I know this is likely to get me in trouble with some readers and I'm truly sorry if I upset anyone but the story just begged to be written. Even people who should know better sometimes make errors in judgment. Hopefully, they are fortunate enough to be stopped and smart enough to learn their lesson.
Buck returned from the training seminar and hurried toward the baggage carousels to meet his family. He had been away for three long days. He missed the boys. Although he had enjoyed the two evenings of carousing with the female agents, he was eager to get home. He spotted Chris and the boys and began weaving his way through the other passengers. JD was jumping up and down, yelling in excitement at seeing his Da coming toward him. As soon as Chris turned him loose, the boy darted forward and flung himself at Buck.
"Da! I missed you!" JD yelled, temporarily deafening Buck in one ear. Vin stretched out to the length of Chris's hand on his shoulder to wrap an arm around one of Buck's legs to give him a hug. Chris picked up the bag they had gotten from the carousel.
"Ready to go home?"
"Am I ever! I gotta tell you, that had to be the cheapest hotel they could stick us in! The room service was awful, the mattress was lumpy, and there was nothing in the mini bar."
They got to the ranch most of an hour later. The boys vaulted out of the truck and ran for the back yard to let the dogs out. Chris and Buck carried the bags into the house and Buck took them to his room to unpack. When he came out to the kitchen, Chris handed him a glass of iced tea.
"No beer? Are we out?"
"Nah, I just figured you'd like an iced tea. Supper will be ready in a little while, I just have to warm it up," Chris said as he began setting dishes on the table.
The boys were excited when they came in from outside. The dogs had been chasing them back and forth to get the Frisbee Vin had taught them to fetch. Over supper, the boys told Buck about their day at school. He knew that they had spent an evening with Billy Travis, celebrating his birthday.
"How was Billy's party?"
"It was great! We had pizza and played games!" JD enthusiastically exclaimed.
"And we got these really cool Battle Tops in our goodie bags!" Vin added.
"Did you stay all night?" Buck asked, he knew that the boys were worried about both of them being gone and leaving Chris at home all alone.
"No, we called Chris and he came to get us after his date with Stacy and-"
"How about dessert? Who wants ice cream?" Chris asked, cutting JD off before he could let the cat out of the bag.
"Me! Me!" Both boys yelled, bouncing in their chairs. After dessert, the boys went to take their baths. They came out in their pajamas and piled up in the living room to watch a movie. JD climbed into Buck's lap and curled up, falling asleep before the movie was half over.
Chris breathed a sigh of relief when Buck carried the limp child to his bed for the night. He was going to tell his friend what had happened, but he wanted to do it at the office, where Buck was less likely to make a scene. He wanted him to have a chance to cool off before they got home. Vin kept throwing him nervous looks, knowing that Chris had done a bad thing and worried that Buck was going to be mad at him.
The next morning, the boys ate their breakfast and rushed off to school. Buck noticed that Chris seemed nervous, but he didn't know why. He waited, knowing that if he asked questions, Larabee would shut down and he wouldn't get any answers. They made small talk on the drive into the office. They talked about the school events that they had to look forward to in the coming weeks. The boys' school had several field trips planned and they had each volunteered to go along as chaperone at different times.
As soon as they got to the office, they were swept up by a case that suddenly began to fall apart. Buck rushed off to gather the surveillance equipment while Chris was called into a meeting with Judge Travis. They passed each other in the elevator lobby and Buck wondered if whatever Chris had on his mind could wait until they got home.
On the way back to the office after the bust, the men discussed their mutual dislike of all of the paperwork they were going to have to do. A stray bullet had damaged a civilian vehicle and another car went through a wall after its distracted driver got caught up with watching Josiah and Nathan wrestle with a grossly overweight suspect. When combined with the volume of weapons they had confiscated, it made for a mountain of reporting to be done. By the time they finished, it was time to head home. As he was pulling out of the garage, Chris remembered that he hadn't told Buck what had happened while he was gone.
The boys were thrilled to see them when they got home. Mrs. Potter had supper ready and she dashed off to get home and feed her own kids. Buck bustled around in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on the meal and putting it on the table. Chris changed and jogged down to the barn to feed the horses, arriving back at the house just as Buck was serving the boys. The lasagna was one of the boys' favorite dishes. JD quickly scooped up a bite and put it in his mouth, not thinking about how hot it was. Seconds later, he was fanning his mouth as Buck handed him a glass of milk.
