ATF-Little Britches Universe
Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.
Authors note: Thanks as ever to the creators of this wonderful AU and to Phyllis for proof reading it for me.
On the morning of the first of December, JD Dunne woke up with a start. He looked over at the other bed in the room to see Vin, also awake and staring back at him. Then Vin's often serious young face broke into a huge grin, and he reached for his advent calendar. Both boys had been given a chocolate advent calendar by, of all people, Nathan Jackson. The calendars featured traditional Christmas scenes. Vin's had a Santa on it and JD's, Rudolf. There were twenty-four little doors hidden all over the bright pictures, and behind each door was a small tablet of chocolate featuring some Christmas symbol in relief, a bell, a candle, Santa. The chocolates themselves were small, but to the two boys, the chance to start each day with a piece of candy - even before breakfast - was quite wonderful.
It seemed Nathan has seen them on a trip to Ikea the year before, before any of them had ever heard of Vin Tanner and JD Dunne. But when it became clear the boys were going to be staying, he immediately set about locating two, even though it was only September. After weeks of searching for calendars on the Internet, he located and ordered the two calendars and only then set about persuading Chris and Buck to let the boys have them.
This was to be their first Christmas together, and everyone wanted it to be special. The two hadn't really got over the excitement of Halloween, their anticipation just simmered for a while, but ever since Thanksgiving, it had definitely been rising. Nathan argued that the calendars would help them understand how long they had to wait. Eventually, the boys' two guardians had agreed.
Vin grabbed his calendar off the dresser and opened the first little door; he had located it the night before and memorised its position. The chocolate inside was heavenly - especially since the calendars came from Germany. JD took his calendar and sat back on the bed, hesitating.
"Do ya need help findin' the right number?" Vin asked. It seemed unlikely, JD was nearly three years younger than Vin, but because Vin had never really been to school and JD was a 'gifted' child, they did virtually the same work.
JD shook his head.
"You want me to help you open it?" Vin offered.
In response JD hugged the calendar close to his chest.
"I ain't gonna take it nor nothin'," Vin protested, indignantly.
"I know," JD admitted in an uncharacteristically small voice. Then he got down off the bed and trotted out of the room.
Knocking once on Buck Wilmington's bedroom door, he instantly got an invitation to come in. Once in, the door shut. The two of them remained in there for some ten minutes before JD ran out, opened calendar in hand, to dress and face the day with his usual gusto.
Neither man nor boy would say what when on, but it continued every morning, their own private calendar opening ceremony. That first December night a second tradition was inaugurated. Josiah came over with an advent candle. A tall white taper candle beautiful painted and marked in numbered graduations, one to twenty-four. Every night they would light it and then blow it out when the next number was reached. When it got to the last number, Josiah explained there would be sufficient candle left to burn throughout Christmas day. The candle was placed on the mantelpiece and lit by Vin with a long paper taper. It burned for a good two hours. All during supper, which Josiah stayed for, JD would get down and run into the living room to check on it's progress. And it was JD who finally blew it out. The other graduations represented about an hour's burn, and Buck and Chris learnt to have Vin light it one hour before bedtime, that way, JD blowing it out was the signal that it was time to sleep.
Things went well for nearly two weeks. They went Christmas shipping to buy presents for their 'uncles'. Then JD went with Buck to buy presents for Chris and Vin, while Vin and Chris purchased gifts for Buck and JD. Then they swapped and JD found himself out with Chris to find a present for Buck. In JD's world, Buck had become a third type of parent; there were mothers, of which he had great experience, fathers, about which he knew very little, but was learning from Chris what a good father was like, and then there were 'Bucks'. To JD, Buck was not so much a name as a title. At school, he had begun to refer to the tall Federal Agent as 'my Buck' as opposed to 'my mom' or 'my dad'.
They went to the big mall just outside the city, Chris steered JD away from the toyshops and the big chain shops and toward a collection of gift and nostalgia shops. Having plied JD with a small ice cream, the two sat down by an ornamental fountain to discuss what to buy Buck for Christmas.
"Whatta 'm I gonna get?" JD asked between licks.
"Well, what does Buck like?" Chris asked.
"Girls." JD made a face.
