Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em damnit!
Thanks to Mog for ATF
Main Characters: JD, Vin
Warnings: Much Sap
Summary: Lives touched are lives blessed.
A huge nod to Linda L. for her original story `A Dunnederful Life'. Her story is always a `must read' for me whenever Christmas rolls around, or I'm feeling blue, and will always be, for me, the definitive story along this plotline. That said, it didn't inspire my story. I was actually motivated to mix two storylines after watching the animated 3D movie `A Christmas Carol' with Jim Carrey, and then the classic `It's a Wonderful Life', directly afterwards. Here's hoping it works :o)
Thanks to Blackrapter for giving my stories a home.
Standing in Chris's office next to JD and both facing a furious team leader, Vin crossed his arms in defiance and glared at Larabee. "What did you just call us?"
Chris stepped forward. "Neither of you are deaf, so I don't intend to repeat myself."
"But we got the guy " JD started. He lowered his gaze when Chris moved another step forward.
"We were closing in, and you knew that. All you had to do was sit tight and keep track of him, but n-o-o-o-o that's too tricky for you two, isn't it? And you almost got blown away for your efforts."
More annoyed than intimidated now, JD's head rose to look his hero in the eye. "Yeah, we knew how close you were. That was the problem. If we hadn't made the move, the whole team would've been blown away. He was waiting to toss the grenade right at you and the DPD guys "
" And, yeah, we cut it close wrasslin' the darned thing away from him, but we did, and it only blew out half the warehouse instead of most of you and our backup. From where we're standin', it was a risk worth takin'," Vin added.
JD nodded along to Vin's continuation of their defense.
"I guess we'll never actually be sure the guy would've tossed it. We had a lot of artillery pointing his way." Chris folded his arms across his chest. "I'm warning you both, when I give orders, stick to them. There's no room for mavericks on this team."
Vin made a hissing sound. "Whole freakin' team's a bunch of mavericks, Cowboy."
Chris pointed to the door. "We're done! And don't call me 'Cowboy!'"
JD turned to leave. Vin tossed his boss and best friend another glare. "Merry fuckin' Christmas to you, too, Pard."
Exiting Chris's office and stepping into the bullpen, the two agents noticed four pairs of eyes suddenly turn away. Vin grabbed JD's arm. "Fuck it, it's Christmas Eve, and I need a drink. Come on." Snagging their jackets from the backs of their chairs, the pair left.
Four men rose as one and stood at their leader's door. A now seated Chris waved them off without looking up. "I don't want to hear it." There was a long pause and Larabee finally met their sympathetic gazes. "Alright, alright, we'll join them at the Saloon and I'll admit I may have overreacted."
"May have?" Buck's mouth twitched into a grin. "They already know, but it'll be good for them to hear you say so, Stud."
"You too, Buck," Josiah reminded. "Chris isn't the only one here who reacted badly."
Chris gave a contrite Buck a knowing look. He stood, pushed his fingers through his hair, and switched off his desk lamp. "When exactly did we let all this shit get to us?"
Josiah was smiling, now. "The moment we became Seven. Come on, let's make merry and enjoy a little Christmas spirit, if you catch my meaning."
Fully understanding Josiah's connotation, the five headed out to start in on their Christmas plans and enjoy three days away from the office. Beginning with Christmas Eve take-out at Buck and JD's, they would then head over to Chris's ranch the next morning for the main event.
Coming up on an intersection, Vin changed down a gear and glanced across at JD, who was slumped down in the passenger seat of the Jeep.
"You know Larabee just yelled 'cause he'd gotten worried, right?"
JD huffed. "Based on that, Buck must have been scared shitless, then."
Vin's eyebrows rose even as he chuckled. "He chew you out already?"
"Uh huh." JD sat up and looked at Vin. "Some Christmas, huh? I thought the whole point to this team was to think outside the box, not stay all safe and cozy inside it. Days like these have me wondering why I ever bothered joining this team."
"Frustrates the hell outta me, too." Vin gave a tight smile. "Who'd they yell at if we never did join up, huh? Serve 'em right if we told 'em where to stick their job and walked away."
"Yeah," JD snorted. "Where would they be without us?"
