Universe: AU2/Brothers Larabee
Summary: Holidays are never uneventful at the Double L
Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em...damnit!
A story inspired by a little piece Phyllis sent my way with a huge 'this
would make a great JD story' attached to it! Oh, and I have to thank her
for most of the 'gift ideas', too LOL
Placing bags and parcels on the back seat of his Blazer, JD Dunne balanced his cell between his ear and his shoulder as he closed one door and opened the door to the driver's seat, before jumping behind the wheel.
"...I got carried away and I'm running late..."
He laughed softly at the reply. "...I know, who'd have thought a mall would stay open until six on Christmas Eve?" He laughed again. "Tell Buck I lost track of time, not my hearing...I can hear him mumbling away back there."
Saying his goodbyes, the youngest of the Larabee brothers started the engine and pulled out of the underground garage to head for home.
At the Double L ranch, four men turned toward the fifth as he took a call, relieved to hear Chris laughing and telling JD to watch the roads and that they would see him soon, the sixth brother, Buck, mumbling in the background about the time and the fresh snowfall over the last four hours.
"He could hear you, Buck," Chris admonished as he ended the call.
"Good...I mean, come on...it's Christmas Eve...he should be here, now, drinking eggnog and eating turkey sandwiches, not freezing his buns out on frozen roads."
"The kid sounded happy, Buck," Chris stated, accepting a bottled beer from Vin as the Texan passed by the pair to drop into a chair close to the roaring log fire. "Don't make him feel bad for having a little fun."
Buck nodded his thanks for his beer from Vin and relaxed into a recliner. "Aww, come on, stud, you know I don't mean anything by it. The kid knows it too...I just worry, is all."
All six brothers took up seats.
"Well," Chris replied, "he's happy and in good health, so quit whining and pass the chips."
Approaching the final store before heading into the `wilds' of Nevada, as Ezra once put it, the Blazer sputtered, twice, then died, rolling to a halt on the dark highway. JD stared, exasperated.
Ignoring the squeaky pitch to his voice, JD turned the ignition over several times before realizing he was screwed. Leaning heavily over the wheel and gazing out through the front windshield, he stared at the lights of a nearby gas station. With a heavy sigh, JD climbed out of the stalled truck and, with his right hand on the wheel to guide the vehicle, and his right shoulder pressed in hard against the framework, he began pushing the it toward the store, figuring to call his brothers for assistance when he got to a safer location.
Because he had only been going to the mall, JD was wearing just a white t-shirt, denim jacket, jeans, gloves, scarf and sneakers, so he shivered the instant he stepped out into the frigid air. As he grunted and pushed his way toward the gas station, he could hear Chris and Buck's voices in his head, admonishing him for not taking a warmer coat, or at least to have a blanket in the truck...and as for his sneakers...
JD sighed again. They would have been right. The earlier snow was still on the ground and soaking into his shoes nicely, and, he looked up, there was fresh snow falling.
"Oh...great..." he mumbled, blinking snowflakes out of his dark lashes as they assaulted him, quietly grateful that he was not too far away from the garage, now. Pushing a truck without the aid of power steering was not one of JD's best moments. With a grunt, he pushed on.
Lonnie Rollinson yawned and checked his watch. One more hour and his holiday officially began. Not many people had called into the gas station in the latter part of his shift. The lady at the pump was his first customer in three hours. Not that she was buying much; the meter was only on $5 and hadn't moved for a few minutes. He figured, the way she was searching her purse, she hadn't enough cash on her to go higher. Lonnie glanced across to the MacDonald's next door, nodding to himself. Yep...he'd head on over there for a Big Mac Meal at shift end, then, home.
Moving the Blazer onto the garage forecourt was considerably easier than through the snow on the highway. His breath showing white as he panted, JD leaned in and applied the parking brake, pushing soaked black hair from his eyes.
"Thank the Lord for that," he muttered.
He wondered if he should call a tow truck or his brothers, deciding to call home, they'd probably only complain that he hadn't called them if he got towed. He smiled at the lady standing at the pumps a short distance away as he searched for his cell, but, before he could dial, the woman seemed to fall against the pump. Tossing his phone onto the driver's seat, JD raced over to help her, quickly realizing she was actually crying.
"Ma'am...are you okay?" Compassion flooded through the young man as the woman seemed inconsolable. Taking her arms, he pulled her gently into an embrace, something she appeared deeply grateful for.
