Back to Part Two
Go to Part One for the Disclaimer and Notes.
Chris sat on the couch watching the movie. Buck still laid in the recliner dozing off and on with Vin still asleep on him. JD sat in front of the TV again, his face almost up against the glass. Chris had to keep asking him to move one way or the other so he could at least see the movie. Chris was surprised at how much he was enjoying it. It really was a good movie.
During the time they'd been watching the movie, JD had either been in the position he'd been in right now, or he'd been acting the movie out in the middle of the room. Running around, freeing imaginary horses, bucking imaginary people off, that was, until Chris reminded him that he needed to keep the noise down. JD would come over and crawl up to sit next to Chris on the couch, snuggling close. Until he gradually moved off to sit on the floor and then closer and closer and closer until he was right up next to the TV and the whole process would repeat itself again.
Chris kept glancing over at Buck and Vin. Sometimes he'd find Buck awake, watching JD in that proud, loving, 'Dad' sort of way. He'd chuckle as he looked over at Chris, shaking his head and smiling.
Both men were pretty sure that Vin was so asleep that a freight train rumbling through the room wouldn't wake him up, so they were letting JD get away with more and more.
It was truly a wonderful sight to watch the little boy so happy and excited. They didn't have the heart to ruin his fun.
The movie finally ended and JD turned sad, beseeching eyes to Buck and Chris. "Can we watch it one more time?" He held his little index finger up and emphasized the 'one' with a whine.
Buck glanced at Chris and then back to JD. "Well..."
Chris smiled as he said, "Just one part of it, JD."
JD's eyes lit up as he ran over to Buck, grabbing the DVD remote and handing it to him. "When he bucks the guy off and sets all the horses free," he told him, a huge smile on his face. He watched as Buck started flipping through the different parts and then he ran back over to the TV to lie in front of it.
The movie had been playing for a few minutes when JD suddenly jumped up and ran from the room.
Buck and Chris looked at each other, eyebrows high.
Buck paused the movie and Chris was just standing up to go check on the little boy when JD ran back in, breathless. "I'll be right back," he told them. "And nothings wrong," he added, knowingly. Then he ran back down the hall.
Buck and Chris laughed as they shook their heads.
Buck heard JD running down the hall and he looked over to the doorway to see JD peeking around the corner. He could see the boy, but Chris couldn't.
JD's eyes darted sideways to Chris and then away. He gulped. And then he straightened his shoulders and raised his head as he purposely walked into the room.
Buck was wondering what was going on and then groaned when he saw what JD was carrying with him.
The little boy had an arm full of Breyer horses, heads and legs and tails every which way in the jumbled pile.
Buck glanced over at Chris and winced when he saw that his best friend was staring at JD, his eyes wide and his mouth open.
Buck closed his eyes and then slowly opened them again, looking back over at JD. The little boy knew not to touch those horses. He knew they were Chris'. And he knew the story behind them.
JD walked, shoulders forward now, looking like he was thinking he was about to be hit from behind. He stopped in front of the TV and then squatted down, opening his arms and very gently letting the horses fall onto the floor. He glanced over at Chris for a second and then back down at the horses.
With great care, he slowly started setting each horse up on its legs until he had a herd of horses every size shape and breed. One horse, a small, gray and black, bucking Mustang he held in his hand as he looked from Buck to Chris and then back to Buck before darting out of the room and down the hall, the thumps from his little socked feet fading away.
Buck was looking at Chris. Larabee sat staring at the group of horses. His horses. Adam's horses. The pain on his face was heartbreaking and Buck was just about to say something when he heard JD's feet thudding back down the hall.
The boy ran into the room, Mustang clenched tightly in one fist and a bunch of yellow racetrack sections in the other. He slowed when he came into the room and again looked from Chris to Buck and then back before he ran back over to his herd of horses.
He spent the next few minutes making corrals out of the racetrack and then putting different horses inside.
It was clear to Buck what he was doing. Reenacting the 'setting free' part of the movie, his favorite part. And it was also clear to Buck that JD was being more careful with the horses than he'd been even when he'd allowed him to pet the baby kittens out in the barn. The boy wasn't planning on hurting the horses. He was, in his mind, just using them to 'play' the scene.
But it wasn't that simple. He glanced over at Chris and thought, Not by a long shot.'
Chris was still staring. His hands shaking where they laid on his thighs. His face was pale and Buck could see drops of sweat on his forehead.
This was the first time that the horses had been down from the shelf except to be 'dusted,' and then it was always a 'Chris-Adam' thing and always with an inside-joke sort of laughter that made Buck and Sarah smile. The horses had never been played with. Not even by Adam, who treasured those horses like nothing else.
And here JD was, playing with them.
"JD?" Buck cleared his throat when his voice cracked. He couldn't get up with Vin still sleeping soundly on him. "JD," he said again. JD looked up at him and Buck crooked his finger, motioning for the little boy to come over.
JD's shoulders slumped and he sighed, almost like he knew it wouldnt work, but had had to try.
He slowly walked over, his head hanging, his heart seemingly as heavy as an elephant.
"Yeah?" He asked when he reached him, standing next to the recliner's raised leg rest.
He glanced up at Buck and then made a quick sideways glance to Chris before he looked back down.
Buck also, looked at Chris. He was still in the exact same position, staring at the horses.