Out of the blue, JD swallowed the bite in his mouth and made an announcement. "I saw that policeman who drove us home at school today. His little girl is in the class across the hall from me."
Chris's heart plummeted, as he slowly lifted his eyes to meet Buck's across the width of the table. His friend gave him a puzzled look before addressing his son.
"What policeman drove you home, JD?"
"The one who came while Chris was in the other policeman's car," the boy innocently replied. "He 'pologized for scaring me and Vin when he took us out of the truck."
While JD was informing Buck about what happened from his own unique viewpoint, Chris let his mind replay the events.The flashing lights in his rear view mirror caused Chris to sigh and then to scowl. He dug into his pocket for his ID and rolled down the window. The state trooper walked up along the side of the truck and looked into the cab.
"License and registration, sir. Do you know that you ran a light a light back there?" he asked as he held out his hand. He raised his eyebrows at the leather ID case that was placed in his hand. "Agent ... ahh ... Larabee, have you been drinking this evening?"
Looking at the two pair of wide, frightened eyes staring at him from the back seat, he decided to be totally honest, "I had a couple of beers."
"Could you step out of the vehicle, sir?"
Chris unbuckled his seatbelt and opened the door. He got out of the truck and walked back to the space between the truck and the front of the police car. The trooper went to the open window of the patrol car and reached in to retrieve something and the blond man's heart sank. He looked at the devise in the other man's hands and took a step back.
"Look, Officer ... Stratman, is this really necessary? It's the middle of the night. I missed the light. I'm going straight home. It was only two beers!"
"Take a deep breath and blow into this until the light comes on, please," he replied calmly.
When the trooper turned away with the device, Chris knew it was going to be bad. He didn't know how bad until the other man turned around with the handcuffs.
"Wait just a minute! Look, can't we talk about this? I need to get my kids home and into bed. It'll never happen again, I swear!"
"Turn around and put your hands on the tailgate. I'll call someone from the station to bring the kids in for you. You can call their mother to come and pick them up."
"They don't have a mother, it's just me and my partner and he's out of town. Can't you just let me go?"
"I'm sorry, if I let you go and you get in an accident and kill someone, I'd be responsible. Please sir, just turn around and put your hands on the tailgate," the trooper insisted.
Cursing under his breath, he turned and put his hands on the truck. In the window of the cab, he could see both boys on their knees, watching the scene with wide, frightened eyes. The trooper took hold of his right hand and brought it around behind his back. He tried not to resist when his left hand joined his right. The trooper took him by the arm and pulled him toward the back door of the squad car.
It took almost thirty minutes to get another trooper out there to bring the boys back. Officer Stratman stayed beside the truck, talking to the boys. Chris had watched, craning his neck to look out of the windshield. He was worried when he saw the boy's retreat to the driver's side of the back seat. He was afraid that one or both of them might try to get out on that side. It got worse when the other squad car arrived and the two officers tried to coax the kids out of the truck. They finally resorted to opening both doors and pinning the children between them. Chris struggled against the handcuffs, yelling and cursing when he saw the boys pulled, kicking and screaming, from the cab. They were carried past the car he was in, to the other car and shut in the back seat.
He hadn't been allowed to see the boys when they got back to the station, he was taken to a holding cell and the boys were taken to an interview room. He paced in the cell, berating himself for being stupid. Finally, the Lieutenant came down to talk to him. In no time at all, he was released, with two officers to see him and the boys safely home. JD had run to him, eyes red from crying, but Vin stood in the doorway of the room where they had been, staring at him in disappointment.
"And the Officer drove the truck and Chris rided in the back seat with us. I wasn't scared," JD finished.
"Were too," Vin protested.
"Then why was you crying all the way home?" Vin asked, escalating the argument.
"That's enough, son. It was my fault," Chris said, passing his hand over the long curls and giving Vin's shoulder a squeeze. What he saw when he lifted his eyes to look at Buck told him that his friend was beyond upset with him.
