Chris was just beginning to wonder what the boys were up to when he heard the sound of car doors outside. It was Saturday and they were expecting the rest of the team for an afternoon cook out. A glance out the window told him which of their guests had arrived and he was glad to see both Josiah and Ezra smiling.
The team had spent a long and boring week in court, with the exception of Josiah who hadn't been needed to testify. He'd taken a few days to visit his sister Hannah. They didn't know much about Josiah's younger sister; all they knew is that she'd been in an institution since she was a teenager and Josiah always seemed melancholy and out of sorts after his visits with her.
Chris decided to let Buck get the door and walked back to the boys' bedroom, thinking it was way too quiet around the house. There'd once been a time when he treasured the calm and quiet of the ranch, but nowadays when things got too quiet, it tended to mean there was trouble brewing somewhere. The phrase 'busy hands are happy hands' carried a whole new meaning for him these days. Since both boys were supposed to be taking it easy, he figured there was an even better chance that they were up to something they shouldn't be.
Peering into the room, Chris was relieved to find at least one boy. JD was seated at the boys' small desk, concentrating hard on whatever he was writing. "Hey there, JD, what are you up to?" He was pretty sure of what the response would be. The past few days whenever they asked him what he was doing the answer was always the same.
"Nuffin'," he answered, not looking up from his project.
"Have you seen Vin around?" Chris asked with a grin.
"He went outside," the little boy replied distractedly. He added the finishing touches to whatever he'd been working on, then placed his red crayon back into its box. Snatching the piece of paper from the desktop, he gave it one more look-over then hopped down from the chair and waved the paper at Chris. "Look, I made a newspaper!"
Chris bent down so he could properly inspect the project. "The Dunne Daily News. Well, this is very nice, JD."
"I asked Buck if I could make a kid newspaper just like the one in your newspaper." JD grinned at Chris. "Buck helped me pick the name. He said a newspaper should have a catchy name."
"That's a very catchy name."
"That's me and Vin when we gotted hurt."
Chris sighed, shaking his head at the image. There were two small, stick figures surrounded by many bright red colored swirls and blobs. The dark haired figure had a huge red 'gash' running across its entire forehead and what looked like tears streaming from its eyes. The lighter haired figure had big red blobs on its knees and elbows, but instead of tears there was a frown on its face.
"Is Unca Ezra here?" the boy asked, already trying to get past him in the doorway.
"Yep, Uncle Josiah's here, too." Chris smiled as he stood up and allowed JD to scurry around him. "Walk," he reminded, and JD slowed, barely. The kid seemed to have one speed: fast forward. Just watching him made Chris tired sometimes.
"Hi, Unca 'Siah!" JD called out happily as he was lifted high in the air. JD gave him a big hug and then before Josiah could react the little whirlwind turned in his arms and flung himself at Ezra. "Unca Ezra, look!" He thrust a piece of paper in the man's face. "Look at my newspaper!"
Ezra smiled, tilting his head back a few inches, his eyes flicking to the bandage placed high on the small boy's forehead. "How is your head?"
"Fine," the boy answered automatically. "Look!"
"Well now, what have we here?"
"It's a newspaper. See the picture? I drawed it all by myself. It's me when I gotted hurt. See, that's the blood."
"So, I see." Ezra was pretty sure there hadn't been quite that much blood, although he knew that head wounds did bleed a lot. He reminded himself, again, that this was a fairly normal phase that the boys were going through, although he couldn't remember himself ever being quite so fascinated with blood and gore. One would think that after the trauma the youngster had just gone through he would have had his fill of blood. "My, my . . . this is very . . .." Ezra paused, his mouth open as he struggled to find the right words. "What do you think, Josiah?" he asked, handing the picture over.
"Well . . ." Josiah studied the picture, his easy smile faltering a bit as he glanced at Ezra. "Well . . ." he said again, looking once more at the paper before turning his attention back to JD. "This is very . . . nice."
JD nodded, beaming at Josiah. "I taked my time."
"I can see that. It's very . . .?"
"Imaginative," Ezra offered, trying to hide a grin.
"Yes, imaginative indeed," Josiah agreed. "What have you been watching on TV these days, young man?"
"Has anyone seen Vin?" Chris called out, interrupting the conversation.
Buck had been leaning against the wall, watching his son and fellow agents with amusement. "He went outside," he told Chris nodding toward the back door.
"Really? I just looked out there and didn't see him."
"He probly went to talk to Peso," JD offered, as Ezra set him on his feet. "He was mad at me."
"Why was he mad at you, son?" Josiah asked kindly.
JD shrugged. "I don't know. I wanted him to make a newspaper with me and he said he didn't want to. He said it was stupid." That brought a pout to the boy's face. "You don't think it's stupid, do ya Unca 'Siah?"
"Of course not, JD."
"I'll go find him." With a sigh, Chris headed for the door only to be stopped by Josiah.
"Allow me, Chris?"
"Sure, go ahead." Chris replied. Seeing Vin would probably do Josiah as much good as it would Vin. " Try the barn or the tree house."
Vin somehow managed to get himself seated on the ground without bending his legs much at all. He just wanted to be alone, somewhere quiet, so he could think. Leaning back against the tree, he closed his eyes, remembering the bad things that had happened during the past couple days. The week had started out okay, but it hadn't ended that way...
~ Past Week:
Monday had been a regular day. On Tuesday, the boys hadn't done anything special either, but they'd both been very excited about getting to spend the following day with their Uncle Ezra. On Wednesday, Mrs. Potter had a doctor's appointment, so their uncle had offered to take the boys for the day, and even take them to the library like Mrs. Potter always did on Wednesday mornings.
