Disclaimer: Just playing; I know I can't keep 'em...damnit!
Brothers Larabee Universe
Main Characters: JD, Chris (all)
Ratings/Warnings: The usual - a little hurt, comfort and angst.
Summary: A surprise Christmas gift unearths hidden issues.
Thanks to Phyllis for BL/AU2
While six Brothers Larabee were enjoying an evening in town at Buck's bar, 'Rosie's', the seventh, and youngest had made a pretty weak excuse to not joining them this night. No one disbelieved JD's explanation that he wanted to make his final preparations for Christmas. All sorts of packages had arrived for him during the past two weeks, which, much to the amusement of the others, the boy squirreled away the instant they landed. It appeared to be those very deliveries that kept JD tucked away during every spare hour, and so his absence this night was particularly conspicuous.
Buck fretted a little, Vin felt the loss of his pool buddy, and everyone missed the constant chatter. Chris however was his usual, rational self, suggesting that JD was perhaps taking an opportunity to wrap their presents. That idea seemed to ease the situation, and the six men got down to enjoying their evening a little more.
Back at the Double L, one half of JD's room was looking more like a film-editing suite than a bedroom. To keep his activities secret, the youth secured the door to the bathroom, which he shared with Buck, and also his bedroom door, with bolts. He knew his brothers would never intentionally snoop, so this was more a precaution against their usual 'open door' policy, for when he was inside. This self-appointed assignment was one project he wanted to keep under wraps until Christmas Day.
It began when he was up in the house's loft space. Above his room, which was once Chris's son Adam's, JD noticed several stacked boxes, with Chris's name written on them. Eventually unable to keep his curiosity at bay, Linc's youngest peeked inside. Excited by what he found, JD surreptitiously brought the contents down into his bedroom and immediately began planning. Several weeks on his idea was going well, and he could hardly wait to show the others.
JD was in the kitchen preparing seven mugs of hot cocoa when he heard the noisy banter of his brothers as they entered the house. Sporting a broad grin, he poked his head out of the kitchen doorway.
"Hey, there he is..." Buck walked over to the kitchen doorway, grabbed a laughing JD and as he drew him close, pointed upwards to the bedrooms. "Was beginning to think you'd taken root up there."
When Buck started knuckling his head, JD wrestled him away. "Get off, you goofball." He straightened. "I've prepared hot cocoa for everyone."
"Wonderful, John. Thank you," Josiah beamed.
"Indeed, thank you. If no one minds I'll take my nightcap on up to bed, I have an early flight tomorrow," Ezra informed.
"Cocoa sounds great, thanks Kid," Chris smiled as he took a seat in the living room.
"I'll pass, thanks," Nathan replied. He rubbed his belly. "Got a fajita sitting kinda heavy, tonight."
Vin eased past the boy. "Great. Need cookies to go with it, though."
JD chuckled and followed Vin into the kitchen. "I already filled the jar and also put some cookies on a plate..." he noted which item Vin grabbed, "...o-k-a-y, that's cool, just...take the jar."
The Five brothers enjoyed the remaining warmth of the fading fire as they sipped on their nightcaps. Vin gestured to the final cookie in the jar.
"If no one wants that..."
They all happily signaled for him to go for it. Vin didn't need to be told twice.
JD yawned and stretched. "Well, as it's my turn to tend to the horses in the morning, I'd best be getting to bed." When he stood, so did Buck.
"Hey, how about I get up early too, and give you a hand? Feels like I've hardly seen you since you've been locking yourself away."
Happily leaning into his brother's one-armed embrace, JD nodded and they headed for the stairs. "Yeah, I know, but I promise it'll all be worth it, Buck. You'll see."
The others waved goodnight to them. Chris sipped his drink. "Have to admit, JD's got me curious, too."
Josiah smiled. "Well, JD says all will be revealed by Christmas Day, so we only have two days to wait."
Christmas Eve, and the only folk left on the 'Double L' Ranch were six of the seven brothers. Nettie traveled two days earlier to spend Christmas with her niece, Casey, but before leaving, reminded them of the prepared food in the fridge and freezer. During the day, while Ezra made a quick round trip to Vegas to hand out his workers' bonus checks, a duty he liked to perform personally each year, the brothers continued with the usual day to day running of the ranch, and Rosie's bar, and JD refined and finally completed his surprise.
Ezra got back in time for dinner during which time the brothers talked about JD's covert activities while egging him on to produce whatever he'd been working on, right then. He finally relented and animatedly went about setting up the den as the others looked on with interest. Finally, JD beckoned them in and the amused men took up seats facing a large LED screen. They looked to JD when he spoke.
"In terms of family activities, so many times the newest of us have wished we could play catch-up with the rest of you guys. Well, this will never beat the real thing, but working on it brought a huge smile to my face, and I hope watching it will do the same for you all, too. Merry Christmas."
JD pointed a remote and the screen lit up. Laughter rippled around the room as the theme tune to The Waltons played. The youngest shrugged and grinned. "It seemed to fit...a whole bunch of siblings...living under one roof." Still smiling, he continued watching the screen and totally missed Chris's growing anger.
"Man, look at this. That's Chris, Nathan and me out riding with Dad," Buck called out, excitedly. Vin, Ezra, and Josiah leaned forward; their eyes widening as they watched the four figures take turns with the camera while they rode, raced each other, and laughed together on screen.
"Where did you get this, Kid?" Buck asked.
"Yeah, JD - where did you get this?" As Chris spoke, he rose to his feet and approached his youngest brother.
JD's smile instantly faded when he saw the fury in Chris's glare. He pointed upwards. "I...there were...uh, there were boxes...in the loft above my room." With his back to the wall, JD was unable to move when Chris towered over him. He straightened nervously and looked up at Chris.
"Do you recall those boxes having something written on them?" the blond hissed.
The other five brothers glanced awkwardly at each other.
JD nodded. "Yeah, your, uh...your name was on them..."
"...My name," Chris interrupted. "Not your name, or no name - MY name. What was it that made you think you could rifle through my personal belongings? HUH?" His open palm landed with a thump on JD's chest as Chris pushed him back. "WELL?"
JD's eyes were as large as saucers and he stared up at his furious brother. "No...I, uh...but..."
"NO BUTS. YOU HAD NO RIGHT..." He shoved JD again and caused the smaller man to wince when his head tapped back against the wall behind him.
"Oww. Chris, wait, listen...in your room I put..."
The man in black wasn't listening. "...You've pushed your luck this time..."
All the brothers quickly rose to their feet. Buck and Josiah reached Chris first. The former came between Chris and JD, and the latter grabbed Chris's arm.
"Chris, calm down."
Larabee spun toward Josiah. He pointed at JD. "Calm down? This little punk violated my privacy."
JD tried to plead. "Chris, I'm sorry, I swear it wasn't like that..."