To his credit, Buck didn't say anything until after the boys were in bed for the evening. He had hung back after tucking JD into bed, giving Chris a dismissive look. When he came into the living room several minutes later, he glared down at the blond.
"Let's go out on the deck for a little while," he said, turning and walking out without waiting for an answer. From the way he flung the sliding door open, Chris knew he was in for an ass chewing. Picking up his cup of coffee, he headed outside to face the music. Buck was standing on the far corner of the deck with his hands on his hips, staring at something in the distance.
"I'm sorry, Buck. It was two beers! You know, as well as I do, that isn't enough that I couldn't drive home safely. If I had waited a half hour, it wouldn't even have registered on the machine."
Buck turned around and Chris saw that he was well into furious, coming close to ass kicking angry mode. When the brunet strode across the deck, the blond expected to be eating a knuckle sandwich at any second.
"I'm only going to say this once, so you damned well better listen and listen good. Don't ... You ... Ever ... Put ... My ... Son ... In ... The ... Car ... When ... You've ... Been ... Drinking!" Each word was punctuated by a jab from Buck's index finger. "I can't stop you from taking Vin but if I ever find out that you were driving with JD after drinking, I swear to God that I will whip your ass from one end of town to the other. I honestly thought you had better sense than that. If that had been Adam and Sarah-"
"Don't Buck! Don't even go there! I said that I was sorry and it won't happen again."
Buck glared at him for several seconds before walking away, heading for the barn. Chris stood there for a minute, staring at the back of his friend before he sighed and went back into the house. Storming into the kitchen, he yanked the refrigerator door open and grabbed a beer out of the rack on the door. He slammed the door closed and turned around, catching his reflection in the window. He looked at the long-necked bottle and sighed. He put the beer back in the refrigerator and walked back into the living room. When Buck didn't come back in after an hour, Chris went on to bed, figuring that his friend was working off some of his anger.
Come morning, Chris figured Buck would be over his anger but he was wrong. Although he tried not to show it, Wilmington reeked of barely controlled fury. He smiled and interacted with the boys but Chris got a generous helping of cold shoulder. After the boys got on the bus, Buck went to the garage and backed his truck out. Without even a nod to Chris, he left for work.
The guys in the office were quick to figure out that there was something going on between Buck and Chris, but none of them wanted to be the one to ask. Finally, Josiah had enough of the angry glares and decided to try to find out what was wrong.
"You know, if there's something bothering you, I'm willing to listen," he offered to Buck.
"Thanks, Josiah, but I need to think on this one a little longer."
He tried the same thing with Chris, "If there's something you need to get off your chest, I'm a good listener."
"No thanks, Josiah. I screwed up and Buck's mad at me but I deserve it."
Buck was already home when he got there after work. Mrs. Potter was just pulling away from the house and she waved at him as she passed him on the driveway. The boys were setting the table and Chris called to them as he headed for his room to change. He realized that Buck must have been working until nearly midnight when he saw that all of the tack had been cleaned and rearranged and the stalls had been cleaned out. He tossed a flake of hay into each stall and put a measure of grain in each bin. With nothing else needing done, he went back up to the house. Chris saw that Buck had already set out the baked chicken and vegetables and he headed for the bathroom to wash his hands.
The conversation at the table was subdued. The boys told about their day and asked after their fathers' day. They were excited about the plans for the upcoming weekend. Buck had promised them that they could go fishing on Saturday. Chris raised an eyebrow and Buck merely tossed his shoulder. After supper, Vin reminded his dad that he needed supplies for a school project. Chris offered to run him in to Wal-mart to pick up whatever he needed. Immediately, JD began to bounce around.
"Take me with you! Take me with you!" he begged.
"You need to stay here and work on your spelling," Buck said, steering JD away from the door.
"Aw Da, I only have a few more words. Can't I do them when I get back?"
"Sorry, Little Bit, homework comes first."
Vin hesitated, Buck had never prevented JD from going along unless he was in trouble. He stared at the retreating back for a moment longer before turning to follow Chris out to the truck. His eagerness to shop for school supplies was thoroughly quashed by the absence of his friend. He got into his booster seat and fastened his seatbelt. "Is JD in trouble, Dad?"
