Christmas for Some,
Means Answering the Call

by Heather M.

This is set in the ATF AU. As always no infringement of the legal stuff etc… is intended.

Thank you once again Helen for beta-ing this little fic for me.

It´s not exactly a Christmas Story.

“Life was good!” so thought Buck Wilmington. He whistled an off-key accompaniment to the Brooks & Dunn rendition of “Under the Mistletoe” as he drove slowly through the snowy streets of his neighbourhood.

It was Christmas number four. Five years ago he and Chris had made a pathetic pair, a grieving drunk and his keeper, who would have thought they´d ever have anything to look forward to again? Buck marveled at the gift of friends, really good friends, that life had given the two of them.

He took the front steps two at a time as he sprinted up the stairway and through the doorway. Bustling into the kitchen he set the bags of groceries on the counter top.

“Kid!” he bellowed, as he started to unpack the groceries and put them in the cupboard. “It´s snowin´ pretty good so it´s gonna take longer to get to the Ranch!”

After thirty seconds when he didn´t receive an answer Buck picked up the package of toilet paper he´d just unpacked and headed down the hall past JD´s room to the bathroom. “JD,” he called impatiently, “JD, geta move on, we´re gonna be late!”

On his way back to the kitchen he stopped and knocked on JD´s bedroom door. “Kid, is everything okay?”

“Yeah” The door opened and Buck´s eyes bugged out.

“What did ya do to your hair?”

“I got it cut.”

“I can see that!”

“What wrong with it?”

Buck frowned. “Nuthin´… It´s just so… short.”

Buck grabbed JD by the shoulder and turned him sideways so he could get a better look at the hair cut. “It looks like a military cut.”

JD chuckled, “I guess it does, sorta.”

“You lose a bet?”

“No,” scoffed JD as he shouldered past Buck, “Look you´re right we better get going.”

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

It was Saturday, the 20th of December 2003. It was an early Christmas celebration for the team. Commitments were sending the team members their separate ways for the holidays this year.

Nathan and Rain were traveling back to Kansas City this year to spend Christmas with her sisters. Ezra had finally succumbed to months of pressure from Maude to join her in Rome. Casey and Nettie were going to Tucson to celebrate the holidays with family there. Mary had talked Chris into joining her and Billy at the Travis´s for Christmas Dinner. Josiah was scheduled to serve Christmas Dinner at the shelter this year and since Buck, JD and Vin had been left to fend for themselves Christmas Day, he had volunteered them to help out.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

The table was noisy. Family by choice talked and joked as they enjoyed their Christmas feast. JD had taken the expected ribbing over the haircut good-naturedly. Casey had staunchly defended his hair cut, running her hand slowly over the stubble at the back of his neck, declaring that she liked it. No one missed the fact that other than that the young couple had been unusually quiet throughout the meal. Buck had sent the odd sly wink across the table to get people´s attention and then tilted his head in the JD and Casey´s direction. He suspected what they were up to.

JD left his dessert untouched as he sat back for a moment to watch everyone. “He had a lot to be thankful for,” he thought as his gaze travel from person to person around the table.

Buck, a friend, mentor, unofficial big brother, he´d taught JD how to live life. His own upbringing hadn´t been any more advantaged than JD´s yet he knew how to live life and enjoy it, not just survive it as JD had done for the first eighteen years. How lucky he was to have such a person in his life. He hadn´t missed Buck´s signals to the others but choose to ignore them. Everyone would know soon enough.

Josiah the man who, more than any of the others, understood his struggles with his conscience as he tried to make the right decisions as a catholic in the modern world. He could talk to Josiah about anything.

Nathan and Rain both, six generations in a country where they were not accepted everywhere. Even he himself, whose own mother was literally off the boat from Wales, was more readily accepted. Yet they were loving, caring of others and still thrived. Six months pregnant, Rain looked especially lovely this evening.

Ezra, suave, sophisticated and worldly, his unique up-bringing had made him a natural for his chosen profession. He never once made JD feel awkward or ignorant especially when it came to his naivete. Ezra was down-to-earth when it came to the essentials of character. This evening Ezra had let his guard down because his eyes were especially bright betraying the fact that he was enjoying the warmth of acceptance within their midst.

Chris was a father figure for him. Chris set the bar of achievement high for him. Chris was quick with his praise, when he performed well, honest and constructive when he did not. The standards Chris set weren´t just for the job.