Suppressing his laughter, not only at JD's attitude to girls, but that the five-year-old had Buck so well taped, he continued. "Yes he does, but you can't give him a girl for Christmas, can you?"
JD frowned. "Can't you? But Buck says girls are expensive. How can they be expensive if you can't buy them?"
Chris could almost hear Buck saying 'get out of that one, Larabee'. "What he means is that taking girls out, to restaurants and movies is expensive. You can't buy people."
"If it's expensive, why does he do it?" JD licked his ice cream as he waited for an answer, his deep hazel eyes never leaving Larabee's face.
Buck's voice whispered in Chris' head, 'he's got you now, Stud!'. "Well nice things are expensive, and girls are nice."
Now JD knew that wasn't so, girls were silly and he didn't like them one little bit - no matter what Buck said. Chris read the expression on the boy's face.
"Honestly, girls are nice - when you're older, then you'll believe me." JD was about to argue the point so Chris quickly cut him off. "Come on eat up or we won't have time to shop. What else does Buck like - apart from girls?"
JD thought a moment.
"Yup, what kind?"
That surely was true, Lethal Weapon and Die Hard were among his favourites.
"Um, music, he likes singing."
Chris had to laugh, Buck did sing a lot, in the house, in the car, and - much to the annoyance of the rest of the team - in the surveillance van and on stake outs. The others liked to tease him about his, 'caterwauling', as Ezra put it, but while he wasn't in Ezra's category, he had a respectable voice.
"Do you know what kind of music he likes?"
"Elvis!" JD shouted, as he leapt to his feet and did an Elvis style pelvic swivel, just a Buck had taught both boys.
Chris led the small boy into a store selling, among other things, fifties nostalgia.
It all started to go wrong on Tuesday the 10th of December. Orin Travis called Chris with orders that could not be changed - and he had tried to change them, but it was not to be. Over eighteen months before, long before any of them had heard of Vin Tanner or JD Dunne, Ezra and Buck had been working undercover for a long four months on a case involving illegal explosives. They didn't know it at the time, but they quickly discovered. that the said explosives were ex army stock. It eventually transpired that they had come from a huge consignment scheduled for destruction. The trail of army corruption lead all the way to the top and now there was a Senate hearing on the matter. Agents Standish and Wilmington were scheduled to give evidence in the new year, but now their testimony was required early and both would have to fly to DC on Wednesday the 18th and testify all day Thursday and most of Friday.
"What!" Buck exploded.
"Mr Larabee, we have not prepared our testimonies, this is not enough notice." Ezra protested, while beside him Buck fumed.
"I know, you two are excused all duties as of now so you can concentrate on this alone, I "
"The 19th? We're gonna be in DC on the 19th?" Buck cut in, needing conformation of his worst fears.
"Yeah, I'm sorry Buck, the Judge did all he could to change the dates, sorry."
Ezra could see the look on his tall friend's face, a frightening combination of anger, disappointment and total devastation. "I don't " he started.
"The boy's school play," Chris supplied.
"Oh Lord, yes of course. Oh Buck I am so sorry, I too will be most disappointed to miss it, but my loss does not compare to yours, what can I say?" Ezra placed a hand on Buck's shoulder.
The boy's school nativity play was scheduled for Thursday the 19th, in the evening. Vin was to be a Shepard. Josiah had borrowed him a costume from his church and Ezra had purchased a life size - very realistic - toy lamb for him to carry. He and Chris had gone into the woods, together they had cut down a straight young sapling and trimmed and sanded it into a perfect shepherds crook. JD's class were to be the children of the world and each child had drawn a piece of paper out of a hat to find out who was to be which country, with JD hitting the jackpot and getting America. There had been some dispute in the Larabee-Wilmington household about what costume JD should wear, Native American was the PC choice, baseball player was suggested, even ATF agent - that was Vin's idea. But to JD there was no choice, he was going to be a cowboy, and not just any cowboy, he would be a sheriff, because he too wanted to be a lawman one day. He had jeans and boots, he even had a hat. Buck purchased a red plaid shirt and a sheriffs star. Vin had been none to sure about performing on stage, but he was just one of a whole crowd of shepherd's and could hide at the back, he didn't have any lines, he just had to join in with the group song. JD, who was never short of something to say, had landed the only speaking part from his class, and had rehearsed his four word line endlessly.