Vin loved story hour, and so did JD, although sometimes he got a little restless before the time was up. Vin understood that sometimes little kids have a harder time sitting still and paying attention and he tried his best to keep JD from distracting everyone else.
The lady who read to them was named Mrs. O'Harrah. She was kind of old and she talked funny, but she was real nice and Vin liked her a lot. The first time they'd heard her talk JD had come right out and asked her why she talked funny, much to Vin's embarrassment. She'd explained to them that she grew up in a place called England that was all the way across the ocean. And she said that she spoke Cockney. Vin didn't know what Cockney was, but he sure did like to listen to her talk.
She said reading a book was kind of like being on an adventure; that you could pretend you were in the same places and doing the same things that the characters in the books were doing. Vin liked adventures a lot and he liked Mrs. O'Harrah. She was real good at telling stories, too. Sometimes she made her voice real soft and sometimes it would get so loud it would make them all jump. She had silver hair and a kind face and Vin liked to watch the expressions she made while she read. Sometimes when he watched her, his mind would start to drift and he'd imagine that he was right there, doing the things that she was reading about.
Mrs. O'Harrah had been reading a book about pirates. At first, Vin had thought pirates were cool, but the more he learned about them, the less cool they seemed. They did bad things to people and stole their gold.
When story hour was through, the boys sometimes picked out books to take home and read, but since they hadn't finished the books they'd checked out last week, they decided to skip that part today. Besides, they were both hungry and Uncle Ezra had promised to take them to lunch.
As they left the library and headed toward the parking lot where Uncle Ezra had been nervous about parking his fancy car, Vin glanced across the street to another parking lot. Usually there was a bunch of older boys in the parking lot, doing tricks on their bikes and skateboards. Today for some reason they weren't there, although their ramps were set up. Vin always liked to watch them go up the ramps real fast. The skateboard guys had two ramps and they'd go up one then land on the other and go down. It was so cool, he always wished he could try it, even though sometimes Mrs. Potter would start going on about how foolish and dangerous it was to do things like that and how someday one of them boys was going to get hurt real bad. Still, he couldn't help but wonder if someday he'd be able to do tricks like that.
"So, gentlemen," Ezra said when they got to the car, "where shall we dine today?"
"Booger King! Booger King!" JD began to chant. Vin rolled his eyes.
Ezra paused, looking down at the boys with shock and disgust. "Booger King? I thought you gentlemen preferred McDonalds?"
"Booger King gots Ninja Turtles," JD said matter-of-factly, and Vin nodded seriously.
"Booger King." Ezra shuddered. "As you wish."
There wasn't a playland, so the boys actually ate their big kid meals while the food was warm. Ezra said he wasn't feeling very hungry and was even hesitant about ordering a coffee. Vin got a Raphael, and JD got a Michelangelo, but when JD started to whine that he wanted Raphael, Vin offered to trade him, even though he liked Raphael best, too.
On the way home JD got the idea in his head that Torkus would be happy to meet the Ninja Turtles, so the minute they got to the ranch he went in search of their pet tortoise. Uncle Ezra said he thought it was too hot for playing outdoors. Vin thought it was about the same as yesterday and they'd played outside then, but he didn't mind staying inside if that what Uncle Ezra wanted to do. He went and got the book he'd checked out last week, while Uncle Ezra sat down on the couch and turned the television on. By the time Vin joined him, Uncle Ezra was already watching Iron Chef, which was okay with Vin. He kinda liked watching that show even though he didn't think he would ever in a million years want to eat that kind of food.
When the show was over, Ezra got up and said, "I have an idea." He went to the kitchen and started searching through the cupboards and refrigerator. Vin knew exactly what Ezra was up to because Buck always did the same thing. Whenever he watched the show he got inspired to cook stuff. Chris didn't like it when Buck got inspired because that meant he was stuck with clean-up. Chris didn't think the mess was worth the meal, but he never said that to Buck. Vin didn't know if that was true or not, because he had yet to taste one of Buck's 'masterpieces' - although, JD seemed to like them, but that was probably only because Buck made them. Vin wasn't about to eat any food that had suspicious looking green or orange bits floating around in it. And he was pretty sure that seafood was made for sharks and whales, not people.
"We ain't got no shrimps," Vin informed his uncle with narrowed eyes.
"That's quite alright, Mister Tanner." He pulled out a package of chicken and placed it on the counter. "I'm sure we'll be able to make do with this chicken."
Vin shrugged. "Okay." He liked chicken, although he wasn't too keen on the broccoli his uncle laid out next. He was wondering just who could have snuck that broccoli into the fridge without his or JD's knowledge when Ezra handed him a knife. It wasn't a big knife like the one the Iron Chef used. It was just a small knife, but that was okay because Uncle Ezra let him cut the broccoli all by himself, although he stood close by and made sure Vin's fingers didn't get in the way. When he was finished chopping he decided that maybe this time the broccoli might not taste so yucky, after all; and when he noticed his uncle put a big glob of peanut butter into the sauce mixture he thought maybe it might even be kinda good.
By the time Chris and Buck got home the kitchen was a disaster, but the food smelled good.
"We made tied chicken!" JD exclaimed to the two men as they entered the house.
"Don't you mean fried chicken?" Buck asked, catching a glimpse of the war-zone that used to be the kitchen before he backed out not wanting to see anymore.