Josiah cut in. "I'm sure JD didn't intentionally..."
Chris pulled his arm from Josiah's grasp. "Don't try telling me what JD did or didn't mean to do. He went into the loft above Adam's room, snooped inside boxes with my name on them, and then used the contents of those boxes without permission." He turned back to JD. "Did I miss out anything?"
Aware now that Ezra, Nathan, and Vin were also close by, JD ignored Buck's warning look and stepped into Chris's face. "That's it, right? Adam's room, your home, your stuff. God forbid that I should ever feel comfortable in a space that you allocated me and was evidently a mistake on your part."
Despite his outward bravado, JD felt humiliated, and the confused looks on his brothers' faces deepened that emotion. In his excitement for the 'loft project', he overlooked that he might have crossed boundaries. The last thing he wanted to do was upset anyone, and any other time he would have been begging for forgiveness; but Chris's words reverberated in his mind and despair quickly overtook his shame. He didn't ask for Adam's room, Chris offered it to him; but now it was painfully obvious that from day one Chris never considered the room could ever be anyone's other than his deceased son's.
Chris jabbed a finger into JD's chest. "Don't you try turning this around on me; and if that's how you feel about living here..." he fisted JD's shirtfront, pulled him away from the wall and booted his butt to send him stumbling toward the door.
"Feel free to find your own place."
There were immediate protests.
"Chris, what the hell...?"
"This is insane..."
"What did you just say?"
"JD, get back here..."
JD was already out of the door of the den and despite Buck's call, kept going. He readily accepted that he'd brought a lot of Chris's anger on himself. Though unintentional, in his eagerness to put together the Christmas surprise, he'd overlooked the fact it could be conceived as a breach of trust on his part. For that, JD figured he deserved an ass-kicking; but then with Chris's anger escalating so fast, and him referring to the bedroom as Adam's...
But when the man he had come to look upon as nothing less than legendary, actively sent him packing...JD's misery and shame was complete.
Rubbing his chest where Christ's fist grabbed his shirt, while subconsciously touching the spot where boot had met butt, JD sped up, taking the stairs two at a time. The last thing he needed now was to be seen distressed. Hurrying into his room, JD locked the door and leaned against it for a few moments to compose himself. He stared at the little editing suite he had created. Striding over to it, he reached out a hand and angrily brushed everything on top of the desk onto the bedroom floor. JD then paced furiously as Chris's words bounced around in his head. 'Find your own place...find your own place...find your own place...'
He opened his closets and drawers, grabbed a duffle bag and stuffed it with personal items and clothing. He glanced around the room he'd made his own and soft tremor affected his voice enough to produce little more than a whisper. "You got it, big brother. I won't stay where I'm not wanted."
A little shaky, Chris simply stood there while his brothers bombarded him; angry voices overlapped until finally hearing enough, he raised a hand. "Quit it! JD had no right..."
"...Chris, the kid was just tryin' to do somethin' nice. I really don't think..."
"...That's just it, Vin, he didn't think." The blond's features softened. "There are also home movies of Sarah and Adam in those boxes. Do you really think I want to sit here and have my painful past played out for all to see?"
"But they would be good memories, right?" Nathan suggested.
"On screen, yeah." Chris tapped his head, and then his heart. "But here...and here." Chris sighed. "There are some things I just don't need shoved down my throat, no matter how well-meaning. JD should have come to me first." He moved through the group to leave. "Excuse me." Five pairs of eyes watched Chris go.
Vin's shoulders drooped. "Man, this sucks."
"We need to resolve this horrible misunderstanding," Ezra encouraged.
"Do you think JD even knew Chris had tapes of his family?" Nathan wondered.
Ezra nodded. "Yes. I would imagine that, by what Chris has said, and the amount of time JD spent on his self-appointed assignment this past week or so, our young technical whiz would most certainly have come upon them."
Ezra's words made Buck jolt as if he had received an electric shock. "Shit...JD!" He turned to leave.
Josiah raised his hand. "Give him time to cool off. Let's get cleared up, put out the remaining presents under the tree, make some hot toddies, and then get those two knuckleheads together."
Buck looked upwards. He really wanted to talk to JD, but Josiah was right, the kid would likely be steamed up right now, and unlikely ready to listen. He nodded to himself. Best to let him settle down some.
It took a while to complete the final touches for Christmas Day, but by the time they were done, the vegetables were prepared, the turkey and beef were ready to go in the oven, and the hot toddies were made. Buck indicated he was going upstairs to see JD and bring him downstairs.
"What about Chris?" Vin asked. "Should I go get him, too?"
Buck nodded. "I figured he'd be with us by now. Chris doesn't hold a grudge for long. Yeah, go drag his bony ass out here."
In the time it took a furious Chris to leave the den and reach his bedroom, every word between him and JD had played repeatedly in his mind. Damn he was angry with that kid for going through his stuff, but certainly not enough to kick him out of his room, and definitely not from his...their...home.
Now he was angry with himself for allowing things to deteriorate so fast. Though he rarely told them so, Chris loved his brothers, and would rather die to protect them than intentionally hurt them. He stopped and composed himself. He needed to speak to JD and put this crazy argument straight. However, before the blond could go back to the den he noticed an envelope, and a bow-tied package wrapped in Christmas paper resting on his bed. Chris picked it up and read the tag.
The blond opened the envelope and took out the note within.
By now you'll understand what I've been up to. I made this DVD just for you. Feel free to open it before Christmas day. Whether you choose to share it with the others is your call.
His hands trembled slightly as Chris turned the wrapped package several times before ripping it open. He groaned softly when he found a case containing the DVD that JD put together from the more personal tapes in the boxes from the loft. Completely immersed with thoughts of what he would find on the disc, Chris fired up his laptop and then slipped the DVD in.
Thanks to JD's patience and expertise, for the next hour Chris sat on the bed he once shared with his wife and relived his and Sarah's, and then his, Sarah's and Adam's lives through crystal clear picture and sound.
Laughter bubbled and tears flowed as Chris watched the love of his life smiling, dancing, baking, riding, and pregnant. He watched Adam's birth, and the first time Sarah nursed him, their joy and pride at becoming parents captured when Linc filmed the three of them together. Sarah was exhausted, her hair mussed.
She had never looked so beautiful.
Chris's eyes glistened while he viewed his father hold, cuddle, and play with his grandson, and then he grinned as a speedy toddler kept his uncles Buck and Nathan on their toes. Chris watched Sarah living her happy life to the full, adored by her adopted family, and loved by her man and her boy.
The DVD ended on the day Sarah and Adam left to visit her family. The last time Chris saw them alive. She and Adam were smiling and waving goodbye as their truck pulled away. Reflected in its windows was Buck, his face half-hidden by the video recorder with which he was filming, and also Chris, Linc, and Nathan who too were waving.