Buck was too upset to take in Ezra's words of condolence as he turned away and kicked the nearest chair; it flew across the room on its castors and slammed into the glass wall behind the blinds. Several slats on the blind broke and there was the ominous crack of glass splintering. Buck didn't stop to see what damage he had done as he tore out of the office, slamming first Chris' door and then the bullpen door as he went. Ezra stepped out to examine the damaged glass panel, now cracked right across one corner.
"How many does that make this year?" Josiah asked, coming over to take a look.
"Three," Nathan added. "I win."
Ezra looked up. "Oh no! The bet was how many panels Chris would break in a year, you can't count this, this goes down to Buck."
"Buck? We saw him come flying out, what's up?" Josiah asked.
Ezra told them the whole thing and about how distressed Buck was. He also explained, that as they spoke, that Chris was ringing Inez to warn her, since that was Buck's most likely destination and to keep an eye on the big man. Buck wouldn't get drunk, he would buy a drink and then sit in a dark corner and brood until he had calmed down or decided to do something about the problem - that was when trouble usually came.
Buck had brooded for a good hour before he calmed down enough to return to the office. Inez had watched and noted how much he drank - less than half a single shot of whisky - and called Chris when he got up to leave.
They decided to tell the boys as soon as was practical. So many adults had lied to the boys, cheated them, let them down, that both men had sworn to be as truthful with them as it was possible to be. After supper - and they had deliberately called Mrs Potter and told her not to make supper, as they would bring the boys favourite pizza home with them - Buck took JD into the boys room to tell him, while Chris told Vin in the living room.
"JD son?" Buck began as he sat the boy on his lap. "You know I work for the law, don't you?"
"Uh huh," JD confirmed.
"And sometimes I have to go to court to say what I know about the bad guys?"
"You have to tess-ee-fly," JD confirmed solemnly.
"Yup that's right, I have to testify. Well, a long time ago, before I met you and Vin, me and your Uncle Ezra caught some bad men, and now we have to testify against them, but " He held JD closer. " the men were very important and I have to go to Washington DC to testify."
JD looked up at his foster father very seriously.
"That is a long way away, isn't it?"
"Yes it is, I will have to be away for three days. Now, Vin and Chris will be here and I'll call you everyday, I promise." Buck tried to sound matter of fact about the whole thing.
JD thought for a bit, then he asked. "Are you going tomorrow?"
"No Little Bit, I have to go next Wednesday, that means " He took a deep breath. " I won't be able to come to your play and see you be a cowboy, I'm sorry Little Bit."
JD thought very hard and then turned around and knelt up to look Wilmington in the face. Words spilled out of the little boy in a cascade. "But I want you to come you said you would come can't you tess-ee-fly another day? Tell them you can't come tell them Buck tell them you can't come please tell "
"JD stop, take a breath." Buck held the little boy close, feeling the tiny body in his arms trembling, cool tears fell on his shoulder as JD stared to cry. "No, I can't tell them I can't come. These are very important people, if I don't come they will be very angry, they could even put me in jail if I don't come."
"No!" JD pulled himself back. "They can't do that, no!"
"JD it's all right, I'm not going to jail, but I do have to go to Washington for a few days, I'm so sorry. But you know what?"
"Uncle Josiah is going to video the whole show so I can see it when I get back. Alright?"
JD didn't think it was all right, it wasn't the same at all, but his Buck was looking so sad. He didn't want him to be sad.
"All right." He put his arms around Buck's neck again. "Will you call me?"
"Everyday Little Bit, I promise."
"And will you lookted after Uncle Ezra, 'cause Chris says Uncle Ezra always gets into trouble if he don't watch him alled the time."
That helped to keep Buck's own tears at bay. "Yes," he laughed. "I'll look after Ezra, don't you worry about him."
Like all five-year-olds JD quickly forgot about the impending separation and lived in the here and now. He and Buck still opened his calendar together every morning and they still lit the advent candle every night. The only reminder of what was about to happen was the amount to work Buck had to bring home. Normally it was Chris who brought home paperwork, JD wasn't used to Buck working when he was at home, he had always had Buck available to play with and pester with his endless questions when he was at home. But Chris made an effort to be more available and the extra excitement of Christmas helped to keep both boys' minds of the impending separation. The only real problem came on Saturday. JD came tearing through the house, as he rushed passed the coffee table, he knocked two huge piles of documents off on to the rug, mixing them up.
