"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe
Thanks to Ronnie and Winter and the chat group for feeding me ideas, bouncing titles, and asking, "Where's the fic?" This was supposed to be a small scene in a totally different story, but it took on a life of it's own. I "swiped" the shoe idea from Nancy, and Barbretta's theme for ATF LB. I'm told it needs a three hankie warning.
Vin grimaced as the crayon mark scrawled outside the line. It had been a hard day. Vin had been in trouble at school for not paying attention. He had taken his frustration out on JD, and thus gotten into trouble with Buck at dinnertime. Chris was still at work and wouldn't be home until late. And now he couldn't even color in his color book right.
"Okay boys, time for bed," said Buck, wiping his hands on the dishtowel as he stood in the entry to the den.
Vin looked up at the clock from his color book. "It's not eight-thirty," he said, still bothered by the scolding at dinner. He had been quietly stewing on it all evening. It wasn't fair that Buck was upset with him. JD didn't do everything right all the time either. Vin was mad at Buck but he couldn't exactly figure out why or how to say he was angry.
"I know that, Junior," said Buck. "But tomorrow is a big day and we have to get up extra early."
"I'm not tired," snapped Vin.
"I not tired," echoed JD. If Vin was going to stay up, he sure wasn't going to go to bed.
Buck raised his eyebrows. It was one of the first times the boys had actually expressed any defiance. They were usually overly compliant in fear of losing their new family. It told Buck that they finally felt secure enough to risk disobedience, but he needed to deal with the defiance carefully and firmly.
"Boys, it doesn't matter if you are tired or not," said Buck. "You need to get ready for bed now, because we are getting up early, and you need to do what you're told."
JD got up and started towards the bedroom, but Vin stayed where he was and looked at Buck. "I want Chris," he challenged.
"Chris isn't going to tell you anything different. Get ready for bed," said Buck firmly.
"You're not the boss of me!" countered Vin, raising his chin defiantly.
Buck bristled inside at the challenge, but he kept his cool. "Now, that is where you're wrong, Junior. Chris and I share responsibilities equally in this home and whether you like it or not, I'm as much in charge as Chris. Now, you have a choice. You can do what I say and get ready for bed, or you can wait for Chris and face his discipline as well." Buck took a step towards Vin.
Any thought of defiance fled as Vin instinctively scooted away from the perceived physical threat, sliding under the table just out of reach of Buck. The man approaching him wasn't the fun-loving, kind-hearted agent who would do anything to protect him. It was a nightmare from the past come back to get him.
Without any idea of what was in Vin's mind, Buck reached under the table, grabbing hold of Vin's leg and pulling him out, intending to deal promptly with the defiance. Vin slid easily on the hardwood floor, but Buck was totally unprepared for the seven year old's reaction. Vin let out a blood-curdling scream and flung himself wildly trying to escape his captor. Tiny fists pummeled Buck's shoulder and arm, while Vin's free leg kicked as hard as he could.
"Vin!" called Buck. "Vin, stop it. It's all right!"
Buck caught one of the flailing arms, but released it quickly when Vin screamed in panic. Realizing that his actions were feeding the terror, but unwilling to let Vin remain alone in his panic, Buck did the only thing he could think of. He captured the thrashing child, pulling Vin into a hug, holding him tightly and speaking soothingly to him.
Vin continued to struggle, squirming kicking his feet, but he soon realized his efforts were futile against the much larger man. He went limp in his captor's arms and surrendered to his fate.
Buck felt Vin cease struggling, but he also felt the heart pounding rapidly against his chest and the ragged breathing of the frightened child in his arms. He rocked Vin, continuing his litany of soothing words, trying to calm the terror. Buck was heart broken that something he had done had caused such a traumatic response, but he was even more crushed that Vin had such a reaction at all.
A gasp from across the room drew his attention to JD, standing in the doorway sobbing silently, his whole body shaking from the effort of trying to draw a breath amidst the tears. Buck felt like a stake had been driven through his heart. How could he soothe Vin's terror and JD's at the same time? It was obvious that JD had seen the entire event and was either picking up on Vin's fear or frightened of Vin's reaction.
"It's all right, JD," he said softly.
