Disclaimer: I don't own them; I don't get paid to write this stuff.
Notes: It's LB, ATF style. Just a little ficlet about how unpredictable life can be, 'specially when you've got li'l ones around.
Chris Larabee let out an exhausted groan as he settled back in his recliner. He looked up as someone waved a mug of coffee in front of him. Managing a wan smile, he nodded to his old friend as he took it. "Thanks, Buck."
"No problem, pard," Wilmington replied as he stretched out on the couch. Heaving a sigh, he said, "Sure not the weekend we planned, is it?"
Shaking his head, the blond replied, "No. Well, that's the thing about having kids around plans change. But, there's never a dull moment."
As if to prove that point, the two men heard the slow shuffle of little stocking feet. Chris gave his friend a wry grin, mouthing, "Yours," just as JD Dunne scuffed into the den.
JD was rumpled and flushed, a frown on his tiny face. Strands of his thick, black hair were standing up in every direction, while others were glued to his face. He was dressed in pajama pants and a heavy, long-sleeved tee-shirt. His breath whistled through crusty nostrils and his eyes were watery, half-closed and red-rimmed.
As he passed Larabee on the way to the couch he favored the blond with a glare. "Vin's bein' 'noyin'."
Nearly choking on his coffee, Larabee said, "He is?"
Little Dunne climbed onto the couch and sprawled across his foster father's lap. His stuffed Scooby-Doo dangled from one hand, the top of his head brushing the floor. With a nod, the five-year-old muttered, "Yeah he's hurtin' my ears."
Gently rubbing the warm perspiration dampened back, Wilmington said, "Well you know he didn't mean it, Little Bit."
Dropping the foot of his recliner, Chris set aside his coffee and pulled himself to his feet. "Guess I'll go see what's going on."
Padding quietly into the darkened room their foster sons shared, the man moved softly toward the bunks. He could see the restless movements of the small boy on the upper bunk. Laying his hand gently on the tiny, huddled form, he whispered, "Vin?"
"What?" The word was delivered in a rough, grouchy croak.
"Are you feeling bad again?"
"Yeah." His answer was painful in its simplicity.
"What can I do to make it better?"
The blanketed lump shifted, moving a little closer to the edge of the bed.
With a small, compassionate smile, the father lifted his child out of the bunk and settled him into his arms. Vin wrapped one arm around his neck, his other arm cradling his beloved Cat against him. Thin legs wrapped around the man's narrow waist, and he dropped his head to one of the man's broad shoulders.
Grabbing a quilt from the end of the boy's bed, Chris headed back to the den.
They had planned to make the long weekend special for the boys. Chris and Buck, along with the other members of ATF Team Seven, had been especially busy for nearly a month. The two men had arrived home only in time to say goodnight to the children almost every evening.
As soon as they saw that work was slowing, Larabee and Wilmington shot into action. At the urging of their teammates, the men requested the following Friday and Monday off. They kept things quiet, not wanting to tempt fate by announcing the mini-vacation. Chris covertly collected school work so that the boys wouldn't fall behind. Buck checked for special activities and upcoming movies in the area. Larabee even checked his supply of Tums for the upcoming visits to McDonalds he knew they would be talked into over the course of the four days.
Then, Thursday evening, it all unraveled.
The two men arrived home to an unnaturally quiet house and found themselves greeted by a somber-faced Gloria Potter. Their housekeeper announced that neither boy seemed to be feeling well.
And so it was, on Saturday evening, that the two agents sat comforting their sons, two little boys who had been stricken with an influenza that was making the rounds at school.
The fathers had been kept busy for two days now with two feverish, achy, grouchy children. They fixed herbal teas and dispensed Tylenol, ran cool baths and prepared chicken noodle soup. They settled quarrels delivered in scratchy voices, tolerated no less than four hours of Scooby Doo cartoons. And they comforted. Their sons craved their attention as the flu made them more and more irritable.
Saturday evening. Once a time for dates or long hours of partying. For the last few months it had become a time for family outings or evenings gathered around a game board. But tonight it was a night to try and sooth the boys.
Entering the den, Larabee carried the seven-year-old to his recliner. Settling into the plush, black leather cushions, he coaxed Vin to loosen his hold. Together they shifted the weary child around until he lay curled up on his side against his foster father.
Chris shook open the handmade covering and wrapped it around the drowsy young blond. Looking across the room, he saw that Buck lay on the couch with JD draped across his chest now. He had pulled the afghan from the back of the couch and had it covering them both. The little brunet was positioned so that his head was tucked beneath the big man's chin. He had fallen back to sleep, a wheeze and rattle issuing from a stuffy nose and scratchy throat.