"Damn it JD!" Buck shouted as he stood up surveying the wreckage of three hours work.
JD stopped and looked at the papers.
"I'm sorry, I can pick them up." He instantly dropped to his knees and began to gather the papers - further mixing them up.
"No! JD you're making it worse, just just dont' touch anything." Buck stooped and began to sort the scattered papers as JD stood up and just waited with his head down. "What have I told you about running in the house?" Buck asked, as he placed papers in piles.
"Not allowed." JD whispered.
"NO! You're not. Honestly JD, I told you I have to work this afternoon and to stay out of the living room, didn't I?"
"Yes sir." If anything the voice was even smaller.
JD had never called Buck 'sir' before. Finally Buck actually looked up at his foster son. The little boy was standing with his head down, but it couldn't hide the huge teardrops hitting the rug in front of him. He took a deep calming breath and put down the papers he was holding.
"Come here Little Bit," He called softly and held out his arm to JD. Once JD moved to stand beside the kneeling agent, Buck enveloped him in a hug, before he continued. "I'm sorry JD, I know you didn't mean it, I'm just a bit tired. Ok?"
JD nodded. Buck wiped the tears away with his thumb.
"I'm sorry I yelled at you. Now go find Vin and remember not to run in the house - all right? Love you." He kissed JD gently on the cheek.
"Love you too." JD returned the kiss.
Wednesday came all too soon. Ezra and Buck were flying out at seven in the evening, that meant checking in at five thirty. Chris and Buck collected the boys from school and then took them home. There they had a snack, chocolate ring doughnuts with multi coloured sprinkles- JD's favourite - and chocolate milk, while they ate, the advent candle burned. As soon as it was out they all piled into the Dodge and headed for the airport. Christmas was still a week away but it was already chaos at the airport. People and luggage fought for floor space in the terminal.
Vin, walking beside Chris, tightened his hold on Larabee's hand, in return Chris stopped to lift him up. Vin was really too big to be carried much, but on this occasion Chris knew he would be happier away from the throng that cut off his view and hemmed him in. Ezra had a luggage cart, carrying Buck's one duffle and suit bag and his huge suitcase. JD was clamped around Wilmington's hip like a limpet. He remained there until, with their luggage checked in, Buck and Ezra were ready to go through the security checks and into the departure lounge.
Buck knelt down and peeled JD away from him. That was all it took, JD had been silent the whole time since they arrived at the airport, his thumb in his mouth, now he began to cry, the thumb came out and both arms wrapped themselves around Buck's neck.
"Don't go, please Buck please don't go I don't want you to leave me, take me too I'll be good please," he wailed between sobs.
Buck could feel his own tears coming as he placed one big hand either side of JD, the boy was so small he could almost encircle him with just his hands. He gently pushed JD back a little so he could look at him.
"I don't want to go JD, but I have too, I am not leaving you, I'll be back. I know you are a good boy, but you can't come - I'm sorry. Now " He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped JD's tears before he made him blow his nose. " you be a good boy for Chris and Mrs Potter, you play nice with Vin, and be the best cowboy ever tomorrow night, and I will be home on Friday - okay?"
Buck looked pleadingly over JD's head at Chris. Even without being asked Vin moved in Chris' grasp to be let down, once on the floor he took hold of Larabee's belt as Buck lifted JD up and passed him to Chris. JD resisted at first but then clamped his legs around Chris narrow hips and buried his head in the blondes neck. Swallowing back his own tears, Buck turned away and strode into the departure lounge without looking back. Standish walked silently beside him for a few paces. He could see Wilmington's jaw working as he tried to keep his emotions under control.
Buck loved JD, but he hadn't realised quite what that meant, quite how much a simple two day separation would affect him. He didn't expect to feel so bereft, so alone, so angry.
"I need a drink," he stated, heading toward the bar.
Ezra decided it would not be wise to try and stop him.