"Thai," Ezra clarified for them.
JD followed him toward his bedroom, while Vin remained in the kitchen helping Ezra clean the mess.
Chris stood with his mouth open, surveying the messy kitchen.
"Iron Chef marathon," Vin explained, as if that was all that needed said.
And, apparently it was. Chris groaned. "Not you, too?"
"Whatever do you mean, Mr. Larabee?"
"Every time Buck watches Iron Chef he does this to the kitchen, too," Vin told his uncle then he turned to smile at Chris. "Don't worry, Chris, we got it almost all cleaned. Ya shoulda seen it before."
"I just hope this tastes better than Buck's concoctions usually do."
"I heard that!" Buck shouted from down the hall.
Chris went to change clothes, letting Ezra and Vin worry about the mess. When he reappeared the kitchen was looking much better, the table was set and he had to admit that whatever they'd cooked smelled pretty good. It tasted good, too, although he thought it was a little spicy. The boys loved it though, and Vin even ate most of the broccoli without complaining, although JD picked most of his out.
Ezra left after dinner, saying that since he and the boys cooked it was Chris and Buck's job to clean up afterwards. Still, Vin shooed Buck out of the kitchen and volunteered to help Chris, himself. He didn't mind cleaning up as long as he got to be with Chris.
Buck tried to relax and read the paper with a five-year-old jumping all over him and talking his ears off. "Where'd the sofa arm cover go?" he asked JD when he was able to get a word in. He'd looked all around and under the couch but hadn't been able to locate it yet.
"Torkus," JD answered simply, suddenly interested in the kids' section of the paper.
Buck snatched the section of paper out off of the boy's lap. "Torkus?"
"We putted it on him so GI Joe and Raphael and Michelangelo could have a saddle," the dark-haired boy answered, looking up at his father with wide, innocent eyes. "It works real good. Raphael and Michelangelo don't slide off no more."
"Well now, that's real nice JD, but I think maybe you ought to put it back on the sofa before you go bed, okay?" Buck handed him back the kids' section of the newspaper.
"Okay." JD's head bobbed affirmatively before he turned his attention to the paper on his lap. Once he had it opened, the newspaper looked bigger than the boy reading it. "Da?"
"Yeah, Li'l Bit?"
"How come they make the kid paper so big?" he asked, looking up at his father. "Shouldn't they make it small like kids?"
Buck had to laugh. "I reckon you have a point there. Maybe there ought to be some kids writing that section instead of the grown-ups who probably do."
"I could do it," JD said, looking at him seriously.
"I'm sure you could."
JD smiled, turning his attention back to the paper. A few seconds later, his little foot began bouncing, making an annoying sound as it tapped beneath the newspaper. Buck was about to ask him to stop when the boy pushed the paper aside and bounced to his knees. "I'm gonna make my own newspaper!"
"That's a good idea," Buck told him distractedly, trying to hurry through the article he was reading.
"Will you help me?"
"Course I will."
JD immediately slid from the couch and grabbed his father's hand.
"Whoa, there, Li'l Bit. How 'bout we wait 'til tomorrow? It's getting kind of late to be starting on anything tonight."
"Okay." The boy nodded, a little disappointed, and climbed back up beside Buck. He was quiet for all of five seconds before, "Da?"
Buck sighed, closing the paper in defeat. "Yes, son?"
"Can we get a ship?"
"A ship," the boy explained. "Like a pirate ship. Then we can be pirates, only we'd be good pirates, not bad pirates and we could go sailing all over the ocean and chase all the bad pirates and when we catch 'em we can arrest 'em and make 'em give us all their treasure maps and then we can go to all the islands where they buried the treasures and find all the gold balloons they stealed and give them back to all the peoples they stealed 'em from." Finally, he took a breath allowing Buck to get a word in.
"Well, I don't know about getting a ship, JD . . .."
"Can we get a parrot?"
Thankfully, Chris and Vin came into the room at that moment. "We'll have to see about that, JD," Buck told him. "Why don't you boys go get your PJ's on?"
"Aww, not yet," both boys began to protest.
"I can't remember Chris, is tonight bath night?" Buck asked with a surreptitious wink at his partner.
"I'm not sure, let me think . . .." Chris scratched his chin thoughtfully, but any further reply wasn't necessary since the two boys had already raced off towards their bedroom.
Buck handed the newspaper to Chris and turned on the television. Grinning to find another episode of Iron Chef was on. Chris gave him warning look, and he shrugged and began surfing through the channels. He paused on one of the sports channels, lingering to study the sand volleyball techniques of the two all-women teams playing. He was so distracted by the 'action' that he barely noticed when JD dashed into the room, slapped the sofa arm cover down close enough to where it belonged and dashed back to the hallway.
A few seconds later he heard Vin calling, "Whoa, boy! Whoa!" and managed to pull his eyes away from the sand and sun and the bouncing, uh . . . volleyballs to see what was going on.
Chris put his newspaper down at the same time that Buck switched off the TV. They stood up to find the boys in the hallway, crawling on their hands and knees and hovering close to the slow moving Torkus.
"Whoa!" Vin said again. In one hand he held a masked, green tortoise-like figure and the other hand he held out in an attempt to halt the real tortoise's forward progress. Torkus kept up his pace, ignoring Vin.
"I don't think he knows how to whoa," said JD who also clutched a small, masked tortoise-like figure in his hand.
"I know that, JD."
"Then why ya tellin' him to whoa?"
