in the details."
"What was that?" Josiah asked as he turned back around.
"My grandma used to always say that the devil's in the details." He paused and when he didn't get a response from Josiah, he started to explain that it was just a crack about the older boy getting nitpicky about the details of being a psychiatrist. But he did not get an opportunity.
"Yes, he is indeed in the details," Josiah agreed sadly and once again the boy who was only a year older than Nathan suddenly seemed far older than that.
Intuitively knowing where Josiah's thoughts were at present, Nathan prodded him, wanting him to share more about how he felt. The senior was always there for everyone else. It was now time for Nathan to return the favor. "How is Hannah?" He fully expected the long pause that followed his question and did not press.
"She grows more beautiful everyday. And unfortunately more rebellious," Josiah admitted.
Nathan looked around at the other passengers on the train. They were mostly families, young families with little kids excited about riding on a big train, or choo-choo as the toddlers described it. They brought to mind Nathan's own memories of vacation trips with his parents when he was younger. A sharp pang struck him, as he missed those times spent with his mother and father. But he knew he should be at least grateful for the fact that he had those memories at least. After all, he was going to be a doctor as well, and maybe one day he would have a wife and family who complained that he was not around as much as he should be. He knew that his parents tried to spend as much time with him as they could, so he should not be bitter. Josiah, on the other hand, did not seem to have very many pleasant memories, except perhaps for that time before his mothers death.
"More rebellious?" he finally questioned.
"Yes. She has found some new friends and spends as much time with them as she can. Of course my father does not like this, but he cant see that the more he tries to repress her the more he is driving her away," Josiah stated, the words driven by emotion, falling out far more quickly than normal for him.
Nathan reached out and placed a hand on Josiahs chair, pulling himself closer so that they could have a bit more privacy. "But dont you think its good for her to have some good friends?"
Josiah shook his head, "Not these friends. Hannah doesnt tell me much about them, like shes hiding something. But what little Ive heard, I dont like. I never thought I would agree with my dad about something, but I do. But when I try to tell her that maybe these arent the kinds of friends she needs, she cuts me off or tells me that it isnt any of my business."
Nathan moved his hand from the chair back to Josiahs shoulder. The younger boy really had no idea on what to say. He was an only child and simply had no idea about how things worked with younger siblings, especially girls. But he did know how close Josiah and Hannah had always been, so he knew that these admissions from his friend were incredibly painful. So he did all that he could to reassure his friend, but his own words rang hollow in his own ears. "Maybe its just a stage, Josiah."
"I certainly hope so," Josiah whispered back before the boys lapsed into silence. Nathan clasped the seniors shoulder once more before then settling back down into his chair. As the train slipped through Burton Tunnel, Nathan searched for some topic of conversation that might pull Josiah out of the dark mood he seemed to be spiraling down into. But then the train emerged into daylight once again and Nathan did not have to worry about Josiahs mood anymore.
At first he was startled as he had no idea about what was happening, but his confusion quickly gave way as he noticed the thrill of anticipation that seemed to sweep through their train car. And when Josiah turned around to face him with a huge beam on his face, Nathan knew that he had somehow missed an important detail about this particular train ride. Josiah laughed as he saw the juniors confusion.
"Its a holdup, Nate!"
And just then, Nathan did indeed notice two horsemen, dressed in the gear of Old West outlaws, racing alongside the train with guns drawn. Now he completely understood the thrill of anticipation as it filled him as well. He laughed with Josiah as they felt the train begin to slow. He did not know how he could have missed seeing that this train ride included a holdup reenactment, but he did not care now. It would be too much fun. Nearly pressing his nose against the window, Nathan shifted around so that he would not miss a moment of the action. He wanted to be able to describe everything to the others so that he could let them know exactly what they had missed.
+ + + + + + +
Buck gripped the side of the small boat as JD pushed the 40 horsepower outboard flat out so that they were skimming along the water at around 35 mph. At first he was a little apprehensive about giving over control to him but the young boy was so keen and listened to the instructions so seriously that Buck forewent his usual caution about allowing someone else in charge of the boat. JD picked up the right power ratios and steering easily and Buck soon realized JD would not be relinquishing his position at the helm anytime that day.
They had loaded up the rods and gear and headed for an area of the lake Buck had fished before. Anchoring, they had fished from the boat for an hour or so without success until Buck reeled in a medium sized catch. Faced with the prospect of cleaning his catch, Buck proposed they let it go and head over to the general store and cafe near one of the main camping and cabin rental sites. Relishing the opportunity to be in charge of the boat once again JD readily agreed.
Half an hour later JD glided the boat towards the main jetty and Buck alighted and moored the boat. Then they wandered up to the picnic area beside the cafe.
"Man, Im hungry already," Buck announced as they approached a vacant table. "Im gonna get a cheeseburger and fries. You want one?"
JD looked puzzled as he placed the small cooler on the table. "But Mr. Larabee packed us lunch." JD replied.
Buck snorted and winked. "Yeah well it wont be the first time weve tossed a packed lunch and bought something better right?"
JDs eyes widened and a wounded expression flickered across his face. Buck was already regretting his admission before JD even replied.