There was a pause before both young men grinned, then chuckled. They were full on laughing at the absurdity of them leaving when a car jumping the red light at the intersection plowed side-on into them.
Halfway to the bar, the convoy of Team Seven vehicles got caught in a traffic snarl-up. Stepping out of his Ram, Chris stared forward, then looked to the guy in front who was standing next to his car and straining to see ahead.
"Accident, I think," the man offered.
Chris puffed out his cheeks in frustration and turned to the others who were just joining him. "We'd have been quicker walking." He glanced back up the line of stationary vehicles. "I wonder if Vin and JD are stuck in this " Even as the words left his lips, Larabee was off and jogging past the stalled vehicles, an unexplainable panic welling in his chest. `Please, not today '
Running along the street, Chris flashed his badge in the face of anyone who attempted to stop him approaching the accident site. A cold wave of terror traveled from his head to his boots when he saw a familiar Jeep overturned in the street with a smashed car nearby. Hearing Buck's groan of recognition from somewhere behind him, Larabee called out to the man who looked to be in charge.
"I believe the injured men are agents under my command."
"Both occupants have to be cut free," the Officer in Charge replied. "And neither is conscious."
"How bad?" Chris didn't need an answer - the returned look said it all.
"They were t-boned by a vehicle jumping a red light. Paramedics have managed to stabilize them, for now, but time's against us."
"Thanks." Appreciating the honesty, despite the way it tore at his gut, Chris went to leave, but turned back. "Me and my men intend to stay with them."
The officer looked at the line of traffic. "You got vehicles stuck in that mess?"
"Run full lights and sirens, and we'll pull you out of there." He pointed. "Drive into that designated area. That's all I can offer you."
With a grateful look, all five men headed back to their vehicles. Minutes later, to remain close to their friends, they were nudging their way through the gridlocked traffic.
From the bench seat he was sitting on, JD stared around the semi-darkened room. Sensing a presence, he reached out and felt a warm arm. He turned and saw a familiar face, albeit in shadow. "Vin?"
"Yeah. Where the hell is this?"
JD glanced around. "Kinda reminds me of a courtroom."
There was a slight pause. "Yeah yeah, it does. Uh how did we get here?"
JD turned back to Vin, relieved to see his face more clearly, now. "I can't remember."
Both men startled when a glowing light appeared before them. It grew, and developed into the form of Judge and bench; but not a regular Judge - this one was dressed as if from the Old West. Despite knowing JD was more than capable of standing up for himself, Tanner instinctively stood and moved in front of the youth. He reached for his shoulder holster, but neither it, nor his gun, was there.
"Who the hell are you? And what do you want?"
The man smiled. "You ask who I am. Do you not know?"
"If I knew, why would I ask?"
The stranger's smile grew. Gavel in hand, he pointed at them. "So you were pondering where your teammates would be without you. I am here to help you find out."
JD was now on his feet and staring at the Judge. He glanced at Vin, but before either could speak, the room spun into a vortex of colors, sucking the Judge, and the hollering pair into its dizzying eddy.
Still giddy from the unscheduled ride, the pair was now standing in a familiar bullpen. Vin and JD stared at the four men working quietly at their desks. JD stepped forward, clearly relieved to be there and awake from the crazy dream he'd been having.
"Hey Buck." He frowned when the brunet ignored him. "Buck?" Both he and Vin gasped when Buck stood and walked through him. "What the ?" JD squeaked.
"No one can see you. You are merely observers; after all, you never joined this team. None of these men know you. To them, you don't exist."
Exchanging glances, Vin grasped the Judge by his collar. "Don't feed us bullshit, man. I don't know what kind of game you're playin' here, but "
"This is no game, Vin. Both you and JD were contemplating the circumstances of how this team would fare if neither of you had joined it. I'm simply revealing what you wanted to know."
JD pointed to the calendar on Ezra's desk. "It's Christmas Eve " He noted Vin's `duh' expression. " Christmas Eve last year."
"Our first Christmas as a team," Vin said softly.
