This is in the Double L Ranch Brother's Larabee A/U. The Larabee Brothers celebrate their first Christmas as a family. This story follows Reactions in the timeline.
JD didn't know what to do. Christmas was only three weeks away and none of his brothers had said a word about celebrating. It wasn't exactly a surprise after the fragile peace they'd all made after the bee stings had blown up over Thanksgiving.
JD had been convinced that they were finally on the road to being a family. Then, Vin and Ezra had bailed on them for Thanksgiving. Chris and surprisingly to JD, Buck, had alternately tried arguing, persuading, and then ordering the other two to have Thanksgiving dinner with the five of them. Vin had told Chris where he could stick his turkey and then disappeared two days before Thanksgiving, Ezra had rambled on for twenty minutes at a time whenever anyone brought it up. His monologues had left whomever he was talking to about the situation confused and uncertain as to what Ezra had just said.
Ezra had ended up flying to New Orleans the day before Thanksgiving and stayed away for a week. When he returned, he refused to tell them anything about his trip except to say, "My mother outdid herself this Thanksgiving." Only the way he said it made it sound like his Thanksgiving had been horrible. And, for three days after he got back, he started drinking right after breakfast and he didn't stop until he went to bed.
JD startled at the sound of Josiah's soft voice. He jumped and gasped. Then he started laughing nervously. "Sorry," he said. "I was just thinking."
"It's easy to get lost in your thoughts," Josiah said. "Especially when they're as heavy as your thoughts seem to be."
"Not heavy," JD said. "Not exactly," he amended. "I was just thinking about Thanksgiving."
"Ah," Josiah said. He poured himself some coffee and then sat down at the long table in the chair next to JD.
"Ah," JD said. "What's ah mean?"
"What do you think it means?" Josiah asked and sipped at his coffee.
JD groaned. "I think it means you don't want to answer," he said.
Josiah laughed. "It might," he conceded.
"Why not?" JD asked.
"Sometimes it's better to puzzle things out yourself," Josiah said.
"I don't think so," JD said. "Not this time."
"Why not?" Josiah asked.
"'Cause it's about all of us," JD said. "I don't understand why Vin and Ezra wouldn't spend Thanksgiving with us. And, what are we going to do about Christmas?"
"Do you really not understand?" Josiah asked. "Or do you just not want to admit what you already know?"
JD shook his head vigorously. "I don't understand it at all!" he declared. "I thought after the bees that we'd turned a corner. I thought we were going to be a real family."
"Just what do you think a real family is?" Josiah asked.
"People like each other. They want to spend time together, especially at the holidays," JD answered.
"Is that so?" Josiah asked in that oh-so-calm way he had of speaking that always made JD feel like he was missing something obvious. Not this time, though. JD was sure of it.
"Yes. Families are supposed to put aside their differences at the holidays," JD said hotly.
"Then how do you account for the spike in domestic violence during the holidays?" Josiah asked.
"What?" JD asked.
"During the time of year that families are supposed to put aside their differences domestic violence incidents increase dramatically," Josiah informed him.
"That's crazy," JD said. "Why would people hurt their families on Christmas?"
"Why would they ever hurt them?" Josiah countered.
"I don't know," JD sighed. "I just want us to love each other and get along."
"Would you settle for one of the two?" Josiah asked.
"One of the two?" JD repeated.
"What if we love each other, but we don't always get along?" Josiah asked.
"People who love each other do get along," JD said.
"How many people have you loved in your life?" Josiah asked.
"What?" JD responded.
"How many people have you loved?" Josiah repeated his question.
"I don't know," JD answered. "There was my mom. My granddad. And -" he hesitated before adding, "I love you guys."
"I'm pleased to hear that son," Josiah said smiling warmly. "But, if you leave us aside, it seems to me that your only loved ones were two people who loved you unconditionally, unless of course, your grandfather was unlike most other grandfathers."
A memory of reaching into his grandfather's secret pocket and pulling out trinkets or candy when he was little made JD smile. "Granddad John was great," JD told Josiah. "When I was little he told me he had a secret pocket that only we knew about. I was ten or eleven before I realized that all sports jackets had a pocket inside. He used to have stuff in there for me. Sometimes it was candy. Sometimes it would be a Matchbox car. It was never very much, but I loved going into the secret pocket."
Josiah nodded. "You never had any brothers or sisters or you would understand that no matter how much you love people, you don't always get along with them. Didn't you ever get mad at your mother or your grandfather?"
JD remembered all the other times his mother hadn't let him do something cool because she didn't think it was good for him. He still didn't see the harm in missing one day of school, but he missed having his mother and grandfather around to look out for him.
JD remembered telling Granddad how mean his mother was when she had forbidden him to go to the midnight opening of Lord of the Rings on a school night. 'All the other kids are going,' he'd argued. Granddad had surprised him and taken his mother's side. He remembered sitting in his room pouting. The next day three of his friend's who'd gone to the movie were absent and two others had fallen asleep during class. He'd never told his mother or grandfather that, he remembered. 'Thank you guys,' he thought and looked up.