JD sniffled for some of the drive home before falling asleep. When they arrived, he woke and walked quietly into the house for supper. Although he was unusually quiet, he didn't cry and went to bed with no fuss. In the morning Vin watched as he reached for his advent calendar, ready to trot off to Buck for their morning opening ceremony, and then pull his hand back, he gave a little sigh and began getting dressed. Vin got off the bed and walked over.
"JD?" he asked quietly.
"Ya want me t' help you or anything?" Vin looked at the unopened calendar on the dresser.
JD looked back at the calendar, then shook his head. "No 's okay, thanks." JD pulled on a sock, then he looked up. "Vin?" he asked.
"Buck 'll come back, won't he?"
"'Course he will. Come on, we don't wanna be late t' day, do we?"
JD gave a little smile and pulled on the other sock. At Breakfast, he ate his Cherrios and pancakes quietly, but as the meal ended and the boys were heading to the bathroom to brush their teeth, he turned to Chris.
"What day is it?" JD asked.
"Thursday, JD, your gonna do the play today - remember?"
"No, I mean what number is it?"
"It's he nineteenth, is that what you meant?"
JD nodded at this and suddenly ran into the boys' room.
The excitement of the school nativity play was enough to keep Buck's absence at the back of JD's mind, in the morning they practised their songs one more time, and made special cookies, to give to their families after the play. Vin's class made cookies out of shortbread, cut out with special Christmas cutters. There were two cutters for every shape, a large and a small. They used the small one to cut out the centre of their cookies and so make a hollow shape, and then, when the cookies were on the baking sheet, they placed one hard candy in the centre. Vin was amazed at the result when the cookies were taken out of the oven. The sweet had melted and spread out to fill the space, now it was cool and hard again it looked like coloured glass - stained glass cookies!
JD was equally absorbed with his cooking. His cookies were in the shape of Santa's head. They had pink icing on their face, and red in the hat. A marshmallow was added to the top of the hat and mini marshmallows around the edge. A red Smartie for his nose with a strip of Strawberry liquorish for his mouth. Two blue Smarties for eyes completed the picture. Most of the children ate more candy than ever made it on to Santa's face, but their teacher had anticipated this and provided far more then was going to be needed. Some of the faces were recognisable as Santa - some were not. JD took a long time over his, he didn't eat one single bit of candy and his was near perfect.
In the afternoon they had the dress rehearsal for the play. When Mrs Potter arrived to collect them, JD was dressed in his normal school cloths, with his cowboy clothes on his chair in his classroom and ready to go. Normally there seemed to be a hundred and one things the little boy had to do before he was ready to go home. Vin and Mrs Potter normally had to wait while he finished whatever picture he was doing or model he was making. Then he had to find all the things he had to take home, visit the bathroom, and put on his coat himself no matter how long it took. All this usually took anything up to fifteen minutes, but today he was dressed and waiting when Gloria arrived, he held her hand and walked quietly, never pulling or bouncing when they walked to the car.
Gloria gave them supper early so they could go back to school. Chris and the others would meet them there. Putting on his costume Vin felt a familiar knot of fear in his stomach. He had learned early in life not to draw attention to himself, to never stand out, to never speak out. Getting up on stage was the very opposite of that. But Chris was there, he had peeked into the school hall and was reassured to see not just Chris, but Gloria Potter, Nathan and Rain sitting in the third row. He looked to the back of the hall to see Josiah standing at the back with an impressively professional looking video camera. So many parents now had video cameras that the school had been forced to ban them and instead, have the show professionally taped and sell the tapes [for a small profit toward school funds]. But given the very unusual circumstances, the head teacher had agreed to Josiah setting up his ATF camera next to the official one.
Vin, in his long blue and white shepherd's robes hurried to JD's classroom to tell him the family had arrived.
"Theyre here JD," he assured the small cowboy.
"'Kay." JD was going to do the play because not to would be being bad, and he was trying to hard be good, just like Buck asked him to be, but he was no longer excited.
Vin noticed the lack of enthusiasm.
"Uncle 'siah' s filming us, so Buck can see it when he gets home," Vin reminded.
JD looked up, he had almost forgotten that. That made it different, he had to be the best cowboy he could be - for Buck.
