JD'S MISSED ADVENTURE by Phyllis Loafman

ATF "Little Britches" Universe

Disclaimers: The following is a work of fan fiction. The characters of Magnificent 7 are owned by and copyrighted to CBS, MGM, The Trilogy Entertainment, every one in the western world but me. Taking them out to play and promise to return them, no matter how much I want to keep them.

"JD? Are you sure you don't want to go on home? That medicine the doc gave you is pretty strong. You getting sleepy?" Buck glanced over at the small form buckled into the car seat.

Through a jaw-popping yawn, the little boy shook his head. "No, we promised Vin and Chris that we would stop. Can't go home without Vin's new boots." The little boy yawned again.

Wilmington shook his head as he smiled. The boy had woke with a cough on Sunday morning and, by Monday, it was obvious he would be seeing the doctor. After spending the better part of the morning in the pediatrician's office, Buck was tired. Four hours of whining and crying children had him wound tight. JD's cough was the result of a sinus infection that drained down the child's throat and settled in his lungs. The doctor explained to Buck that there was nothing to worry about. He gave JD a shot and prescribed something for his throat. Buck left the office with JD draped over his shoulder and a headache pounding in time to his heartbeat.

They hadn't been in the truck more than ten minutes when the little boy roused and smiled at his foster father. Suddenly, the headache didn't seem as bad or the wait as tedious as he remembered. Buck wondered again how he and Chris Larabee had survived before the two orphan boys had come into their lives. The man realized, not for the first time, that Buck Wilmington's life, BC (before children), was a dreary place. Seeing life through the eyes of a parent had changed his perception of the world; everything looked different to him now. Where before he had seen a big, friendly, slobbery dog, he now saw Cujo. What had once been viewed as a masterpiece of engineering, was now a deathtrap on wheels due to its lack of seat belts and double reinforced steel cage.

Yeah, Buck knew he had changed a lot since finding the two boys in the warehouse they had called home. For all the bumps and bruises, coughs and colds, broken dates, missing appointments, and late nights of chasing away the boogey man, Buck knew he would not go back to the dark life he had once had. He was a dad now and he was a better man for the experience.

He pulled into the Walmart parking lot and maneuvered the truck into the shade of one of the trees scattered around the parking area. JD was already fumbling with the buckle on his car seat.

"JD! Do NOT unbuckle that. You've been told about that." Seeing the child draw in a breath to say something, Buck continued. "I don't care if the truck is moving or parked, you let an adult undo that buckle. Am I making myself clear?"

The five-year-old nodded as tears spilled down his cheeks and he coughed into his small fist. Buck's anger was all show. He hated that he had scared the boy, but he wanted to make the child understand how important it was that he not undo the safety harness.

"Okay, then. How about we go inside and get Vin those boots Chris promised 'im?"

The boy's dark hair bounced as he said, "Okay." He then dutifully raised his arms so the man could unbuckle the seat belt. Once free, JD climbed out and over to the driver's side where Buck took him into his arms. Locking the truck, the duo headed into the store.

Buck grabbed a cart and sat JD into the child carrier and buckled him in. As he headed back to the shoes, he teased the boy. "Now, Vin said he wanted red boots, didn't he."

JD's eyes flew open. "NO." He gave a little cough as he protested.

Buck narrowed his eyes as he pretended to be thinking, his finger tapping his mouth. "Yep, I'm sure he said he wanted red boots. We better get him a red belt to match. What do ya think, lil' bit?"

The boy grabbed at the man's arm and tugged. "NO. Vin wants black boots. Black boots, like Chris'. Don't ya 'member?"

Wilmington laughed as he ruffled the dark hair. "Yeah, I remember, JD. I was only kidding."

"I know you remembered. You was trying to fool me."

