Disclaimer: The following is a work of fanfiction based on the CBS television series, The Magnificent Seven. It is in no way intended to infringe on the copyrights of CBS, MGM, The Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp., or anyone else who may have legal rights to the characters and settings. I don't own the characters. This story is strictly for entertainment. No monetary gain will be made from it.
Note: Thanks to Karin for letting me play at The Ranch. She's got the deed to the place, but has kindly offered it to the rest of us. This story is completely separate from the continuity of Karin's stories.
I've always been intrigued by Chris Larabee as a 'father figure' for JD...but The Ranch opens up the whole 'actual father' can of worms. Yee-ha!!
Let's see...Wickes High School...that's Karin's, too. <Waving> Thanks, sis!!
One additional note...this is dedicated to Leslie. Comments and creative criticism greatly appreciated.
|Nothing is so strong as gentleness;
Nothing so gentle as real strength.
~ Francis De Sales
"OK...tell me again...why we're doin' this on a beautiful Saturday?" JD Dunne's stomach was in knots, his head was pounding and his heart felt like it was about ready to punch it's way right through his chest. "Because...it's a big honor, JD." Chris Larabee eyed his sixteen-year-old adopted son. How many times we gonna do this, kid?
"...yeah...right..." the teen rolled his eyes, not even caring if he'd have to pay the consequences for the action.
"JD!" Chris snapped, letting the boy know he caught the eye rolling, then continued. "You're the top-ranked sophomore..."
"Yeah...well at Wickes...that's outta what...???...forty people...???" JD threw back at his father. How much of an honor is that???
"If you'd let me finish..." Chris reprimanded. "You're the top-ranked sophomore in the state."
"So???" Chris mimicked his son. "JD...you're in the top 1%...for grades nine through twelve...nationwide. Doesn't that make you feel good?"
"...it makes me feel...sick..." the boy moaned. "I feel like I'm gonna throw-up."
"JD..." Chris worried, instinctively putting his hand to the teen's forehead. "Hmm...you OK???"
Larabee eyed his son's face. The boy did seem paler than usual, if that was possible. But the young face held something else, too.
Chris moved his hand to JD's shoulder. He could actually feel the boy trembling beneath his touch. "Maybe you'll feel better...once we get there...get settled in."
"...I...I just really...don't wanna do this..." the boy's voice was scared ~ or maybe even ~ terrified.
Chris shook his head, really not wanting to go through it all again. "We discussed all of this last night..."
"No..." JD interrupted..."you discussed it last night...I listened..."
"Alright...but you agreed..."
"...like I really had a choice..." JD mumbled.
"It's good for you." Chris reached over and put a reassuring hand on the boy's neck. "You're smart as a whip, JD...but you need more confidence in yourself. This state competition will help you with that."
"Like being humiliated in front of people from across the whole state is really gonna help me with that." JD pulled away and leaned back against the headrest, closing his eyes, picturing himself plummeting, just like that poor skier in the agony of defeat shot in the opening credits of Wild World of Sports.
"I thought we discussed this negative attitude last night..." Chris started.
"No..." JD interrupted, yet again..."you discussed...I..."
"OK...OK..." Chris shook his head. "I don't want to have this argument for the millionth time..."
"Then let's just turn the truck around...and go back home...please...???" JD pulled out all the stops, trying 'the look'.
"...but...Sadie's 'bout ready to foal..." JD tried.
"...and there's that whole section of fence that's gotta be fixed...I'll even do it all by myself..." The boy offered up his least favorite chore, fence mending.
"Son...you're gonna do fine." Chris placed a calming hand on the kid's shoulder. The trembling seemed to have stopped, but the boy still seemed a little too warm to suit Larabee. "Besides...math's your best subject."
"You'll do fine." Chris smiled.
JD turned away from his father, facing out the side window. Defeated, he leaned his head on the glass, the coolness feeling good against his fevered brow. Might as well give up. Yep...the Larabee mind is made up. Closed. Locked. The key is...God knows where the key is...wouldn't matter anyway.
In the short time since JD'd arrived, he learned one thing, if nothing else. When Chris Larabee made up his mind about something, come Hell or high water, it stayed made up. Some sixteen-year-old, five foot next-to-nothin' little runt wasn't gonna change that.
JD felt a shiver and, not sure if it was due to his impending doom or not, pulled his jacket tightly around himself. He slumped against the door, almost whispering to himself ~ but not quite ~ "...you don't care...anyway..."
Chris knew he wasn't meant to hear the last words, but he had. Or, maybe he was supposed to hear them. Either way, they hurt.
Larabee assumed that was JD's intention. The kid was hurting and he wasn't going to go down alone.
He would take another casualty with him.
Why would the boy think his father didn't care?
Surely JD knew that Larabee loved the kid more than life itself.
Surely the kid knew he was Larabee's whole world.