"Can my kids see me crying?" she sobbed.
JD frowned, looking around, realizing, for the first time, her battered old Volvo was hooked up to the gas pump and three pairs of eyes were looking their way.
"Not quite, Ma'am. Look, I know you don't know me, but...can I help?" He fished into his pocket. Cursing softly, he eased her away from him. "Hang on, I'll be right back."
Returning to the truck, JD leaned in and grabbed a pack of Kleenex. Taking his keys from the ignition, he slammed the door closed and locked the Blazer before heading back to the distraught woman.
She gratefully accepted the tissues, finally coherent enough to speak. "I'm sorry, I just don't want my kids to see me like this." She took a breath. "It's just that...my husband died two months ago, and I've come to realize I can't manage. I have no income except a meager allowance from his pension. With three young children, I can't work, and the mortgage is due in early January, and seeing as I haven't been able to make the last two payments, my home is about to be repossessed."
JD's heart pinched as he listened to her story. He knew only too well how it felt not to know where your next paycheck was coming from...and whether it would be enough. Taking a quick look at the children in the car, JD squeezed her arm.
"Do you live close by?"
She shook her head. "No, I've been traveling from Denver, heading for California. You see, my parents didn't approve of my husband, so we haven't spoken for five years. They haven't even met my two youngest... actually, they didn't even know they had been born. But I needed help, so I called them." She smiled, for the first time and JD realized, also for the first time, that this tired, drawn woman before him was really quite pretty.
"They were so happy to hear from me. Told me to just pack up and come home." She looked at her car, JD tracking her movements and staring at the tired-looking vehicle stuffed to the brim with all manner of personal effects, plus three small children, one in a car seat. He turned his gaze back on hearing her sigh.
"But, I haven't enough money to get there, so I guess we'll be sleeping in the car again tonight. The children don't even realize we're moving, I just told them we were going to visit grandma and grandpa for Christmas...looks like we'll be a little late, now."
JD straightened. Suddenly, it all became clear. Reaching around his neck, he unwound his scarf and wrapped it around the woman's, then tugged off his gloves and gave her those, too. Pulling out his wallet, he placed a credit card in the pump slot and pressed the restart button.
"Fill up your car. I'm just gonna go in the store, then we'll take ourselves over to MacDonald's and get some food, okay?"
The woman stared at him in shock. "Wh...why? Why would you do that for me? You don't even know me."
JD grinned back as he walked to the store. "Why not? I'll just be a minute."
When he returned, the car's tank was filled to the brim and the woman was unbuckling the youngest from her child seat. JD looked at the older two, neither child more than six, and squatted down.
"Hi. Santa Claus heard you got stuck here, so wanted to make sure you got a gift to show he hasn't forgotten you while you're traveling." He handed over two teddy bears, passing the third one to their mom for the little one. JD stood. "You guys ready to go eat?"
Eager wide eyes stared back at him as they first glanced at their mom for approval, then nodded vigorously.
"Cool, let's do it."
At the Double L, Vin glanced across, sighing as Buck shook his head and closed his cell phone.
"At what point am I allowed to panic?" the brunet asked, directing his question at Chris.
The blond pursed his lips. They had expected JD a half hour ago, and the kid wasn't answering his cell. "He might just be in a black spot."
"That doesn't explain him being late," Nathan reminded.
"It's snowing..." Chris started, wincing at Buck's huff, knowing exactly what he and the others were thinking...because he was, too.
"Chris," Buck pleaded. Larabee nodded.
"We try his cell a few more times. When he gets to an hour over...we'll go looking."
They all nodded. Buck was already mentally preparing...this was going to be one of the longest half hours of their lives.
Inside the diner, the little group got settled and JD approached the counter, ordering the biggest meal he could for the woman he now knew as Elspeth. The staff knew JD, he would sometimes call in on the way home from town, or Rosie's...not that he ever admitted that to his brothers, who, apart from Vin, seemed to disapprove of the fast food restaurant.
"Also, Kyle, I want three `Happy Meals', you know, with the toys...can I get three stuffed purple dinosaurs?"
The youth serving nodded.
Realizing he didn't have much more cash on him, JD asked a question. "Oh and...do you have some way of me being able to pay for them to eat in another restaurant on the way to where they're heading?"
"We have gift certificates. They can be exchanged in any MacDonald's restaurant."