Vin sighed and the tortoise kept on moseying down the hall, ignoring his caretakers.
JD crawled in front of the animal. "Torkus! Go find GI Joe!" he ordered, pointing in the opposite direction.
"If he don't know how to whoa, he ain't gonna know how to go find GI Joe, JD."
"Something wrong boys?" Buck asked them, trying really hard not to laugh.
"Torkus losted GI Joe," JD said plaintively, then turned his attention back to the animal. "Torkus! What'd ya do with GI Joe?"
The tortoise blinked complacently at the boy.
"Ya reckon he likes the Ninja Turtles so much that he decided to ditch GI Joe somewhere?" Vin seemed serious but it wasn't too hard to spot the twinkle of amusement in his eyes.
"He wouldn't do that!" JD argued. "GI Joe's his best friend!"
"Maybe GI Joe was jealous and runned away?" Vin giggled at that, earning him a dirty look from JD.
"It's not funny!" Suddenly JD's eyes went round and he looked a little frightened. "Maybe he eated him?" he said, moving closer to try and get a look inside its mouth. "GI Joe? Are ya in there?"
Vin rolled his eyes. "It ain't like GI Joe can answer ya, JD."
"Okay, that's enough boys," Chris interrupted the scene. "I doubt that Torkus ate GI Joe. I'm sure he's around here somewhere."
They looked under furniture and beds, inside closets and behind doors. JD even rummaged in the wastebaskets, but they found no sign of him. Finally they gave up for the night and tucked the boys into their beds, assuring them they'd have plenty of time to look the following day.
On Thursday, Mrs. Potter was acting kind of funny. She was cleaning all kinds of stuff - even things that Vin didn't think needed to be cleaned. The boys played outside almost all day and Mrs. Potter didn't even make them come inside at all. She even let them eat their lunch outside at the picnic table.
They played for a while on the jungle gym, then the swings, and then they got on their bikes and rode around the yard and driveway. Just when that was starting to get boring, Vin spotted the boards propped against the side of the barn and got an idea.
Leaning his bike against the side of the barn, he looked around for what else he would need, and remembered there was a stack of bricks and cement blocks around back. "What are ya doin' Vin?" JD said, tipping his bike to lean against the barn just like Vin's, even though his had training wheels.
"I's fixin' to make a ramp," Vin answered, swiping the sweaty hair out of his eyes before straining to pick up a cement block. It was very heavy and he almost didn't make it to the place he had in mind to put it, but he did. Setting it down without smashing his toes was also a little difficult, but he managed that, too.
The perfect sized board was also the easiest one to get hold of and he dragged that over, propping one end on top of the cement block. It didn't look as high as the ones the big boys had, but he figured it wouldn't hurt to try it like this first. Even though it looked pretty easy, he'd never actually tried it before. It sure looked fun, though.
JD stood to one side, watching Vin carefully, obviously anxious to see what he was going to do. Vin got back on his bike and circled around the yard to make sure nobody was looking. Then he peddled faster, gaining speed as he approached the ramp. He almost chickened out, because it looked kinda scary for a second, but he forced his legs to keep peddling right up the ramp. At the very edge he lifted his rear off the bike seat, just like the big boys did, and found himself sailing blissfully through the air before landing with a thump. He almost lost control at that point, but somehow managed to keep the bike upright and in motion until he put the brake on. He turned back to look at the ramp with amazement. He was breathing hard, his tummy felt all fluttery and he couldn't wait to do it again.
"Wow!" JD shouted, clapping his hands and jumping up and down. "That was awesome!"
Vin couldn't wipe the goofy smile off his face. That was just about the funnest thing he'd ever done in his whole life.
"My turn! My turn!"
The minute he heard JD squealing though, he started shaking his head. "Nuh-uh, JD! You're too little."
"You still got trainin' wheels on your bike. Ya can't jump a ramp with trainin' wheels."
"Why not?" JD planted his hands on his hips and glared at the older boy.
"Well . . . " Vin swiped at his bangs again, trying to think of a good reason. "Ya ever seen anyone jump a ramp with trainin' wheels on their bike?"
JD thought about it. No, he hadn't but he didn't mind being the first to try. He couldn't see how training wheels could make any difference one way or another; in fact they'd probably help so he didn't fall when he landed. "No, but-"
"This weekend we can ask Buck if it's okay to take 'em off your bike and I'll even help ya learn to ride it without 'em. Then when you get good at it you can jump the ramp too, okay?"
It sounded okay except he wanted to jump right now.
"For now watch me so's you know how to do it the right way."
JD folded his arms across his chest, scowling and wishing he was big like Vin.
Vin and JD were both sitting on the couch watching television when Chris and Buck got home that evening. Chris thought they looked like they'd spent a little too much time in the sun that afternoon. JD was wearing only a pair of shorts, yet oddly Vin was wearing jeans, a long sleeved shirt and a baseball cap.
JD immediately bounced off of the couch and hurled himself at Buck, wrapping his arms around the big man's legs. "Well, hey there, Li'l Bit," he said grinning and trying to walk toward the couch with a boy attached to his legs.
"I'm going to walk Mrs. Potter out to her car," said Chris, holding the door open for the woman who seemed a little preoccupied and apparently was in a hurry. She stood by the kitchen door waiting with her keys in one hand and her purse in the other.
"Everything okay? Chris asked, thinking she seemed a little out of sorts.
"Yes, everything's fine. I'll see you boys tomorrow," she told him, walking briskly down the drive to her car.