It was a full five minutes before a weeping Chris realized the DVD had ended. He removed it from the player, shut down the laptop, returned the disc to its case, and then went into his bathroom to freshen up. Once he was composed, Chris planned to go see JD to thank him - and apologize for earlier.
He jolted when there was a knock at the door. "Come in." He wasn't surprised it was Vin. "You need something?"
"Just for you to grace us with your presence, Pard."
"Is JD downstairs?"
"Bucklin's gone to get him."
Chris nodded. "I've been a jerk, Vin. I need to speak to the kid."
"Figured as much." Vin gave a dimpled grin. "No one thinks you're a jerk, Chris, and I'd even bet Ezra that JD wants nothin' more than to make up with you, too."
After knocking and receiving no reply, Buck entered JD's room to find his drawers and closets hanging open and many of his clothes gone. He surprised his brothers when they saw him race downstairs and into the mudroom. Buck stomped on his boots and ran out into the snow. He didn't stop until he reached the open, over-sized garage. Even before he went inside, he could see JD's truck was gone.
"Damnit!" Buck sighed. "Aww, Kid." His eyes filled at the realization of what had gone on while the rest of them were busy preparing for the next day.
Hurrying back to the house, his gaze was drawn to the twinkling outdoor lights, and Buck's mind drifted back to just after Thanksgiving, when they were looking forward to the run-up to Christmas. Everything had gone so well. How could they let this happen?
THREE WEEKS PRIOR
"Buck, you're end's drooping, tighten it up a little!"
Standing on a branch halfway up the big oak tree in the yard, a chuckling Vin looked back at the pair hanging Christmas lights across the front of the house at roof level.
"Kid, I've been doing this for years, I don't droop!" Buck took a step back, made a face, and began adjusting the cables. "Alright, it's drooping." He gestured toward the lights JD was working on.
"You just concentrate on securing your side, and not falling off the roof."
Threading more lights throughout the big oak's branches, Vin was still grinning at his squabbling brothers when he heard a familiar voice. He glanced down.
"Tanner, quit watching Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee over there and pay attention to where you're stepping."
"Calm down, Cowboy, the only way I'm comin' outta this tree is by choice."
Chris puffed out his cheeks in frustration. He was usually involved in stringing up the Christmas lights, but due to returning late from a trip into town, he arrived home to find three of the guys had begun the job. All he could do now was bounce between the two locations and hope no one fell. He was mightily relieved when he saw Buck and JD heading back down the ladders.
JD picked up a weatherproof junction box. He nodded toward the oak tree, and then smiled. "Just waiting on Vin, then you can do the big switch on."
No sooner had JD spoken when Vin swung effortlessly down from the tree before bringing over the plug end of the lights for JD to attach to the power.
"You never heard of a ladder?" Chris growled.
Vin slapped Chris's back. "Sure. I've just never needed one."
Buck chuckled. "Our Vin's half primate."
Ezra was standing in the doorway to the house, and cut in. "My, my, Buck, purchasing that 'Word a Day' toilet paper certainly has paid dividends."
JD was sitting cross-legged on the porch while wiring the lights to the junction box. He giggled at Ezra's comment, and then yelped when Buck swatted the crown of his head.
"I thought you were on my side, Kid," Buck complained.
JD looked up. "I am, but that was funny."
Ezra's face lit up from the impromptu compliment and he saluted Buck before calling Josiah and Nathan to come see the lights switched on.
JD secured the junction box, tucked it and its many cables safely away in a waterproof container, and then nodded to Chris. The blond walked over to the switch installed especially for this occasion, and placed a finger on it. With dusk fast rolling in, he realized he was kinda looking forward to this, too.
"All set, Chris," JD assured.
Buck started a countdown, with which the others eagerly joined in.
Chris threw the switch that heralded Christmas had officially begun at the Double L. While looking around and up, the seven brothers stepped further into the snowy yard and smiled their approval at the mass of twinkling lights. Chris draped his arms around JD's and Vin's shoulders and looked toward Buck.
"You did good, guys. Real good."
Chris left them and walked toward the corral. Buck's eyes twinkled with contentment to see JD's adoring gaze watch his brother leave. A kind word or gesture from Chris would literally make the kid's day. Recently, Chris had allowed his whiskers to grow out a little, giving him a rugged appearance, and the others had gotten a kick out of watching JD attempting to do the same. His success was limited, but JD kept at it.
Several heavy snowfalls encouraged the family to get plenty of supplies in for when the anticipated major fall came. They didn't have to wait long. Two weekends before Christmas, they awoke to two feet of snow on the ground and it still snowing. Josiah and Nathan were in the kitchen cooking breakfast when a whooping JD streaked into the mudroom. Seconds later, the mudroom door banged shut. Curious, the two men walked into the living room, where Ezra was standing looking out of the window and laughing.
Buck, Vin and Chris walked out of the barn to see JD flat on his back in the snow and moving his legs and arms in and out. Buck rocked with laughter, Chris grinned and shook his head and Vin walked up to their youngest.
"What are you doin'?"
A grinning and rosy-cheeked JD looked up. "I'm making a snow angel."
Vin pulled a face. "Well, I can see that. Are you nuts? It's freezin'."
JD chuckled. "Duh, it's snow." He moved his arms and legs again. "C'mon, Vin, make a snow angel with me."
Tanner looked mortified, causing JD to stop and look up at him. "Have you never made one before?"
Vin shrugged. "Don't get a whole lotta snow in Texas."
JD gave Vin a sad look before rallying. He jumped to his feet, and pushed his brother backwards, causing Vin to fall on his butt.
JD picked a fresh spot close by and began another angel. "Now's your chance, Tanner."
For a moment, Vin didn't move. He watched Buck walk toward JD and plop down just behind him.
"Yeah! I'm up for some of that!"
Vin grinned at Buck's and JD's laughter, and a second later he was lying in the snow with them and making a snow angel, too. Chris joined Nathan, Josiah, and Ezra on the porch. With their arms wrapped around their cooling bodies, the three were standing there and chuckling at their crazy brothers. Chris glanced around at his family, and for the first time in the run-up to the festive season, he began to let the ranch take a back seat, and begin to look forward to the mayhem that would inevitably ensue.
When JD pleaded with them the next morning to help him make a snowman, chores and breakfast were temporarily postponed while all seven men took up the challenge of making their very own 'snow twin'. The pandemonium following the decision to dress the snowmen in hats to match their 'doubles' resulted in gales of laughter, and when the seven brothers were finished, instigated animated discussions over breakfast.
"One has to admire how you succeeded in replicating your inimitable glare with mere rocks," Ezra praised Chris.
