This is the first in a series of vignettes that popped into my head. Depending on the response, there will be four or five to get to the end.
The thunder of running feet warned him just enough to allow him to raise one leg to protect himself from a careless kick to delicate regions. JD barreled into the room shouting at the top of his lungs. The dark haired tornado flew through the air to land on the edge of the bed as Buck scrubbed his fisted hand into one eye, trying to force his sleep-gummed eyes open.
Da! Da! It snowed! It snowed! Come see! Do we have to go to school today? Vin said if we dont go to school, that he will help me build a snow fort! Can we stay home today, please?
What time is it, Little Bit? Buck asked, buying time to process an answer.
Its already 5:30! Do we have to go to school today? Do we?
Buck almost regretted JD learning to tell time. He knew that even if they didnt have school, they werent likely to be able to build their snow fort. If Mrs. Potter couldnt get there to sit with them, they would have to go to the daycare at the federal building, a place neither child particularly cared for.
Ill have to see if your school has been cancelled or not, son. Why dont you get off of my chest and let me get dressed, then well turn on the TV and see.
With a light bounce, JD was off the bed and out the door. With a sigh, Buck tossed off the blanket and set his feet on the floor. Pulling back on the corner of the curtain, he could see that the snow had drifted up against the side of the house.
In the other big bedroom, a different scene played out. Chris rubbed at his whiskered cheek and heard the softest sigh. Opening one eye, he peeked at the patient child sitting cross-legged on the floor against the night table. Letting his arm slip from the bed, he dangled his hand like a lure before a trout. A whisper soft touch ghosted under his palm before the silky hair came to rest on his upper arm. Vin pressed his cheek against the warm, bare skin and sighed again.
Something wrong, Cowboy? Chris whispered.
Didnt mean to wake ya, Vin said, his expressive eyes widening.
Come up off of that cold floor, the blond countered as he lifted the quilt. In a flash, Vin bounced up and curled into the warmth that had been offered. The boy shivered deliciously in the nest of bedding and body. Something you wanted to ask?
Chris had been up an hour ago and looked out the window. He was pretty sure that the boys would be out of school, he only hoped that Mrs. Potter could make it to the ranch to watch them or he would have to take them to the daycare at the federal building.
It snowed last night.
Yeah, the weather forecaster said it might.
Do ya think well have school today?
Ill have to go turn on the TV and watch the school closing list. JD go wake up Buck?
Ya didnt hear him? He sounds like Peso when he takes to kickin agin the stall, Vin said as he turned disbelieving eyes on the blond.
Yeah, I heard him. You know that Mrs. Potter may not be able to get out of her driveway?
That mean we gotta go to the daycare?
Im afraid so, Cowboy.
We could stay here by ourselves. We wont get in no trouble!
Vin, you know why I cant let you do that, right? Chris put a slight edge to his voice. He heard the aggravated sigh burst from the boy nestled in his arms.
But they keep us all shut up in that room all day. All them little kids squallin and hollerin and the windows are all covered with blinds, Vin protested softly.
Its hard for you. I wish you didnt have to go but you have to be safe and supervised. Give it a couple more years, son, Chris said as he snugged his arm more tightly around Vin and pressed a kiss against the nape of his neck.
Any further conversation between them was postponed by a shout of joy from the living room. JDs voice echoed loudly as he hooted and jumped up and down in the other room. Vin drew a deep breath and sighed. A few minutes later, the phone rang. Buck stuck his head in and announced that Mrs. Potter was snowed in until the plows cleared the drift at the end of her driveway.
Sorry Cowboy, Chris said softly.
After a hearty breakfast, both boys dressed for the trip to the daycare. JD was thrilled, as it gave him new people to play with but Vin was miserable. Chris promised that he would come for him at lunch and they would spend some quiet time together. The Dodge rolled smoothly down the driveway and onto the blacktop. The snow was pristine, being untouched as yet. Responding to the tension radiating from Chris over the driving conditions, both boys were subdued. The highway was in better shape, having been plowed only a short time earlier and the blond was able to relax slightly. They reached the federal building only a half hour late. Judging from the number of empty parking slots, the building was going to be lightly staffed.