JD nodded. "Cool...give me thirty dollars worth." He hoped that would be enough as he handed over his card.
The children devoured their food quickly and the two oldest went to play in the soft play area. JD and Elspeth talked for ages while the youngest dozed in her high-chair.
"...So...I pushed the truck in here." JD finished his brow furrowing as Elspeth grinned back at him. "What?"
"The roads are empty, yet you broke down right here, right where you were needed. God bless you, JD, you were truly Heaven sent, today."
"Aww, it was just dumb luck I broke down here." He started to clear up the wrappers, his gaze catching his watch. "Aww shit...uh sorry... shoot...look at the time, my brothers are gonna roast me for this."
"You haven't called them?" she asked.
JD looked at her, sheepishly. "Nope...kinda forgot, what with all this. Are you warm enough to leave, yet?"
Elspeth nodded. "Oh yes, thank you." She went to offer him his scarf and gloves back as they stood.
"That's okay, keep `em. And here," he handed over a cardboard wallet. "Here are some coupons to get more food as you travel. Kids get hungry real fast, don't they?" he grinned.
Elspeth caught a sob as she took the vouchers, then threw her arms around his neck, kissing him on the cheek as she pulled back. "I don't know what brought you here, but I thank God for sending me my very own Guardian Angel. I'll never forget what you've done for us, today, JD. Thank you."
The youth smiled as he watched her step back. "Ma'am...not so long ago I lost everything. I couldn't imagine ever being happy again. Then a letter arrived, telling me who my father was, and that I had six big brothers. So, I moved here, to be with them...and I've never looked back. I don't have enough words to tell you how much I love them, but, what I *can* say is, to me...family's everything." He took her hand as they made their way back to her car.
"Have a safe journey home, Elspeth, and a happy life."
A few minutes later, JD was waving at the disappearing Volvo until it was out of sight. Jumping into the Blazer, he picked up his cell, wincing at the eight missed calls. Cursing softly at his lack of consideration, he dialed.
Six men were dressing for the elements. JD was over an hour late now and still out of touch. They were all worried, but Buck's lack of ability to keep it in check caused several verbal outbursts from the man. Just before setting out to round up their lost lamb, the house phone rang. Chris snatched it up, closing his eyes momentarily, as he listened.
"Where the *hell* have you been? Buck's worried sick here...we were just about to..."
The relieved sighs said it all, but the brothers frowned as Chris went quiet and listened. He put the phone on speaker.
"...and it just died...I mean, no warning, nothing. Then I met this lady who was stranded...long story, I'll tell you later. So, what should I do? Get towed, or can Vin come take a look?"
Tanner stepped closer to the phone. "When was the last time you tried it, JD?"
"Just after it died...why?"
"Try it again, in case it was flooded."
"Vin, I *know* when I've flooded an engine...it's not..."
"Will you just do it!" Buck yelled out, impatiently.
It went quiet, JD finally answering. "Uh, yeah...sure, sorry."
Buck's heart clenched at the now subdued tone from his little brother. Fending off glares from the others, he spoke again.
"Kid, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to yell at you...it's just..."
"It's okay, Buck," JD answered, his voice picking up a little. "I guess I deserved it. I really should have called...whoa!"
They all grinned as the sound of an engine firing came over the speaker.
"I don't believe that," JD squeaked. "It was dead...I swear..."
"Just get your ass back here...we'll worry about the why's and wherefore's after the holiday," Chris ordered.
JD disconnected and the six men heaved more relieved sighs, slowly taking off their outerwear and making preparations to welcome home their youngest.
As the garage door closed behind him, JD trudged, with his packages, across the snowy yard to the house. He had realized on his drive home, his feet were freezing. They had likely gotten wet when he was pushing the truck through the snow, and now JD could barely feel them. His jacket felt damp, too. He could hardly wait to get indoors, now. Pushing open the door, JD was surprised to find it all quiet... for about ten seconds, when, from the kitchen, six men converged on him.
"'Bout time, squirt!"
"Good to see you took it steady, JD."
"Welcome home, John Daniel."
"Would you care for some hot chocolate?"
"You do that to us again and I'll whup your ass!"
JD's grin lit up the room, competing with the twinkling Christmas tree in the corner. Grinning at the youth, Josiah and Vin took his packages to place with the others under the tree. JD grunted as Buck pushed forward and pulled him into a clinch. JD patted Buck's back, but slowly relaxed into the embrace. He was cold and tired and it felt good. A small noise from the boy caused Buck to pull back.