Chris mock-glared at the laughter. "I still want to know who put my best black hat on my snowman," he scolded, fighting a grin when more hilarity erupted. JD didn't have a cowboy-style hat like his brothers owned, so his 'snow twin' wore his oldest Patriots cap. Buck and Vin were anticipating the next time JD went outside to find his newest, and most beloved Patriots cap swapped out and now adorning his snowman's head.
JD was also looking forward to sneaking out after breakfast and putting his own personal touch to the other six snowmen. Later, Chris would find his twin wearing his black duster, Buck's, a g-string, and holding a copy of Playboy; Josiah's, a fat cigar stuck in its mouth, and as with Buck's snowman, reworked in order to carry a book. Nathan's wore a stethoscope around its neck and a surgical mask over its mouth. Ezra's 'held' a winning hand of cards and a Wall Street Journal the southerner left lying around after a trip to Vegas, and Vin's now had a rifle made of snow, snow cowboy boots and one of Vin's colorful bandannas around its neck. After breakfast, and when the brothers became aware of JD's handiwork, they swiftly introduced their youngest to a hefty snowdrift on one side of the yard.
Next day, Vin masked his own enthusiasm, while amused at JD's increased excitement when it was time to cut down a Christmas tree. "Can we all go? Is it far? How big will it be? How will we get it back here?"
Buck laughed. "Whoa, Squirt, take a breath." He glanced toward Chris and Nathan. "Remember that time Dad hitched the tree sled to that big ole chestnut quarter horse and rode him home with the tree in tow?"
Nathan grinned. "I'm sure we videoed him coming into the yard." He turned to Chris. "We did, didn't we?"
Chris shrugged. "Shoot, we taped a lot of things over the years. It's impossible to recall everything."
"Man, I'd love to see those tapes; to actually watch you guys and Dad back when..." JD hesitated. Josiah, Ezra, and Vin were nodding in agreement so he pushed on. "Could we see them, Chris?"
"They could be anywhere, not to mention that we don't have a machine to play them on anymore."
Vin frowned on detecting something in Chris's tone, though he couldn't place what it was.
"I could look for them..."
"Kid, let it go," Chris asked. "Now, are we going for this tree or not?"
Despite his disappointment, and some confusion regarding Chris's dismissal of something that JD felt would be pretty cool for the brothers who hadn't lived with Linc, he quickly rallied when they all went out to cut down their Christmas tree, which this year came down the mountainside on its fashioned sled pulled by nothing more exciting than a truck.
The rest of the brothers' evening was spent drinking beer, and dressing the tree. Double L tradition was that the youngest placed the star on the top. JD smiled when Josiah went to give him a boost up.
"Uh...I know it's tradition and all, but..." He glanced toward Vin. Taking on that rite had made JD feel so honored, and he figured it would be neat for everyone to feel that way. "Maybe we could take it in turns from now on, huh? From youngest to oldest?"
No one missed Vin's eyes widen slightly. Chris smiled and nodded his approval. "Great idea. I vote 'yes'. The rest of you?"
Chris turned to Tanner. "You're up, Vin."
Despite his attempt to appear cool, the Texan's eyes were bright and he easily balanced on Josiah's shoulders to set the star in its place. Grinning at the round of applause, Vin jumped down and looked back up at the family's long-standing tree-topper. He glanced toward a smiling JD, his gratitude obvious. It was such a small gesture, but it went a long way in strengthening the family's ever-growing bond.
It was official; December was here, and the Christmas madness was now well and truly upon them.
On the following Monday afternoon, JD was clearing out his closets to pack up things he'd accumulated but wasn't currently in need of. Recalling a fair amount of space in the loft above his room, he grabbed a stepladder and took a look around up there. He found only three sealed boxes. On closer inspection, the boxes had Chris's name written on them. One of them was partially open, so JD took a curious peek inside. It was filled with clearly marked video tapes.
The subject matter got JD's heart pounding. 'These must be the tapes that Chris misplaced.' Now the boy was eager to know how much family history was contained within. He opened the next box and found more cassettes. By the third box, JD was wondering if there was still a video camera on the premises. If so, they could view this stuff. It would be awesome to see their father walking and talking instead of trying to imagine what the man was like when alive. First though, he wondered how he should approach Chris due to around a quarter of the tapes being marked as specifically personal to him.
JD glanced around the chilly loft. Keeping these precious cassettes tucked away up here could eventually damage them. A thought struck and he smiled. He could make a DVD from the tapes about the immediate family's lives before Chris was married. If he then made a separate DVD of Chris's tapes just for the man himself, Chris might feel more accepting of watching the other. JD knew that by making DVDs, he could improve the sound and picture quality considerably, not to mention the copies would be less likely to deteriorate, and could also be uploaded to the family computer, and personal technology. If he planned this right, he could unveil his big surprise on Christmas Day. Completely immersed in his planned Christmas assignment, JD excitedly re-boxed the cassettes and swapped them out for the items he'd packed for storage.
The next day he researched what would be needed for the job, then rush-ordered the equipment. As and when his orders arrived, JD set to work, barely able to contain his excitement over the day he would reveal his surprise and get to see his brothers' faces, especially Josiah's, Vin's, and Ezra's, when his secret was revealed.
PRESENT TIME - MID-EVENING, CHRISTMAS EVE
Having walked from Chris's bedroom, Vin and Chris entered the living room. Both were surprised to see four of their brothers bundled up. It didn't take a genius to see Buck was more than a little agitated; the others, too for that matter. Chris frowned.
"Depends," Buck said surprisingly calmly.
"On what?" Chris asked.
"Bucklin..." Vin warned, softly, more than a little confused at the extreme change in the man's demeanor since he left to get Chris.
The brunet continued to look straight at his older brother. "On whether you give a damn that JD took your suggestion to heart, and then carried it through."
Chris felt a twinge in his gut. "Which suggestion?" He had a feeling he already knew.
"He decided the night of Christmas Eve would be a good time to go looking for someplace else to live," Buck replied, failing to keep the ire from his tone this time. However, something about Chris's reaction and demeanor instantly softened Buck's. The others hadn't missed it, either.
"I didn't mean that," the blond rasped out. "I was just mad at him." He shook his head. "Why? Why would he just pack up and leave after all we've come through? The highs, lows; the laughter...the fights?"
"Chris." Josiah walked over to the somber man. "While JD was the first of myself, him, Vin, and Ezra to feel at home here, he's by far the most insecure. If he thought you, above all of us, didn't want him here..."
Chris raked his fingers through his hair. While he knew JD had gone about his project the wrong way, he also appreciated he'd come down harder than he should have on the boy - especially now he'd seen his own personal DVD, and recalled JD trying to tell him something the whole time he was being yelled at. Taking his cell from his jeans pocket, Chris dialed.
"Already tried that, it just goes to voicemail," Nathan stated.