"Okay, well, have a good eve . . .ning." his voice trailed off when the woman closed her car door and started the engine. Usually she had a little more to say in the evenings, but well, if she had somewhere else to be, he could understand that.
Inside the house, Buck playfully tossed JD onto the couch and then dropped down between the two boys. "So, what did you two get up to today?" he asked, pulling his tie loose and opening the top buttons of his shirt.
"Nuffin'," JD answered immediately, just because he thought it was a funny thing to say.
Buck narrowed his eyes. "Nuffin' huh?" Then he looked at the older boy. "Did you do nuffin', too, Junior?"
"We played," Vin elaborated, grinning and peering out from beneath the bill of his hat.
"So, you did sumfin'?" Buck teased, getting a giggle out of both boys.
"Yeah, we played on the jungle gym and swinged and rode bikes," JD finally filled him in with his natural enthusiasm.
"Well now, sounds like you boys had yourselves a fine day." He turned his head toward Vin, wondering why on Earth the boy was wearing long jeans in July? With a wink, he plucked the cap off Vin's head.
"Yeah!" answered JD, momentarily drawing his focus away from the older boy. "We had fun until Vin fell off his bike and-"
"JD!" growled Vin, halting the boy mid-sentence.
"You fell off your bike?" Buck studied the older boy, looking for signs of injury. Of course it was a little hard to tell with the long sleeves and long pants on. "Skinned yourself up pretty good, huh?" he guessed, raising an eyebrow at Vin, who looked away.
"He hurted his head, too," JD dutifully informed, earning him a dirty look from his older brother.
Chris came in at that moment, and Buck looked up at his partner. "Have a seat, pard. JD was just tellin' me all about how Vin here banged himself up today."
Chris' gaze traveled over the older boy, starting at the toes of his sneakers and working up to the sun bleached, slightly flattened curls at the top of his head. The blue eyes peering guiltily up at him stood out more than usual against the tanned skin and freckled nose. "I wondered why you were wearin' all those clothes. It's a little warm for long sleeves and jeans, pal."
Vin sighed, looking away and wishing he could make a fast escape. Before he was able to give it a second thought though, Buck reached out and tipped his head back, brushing his bangs aside to inspect his forehead. "That's quite a knot you've got there, Junior."
"Does Mrs. Potter know you hurt yourself?" Chris asked, kneeling in front of his son, pretty sure he already knew the answer. Mrs. Potter would have said something if she'd known Vin was hurt.
"No," JD offered again. "Vin said he didn't wanna bother her none." The little boy frowned, his expression thoughtful. "She seemed real worried 'bout somethin' all day, so we tried to not bother her."
Vin merely sighed again, silently praying that JD didn't reveal how he'd managed to fall off his bike.
"Let's go, cowboy." Chris stood up and gestured toward the bathroom down the hall. He made a mental note to ask Gloria if everything was okay and see if there was anything they could do.
He followed Vin down the hall, noting how stiffly the boy was moving. Once in the boys' bathroom he carefully pulled the jeans down the too-skinny legs, wincing when he saw that Vin hadn't even bandaged the scrapes. He lifted Vin onto the counter and pulled off his shoes, then pulled the jeans over his feet, glancing down at his own foot when things began to fall from one of the jean pockets and bounce off his shoe.
With a chuckle, he bent down and scooped up an assortment of 'pretty' rocks, a large, rusty nut and bolt, what looked like an empty chestnut burr, and a small pinecone. It was beyond Chris how he'd managed to fit all of that in one small pocket. He set the treasures on the other side of the counter and turned his attention back to his son. "You really did a good job on yourself, partner." Chris tilted Vin's head up and pushed the hair back from his forehead again to get a better look at the bump there. He shook his head looking at Vin with sympathy.
Vin looked away, embarrassed, expecting to hear another pitiful comment, but Chris just patted his thigh then helped him pull the t-shirt over his head. Gently he turned both of Vin's arms to inspect the raw, bloody elbows before reaching over to start the bath water. Vin just sat there, resigned, shoulders slouched as he watched his dad open the medicine cabinet. He placed a tube of antibiotic ointment on the counter then moved a few things around, apparently not finding everything he was looking for. Vin glanced down at his knees and knew that the regular-sized super hero band-aids weren't gonna be big enough.
"Buck!" Chris called, leaning out into the hall. He hoped they still had a few of extra large strips around somewhere. Buck had been the last to have use for them.
Buck appeared in the doorway a few moments later, his eyes immediately drawn to the angry scrapes on Vin's knees. "Yikes," he said, making a face. The scrapes weren't bleeding anymore, but they were oozing clear fluid and sections of them looked pretty deep. "Ya ain't got any padding on these knobby things," he said teasingly as he bent over to get a closer look at the wounds. It was obvious that Vin hadn't even cleaned them. Both knees and elbows were still dirty and the raw areas had tiny pieces of cotton fuzz from the clothing stuck to them. He could tell Vin was uncomfortable so he slid his arm around the boy's shoulders, giving him a careful squeeze and looked to Chris. "What can I get for ya?"
"Could you see if we have any of those big bandages left, or maybe some gauze and tape?"
"Sure thing, Chris." With another quick squeeze for Vin, he headed for the kitchen, knowing that he'd left those supplies in the cupboard next to the sink.
As soon as he had Vin soaking in the bathtub, Chris headed for the kitchen hoping to rescue whatever it was that Mrs. Potter had left in the oven. Usually when she made them dinner let them know when it would be done, but tonight she hadn't said a word.
