by LaraMee

Little Britches ATF AU

February 25, 2004

Dr. Will Lowery, or "Dr. Will" as his younger clients called him, glanced out into the waiting room and smiled. Quiet, shy Vin Tanner and boisterous, energetic JD Dunne had arrived for their appointment. Buck Wilmington, one of the two men who had become their foster fathers, sat between the two boys.

Will had to chuckle as he watched as the big man try to keep the precocious five-year-old at least relatively quiet. On the other side of Wilmington, seven-year-old Tanner was flipping through a copy of Jack and Jill, seemingly oblivious to his younger friend's antics.

Stepping out into the reception area, Lowery caught Buck's attention. When he spoke, however, he included all three. "Hi guys. Glad to see you. How about we go back to the playroom?"

"Hi Doc," Wilmington replied in a grateful tone. "Sounds like a plan. Come on guys."

True to form, Vin gave the therapist a smile, put the magazine away, and came to stand near the doctor. JD, in the meantime, bounded out of his chair, grabbed his 'Da's' hand and pulled him across the room.

Will led the way down the hall, although the boys knew the way well. They had been coming to see him on and off for several months. The two men who had become their caretakers were very dedicated. They wanted the two boys to lead happy, healthy lives. That meant not only seeing to their physical health, but their mental health as well.

Recently Vin had begun to act out, his anger and frustration causing several problems in the household. To his credit, Chris Larabee, the boys' other foster father, had been quick to take action. Both boys had been to see him so that he could assess the situation. He had proposed that a short series of weekly visits be set up so he could work with the boys both individually and together. He would also meet with the boys' caretakers. Will had blocked out the last two hours on his Wednesday appointment calendar for a seven-week period. That had been adjusted slightly already. The eclectic little family had been forced to cancel last week's appointment. Chris had suffered an accident, and had been in the hospital overnight.

They settled in the playroom, Buck taking an unobtrusive seat in the corner. Will invited the boys to join him at the Lego table, giving them a few minutes to settle in before he began talking to them.

"So, I understand that Chris had an accident last week," Lowery said gently.

"Yep. He breaked his leg," JD said as he rapidly snapped blocks together randomly.

"JD!" Vin grumbled between clenched teeth.

With an embarrassed grin the younger boy said, "Oops, sorry." Turning to the therapist he explained, "I was s'posed to let Vin tell you 'bout Chris' accident."

"Oh, I see. So then shall we let Vin tell me what happened?" When the little brunet nodded vigorously Lowery turned to Vin. Tanner was methodically matching up colors and shapes, building an orderly tower. When he didn't offer to say anything, the doctor said, "So would you like to tell me what happened?"

Shrugging the little blond said, "Dad broke his leg."

"Wow, he did?" The therapist sounded as if he hadn't already heard that much. He waited for the little boy to continue.

When Vin saw that Dr. Will was waiting for him to continue he nodded. Wide blue eyes rose slowly, looking at the doctor. "It was an accident. But 'fore we knew he was hurt we laughed."


Nodding again the little boy said, "Me, JD, Buck and Unca' 'Siah."

"Ah, so how did you feel about laughing when you realized he was hurt?"

Ducking his head, Vin said softly, "Bad."

"Bad?" The therapist echoed. When the child nodded he asked, "Do you think the others felt bad, too?"

The little blond head shot up, a puzzled expression on his little face. "I don't know."

"How about asking them? You can ask Uncle Josiah later, but you can ask Buck and JD now."

Little Tanner looked across the table at his friend. "JD, how did you feel when you found out Dad was hurt an' we was laughin' at him?"

Without looking up from the blocks the younger boy said, "I got a sad feelin' and I feeled mad that I laughed."

"Mad?" Lowery interjected.

Nodding, black bangs flying, JD said, "Mad 'cause I laughed an' I ain't s'posed to laugh at people when they gets hurt. And he hurted his leg. But everyone laughed, too."

"So you figured that it was okay since everyone else was laughing?"


"What did you do when the others stopped laughing?"

"I stopped," JD shrugged.

"Do y' still feel bad?" Vin asked.


"Why not?" Will asked.

"'Cause when Chris comed home I said 'sorry' and he said 'okay'," the young boy said simply.