Chris nodded as he too got the same result. "Suggestions?" he asked.
Buck answered. "We'd already decided to split up and check out a few places. He took the Blazer." Buck watched Vin leave Chris's side and jog off to get his coat and boots.
"There's fresh snowfall forecast," Nathan informed them. He glanced out of the window and gestured to the white flakes swirling past the glass. "Looks like they were right."
"Okay, let's do this." Chris realized they were waiting on him to give directions.
"Buck, you and Nathan head for town and check out anywhere that's open. You guys know the locals, and where he could go at this time of night, so ask around." He nodded to a returning, warmly dressed Tanner. "Vin, go in the opposite direction to town and hit as many motels you think within a feasible distance. Josiah, Ezra, if you can check out the few local diners gas stations, and such, and I'll check around hereabouts." He acknowledged the nods.
"Guys...for what it's worth, I'm sorry this happened. I guess I just saw red about the tapes." He looked toward Buck and Nathan. "These guys know how unreasonable I can be about anything that might involve Sarah and Adam."
Subconsciously rubbing at his jaw, Buck smiled sadly and agreed.
Chris continued. "But as for Adam's old room, since the moment all seven of us shared one roof, it became JD's, I swear..."
Buck stepped closer and squeezed his arm. "Chris, his room will always be shared with Adam, JD knows that, and can live with it, he just can't handle the thought of you thinking of him as intruding."
Chris slowly nodded. "I know, and I don't. Now I just have to make him believe that."
Traveling along a road winding through a heavily wooded area, a distraught, but determined JD found himself close to Nettie's. He needed a stopgap to give him time to think; somewhere he hoped the others wouldn't think to look. JD remembered Nettie's barn as a warm, dry building and, though he would never intentionally visit the empty homestead without permission, he figured he could maybe hole up there for a while to mull things over.
During the journey the fight between him and Chris haunted JD as the scene played over and over, and always to the point where Chris kicked his butt and told him to get out. Even though it was more of a shove than an actual kick, each time he got to that part the emotion struck him hard. The further he traveled, the more JD regretted that in those following moments he hadn't just turned around and punched Chris right back. Sure, he would've likely got an ass-whipping for it, but at least he would have left feeling less like crap.
A lump in his throat made him cough. Wearily, JD stared out of the windshield at the swirling snow. It seemed to focus his mind and shook his head.
'What am I doing?'
It was Christmas Eve for crying out loud, and here he was, out driving in the dark, and in heavy snow. JD ran a hand over his face as his thoughts turned to his brothers. Would they be worried? He figured Chris sure as hell wouldn't be, but was it fair to assume that it would be the case for the others? When he got to Nettie's he'd call Buck - just to wish him and the guys a Merry Christmas - nothing more. Fresh guilt bombarded him, and the youth surprised himself when his hands slammed down on the wheel. He stopped the truck.
The other guys had done nothing wrong. Screw whether Chris wanted him there or not, they at least deserved a 'goodbye'. As he pulled out his cell phone to call home, JD stared around at the snowy landscape and made a decision. He'd find a place to turn, and then go home. As he turned the ignition key, the snow-filled view ahead unexpectedly went black when the engine roared to life, but the Blazer's headlights failed.
"...What the...? Aww, man!"
JD pulled up and reached into the glove box for a flashlight. "Must be a fuse," he mumbled to himself. He had momentarily balanced his phone on his knee, but it slipped off and landed with a thunk somewhere on the floor. Waving it off for now, JD grabbed the flashlight, turned off the engine, and climbed out of the truck.
The deep snow crunched under his boots, and puffs of frigid white breath hovered in the beam from the flashlight as JD scanned the frosty, hushed setting. Feathery, white snowflakes quickly coated his hair, eyelashes, and jacket before he leaned back into the truck and popped the hood. Walking around to the front, he released the safety catch and with the support rod, propped up the hood. JD located the fusebox and unscrewed the nut on the cover. He then took off the lid and ran the flashlight's beam over the inside. The boy tugged out the fuse for the headlights with the fuse puller and held it up to run the beam over it. On examination, it was clear that the fuse was blown, so JD went to the back of the truck for a new one, eternally grateful that both Buck and Vin had taught him well in what to carry around with him at all times.
JD shivered a little as he leaned into the truck and turned the ignition key to the run setting. He then ducked under the propped hood to slot in the replacement fuse. He smiled when the headlights came on; saddening a little on wishing Buck could have seen him. The easterner picked up the lid of the fusebox to replace it; however cold, numb fingers lost their grip. JD snatched at the lid but missed and his hand made contact with the hot engine, causing him to jolt upright.
With a mighty whack, his head slammed into the edge of the hood he was beneath. The force of the impact caused his knees to buckle and him to fall backwards. Just before his butt hit the snow, the dislodged hood fell from its prop rod and the solid metal came down fast. Unfortunately, JD was still clutching the edge of the frame and the hood slammed down hard on the back of his hand and knuckles. His howl of pain pierced the eerie silence and echoed out across the white, wooded landscape.
Vin yawned as he drove. He'd hit every motel within forty miles and was now heading back. He hoped the others would have more luck. For him though, this part of the search was over. When Vin checked in with his brothers, all were in agreement that he should head home in the vain hope that JD had simply turned around and gone back.
Vin pulled over and called Chris again. "Hey, Cowboy. You sure you don't need help?"
Chris sounded strained as he spoke. "Nah, you go ahead and get back to the ranch. If JD's there, you have my permission to give his butt another kick before..." he paused. "...Before telling him we're glad he's home."
"We'll find him, Chris."
"Yeah, I know...just a bit worried in what condition."
"The kid can handle snow."
"Sure, but how well can the truck?"
With Josiah at the wheel, Ezra peered out at the snowflakes driving into the windshield. How could this evening have gone so wrong? They had enjoyed a fine dinner; the Christmas presents were tantalizingly laid out under the tree. Each brother was safe, home, and looking forward to some quality holiday time together.
It would be easy to pile the blame on JD, or Chris; but the boy had spent his money and time on preparing a surprise designed to please them all, and equally importantly, allow the newer siblings an opportunity to watch their father and brothers during the years before he died.
And as for Chris, his feelings about the past became forcibly exposed when JD's surprise literally dropped a bombshell on him; creating a tidal wave of raw emotions to rise to the fore and control his response. Buck once told them all that when Chris was in his drinking phase, he would fight dirty to prevent anyone getting too close to see his pain. JD had taken the hit for tapping into those fiercely guarded reactions, prompting Chris's mean side to intervene.
The result was devastating, leaving JD feeling he had no option but to go, and Chris, no longer the drunk who verbalized his anger without remorse or recall, quickly yearning to take back his words.
This devastating situation simply had to be resolved, and fast.
