"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe
Warning: Contains sensitive subject matter.
Chris and Buck pushed the speed limit heading toward the boys' school.
They'd both been called. Their foster sons had both been taken to the nurse's office and they'd been asked to speak with the principal before taking the boys home.
"What do you suppose happened?" Chris asked, clenching the steering wheel just a bit tighter.
"I'm guessing a fight," Buck speculated.
Chris nodded. It sounded like the most reasonable explanation. Neither boy was in the habit of starting fights, but they'd been on the streets for long enough that when pushed, their instincts were to protect themselves. And Vin's instinct to protect JD was even strong than his instinct to protect himself.
Chris was tempted to throw the official, flashing red light on top of the dash, but he resisted. It was only a few more miles.
When they arrived at the school, Buck barely waited for his friend to stop the truck before he leapt out and headed for the administrative building. Chris was right behind him, and Buck was thankful once again for his friend, for the man's support in this endeavor -- it had been Buck's idea to foster the two boys, who were so close that they were brothers in every way except blood. It had only made sense for them all to share a house, two best friends raising two best friends; Nettie Wells, their social worker, even confessed once that perhaps it was, indeed, meant to be.
They entered the office and the secretary behind the desk pointed them down the hallway. They went without a word. The first door on the left belonged to a small room with a single cot; on the cot sat Vin and JD, so close they could have been one body. JD's head was on Vin's shoulder, and Vin's arm was wrapped protectively around the younger boy. Buck and Chris stood in the doorway for a moment. They could both see the darkening bruise on the side of JD's face, and the bandage covering Vin's right hand.
Before they moved to enter, the nurse arrived beside them.
"Mr. Wilmington? Mr. Larabee?"
"Yes," they both answered and their voices had the two boys looking up.
JD burst into tears when his eyes locked with Buck's. He jumped from the cot and flung himself at his foster father, clutching fast to the tall man's long legs. Buck knelt down and took the five-year-old into his arms.
Through JD's wails, Buck managed to make out the words, "Don't let them send you to the devil!"
"Hey, lil' buckaroo. Don't cry," Buck said, trying to calm the child. "I'm not going anywhere. I'm right here. I'm right here." When the nurse pointed Buck to another room, Buck took JD to give Chris time to speak with Vin who, as usual, had remained silent.
"Vin?" Chris stepped into the small room and sat down beside Vin on the cot. "How's your hand."
"Fine. I mean, it ain't broke." Vin did not look at Chris when he spoke.
"Will you tell me what happened?" Chris asked.
Vin let out a small breath and Chris knew the boy was debating whether to speak or keep quiet. It wouldn't have been the first time. It wasn't that Vin lied -- he wasn't that type of child -- it was that he sometimes thought better of saying things that might get others in trouble, or that might upset the ones he loves. Chris thought it might be the latter this time, given the bruise he'd seen on JD's face; anyone who'd done that to JD would not have earned Vin's consideration.
"This boy, Freddie ... he was teasin' JD at recess. He kept sayin' stuff 'bout JD not havin' any parents...."
Chris had done his time as a police officer. He knew the best means of interrogation, of getting the truth, of getting the whole story. More often than not, the best way was to simply listen and let the person tell his story, in his own way and in his own time.
"JD said he has a dad. He said he has Buck. And he said he has you." Vin paused again, obviously trying to gather his thoughts. "Freddie said it was wrong to have two dads. He ... he told JD...." Vin faltered, but only for a moment. "He said you were both goin' to ... to ... hell. He said his mama told him so. He said it was cuz God hates you, cuz God hates ... fags."
Chris nearly gasped aloud. As it was, he felt nauseated by Vin's words. It didn't matter that he and Buck were not homosexuals. It didn't matter that they were merely two friends who had come to live in the same house for the sake of two small boys who meant the world to each other. As much as he knew that such hatred, intolerance, and prejudice existed in the world, this was the first time that it had ever directly affected him.
"JD yelled at Freddie to shut up, but when he didn't, JD tried to make him. Only, JD's a lot smaller and Freddie knocked him down, so I hit him, to make him leave JD alone."
Vin fell silent and Chris sensed that he would say no more on his own. "Did you hurt the boy?"
"I made his nose bleed. And he cried," Vin said, if not proudly at least a bit defiantly. "You can punish me, but I ain't sorry. He hurt JD and he said mean things 'bout you and Buck."
Chris dealt with violence every day and he knew sometimes you had to fight fire with fire, that sometimes it was the only way. He and Buck had both tried to teach the boys to look for the peaceable way out, to try to think things through rather than simply react. He was confident that Vin and JD had both shown as much restraint as they were capable.
"I understand, Vin. I'm not going to punish you for protecting JD, but we are going to have a talk about other ways of dealing with situations like this. Okay?"
Vin nodded, but his chin was on his chest. "'Kay."
"All right. Will you wait here while I check on Buck and JD?" Chris asked.
Chris waited for Vin to nod again before he rose from the cot and left the room. Across the hall he found Buck cradling JD. Buck had managed to quiet the child, but Chris couldn't tell if he'd managed to stem the flow of JD's tears.
"JD tell you anything?" Chris asked quietly.
Buck shook his head, no, then said, "But the nurse told me the boy Vin hit has gone to the hospital; they're going to x-ray his nose, though she doesn't think it's broken."
"That's not going to make things any easier, but I'm not going to let them punish Vin for this." Chris wanted to say that he wasn't going to let them punish JD either, but that wasn't his call to make. He and Buck had an agreement about the boys: Vin was Chris's responsibility and JD was Buck's.
"What did Vin tell you?"
Chris hesitated. He didn't want to upset JD again by reiterating Vin's words, but he knew Buck needed to know. "Why don't you let JD sit with Vin again while we go talk to the principal."