"Can't put anything past you, can I?" They arrived at the shoes and wheeled down the aisle to the work boots. Vin and Chris had already picked out the boots, but the store did not have them in black that day. Getting a rain check, Chris told the eight-year old that the store would call when the correct size and color came in. Arriving home Saturday night, they found a message from the store on the answering machine. They had planned to drive in on Sunday, but JD being sick kept them close to home. Buck had told Chris he would stop on the way home with JD and get the boots if the boy was up to it.

Picking out the correct boots, Buck sat them in the cart, noticing that the normally talkative five-year old had grown silent. Buck felt the boy's head and JD glanced up at him with sleepy eyes.

"Think you can hang on a little while longer? I just need to get a couple of things and we'll be on our way home."

"I'm fine," he yawned. Then he leaned over and laid his head on his hands. The hard-nosed ATF agent bent down and kissed the back of the boy's head, smiling.

"Yeah, kid, you sure are." Buck pushed forward. He only needed a couple of things and he could get the boy home to rest. He headed to the automotive aisle and picked up oil and a filter for his beloved GMC truck. It was due an oil change and he had noticed the alternator belt was cracking last time he had lifted the hood. As long as he had the day off, he could get a little maintenance done on the truck. He walked around the corner, frowning at the loud music that poured out of the radio display. He began to study the belt charts, looking for the correct length. He heard JD cough a little just as he located the correct belt. Reaching up, he removed the belt and checked the stenciling to make sure it was right. Turning, he moved to toss the belt into the cart. He froze when he saw the empty carrier.

Dropping the belt, he moved to the cart as if JD were hiding in it. Panic seized the man's heart. "JD?" his voice failed him as terror seized his throat closed. In the time it took to glance up and down the aisle, his training kicked in and Buck started running to the front of the store.

Blowing through the cashier stands, he saw a man he recognized as the manager. Buck slid to a stop, startling the man. Breathlessly, he said, "Lock down the store. Someone's taken my son."

No questions were asked; time for that later. The man pulled a radio off his belt. "Jackie, lock her down. We have a Code Adam." The reply was instantaneous and the manager was already moving to an intercom. "Attention all associates, we have a Code Adam. Attention all associates, Code Adam."

There was a sudden flurry of motion as people started to move to the doors and stop people as they were leaving.

The manager instructed one of the women to call the police. "Sir," he asked as he turned back to Buck. "…what are we looking for?"

Buck raised his hands to describe the boy and saw them shaking. He dropped them back to his side as he told the manager. "He's five, black hair, hazel eyes. His name is JD. He's wearing blue jeans and a green t-shirt. He has on white sneakers." Buck's voice broke. "He's small for his age. He has a cough." His hand slipped into his pocket and drew out the medicine they had picked up at the pharmacy. "I have his medicine here."

The sound of sirens rose in volume and Buck turned to the doors. "We have to lock the doors."

"It's okay. No one has left. You wait here and I'll bring the police over. Just wait here." The man clasped Buck's wrist. "Why don't you put that back in your pocket?"

Looking down, Buck saw he was still holding the medicine out to the man. He nodded slowly and slipped the bottle back into his pocket. He took a deep breath. 'Come on, Wilmington. You're a federal agent. Start acting like a trained professional' he chastised himself. He closed his eyes and rolled his neck. Calm determination settled in and he watched as the police sergeant approached. "Officer. My name is Buck Wilmington. I'm an ATF agent. My ID is in my pocket along with a picture of my son."

"Can I see them, sir?" As Buck reached into his pocket, the officer introduced himself. "I'm Sergeant Stevens, agent. We'll find him." The man stated with confidence.

Buck handed over a picture of JD and his badge as the sergeant spoke to the manager. The police sergeant got the description and passed the word to his men. Five men moved out to check the store while four more took up positions at the doors and began to check people before allowing them to leave.

Turning to Buck, the sergeant asked. "What happened exactly?"

Buck took his badge as Stevens held it out. He distractedly jammed it into his hip pocket as he told his story. "JD was sick this weekend and I took him to the doctor. He has a sinus infection and bad cough. We were stopping to pick up a pair of boots we had a rain check for and I thought since I had the day off, I’d do an oil change on my truck. I was getting a belt to replace a worn one and I took a few seconds looking at the chart to be sure and get the right length. When I turned back, JD was gone."