The daycare center was brightly lit but only a few children inhabited the area. The women greeted the boys enthusiastically and told them to find something to do. A colored rubber band was pressed into his hand that showed that he had a child in the daycare, it was a new security procedure they were trying. JD took off for the computers but Vin hung back. Chris knelt down and coaxed the boy to meet his gaze.
Im sure we wont be here all day. Try to have a good time, okay? Maybe after lunch you can come up to the office for a while. Receiving a half-hearted nod, he tried to ignore the slight quiver of Vins bottom lip.
The office was quiet when they arrived. Josiah and Nathan were sitting at their desks, typing reports that were incomplete. Ezras desk sat empty. Both men hung up their coats and headed for the kitchen to get a cup of coffee.
Ezra called. His car wont make it over the drift outside of his garage, Josiah explained.
Figures. I dont imagine well be here all day either, Chris said.
The profiler noticed the colored rubber band that encircled the blond mans wrist. Boys at the daycare?
Yeah, school was cancelled and Mrs. Potter was snowed in.
Around midmorning, the phone on Bucks desk rang. Looking up from where he was web surfing for presents for the boys for Christmas, he picked up the receiver.
Agent Wilmington, theres a woman to see you in the lobby, the guard said in a peevish tone.
She give a name?
Buck nearly dropped the receiver. He had not seen Magda for over ten years. A whirlwind of images danced across his minds eye. The gorgeous redhead had been the inspiration for his decision to join law enforcement. He heard the guard call his name and snapped back to the present.
Ill be right there, he said before hanging up. Chris, I have to go down to the lobby, Ill be back in a little while.
His heart was pounding and his palms sweating when he stepped off the elevator a few minutes later. The guard pointed toward the far corner of the lobby. A woman came to her feet and met him half way. Dark blue eyes took in the fact that the passing years had been hard on the once beautiful woman. Her hair looked chemically burned and deep lines creased the previously peaches and cream complexion.
Buck! You look fantastic! she exclaimed as she hugged him.
Magda, what are you doing here? Can you stay to visit? How have you been? Where have you been? Bucks fountain of questions had her holding up her hands in surrender.
I dont have time to talk. I know this isnt the way I wanted you to find out but its all explained in here, she said quickly as she thrust a large manila envelope into his hand. Turning, she called over her shoulder, Steven, come here.
A sullen looking dark haired boy stood and crossed the tile floor. Magda cupped his face and kissed him on the cheek. Dont leave me like this! the boy pleaded.
You know why I have to do it. Be a good boy, she patted the child on the shoulder and tossed Buck a pleading look before turning and leaving the lobby. By the time Buck found his voice, she had stepped into a waiting cab and was gone.
Where are you going? Buck said softly as he watched the snarled traffic.
So, do you work here? a haughty voice asked. Buck turned and looked at the boy standing in front of him. The kid was husky and tall. His hair was chocolate brown and his eyes darkly blue. The military style jacket looked as if it had seen better days.
Yes, I work upstairs. Where is your mother going?
I dont know. She said she was taking me to meet my father and that I had to stay with you, the boy answered defensively.
Yeah, she said you used to work for the Denver police department. Thats where we went first. She finally got someone to tell her that you didnt work there anymore and they told us to try the federal building.
Buck walked over to the chairs where Magda had been sitting and dropped bonelessly into an empty seat. Opening the envelope, he pulled out a sheaf of papers topped with a handwritten note.
Im sorry to have to do this but I didnt know where else to go. I found out about Steven after I arrived in Paris. After the way things ended between us, I didnt think you would be too thrilled to find out that I was pregnant. Im in trouble and I need you to look after him for a while. His shot records and medical files are enclosed along with his school transcripts. Ill be in touch
Buck stared at the note for several minutes before he realized that his cell phone was ringing. Pulling it from his pocket, he answered.
Is everything all right? I just got a call from the guard and he said some woman just ran out and left you with a kid, Chris launched.
Yeah, she did.
Magdalena, she brought me my son, Buck said before closing the connection. Is that all you have? he asked the boy as he looked at the duffle bag under the chair.