Mary, a lady not unlike his own mother might have been had she had the chance at an education. He could see what Mary did for Chris. The lines that reflected his painful loss seem to fade from his face whenever she was around.

Vin, he was the one who was truly a brother in both thought and deed. An ally in everything from junk food consumption to practical jokes to video games, Vin always treated him as an equal.

Nettie, a rare woman indeed, she knew when to “kick butt” and when to lend an understanding ear. He was sure she was clairvoyant. She seemed to always know what he was thinking when it came to Casey and their relationship.

Finally, Casey, the love of his life, he knew that now. They both knew they were destined to spend the rest of their lives together but they also realized they weren´t ready for the permanent commitment yet. She alone knew what was about to happen. She looked at him with serious eyes. He looked back at her asking the question without words. She answered with a gentle, encouraging smile and a nod. “Now”

He stood slowly. One by one they turned in question to look at him. In the silence he suddenly felt nervous. He groped down at his side for Casey´s hand. She slipped hers into his almost immediately.

“I have something to tell you all.”

He was aware that Nettie turned startled eyes on Casey. Casey returned Nettie´s question with an almost imperceptible little shake of her head.

“I ahm…”

“You two are engaged!” Buck grinning from ear to ear started to rise from his chair ready to engulf the young couple in a giant hug.

“No!” without meaning to, JD had shouted the word. The joyful grin on Buck´s face faded and was replaced with a stricken look as he lowered himself back into his chair.

“No,” he said more quietly. “Not that I don´t want to be but that´s not it.” He smiled down at her briefly before squeezing her hand and looking back at the people around the table. “It´s something else.”

Everyone at the table was picking up on the serious tone of JD´s voice.

“I received orders last Monday. My reserve unit has been activated. I´m going to Iraq.”

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

He wasn´t sure what he had expected when he announced his call to duty. An awkward silence had suddenly descended. Even the muted Christmas carols that had been playing in the background had reached the end of their rotation and had stopped. JD glanced around the table. He was met with wide-eyed stares of disbelief. It had seemed forever before someone had spoken.

Josiah had been first. “It´s a proud moment for you JD, knowing that you´ll be serving your country.”

It wasn´t exactly a ringing endorsement.

“When do you have to report?” Chris tried to sound nonchalant but the question was a demand for information. Chris Larabee would never be nonchalant.

“By noon, tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow!” the tremor in Mary´s voice matched the tears in Rain´s eyes.

There was another long pause before Vin spoke. “It´s a fine thing yur doin´ JD.” Vin´s words sounded encouraging but his voice held that fatalistic “ya gotta do what ya gotta do” tone Vin was famous for.

“Yes,” The word caught in Ezra´s throat and he coughed and shifted in his chair before continuing. “Indeed… we´re all very proud of you. Mr. Dunne.”

“I guess this wasn´t entirely unexpected,” said Nathan quietly. “Nearly one in seven of those serving in Iraq are reservists.”

JD´s eyes finally came to rest on Buck. Buck returned an angry scowl and then rose suddenly from the table. Grabbing his coat off its hanger, he disappeared outside without a word.

JD stood dumbfounded for a moment and then excused himself from the table to follow Buck.

Chris stopped him with a word. “Wait.”

JD turned back to look at Chris, confusion written all over his face. “Chris what´s wrong? Why is he so..?”

“JD, let me go talk to him.” Chris replied quietly.

Chris closed the door behind him as the rest of the gathering slowly moved to clear away dishes, put away food and prepare coffee and after dinner drinks as they readied themselves to open gifts.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

Chris followed the footprints in the fresh snowfall across the yard and into the barn. He found Buck leaning up against the gate to Beau´s stall. Buck was scratching Beau behind the ears. The big gray nickered in appreciation.



“This isn´t the way to handle this, Buck.”

“I know Chris, but I just don´t have it in me to lie and tell him I´m happy for ‘em.”

“Ya shouldn´t have to lie.”

“Chris there are kids dyin´ over there.” Buck suddenly exploded. “Hell, you´ve seen the web site, some of those boys are younger than JD! I bet some of them haven´t even voted yet and their lives are over!”

“I know Buck, but JD has made a commitment to serve his country and the powers that be have deci…”

“The powers that be!” Buck spat the words out distastefully. “The government doesn´t even want to admit to the casualties. They call body bags transfer tubes, like they think changin´ the name´s gonna fool everybody! And now that we´ve caught the bastard, the attacks seem even worse than before.”