"Josiah, we have only come across two eateries and gas stations, and I cannot believe JD could get this far ahead of us in so little a time, and in such atrocious weather."
"I agree, brother," Josiah replied. "Time to regroup, I think." In no time, the pair had abandoned the diner angle and instead turned around to scan the return route for any sign of their youngest's vehicle.
In the quiet, snowy town, the first place Buck checked was Rosie's in the hope JD was using the place to crash. He was bitterly disappointed to find he was wrong. Just as Buck expected, Inez left the bar locked and alarmed, and there were no signs of movement in the office.
The only bars still open were about to lock up, and their proprietors assured Buck that JD had not stopped by that night. Not quite ready to go back to the truck, Buck trudged through the snow in the hope of spotting JD, his truck, or both.
Nathan hated exposing their dirty laundry to the public, and this move would surely set tongues wagging, nevertheless he had no choice but to check the town's one and only boarding house. Alma and Tyrone Quigley ran the place, and were truly nice folk, but their love of gossip was renowned. As he walked away with the knowledge that JD wasn't there, he also knew that within a day the whole town would have learned that one of Linc's boys had gone AWOL on Christmas Eve.
Returning to the truck, he met up with a cold, damp, and miserable Buck. After placing a few calls, the pair was soon heading back to the Double L to meet up with Vin, Josiah, and Ezra, for a rethink.
Chris meant to check on Nettie's place for a day or so, but with so many ranch hands heading out for the holidays, the brothers had their hands full. He had driven around for some time prior to making the trip toward their long-time housekeeper's home, but found no trace of JD's truck. With the others reporting their lack of luck, this stretch of woodland was pretty much their last hope of finding out if JD was still close to home - unless, of course, JD decided to call to report otherwise.
The route to Nettie's was filling with snow fast, and Chris was grateful for the Ram. It was a sturdy beast, which seemed to thrive on bad weather. Not to mention he was toasty to boot. Chris peered through the windshield, swallowed hard and hoped JD was equally warm; or better still, in or around the smallholding at the end of this woodland road. His headlights captured something in their beams. There, ahead of him was a white Blazer, its lights full on and enough snow covering it to suggest the truck had been stationary for a while.
It was only as he drew near that he noticed the interior light was on, suggesting a door was open. The passenger doors were closed, so Chris had to assume it was the driver's door that wasn't. Seconds later, he pulled up next to the stationary truck. With the engine still running, Chris flung open his door and, with a flashlight in hand, quickly trudged through snow nearly knee-high in places.
Pain from a killer headache, a throbbing hand, and a freezing butt vied for first place as a woozy JD sat and wondered how the hell he came to be outside and sitting in snow. He couldn't feel anything other than his hand, head and butt, and as the youth struggled to get up, wished he couldn't feel those, either. When he finally stood, JD leaned on the hood. That's when what happened came back to him. A hiss of pain emerged when a winner materialized in the pain department and his trapped hand protested the weight on it.
JD inched his free fingers under the small gap in the hood and with a pained grunt, lifted the heavy metal. The catch prevented the hood from rising too much, but it was just enough to scrape his hand out.
Protectively clutching his aching, bleeding hand to his chest, JD glanced around to locate the flashlight. He instantly regretted bending down to pick it up when his head throbbed, and he saw red spots drop from his hair and into the pristine snow.
Once he'd caught his breath, the boy slowly edged his way around the front of the truck until he reached the open driver's door. With a grateful sigh, JD plopped down sideways on the seat and leaned his head against the central support pillar. Weary, and unable to control the shivering, he closed his eyes and used his good hand to cover the one now heavily bruised, scraped, and swollen, and clutched to his chest.
While he chewed on his lower lip to combat the mix of emotion and pain surging through him, his mind once again went over the day's events. JD decided that Chris was right to be mad. He did a bad thing. Why didn't he remember to run his idea by him? He was so consumed with presenting his family with a surprise that, he not only forgot, but also overlooked the consequences of how dredging up the past might affect not just Chris, but any one, or all three of the original three brothers. JD still felt sure Vin, Ezra, and Josiah would be cool with it, though. He huffed out a soft snort of disgust.
Yeah, right. What did he know?
His thoughts drifted back to his predicament. With his mom now buried close by instead of in Boston, he would have to find a place not too far away from her. Once he was settled, hopefully Buck at least, would keep in touch. He was, after all, the one who openly seemed to be enjoying JD's surprise gift before it all went to hell.
JD sighed. He also hoped that Chris might maybe one day speak to him again. Perhaps if he stayed out of Chris's way and kept his fool head down for a while...
A tiny chuckle erupted from JD. Man, he needed to find a new topic; he was actually delusional enough now to hear Chris's voice in his head.
The kid's closed eyes screwed up tighter. 'Aww, come on, brain, quit it. This is harsh. Let me sleep.'
"Jeeze, Kid, what have you done to yourself?" Standing in front of JD, Chris frowned at the lack of response and tapped his brother's face. "JD, hey, come on, look at me." He smiled when one eye opened.
"Chr-is?" JD felt strong arms loop around his waist.
"Let's get you into the Ram and get you warm." With great care, Chris eased JD out of the seat and half-walked, half-carried the kid to the Ram. Chris stumbled when JD surprised him by digging his heels in the snow.
"Shoot, JD, y'almost had us over."
JD looked at Chris and blinked. "Where...where are you taking me?"
Chris frowned. "Home, where'd you think?"
JD shook his head, and winced from the effort. "But, but you said..." The boy gasped when Chris adjusted his hold and hoisted JD up a little more.
"Yeah, well, sometimes we do and say things that we wish we could take back the instant they happen. We need to talk, but first, we're going home, Kid. Okay?"
"Yeah? Okay Chris....sure, if you say so."
On reaching the Ram, Chris grabbed a blanket from the back, settled JD into the front passenger seat and turned the heater on full blast. He rested JD's swollen hand across the boy's chest and then wrapped the blanket around his brother.
"Keep that hand up. I'm gonna secure the Blazer, then get you outta here, right?"
JD mumbled sleepily. "Can't..."
"Hey." Chris held JD's chin and brought his face into line with his. "JD, it's me. Do you understand? It's me, Kid...and we're going home, d'you hear? Home."
For the first time, JD properly focused on Chris as he talked. His features crumpled. "Aww, Chris...I'm real sorry...I swear..."
Chris 'shushed' him. "Not now. Home. The guys are worried about you." He patted JD's cheek. "I'm worried about you. Now relax."
JD nodded slowly. "Home."
Larabee touched gentle fingertips to the bleeding welt in JD's hair that had tracked a line of red down the right side of his face.
JD winced. "Fuse did it..."
"What?" Chris shook his head and raised a hand to stop JD talking. "Hey, never mind, it can wait. Like I said, we'll, talk later, okay?"
