Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.
Note: Written in response to the February 2006 challenge - 'Forgetfulness'. Thanks to Phyllis for the very speedy beta.
Buck pulled up outside the house and switched of his engine, rubbing the back of his neck. With Chris away in Washington for the past ten days, he'd been acting team leader. Their current case involved a long, tedious stakeout; since he couldn't take the evening or weekend shifts, he'd been doing the day shift, taking his laptop with him to try and keep on top of the paperwork. What he didn't get done in the day, he did at home after the boys went to bed.
It was only Thursday; he still had Friday to go before Chris got home. Damn, he was tired.
He climbed out of the truck, locked the door and turned toward the house. The boys would be waiting to greet him. They always made him feel better, bright smiles, hugs and unconditional love, the best tonic in the whole world. Somehow the boys knew he was busy and tired and they had been remarkably quiet, extra helpful and very undemanding.
As he mounted the steps, Gloria Potter came out of the house. She smiled sadly at him, even shook her head and as they passed on the steps, patting his shoulder.
"Supper's in the oven. The letter's on the desk. Good luck." With that she was gone, walking with unusual haste toward her car.
The house was quiet and apparently empty. No jet propelled, dark haired guided missile, flew at him, talking nineteen to the dozen about his day. No skinny, sandy haired, mini Chris with a Texas accent waiting patiently for his turn to be hugged.
"Boys!" he called as he walked in. There was no replay. "Where are you?"
Two small figures appeared from their room, standing quietly in the corridor. "We's playing Lego, we did all our homework," JD explained quietly and with no enthusiasm.
"Oh. Did you do all your chores?"
"Yes sir," Vin replied.
**Sir?** Buck was really worried now. Normally, they played after chores so they could do homework with him. "Right, well..." he was about to go and read the letter Gloria had mentioned when his cell phone rang.
"Wilmington," he answered. "Oh hi Marshall, what do you need?"
Team Seven had been maintaining a 24 hour surveillance for two weeks now, without Chris for most of that time. No one could keep that up indefinitely, so Travis had ordered Team Five to take over for a week, starting Sunday.
"I had Nathan copy the file and take it up to your office this afternoon...what? Oh he said he gave it to Rodriguez... no, I don't know what she did with it! How the hell should I know? ... Look, if you don't find it we'll make another copy tomorrow, I gotta go." He closed the phone to find JD standing in front of him, hand outstretched.
"You said he..."
"Oh, yeah, here." He pulled out a dollar and handed it over.
"I'm hungry," JD announced as he pushed the bill into the swear jar.
"You're always hungry, but I guess it is time to put the food on."
+ + + + + + +
The boys washed up and came to the table when he called, they ate in subdued silence.
"So JD, how was your day?" Buck asked.
Instead of the mile a minute description of everything that had happened since he left the house that morning, JD just shrugged. "Okay, I guess."
"What did you learn?"
Buck looked over at Vin. "What about you, cowboy, what did you learn?"
"That's good, anything else?"
Vin just shrugged, putting down his folk. "Please, may I be excused?"
"Don't you want ice cream? We have Rocky Road."
Vin shook his head, looking up at Buck, turning on the 'big eyes'. Buck, of course, was defenceless. "Sure."
"Can I get down too?" JD asked.
"If you want. Don't worry about the table, I'll clear it."
Vin shook his head. "You're tired, we can do it, we didn't forget our promise to Chris."
JD began to walk around the table collecting cutlery. "We 'membered."
"Promise to Chris?" Buck asked.
"To be good and helpful while he was gone, 'cause you'd be real tired," Vin explained.
"You guys are always helpful and mostly good." Buck smiled at them.
Neither one of the boys had come even close to letting him hug them, and he was somewhat surprised to discover he really needed those hugs. Since they both firmly stayed away from him as they worked he just set to filling the dishwasher. Once that was done, it was time for the boys to call Chris.
The boys went first, then handed the phone to Chris.
"Okay what happened?" Chris demanded.
"Search me, haven't been able to get two words or one smile out of either of them," Buck responded.
"You've have thought they'd have been excited, what with the big field trip tomorrow."
Buck's heart missed a beat. "Yes, well maybe they just miss you."
"I guess, I should be landing at about..."
Even as he was listening to Chris, Buck remembered Gloria saying something about a letter, and there it was, no stamp, it just said 'Mr Larabee and Mr Wilmington'.