The therapist watched both boys for a moment. Vin was processing the brunet's words. JD had already returned to his building. Lowery had no doubt that it was, indeed, over as far as young Dunne was concerned. Vin, on the other hand, continued to let the incident weigh on him. As the seven-year-old looked back up at him he said, "So, what about Buck?"

Young Tanner looked across to where Wilmington sat, seeming not to be listening to them. Climbing off his chair, he trotted over to the big man. Standing in front of the big brunet, he said, "Buck?"

Wilmington looked up from the magazine he had been flipping through. He had heard every word, but said only, "Hey Junior, what's up?"
A frown furrowing his sandy brows, Vin said, "How did you feel cause we laughed when Chris fell down then we found out he broke his leg?"

"Well," the mustached agent seemed to consider the question. "I felt pretty bad for laughing after I found out that Chris was hurt."

Remembering the therapist's questions Vin asked, "Did you laugh 'cause we was all laughin'?"

"Sort of," the big man said, "but mostly I laughed because he looked pretty funny flying through the air, flapping his arms."

The seven-year-old giggled but quickly stifled the sound. Buck's description of the accident reminded him of how funny his foster father had looked. With a slightly embarrassed expression he said, "How do you feel now?"

"I feel okay about it, but still a little bad. I told Chris I was sorry and he said he understood. He even said he probably would have laughed, too, if he had seen me flyin' through the air like that."

"He did?"

"Yep," Buck answered. He knew that he would need to share this with Chris. Vin obviously still felt the need for the man's forgiveness.

"But you still feel a little bad?"

"Yep, I feel a little bad because I should have seen that he was hurt."

"So, what are you going to do with that bad feeling, Buck?" Lowery asked from across the room.

"Well, Doc," Wilmington addressed the therapist, but his words were for the little boy in front of him, "I'm going to use that feeling the next time something like that happens."

"How?" Vin asked, confusion on his little face.

"By stopping to see if the person is hurt first." Then he grinned comically and said, "Then if they're not hurt we can laugh about it together."

Little Tanner giggled at the man's animated expression. Satisfied, he moved back to the table and climbed back into his chair.

Lowery once again gave the little boy time to process the information. Then he said, "So can you tell me what happened Vin?" Then, including the younger boy, he said, "And if he forgets anything, JD, you can add to the story. How's that?"

"'Kay," The little brunet said. He had used almost all of the blocks in his hodge-podge building project.

Lowery turned to Vin. The little boy had forgotten his own building instead he was sitting quietly, looking at the therapist. He nodded, inviting the child to begin his tale.

"Well, we was outside one evenin' last week after Dad an' Buck came home from work. We was playin', but it was gonna get dark. We gots a special light that lights up th' whole yard, but Chris said somethin' was wrong an' it wouldn't come on. So he said he would check it out and he climbed up on the ladder.

"We was all actin' silly 'fore that, so when Dad hollered an' we seen him fallin' it looked like he was goofin' 'cause his arms was…" Vin flailed his arms through the air.

Lowery chuckled at the child's antics. "Well, that would be pretty funny."

Vin smiled shyly and continued his tale. "We all ran over to him and we was laughin' and sayin' how funny he looked. Then we got to where he was an' he was still layin' on the ground. Buck teased 'im 'bout bein' a old man and asked him if he needed a hand up. When Dad said no, Buck stopped laughin' an' asked him what was wrong."

"I think we might have a problem here," Chris said quietly. He looked at the boys with concern and then back at his old friend.

Josiah moved in then. "Hey, how about we go check on the pups and let Chris catch his breath?"

The two boys hesitated, their eyes wide and settled firmly on the fallen man. Vin took a step toward his foster father and said in a trembling voice, "Dad?"

Managing a smile, the blond said, "Go ahead, it's hard telling where they've run off to. Don't want them to get hurt or lost."

The boys were torn now, but concern for their pups finally coaxed them to leave with Josiah. The older man looked back at his friends, concern in his face. Like Buck he noticed that Chris didn't tell the boys that he was all right.

Wilmington squatted down beside the blond, a frown creasing his face. "What's wrong, stud?"

Letting his breath out in a soft groan the blond said in a pain-filled voice, "I think my leg's broken."

"Damn," Buck hissed. "Which one?"