At the sound of JD's name, Vin pulled his head away from Buck's chest. He tried to push away, and Buck let go. Buck grimaced as Vin moved away from him more quickly than he would like. He watched Vin go to JD and say something softly to him. JD sniffed and nodded, then ran to Buck and leapt into his arms, letting his tears flow freely.
By the time Buck got JD calmed down and took him to the bedroom, Vin was in bed, eyes closed, feigning sleep. Buck sent JD into the bathroom to get ready for bed.
"Vin," he said softly. "I know you're not asleep. I'm really sorry I scared you. You've got to know I would never hurt you. I just wanted you to listen and do what you were supposed to do. Will you tell me what scared you?"
Vin kept his eyes closed, but shook his head. His heart was still pounding as he tried to push away all thoughts of the occurrence.
"All right. Maybe tomorrow," said Buck with great reluctance. Vin was still scared and needed someone to help him deal with it. Buck rested his hand on Vin's leg and felt Vin flinch at the touch. "Chris will be home in a couple hours," he said sadly. "I'll have him check on you before he goes to bed, but if you need me before then, come get me. Okay?"
Vin nodded, but rolled over toward the wall and out of Buck's reach.
Chris walked into the living room and knew immediately something had happened. Buck sat in the recliner, a barely touched drink beside him, staring at some infomercial on the television.
"Buck?" said Chris as he hung his jacket on the coat tree. Buck didn't seem to hear him, he just stared at the TV. With his concern growing quickly, Chris walked across the room and shut off the television. "What's up?"
Buck brushed a sleeve across his eyes, picked up the glass and took a sip of the liquor. "What makes you think something's up?" he said.
Chris lowered himself onto the couch. This wasn't good. Buck didn't turn to the bottle to solve his problems.
Buck lowered the footrest on the recliner, set the glass back on the table and leaned forward in the chair, resting his elbows on his knees. "I scared the hell out of the boys tonight." Buck ran his hands through his hair. "I thought I was doing the right thing and ended up terrorizing them. I'm not cut out for this, Chris." Buck looked at his best friend. "I don't know what I was ever thinking when I thought I could be a good dad."
"What happened?" Chris prodded gently. He listened patiently as Buck recounted the bedtime incident, aching for his friend's distress as well as the boys' fear. Buck had done things the same as he would have, but there was no way either of them could have anticipated Vin's reaction to being pulled out from under the table. Buck obviously had no intention of hurting Vin, but Vin had not perceived it that way. Simply pulling him out hadn't injured the boy, but it definitely dredged up a nightmare from Vin's past. The doctor had warned them that things like this could happen and that they would just have to deal with it as it came.
"We'll work it out, Buck," he said quietly, wishing to himself that Vin and JD's next appointment with the therapist wasn't four days away. He didn't know what words to say to ease Buck's pain, let alone the boys' distress.
Buck cursed softly. He took a deep breath and blew it out. "I told him you'd check in on him when you got home."
Chris stood and moved toward the bedrooms. He stopped briefly, resting his hand on Buck's shoulder, then patted it in encouragement as he continued towards the boys' room.
He quietly pushed open the bedroom door and checked Vin's upper bunk in the dim glow of the night-light. The sheets were in disarray as if he had been thrashing in a nightmare, but Vin wasn't in the bed. Checking the lower bunk, his heart tugged at him. Vin was on the bed with JD, practically crushing himself against the wall - as far out of reach as he could get. Vin's arms were wrapped tightly across his tiny body, his fear expressing itself even in the way he slept. JD was snuggled up against Vin seeking his own form of security, both boys even sharing the same pillow.
Chris sat on the edge of the bed and pulled the blankets up over the boys. "I don't know how to make you understand," he said softly to the sleeping boys. "You are safe here. You can trust us. We'll make some mistakes along the way, but we'll always do our best for you." Unable to reach Vin, he settled for smoothing JD's hair.
"Sleep well." Chris sighed, stood and walked to the door, unaware of the blue eyes that followed his movements in the dimly lit room. As Chris closed the door, he didn't hear the whispered, desperate, "G'night."
When Chris left the room, all hope of keeping the memories at bay washed away. Vin's mind took him back to that terrifying time on the streets where a simple quest for food ended in running for their lives.