"Their first Christmas as a team," the Judge reminded. "A quiet one, if I recall correctly. They worked until six. Buck and Chris hit a bar for a few hours before separating; Buck spent the night with a young lady he met in a local grocery store on his way home, and where he bought an individual TV turkey dinner for his Christmas repast.
"Chris went home, alone, and stared at a whiskey bottle for two days; ate grilled cheese, and spoke to no one for the duration of the holidays; which was at least an improvement on the previous year."
"How so?" Vin asked.
"The previous year, he drank several bottles of whiskey over the holiday, spoke to no one, and ate very little."
JD's eyes filled at the image before him of his teammates sitting and working, and not speaking. Where was the laughter? The `silly' pre-Christmas presents? The anticipation of the main event?
"Buck bought a TV dinner? Buck hates TV dinners."
The Judge nodded. "He did, and watched football alone, once his lady friend left. He considered calling Chris, but thought better of it. Josiah spent his holiday visiting patients in the hospital. Nathan couldn't bring himself to ask out the pretty nurse he met while attending a medical training seminar, and so was alone for Christmas, too."
Vin and JD looked at each other. "Rain came into the Saloon that Christmas Eve," the latter said. "We were teasing him, and Buck said if Nathan didn't go talk to her, he would."
Vin nodded. "Ezra laid bets that Buck would beat Nathan to it, so he did it. Nathan got up from the table right then and there, and arranged a date with her for the day after Christmas."
The Judge sighed. "Sadly, as the team was not together in the Saloon that night, that encounter never happened. Nathan and Rain still have yet to meet."
"Ezra?" JD wondered.
"Ah yes, Mister Standish. He was due to meet up with his mother, but at the last minute, she canceled on him in favor of a trip to France. He flew to Las Vegas, alone, where he spent the remainder of his vacation."
Vin swallowed. "Uh us?"
The Judge raised an eyebrow. "I have a journey for you both before I answer that."
Their world spun again. Vin gasped as the image cleared and showed him in his childhood home and sitting on his mother's knee. She was reading him a story as he snuggled in close.
"Mom " Vin reached out a trembling hand, visibly moved at the sight. Little Tanner then got up. Taking his mother's hand, the pair moved to a small room off the living room, passing a hearth with two stockings hanging from the mantelshelf. The woman tucked her boy into bed, wished him a 'Merry Christmas,' kissed his head, and left.
JD stared at his friend, his own emotions rising. "Vin?"
Tanner swallowed. "My last Christmas before bein' alone," he whispered. "Before Mom died."
The Judge nodded.
Tanner glanced at JD. "I didn't properly celebrate it again until I met up with y'all "
Before he could finish his sentence, the whirlwind of colors once more surrounded them and transported the Judge and the two agents to another apartment.
"And so, as you enquired this is last Christmas," the Judge announced.
As Vin stood there in his familiar neat, but minimally furnished living room, he and JD watched an oblivious Vin Tanner chew on a slice of pizza as he moved about the bare, non-festive apartment; devoid of Christmas cheer bar for one stocking hanging from a much less grand mantelshelf. As he finally settled in a chair, and with the pizza box close to hand, the Texan began channel surfing.
JD frowned. "If it's Christmas Eve, why isn't the apartment decorated. You had a great tree last year. And why aren't you heading over to Chris's?" He smiled. "Man, we had a blast that holiday, huh?"
Staring at himself sitting there watching TV, eating Pizza, and knocking back a bottle of beer, Tanner's eyes filled. He looked at the Judge. "Why am I alone?"
The Judge shook his head. "You boys really aren't grasping this, are you? You didn't join Team Seven, remember? You're still with the US Marshal's Office, Vin. As you may recall, you had no friends there, just acquaintances. Everyone liked you, but you preferred working alone, especially after the IA hearing following the death of gunrunner Eli Joe Velasquez's second in command, Jess Kincaid. Even though you were cleared of his murder due to lack of evidence, the incident caused you to withdraw further from your colleagues. This was your Christmas Eve. Tomorrow, you'll eat Turkey on Rye, and go play basketball with the kids at the Youth Center."