"Right," Larabee nodded toward his right leg, which was bent back beneath the left one. He carefully moved his left leg over so that they could both get a look. The blond hissed with pain when they tried to straighten the limb.

Buck carefully surveyed the limb, but there was no definite sign that it was broken as opposed to sprained or badly bruised. "I ain't no doctor, but if it's hurtin' that bad we ought'a get you to the hospital."

Nodding, the blond said, "Get me into Josiah's Suburban and let's go. I'm freezing my butt off on this cold ground."

Wilmington noticed then that the lean man was shivering. Looking around, he spotted the big profiler on the other side of the yard. The older man was keeping the boys distracted, but his eyes were focused on the two men. Waving him over, Buck said to his friend, "We'll get you in the back seat and then I'll take the boys in the Ram."


The mustached agent looked up at Sanchez's deep baritone voice. The boys stood on either side of him. Keeping his voice as light as possible, Wilmington said, "We're gonna take Chris into town so the doctor can look at his leg - "

"Chris?" Vin's voice was already reaching panic.

Larabee managed a smile and reached out to the frightened boy. The little blond dropped to his knees beside him and he wrapped an arm around the thin body. Hugging him as close as he could, he said, "I'm gonna be fine, Cowboy. I just fell hard on my leg and it's hurting."

Little Tanner looked into his father's face. "Will you have to have a cast like I did?"

"Maybe. We'll see."

Vin took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He understood broken bones. While they hurt and the cast was uncomfortable, everything was good as new in a few weeks. He wrapped his arms around the man's neck and said, "Will you get a purple cast like mine?"

Chris tried to frame an answer that wouldn't hurt his son's feelings, but Buck beat him to it.

"Shoot, Junior, you know Chris. If they don't have it in black, we'll have to paint it when we get home."

The seven-year-old giggled, hugged Larabee's neck once more then stood back.

The next several minutes were consumed with getting the injured man to the battered vehicle that Josiah drove. The two bigger men carefully lifted him so that he was standing on his left leg. With the smaller blond hopping between them, they got him to Sanchez's Suburban. They got him into the back seat and Buck helped him settle back. Josiah, in the meantime, dug in the back of the big vehicle and came up with a cushion and a sleeping bag. Carefully elevating Larabee's injured leg on the cushion, Sanchez unrolled the sleeping bag and they covered him, leaving his right leg free of the heavy fabric's weight.

As Buck stood back from the Suburban and started to close the back door, he found himself having to intercept little Tanner. Lifting the child into his arms he said, "Whoa there, buddy. You're going with me."

"No! I'm goin' with Chris!" Vin argued.

"Vin," Larabee called from inside the vehicle, "You need to go with Buck in our truck. There's no room for your seat in here, and you know the rules."

"But…" the little blond started to argue.

"Cowboy, please don't argue. My leg hurts and I want to go see the doctor. Please go with Buck in the truck."

Tears ran freely down the little face, but Vin nodded. "Okay."

"I love you, pard," Larabee said softly.

"I love you, Dad."

Smiling compassionately at the exchange, Buck winked at his friend and, shifting Vin to straddle one hip, he carefully closed the door. Josiah was already behind the wheel with the engine going. Wilmington gathered up JD, settling him on the other hip. "Okay, let's corral the dogs and get something for you guys to do while we're waiting for the doctor to look at Chris."

They were on the road as quickly as possible, no more than ten minutes behind Josiah and Chris. Buck kept an eye on the back seat, noting that both boys were silent. He watched JD, but was concerned to see no expression on the younger boy's face. He tried to engage both boys in conversation during the ride, but got nothing but single word responses. Finally he turned on the stereo and let the music fill the silence.

Getting to the hospital parking lot, Wilmington collected the boys and their backpacks from the backseat. To his surprise, JD insisted on walking so, holding a tiny hand in each of his, the big man made his way through the lot. They entered the main entrance of the hospital and immediately spotted Josiah.

Smiling the older man said, "He's back in the ER right now. They're going to x-ray his leg."

"I wanna go see 'im," Vin said firmly.

Leaning down, Sanchez said softly, "I know you do, Vin, but we've all got to wait out here."

"But he came back with me," little Tanner argued.

"I know buddy, but the rules are different for grown-ups than they are for children," Josiah explained. "Dads go back there because their little boys might be afraid."