When Vin came out on stage with the other shepherds he was careful to be at the back, as hidden as possible, but as he knelt there, he could see Chris smiling at him, even though the older children were saying the important stuff Chris was only looking at him. As they stood to sing the shepherd song, Vin edged a little closer to the front, Chris was still watching him, still smiling. He took strength and courage from his new father and sang with gusto. When they finished and all the adults clapped and cheered, Vin was amazed how good that felt, he locked eyes with Larabee, and let a smile spread across his face. After the kings had given their gifts, the children of the world came out to sing 'Away in a Manger' then before the whole school sang 'We Wish You A Merry Christmas' JD stepped forward. He searched the third row, just to be sure Buck really wasn't there, then he looked up and found Josiah, and looking directly onto the camera, he shouted.
"God bless, us everyone!"
Even though the boys were dog tired and JD had slept the whole way home they insisted on lighting the candle - which meant it would be an hour before Chris could get them in to bed. A compromise was reached. The candle would come into the bathroom while he bathed them in the same tub, then they would get into bed and it would burn while Chris read a story. JD looked like he could hardly keep his eyes open but the last part of the deal was the most important. The candle was almost to the 20 marker. Chris had just finished the story and now picked up the cordless phone, he speed dialled Buck's cell phone.
"Hi Chris," Wilmington answered, recognising the number instantly.
"Hi pal, we have two very tired young actors here, who wanna say goodnight." He passed the phone to Vin.
"Hi Buck, are you having a nice time in Washington?" Vin asked.
"Not really Junior, wish I was with you guys, did the play go okay? Did Uncle Josiah get it all on tape?"
"Uh-huh, I made cookies and I gave everyone one, but I saved you one, its in a tin, JD saved all his for you, they're real good - well I think JD wants to say hi now. Um Buck?"
"I miss you, come home soon - love you."
Buck had to swallow before he continued.
"I love you too Vin, I'll come home as soon as I can - I promise. Put JD on."
Vin handed over the phone.
"'H'llo," JD said quietly.
"Hi there, Little Bit," Buck responded cheerily.
"I've been good," JD's voice was still very quiet and serious.
"I'm sure you have, you're always a good boy. Did you say your line right - like we practised?"
"Yes." JD yawned. "I miss you, please come back," he whispered into the phone.
"JD I miss you so much, but I have to stay here until tomorrow, then I will come home, be brave for me, alright? Be my little tiger?"
"'Kay. The candle's finished, I have to blow it out now."
"Want me to count with you?"
Together Buck and JD counted to three and then JD blew out the candle.
The next morning JD once again asked Chris what number day it was, and on receiving the answer ran into the bedroom. He was much more cheerful though, and continually asked Chris when Buck was coming home. Chris patiently replied that he would pick Buck up from the airport after work and they would come straight back to the house. It was a good day at school. In the morning they had a kind of party and played games, then in the afternoon they had to tidy up the classrooms, take down the decorations so everyone could take the one's they made home. Each child had a big folder made of display paper into which all the years display work was placed along with the cards they had made for their family and a calendar for their parents. Finally there was an assembly, the head of the school, Miss Griffith handed out prizes for good work, good attendance, hard work and achievement, every child in the school won a prize of some kind. JD won prizes for maths and reading. Vin won prizes for hard work and the 'good citizen' prize.
JD was still somewhat subdued but he was smiling. As they walked with Mrs Potter to the car, he asked her again when Buck would be home, and once again she told him not until about nine o'clock and yes, he could stay up and wait for him.
What neither boy or even Mrs Potter knew was that less than an hour earlier Chris had received a phone call from Ezra in Washington.
"Mr Larabee, I am making this call on Mr Wilmington's behalf, because he is not capable of rational speech at this time."
"Ezra just get on with it," Chris cut in impatiently.
"We are compelled to stay until after the weekend, and will not be released until Monday evening, if we are lucky. We are both distressed by this turn of events. There are few flights still available and bad weather is forecast. Mr Wil Buck tried to get a flight from Denver this Sunday, so he could come home for the weekend, but alas, so close to the Holidays, he was unable to procure a single seat. I have managed to secure two seats - first class was all I could get - on Tuesday, arriving in Denver at about four thirty five P.M."
"Yes Mr Larabee."
"How is Buck taking this?"
There was a long silence. "As I said, he was unable to make this call. He is in a bar, I am ringing you from the sidewalk out side said bar. As before, he is not drinking, just sitting and brooding."