Vin stared at himself. He looked lonely, and sad; a far cry from the little boy of that past Christmas, before his mother died. The other Tanner then reached under the coffee table. Setting a ragged photo album on his lap, he reverently turned the dog-eared pages with their faded photos, sighing, or smiling sadly at each turn. Appearing to swipe at his eye, he then picked up his discarded beer bottle and raised it in the air.
"Merry Christmas, Mom. I miss you."
Unaware of his actions, present day Vin again reached out as if attempting to connect with the image, but before he could, the now familiar swirl of colors transported them somewhere new.
At the crash site, the horrific snap of metal heralded the beginning of the cutting crew setting to work. Oblivious to the frenetic activity around them, five men stood anxiously watching. For a brief moment earlier, they had seen both Vin and JD's battered forms lying unconscious inside the wrecked jeep. Now their view was obscured by a protective blanket and two firefighters shielding each casualty from the work being performed over them. Ezra shuddered out a sigh.
"Merry - Christmas."
"I can't believe my last conversation with the Kid was to chew him out over saving our asses." Buck flinched slightly when Josiah squeezed his shoulder.
"JD knows why you do it," Josiah said.
"But does he or Vin know why I do?" Chris asked quietly, his gaze still fixed on the drama unfolding before them.
"You ask that after what happened this time last year?" Nathan queried.
Despite not feeling in the least bit merry, they all laughed, softly.
LAST CHRISTMAS TWO DAYS PRIOR
"You were supposed to stay in the rafters until I gave the `all clear'."
Vin glared at Larabee. "And what? Let JD get taken out by a goon with a machete?"
JD winced as both Chris and Buck glared at him. He shrugged. "I had to break cover; he was going after Ezra, only Ezra couldn't see him from where he was standing."
"For the record I would like to officially state my gratitude for that action," Standish called from the bullpen.
"Shut up, Ezra!" both Buck and Chris yelled.
"As you wish," came Ezra's amused reply.
All eyes in Larabee's office turned toward the door when Nathan poked his head inside. "Y'all okay now?"
Noting him looking at Chris and Buck, Vin and JD frowned in confusion. Their curiosity rose when Buck was seen to be making slicing actions across his throat at Nathan, and Chris was silently `shushing' him.
"What's that?" Vin asked.
Nathan smiled. "The goon that opened fire on you and JD he made a break for it in a limo. Chris and Buck stood in front of the speeding vehicle and kept firing at it until the car finally swerved. They only just dived out of its way before it mounted a sidewalk and crunched into a nearby building." Satisfied everyone was fine, even if the faces they were making were a little odd, the EMT moved back into the bullpen.
A discomfited Buck and Chris looked at Vin and JD, whose arms were folded across their chests, while displaying expressions of disgruntlement.
"Oh yeah?" the younger men chorused. Both stepped forward.
"So we can't make moves to protect our teammates without getting torn a new one, yet you two can make like Superman and stand in front of speeding vehicles?" JD accused.
"What now? You and Bucklin suddenly become invincible overnight, huh?" Vin asked.
After a pause, Chris waved his arms. "Don't question my methods. You don't do as I do, you do as I say!"
Vin and JD looked at each other. They were having fun, now. "Oh sure, we get it, Cowboy. Only those who wear black, and who sport goofy mustaches get to play God right?"
Buck raised an eyebrow. "Hey! Whatcha mean, `goofy mustache'?"
"And don't call me, `Cowboy'."
There was a long, awkward moment and four meaningful glares.
"Saloon?" Chris said, finally.
"Saloon," all three in the office, and the three men from the bullpen, chorused.
Another crack of metal brought the five men back to the here and now. "It was during that visit to the bar, and after JD reminded us it was his first Christmas without his Ma, and how Vin empathized with his situation due to his own past, that you asked us all to join you for Christmas, Chris," Ezra reminisced.
Chris swallowed. "And we had to stay over at Buck's and JD's place on Christmas Eve and eat pizza `cause we were too hammered to make it to the ranch that night."
The five nodded. They intended to repeat their unplanned, but much enjoyed new tradition this year, too though hopefully minus the heavy inebriation at least, until Christmas Day.
The vortex slowed, and the three time-travelers were now inside a small, dingy, but neat apartment.
"Where are we?"