Three pairs of eyes watched hungrily as the man in blue jeans and a black t-shirt placed the sack into the garbage can in the McDonald's parking lot. The first pair of eyes was distracted momentarily by his five-year-old friend pulling his knees to his chest and trying to tuck his bare feet under his shirt tail to warm them.
Vin looked back to the garbage can, knowing he would have to hurry. A couple of homeless men had moved in on their territory and Vin and JD were too small to do anything about it. More than once the man with the scraggly beard had stolen the leftovers that Vin had pilfered from the trash. Vin wasn't about to let him steal this bag. He was hungry and it looked like the man who dropped the bag had barely eaten anything and put a full bag in the trashcan.
Vin looked around carefully, making sure scraggly beard and the wino weren't in sight, then darted to the trashcan and reached inside. He snatched the bag, which was surprisingly heavy and walked quickly back to where JD sat.
"Come on, JD. We better go home before they find us."
"Okay," said JD. He stood up and trotted barefoot next to his best friend as they walked towards their 'home.' "Is it good stuff?" asked JD. "I'm hungry."
"Come on," urged Vin, walking a little faster. He had the creepy feeling that someone was watching them.
The third pair of eyes cursed softly. It was just his stinkin' luck that some brat homeless kid would stumble across the drop. Big John would kill him if he didn't show up with the money. It would be easy enough to just grab the bag from the kid, but there were people around and the only thing that riled Big John more than losing some of his drug money was drawing attention to his operation. He'd wait. He'd follow the brat and teach him a little lesson as well as getting his money back.
Vin looked back again. He was still there. The man in the leather jacket had been following them since they left McDonald's. Vin pulled on JD's hand and hurried faster.
"Ow, Vin!" JD protested, unaware of any danger.
"Run, JD!" Vin hissed, pulling him into the street as the bus roared past. He pulled JD as fast as his pudgy bare feet would carry the five year old. They hurried around the corner, into the alley and crawled quickly into the window well. Vin pushed open the window and pressed JD inside. He winced as he heard the crate fall and JD's yelp of pain. He didn't mean to hurt JD, but they had to get out of sight quickly. He slipped through the window, dangling his feet for the crate, but all he found was air. He reluctantly dropped from the ledge, more frightened of the man outside than the fall to the floor.
Vin gasped as he hit the floor, a piece of a broken crate digging mercilessly into his side. Ignoring it, he moved quickly inadvertently scratching his arm on a nail in his rush to hide.
JD was shaken up by the fall from the crates that they had stacked to be able to reach the window, their entrance and exit from their 'home.' But he knew when Vin said to do something, you were to do it quickly and without question. His heart pounded as he crawled behind the big crate in the corner and squished over so Vin could get into the tiny space as well. He pressed his forehead against his knees, vainly hoping if he couldn't see the bad thing, it couldn't see him either. He felt Vin press tightly against him and could hear Vin breathing hard.
Vin peered around the end of the crate, watching the small window that was the entrance to their home, the basement of the abandoned building. He saw feet pause beside the window briefly, but they moved past. A few minutes later, they passed a second time going the opposition direction, but didn't tarry. Vin waited another ten minutes before he moved out from behind the crate.
"Can we eat now?" asked JD as his stomach growled. He crawled out of the small space, and stood with a yelp. "Ow!"
Vin looked at JD as the younger boy, hopped on one foot.
"What's the matter?" Vin asked.
"My foot hurts," JD whined softly.
"Well, sit down and let me look at it," answered Vin rather gruffly.
JD sat down on the pile of newspapers that served as their bed. He stuck his foot in Vin's face playfully, giggling as Vin pushed it away.
Vin grinned back at JD, then took hold of his foot and looked at it. JD had a chunk of wood sticking in the bottom of his foot from one of the broken crates. Vin was too young to know much of anything about medicine, but he did know JD needed the wood splinter removed. He took hold of it and yanked it out.
"Ow!" protested JD as tears brimmed in his eyes.
"Sorry," mumbled Vin as he retrieved the McDonald's bag. "We gotta find you some shoes." He heard JD sniff and turned to see the five year old crying. 'Shoes,' thought Vin. 'You had to go and say shoes.' He reached over and pulled the younger boy into a tight hug as he began to cry in earnest. "It's okay, JD," he soothed.