Wilmington was half asleep himself, blue eyes blinking closed, then opening part way, before closing once again.
Larabee felt Vin begin to relax against him, drawn by the siren call of sleep. Tenderly brushing his fingers through the riot of loose blond curls, he gently kissed the top of the little head. Leaning back in the chair, he gazed toward the TV, staring at the action on the screen without much interest. Buck had evidently muted the volume, more than likely in response to his foster son's request. The smaller boy had complained of an earache most of the afternoon.
He yawned, knowing that if he didn't move soon he would likely end up sleeping in the chair most of the night. With a mental shrug, he decided that he had slept in worse places.
A short time later, the grandfather clock in the hall announced that 9:00 had arrived. The announcement went unnoticed as the members of the unique little family slept on.
"I don't like this thing!" JD whined and fidgeted, trying unsuccessfully to remove the obstruction from his face. It was either tickling his chin or rubbing at the flesh beneath his eyes.
"You gotta wear it. Y' know what Unca' Nathan said," Vin replied evenly. "Y' gotta wear 't or y' cain't go see Buck."
"But it itches!" The five-year-old complained as he once more tried to remove the white 'dust mask' that was held on his face by a piece of elastic. "It makes my face hot!"
"Well then don't wear 't!" Vin yelled in an exasperated tone. "Jist sit out here 'n be a grouch 'n I'll go see 'im!"
"No! He's my Da!" JD yelled back.
"Boys! What's going on?" Nathan Jackson's voice came from the kitchen. The tall man came out into the hallway, a large, wooden spoon in one hand. "What's all the fussing about?"
"JD don't wanna wear the mask," little Tanner answered as he shot a look at his younger 'brother'.
"You know the rules," the EMT trained ATF agent said evenly. He came to kneel before the smaller child, straightening the too-big mask over the little face. "If you want to go see your Da, you've got to wear this. I don't want you getting sick again."
The tiny brunet heaved a heavy sigh, but stood quietly while he suffered the big man's attention. His big, hazel eyes crossed as he tried to see what Nathan was doing.
Jackson smiled as the child tried to follow his movements. He carefully pinched the strip at the top of the adult sized mask and folded the stiff cotton fabric until it fit around the tiny features better. Sitting back on his heels, he said, "Now, is that better?"
Dark hair bobbing as he wriggled his mouth and nose beneath the mask. "Thank you Unca' Nathan."
"You're welcome, John Daniel," the dark man replied with a smile. Ruffling his fingers through the child's thick hair, he said, "Okay, now you can go see your Da."
"'Kay." The little boy retrieved the juice box and package of crackers that he intended to take his foster father and headed toward the closed bedroom door.
Turning to the older boy, Jackson pulled the cup shaped mask off his forehead and positioned it over his face. Making similar adjustments, he said, "Okay, you're set."
Blue eyes twinkling, the seven-year-old said, "'Kay. Thanks Unca' Nathan."
"You're welcome, Vincent Michael," he smiled and ruffled his fingers through the loose blond curls. As Vin moved toward Chris Larabee's bedroom door, juice and crackers in hand, he straightened. Shaking his head, the big man returned to the kitchen.
Nathan had come out yesterday after Larabee called him to reluctantly ask for help. Both he and Buck Wilmington had come down with the flu that had stricken the boys Thursday afternoon. The boys were recovering with the normal resilience of children, just about the time their fathers fell ill.
Knowing that it had to be bad if his friend and boss resorted to calling him, Jackson had packed an overnight bag, kissed his wife good-bye, and stopped by the nearest pharmacy on his way out of town. Stocking up on not only flu medication and Tylenol, but juice, crackers and a few treats for the boys, he headed for the Larabee - Wilmington home.
He had arrived to find the two boys watching Homeward Bound on the big screen TV in the den. Receiving an enthusiastic greeting from JD and a more reserved greeting from Vin, he went to check on their fathers.
Buck was sprawled face down across his bed. He was dressed in an old ATF sweat suit and thick socks. The floor around him was littered with crumpled tissues even though a wastebasket sat right beside him. The big man's hair was standing straight up and even his mustache seemed to be rumpled. His nose and eyes were red, and a hoarse wheeze could be heard coming from slightly parted lips.