Yeah, Steven answered.
Follow me. Im taking him up with me, Keith, he called to the desk guard.
A stunned Chris Larabee jumped to his feet and stormed out of his office. When he reached the bullpen, he realized that he needed to get hold of himself. Josiah and Nathan looked up and questioned silently.
Nothing, Chris said as he turned and went back to his office. Slumping into his chair, he remembered the lovely Magdalena. She had been the love of Bucks life for almost six months when they began having trouble. She would disappear for days on end and leave Buck worrying that she was hurt or dead. For a couple of months, it looked like they would break up but they always seemed to come back together. Magda encouraged Buck to follow his heart and apply to the DPD. Just after he got his acceptance letter, they had a terrific blowout. Magda destroyed the small apartment the two of them shared. Without so much as a note of explanation, she disappeared. Two months later, she sent a letter saying that she was modeling in Paris and returning the engagement ring hed given her on Valentine's Day. He was snapped out of his reverie by the bell of the elevator. Buck strode into the bullpen with a tall, dark haired boy in tow.
This is my desk. Please dont touch anything. Ill be right back, Buck said before heading for the team leaders office.
That the kid? Chris asked after the door closed.
She told him that hes my son, Buck answered.
Your believe her?
She said she didnt find out about him until she was in Paris. She left me his medical records and school transcripts, the shell-shocked man said.
She just dropped him off and left? Chris asked, his voice rising in anger.
What are you going to do?
Take him home, I guess, Buck answered.
Buck, we need to talk about this. Where is he going to sleep? What about school? Can you even get him into school? Theres more to this than just showing up with the kid and saying hes yours, you know? Maybe you should call Nettie and get her input, Chris suggested.
For what? Hes not like Vin and JD! Hes not an orphan! He has a father! Me! I dont need another case worker crawling through my personal business! Buck raged.
What about JD? the blond asked softly. Have you given any thought to how this is going to affect him?
Hell be thrilled to have a big brother. If this is too much, I can take the boys and stay at a hotel until I can find a place for us to live.
Chris wasnt going to rise to the threat, he knew his friend wasnt thinking clearly. No, I dont want you to leave. I just think you need some sound advise on this one. At least call Nettie and let her know what happened. You have to do that because of JD anyway.
Shoulders slumped in defeat, Buck dragged his fingers through his hair. What he didnt tell Chris, couldnt tell him, was that he was terrified. Taking JD had been a spur of the moment thing born from some odd place in his soul. He had wanted to protect that small child from any more ugliness. As much as it bothered him to admit, something about Steven struck him as wrong. The child didnt evoke any protective instinct in the man at all and it scared him right down to the bone.
Can I call her from in here? Buck finally asked. Chris nodded and slipped quietly from the room. He paused outside of the door until he heard his friend explaining the situation.
Hi there, my names Chris, he said cheerfully as he offered his hand to the boy seated at Bucks desk. The dark haired boy looked up resentfully before slowly drawing his hand from his pocket and offering it to Chris.
Steven Sorvotni-Wilmington, the boy said evenly. Are you my dads boss?
Among other things. Would you like something to drink? Were going to get lunch as soon as Buck finishes with his phone call.
It wont help. He wont find her.
My mom. She was leaving as soon as she dropped me off with him.
He wasnt calling to look for her. Hes calling another friend who is a worker at Childrens Services. Do you have any idea where she was going?
No, she wouldnt tell me anything. Weve been traveling for two weeks. Shes hiding from someone. Whos this? Steven picked up the family portrait of Buck and JD that rested on the top of the monitor.
Thats JD, Bucks son, Chris explained. He saw a flash of something in the boys eyes before it disappeared behind his neutral expression. The kid was nearly as good as Ezra at the poker face.
He got a wife too?
No, its just him and JD and me and Vin.
Y-y-you live together?
At my ranch. Do you like horses?
Never been around them, the boy admitted. Just then, Buck stepped out of the office.
Lets go get the boys and grab lunch, I have a meeting in two hours. The message was loud and clear in Bucks eyes. The meeting was with Nettie. You two coming?