He pulled the casserole out before it was burnt too badly. It was pretty well done, but still edible. He set the dish on a trivet on the counter and then looked around the kitchen, noticing that it was really, really clean.
Stopping in his room, he quickly changed out of his work clothes before making his way back to the bathroom. He used the shower spray to wash and rinse the boy's hair, then helped him stand and wrapped a towel around the thin body before lifting him out of the tub. After drying the small boy off extra carefully, he tended and bandaged the scraped knees and elbows and made Vin promise not to try and hide these things from them or Mrs. Potter, ever again.
While Chris was busy with Vin, Buck had given Nathan a call to ask about the bump on Vin's head. Both boys claimed that Vin hadn't lost consciousness, so Nathan seemed pretty sure that there was nothing to worry about. But, he'd said, it wouldn't hurt to keep a close eye on Vin that evening.
Within an hour, they were all seated at the table, ready to eat slightly over-baked chicken and rice casserole. JD sat studying the helping of food on his plate, tapping at it experimentally with his fork.
Vin looked up, a grimace on his face when he took a bite of the casserole. He took a sip of milk and tried to swallow it down, but gagged instead.
"It can't be that bad." Chris scooped a forkful into his mouth, and found out that indeed it was. He almost gagged himself. "What the hell?"
Buck, not to be left out, took a very small bite and quickly chased it down with some milk. He pulled the plate away from JD before the boy could give it a try then he reached for the older boy's plate and said, "You can spit it out, Junior. It's okay."
Unfortunately by then, Vin had already swallowed his mouthful and was gulping down the rest of his milk.
"Gloria made this?" Chris asked, shocked. The woman was an excellent cook. She'd never yet made them a meal that wasn't delicious and appreciated by the entire family.
Vin and JD nodded.
"She was worried today," JD told them again, seemingly in apology for her.
"Worried? Did she say why?"
JD shrugged his shoulders. "No. She talked on the phone and cleaned a lot. Can we have McDonald's instead?"
"No, pizza!" Vin countered.
"No, we'll figure out something else." Chris stood up and started looking through the cupboards, while Buck took the casserole and plates off of the table.
"Maybe we should call Gloria and make sure everything's okay?" Buck suggested.
"Yeah, we will, after dinner."
They had egg muffins for dinner, which the boys thought was cool, since Chris made them with cheese and ham, almost like the muffins they made at McDonald's. Afterwards, they called Mrs. Potter, and found out that she was worried about some tests she'd had done at the doctor's office, and that she wouldn't be able to get the results until tomorrow.
She apologized profusely for the meal and broke down in tears when Chris told her Vin had taken a spill on his bike and tried to hide the evidence. He tried to assure her that they weren't blaming her. Chris knew that with little boys, things like this could happen anytime, with any of them there. He told her as kindly as he could that she should take the next day off. Since Buck had already testified in court it was unlikely he'd be called back and he could stay with the boys Friday. But to make sure she called and let them know if she needed anything.
Friday Buck stayed home with them, which was always fun except it wasn't quite so good today cause Buck made Vin stay on the couch all day, while JD got to go outside and play. Vin didn't really care to go outside because his knees and elbows were stiff and sore. The bump on his forehead didn't hurt much except when he accidentally touched it and when he bent over it throbbed some. He was content to sit and watch Animal Planet -- and watching Buck try to do paperwork, keep track of JD and keep him company all at the same time was kinda fun, too.
JD pushed his bike to the side of the barn then checked to see if the coast was clear. Buck came out onto the steps at the same time JD happened to check, so he waved then waited until his Da went back into the house then he hurried back to the brick pile. He already knew the cement block that Vin had used would be too heavy for him to carry, so he figured he'd have to use a stack of the smaller bricks instead. He made two trips, carrying two bricks at a time and stacked all four neatly on top of each other, then he dragged over the same piece of wood that Vin had used and placed one end on top of the bricks.
One more glance at the house to make sure nobody was coming and he hopped on his bike, wishing once again he was able to lose the training wheels. Vin told him he couldn't jump the ramp with training wheels, but he'd show Vin that he could. He rode in a circle just like Vin had, his little legs pumping hard to get going real fast. He hit the ramp fearlessly, one stray thought that he didn't think he was going fast as Vin, but that didn't really alarm him. The training wheels would keep him from falling, he thought. He lifted his rear end when he got to the edge of the board, just like Vin, but instead of flying through the air like he'd anticipated, the whole ramp collapsed and he ended up landing hard on the ground, in a tangled heap with his bike. It all happened so fast that it made his head spin a little.
With a heavy sigh, he pushed the bike off and picked himself up off the ground. When he got to his feet the first thing he saw was that one of his training wheels was twisted upside down. He wiped the sweat from his forehead then reached to try and fix his wheel and that's when he realized it wasn't sweat dripping from his forehead.
Inside the house, Vin aimed the remote and changed channels. There wasn't anything good on TV, so he turned it to the Weather Channel because he liked to watch that sometimes, especially when there was a big hurricane or a tornado. He thought if he wasn't already going to be a soldier and a policeman when he grew up that he'd want to be one of them guys that got to chase after storms. Chris and Buck always made them come inside when it stormed, even though Vin would rather stay outside and watch. He frowned at the window, wishing he could go outside right now.
"How are you feelin', kiddo?" Buck asked Vin, as the big man came back into the living room and sat down on the edge of the sofa.
"Fine," he answered. "I'm okay, ya don't have to worry on me, Buck. I know ya got lots of stuff to do."