Larabee turned to tell him, but the boy was asleep, or maybe just pretending to be asleep.
He'd talk to him later.
+ + + + + + +
"You wanna stop and get somethin' to eat?" Chris asked after they passed the halfway point.
"...fine..." the boy answered, never raising his head or opening his eyes.
Great... Chris was well aware of the kid's moods. He was now into his one-word-answer phase. And when that one-word-answer was "fine" ~ that meant that things were anything but.
JD was usually such a good kid. Sometimes so cheerful and happy that it could turn your stomach if you weren't careful. But when the kid got into one of his moods ~ watch out!!
In the short time since JD'd arrived, Chris had learned one thing, if nothing else. When little JD Dunne made up his mind about being in a foul mood, come Hell or high water, it stayed made up. No one, not even a father that could intimidate most people with a look, was gonna change that.
Chris decided to try again. "How 'bout McDonalds? I see one up ahead..."
"...Or...let's see...there's a Hardees..."
"There's a Pizza Hut..."
Larabee gripped the steering wheel tighter, trying to control his anger. "OK, hey...there's a pig trough...how 'bout that...???"
"...fine...whatever..." JD snapped.
"OK...pig trough it is." Chris pulled the truck into a convenient mart parking lot and slammed the shift lever into park.
JD finally looked up, surprised. "...wha'...???"
"You haven't exactly been a real joy on this trip so far, kid."
"So...take me home then..." JD leaned back again, angrily shoving his hands deep into his coat pockets.
Chris shifted sideways in the seat, leaning against the door. "JD...why are you so mad at me?"
JD's huge, hazel eyes filled as he turned to his father. "...I...I...I'm...not mad...at you..."
Chris knew the boy was about to crumble and placed his hand on the boy's neck, trying to soothe the tension he could feel there. "JD...what is it, son?"
Chris could feel his stomach flip-flop. He couldn't imagine what could be troubling the boy so. Or, worse yet, the things that he could imagine, only scared him more. "JD...nothin' don't tie you up in knots like this. C'mon, son...what is it?"
"...Dad...I...I don't...wanna make you...ashamed...of me..."
"Ashamed?" Chris laughed. "How could I ever be ashamed of you?"
"When I screw up...in front of the whole state...God...you're gonna wish you'd never even heard of JD Dunne." the youth choked out.
"JD...first off...you're not gonna screw up...and second...even if you did...why would I care?"
"C'mon...Dad...you're...you're..." JD couldn't even finish, he was so upset.
"...you're...perfect..." JD whispered.
"Perfect???" Larabee bellowed. "Where the hell did you come up with that one???"
JD just turned away, not wanting to face his father. "You...you can do anything...anytime...no matter what kind of...pressure..."
"JD...you can do this..." Chris started, before the boy exploded.
"NO...YOU'RE NOT LISTENING...THAT'S JUST IT...I CAN'T!!!" JD spun around, tears flowing freely down the boy's pale face now. His voice was hitching between the sobs. "YOU JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND...I...I..." and the boy concluded, in a barely audible whisper "...can't..."
Chris suddenly realized that this was the first time anything like this had come up since he'd adopted JD.
JD's teachers had done nothing but praise him since he'd arrived at Wickes. Chris had received nothing but glowing reports. And the kid's grades, well, they were ~ in the infamous words of Buck Wilmington ~ "high as a giraffe's ass!!!"
The only thing negative ever mentioned about the boy was that he seemed to lack self-confidence. Chris and the others at the ranch had been working on that.
But, obviously, they still had a long way to go.
Larabee was mentally kicking himself for not listening to the boy...really listening. Poor kid...he's been after me all week. One excuse after another for not attending the competition.
All along, he'd thought the boy just didn't want to do it.
He now came to the heartbreaking realization that the boy couldn't do it.
"JD...settle down." Chris grabbed the boy into his arms and could feel him trembling. "It's nothin' worth gettin' yourself all upset 'bout. OK??? We'll just...forget 'bout it...OK???"
He could feel the boy's head nod "yes" against his chest.
Kid's so upset...and it's my fault. Chris felt his heart break as the boy sobbed in his arms. The kid's terrified. He tried to tell me. Just because he's damn near a genius, doesn't mean he can prove it in public.
+ + + + + + +
As much as he hated to give up the security he so desperately needed, after about thirty minutes of just being held in his father's loving, protective arms, the boy pulled free.
"...sorry..." JD wiped his sleeve across his face and leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, taking some deep, calming breaths.
"No...I'm sorry, son." Chris slowly rubbed the boy's back. "You tried everything 'cept a two-by-four upside my head...I...I just wasn't listening...and I'm sorry."
"...s'ok..." JD sighed.