With a squeeze to JD's shoulder, he jogged back to the Blazer, grabbed the duffle bag and personal gizmos from the back seat, and secured the vehicle. Returning to the Ram, he stowed the gear, and smiled when he noticed his brother a little more alert and looking a lot warmer.
JD's head dipped. "...I don't need you taking pity on me just because..."
"Damnit, I just said we'd talk later. Right now, you need medical attention." Chris was surprised to see JD nod. For JD to agree to medical attention was a concern in itself and it didn't help that, in the glow from the cab's interior light, he could now see just how battered, pale, and weary JD looked. Chris made a decision.
"We are going home, I promise, but first, we're gonna have to take a trip to the hospital."
"Are you arguing with me, Kid?"
JD's eyes opened and he stared owlishly at him. "No sir."
Chris smiled. "Damn straight. Let's go."
Inside the ranch house, Buck thanked Josiah for the coffee he'd made and joined the others in the living room. He sighed at the sight of the Christmas tree twinkling in the corner, happily unaware that, for the Larabee brothers, Christmas was over even before it began. It was close to four in the morning and it suddenly occurred to Buck that he should be tired, but with his adrenaline pumping due to JD's absence and the subsequent search, he hadn't even yawned.
As Buck was drinking, he paced. Chris was right about the rest of them regrouping, but waiting around like this just wasn't working for him. "I need to get back out there."
"We will, Bucklin, as soon as Chris either calls, or comes here."
"IT'S NOT ENOUGH, VIN!" Buck instantly raised a hand in apology. "This is crazy, it's Christmas for chrissakes. Why the hell did JD take off like that?"
"Well, as I recall, Chris literally kicked his butt and ordered him out, remember?" Nathan reminded.
"And it took little time for JD to pack up and leave. His departure was hardly instantaneous."
Silence greeted Ezra's words as each man considered them.
"JD's not as resilient as Chris," Buck eventually said. "Should've never left him alone to stew on it."
Josiah nodded. "Easy to say in hindsight."
All five men jolted when Nathan's cell phone rang. Buck raked fingers through his hair in an effort to compose himself.
The doctor glanced at the caller ID and mouthed 'Chris' before he answered. "Hey, Chris..." Nathan quickly stood and looked at his brothers, instantly alerting them.
"Got it. Drive carefully." He closed his phone and flashed a relieved smile. "Chris found JD and they're on their way to the hospital." The room erupted in noise.
Buck's bright smile suddenly dimmed. "Wait! What? The hospital?"
"Vin, could you go get my medical bag? Josiah, some blankets, and towels. Ezra, maybe prepare hot, sweet tea when they come in? Thanks." Nathan looked at Buck. "JD's okay, but he took a bang to his head and hand."
Buck approached. "His what? How?"
Nathan patted Buck's arm. "Not sure, but we'll know soon enough."
"We're gonna go meet them at the hospital, right?" Vin asked.
Buck nodded, but Nathan shook his head. "No." He waved off the protests. "Chris wants us to stay here. He said he's got enough to worry about without any of us driving around anymore tonight in this weather." He held Buck's arms. "I know this is hard, but maybe it's not a bad thing those two are together right now."
Each man was torn between not being there for their brothers, and observing Chris's wishes, and no one more than Buck, but he nodded. "Okay, just for now, we stay, but if this drags on..."
Nathan agreed. "Deal."
It was almost 8 a.m. Christmas morning when, after a series of tests, x-rays and treatment, Chris was told he could take JD home. Halfway to the ranch, the blond looked across at his dozing brother. He knew he needed to wake JD from time to time; maybe this would be a good opportunity to talk. "JD...Kid...you with me?"
JD inhaled and did a little stretch. "Mmm, I'm not sleeping."
Chris smiled. "Sure you're not. How's the hand?"
With a little flex of the strapped, supported hand, JD nodded. "Pretty good. Stiff and sore, but it could've been worse."
"True. At least it's not broken, but that doesn't mean you can get away with not resting it." He noted JD's awkward nod.
"JD...I know what happened between us earlier won't be an instant fix, but..." Chris reached out and gave the wrist of JD's good hand a squeeze. "You have to believe me when I tell you that, where Sarah and Adam are concerned, I tend to react badly when something about them comes along out of the blue. It's a bad habit, and one I thought I had under control. I guess I was wrong, Kid, and I'm sorry."
JD looked hard at his older brother and saw genuine remorse. He dropped his gaze. "No worse a habit than mine of running ahead with a thought, or idea before weighing up all the pros and cons." He looked up in earnest. "I swear it didn't occur to me that it would upset..."
"Kid," Chris interrupted. "You did something astonishing, and real thoughtful. Yeah, it kinda came out of left field, but you did actually consider my more personal memories. In truth, you tried to explain, but I was too busy yelling at you to listen." He offered a tight smile.
"The DVD you left on my bed...well, I really appreciated the gesture, thanks." He raised an eyebrow. "Who knows, maybe one day soon I'll feel able to share it with the others."
Eyes glistening, JD nodded. "Neat." There was a pause. "While I was driving, I got to thinking...there's that room over the garage. If I can have it, I'll clear it out myself and move out..."
"Hey!" Chris admonished. "Enough. Unless you're telling me you don't want to live in the house, there'll be no more talk of you moving from your room."
JD swallowed, his voice was raspy as he replied. "No, I don't want to move out."
Chris nodded, and relaxed a little. "Good. Let that be an end to it; and Kid..."
"If I ever act so stupid again, you have my permission to give as good as you get." He smiled broadly at the first grin from JD, and as the truck approached the turnoff to the ranch road, the tension in Chris's shoulders finally eased. He dialed.
Five tired, but happy siblings surrounded and welcomed home two weary brothers as they walked into the house. The continuing snowstorm brightened the early morning light, and with hot tea and coffee poured and on hand, the family debated whether to begin their Christmas right then and there.
JD looked guiltily around at his family and the others knew he needed to clear the air before he could proceed.
"I'm sorry about earlier, guys. I understood pretty darn quick that I'd screwed up, at least by not talking to Chris about my plans. I also feel terrible that, because of me, y'all went out driving in the snow." He took a few seconds to control the wobble in his chin.
"If anything had happened to any of you..." His voice dropped to a hoarse whisper. "I couldn't have lived with myself."
The six men glanced at each other. Buck gave a slight nod, leaned in and faced JD. "Kid, that's crazy talk, 'cause we all know you'd do no less for us."
"Wouldn't have had to...neither of you guys would have left like that." JD sniffed. "I ruined Christmas..." He jolted when loud protests overlapped. Josiah's voice won through.
"John Daniel, don't talk nonsense. I'll admit, we've had an unusual start to the holiday, but this is one Christmas I will never forget. If it were possible, it's brought this family even closer."
Nods and smiles emerged and there was a small break in the conversation.