Buck stood and carried JD into the room where Vin was still sitting. He placed JD on the bed and Vin immediately put his arm around him again, once more taking up the role of protector.
"We'll be right back, boys. You just stay here, okay?"
Vin nodded and JD gave a sniff that Buck took as their consent.
In the hall, Chris spoke quietly to Buck. "Apparently, we're going to hell for being gay."
"What? That's crazy. I ain't gay. And neither are you," Buck protested.
"I know, but that's not the point," Chris reminded him. "The boy Vin hit used the word 'fag' -- I'm not sure JD or Vin even know what that means. But being told that we were going to go to hell seems to be what really set them off. JD tried to shut the boy up and got hit, and that's when Vin stepped in. That's what Vin said, and I believe him."
"Where would any child get such a damned fool notion?"
"Apparently the boy got it from his mother."
"That's just cruel -- cruel and irresponsible -- to say someone's parents are going to hell," Buck fumed. "That woman ain't fit to raise a child if she's teaching him such things. And that bruise on JD's cheek is the proof of it. I'd like to punch her in the nose!"
Chris put a hand on Buck's shoulder, trying to calm the man. It took a lot to push Buck to the point of threatening a woman with bodily harm. But they needed cool heads if they were going to speak to the principal about this. Chris wouldn't allow Vin to be punished for hurting that boy, not after what Vin had told him.
The door to the principal's office was open when he and Buck reached it. Chris knocked anyway, just to be polite.
"Ms. Warren? I'd like to speak to you about what happened today."
"Mr. Larabee? Yes, please come in. I need to speak with you and Mr. Wilmington as well." She gestured at the two chairs situated in front of her desk. Buck and Chris both sat down.
"Ms. Warren--" Chris began, but she cut him off with a raised hand.
"Mr. Larabee. I understand the circumstances, but the fact of the matter is Vin hurt another child. We cannot condone violence of any kind in this school and such an act must be punished--"
This time, it was Chris who cut the principal off, but not with a raised hand. Instead, he glared at her hard, saying, "If you understand the circumstances then you will know that Vin was defending JD, and you will know why Vin was put in the position of defending him."
"Yes. JD attacked Freddie Mason and when Freddie pushed JD away, Vin stepped in and hit Freddie."
At this Buck leapt from his chair. His fist came swiftly down on the principal's desk, rattling all the loose items, including a picture that toppled over. "This is NOT JD's fault!"
"Buck, sit down," Chris ordered.
At work, Chris was the team leader and, as such, Buck immediately responded to the command, though he was still seething.
"You apparently do not know the whole story, Ms. Warren," Chris said. "This Freddie Mason was taunting JD. He told him that Mr. Wilmington and I are going to hell ... because we're gay."
Ms. Warren's eyes widened. "I didn't know you were--- I mean, I thought you said--"
"It doesn't matter," Chris said, anger licking like flames at the edges of his voice. "You have a child provoking another child. You have a child spreading prejudice and intolerance. You have a mother inciting her son into spreading her poisonous opinions. And JD didn't give himself that bruise on his cheek."
Buck's hands were clenched on the armrests, his knuckles turning white, as Chris spoke. Chris could hear him breathing hard, and could imagine the sound of his teeth grinding together as he fought to keep his anger in check.
"Mr. Larabee," the principal finally said. "Mr. Wilmington. As I said before, violence for any reason is not tolerated in this school. Freddie Mason harmed JD and that will not go unpunished. But, I would be remiss in my duties if I did not also punish Vin--"
"You can't punish Vin for defending JD!" Buck spat, but, this time, he did not leave his seat.
"Mr. Wilmington. Please," Ms. Warren said, though she looked dually taken aback by his outburst. "I was saying, violence is NOT tolerated in this school. Vin struck a boy and, no matter how good a reason he had for doing so, he will be punished. The same applies to JD AND to Freddie Mason."
"I can't believe this!" Buck fumed and Chris was right there with him.
"However," the principal continued, "this school does not condone prejudice or intolerance of religion, race, gender, or sexual orientation. As such, the issue will be addressed with the entire student body, and I can assure you that I shall personally speak with Mrs. Mason about her son's behavior today."
Buck squirmed in his seat. Her words were not enough to put him at ease with the situation. It was lip service to an issue that led to countless assaults and murders every year. He'd been in law enforcement, in some capacity or another, for nearly a decade and he'd been a first hand witness to such hate crimes.
Chris stood. He did not offer his hand, and Ms. Warren did not offer hers. "What is to be the boys' punishment?"
"Two-day suspension. They can both come back to school on Monday."
Chris turned and left the office without another word. He had to drag Buck along with him.
"How can you let her get away with that?" Buck growled.
"What do you want me to do? Hit her? She'd bring me up on assault charges so fast your head would spin ... and who would that benefit?"
"Yeah, all right. But it still pisses me off."
"I know. You're mad and so am I. Vin and JD aren't to blame here. And I'll be surprised if some fifteen minute lecture on 'It's Not Polite To Let Gay People Know You Hate Them' is going to make a damn bit of difference. But, I'm not going to let Vin be punished, even if Ms. Warren says so."
"But he's suspended -- him and JD. If we bring them to school tomorrow, she'll only send them home again."
"Oh, I wasn't planning on letting Vin go to school tomorrow," Chris said. "In fact, I think a nice, long camping trip is in order. You and JD are welcome to come along, if you'd like."
"Sounds like a plan to me, pard. Come on, let's tell the boys the news."
Buck and Chris both hurried down the hall to collect their foster sons. And somewhere between fishing and s'mores this weekend, Chris would make certain they conducted their own little lecture -- this one on 'Love Is What Makes A Family No Matter What Anyone Else Might Say.'
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