"Mr. Wilmington, could the boy have wandered off?"

"No. He was in the child seat in the cart. He was sleeping. The doc gave him a shot and it, along with the medicine, was making him sleepy. I heard him cough but I didn’t turn around." Buck looked at the police sergeant with haunted eyes. "I should have checked on ‘im. I wasn’t five feet away; I don’t understand how someone could have unbuckled him and lifted him out without me hearing it." Buck turned and looked into the store. "I just don’t understand how…"

A radio crackled and the sergeant leaned his head over to hear. "Ten-four. We’ll be right there."

Buck turned quickly at the words. "They find something?"

"They have a woman and a young boy at the garden door. Would you like to…" the sergeant started to ask, but quickly found himself on pursuit of the ATF agent.

In less than thirty seconds, they had moved from the front entrance of the store to the garden center registers. Buck could see a small crowd and pushed his way through. He found a female officer and a young woman clutching a small dark haired boy. Buck felt his heart drop as he realized it was not JD. He tried to speak, but the words hung in his throat as his eyes filled.

He looked at the woman. "I’m sorry," was all he could manage before his quivering chin betrayed him. Bringing his hand to his face, he wiped at the tears and then ran his hand down his face. As he turned, he saw Stevens and he shook his head before starting the long trip back to the front. Behind him, he heard the manager’s voice as he explained to the woman. Her words were not distinguishable, but her tone was one of horror and sympathy.

Stevens appeared at Buck’s side. "He’s here somewhere, Mr. Wilmington. We’ll find him."

Buck stopped walking and turned to face the man. "I worked on the police force for several years before going to the ATF. My last assignment was in homicide. The images never really leave you-missing kids; the terrified parents; the kids that no one reported missing. They stay with you always." Buck swallowed hard, a look of distaste on his face. "I can’t …"

He couldn’t say anything else. His hands moved to his face as his emotions got the better of him. Finally feeling in control, he lowered his hands looked at the sergeant. "I have to find ‘im."

Mr. Gordon, the store manager, walked up and joined them. He told Buck that the young woman conveyed her heart-felt sympathies and prayed they would find the child unharmed. As he was speaking, a teenager ran up and tapped him on the arm.

"Mr. Gordon? Terry wanted me to come tell you that a woman came into the dressing rooms right before the alert went out. She’s still in there."

"Jackie, I can’t worry about that right now. Tell Terry to keep an eye on her and if she shop lifts something, we’ll worry about it then."

The young girl was shaking her head. "No, I’m sorry. She said to tell you she has a little boy with her."

Gordon, as well as Buck and Stevens turned their full attention to the girl. "Did you see this woman and child, Jackie? What did the little boy look like?"

"He was small, three or four, with dark hair and he was wearing white sneakers, blue jeans, and a blue windbreaker."

Buck’s head dropped. JD wasn’t wearing a jacket. He looked at the Stevens, who said, "We should probably check anyway."

Jackie looked at the men and saw their disappointment. "I was really hoping it was him. I feel so bad about the missing boy. I thought for sure it was him. He looked so tired and he had an awful cough."

"What? The boy was coughing?"

"Jackie, you stay here." Gordon directed. Pointing, he said, "The dressing rooms are this way." The three men moved off at a trot.

Moments later, they were standing next to Terry, an older woman who worked the dressing rooms.

"She’s in the last cubicle. She took some clothes in with her, but they all looked alike, as if she had just grabbed a bunch off the racks."

"Okay. Thanks, Terry. Go up front and join Jackie."

The woman moved off as the men decided what to do. Stevens called a female officer to join them. She arrived and took off her belt and slipped on Gordon’s jacket. She walked into the dressing area and disappeared, but the men could hear her talking.