"But…" the little boy dropped his head, not certain he wanted to say what he was thinking.

The older man gently tucked a finger beneath the child's chin and lifted his head. Looking directly into the tear-filled blue eyes, he said, "He's okay, Vin. I promise."

The little blond hesitated but finally nodded. "Okay. But… I wanna see him as soon as I can."

With a wink, Sanchez said, "You will. I promise."

The wait seemed much longer than it was. The two men and the two little boys settled into one corner of the large, noisy waiting room. After some coaxing Vin pulled out a coloring book and crayons and was soon engrossed in filling a page with as many colors as possible. JD, however, simply sat on Buck's lap. He shrugged when asked why he wasn't playing with anything. When pressed he finally informed them that he was 'watchin' th' peoples' and refused to say anything more.

Vin colored three pictures, painstakingly printing 'To Dad' at the top of each and 'Love, Vin' at the bottom. After finishing each one he handed the book to Josiah so that the big man could carefully tear the page out.

The boys ate two snack bars apiece, with some coaxing from the men, and washed them down with a box of juice. And still they waited. Then, finally, they all looked up when they heard someone calling for 'the Larabee family'. The nurse informed them that Chris had indeed broken his leg and he would have to stay overnight. However, they were getting him settled in a room, and they could go see him in a few minutes.

To everyone's surprise, JD began sobbing loudly.

"Hey Li'l Bit, what's wrong?" Buck shifted the little boy in his lap, trying to catch his attention. The child continued to cry for several minutes before they could get anything out of him.

"I don't… I don't… wanna go… see… see Chris!"

"Why not?" Wilmington asked quietly.

"Cause… he hurted his leg… an' that means… they're gonna… c-cut it… cut it off!"

Buck groaned and exchanged a look with Josiah. How long would any leg injury translate to an amputation? "JD, listen to me. They're not going to cut Chris' leg off."


"No, they're not. What happened to him is different from what happened to Joey. What happened to him is like what happened to Vin. You remember when Vin had his arm in a cast, right?"

"But… that was a arm!"

Grinning compassionately, the little boy's foster father said, "Listen, Li'l Bit, it's not because it was his leg instead of his arm. He broke one of the bones inside, just like Vin broke one of the bones inside his arm. It's different from what happened to Joey. I promise."

JD sniffed hard and wiped a pudgy hand over his face. He knew that his Da didn't promise things that weren't true. Tentatively he looked into the blue eyes that had come to mean security. "Promise?"

Kissing the top of the child's head and hugging him tight, Buck said, "Promise."

As Vin paused in retelling the accident, Will asked, "How are you feeling about Chris having to stay overnight, Vin?"

"I was sad. I… I cried most a th' way home," he admitted softly.

"Were you worried that he wouldn't come home?"

The seven-year-old shook his head and started to deny that had been on his mind. Then he paused, knowing that he had to always tell Dr. Will the truth. Otherwise he couldn't learn to deal with the bad feelings.

Nodding, he said, "Sort 'a. Buck an' Unca' 'Ziah both said he'd be home the next day. An' Dad said he'd be home 'fore I got home from school. But… I was still… sort 'a scared."

Lowery nodded. Vin still harbored a lot of fears of abandonment, and had good reason for it given his background. "So, tell me about the next day."

Blue eyes glowed and the little face lit with a smile. "Dad was home when I got home from school!"

The therapist smiled at the obvious relief and the fact that, while frightening, the experience had served a purpose. It was one more example for the child that his foster father was not going to abandon him. With a wink, he said, "Just like he, Buck and Josiah promised."

"Yep," Vin said happily.

Pausing long enough to allow the quiet boy time to add more, the doctor said, "Well I'm glad, Vin. Okay, tell you what. I'm going to take JD to my office for a little while now. Then, when we're through talking, you and I will have a visit. Then when we're through all of us will talk a little more. How does that sound?"

Pausing and looking at each of the others, Lowery received affirmative responses. Standing, he put his hand out to JD. "Okay, Bob the Builder, come with me?"

Giggling at Dr. Will's teasing, the five-year-old slid from the chair and took the big man's hand. Waving to the other two, he said, 'I'll be back in a minute Buck. You can take the blocks apart if you want Vin."

Behind the two departing figures, Wilmington and little Tanner exchanged a smile.