"Nothing, I'm fine," JD winced. "My feet got wet and cold, and now they're hurting a little, is all."
Relieved of his jacket, he was instantly guided to a recliner, where Buck pushed JD back and the brunet and Nathan each took a foot and pulled off the wet sneakers and socks.
"Guys!" JD yelped, a little embarrassed by the attention, soon yelping harder as warm hands on his cold feet caused more pain as feeling started to come back.
Undeterred and taking some fresh towels from Ezra, the two men massaged the cold extremities until a little color, other than blue, returned. JD's focus firmly on Buck and Nathan, he didn't see anyone else approach until a towel dropped onto his head and someone started rubbing at his wet hair.
"Ow...quit it, I can do it my..." Peeking out from under the towel he saw Chris was the one drying his hair, so JD shut up. The smell of hot chocolate reached him and, with thick, dark hair now sticking up every which way, he gratefully accepted the steaming mug from Ezra. Wrapping his cold hands around the big container, JD inhaled.
"This is great, thanks." He grinned up at Josiah as the oldest brother offered him a turkey sandwich.
Nathan disappeared, returning with fresh fluffy white socks and placing them on JD's feet.
"How many times have you been told about wearing sneakers in bad weather?" Buck asked, rising.
"I know," JD nodded, "but I like to wear sneakers."
"Not in snow," Nathan warned standing and wagging a finger in JD's direction.
JD just nodded, figuring it would be the easiest way to go. One by one, the brothers took seats around him.
"So...what happened," Chris insisted.
Sipping on his hot chocolate, JD told his tale, with no embellishments, just simply that he got the lady back on her way. He figured he had no reason to go over what the poor woman had been through. Afterwards, as the others discussed opening gifts, the call of the warm fire, hot chocolate and weariness from a long, cold evening took their toll on JD and all conversation stopped as the brothers realized their youngest was asleep.
Chris grinned. "I guess we'll be opening presents tomorrow, then."
Buck and Vin rose together, both approaching JD. "I got him, big guy," Vin smiled.
With a return smile and nod, Buck started helping with the clear up, the brothers deciding on getting an early night and maybe an early start the next morning.
Vin tapped JD's face, gently. "Hey, kid...how about doing this in a nice, warm bed, huh?"
Inhaling noisily, JD squinted through sleepy eyes. "Hmm?"
"Bed!" The Texan restated.
JD still practically asleep, Vin gestured toward Buck. "Little help," he grinned.
With a chuckle, Buck joined them and between the pair, JD was guided toward his room and helped into bed, though, he was hugely unaware of what was going on. Vin marveled at that, deciding JD must feel totally secure to allow himself to be so relaxed. Tanner hoped he too could feel that way one day. Although, he had to admit, he was a lot less restless these days than when he first arrived at the ranch.
In less than an hour, the house was in darkness and Christmas Eve moved quietly into Christmas Day for the Larabee brothers.
A squeak on the landing caused a fully clothed JD to peek out of his door, the youth grinning on seeing Vin. "You couldn't sleep any longer either, huh?"
"Nope...I can't believe I'm sayin' this, but, I'm excited."
JD chuckled, stepping out to join his brother. "Me too," he whispered. "Let's go get some coffee."
The pair tended to the horses, first, then went back inside for a hot drink, surprised to see the others up and breakfast started.
"'Morning," five brothers called out to their youngest.
"'Mornin'," the pair chorused back.
Half an hour later, breakfast was over with and, coffees in hand, the seven men headed for the big room and the Christmas tree. They had all agreed to keep it simple this Christmas. They wanted for nothing, so decided to get more `fun' gifts this year.
Nathan kicked off the gift exchange, handing out his packages with a huge grin on his face. They all laughed at the appearance of well- equipped first aid kits. JD frowned as he looked at his and Vin's.
"Hey...how come mine and Vin's are twice as big as the others'?"
Ezra snorted. "Really, JD...you truly have to ask that?"
JD and Vin exchanged looks, the latter nudging his younger brother playfully with his shoulder as the others chuckled.
"Oh, right," JD grinned.
Next, Ezra handed his gifts out. Each delicately wrapped parcel revealed a good manicure set. "I have seen your nails, gentlemen... trust me, you need these."