"Excuse me, is anyone in here? I need to close this area for a few minutes so I can clean. Hello? Is anyone in here? Oh, I’m sorry, but could you just step out for a couple of minutes. I need to clean and they don’t allow me to do it if anyone is in here."

"My son is asleep. I don’t want to disturb him." A second female voice was overheard to say.

"Well, he's just a cutie, isn’t he?"

"Oh, yes. Isn’t he beautiful? So very precious."

"He certainly is. But he’s pretty out of it. I’m sure if you move slowly, he won’t wake up. And I’ll only be a minute."

There was a long moment of silence. Then, "Oh, thanks, ma’am. I really appreciate it."

Stevens was standing to one side and a second female officer to the other side of the front entrance to the dressing rooms. As the woman appeared, the two stepped up and placed a hand on each of her arms. She looked around, confused.

Buck felt his heart lurch at the sight of JD in the woman’s arms. He was wrapped in a blue jacket and his face was flush with heat, but he was apparently sleeping peacefully. The relieved man stepped forward and held out his hands. The woman looked at him and then looked down at JD. Smiling, she quietly handed the boy over. Buck took the small bundle and headed to the front of the store. He did not wait to see what happened with the woman. He had what he wanted.

Once at the front, he removed the jacket. It was one from the store, the tags still on it. He tossed the garment across an empty cashier stand and moved to a bench against the wall. There, he sat down heavily, his legs no longer willing to support him. He ran his eyes over the boy and then, did the same with his hands. As far as he could tell, JD was unharmed and blissfully unaware that he had been missing for over twenty minutes.

A shadow fell across him and Buck looked up to see Stevens standing over him. Wilmington inched over and the older man sat down, gazing at the boy as he did. He reached out and brushed a bead of sweat from under JD’s eye as he said, "We’re checking on the woman. She seems to be totally unaware of what happened, but it could be an act. I should have more information by tomorrow."

Stevens looked at Buck closely. "Foster son, right?"

"Yeah. He’s been through so much in such a short time." Buck told him. He chuckled slightly as he said, "It seems he managed to sleep through his latest adventure. How did you know? 'Bout him being a foster child?"

"Ran a background check on you. You just never know in cases such as these. You’ll need to come down tomorrow and fill in the blanks, but right now, you should take your son home."

"Yeah, you’re right. I need to get him to bed." Buck went to stand, but his knees were not ready to cooperate yet.

"That’s what I thought. Boy is fine, but you are a wreck. I’m going to have someone take you home. Is there someone who can come get your vehicle?"

"Yeah, but we live a ways out. How about I just call my roommate and have him pick us up?"

"Whichever works best. I just don’t think you should drive, yet."

Buck grinned, "I don’t think I could if I tried." He pulled his cell phone out and hit Chris’ number.


"Chris, it’s Buck. I was wondering if I could get a ride?"

Stevens had watched as Buck called and he saw the tremors that wracked the man’s frame. He gently took the phone as Buck tried, but failed, to voice the events of the past half hour.

"Hello? This is Sergeant Stevens of the sheriff’s department. Who am I speaking with?"

"This is Chris Larabee. I’m Wilmington’s boss. Is there a problem, sheriff?"

"Yes, sir. Mr. Wilmington had some trouble at the local Walmart."

Stevens heard the tightly controlled anger through the phone. "What kind of trouble? All he was supposed to do was pick up Vin’s boots."

"Mr. Larabee, everything is fine now, but someone snatched Mr. Wilmington’s son from the cart…"

"WHAT?! JD? Did you find him?"

"Yes, sir, we found him and he’s fine, but Mr. Wilmington is in no shape to drive. If you could…"

"Walmart at Mesa and Grand, right?"

"That’s the one, yes, sir."

"Be there in fifteen minutes."

Stevens wasn’t sure where Chris was coming from, but he did not doubt that fifteen minutes from now, he would be meeting the man. He clicked the phone off and handed it back to the dazed man sitting next to him.