"I want my Mama," sobbed JD.
Vin wanted his Mama, too. Especially right now. She would know how to make JD feel better. She wouldn't have said something dumb like 'shoes' when she knew that JD's missing shoes made him remember his Mama. In the haste to get JD away from the situation of his Mama's murder, JD's shoes had been left behind. Now every mention of shoes would make the younger boy cry.
Feeling inadequate to help JD, he said the only thing that came to mind. "Are ya hungry?"
JD wiped his tears on his sleeve and nodded.
Both boys sat cross-legged as Vin opened the bag. His eyes grew larger at the discovery of the contents of the bag.
"Is there a hamgerber?" asked JD anxiously.
"No," gasped Vin. "It's money!" He looked up and brought up a handful of cash.
"Money?" JD grabbed the bag and looked inside. "Wow! There's a gazillion dollars in there!"
Vin looked at the window. This had to be what that man wanted. But Vin knew the law of the streets, finders keepers - losers weepers. He and JD needed money for food, for shoes for JD and for blankets. They were too little to work for money. This money would provide them food for a long time.
Vin straightened the money he held in his hand and laid it between them in a neat pile. He took the bag back from JD and hid it in the crates they called home. He walked back to JD and sat down, taking off his shoes and socks.
"Whatcha doin' Vin?" asked JD curiously as Vin put some bills in a sock and handed it to JD.
"Put it on," ordered Vin as he put money in the second sock.
JD obediently put on the first sock, followed quickly by the second. The paper felt funny, but his feet felt warmer.
"I'm still hungry."
Vin rolled his eyes. "What ya think I gave you the socks for?" Vin stood up after stuffing bills into his shoes and putting his shoes on. "You told me the sign at 'Donald's says 'No shirt, no shoes, no service.' Maybe they won't notice if ya just got socks on."
"Whatcha mean, Vin?" asked JD.
"We're going to go buy our food."
"Oh boy!" cheered JD.
He followed Vin and helped him restack the crates to get to the window. Vin climbed up the crates and peered cautiously out the window. He didn't see anyone and gave JD the all clear.
He was right. Big John was angry and he had the bruises to prove it. Big John had knocked him around and told him he was a dead man if he didn't get the money back. He had spared himself the humiliation of telling Big John that it was a punk kid who had taken the drop money.
He'd find the kid tomorrow. It was a safe bet he lived in some hole in the wall near the restaurant. He'd find him and give him a little of the treatment he'd just received.
Vin and JD walked into McDonald's as if they owned the place. The pair drew plenty of odd looks in their filthy, worn clothes, and dirt smudged faces. Vin surveyed the people working behind the counter, a bunch of teenagers and an old lady. He picked the old lady because she looked nice. He walked up to the counter with a ten-dollar bill in his hand. He had just one problem. He couldn't read the menu. He looked at the pictures on the menu sign behind the lady.
JD tugged on his sleeve. "Vin?"
"What?" asked Vin, somewhat annoyed by the interruption. It was hard to make people think you belonged, and JD was distracting him.
"I want one of them boxes with the games on it."
The lady behind the counter smiled. She had no doubt that these boys lived on the streets somewhere. Hopefully their families were nearby. "How can I help you?"
"Um..." stammered Vin, "What comes in the boxes?"
"Excuse me?" she asked.
Vin blushed in embarrassment. If he could read, he could tell her the right name.
"Vin," said JD, tugging on his sleeve again.
"What?" growled Vin. His frustration was getting the better of him.
JD frowned at the unexpected anger. "It doesn't say 'box' anywhere on that sign." He pointed at the menu board behind the counter.
Vin cringed. It bothered him that JD could read and he couldn't, but sometimes it came in handy. It was nice when JD could read the stories on the McDonald's boxes, or the signs, but Vin didn't want everyone else to know it.
Vin decided to try again. "You have boxes that have games on them."
"Yeah," said JD. "Sometimes they have stories or puzzles."
"Oh! You mean a Happy Meal?" she asked. With a smile, she realized that the boys didn't even know what a Happy Meal was. "You can have a hamburger, french fries and a drink, or chicken nuggets, french fries and a drink. A cheese burger is ten cents more."