Buck's voice was soft when he looked back at JD and said, "JD, you know those horses are special. Not to be played with. Those are Mr. Chris' horses and-"
"Adam got them for him," JD finished the sentence, dejected.
Buck glanced over when he saw Chris physically flinch at his son's name. Chris was now staring at JD.
Buck looked back at his foster son. "We've got to put them back, son. You can't play with them. And you can't take things without asking," he lightly scolded.
JD was silent before he sniffed, glanced up at him, over at Chris, and then down. In a soft voice, almost a whisper he said, "I thought it would be fun if Adam could play with me."
Buck's heart stopped, and then thudded in his chest.
"What?" His voice trembled.
JD shrugged as he looked down at his feet, rubbing his big toe in circles on the floor. "You know..." He sucked on his bottom lip before saying, " 'Cause they was an 'Adam thing' I thought it would be like he was playing with me." Then he looked over at Chris and swallowed hard before looking at Buck. "And I thought if Chris played too, it would be like he was playing with Adam again. 'Cause they're horses. And Adam liked horses." He looked over at Larabee. "And Adam loved Chris."
Buck bit down on his top lip to keep from letting his emotions get control of him. He was just about to stand up with Vin when Chris' voice stopped him.
"Stay there, Buck. Let Vin sleep." Chris' voice was rough and raspy, but it was kind and warm also, and when Buck looked over there JD was amazingly standing right in front of Chris and his best friend had a hand on each side of JD's face.
"JD..." Chris said as he stared into those soulful brown eyes. He was silent a moment and Buck wondered what he was going to say next.
JD broke the spell. "I didn't mean to make you sad, Mr. Chris. I knew I was doing wrong, but I thought it was for a good thing and you would like it when you could play and it would be like Adam was here again." He looked down, sad, sniffing and bringing his hand up to rub underneath his nose.
"JD," Chris said softly.
The little boy didnt look up.
"JD, look at me," Chris said kindly, love filling his voice.
JD looked up, tears in his eyes.
"That idea..." Chris cleared his throat and JD stared at him. "It's the best idea I've heard in a long time." Chris smiled.
Buck stared at his friend.
"Really? JD asked, unbelieving.
Chris sniffed as he swallowed hard. "Really."
JD looked over his shoulder at the horses and then back at Chris. "You wanna play?"
JD tenderly took his hand and pulled him from his seat. He led him over to the horses and the tracks and the playing.
JD plopped down on the floor and Chris stretched his long body out next to him, on his side, propping himself up with his elbow.
"We're gonna set the horses free, 'kay, Chris." JD told him, now in his we're-about-to-play-and-it's-serious mode.
Chris smiled at him as he nodded, reaching out and laying his hand on the bucking Mustang.
Buck stared at them in silence. JD and Chris both looked over at him with expectant looks on their faces.
"What?" he asked innocently.
The both glanced at the TV and then back.
"Oh." He grinned as he pressed Play and the 'setting free' scene was once again showing on the TV.
Buck smiled, reaching up and wiping a tear from his eye as he listened to JD's running commentary as he and Chris knocked fences down and moved horses and set them free.
"Horses got to be free, Mr. Chris," JD told him with all of his newly gained five-year-old wild horse knowledge. "And Spirit set 'em free 'cause they don't want to be in fences. They want to run and play and be with Spirit's mama's family and then they can be free. And horses shouldn't be in fences and they should..."
The little boy's face was very serious as he played and talked and told the two men just what he thought a horse's life should be.
Buck watched him with wet eyes. Reaching down, he laid his hand on Vin's brow as he softly said, "I love you boys."
Chris had a permanent half smile on his face as he lay next to JD, playing with the horses and listening to the little boy ramble on and on. Love for the child was pouring out of his heart and he glanced over to look at Vin and then catch Buck's eyes.
Both men smiled and nodded. Turning their attention back to the very serious little boy they shook their heads and grinned.
+ + + + + + +
The next morning, Chris stood in front of the kitchen sink, staring out the window at the back yard and the mountains in the distance. He shook his head. He'd had the best night of sleep that he'd had in a long time. It was like he was peaceful. Almost like Adam was there with him. JD was a really smart kid, loving and kind, a heart of gold.
Smiling wistfully, he spoke softly as he gazed at the snow capped mountains. "Love you Adam. You'll never know how much of a present those horses were." He smiled when he remembered JD's grave lecture about setting the horses free. He took a sip of his coffee as he stretched his neck and looked out the window. Suddenly, a long black face with a white blaze was staring back at him and Chris spewed coffee all over as he jumped a foot in the air.
Son of a bitch!
He ran to the back door and threw it open.
The back yard was full of horses.
Josiah's large chestnut was using the swing set as a scratching post.
Nathan's big brown had already eaten all the leaves and most of the bark off Chris' little Maple tree that he'd been babying since the day he planted it.
"Horses got to be free, Mr. Chris," he heard the voice in his head.
He looked over to see both big black horses standing in the shrubs up next to the house. His horse and Peso were both looking in the kitchen window now. Ezra's wily chestnut stood next to them, seemingly egging them on.
Buck's gray stood off to the side, one leg cocked up, dozing in the winter sun.
'Horses got to be free, Mr. Chris.'
He shook his head as he yelled,
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