Donning the thin surgical gloves he had put in his pocket, Jackson cleaned up the mess. He managed to get the big man awake enough to get him to take some Tylenol and drink some juice before he coaxed him back under the blankets. Leaving a glass of water and some crackers on the bedside table, he left the room, heading for the master bedroom.
Larabee was propped up on a stack of pillows, reading a book. His hair was combed back, and the comforter he lay beneath was smoothed out neatly. The floor was clean, all of the tissues he had used contained in his bedside wastebasket. Even the glass of water sitting on the table beside him was on a coaster.
Most people would see the overly neat appearance of the blond and his surroundings as a sign that he was either feeling better or was obsessive about things. Jackson knew the man well enough to know how wrong that was, though. Chris Larabee was crawling out of his skin, desperate to be back on his feet and seeing to the two boys. Unable to do that, he fidgeted and fussed until everything was painfully and overly neat.
Giving Chris a dose of medication and leaving behind some juice and crackers, Nathan promised to take care of the boys and everything else as long as the other man would concentrate on getting well.
The medically trained man had taken over the household chores, as well as caring for the two little boys. While the five and seven-year-olds were feeling better, he continued to take precautions with their health. At least their energy levels were still low enough that they didn't argue much about staying inside and playing quietly. He was also relieved that Larabee had called the neighbor to tend to the horses for a few days, leaving him without that concern.
Things had run fairly smoothly, only a few minor problems that cropped up due to the family's shared illness. Until, that was, the two boys had demanded to see their fathers. With typical childish logic, they reasoned that it was only fair that they take care of the men who had so diligently cared for them while they had been ill. After some negotiation, Jackson agreed to let them take snacks into the men and visit for a brief period as long as they took adequate - at least he considered them adequate - precautions. Finding a couple of dust masks out in the mud room, he explained to Vin and JD that they needed to keep the masks on so that the 'bugs' couldn't re-infect them.
Then he had to explain the difference between 'bugs' and insects.
And reassure the two boys that they wouldn't have to wear the masks outside in the summer time.
Then he had to explain why they couldn't see 'flu bugs'.
About then he really hoped that Chris and Buck made miraculous recoveries.
JD tried really hard to tiptoe into the room. The bedside lamp cast the only light in the room but it was enough for him to pad across the room toward the bed. He slipped up beside his foster father, peering over the edge. Buck lay on his back, head back and mouth open, snoring loudly.
"Da?" The little brunet whispered. When he got no response he said a little louder, "Da?" Still nothing.
"DA!" He crowed loudly.
Buck started, his entire body jerking as the child's voice penetrated the fog of sleep. Gasping for air, he stared at the ceiling, eyes wide as he tried to slow his heart rate from the three hundred beats per minute he was certain it was doing now. When the fog cleared, he realized that his mouth was open. Running his tongue over dry lips he managed to close it. Dark brows furrowed as he tried to decipher just what it was that had awakened him.
Blinking, he turned his head toward that familiar voice. "Hey Little Bit," he managed to rasp. He forced himself to swallow, wincing at the pain that action brought with it. "What are you doin' in here?"
"I bringed you some juice an' some crackers, the kind that gots cheese on 'em, the juice is apple 'cause Unca' Nathan said it'd taste better with the crackers 'cause they got cheese on 'em but if you want a differ'nt kind of juice I'll go get it."
Scrubbing a hand over his face, the big man said, "But why are you in here? You're not supposed to be in here while I'm sick, Kiddo."
"Oh, Unca' Nathan said I could come in here if I weared this." JD pointed at the mask on his face. "It catches all the flu bugs but I don't know how an' Unca' Nathan said flu bugs is teeny tiny little bitty little an' we can't see 'em but they're there."
Buck lifted his thousand pound head off the pillow with an effort, blinking and frowning as he saw that JD did, indeed, have a mask on. Letting the lead weight atop his shoulders drop back to the pillow, he said, "Good idea."
Shrugging, the child said, "I guess, but it's itchy and makes my face feel sweaty and Unca' Nathan had to scrunch it to make it fit cause it's made for growed ups an' not little kids. Do you want your juice now?"
Rubbing at his face again and trying to ignore the headache that was making itself known again, Wilmington said, "Sure." Then, as his foster son deposited the juice box and package of crackers on his chest, he added, "Thanks."
Setting the snack aside, the ill man pushed himself upward, gamely defying the pull of gravity that seemed intent on keeping him prone. He fumbled with the cellophane packet holding the crackers, finally pulling it open after several tries. Then he had to fight with the cellophane pocket that contained the straw for the juice box. He wondered who had invented cellophane.