"We'd like two, with hamburgers please," said Vin.
"That will be six dollars and seventy two cents," said the lady as she reached for the money.
"Where's the food?" asked Vin, pulling his hand back.
The lady smiled, recognizing his reluctance to part with his money. "It will be ready in a minute young man. I tell you what, why don't you and your friend go wash up in the restroom. When you're done, come back to me and I'll have your food right here." The rules said to get the money first, but she figured these two boys were hungry enough to come back and pay for their meal.
That seemed fair to Vin. He and JD hurried to the restroom, happy to use a real bathroom for once. Both boys took an extra few minutes to wash off a couple layers of grime from their hands and faces, and then hurried back to the counter.
The nice lady smiled at them and showed Vin that she had their meals on a tray. Vin held out the ten-dollar bill and waited while she made change.
"Thank you," said Vin as he pocketed the change and carefully picked up the tray. He and JD found a table by the play area and settled at the table.
JD moved his drink so he wouldn't spill it before opening his 'Happy Meal'. He opened the box and let out a squeal. "Vin, look!" He picked up the treasure. "There's a toy!"
Vin eagerly dug into his box. "Hey! There's a toy in mine too!"
"Of course there is," snorted a teenage boy across from them. "You stupid or somethin'? Happy Meals always have toys." The other teens seated with him laughed at the two little boys.
Vin scowled at them, but decided he'd rather eat. All the 'Happy Meals' that he and JD had seen never had toys. But then again, he supposed the kids who had the meals first kept the toys.
He and JD relished the fresh food, eating slowly, enjoying every bite. Eventually the teens left, giving them some peace.
"Can we get ice cream?" asked JD.
Vin shook his head. "We can't waste money."
"But we gots lots!" exclaimed JD.
"Shh!" warned Vin. He and JD could take care of themselves up to a point. If some big kid or some adult heard that they had money, they wouldn't be able to defend themselves.
"Can we at least play?" sighed JD.
Vin grinned eagerly. He wanted to play in the tubes and tunnels, the pool of balls and all the other toys in the play area. "Yeah!"
Both boys clutched their toys tightly and ran to the play area. Vin made sure his shirt was tucked in tightly, and then slipped his Happy Meal toy inside his shirt. He took JD's toy and tucked it inside as well, when the dark haired boy offered it to him. Then both boys dove into the pool of brightly colored plastic balls. They didn't notice the mother take her boy by the hand and pull him away from the ball pool.
Soon Vin tired of the balls and began climbing the jungle gym with JD close behind. He reached the top and waited his turn for two other boys to go down the curvy tube slide. JD was as fearless as Vin when it came to the toys, and jumped into the tube behind him, yelling with glee as he slid down and around, landing in the ball pool.
Two of the boys played chase with Vin and JD, crawling through the tunnels, sliding down the slides and generally just having fun. Suddenly, without explanation, two mothers came and told the boys to come. Vin watched the boys reluctantly leave, not understanding why they had to go until he overheard one of the mothers saying something about 'filthy' and 'stinking.' He looked at his clothes and felt the piercing pain of being different, of not being good enough to play with the other boys.
"Vin?" JD had sensed Vin's distress and stood next to his friend.
Vin smiled, pushing aside the hurt. "Let's play." He picked up a red ball and threw it into the pool of balls. "Find that one!" Both boys jumped in with a squeal.
The boisterous play continued until Vin noticed it was almost dark. "Oh!" he said with a start. "JD, we gotta go!" It wasn't safe to be out after dark, and JD didn't like the dark.
"Vin, it's dark!" said JD fearfully.
"Yeah. Come on." The seven year old led JD back into the dining room. He stopped at the counter and ordered two hamburgers and two apple pies. They might as well have a good breakfast too. Then both boys used the bathroom one more time before hurrying home.
They crawled onto their newspaper bed and Vin covered them up with more newspapers.
"Night Vin," said JD happily. His tummy was full and he had a fun time playing.
"Night, JD," said Vin. "Tomorrow we'll get a real blanket." Vin snuggled up closer to JD and suddenly remembered the toys in his shirt. He pulled both toys out and handed one to JD.
JD smiled and clutched his new toy with his left hand. His right thumb found it's way to his mouth as he drifted to sleep.
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