Mr. Gordon had walked a few minutes later and found the two lawmen sitting quietly. "We have all the doors released and the customers have been informed about the problem. Everyone was very understanding and supportive." The man squatted down in front of Buck and placed a couple of bags on the ground next to his feet. "Mr. Wilmington, here are your purchases. We found your cart and brought the items up front. I hope you will accept our apologies for the trouble."

Buck stared at the man for a moment and then shook his head as if to clear it. He frowned and shook his head.

"There’s no need for you to apologize for anything. This whole incident could have turned out much different if your people hadn’t been trained to respond as fast as they did. I should be thanking you." Buck's mouth tightened as his emotions once again threatened to overwhelm him. "Ya’ll did a hell of a job. I’ll be impressed as soon as I calm down and can think again. I owe you, and you, Sergeant Stevens, more than I can ever repay."

Before Buck could continue, four men marched through the doors with the finesse of Sherman marching through Georgia. They did not slow as they spied the three men and made a beeline for them.

"Buck?" the man in black questioned even as his eyes took in the sleeping child. "You okay?"

A weak smile was his answer. "I will be."

Chris held out his hand to the sergeant. "Chris Larabee. Sergeant Stevens, correct?"

Stevens stood, glancing at his watch as he hefted himself up. ‘Twelve minutes’ he noted. "Mr. Larabee." He told the offered hand and returned the firm handshake.

"These are my men. Josiah Sanchez, Ezra Standish, Nathan Jackson." Chris nodded to Nathan and the tall black man moved to Wilmington’s side and began to quietly quiz him. Chris and the others stepped away to allow Jackson to check on Buck and JD.

"Sergeant, can you fill me in on what happened?"

"Well, short form version. Mr. Wilmington stopped to do some shopping. The boy was asleep in the cart and Mr. Wilmington was looking for a belt for his vehicle, when a woman removed the boy from the cart and walked away."

Chris’ eyes narrowed as he listened.

Gordon correctly read Larabee's face and set about correcting Chris’ assumption that Buck had been negligent. "Mr. Wilmington was no more than five feet from the cart. The radio display is in that area and three or four of them are playing all day. We found Mr. Wilmington’s cart exactly where he said, in front of the belt display. He was reading the chart to determine which belt to purchase. If the boy had been awake and made some noise, your man was close enough to grab anyone who touched the boy, but he was apparently sleeping and the woman just took advantage of the situation."

"Where is this woman, now?" Larabee’s voice was low and had a hard edge to it.

"She's been taken down to the station. I'll know more about her tomorrow, but she seemed more taken with the boy than meaning him harm. She’s a little out of it."

Chris’ expression did not soften to hear that the woman might be disturbed. His only concern was for the boy and the man sitting quietly on the bench.

"It okay to take them home?"

"Yes, sir. We’ll need to see Mr. Wilmington tomorrow, but the boy apparently slept through the entire incident."

"Thank the Lord for small miracles," Josiah mumbled.

"Amen," Ezra seconded quietly.

"Well, let’s get 'em home."

The group moved back to the bench. Chris made eye contact with Nathan, who nodded to the blonde.

"Buck, you ready to go?"

Dark blue eyes looked up at him. Chris had known Buck long enough to recognize that the man was running on empty and would soon collapse.

"Come on, Buck. Let’s get JD home."

Chris reached to take JD out of Buck’s arms, but the man’s posture changed instantly from bone-tired to alert and defensive.

"That’s okay. You carry him. Just let me help you up."

With an assist from Nathan, Chris got his friend to his feet. He put a hand on the man’s back and started to gently guide him to the door. Buck stopped and nodded to the two men that had helped him. They smiled and he turned back.

The manager handed Ezra the sacks with Vin’s boots and the belt, oil, and filter.

Ezra thanked him and followed the others out.