They settled into the therapist's office, JD climbing up into one of the padded chairs. Settling into the chair at his desk, Dr. Lowery said, "I thought I'd wait until we came in here to ask you about something, JD."

"'Kay," Little boy Dunne replied. He sat in the big chair, short legs sticking straight out and chubby arms lying along those of the chair. Huge hazel eyes peered up at the man expectantly.

"I'd like you to tell me about what you were thinking when you were all at the hospital, waiting for Chris."

The big eyes turned troubled and he looked away, picking at the material of the chair. The room was quiet for several minutes before he finally said in a quiet voice, "I was thinkin' that he was gonna get his leg taked off."

"Like your friend, Joey?" When the little brunet nodded, he said, "How did you feel about that?"

Giving the professional a look that said he considered his question foolish JD said, "I was scared."

"Sounds like you had every right to be scared. I know I would have been if it had been me."

With a curious expression, the five-year-old said, "Really?"

"Well sure. It's scary when you're not sure what's going on."

"Yeah, it is," JD agreed.

"So, you were thinking that Chris would have his leg taken off and you were feeling scared. What did you do?"

"Do?" When the Doctor simply nodded, the little boy frowned. After a pause, he said, "I don't know."

"Well, did you let Buck know that you were feeling scared?"

"No," the little boy admitted, worried that he had done something wrong.

"Did you ask what was going on?"

"Uh-uh," he dropped his gaze to the toes of his shoes.

"Did you think about asking?"

JD shrugged. "No."

"When you found out that Chris wasn't going to have his leg taken away, how did you feel?"

"Really good," the five-year-old said with a smile.

"I'll bet." Will smiled. Then he asked, "Do you think you would have felt better earlier if you had asked someone what was going on?"

The little boy frowned, thinking about the man's question. After some thought he said, "Yeah… maybe."

"Did you hear Buck while ago, when he was talking about his bad feeling about laughing at Chris?"

"Yep. I was buildin' with the blocks, but I was listenin', too," JD assured the therapist.

"I thought you were. So, what did he say he would do with that bad feeling?"

"He…" JD frowned, little head cocking to one side. Heaving a frustrated sigh, he said, "I can't 'member."

"That's okay," Lowery said. "What he said was he would let that bad feeling remind him how to do things differently - "

"Oh yeah!" The brunet chirped. "He said he would 'member to make sure that nobody was hurted next time. An' if they wasn't then he'd laugh."

With a chuckle, the doctor said, "Close enough. So, maybe you could let this remind you next time that someone hurts their leg to do something…"

When the man didn't finish, JD tried to figure out what he was going to say next. When Dr. Will didn't say anything after a minute he said hesitantly, "Maybe I should ask 'bout it next time?"

Flashing a smile and a 'thumbs up' the therapist said, "Sounds like a plan to me." Then his face grew serious and he continued. "JD, I know that what happened to Joey was really scary, and that you really care about her. It's okay to feel sad about it, but bad things aren't always going to happen when someone hurts their leg."

"'Kay," the dark head bobbed up and down. "Is it Vin's turn to come talk to you now?"

"Almost," Will answered, "but I'd still like to talk to you for a few minutes. Is that okay?"

"Sure. What'cha wanna talk about now?"

"I wanted to talk a little more about why you didn't ask." The child gave him a somewhat sour look, but the man continued. "How did Vin act? Did he have his 'empty face' on?"

"No, not really. He was scared 'til he talked to Chris an' then he wasn't scared. But then he was sad 'cause he couldn't ride in Unca' 'Ziah's 'burban an' he cried. Then he was a little scared and angry when we was in the hopsipal 'cause he wanted to be with Chris but he couldn't. Then we got to see Chris but he was really sleepy 'cause they gived him some med'cine so they could fix his leg and he was happy. He got to hug him and sit on the bed 'side him 'til we had to go home. Then he was sad again 'cause Chris had to stay at the hopsipal an' he couldn't stay with him 'cause it's 'ginst the rules and Chris was gonna sleep anyway. So he cried 'bout all th' way home."

"And what about you? After you saw that Chris still had his leg, how did you feel?"

"Fine," JD said with a shrug.