Laughing, the brothers balled up their discarded wrapping paper and tossed it at the southerner before thanking him.
Josiah retrieved his gifts from under the tree and handed them out, smiling at the little gasps his key-chain medallions produced. "They're white gold and are Guardian Angel medals. I can't always be with each of you, so I wanted to delegate my care at such times, hoping you will always feel I am with you, even if only in spirit."
His eyes glistening at the thought behind the gift, JD squeaked out a thank you, noting the other brothers doing the same.
JD went next, his parcels revealing leather working gloves, which drew contented sounds of approval and thanks. He then handed out envelopes. Each one contained certificates for seven activities; paintballing, hill walking, abseiling, bungee jumping, yachting, a balloon ride and an appointment at a film studio where Old West films were made. For a moment no one spoke, so JD filled in the silence.
"I bought one of each activity for each of us, figured it'd be more fun...to do them together."
"Words fail me," Ezra finally said.
"...I know it's a little more than we agreed to get," JD explained, "but...when I saw them, yesterday, at the mall...I couldn't resist."
They all grinned, thanking him. "They're perfect," Chris assured.
Vin handed his gifts out next. Inside a small box was a hoof- pick. "You should always have one with you, especially when ridin'," he smiled. Accompanying them were small tool kits. "For your trucks," Vin explained, hoping he had covered all traveling eventualities.
Buck and Chris rose together, picking up and placing a large box in the center of the floor. "For quiet nights in," Buck clarified.
With a nod from the others, Vin and JD got down on the floor and ripped open the package, revealing seven films, all westerns, and several large containers of microwave popping corn.
"Awesome!" the two said in unison, handing around the films to the others as they grinned and nodded their approval.
"We can start tonight!" JD chirped.
Chris left the others chatting while he walked to the bar to pour some whiskies. On hearing the phone ring, he moved to answer it.
"No, he's with his brothers, I'll just go get him..."
"No, please, don't disturb him. My name is Hancock, my daughter's name is Elspeth. Yesterday, the young man helped my daughter reach home safely, filling her car with gas and buying her and my grandchildren food. The wallet with the food vouchers in had a receipt. I called the store number on it and a young man told me JD lived at the Double L ranch. I hope you don't mind me intruding on your Christmas festivities, but I simply had to say `thank you' for such kindness."
As the man spoke, Chris was staring at JD, his eyes shining with pride as he grinned at the headlock JD almost had Vin in before being upended. Realizing the man had stopped speaking, Chris cleared his throat. "I'll...see he gets the message. Thanks for calling, sir and... Merry Christmas."
Returning to the group with a tray of whiskies, Chris encouraged them all to stand as he handed out the drinks. He held up his glass.
"To family. There isn't a day goes by I don't thank God for guiding you all to this ranch. I'm not usually a man of emotion, but I wanted to say...I care deeply, for all of you." He raised his glass higher. "Family!"
Taking a second to absorb Chris' words, the others raised their glasses, also.
The whiskies were knocked back, JD spluttering instantly at the burning it caused. Buck patted his back and grinned as Chris produced a glass of milk, the blond crooking a finger at JD, who approached. JD raised his hand to take the glass.
"I just got a call...man's name was Hancock." JD frowned, his brothers sporting similar expressions.
"He has a daughter...Elspeth. "
JD gasped. "But...how? We didn't exchange numbers. She got home okay?"
"She did," Chris beamed, placing a hand on JD's shoulder and squeezing. "Sounds like you did a hell of a lot more than just see she got off okay."
JD blushed. "No more than any one of you would do."
Releasing his youngest brother, Chris looked at the others' confused expressions and briefly filled them in.
"Maybe we'll let you off for not calling, this time, huh?" Buck announced, approaching the youth. He squeezed the back of JD's neck, applying a little more pressure than necessary.
"But *only* this time...got it, squirt?"
"Got it," JD nodded, trying to duck out of the grip, giving up as Buck pulled him in close.
"I'm proud of you, kid." The brunet whispered in JD's ear.
JD looked up at him, grinning. Both taking a glass of eggnog as Nathan passed them around, they clinked their glasses, turning to do likewise with the other five as they wished each other a `Merry Christmas'.
In a few hours, they would be enjoying a goose from Nettie's stock, and, at some point during the day, each man would reflect on loved ones missed, but strength was drawn on a bond built from love that was now unbreakable.
And truly magnificent.