At the vehicles, Josiah took Buck’s keys and went in search of the Jimmy pickup. Ezra rode with Nathan while Chris loaded Buck and JD into his Dodge. Once they were moving, Buck finally relaxed into the seat. They were a couple of miles from the ranch with the others following when Buck sat up and told Chris to stop. As the Dodge rolled to a stop, Wilmington jumped out and hunched over as his stomach emptied itself. Nathan arrived and stood, waiting next to the man, a bottle of water in his hands.

Chris sat in the truck, knowing instinctively that if he got out, Buck would have a panic attack about the boy. So Larabee waited as Nathan tended to the man. Chris saw Buck nodding his head as Nathan asked him something.

"Okay, then, let’s get ya back in the truck."

"Thanks, Nathan."

A minute later, they were moving again. Chris glanced over at his partner to see him sink down in the seat. "You okay?’

"Aw, hell, Chris, I don’t know if I’ll ever be okay. But I am thankful." He sat with his head back and his eyes closed. "I am truly thankful."

They arrived at the house and Buck got the boy out and carried him inside. Chris turned as the three men gathered around.

"You boys want to come in?"

Josiah held out his hand and dropped Buck’s keys into Chris’ outstretched hand. "No, Chris, we best be heading back. It would appear that Buck needs to rest and Vin will be home soon, also. You'll have to explain about why you're home already."

Nathan nodded. "Buck is pretty wiped out after the adrenaline rush, so don’t let him drink any alcohol or a lot of caffeine. See about getting some food into him. That’ll go a long way to getting him back on his feet. He’s pretty shaky but eating should calm him down. And have ‘im take a hot shower to relax those muscles. His shoulders are as tight as a drum."

"Thanks, boys. I’ll see you tomorrow."

"Night, Chris."

"See ya tomorrow."

"My best to Mr. Wilmington and young Mr. Dunne."

The three headed to the SUV and got in. A moment later, Ezra jumped out and approached the blonde with the bags the store manager had handed him.

Chris took them with a nod. He stood and watched as the SUV moved off in a light cloud of dust. He turned and headed into the house. Mrs. Potter was in the kitchen, cleaning up after baking most of the day. She turned at the sound of Chris entering.

"What happened? Mr. Wilmington barely spoke."

Chris explained and apologized to her for the other man’s behavior.

"Don’t be silly, Mr. Larabee. I’m just thankful everything turned out all right."

"So am I, Mrs. Potter. So am I."

The woman left, knowing someone would be home for Vin’s arrival after school.

Chris went in search of Buck and found him exactly where he expected-sitting beside JD’s bed, watching the little boy sleep.

"Buck?" Chris said as he entered. "He’s fine. You, on the other hand, need to take a shower per Nathan’s orders. So, get up and go. JD’s safe."

Wilmington hesitated a moment and then wearily stood. He glanced down once again before heading to his own room. Chris quietly approached the bed and lightly laid a hand on the boy's brow. JD mumbled and smiled at the touch, causing the blonde to shake his head. 'Kid, you could sleep through a hurricane.' Satisfied that JD was fine, Chris exited the room and headed down the hall to his partner's room. He could hear the shower going, so he turned and headed back to the kitchen and a cup of hot coffee that was calling his name.

One hour later, he was watching as the school bus pulled up at the end of the lane leading to the house. Vin Tanner scrambled off, lugging a backpack. He swung the pack over his shoulder and started down the lane, kicking up little puffs of dust as his feet impacted the dry ground. Chris saw Vin look in his direction and he waved. Vin broke into a run.

The young boy slid to a stop, kicking up a dust cloud that momentarily engulfed him before drifting off on the slight breeze. "Chris? Is JD okay?"

The man patted the seat next to him as he reassured the eight-year-old. "Yeah, JD is fine. He's sleeping right now." Chris debated on how much to tell the boy, finally deciding that he should tell him everything. Vin listened intently, nodding his understanding that JD remembered nothing of the incident and there was no need to tell the younger boy.

"So, you think the lady was just confused? She wasn't wanting to hurt 'im?"