"Yes, but I was just a dumb kid then. No kid wants to do homework or eat broccoli instead of candy. Besides, we never stayed mad very long. Once Thanksgiving came along, I would get so excited I couldn't hardly stand it. My mom was always baking something and she'd always let me lick the beaters when she was done mixing up the dough. It was so much fun."
Josiah smiled. "My sister and I each got one," he said. "I don't think Vin and Ezra can say the same, do you?"
"I guess not," JD said. He sighed. "I just wish they would come around."
"Maybe they will," Josiah said, "in their own time."
"Their time is taking way too long," JD responded. "Christmas is only three weeks away. I'm afraid if we don't do something when Christmas comes, they'll find excuses not to be here like they did at Thanksgiving."
"How do you know they were excuses and not justifiable reasons?" Josiah asked.
"Ezra didn't seem very happy when he got back and when I asked him how it went he said," JD replied and then proceeded to mimic Ezra, 'I assure you Thanksgiving exceeded even my expectations' with that funny look he gets when he's saying something nasty in a nice way. I'm sure he didn't want to go. Or at least he was sorry he went," JD conceded the possibility that maybe Ezra had wanted to go before he left."
"It seems so," Josiah conceded. "But, what about Vin? Why do you think he made an excuse not to be here?"
"Because Vin said he didn't have any other family, but us. He said that Chanu's family was the closest thing he had to family. Chanu called Thanksgiving day to say happy Thanksgiving. He was surprised Vin wasn't here, so I know Vin didn't go there. Nettie and Casey are the only people around here he's close to. They were here, so he wasn't with them. He didn't have anyone else to spend Thanksgiving with," JD answered.
"It seems as though you've reasoned this out pretty well," Josiah said.
"I reasoned out the problem!" JD retorted. "What's the solution?"
"I'm afraid I don't have an answer," Josiah admitted.
"I'll think of something!" JD declared.
"I believe you might," Josiah said and smiled at him.
"I will! JD reiterated. "I'm not gonna let Christmas be ruined."
Two days later, dinner:
It was the first time all 7 of them had been together since Josiah and JD had talked and JD was determined not to let the chance slip away.
"Christmas is less than three weeks away," he announced. "How are we going to celebrate?"
"We usually go cut down a tree up on the mountain," Nathan said sounding a little wistful. We make a day of it. This is the first year Dad won't be with us. Even when he wasn't getting around all that well, he always made the trip. All four of us went every year."
"Mom used to fill up a thermos with cocoa," Chris reminisced. "She never went with us. She said we needed some male bonding time and she couldnt think of a better way for men to bond than climbing a mountain and cutting down a tree." He laughed and so did most of the others. Ezra had a skeptical expression and Vin looked uncomfortable.
"I can't think of a reason in the world we shouldn't keep that tradition going," Josiah suggested.
"It will be fun," JD agreed.
"Saturday," Buck said. "We can go early, come back and hang up some decorations and brighten this place up some."
"Are you two coming?" Chris asked softly looking at Vin and Ezra. "Please," he added.
Ezra started to shake his head but five hopeful faces made him waver. JD looked like very much like Ezra thought he'd probably looked every Christmas, excited and so very young - "Gullible" he could hear his mother's words. "Naïve and gullible. You have an obligation to teach him not to be foolish." But Ezra didn't want to teach him any of Maude's lessons. "On two conditions," he said.
"What?" JD asked eagerly.
"I require a flask of very good brandy not cocoa," Ezra informed them.
Everyone laughed, even Vin.
"What's the other condition?" Chris asked smiling.
"Define early," Ezra said to more laughter.
"It's up to you," Chris said looking right at Vin.
Vin startled like a deer caught in headlights even though he knew they would be asking him as soon as Ezra gave in. "I'll think about it," he said. "Excuse me," he said and bolted from the room without giving them a chance to try to convince him.
"That went well," Ezra observed as Vin disappeared out the front door.
"Give him time," Josiah told them. "I suspect there's a little too much male bonding for him at the moment."
"We haven't done any bonding," JD argued. "We never went fishing. We got stung by a bunch of bees. We didn't celebrate Thanksgiving. Everytime we tried to do something together, it didn't work out at all."
"It's bonding," Nathan said. "It's just a different kind of bonding."
"The everything goes wrong kind of bonding?" JD asked.
"Yep," Buck answered. "Sometimes when everything goes wrong, you figure out what's really important."
"Couldn't we just tell him?" JD asked.
"I'm afraid not," Ezra answered surpising everyone. "This is one lesson Vin will have to learn on his own."
"Like you did?" JD asked a little shyly.
"I'm learning, too," Ezra answered just as shyly, grateful when his brothers suddenly decided their plates were the most interesting things in the room.
Later that night:
Chris suspected he'd find Vin in the loft of the barn and he was right. "Hey," he said softly. "Beer?" he offered when Vin looked away from the picture window that offered a spectacular view of the ranch.
"Thanks," Vin said and took the bottle. He twisted the cap off and flicked it expertly into the trash can six feet away.