The four men and one boy stepped into the elevator and went down to the daycare. Chris hurried away from the group and went in to get JD and Vin. He was relieved to see Vin reclined in the hammock that hung between two of the building support posts. It was normally filled with stuffed animals. Since there were only a handful of kids there, the workers had allowed Vin to sit in it while he listened to a book on tape. As soon as he saw the tall blond, Vin slipped off the headphones and rolled carefully out of the mesh hammock. JD looked up from the computer where he was working and hurried to save his work.
Chris! Wheres my Da? JD called as he hurried across the room.
Hes right out in the hall. Do you need to put away any of the toys before you go to lunch?
Thats all right, Agent Larabee, they dont need to do anything. Will they be back after lunch? the woman asked as she approached with the clipboard.
Yes, at least for a couple of hours.
Well see you after lunch then, boys, she called as they left.
Stepping into the hallway, the boys stopped quickly. JD seemed torn between running to Buck and hanging back to scope out the situation.
JD, Vin, this is Steven. Hes going to be staying with us for a while, Buck said.
The three boys faced off silently. Stevens gaze swept over JD, taking in the innocence that surrounded the boy like an aura. Shifting his attention to Vin, the older boy glared. He hadnt missed the defensive stance that Vin took, pulling JD closer and squaring his shoulders. The larger child quickly covered his feral glare and dropped his gaze to the floor.
Okay, lets figure out where we want to have lunch, Nathan announced to break up the awkward moment.
McDonalds! JD crowed happily.
Thats just for babies, Steven challenged.
Is not! JD denied.
Where would you like to go, Steve? Chris asked.
My name is Steven! And I dont like McDonalds. Im a vegetarian! the older boy said.
O-Kay, how about the pizza place? It has a salad bar, Nathan suggested gently.
But you said JD began, but he stopped when Vin nudged him. Okay. Can I get anchovies and pineapple on mine?
Sure you can, Little Bit, Buck said before scooping the boy up and settling him on his hip.
Da! Ow! Ow! JD squirmed until Josiah stepped up to pull him away from Buck.
Other hip, Brother Buck, the profiler reminded as he looked pointedly at the gun and holster tucked into his belt.
Sorry, JD. I forgot. Are you okay?
JD rubbed at his thigh and nodded before reaching again for Buck. Chris handed off JDs coat and they moved for the elevator again. By the time the elevator opened on the parking garage, both boys had on their coats.
Well ride over in my Jimmy, Nathan announced as they parted. See you there.
Chris opened the door on his side and popped the electric locks. Opening the back door, he reached down and started to lift Vin into his booster seat.
I can do it, Dad, Vin insisted as he backed away. Chris nodded and stepped back, allowing him to climb up and get in the seat by himself. He waited until he could see that the restraining harness was properly fastened before closing the door and getting in the drivers seat. Buck opened both doors and offered to help Steven climb in.
I can do it! Im not a baby like some people! he called haughtily.
Im not a baby! JD called back as his eyes welled up with tears. Im not, right Da?
No, you arent a baby. Steven, I would appreciate it if you didnt say things like that, Buck said as he caught and held the older boys eyes. He settled JD in his seat and fastened the harness. Before closing the door, he cupped the rounded cheek and smudged away the single tear that had escaped. He was rewarded with a big, bright grin.
Lunch was a tension filled affair. Steven wrinkled his nose at the pizza and complained loudly about the quality and quantity of the selections on the salad bar. He flat out refused to answer any questions about his mother or where he had lived before coming to Denver. He managed to say something dour about everything Vin and JD discussed. The worst bit of information came in the form of an allergy, to dogs.
I cant even be in the same room with them or Ill get sick! I cant sleep in a room with two of them! Theyll just have to stay outside! Steven announced.
They cant sleep outside in the snow! Theyll get sick! Theyre just puppies! JD wailed just before bursting into tears.
Theyll be all right, JD. They have fur coats and the dog house is insulated, Chris tried to comfort the distraught boy.
I want to sleep out there too! Vin protested. It aint no worse than the warehouse. At least with Ringo and Elvis, itll be warm.