"Yeah, confused. But we'll know for sure tomorrow. Anyway, it doesn't matter because JD is here and safe. We just need to give Buck time to calm down and then everything will be fine."

Vin nodded. Sliding out of the chair, he picked up the backpack. "I have some homework, so I'll go do it in our room and I can check on JD."

Chris stood, placing one hand on the long blond hair of the boy. "That sounds good. I'll check on Buck. When you're finished, we'll go take care of the stock."

Vin smiled as he headed into the house. He went straight back to the room the boys shared. He could see the lump in the bed, so he crossed to the small desk and unloaded his books. He placed them on the desk, but before sitting down, he moved back over to the bed and peeked under the covers. He could see the black hair that framed the slack-mouthed face in the dim light. Comforted by the sight, he went to the desk and opened his book, starting on the math homework that was due the next day.

Chris had stood just outside the door and listened as the boy moved around the room. When he hard the mumbling, he knew the diligent child was working on his schoolwork. Vin had to work hard at lessons while JD seemed to excel with ease, but Larabee was proud of how far both boys had come since neither of them had any schooling before coming to live at the ranch with Buck and him. 'Buck. Better check in on him.' With that thought, Larabee moved quietly down the hallway.

The door creaked slightly as Chris pushed it open. Buck was sprawled across the top of the bed in jeans and a t-shirt, snoring slightly. When Chris moved to toss a light blanket over the man, dark blue eyes opened and blinked a couple of times.

"Sorry, pard. I didn't plan to wake ya." Chris moved back as the other man sat up, rubbing his face with the heels of his hands.

Clearing his throat, Buck asked, "What time is it?"

"Getting to be around four-thirty, five o'clock. How do you feel?"

Buck threw his arms out wide and stretched. "Actually? Pretty good. Hungry."

"Good, I was going to fix Vin a snack. Let's go see what we can find."

The men started down the hall when they heard Vin's voice.

"Dang it, JD! You scared the shit of me!" Giggling was heard at that point.

"Vin, that's a bad word. You owe a quarter." The sound of jiggling was heard.

Chris and Buck moved quietly to the door to see that JD had the 'bad word' jar and was holding it under Vin's nose.


The older boy sighed as he dug into his pocket, pulled out the correct coin, and dropped it into the jar. JD's eyes were sparkling as he peered into the jar.

"Wow, Vin. We almost got enough for that present for Buck and Chris. If we can get Buck to hit his thumb with the hammer one more time, we'll have enough."

Chris turned to look at the taller man, one eyebrow raised in question. Wilmington just shrugged and then whispered. "It hurt like hell, Chris."

Both men looked down at the sound of giggling to see JD standing there with his jar held out. Chris looked back to Buck and the man rolled his eyes as he dug into his pocket just as Vin had done a moment before.

"JD, you have to stop sneaking up on people." Buck dropped a dollar into the jar. The big boys had to pay more than the kids. "I take it you're feeling better?"

The little boy had turned and walked back into the room to place the jar back on the shelf. "I feel good. I don't have to breathe through my mouth. That's yucky. And I ain't coughing, see?" He covered his mouth with his hand and coughed slightly to demonstrate.

"Aren't," Chris corrected.

The dark haired boy frowned. "Aren't what?"

"You aren't coughing."

"I know. That's what I said." And he coughed into his hand again. "See?" And he smiled sweetly.


The boy just blinked, not comprehending.

Chris shook his head. "Never mind. Vin, you want a snack? We'll check on the stock and you can finish that later."

The boy was up in a second. He would rather be outside than sitting at a desk any day of the week. The four headed to the kitchen and had a snack of cookies and milk. Buck had stopped in the living room at the sight of the Walmart sacks, rolling his neck at the tension suddenly gripping his muscles and grabbed the box with the small boots.

As he placed the box in front of Vin, JD ran around to the older boy's chair. "Vin, do you know what? Buck thought you wanted red boots. RED boots! He was going to get you a red belt to go with them. I had to tell him that you wanted black like Chris."