Had to have been someone with a sadistic streak a mile wide.
Taking a sip, he forced himself not to grimace as the juice made its way past the sandpaper lining his throat. He nibbled at a cracker and then managed to smile at the little cherub beside him. "Mighty fine, JD. Thank you."
"You're welcome I can stay in here for a few minutes if you want, Unca' Nathan said it was okay as long as I don't take off my - " Without thinking, the little boy pulled the mask away from his mouth. Letting go of it quickly, the stiff cloth cup slapped him in the face. Wide, tear-filled eyes regarded the man lying beside him.
"Little Bit? You okay?" Wilmington reached for the little boy.
"I I letted in the flu bugs! I I think I s-swallowed one!" The child wailed.
"JD, it's okay, it's - "
"Unca' Nathan!" The little brunet cried out in near hysterics. "Unca' Nathan I swallowed a flu bug!"
"JD!" Buck watched his son fly from the room, his cries echoing through the house. With a groan, the sick brunet lay back against the headboard. He just hoped that Nathan could find a way to make it all better.
Vin approached his father's bed as quietly as possible. Chris lay on his side, curled beneath the thick comforter, his head burrowed into a pillow. Sun lit the room from the big windows on the far wall. The seven-year-old quietly set the box of juice and pack of crackers on the bedside table then leaned against the bed. He propped his chin against his palm, his elbow pressed into the mattress. Big, serious, blue eyes watched patiently for signs that his foster parent was waking.
Larabee felt himself being observed even before he came fully awake. Heavy lids slanting open, he found himself looking at his foster son. He frowned as he tried to decide what was wrong, then slowly realized that the boy was wearing one of the dust masks he kept in the mud room. Running his tongue over his lips, he managed to open his mouth. His voice hoarse and sleep-filled, he said, "Hey, Cowboy."
"Hey," was the soft reply. "How're y' feelin'?"
Smiling at the serious expression in the big eyes, the blond replied, "a little better."
"'That's good. I brought y' some juice an' crackers. I told Unca' Nathan y'd prob'ly rather have coffee 'n one 'a them g'rola bars, but he said this 's better fer people that has a flu."
"Well, I'll take Uncle Nathan's word for it," Chris said. "Did he tell you, you had to wear the mask, too?"
With a heavy sigh the little blond said, "Yep. He said since we was jist sick, we gotta wear 'em so we don't git sick ag'in. He said these is made so they c'n catch flu bugs. Did y' know flu bugs is so little that y' cain't see 'em?"
"So I've heard." Larabee cautiously rolled to his back, willing the nausea away with only limited success. The last thing he wanted to do was to throw up in front of his son. Breathing through his mouth, he kept his gaze focused on the far wall as he pushed himself up against the headboard. Settling there, he closed his eyes and swallowed. He fought the sensation that he was spinning and grimaced at the loud buzzing that drowned out everything else. Then he registered a gentle touch on the back of his hand. With studied movements he turned his head and opened his eyes.
"Y' okay? Want me t' git Unca' Nathan?" Little Tanner peered up at his father with concern.
"I'm okay, just a little light headed." Larabee admitted as his head dropped back and his eyes closed once more. "I'll be fine in a minute."
"'Kay." Vin said, a tone of doubt in his voice. While his father lay very still against the headboard, he carefully opened the wrapper holding the crackers and pulled loose the straw attached to the side of the juice box. Pushing the straw through the little hole in the top of the box, he stood waiting for Chris to open his eyes again.
When his body finally quieted, the blond managed a deep breath. Opening his eyes, he focused on the little boy standing patiently beside the bed. With a wan smile, he took the offered snack. "Thanks, Cowboy."
Nodding, the seven-year-old was just about to speak when a piercing cry cut him off. Eyes widening, he turned just as JD tore past the open door, heading for the kitchen. A cry of, "Unca' Nathan I swallowed a flu bug!" chased after him.
Turning back to his father, Vin said, "I guess I better go see what's wrong."
With a grin, Larabee said, "Yeah, Uncle Nathan may need some help."
Grinning beneath the mask, Vin giggled. Then with a touch of longing in his voice, he said, "Want me t' come back later?"
His expression growing wistful now, the boy's father said, "as long as Uncle Nathan says okay, I certainly do."
"'Kay," Little Tanner said with a nod. He hurried to leave the room. Pausing at the door, he turned and waved a little hand before disappearing into the hallway.