JD turned to Vin, his face pale. "Boston." His eyes filled as the apartment door opened and a happy little, dark-haired boy dragged his laughing mother inside. Skipping over to an Advent candle above a mantelshelf also dressed with two stockings, he handed his mother the matches, and then he and she sat together in the armchair next to it and watched it flicker.
"We'd been to Mass," JD explained as he stared at the images before him. He turned to the Judge and scowled. "Why are we here? I know I lost my mom, but not now "
Once again their world spun and changed in a whirl of colors.
"Last Christmas Eve," the Judge announced.
JD gasped as he watched himself walk into the same apartment, kick off his work boots and unbutton his BPD uniform. He then walked over to a framed photo, and lit an almost burned out Advent candle next to it. Kissing his fingers, he touched them to the photo of a pretty, dark-haired woman.
"Merry Christmas, Mom. If it's okay with you, I'll put a fresh, regular candle here tomorrow. I've kinda enjoyed lighting a candle every night just like we always did." He continued talking as he removed his uniform.
"Don't be mad, but I'm gonna give Mass a miss tonight. Been a rough day but at least I get tomorrow off. Not that I'll have much to look forward to," he mumbled as he glanced across at the shedding, gift-less Christmas tree.
Passing the single stocking hanging from the cold hearth, he hung up his clothes, dumped the dirty shirt in the hamper, and pulled on some sweats. JD tweaked a few bulbs on the currently unlit tree, but failed to get the lights to work. He was about to prepare food when he shook his head, walked over to the made up sofa-bed, and flopped down onto it. He was asleep in seconds.
JD looked at Vin, then back to his slumbering form, and sniffed. "Mom and me loved to light the Advent candle." He looked at the somber Judge. "I left here soon after she died," he snapped, his voice trembling with emotion. "This never happened."
"Are you forgetting you never applied to Team Seven? You remained here, in Boston, and with the Police Department. You never went on to join the infamous `Magnificent Seven' or, `Five', as it stands without you both. You never became the first and youngest officer to be drafted into an innovative new training program devised specifically with the intention of transferring you, an underage recruit, to the ATF. The debts from your mother's illness and consequent funeral left you insolvent, unmotivated and unchallenged."
JD's liquid eyes flashed at Vin, then to the Judge. He felt the Texan's hand squeeze his shoulder. "I don't wanna do this anymore. Take us back."
Once again, their world began to spin as the Judge's voice led their journey. "There is one last call to make."
"Clear! We're clear! Let's get the paramedics back in here NOW!"
Denver in the present; and at the crash site, Chris, Buck, Josiah, Nathan, and Ezra inhaled sharply as the lifting gear cleared away the final piece of shredded metal, revealing their two, bloodied, and unconscious friends. They watched helplessly as paramedics worked to further stabilize the pair, and felt their world crashing down around them while, for them, all sounds ceased to exist bar the hollered words
" Get them out of there. We're losing them!"
JD and Vin had been transported to a large funeral home. They glanced around at the soberly dressed attendees, many in uniform, and familiar to them. Vin frowned. "Please don't tell us this is one of us."
"It's not " the Judge assured.
"Thank God "
The pair spotted five coffins lined up at the front of the room.
" it's your non-teammates."
"What?" JD squeaked, his emotion raw and exposed, now.
"You didn't join the team, so you couldn't save them in the warehouse on this Christmas Eve. The grenade was lobbed, and they died, along with four DPD officers, whose funerals are in two days."
"Make this stop," Vin hissed, his body quaking with a mixture of rage and emotion.
"Please, sir," JD begged. "I get it, okay? I get it! I'm...we're...lonely without friends, and there's maybe some higher purpose for us being together, but please I can't take any more of this."
The image dissolved, and they were again back in the gloomy courtroom where their bizarre journey had begun. Ignoring their distress, the Judge spoke. "You have your wish. The timeline is restored, however, it remains for me to decide whether either of you deserve to return to your current lives. You wished them away, and so one or both of you must forfeit your future and come with me."
"But, we didn't mean it," JD insisted. "We were just goofing around, is all."
Vin was glaring. "Who the hell are you to tell us whether we can live or die?" he gasped, and felt JD grasp his arm as, right before them; the man's familiar features transformed over and over to become the face of every person whose lives either man had ever touched. They both jumped when he banged down his gavel.