"Buck? You still there?"
"What? Oh yes, sorry pard, what where you saying?"
"That I should be landing at about a quarter to eleven tomorrow night."
"Yeah, got ya, we'll be there."
"Bit late for the boys isn't it? I thought Josiah was picking me up."
"Nah, think I could get them to sleep, knowing you were coming home? At least this way they'll probably fall asleep in the car."
"I guess. It'll be great to see them."
"They're not the only ones who's gonna be pleased you know?"
"You could say that. See you tomorrow."
Buck hung up and opened the letter.
"Dear Mr Larabee and Mr Wilmington,
As you have failed to return the permission form and fee for the field trip tomorrow Vin and JD will not be permitted to participate. Please do not send them to school tomorrow with the form, as we cannot change our plans at this late stage. The boys are welcome to attend school but will be placed in different classes. Alternatively you may keep them at home.
Buck opened up his laptop bag, there it was the form. The one Chris had given him before he dropped him off at the airport. The last thing Larabee had said was - 'don't forget the boys form'. He had promised to sign it that day, but by the time he had reached the office and been called into an emergency meeting about their current case, he had forgotten.
+ + + + + + +
"Boys?" he called softly as he entered their room. They were both sitting on the floor playing with their Lego.
"Is it bath time?" JD asked with little enthusiasm.
"Yes, but I need to talk to you guys first." He sat down on the floor opposite them. "I read the letter you brought home from school - I'm so, so, so sorry guys, I let you down."
"We understand," Vin said sadly, not looking up from his Lego construction.
JD looked up at Buck, eye's wide as saucers, big, brown wells of sadness. He didn't cry, he'd probably done all his crying at school or on Mrs Potter's shoulder. He just sighed. The theme for this semester had been transportation and the whole class was going on an all-day field trip to the Forney Museum. JD had been so excited about seeing 'Big Boy', the world's biggest steam train. Vin had been just as excited in his own quiet way, about seeing a real stagecoach. With Chris away and the boys on their best behaviour and unnaturally quiet, they hadn't talked about the up-coming trip, or if they had, Buck hadn't noticed or he might have remembered the letter.
"You know, I bet Chris would love to see those things in the museum. We could all go together."
"Really?" JD asked.
"When?" Vin wanted to know. Vin liked plans to be firm not vague, he liked to know what each day would bring before it started.
"Well, he's gonna be a bit tired on Saturday, how about next Saturday, if the weather is nice?"
JD nodded enthusiastically, while Vin got up, pulled a pen from his backpack and climbed up onto his bed, walking along the top bunk until he reached his wolf calendar, hanging on the wall. Buck cringed inwardly as he saw that tomorrow's date was ringed in red. Vin very carefully put a cross through that day and then counted eight days before circling the next Saturday.
"Do we have to go to school tomorrow?" JD asked. "If we do, Vin's gotta be in a class with big kids and I gotta go in the kindergarten." He made a face that made it clear what he thought of that. "They're just babies in there!"
Buck tried not to smile at his son's indignation. Since JD was in a class of children older than he was, there were plenty of children in the kindergarten class his age, some were probably a few months older than him.
"No, you don't have to go to school tomorrow. Now, it really is time for your baths." With that he stood up, grimacing as tired muscles protested the action.
JD approached. "Are you really tired?" he asked.
"Just a bit, but not too tired for a hug, if I'm forgiven?"
JD grinned and lifted his arms, and as soon as he did that, he was whisked up into a father's loving embrace.
"I really am very sorry I messed up."
JD laid his head on Buck's broad shoulder. "It's okay, it'll be better to go there with you."
"We know you're tired."
Buck looked down to see Vin standing beside him. Hesitantly he reached out his small hand and placed it in Buck's and gave it a little squeeze. Buck curled his hand and squeezed back. He'd always known JD would forgive him; the little five-year-old just wasn't capable of holding a grudge or being mad at anyone for more than five minutes. Vin was a different matter. He'd been let down by so many adults in his short life that it had been very hard for him to finally learn to trust again. Buck was well aware that trust was a fragile thing and could be destroyed oh so very easily.
+ + + + + + +
"Come on boys. Up and at 'um!" Buck roused both boys from their beds.
Sleepy, tousled heads appeared. They had stayed up later than normal. Since there was to be no school, Buck had let them watch a DVD.
"But you said no school," JD whined.
"I know, and meant it, but we're going out."