"Do you hit everything you aim at?" Chris asked sounding impressed. He already knew Vin was an outstanding shot with a rifle and he'd killed first Buck, then Nathan at H.O.R.S.E.
"Pretty much," Vin answered. "Think on that, if you came up here to talk me into going up on that mountain Saturday," he warned.
Chris laughed. "OK," he said. "No talking you into anything."
"Good," Vin said and sat down on the sofa.
"Is asking you something OK?" Chris asked and sat down on the other end. He took a drink of his own beer.
"Maybe," Vin answered cautiously and took a drink.
"Why are you fighting so hard?" Chris asked.
"I feel like I'm drowning," Vin said. He didn't even pretend not to understand Chris.
"We make you feel like you're drowning?" Chris asked.
"Not you," Vin said. He took another drink. "This." He made a sweeping gesture. "The ranch, you guys, finding out about my father- everything. It's all just too much."
"I know how you feel," Chris said quietly.
"You can't," Vin contradicted him. "This is all you've ever known. Everything's just the way it's always been."
"No, it's not," Chris corrected. "In less than three years every damn thing I thought I knew about life is upside down. My wife and son are gone. My dad is gone. I've got four new brothers. Four new people are living in the house I grew up in and I barely know them. Buck almost died. I feel like everytime I turn around I'm waiting for something else to fall on my head."
"Like you're swimming in quicksand," Vin said.
"Exactly like that," Chris agreed.
"I don't wanna hurt the kid - or any of you guys," Vin said. "But . . ." his voice trailed off and he shrugged. His eyes reflected his confusion.
"Maybe you're looking at it from the wrong end," Chris suggested.
"What other end is there?" Vin asked. "Help me out here, Larabee," he requested. "I've got no fucking clue what you're talking about."
"How was your Thanksgiving?" Chris asked seemingly changing the subject.
"It sucked," Vin admitted. "Are you happy?"
Chris shook his head. "No," he said. "What did you do?"
"Nothing," Vin said. "Got a motel room, ate dinner at a diner full of guys with no place else to go. I just couldn't deal with all that family shit."
"It can be overwhelming," Chris said. "Even if you're used to it. I sit there and pretend I'm happy because I don't want to upset Nathan or Buck. And, this year, JD is like a goddamned puppy all eager and excited."
"I felt like a total shit bailing on Thanksgiving," Vin told him. "But, it was just too much."
"Christmas is going to be even worse," Chris informed him. "I hate this time of year. It's all about family. Buck and Nathan are great. They're the best brothers a man could ever hope to have - no offense," he said quickly glancing at Vin to see if he'd insulted his brother without meaning to.
"None taken," Vin said and finished off his beer.
"They're great," Chris continued. "JD is great. Josiah's great. You and Ezra, we got off to a rocky start, but I think we've managed to get over most of our differences most of the time. We're starting to understand one another's point of view."
"We are," Vin said quietly. "You stayed with me in the hospital, kept me from freaking out or breaking out of there. I ain't gonna forget that."
"So, how about if you return the favor and make JD happy at the same time? Chris requested.
"You want me to go with you Saturday," Vin said.
"And, stick around for the holidays, too," Chris said. "Nathan and Buck want to celebrate as much as JD does. Rain's going to be here. Knowing Buck he'll have two or three women here during the holidays, maybe more. There will be so much Christmas cheer you'll choke on it. And, the whole time, all I'll want to do is get drunk and fight someone - anyone - who will fight me, or anyone who gets in my way," he said sounding a little disgusted and a little lost.
"So you want me to stay so someone's as miserable as you?" Vin asked.
"No, I don't want you to be as miserable as me," Chris replied. "I just want to know someone else understands. And, you'll know that someone understands when you can't take one more carol or gift or laugh or hug or any damn thing."
"I don't know," Vin said frowning in concentration.
"Either way is going to suck," Chris said. "At least the food is good here. I know the bed is better than whatever motel you stayed in."
"Fucking mattress almost broke my damn back," Vin grumbled.
"That'll teach you to ditch your family at the holidays," Chris said. "You missed out on Nettie's pumpkin pie with homemade whipped cream."
"Family," Vin mused softly. "We ain't one like you see on TV," he said. "But we're a family."
He met Chris's eyes. "We're a family," he said as if he was just realizing it.
"Yep," Chris agreed. "So, Saturday, we're going to go cut down a tree. And, we'll come back here and decorate the damned thing. We'll go to the parties and eat too much -"
"And drink too much," Vin interrupted.
"And drink too much," Chris repeated. "But, when you can't take anymore family -"
"And you can't take anymore holiday moments -" Vin said.
"I'll be there," they said together.
"You want another beer?" Chris asked.
"No," Vin said and shook his head. "Let's go tell the others we're gonna go cut down a tree."
"Better yet," Chris said. "Let's go tell Ezra we're gonna drink all his brandy."
They laughed and went to find their brothers.
Note: I was asked by two people what H.O.R.S.E. is. Once I stopped laughing, I explained it to them. They explained to me that not everyone who reads this will enjoy sports so get my head out of my sports junkie #$#$@ and tell people.