"No, I never threw out my lunch. My mother always made everything that went into my lunchbox. And I never had any money to buy anything else. We couldnt afford it."
Buck winced. "Im sorry, JD. I never meant to ..."
"Its ok, Buck," the boy replied quickly. "Its just... you know ... my mom."
"I know, kid," Buck replied softly. Then he grinned and added. "My mom has never been much into cooking."
JD grinned back. "Yeah, but shes a incredible writer."
Buck shook his head. "Youre not still reading her books are ya?"
JD turned a little sheepish but nodded. "Only the adventure ones," he explained.
Buck chuckled. "Adventure ones?" he queried raising his eyebrows.
JDs eyes lit up. "The one Im reading now has pirates in it!" he gushed.
"Pirates," Buck scoffed as he took the lid of the cooler and foraged to see what Clint had packed for them.
"Theres this dangerous French pirate and his name is Remy..."
"Remy?" Buck snorted. "What kind of name is Remy. It sounds like a girls name!"
"Well hes not a girl. Hes a very dangerous pirate but hes good not bad. And hes got to rescue this girl from the evil pirate and..."
"Let me guess," Buck interrupted. "He rescues the girl and she falls hopelessly in love with the French pirate with the girly name but she doesnt tell him because shes afraid he doesnt feel the same way. So she says nothing and then when its almost too late... because shes leaving... the French pirate sweeps her into his arms and declares his undying love and begs her to stay."
JD blinked in the brief silence. "Youve read it then?"
Buck let out an exasperated sigh. "No. Her books are all like that!" he replied as he returned to pulling the food items out of the cooler. "I have got to find you some alternative reading material!" he added shaking his head.
"Turkey, ham and cheese sandwiches and BBQ chips," Buck lamented as the full contents of the cooler were revealed. "Dont spose we could at least go and buy a couple of Cokes?"
"Ill have a Pepsi," JD grinned. "And a Snickers bar."
"I aint asking for no Pepsi," Buck declared adamantly.
JD rolled his eyes. He was used to the older boys teasing of his choice of preferred drink and his attempts to convert him so he was not surprised when Buck returned with two Cokes and other assorted goodies. While they ate they talked football and then girls or more correctly Buck told his stories, which JD had heard many times but listened to again anyway. Afterwards Buck decided to push the younger boy on a subject that had not been answered earlier.
"So youll be going with your father for Christmas at this place theyre staying in Europe?"
JD looked down and played with his remaining food. "I dont know," he replied quietly.
"Well what did he say when you asked him?"
"Just that hed have to see if it was workable.. what with his new family and everything," JD replied.
Buck drew in sharp breath to try and control his anger. He couldnt understand it. It would be JDs first Christmas without his mother. How could the man be so callous?
"Then spend Christmas with my mom and me," Buck blurted.
Big brown eyes looked up at him in surprise and delight. "Really?"
"Yeah," Buck replied knowing it felt like the right thing already. "But Im telling ya her cooking is awful and she insists on cooking at Christmas. So youll have to pretend to like the food just like Chris, Clint and I have to do," he added with a grin.
"I dont mind," JD laughed as he rejoiced at the idea of spending Christmas with Buck, Beatrice and even Chris and Clint.
"Ill remember you said that," Buck replied. "But first youd have to check with your dad. He may still take you to Europe with his family," he added encouragingly.
JD smiled faintly. He already knew that given an option Jonathan Dunne would be keen for him to spend Christmas somewhere else. He remembered all too clearly the tone in his fathers voice when he had asked him about Christmas during their last telephone call. And even though the hurt and bitter disappointment had erupted in his chest in real physical pain he automatically responded that he understood when in reality he never did.
"Maybe," he replied when Buck began to look at him intently. "Will your dad be there?" JD asked eager to change the subject from his own father.
Buck looked at him in astonishment. "No. I dont see my father. You know that," he replied tersely.
"Have you ever wanted to see him?" JD asked curiously.
Buck shrugged. "Sometimes," he admitted honestly. "But then hes never bothered to see me so I figure he wants it this way."
"Maybe he thinks you wouldnt want to see him," JD replied.
"Hed be right," Buck admitted. "I dont need him."
JD nodded and a poignant silence fell between them. "But if you ever want to meet your dad, Ill come with you if you like," JD offered.
Buck stared at the younger boy in wonder. His own relationship with his father was strained and awkward at best and yet he wanted Buck to have a chance at a relationship with his own father.
"Thanks," he replied softly. Buck cleared his throat and checked his watch. "We should head back. Otherwise the old man will be sending out a search party."
They packed up and deposited their rubbish in the trash cans and made their way back to the jetty. Two teenage girls sat on the jetty, their legs moving back and forth in the water as they rested back on their hands. JD groaned when the girls and Buck saw each other and Buck eyed them appreciatively. The two girls giggled and smiled at him.
"Mr. Larabee said no angry or upset fathers remember?" JD reminded him.
Buck smiled not taking his eyes off the girls. "It wouldnt be polite not to go and have a little chat with them," Buck answered and JD knew he was already forgotten. Sighing he followed his friend as the taller boy already began swaggering towards the girls.
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