While the boys watched the DVD, Buck had been on the phone in the den making arrangements. He'd swapped his day shift on stakeout with Josiah's Saturday night shift, thankful after that it was Team Five's turn to watch the miserable little wretch they suspected of organising a series of hijackings of trucks hauling cigarettes. Then he'd called an old friend of Chris' and a neighbour, whom he asked to look after the horses in the evening. With that done he did a little research on the internet.
"Where?" Vin asked, his head appearing over the top of the bunk.
"Well, that is going to be a surprise." Vin frowned. "Sometimes, cowboy, you just need to go with the flow." He winked, but Vin still looked suspicious.
"Tell me," JD pleaded even as he was rolling off the bed and trotting to the bathroom.
"I can't; didn't have time last night to make any firm plans, but I have some numbers and my cell phone, so let's see what happens."
While the boys dressed, Buck put the finishing touches to a huge breakfast. While they ate, he put together a picnic that was calculated to make any boy - whatever his age - smile, and make Nathan frown. They finished the horse chores and climbed into the Ram.
"What about Mrs Potter?" JD asked.
"I gave her the day off."
"Just like us."
"Are we playing hooky?" Vin asked.
"We are, let's go."
+ + + + + + +
Chris spotted his best friend and the boys instantly. JD was sitting on Buck's shoulders; Vin was standing in front of Buck with one of the big man's hands resting on his shoulder. All three looked tired and a little grimy.
He smiled as JD spotted him and began pointing and shouting loud enough for the whole airport to hear.
"I see him! He's there! CHRIS! CHRIS!"
As he watched, Buck's hand held Vin back just long enough for him to get to within a safe distance, then, as Buck let go, he dropped his bag and let the suit holder over his shoulder drop, going to his knees just as Vin reached him.
"Damn, I've missed you," he whispered as they hugged.
"I missed you too Dad, love you."
"Love you too, son."
The two of them had just about composed themselves by the time Buck carried JD up to them. As soon as they were there, JD let go of Buck and reached for Chris.
"Hello," he greeted.
"Hello," Chris returned taking him from Buck. "So how did the big field trip go?" he asked.
Silence fell over the two boys, who looked at Buck questionably.
"It's okay, boys, you can tell him," Buck agreed. "But not here, let's get back to the truck."
"What's going on?" Chris asked.
"We's going back to the truck now," JD told him, literal as ever.
"Right," Vin agreed. When they told his dad what Buck had done, or not done, he was going to be mad and when his dad was mad, he was loud. Vin didn't want everyone looking at them. "Come on," he encouraged, tugging at Chris' hand as Buck picked up his bags.
Seeing he was beaten, Chris let himself be led out to the parking lot. However, the very moment they were all in his truck, he demanded to know what was going on.
"We didn't go on the field trip," Vin told him.
"What? Why not?"
"I forgot to send the form back to the school," Buck admitted as he started the engine.
"YOU WHAT?" Chris exploded. "That was the last thing I said to you, the very last thing, I specifically told..."
"...you to not forge..."
"...et to send back that damn form, do I have..."
"What is it?" Chris snapped at Vin.
"It wasn't Buck's fault, he was really tired and he forgot; we had a great day today."
"Yeah, better than any dumb old field trip and 'sides, we's going to the museum next Saturday, with you and Buck," JD added.
"I promised," Buck informed him apologetically.
"I see," Chris responded guardedly. "So what did you do today?"
"We studied transportation, like we was meant to," Vin told him.
"Like we were meant to," Chris corrected.
"Yeah, like we was meant to," JD continued, oblivious to Chris' attempts to educate them in good grammar. "First, we went to see Mr Rowen."
"Old Dan Rowen?" Chris asked looking at Buck.
"The one and only."
+ + + + + + +
It was only eight-thirty when Buck turned into a ranch about a twenty minute drive from their own.
"Howdy, boys!" Dan greeted as they climbed down from the truck. He was a small man, still trim and fit.
"'llo," JD greeted.
Vin just smiled.
"Buck here tells me you two are studying transportation?"
"Uh huh," JD confirmed.
"Well, come this way, and I'll show you the early model."
Dan Rowen had been a jockey and then polo player, but arthritis had put an end to his riding days. Unable to give up horses or competing, he had taken up carriage driving. There, outside his barn, stood a carriage behind four gleaming, perfectly matched horses. This was no ordinary carriage, this was the Dodge Ram of carriages, designed to go anywhere and turn on a dime.