"Can we open gifts, now?" Vin pleaded.
Chuckles turned to laughter, and in full agreement, presents were eagerly exchanged. With each man reflecting on the wonderful brothers, and people in their lives, the mood was exceptionally buoyant. When the last gift was opened, Chris handed JD a package.
"For me? But, I've had a gift from you, Chris."
The blond shrugged. "It's for us all, but...seeing as you were the one that put the idea in my head..." He and the others watched as JD opened the parcel to reveal a machine that could connect to a monitor, screen, or TV in order to play video camera cassettes. Chris offered a reserved smile. "Not that we need it, now."
"Aww, Chris." JD clutched it to his chest and finally released the guilt, emotion and exhaustion he felt. Buck, who was still sitting next to him, draped an arm around his shoulders and waited. Finally, JD collected himself and looked up.
"Sorry, tough day." He took a cleansing breath. "Chris, this is awesome; and, yeah, I've made DVD's, but this..." He smiled, fully appreciating that Chris had considered his views from the first time JD mentioned watching the tapes that Nathan had referred to. It was clear Chris was giving his blessing to do so.
"The DVDs will ensure the memories will remain safe, but...to watch the actual tapes, would be really neat, too."
Everyone nodded and looked at Chris with admiration and affection.
Josiah raised his coffee. "May I be the first to wish you all a Merry Christmas."
Chuckles and raised mugs greeted his words. "Merry Christmas," the six others chorused.
"And I suggest that, seeing as none of us have slept, how about a cooked breakfast, and then to bed, and we have a late dinner?" Nathan put to the obviously exhausted group.
"Good idea." Chris's reply was echoed by the others. "JD, come on, I'll walk you to the bathroom...get you cleaned up"
Stifling yawns, the five men watched the pair go, and smiled wider when Chris put an arm around JD's shoulders and their youngest leaned into the man. Buck turned to his brothers.
"Nice. I'm still gonna tan his hide for taking off like that, though."
Vin's eyes twinkled. "Brave words, Bucklin."
"Don't reckon Chris'll take kindly to having his hide tanned."
Buck frowned, and then groaned. "Not Chris...JD..." He noted Vin laughing. "Oh, funny, Tanner. I ain't too tired to tan your hide, y'know!"
"Nope, but you're sure too slow." Laughing, Vin shot off when Buck started walking his way. "Later, y'all."
Josiah's hearty chuckle filled the room. "I'll start breakfast."
"I'll check in on JD," Nathan informed.
Ezra glanced around the empty, paper-strewn room and with a sigh, began to pick the clutter up. "Don't anyone think I'll be making a habit of this," he called out to no one in particular.
Picking up his coffee, he smiled on thinking how wonderful it was that, despite their diverse characters and backgrounds, the love this family had for one another could triumph through the worst of times. He raised his mug, glanced around to check he was still alone, and toasted the Christmas tree.
"Merry Christmas, my brothers."
After breakfast, and without a second thought, Chris helped Buck undress a drowsy JD. The combination of painkillers, strapped hand, and head caused JD to be a little uncoordinated, but between them, he was soon in his PJs.
"Can I sleep on the couch?" JD pleaded.
"You'll be more comfortable in your bed," Buck suggested.
"Please, guys? I want to look at the tree."
Buck and Chris exchanged glances.
"Okay, fine, come on," Chris decided.
As the two men helped JD downstairs, Buck couldn't resist a grin at how easily Chris gave in to JD, and wondered how long it would last. In no time, JD was settled on the couch with a pillow and a blanket. Sleepy hazel eyes reflected the glow from the fire and the tree's twinkling lights as they fixated on the noble fir adorned with baubles and ornaments, some dating back to the days when Grandpa Larabee was alive.
JD's eyes slid closed. He was unaware that sometime later, Ezra, Josiah, and Nathan were photographing the three 'sleeping beauties'; Chris on the recliner, Buck on one comfy chair, and JD on the sofa situated between them. Unable to help himself, Josiah placed a soft kiss on each sleeping man's head.
Several hours later, the smell of fresh coffee roused the three and soon dinner was underway. Ezra checked that the white wine was suitably chilled, while opening the red wine that was to go with the cheese course, in order to allow it to 'breathe'. The southerner was quietly delighted that his brothers agreed to not only have wine but also that they asked him to chose it.
JD and Vin set the table, and were suitably admonished for 'sword fighting' with the cutlery. Buck built up the fire, and after finding the fridge was full, put some extra beers outside in the snow near the mudroom door, to chill.
Josiah and Nathan brought everything else together, while Chris carved up the turkey, deciding not to stand on ceremony and slice it at the table this year. Once he was done he approached JD and gestured for the youngster to follow him. In his bedroom, and noting the dark scoops under JD's eyes, Chris placed a hand on the smaller man's shoulder.
"How are you holding up, Kid?"
JD smiled. "I'm fine, thanks. Looking forward to dinner - I'm real hungry."
Chris nodded. "Me too." He paused. "JD."
"Rather than dig out the cassettes, and seeing as it's already set up from earlier, how about after dinner we watch the DVDs you made of the tapes of Dad, Buck, Nathan and me?"
JD's wide eyes glistened and it took him a few moments to reply. "Really? Uh, yeah." He grinned, broadly. "Yeah, I'd really like that."
Chris's smile matched JD's. "Me too, and...Kid?"
"Someday soon...we'll watch mine, but I..."
JD squeezed Chris's arm in understanding. "Whenever you're ready."
With their hearts considerably lighter, the pair joined the others for Christmas dinner.
An hour or so later, seven men were comfortably settled in chairs in the den. Covered with a blanket which Nathan insisted on, JD was on the sofa and nestled between Buck and Chris. He looked to the latter, and the blond nodded.
"All yours, Kid."
Vin hit the lights and vaulted back into the spot next to Chris just as JD pressed the remote and the Walton's theme tune played. Seven eager pairs of eyes were transfixed to the screen as three men relived wonderful memories, and four finally met their father. The figure may have only been on screen, but Linc had gone from an image in their minds, to a living, breathing, man.
Soft, silent tears alternated with howls of laughter as the seven brothers hunkered down together and put the pain and stress of earlier well and truly behind them. A good way into the DVD, Chris glanced across and exchanged smiles with Buck on seeing JD sound asleep and his head resting on the brunet's shoulder.
Knowing he was facing death, Linc risked the love and respect of three of his sons by revealing, post mortem, that there were more brothers out there. The gamble more than paid off, and Chris couldn't love his father more for doing right by them; and was in no doubt six other men were of the same mind. The blond's liquid gaze scanned his brothers and he saw how each man's reactions revealed their utter contentment.
He glanced Heavenwards and with a satisfied sigh, Chris mouthed a heartfelt 'Merry Christmas, Dad.'
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