"I have reviewed the evidence, and heard your arguments. My decision is made and is final "
The two young men were flung violently apart by some unseen force. They stared back at each other and reached out, each calling out the other's name as for one final time the whirlpool of colors enveloped them.
One of the injured agents gasped and was suddenly overwhelmed with pain. "Aaahhh, Geee-sus "
"Easy fella, you're in safe hands."
He tried to focus on the voice, but something else was bothering him. As he struggled to open his eyes, he fought to remember. Unable to move his restrained neck and head, he glanced sideways hoping to locate his friend next to him. He could see his companion was being worked on, seemingly without success.
`No please no '
Chris felt his heart leap into his throat and seemingly flop around like a dying fish. He felt Buck tense and sensed the overwhelming despair emanating from the man, and the rest of the team as one friend failed to respond. Not knowing which of the two it was, Chris closed his eyes. "Fight, fellas. Fight."
"Come on, Vin, hang in there." Buck pleaded. His gaze fell on JD. "Fight little brother don't leave me, buddy."
Just as Buck spoke another shout went up.
The sound of the Judge's gavel kept pounding in his head, over and over. He was getting pretty pissed at it when he heard two familiar voices; one soft and raspy. The other despairing in its tone. Pleading words drifted over him like a balm, and slowly he opened his eyes.
Sensing more than feeling a presence next to him, he moved his gaze to one side, and inwardly smiled at the pained gaze that met his. `Thank God'.
The paramedics moved aside and Chris and Buck turned to the others, relief painfully evident in their features on seeing both injured men awake. The other three matched their expressions and all five nodded at the unspoken communication between them. No matter what happened now, they were together Seven and that was all that mattered. They had no idea that their two injured friends were thinking the exact same thing.
Late afternoon on Christmas Day, and laughter erupted at the Larabee homestead as exchanged gifts were unwrapped and appreciated. All seven men were still amazed that the battered pair was found to be not as seriously injured as feared, and considered fit enough to leave the hospital on Christmas morning, and go home...with supervision. Chris watched a battered and bruised Vin shakily rise from his seat and limp to the kitchen for more juice. He followed him.
"Can't you just ask? You shouldn't be up and about too much."
Tanner offered a lopsided grin. Gone was the frustration of being fussed over; he was very appreciative of all of his friends' concern for him since his and JD's ordeal.
"Aww, I'm okay. Just a little sore and stiff, is all. I need to move around occasionally."
Chris nodded. "Okay, see you in a minute."
Vin rested back against a counter top and watched Chris leave. As he sipped his poured juice, the vague recollection of an odd dream featuring him and JD tickled his conscience, but nothing specific surfaced, so instead, he smiled to himself. `Let it go, Tanner, and just accept that you're here, and alive, and appreciatin' that this sure is a wonderful life you've gotten for yourself.'
From his spot on the sofa, JD's grin split his youthful, handsome, if not somewhat bruised and grazed features as he relished the affection and attention of his surrogate big brother. Sitting next to JD, Buck leaned into him.
"You okay, Kid?" he whispered.
JD nodded. "Sure, why?"
"Just wondered if you'd recalled any of that dream you said you had."
"Nah, not a thing." He patted the man's arm. "I figured I'd let it go. Why dwell on it? I'm just real thankful for the fact that I'm still here to appreciate that it sure is a wonderful life I'm living, and dwelling on the bad stuff just isn't worth it."
Catching his words, Ezra raised his glass of whiskey. "I'll drink to that, my friend."
With Chris, and then Vin joining them, the former also raised his whiskey glass and smiled. "To good friends, and the pleasure and laughter they bring to our lives. To us!"
"To us!" the others chorused.
JD and Vin exchanged a look, and a smile. The details escaped them, but they both knew that, somehow, they had a unique and shared experience the day they were hurt. Whatever it was would likely remain a mystery, but also, whatever it was had given them a new zest and love for life, and for each other, and for the men they considered brothers.
Accompanied by an unexplainable, and overwhelming desire on this Christmas night, to watch a favorite Old West movie together.
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