You cant sleep out in the dog house, Chris said firmly.
Why does he have to stay with us? Cant you send him back to his momma? Shes not dreaming of angels like my momma, is she? JD asked. Or he could stay with Uncle Nathan and Aunt Rain, like that boy Joey before he was dopted by his uncle.
Because hes my son, JD. He has to stay with me, Buck said as he tried to put his arm around the angry little boy. JD was having no part of being comforted and he jumped down from the chair and ran around the table to throw himself into Josiahs lap. The profiler pushed away from the table and gathered the little boy in his arms as he stood and headed for the restroom. Chris tapped Vin on the shoulder and pressed several quarters into his hand. The Texan slipped from his chair and headed for the video games in the corner.
Buck Chris started.
I know. Nathan, is there anything we can do about his allergies?
Without knowing how serious they are, I wouldnt even hazard a guess. Usually, its the dander from the dog that causes the allergic reaction. As long as the carpets are vacuumed regularly and they arent in his face, he should be all right. There are a number of over the counter and prescription medications you can try, the medic advised.
I dont want to take medicine! You care more about two dogs than about your own son? Wait til I tell my mom that! Shes going to flip! I told her I didnt want to come here. You dont care about me. Ill just hitch back home and wait for her there, Steven announced.
You arent going anywhere, young man. Your mother left you with me and Im going to take care of you. Well do whatever we can to make things go smoothly for you but you will have to bend a little too. Those boys love those dogs more than you could ever know and I cant just put them out of the house permanently. Ill put them out tonight but tomorrow Im taking you to a doctor to find out what can be done about your allergies and how bad they are, Buck explained.
Out of the corner of his eye, Steven noticed Vin going into the restroom. Josiah was standing behind JD at a video game. Nodding at the stranger his mother identified as his father, he slipped from his chair saying that he needed to use the bathroom. Neither man thought anything of it and ignored him as he walked across the restaurant.
In the restroom, Steven blocked the door of the stall where Vin was. When the younger boy opened the door, he flinched at the sight of the much bigger boy barring his way. Vin took a step back.
What are you doing in here? the Texan asked softly.
Checking out the competition. I just wanted to inform you that your precious dogs are out. If you dont cross me, I might just get over my allergy and let them back in. If not, theyll just go to the pound and be put to sleep.
They wouldnt do that! Youre just trying to scare me, Vin said with a lot more bravery than he felt.
You just wait and see. If you start any trouble with me, little JD is likely to have an accident. Do you understand? Ive been all over the world and I know how to hurt him in ways you never even dreamed of, punk! Steven punctuated his threat by jabbing his finger into Vins shoulder. The outer door opened and Chris called for Vin. The little Texan shoved past the bigger boy and stopped at the sink to wash his hands.
They finished their meal, with a lot of coaxing to get JD to eat. They returned to the office and dropped Vin and JD back at the daycare. Steven returned to the office with the adults. There was a minor confrontation when Vin objected to returning to the daycare.
But you said I could come up to the office this afternoon! Ill be really quiet! I can sit at Uncle Ezras desk and play a game on his computer. Please, Dad?
Im sorry, Cowboy, I need you to stay here for a while. Please? I promise Ill spend some one on one time with you at home tonight, Chris offered. Reluctantly, Vin hung his head and entered the playroom.
Buck walked Steven into the office and parked him in a chair while he made copies of all the papers Magda had left him. Chris had given him the keys to the Dodge. Armed with both sets of papers, he motioned the boy to follow him and they left the office.
Where are we going? Steven asked in the elevator.
To talk to a friend of mine who is a case worker. We have to get some things in order so that I can enroll you in school and take you to the doctor and things like that, Buck explained.
Youre going to send me to a foster home?
No, I just need to make sure that I dont do anything to endanger JDs adoption and that means that I have to inform Nettie of any changes in our household.
Not yet, but were really close. It should be final in a couple of months.
You get him from a foster home?
No. And I dont want to discuss this subject and I dont want you asking the boys about it either. Do you understand me? Buck turned a glare on the boy and watched him until he nodded.