Chris could well imagine. "You had better watch him Ezra, if he gets it into his head that JD needs him more then the Senate, he may just up and leave - Buck in jail is worse then Buck in Washington."
"Indeed, I will endeavour to make our large hearted friend see that staying here is the rational thing to do. Farwell Mr Larabee, I will see you on Tuesday - I hope."
Chris had never dreaded the sight of his own home so much since Sarah and Adam were killed. He just didn't know how he was going to tell JD Buck wouldn't be back until Tuesday.
It had started to snow not long after the boys got back. At first it was just small flakes swirling on a bitter wind, blowing straight of the mountains. Then the tiny flakes began to collect in the little corners around the yard, up against the water trough, in the tall strands of course grass growing up between the gravel, in the wheel arches of Buck's truck. Then, while the boys watched from the living room window, and Gloria cleared the supper things, the wind dropped and the snow began to settle.
"Mrs Potter! Mrs Potter!" JD, once more full of his usual energy, flew into the kitchen. "It's settling, it's settling, look!"
Gloria smiled, relieved the JD they all knew and loved was finally back. "So I see dear, let's hope your fathers get here before I get snowed in here with you," she joked.
"But you said they weren't coming until it was later." JD thought a moment. "Don't worry, you can stay here with us, there's a bed in the study. Uncle Ezra says it is not a bed at all, he says it's a tor-ser de-cice. But I lookeded and it is a bed, I even bounced on it to be sure - honest, you can sleep there or " Another thought occurred to JD. " Chris can take you home in the Ram, it can go anywhere." JD emphasised the 'anywhere' with clear wonder.
"JD!" Vin shouted form the window. "They're here!"
Vin knew the lights of the Ram anywhere, he abandoned his snow watching seat and ran to the bedroom to pick up all his school made Christmas gifts, for his two fathers.
"Yay!" JD squealed and ran after him.
Gloria Potter frowned, a knot of dread formed in her stomach, Buck Wilmington's flight wasn't due to land for another two hours.
As the front door opened Vin flew toward Chris, cards in one hand and calendar in the other. His was decorated with four sponge prints, one for each season, a blue flower for spring, a yellow sun for summer, a red leaf for fall and of course a green Christmas tree for winter.
"These are for you," Vin explained after hugging Larabee's leg in greeting.
Chris just smiled, and then he saw JD running in behind Vin, similar gifts in hand, except his calendar had a sunflower on it. The yellow petals made up of little JD handprints, the centre was a deep blue. JD's teacher had tried to explain that sunflowers were black in the middle, but JD insisted it had to be blue because that was Buck's favourite colour.
JD stopped when he didn't see Buck.
"JD I need " Chris began, but the little boy didn't stop to listen, he ran past Chris and out on to the porch.
"Buck!" he yelled into the darkness and steady snowfall. There was no answer. "BUCK!" he tried again.
"JD," Chris said softly. "come in the house now."
"No I have to wait for Buck." JD turned back to look out into the yard toward the barn. "Did he go to see Beau?"
Chris knelt down in front of JD, Vin standing apprehensively just behind him.
"JD, Buck isn't with me, he's still in Washington." If he could have wound back time so he didn't have to look at JD right then, he would have. "Come on inside so I can explain it all to you."
"NO!" JD shouted. "I want Buck, he said he would come home, you said you would bringed him home. I want my Buck!"
"I'm sorry JD, Buck didn't want to stay, but he has to "
"No!" JD flung his calendar and special Christmas cards down and ran of into the night, toward the barn. He was only wearing, jeans, a sweatshirt and slippers.
"Vin, stay with Mrs Potter," Chris commanded as he sprinted after the fleeing boy.
For such a small boy, JD was remarkably fleet of foot, and he was already at the barn before Chris reached him. The big doors were bolted and JD wasn't tall enough reach the bolt and release it, though he was trying. Chris picked JD up and tuned away from the barn.
"No! Put me down, I have to find Buck," JD wailed and squirmed in Chris' arms.
"JD I told you, Buck is still in Washington, come on in the house and we'll call him."