Buck laughed and brushed the boys bangs back from his forehead. "Maybe I happen to like worryin' on you more than I like going over reports."
Vin smiled up at him, feeling a rush of warmth. He and JD were very lucky to have two dads that loved them. A moment later, they both heard JD crying outside. "Better go see what's up," said Buck, standing and heading for the door.
Vin wondered what could have happened. Maybe he fell off the jungle gym, or off his bike? He rolled himself off of the couch, careful of his knees and elbows, but before he was able to take a step toward the door, Buck came rushing back inside, JD in his arms.
"Vin!" he called from the kitchen, sounding a little panicked.
Vin walked slowly to the counter where Buck had placed JD. He blanched when he saw the blood running down the younger boy's face.
"Get me a towel, quick!" Buck instructed trying to sound calm, but obviously not feeling it.
Vin did as he was told then stood there silently watching as Buck pushed JD's hair back then pressed the towel against his forehead, all the time speaking to JD, shushing him and telling him he was okay.
"Grab your shoes, Junior," Buck told him, glancing over his shoulder at Vin. "We're gonna have to take a little trip."
JD obviously knew what that meant and as Vin hurried to get his shoes, JD let out a blood-curdling scream. "I don't wanna go to the hops-spital!"
"You're okay, L'il Bit," Buck assured him. "We just need to get that looked at."
"Don't wanna!" protested JD, but Buck picked him up anyway, grabbed his keys and headed for the door.
The boys' car seats had been set by the back door, but Buck didn't have time to mess with them. Regular old seatbelts were going to have to do. "Come on, Vin."
Vin slipped his shoes on, ducked under Buck's arm and hurried for the pick-up truck. Buck settled JD on the seat between them, still pressing the towel to his head. "Vin?"
Vin helped get the seatbelt on JD, then buckled his own and looked up at Buck.
"I'm gonna need ya to hold this towel for me so I can drive," he said patiently. "Think you can do that?"
Vin put one arm around JD, and used the other to take hold of the towel. The front of JD's yellow t-shirt was soaked with blood and Vin was horrified to see the fresh towel was already soaked as well.
Buck placed his hand over Vin's and pressed down. "Hold it tight."
JD wasn't wailing any longer, but he was still sniffling quietly. There were tears running down his cheeks, mixing with blood. He leaned into Vin and let him hold the towel, something Vin was grateful for. These days his little brother didn't usually look to him for comfort unless Buck or Chris weren't around. Most times only Buck would do. It didn't really bother him all that much anymore; not like it had at first, but it always made him feel proud whenever JD turned to him.
Buck started the truck and they headed for the highway, looking a little calmer than he had in the house. "Feel like tellin' me what happened, little one?" he asked, keeping his eyes on the road.
JD took a few hitching breaths and wiped his nose on his arm then turned his head a little toward Buck. "My bike can't jump as good as Vin's. Can we take the trainin' wheels off yet? I'm a big boy, now. I don't need 'em anymore."
"What d'ya mean your bike can't jump like Vin's?" Buck questioned, glancing over at the two boys. Vin sat with his mouth hanging open, looking shocked.
"It don't go as fast as Vin's," the little boy whined. "And the bricks all felled over."
Buck looked puzzled when he glanced at Vin, but he still seemed calm, not angry. "You want to tell me what he's talkin' about, son?"
Vin couldn't seem to make his voice work, but JD's voice was working just fine. "Vin made a ramp! He took a big brick and put a board over it, but I couldn't carry the big brick, I had to use the little ones and Vin gotted going real, real fast and he rode up the ramp and he," the boy's hand waved in a flying motion, "jumped his bike over it. It was real cool . . . until he wipeded out."
"A ramp, huh?" Buck asked mostly to Vin, but Vin didn't seem to hear him. The boy had clammed up and was looking pale and shaken, staring wide-eyed at the amount of blood covering his brother's face and shirt. "Junior?"
"Vin said I couldn't do it 'cause my bike has trainin' wheels," JD continued. "Can we take 'em off yet, Buck?"
"JD!" Vin snapped, then turned toward Buck, his eyes filled with anguish. "I told him not to do it! I told him he was too little!"
"Am not!" JD insisted angrily, trying to turn his head toward Vin. The movement reminded him of the gash on his head and all that was needed to start him crying again.
The drive to the hospital seemed to take forever. Vin looked out the window, watching the other cars headed into the city. There was an old blue car right in front of them that had a great, big sticker of Jesus' momma on its back window. The sticker was faded almost white from the sun and off to one side of the sticker there was a bird dropping splatted on the window. Vin wondered if Jesus made sure the bird didn't hit the sticker of his momma, and then he wondered if Jesus minded that people put those stickers on their cars? Vin didn't think he'd like it too much if people put stickers of his momma on their cars. He let his thoughts wander aimlessly wherever they wanted to go. Anything was better than thinking about what he was doing, or what he'd done. There was so much blood.
Buck had tried to call Chris twice, but got only his voice mail. They made it to the ER and Buck managed to fill out the paper work while holding JD on his lap, pressing a fresh cloth to the wound as they waited their turn. He handed over the clipboard already knowing that his son was going to need some stitches. He also knew the boy was going to pitch a fit when he found out. Right now he was nearly dozing, but Buck was pretty sure that had more to do with his forced stillness than it did with the injury. Still, he'd feel a lot better when this was all over.