Vin patiently waited as JD told his story. The little boy chewed his lower lip as he watched the blonde open the box. "Ohhh. They're pretty." JD reached over and stroked the gleaming black leather. "Soft, too. Are you going to try them on, Vin?"

The older boy looked up at the question and turned his gaze to Larabee, the question in his eyes.

"Well, if you don't, we'll never know if they fit." Chris smiled.

A grin broke out across the boy's face as he grabbed one boot. Before he could raise his leg, JD grabbed hold of the older boy's sneakers and pulled them off. Vin slipped the boots on and stood up, testing the fit. Chris moved around the table and pushed on the toes to make sure they were not too tight.

"How do they feel, Vin?"

The boy flexed his toes and smiled, but said nothing.

"Good. Let's go try them out in the barn."

Vin's eyes widened. "But, I’ll get 'em dirty."

"That's what they're for. We'll get you some dress boots later."

Vin's eyes grew larger. "Cool."

"We can go back and get 'em now," JD suggested.

"No," Buck said quickly.

Chris smiled as Vin wrapped a hand around JD's face. The younger boy pulled that hand down and turned around.

"What 'cha do that for, Vin?"

Chris scooped JD into his arms. "Well, cause you buy dress boots at a boot store, not Walmart. We'll do it another time, okay, JD?"

"Sure, I just thought we could go back. I didn't get to look at anything, 'cause I falled asleep in the buggy."

"Well, right now, we have work to do. When we finish with the horses, we can come back in and get supper going. After Vin is finished with his homework, if it's not too late, we'll go down and get some ice cream. How's that sound?"


The four followed the plan to the letter. By the time they arrived back at the house, it was time for baths and bed for two little boys. The men tucked the boys in and Buck started reading to them. JD was asleep within minutes, having taken another dose of the cough medicine. By the time Buck finished with that night's chapter, Vin was asleep as well. Chris rose from his spot on the floor and waited as Buck continued to sit, JD's head resting against his leg.

Finally, he gently slid off the bed and pulled the covers up over the boy. He joined Chris at the doorway where they stood momentarily watching the kids sleep. Both men had discovered that five minutes of watching the boys' sleep was one of the most relaxing and soothing activities they could do each evening.

As they stood there, Larabee stole a look at the man beside him. "You okay?"

Buck turned and looked at him and he smiled. "Yeah. It's more like a bad dream that fades the longer you're awake. Hardly seems real, anymore." He looked in at the both beds before returning his gaze to Larabee. "Sure makes ya stop and think, though. The way things are nowadays, you can't let your guard down for a minute. I'm just so glad that I learned that without having to lose the boy. Parents that lose their kids and don't know what happened…well, let's just say I can empathize with them now."

The look on Chris' face was one of understanding. Having lost a son, he understood the void that was created by that loss, but at least he knew what had happened to Adam. "Yeah, I realized today when Sheriff Stevens told me what had happened, even knowing that JD was okay, that as hard as it was to lose Adam, I was lucky. I got to say good-bye and bury him. Some parents are never afforded that opportunity."

They continued to stand there until Chris clasped Buck's arm. "Come on, Buck. They're fine. It's been a long day. How about we call it a night?"

"Hell, Chris, it isn't even nine-thirty yet."

A bed squeaked and a sleepy voice called, "Feed the 'bad word' jar, Buck."

Chris Larabee had to laugh as Buck rolled his eyes and started digging into his pocket.

"Buck, you're going to put both those kids through college if you don't watch what you say."

Buck entered the room and dropped another bill into the jar. Stopping at the bed, he found JD already sleeping again. Shaking his head, he smiled as he leaned down the kissed the dark hair. The boy sighed and snuggled deeper into the covers. "Already planned to do that, pard," Buck said softly.

Buck joined Chris at the door where the blond clasped him on the shoulder. "Come on, let's get out of here while you still have some money."

The two men moved down the hall to their own bedrooms. Yeah, kids sure changed your perspective on things.


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