By the time Chris had JD back in the house, he had stopped squirming and was just crying. Vin was sitting on the sofa, his and JD's precious gifts neatly piled on the coffee table, next to Gloria Potter, her arm around his shoulders. He too, had tears in his eyes. Chris sat on the other side of Vin with JD in his lap.
"Gloria, you should go, before the snow gets too bad," he advised the kind hearted widow, knowing she wouldn't want to leave the boys while they were this upset.
"Are you sure Mr Larabee?"
"Yes, I can manage."
Gloria bent over and kissed the top of Vin's head. "Bless you Vin, everything will be alright." She stood and moved to JD, who was still crying. She repeated the kiss. "Be brave darling."
She gave Chris a sympathetic half smile then gathered her things and quietly left the family alone.
"JD?" Chris looked down at the boy on his lap. But he got no reply, only sniffing. "There was nothing Buck could do about it, he really tried, he even tried to come home for the weekend, but there were no seats on any planes left." JD looked up, worry all over his face. "Don't worry, Uncle Ezra has got seats on a flight on Tuesday morning." The little lower lip began to tremble again. "I'm sorry it's a long way away, but it's the best he could do. Now, why don't we call Buck?" JD nodded.
"H'llo" JD started.
"Hey Little Bit, I miss you."
"I want you to come home." JD sniffed.
"I know kid, I know."
"Please Buck, please come home," JD wailed.
Fighting to keep his voice calm and unwavering, Buck continued, "If there was some way I could do it I would, honestly, but there are bad guys doing bad things and I have to do what I can to stop them."
"But I want you, please."
"I know you do, Little Bit and I want to be with you so much, but I promised to stop the bad guys. And I have to do what I promised - don't I?"
JD sniffed a few more times. "I know," he sighed. "but I wished they would only do bad things when it isn't Christmas."
"Yeah, me too Little Bit, me too."
"I made you a card," JD said, looking at the card in its hand made red envelope.
"And I bet it's the best card in the whole world, and when I get home you can give it to me yourself."
JD sniffed a few more times. "Ive been good," he stated.
"Oh I'm sure you have, now you go on being a good boy for Chris and I'll see you just as soon as I can - I promise."
"Love you too." With that JD started crying again, and Chris gently took the phone from him.
"Buck?" he asked, but he got no response, just a deep breath.
Finally Buck spoke. "Damn it all to hell!"
"Yeah, I know, I'll see you - yeah?"
"Yeah." Buck broke the connection and Larabee put the phone down.
"Chris?" JD looked up at Larabee.
"Can I go to bed now?"
That really worried Chris; JD had two speeds, flat out and stop. If he hadn't reached stop, getting him into bed wasn't easy, and stop meant asleep, on occasion Buck had undressed him, bathed him and pulled on his PJ's without him waking up.
"Yes, if you want too, have you had supper?"
JD nodded as he slipped off Chris' lap. Deciding even five year olds needed time alone sometimes; he let JD go, and turned his attention to Vin. The seven year old was disappointed Buck wasn't coming home yet, he missed the big man, his joviality, his easy going ways, but mostly he wanted Buck back because he made JD happy, and he hated to see JD so upset. He knew how he would feel if it was Chris marooned in the capital at Christmas.
"Hey cowboy, how you doing?" Chris held his hands out and Vin swiftly ran into the embrace.
"I don't want JD to be sad, but I don't know how to make him feel better," he admitted.
"I know, I don't think we can do anything, we just have to make sure he knows he is safe and Buck will come home soon. Okay?"
"So, do I see my name on that envelope over there?" Chris needed to lighten the mood.
Vin suddenly smiled, he turned around in Chris arms and picked up the card and the calendar. "Happy Christmas, I got you other presents as well, these are the ones I made at school." Vin was suddenly all smiles.
When Buck put the phone down on Chris, he simply walked into the bathroom of the hotel room he shared with Ezra. For his part Standish, just sat on the bed on the far side of the spacious twin bedded room and watched. He was missing the boys as well, he had been looking forward to the school play, but his loss paled into insignificance next to the very evident pain his big hearted friend was enduring. The bathroom door slammed shut with such force it made Ezra jump. In the bathroom, Buck just slid down to come to rest on the floor, his back against the door and his elbows on his knees. He didn't try to stop the tears that now fell. He hadn't bothered to put on the light; he just sat and cried in the darkness.
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