"No...no it's not." Chris shook his head repeatedly. "JD...you're everything to me, son. You're the most important part of my life...and I'm sorry I hurt you. Believe me...that's not what I intended to do. You never...and I mean never...have to do something that you feel this strongly against. I never should have pressured you. I've just...got a lot to learn...'bout bein' a dad...again..." Larabee pulled the boy to him again, resting his chin on the boy's head. "Forgive me?"
He felt the boy begin to cry once more, but his head made the same affirmative nod again.
Chris patted the boy's back. "OK then...let's get home...I think there's some chores there...got your name written on 'em..."
"...kay..." JD smiled.
For the first time since they'd left home.
And it made Chris smile, too. "Let's see...I think you said you'd fix that fence...by yourself...right?"
"...uh...yeah...guess I did..." the boy's smile quickly disappeared.
"Well...I'd sure like to help you with it...if you don't mind..."
"Just me and you?" JD beamed.
"Yep...just you and me." Chris smiled.
"...cool..." the boy whispered as he leaned his head on his father's shoulder and drifted off.
+ + + + + + +
It was four in the afternoon by the time the truck pulled up at the ranch. Chris wasn't happy to see Buck's truck and Vin's Jeep in front of the house.
Kid doesn't need a million and one questions right now.
Chris tousled the dark head that was now nestled against his chest. "We're home, son."
JD stirred slightly, the back of his hand going to his eyes..."...wha'...???"
"...oh...good..." JD yawned.
"You feelin' OK, son?" Chris was still concerned over the slight fever the boy seemed to be running.
"...yeah...m'fine..." JD grinned as he scooted across the seat and opened the door, then suddenly toppled out onto the ground.
"JD!" Chris sprang from the truck and raced around to the other side, reaching the boy at the same time as Buck and Vin, who had dashed out of the house.
"What's wrong with 'im?" Buck panicked.
"He's just a little sick..." Chris stared.
"A little sick??? Boy's sprawled on the lawn here, pard!" Buck ranted.
"Keep it down, Buck." Vin snapped. "Kid don't need to hear your bellyachin'."
Chris pulled JD into his arms and the boy began to come around. "...Dad...???"
"I'm right here, JD." Chris gently brushed the boy's long bangs from his eyes, suddenly becoming aware of the trembling in his own hands. "Right here, kid."
"...kay..." JD reached out and grabbed Larabee's shaking hand. "...it's OK...Dad...m'fine..."
"You're fine..." Chris sighed. "You're hot as a furnace, son."
"He get sick on the way??? That why you're back???" Vin questioned.
"Yeah..." Chris smiled down at the boy looking up at him with the huge, pleading hazel eyes. "Yeah...that's why we came back."
"...thanks...Dad..." and JD relaxed totally into his father's strong arms as he felt himself being lifted and carried into the house.
"I'll call Nathan." Vin was racing towards the kitchen phone.
Chris carried JD up to his room, with Buck right on his heels. "Pull the covers down, Buck."
Buck did as instructed, giving the pillows a loving fluff before Larabee gently laid the boy down.
Chris was seated on one side of the bed and Buck on the other as Tanner came into the room. "Nate's on his way...be here in twenty minutes."
"Twenty minutes!!!" Buck bellowed.
Larabee noticed how Wilmington's outburst had startled the boy. Chris used his most soothing voice as he pleaded with the big man. "Buck...calm down...please."
"Sorry." Buck apologized. "It's just...twenty minutes...!!"
"...s'ok, Buck...m'fine..." JD croaked.
"Yeah...sure 'ya are kid. What am I worried 'bout...anyway..." Buck smiled at the boy. He's worried 'bout me bein' worried...sweet little runt.
"Vin...'ya wanna get a cold cloth outta JD's bathroom?" Chris needed the cloth for the boy, but he also knew Tanner needed something to do, too.
Tanner returned with two washcloths and a face towel, all cold, all wet.
"Hell, Vin...we ain't givin' the boy a bath." Buck teased.
That brought out a slight chuckle from JD, but it didn't last long as his small frame was soon racked with a terrible coughing fit.
"Easy, son...just relax...you're OK..." Chris soothed. "...just relax..."
"...kay..." JD gasped, when he was finally able to breathe and then sank further into the pillows.
Larabee and Wilmington helped pass the time waiting for Nathan by telling the teen story after story of their long friendship.
Soon the boy's long lashes closed and his breathing became steady and shallow. "Guess we finally bored him to sleep, pard." Buck grinned.
"Guess so." Larabee whispered, never taking his eyes off the sleeping boy, as he gently stroked a flushed cheek. "He's still...so hot..."
+ + + + + + +
Nathan Jackson stuck his head in JD's room. "I heard there's a sick kid somewhere 'round these parts...anybody seen 'im?"
"Thanks for comin', Nate." Chris greeted his good friend with a hearty handshake.
"Any time, Chris...you know that. What's up?"