"I was about to take them out for a training session, would you three like to come along?"
"Yes!" Vin said a little too fast and a little too quickly. "Sorry, sir. Yes, please."
Dan just laughed. "Come on, let's get you all rigged out."
They all had to wear hard hats and the boys were given back protectors. Then they were off. To start with it was just a gentle drive in the country; Dan gave them a running commentary on what he was doing and on the horses and their personalities. Then, little by little, it got faster and faster, then there were the obstacles; ramps, steep hills, shallow river crossings and ponds. Vin sat in the front next to Dan and JD sat behind Dan. Buck, one hand hanging onto the carriage and one hand holding onto JD's waistband, sat behind Vin.
Even though Dan was taking it very easy, the boys were having a ball. They quickly learned to lean to help balance the carriage around the tight bends. By the time they were back at the barn, somewhat mud spattered but very happy, they considered themselves experts in cross-country carriage driving.
"Now boys," Dan began, "Since you two have been so good and learned so fast, we thought you would like to have ago."
Vin was all but reaching for the reins.
"Not with these guys. They're tired and just a bit big for you. So..."
He pointed to the large sand arena to the side of the barn. There stood his wife Maggie, and a miniature version of the carriage they sat on, hitched up to a pair of shaggy, cream coloured Shetland ponies.
"Buck! Buck! Look at them, they're all little like me!" JD enthused.
"Come and meet Toffee and Fudge," Maggie called.
As the boys took their turn learning to drive a team with Maggie, Dan assured Buck they were quite safe. "Those two have been retired for years, if they did have an aberration and run away with one of them, there is no where they can go and fat as they are, they couldn't go there very fast."
JD went first, once he had talked to the ponies, and petted them, and hugged them and finally kissed each one on the nose. To his credit, he did listen to Maggie, he drove the team around the edge of the arena and in a circle. Finally he drove through a series of 'gates' made with two traffic cones, each with tennis balls resting on top - if you hit the cone, the ball fell down. JD hit all but one gate, but didn't seem to mind. When his half hour was up, he hugged and kissed the ponies all over again.
Vin, older, stronger, with much greater hand eye co-ordination and powers of concentration did much better, he managed to complete all the tasks JD had, only knocking down one ball and at the end Maggie helped him push Toffee and Fudge in to a slow trot for a lap.
"Well boys, did you have fun?" Maggie Rowen asked.
"Oh yes, ma'am, it was the best," Vin enthused.
"I think Toffee and Fudge are the nicest horses there is except for Beau and Peso and Pony, of course," JD told her.
"Are those your horses?" Dan asked.
"Yes sir, Peso is my horse, he's the best." Vin grinned.
"I don't have a horse, yet," JD explained sadly.
Dan squatted down in front of him. "I bet your dad will get you one just as soon as you're ready."
"Buck's not my dad; he's my Buck," JD announced proudly.
"But I am gonna have a horse one day soon, right Buck?" He looked up over his shoulder at Buck.
"Sure, Little Bit." Buck assured.
+ + + + + + +
"So you two learned to drive a team? That is very cool," Chris told them.
"Yeah, but that was just in the morning, then we went to see the trains," JD explained.
"Yeah Dad, out at Golden, they have all these old trains and you can climb on them and pull levers and..."
"Ring the bell!" JD added enthusiastically.
Vin rolled his eyes. "There was a little train. JD rang the bell a lot!"
"It was a cute little engine. Buck said it was a tank engine, like Thomas."
Vin shook his head. "They had these trains that used to be trucks, they were fun and lots of other stuff. We got to see how the signals worked. Me and JD tried to pull the levers but they was too heavy, but Buck did it, didn't you?"
Buck nodded. "Believe me pal, them signal men back then must have been strong guys, I tell ya."
"And we got to have lunch there too; Buck made a picnic," Vin explained.
"It was dee-lish-ous," JD emphasised, rubbing his tummy. "We had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and leftover pizza and Pringles and Doritos and Cosmic Brownies and soda and..."
"I get the picture," Chris cut in. "How the hell do you intend to get them to sleep tonight?" he hissed at Buck.
"Oh they'll sleep, believe me."
JD went on to tell Chris all about how they had then travelled into the city to take a ride on a trolley car.
"We went past the Mile High and the river and everything," Vin explained.