The therapist had formed a hypothesis earlier about where he needed to go with this little boy. JD's responses helped him fine tune it. JD was so used to looking to Vin for cues, especially about feelings, that he had no idea how to recognize his own feelings. That left him with responses like the one in the hospital, simply because he didn't know how to deal with those feelings.

"Hey, you know what?" Will said as he turned to one of his office file cabinets and opened the bottom drawer.

"What?" JD craned his neck, trying to see what the man was doing.

"I have a little corkboard here that has nothing on it." He drew the little rectangle from the drawer and turned back to his young client. "Would you like to help me decorate it?"

"Sure. I'm good at dec'ratin'."

"I thought so," Lowery said. Laying the corkboard aside he turned back to the file cabinet and opened another drawer. Pulling out a bulging folder, he turned back to the boy again. "Okay, I have a bunch of pictures here and I'd like you to pick one out for me."

"'Kay. What kind 'a picture?"

"Well, all of these pictures are cartoons, and all of the cartoons have an expression on their face. Do you know what I mean by expression?" When the child shook his head no, he said, "It's the way people show their feelings."

"Oh! You mean like when Da says that Chris has to stop glarin' at folks 'cause Vin already knows how to make a 'baby glare'?"

Lowery was almost undone by the child's innocent comment and he laughed heartily. When he was able, he said, "Yeah, like that. What emotion do you think a glare shows?"

"MAD!" JD said adamantly.

"Exactly. Okay, so that's an expression. I want you to look at the pictures in the folder and find a picture that shows how you felt this week. Does that make sense?"

"Yep." The little brunet began digging through the folder.

"Okay, while you do that, I'm going to make something else to put on the board."

"'Kay," JD said distractedly.

By the time Will had made his contribution to the project, the initials "JD" tacked to the middle of the board, JD had made his decision. "This one, Doctor Will," he said softly.

The therapist looked to find the child holding up the picture of a crying frog. With a nod, he said softly, "tell me about it, JD, why did you choose this picture?"

"Cause I was sad when Chris got hurt."

"Very good," he paused briefly and then asked, "Did anything else make you sad?"

Chewing his lip as he thought about the question, the little brunet said, "Kind 'a."

"Kind 'a?" Will repeated.

Nodding thoughtfully, JD said, "I was kind 'a sad 'cause Vin's been sad a lot."

"About Chris?"

"Sometimes he was sad about Chris, but he was sad 'fore Chris gotted hurt."

"And that made you feel sad?" When the child nodded once more, he said, "I can understand that. Vin's very important to you, isn't he?"

"Yeah, course Vin's 'portant," JD replied.

"And you always know how Vin feels, don't you?" When the brunet shrugged, he said, "It was important for you to know how he was feeling when the two of you were living alone, wasn't it?"

"Yeah, 'cause Vin knowed when bad things could happen."

"But you have lots of adults to help keep you safe now, right?"

"Yep. Da an' Chris an' Unca' 'Ziah an' Unca' Ezra an' Unca' Nathan an' Aunt Raine, an' Mz. Potter an' Mz. Nettie - "

"And lots of other people," Lowery knew the boy well enough to know he would list every adult in his life if he didn't redirect him. "So here's what I'm thinking. How about you and I talk about your feelings when you come to visit?"

"My feelings?"

"Yeah, just yours. So here's what I'd like you to do for me. Every evening I want you and Buck to talk about what feelings you had during that day. They don't have to be the same feelings that Vin had, they can be just your feelings alone. Can you do that?"

"I think," The little brunet nodded, but his face showed some confusion.

The doctor had expected that. JD would need help in exploring his feelings so that he could begin separating them form those of his friend. "Okay, and I'd like to explain it to Buck, too, so he'll be able to help you, is that all right with you?"


"Okay. Shall we put your picture on the board now?"

"Okay." He grinned when he saw the red letters in the middle. "Hey! It says my name!"

"It sure does. That's because when you come in to see me each week we're going to put another picture on the board and that will help us to talk about your feelings."

"Cool." Little Dunne accepted the tack Lowery handed him and carefully pinned the little picture in one corner. "There, that way we'll have lots 'a room."

"Sounds like a plan to me. So, shall we go see what's happening in the toy room and let you get back to building… Bob the Builder?"

With a giggle the five-year-old nodded, and led the way from the room.


Comments: LaraMee