The Family Services offices were scarcely populated due to the weather. They waited in a dismal looking room that had a variety of broken toys and ancient magazines. A few children were escorted through the building on their way to some unknown destination. When Nettie finally came out and stood before them, Steven put on his sad face and looked up at the older woman.
Young man, you will wait right here until we come back for you, she said before motioning Buck to follow her into her office. They could see Steven through the mini blinds over the window in the door.
All right, tell me whats going on, Nettie said as soon as they sat down.
His mother and I went our separate ways over ten years ago and I never heard from her again until she showed up at my office this morning. I never saw the boy before today. She gave me all of this and just walked out on him, Buck said as he handed her the copies. He glanced over his shoulder while she reviewed the papers.
Has he told you anything about why she would just leave him like this?
Has he told you anything at all?
Just that hes a vegetarian and allergic to dogs.
Ouch, Nettie said as she rearranged the papers in the file. What did the boys say to that bit of information?
Well, Vin is willing to sleep in the dog house with them and JD was too upset to say much of anything. He bolted from his chair and hung on Josiah at the restaurant a little while ago. Nettie, tell me what Im supposed to do. This kid is my son and I want to do right by him but hes already threatening to tear our home apart, Buck said softly as he wrung his hands.
Well, you have the option of surrendering him and letting me place him in a home until we can find his mother. We can do a DNA test to make sure he is your son. Or you could stop the adoption until you decide what to do about them.
No! I dont want to stop the adoption! Not after all weve been through. I love JD like he was my own flesh and I dont want to do anything to hurt him.
Then I suggest that you call on your immeasurable people skills and work things out between them. You and Chris have done a phenomenal job with the boys and everything they went through. If you really intend to keep Steven, you need to work this out. Ill get the paperwork started to give you physical custody. You can enroll him in school and this paper will cover his medical expenses.
Buck picked up the paper and looked it over. He had one similar to it for JD to go along with the plastic card issued by the state. Somehow, he felt let down. He had hoped Nettie would have some kind of answer for him. The fact that she had tossed the ball right back in his court left him feeling abandoned. When she handed him the next paper, he glanced over his shoulder again.
Ill start a case file for him. If you hear anything from his mother, call me right away.
What will happen to her?
She abandoned her child. I can bring charges against her. If she wants the boy back, shes going to have to demonstrate the ability to take care of him, just as you and Chris have had to prove the ability to handle the boys. Im not going to give him back until I know why she dumped him and ran off the way she did.
Thanks, Nettie, Buck said as he came to his feet.
Im going to need to talk to Steven, she said.
After talking to the boy, Nettie knew no more than she did before. Steven was sullen and withdrawn. He refused to answer any of her questions with anything except I dont know. He adamantly declared that he loved his mother and wanted to go back to her as soon as possible. His expression changed briefly when she asked him how he was going to feel about having a brother. A flash of anger washed over him before he managed to mask it.
He doesnt really care about me. Hell let them bring those dogs in even though I told him that Im allergic. That other guy, the black guy, told him that it wouldnt be a problem. He doesnt even know me! What if I have a really bad reaction? He probably wont even take me to the hospital. Hell just let me die and then he wont have to worry about me anymore! Steven yelled.
I dont think Buck would deliberately do anything to cause you harm. Hes made a lot of changes to his life to accommodate JDs needs. Hell do whatever is necessary to keep you safe. As soon as school reopens, hell enroll you. Well make arrangements for you to see an allergist to find out about this allergy to dogs so we can take all the necessary precautions. In the mean time, if you need anything, heres my card, call me, Nettie said before escorting the kid out of her office.
Buck looked up as Nettie and Steven came out of her office. He stood and held out his hand to thank the woman for all of her help. She gave him an encouraging smile and a nod as he pressed a hand to the boys shoulder and steered him toward the door to the elevator lobby. Neither said anything until they reached the truck.
Steven, I know this has to be hard for you but I really do want to get to know you better. I want to tell you a little about whats been happening in my life over the past few years so youll understand, Buck said as he started the engine and put the truck in gear.
#2: In the Beginning