"It's called a Breezer!" JD exclaimed. "Did you know there was lots of trolley cars in the olden days? It was great."
Vin had thought so too. He would have liked it better if JD hadn't insisted on waving and shouting 'hello' to everyone who looked up as they went past.
"Sounds like a fun thing to do. Think you'd go on it again with an old man?" Chris asked Vin.
"I think Josiah would like it."
Chris frowned. "I meant me."
"You're not old."
"Thanks." Chris turned back to Buck. "You sure showed them some transportation."
"Not over yet, tell him, cowboy." Buck grinned as he negotiated the traffic.
"We went sailing."
Chris looked from Vin to JD to Buck and back to Vin. "Sailing?"
+ + + + + + +
After the ride on the Breezer, Buck had driven the guys to Pizza Hut for supper, before they headed off for Cherry Creek. It was just after six, sunset was two hours away. Buck had sailed in the Navy, in the past, he had taken dates out on the lake; the ladies thought a date on a boat was fun, but a sailboat was just down right romantic. He wasn't up for anything more than leisurely cruising, but that was all that was needed on the small tranquil lake.
He'd managed to ring the marina in the morning and reserve one of the yachts, a twenty-footer. There hadn't been much wind all day and he had been worried he'd have to use the engine, but as the sun got lower, the breeze picked up. As the boys were given life jackets, Vin was smiling broadly, JD wasn't looking so confident.
"What's up, Little Bit?" Buck asked.
"I don't swim as good as Vin."
Buck smiled. "Well, we're going sailing, not swimming and anyway, for a little guy, you swim just fine."
"What if I fall in?"
"Well, that's why you have your life jacket on. Don't worry, I'm your Buck, ain't I?"
JD nodded. In JD's world dads left, dads were mean - not Chris obviously, but other dads - Bucks didn't do that, they were better by far.
"I won't let you fall, promise and when we get back, we'll have time for ice cream before we go and pick up Chris."
"Come on, JD, it'll be fun, we can be pirates, like in the film. I'll be Captain Sparrow and you can be Will Turner."
JD thought for a moment. "Who's Buck gonna be?"
Vin thought a moment, then both boys grinned and spoke together. "Bar..."
"Oh no, I'll be Gibbs," Buck cut in.
"The one they met sleeping with pigs," Buck supplied. 'Pirates of the Caribbean' was one of his favourite movies.
Vin shrugged. "Okay, but that means I'm the captain, you have to do what I say."
"Aye, aye Captain."
The Pirates of Denver sailed around the lake, searching for treasure until the sun began to go down. Little by little, JD had lost his fear and relaxed, though he was still happy to let Vin learn how to tack and handle the tiller, while he looked for the treasure. As Buck struck the sails and turned on the engine for their return to the marina, JD and Vin pleaded to stay out a little longer.
"Sorry boys, we don't have lights on this thing, time to head for dry land and those ice creams."
+ + + + + + +
"You gave them apple pie at Pizza Hut and then ice cream?" Chris looked at Buck.
"What can I say? Guilt is a terrible thing."
"Humm." He turned back to the boys. "So then you came here?"
"Yeah, we had to 'cause we did horse transport and train and boat, so now we had to do air," Vin explained.
"Air?" Chris asked worriedly. "You went up in a plane?"
"Dad! Of course not, we didn't have time and it costs lots of money." Vin shook his head, Didn't Chris know that?
"We went onto a plane, not the bit you sit in, the bit at the front where the pilots sit. The pilot was getting ready to take it to New York, he let us watch. It was way cool."
"I'll bet it was." Chris looked over at JD, expecting the little chatterbox to tell him more, but he was fast asleep, slumped in his car seat.
"Couldn't wake him with a five alarm fire," Buck commented.
"I guess not."
Once JD's energy reserve ran out, that was that, there was no reserve tank, no back up battery.
"How did you get them onto a flight deck?" Chris asked Buck.
"Asked the Federal Air Marshals for a little 'inter-agency cooperation'."
"It was that easy?"
"Guy I spoke to has six year old twin boys and an eight year old."
"That'll do it."
"Am I forgiven?" Buck asked.
Chris looked back at his son. Vin was asleep. "Hell yeah, I had that damn letter on my desk for two weeks before I gave it to you. I propose a new house rule- all letters from the school get dealt with on the day we get them."
"I reckon they learned more with you, than they could ever have done on any school trip."
Buck smiled. "I did my best."
"You did great."