Hating that Buck was putting the boys in the middle of their disagreement, Chris tried to comfort Vin, "Nah, Buck's just feeling a little cranky. JD didn't do anything wrong."
It went on like that all week. Buck drove himself to work and refused to let JD ride with Chris. At work, he was fine, except that he didn't interact with Larabee any more than absolutely necessary. On Friday, Chris took the day off, disappearing without telling the others where he was going or why. The rest of the team took advantage of the leader's absence to grill Buck.
"You've been like a pair of tomcats in a small room, snarling and slapping at each other. Why won't you tell us what's going on between the two of you?" Josiah asked.
"It certainly can't be good for the boys, if the two of you are behaving like this around them," Nathan added.
"Both of you are aware of the affect your anger has on the boys, they'll think it's something they've done. They're too good at reading people for you to have hidden your little disagreement from them," Ezra suggested.
Buck debated over telling the others. In the end, he shook his head, "We'll work it out."
Chris spent the day with a group of people who had been arrested for driving drunk. It was a pilot program, designed to show drivers what could have happened, had they not been stopped. In the morning, they were shown pictures of drunk driving accidents. Some of the pictures were so graphic that a couple of participants lost their breakfast. Chris, even though he had seen his share of auto accidents, was affected by some of the pictures.
After lunch, they were put in a driving simulator, which demonstrated the affect of 'just a few drinks' on their reaction time. It was based on their age, weight, gender and drinking history. Chris answered the questions and got behind the wheel. He did pretty well for a while, then they began throwing other things at him. The streets got progressively busier, with more cars and people to avoid. Suddenly, the simulated car shuddered. As he looked at the screen, he was horrified to see that he had hit a kid and a dog. He released his seatbelt and got out, scrubbing his face with one hand as he stared back at the screen.
"You did most of your drinking and driving at night or on mostly deserted roads, didn't you?" the group leader asked.
"Yeah, I live in a pretty deserted area," he conceded.
At the end of the session, they all got together to discuss the alternatives to drinking and driving. They discussed ways to avoid the temptation. Before they left, they pledged to call a friend or a cab if they were going to drink, or to have a designated driver. On the drive home, Chris's eyes kept going to the certificate he had gotten for completing the program. He hoped that it would help to close the chasm that had developed between him and Buck.
When he got to the ranch, the smell of pizza greeted him at the door. The boys were laughing and having a good time until he stepped into view. Suddenly, both of the boys went quiet and began to pick at their food. Vin looked up nervously, his eyes darting from Buck to Chris.
Trying to sound cheerful, he called to them, "Hey boys! I hope you saved me some!"
"Buck got you a special one, with anchovies and stuff on it," Vin said, wrinkling his nose at the thought of the toppings on the other pizza.
"Sounds good! I can hardly wait! Buck, could I have a word with you?"
Slowly, Buck lowered his half-eaten piece of pizza to the plate and got up from his seat on the floor. He gave both of the boys a smile as he followed the blond into the kitchen.
"Buck, I-" Chris began.
"Where in the hell were you all day?" Buck hissed softly, glancing over his shoulder to make sure that the boys couldn't hear him.
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about," he said, holding out the certificate. Buck took it and read it, feeling some of his anger dissipating.
"Did you learn anything?"
"Yeah, I learned that even two beers can affect my reaction time. I saw what happened to lots and lots of other drivers who thought they were okay to drive. Buck ... I hit a kid and a dog in the simulator."
Buck looked at the certificate and then into Chris's eyes. He could see that his friend had been shaken by the experience. Putting the paper on the counter, he offered out his hand.
"I was really pissed at you, for the way you were treating JD this week but it made me realize that you were serious about this. I could have killed one or both of them. I'm ashamed," he said as he took the offered hand.
The next day, Buck discovered that they were out of mustard, an absolute necessity for his 'Dagwood' sandwiches. Chris offered to run down to the nearest market and get some and, naturally, both boys clamored to go along. JD looked from Chris to Buck and his chin dropped to his chest, remembering how he hadn't been allowed to go with Vin and his dad all week.
"It's okay, JD, you can go with them," Buck said. Chris smiled and JD ran back to hug Buck before racing out of the house after Vin.
"Thanks, Buck," Chris said as he closed the door and hurried to the truck.