"Well...fever...chills...upset stomach..." Larabee rattled off the list of JD's symptoms. "And...he's been real crabby today...but I...I think that's...my fault."
"Since when's a teenager need an excuse to be crabby?" Buck teased. "Don't go takin' the blame for JD's moods now, Chris...that'd be a damn full-time job."
Larabee sent a glare Wilmington's way. "Buck...you mind lettin' me talk to Nathan...alone...for a bit?"
"What?" Buck gasped, a little taken back by the request. "Wait...is there somethin' you ain't tellin' me...is he...he's OK...right...I mean...is there...somethin' serious?"
"Calm down, Buck...Christ...you're like a mother hen." Chris grinned. Boy the JD bug bit you hard in the ass...didn't it, old friend??? "I just need to tell Nathan somethin' that happened...and it's...just...JD wouldn't want the whole world to know."
"Oh...I see..." Buck made his way towards the door. "So...old Buck's a gossip now...is that it?"
"Buck...just shut up...and get the hell out." Larabee got behind Wilmington and jokingly shoved him out into the hallway, closing the door after him.
Luckily, Chris and Buck had been friends for what seemed like forever and Larabee knew that Wilmington would not take offense to the rough treatment.
"What is it, Chris?" Nathan worried.
"Nathan...today was that state competition...remember?"
"Yeah...when Vin called...I thought maybe JD'd finally talked you out of it...but Vin said you had gone...but came back."
"Nate..." Chris' voice was cracking. "...I...I pushed him to go...and now...now he's sick...and..."
Nathan looked up from where he'd been examining the boy. "Chris...this ain't got nothin' to do with that..."
"He was so scared, Nate...he was beggin'...and now..."
"Chris...listen to me...ain't got nothin' to do with him bein' scared." Nathan grabbed Larabee's arm, getting the man's full attention. "Oh...I don't doubt he was scared...hell...I knew he was scared 'a goin'...but he's got the flu, Chris...hear me...the flu. Bein' scared don't give you the flu...it's not your fault."
"Flu?" Chris worried. "That's bad..." Then Chris' mind suddenly backed up. "Wait...you...you knew he was scared of goin'?"
"Didn't you?" Nathan thought he had merely stated the obvious.
"Shit!" Chris sat down shakily on the bed. "You got anything in that bag of yours for a serious case of the stupids, Nate?"
Nathan laughed. "Gave the last of it to Buck...yesterday."
Chris shook his head and turned to Nathan. "Flu? That's bad...right?"
"Bad...yeah...can be...'specially the way this here squirt seems to get stuff...but it ain't gonna do him in...or nothin'." Nathan grinned. "Hell...the way Vin ranted on the phone...I figured the kid was dyin'...or somethin."
"I...I guess...we kind of tend to overreact when it comes to the kid...huh?" Chris reached over and lightly stroked the boy's dark hair. "I'm just way outta practice at this stuff."
Nathan patted Chris' arm. "You're doin' fine. Just remember...it's a two-way street. Been a long time since this boy here's had a man carin' 'bout him, too...if ever."
"Yeah...guess so." Chris' eyes misted as he turned to Jackson. "Thanks for everything, Nate."
"No problem. Try to keep him in bed the rest of the weekend...if you can." Nathan chuckled at the probability of that actually happening. "I'll stop by tomorrow."
+ + + + + + +
"He's gonna be fine, Chris." Buck stepped back into the room a couple of hours later.
"You a doctor now?"
"Nope...saw Nate when he was on his way out." Buck grinned. "Sides...I know a good thing when I see it."
"Ain't no way you two ain't just meant to be together." Buck laughed. "I mean...I ain't got no chapter and verse to quote...like Josiah...but you ain't done with this here boy yet...and God...he knows that..."
"I sure as hell got a lot to learn about 'im...that's for sure."
"Like what?" Buck asked.
"Never mind." Chris shook his head.
"Oh...you mean 'bout him bein' scared to get up and compete in front 'a people?" Buck tilted his head and winked at Larabee.
"Hell, Chris...there's fingernail marks on the front porch...from where 'ya drug him kickin' and screamin' this mornin'..."
"Why didn't you tell me??? Make me...see???" Chris asked.
"Kid swore he'd get through it...somehow. He didn't rightly know how...but he sure as hell didn't want to disappoint 'ya." Buck's eyes misted as he continued. "Said...said he didn't want you to be ashamed 'a him."
"Ashamed." Chris shook his head. "Only one ashamed here's...me. What kind of father am I, Buck?"
"Damn good one...I'd say." Buck smiled.
"...yeah..." came the soft, weak voice. "...damn...good...one..."
"Think so?" Larabee brushed his hand lightly across the boy's forehead, relief flooding over him at the coolness he felt there.
"...yeah...top 1%...at least..." and JD drifted off.
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