Later on he planned to have a nice, long discussion about this ramp-making business. He remembered setting up a ramp of his own when he'd been around Vin's age; he also remembered a subsequent trip to the emergency room. It was such a normal thing for boys to do; yet he was still having a hard time picturing this particular boy doing daredevil stunts on his bike. Vin Tanner was probably the most cautious, responsible kid that Buck had ever known. They had all put a lot of effort into trying to get him to lighten up, so Buck had to admit that he was secretly thrilled that the seven year old was getting into normal little boy mischief. Although, it would have been nice if he'd have started out with something a little less dangerous.
When he glanced over he found a pair of solemn, blue eyes fixed on him. Vin would have to face some sort of consequences for this little episode - both boys would -- but that would come later. Right now, he knew the boy was most likely punishing himself worse than anything they'd be able to think up, so he followed his heart and gave the boy a fond smile and a wink. "Quit blamin' yourself, Junior. Everything's going to be fine."
Vin sighed, looking down at his hands again. He didn't know how Buck could say such a thing, how he could be so nice to him. This was all his fault, and nothing anyone could say would convince him otherwise. His hands were clasped tightly together, but he could see the darkened stains of blood on his fingers, under his fingernails. When he opened his hands, his palms were covered with JD's blood. It made his stomach turn to look at his hands, knowing that he was responsible for the blood covering them. He wanted to wash it off, but thought maybe he deserved for it to be there.
Buck wondered if JD's name was ever going to be called. The ER wasn't that busy, but they sure seemed to be taking a long time getting around to them. He glanced again at Vin, noticing a little blood had soaked through the gauze pads on his knees. In all the chaos he hadn't even thought about Vin's injuries. He wished he could do something, but Vin would have to wait a while longer. There was only one of him and JD's head injury took first priority at the moment. All he could do was hope that Chris would get his message and get his ass down there, because trying to deal with two distressed children in an emergency treatment room was not an easy thing to do.
JD remained quiet right up until Buck tried to lay him on the treatment table. The small boy clung desperately to his father and let out such a wail it sounded as if he was being killed. The intern decided to allow Buck to keep holding the boy just so he could get a look at the wound. It took only a quick glance for him to conclude that stitches would be needed. The gash was up near the hairline and they allowed Buck to hold him as they dabbed a topical anesthetic over the area. After that they needed him to lie down so they could have better access. When Buck tried to comply JD resumed his protest as loud as before.
It was difficult but Buck somehow got the panic-stricken boy to lie back, using his own upper body to hold him down. They managed to get him into a position where they could work and covered most of his face with a surgical cloth. Buck spoke quietly to the boy, trying to keep him calm, telling him, with not too much detail, what was happening. When they injected the local anesthetic into the wound sight the big man had to turn away. That's when he saw Vin, pale and trembling in the corner. "Shit," he whispered, not knowing what to do. The kid didn't need to witness this; he'd already seen too much. Buck knew that JD's hysteria was more fear than pain, but he doubted Vin knew that. He sent another prayer that Chris - or any of the guys -- would get there soon, and vowed to make Chris pay for making him go through this alone. It wasn't Chris' fault, he knew, but still Chris owed him. Big time.
"Here, JD," the nurse said, tucking a soft, handmade teddy bear under his arm. The bear was made of light blue denim, with red button eyes and a bandage on its arm and across its forehead. "This is Ted, and he won't mind a bit if you squeeze him real tight. You can even take him home with you when we're all finished."
"Okay," the boy said tremulously. "Th-thank you."
When the doctor began stitching, JD started to struggle and cry once again, pleading for them to stop, for Buck to help him. It broke his heart, but he steeled himself, knowing it had to be done and hoping it would be over quickly. He was pretty sure JD wasn't feeling any pain, but he knew just the sensation of being stitched was enough to make anyone freak out.
After a few minutes, JD seemed to calm a little and he was able to hear a familiar voice speaking behind him. It wasn't Chris, but he almost sagged with relief, feeling as if a heavy weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
"I wondered what all the commotion was about," the friendly voice said, "I could hear your brother all the way up on the third floor and I said to myself . . . I've heard that voice before."
Buck looked over his shoulder again. Dr. Two Eagles was crouching in front of Vin, blocking his view of the treatment table. The pediatrician wasn't wearing a lab coat, but Buck could tell it was him by the man's soft voice and the braid hanging down the middle of his back.
"How would you like to take a little walk? Maybe, if it's okay, I could take a look at those knees of yours?" The doctor turned to glance over his shoulder and Buck gave him a nod of approval.
"I-I can't. I gotta stay with JD," Vin replied in a shaky voice.
"We won't be gone long and by the time we get back, JD should be all fixed up and ready to go home."
"Go ahead, Vin," Buck called over his shoulder. "It's okay. I'll take care of JD."
He watched as the pediatrician held out a hand. Vin refused to take it but he reluctantly allowed himself to be led out of the room.
"Did Vin go with Dr. Jake?" JD's suddenly calm-sounding voice startled him.
"Yeah, he did." JD hadn't seen the doctor, but he must have recognized his voice.
"You're doing really well, JD," the nurse said. "Can you hold still for just a few more minutes?"
"Yeah," he said with a heavy sigh. "Vin never getted stitches before, did he? Me and you are the only ones, right?"
"I reckon we are, Little Bit." He wasn't about to remind the boy that Vin had gotten stitches after they'd found him in the warehouse, or tell him that Chris had received more than his share of stitches over the years. He was more than happy to let JD think that this was some badge of honor the two of them alone shared, for as long as it worked.