“Buck I can´t disagree with anything you´re saying and I´m not going to argue the politics of this war with you, that´s for wiser men than I am. But the issue here is that JD has decided that this is the way he wants to serve his country. It´s an honourable duty he´s undertaking and it´s your job… our job… as the only family he´s got, to support him in that decision.”

“I know that Chris,” Buck scrubbed at his face with his hand. “It´s just so damn hard to…”

Chris stood beside Buck and put his hand on his shoulder. The gold, green eyes bore into his cobalt blue ones, “Put it where it belongs stud and move forward. The kid, your kid, needs you to be one hundred percent behind him on this.”

Buck nodded and hung his head, “I know.”

“Can he count on you Buck?”

“Yeah,” he sighed heavily.

“You coming in then?”

“Yeah, I´ll be in, in a minute.”

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

The clock on the bedside table flickered. It was now 3:00 a.m.

JD didn´t feel the least bit tired. He lay on his back with Casey´s head on his shoulder, cradling her in his arms. She had fallen asleep about an hour ago. They had talked for a long time. Talked about how they felt, what life was going to be like for them when they were apart, how great it would be when he got back home again.

He pulled Casey gently in close to himself. She sighed. She felt soft and warm and… well… sexy. He caressed her hair with his cheek, her scent filled his nostrils. She smelled wonderful. She smelt of home and safety and security.

It wasn´t that he didn´t want to go. He wanted to do his duty, he wanted to serve, but he wasn´t fooling himself, though technically the war was over, soldiers were still dying.

Like so many others after 9/11 he felt he had to do something to help, to be apart of making a difference. Joining the reserves had seemed to be a way he could do that. That was long before the war with Iraq.

Nathan had warned him before he´d joined up, that he might be sent to active duty in a war zone. Nathan had served in the Gulf war and there had been reservists in that war. At the time that possibility had seemed so remote. Now it was 3:00 a.m. Sunday and that remote possibility was going to be a reality in a few short hours.

He had been surprised when he received his orders in Monday´s mail. He had never expected to be sent to overseas. At first there had been an initial rush of excitement, he was finally going to serve, finally he was going to do something that would make a difference. He felt proud to be doing his duty. After the excitement waned and he had chance to consider what this meant the full impact began to dawn on him. He would be far away from family and friends, far away from everything familiar and far away from the life he had built for himself. He still wanted to go but now, he had to admit he was a little scared.

He rolled slowly over onto his side toward Casey. She roused from her slumber just enough to spoon into him before settling back to sleep again.

He hadn´t been sure how to tell everyone. Chris had been away all week on a course, so he had confirmed it with A.D. Travis that, as his employer, the agency had been notified of his call to duty.

Wednesday evening he´d gone to see Casey to show her his orders. Together, they had decided they would tell everyone at the Christmas Dinner celebration. She had been great through all of this, supporting him, understanding his need to do this, putting his concerns and feelings ahead of her own. He knew she didn´t want him to go. He knew she was a little scared too but she refused to show it. He didn´t deserve her.

Now he lay thinking of everyone last night… and the look in Buck´s eyes…

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

It had been half an hour since Chris had gone out to the barn to speak to Buck. Everyone was waiting patiently for Buck to return before opening gifts. JD had decided to go out and bring him back in. If for no other reason, it was only hours before he had to leave and JD was feeling as urgent need to get some things taken care of. Their conversation hadn´t gone well…

“Dammit Buck! I don´t want to leave with you mad at me.”

“I´m not mad JD,” Buck said quietly as he stabbed at the mound of hay and forked it into Beau´s stall.

JD let out a frustrated sigh. “Buck, this is not just about some contract I signed. I want to go. This is my country that´s calling.”

“I understand kid, this is my country too.” Buck stopped what he was doing on leaned on the pitchfork. “I support you. I really do.” He swallowed hard and looked away.

“Then talk to me,” urged the younger man.

“I´ve got nothing to say.”

“Then at least look at me.” JD still didn´t understand why Buck was so distant, why he was so upset. “I won´t be gone long.”

“It´s not how long you´ll be gone. It´s you coming ba…,” he couldn´t say it, as if voicing his worst fears would some how make them come true.

JD frowned “Coming back? You´re worried about me coming back?” How could he think such a thing!

Buck said nothing.

“Hey Buck,” his words were soft as he tried to sooth his friend´s fears, “of course I´m coming back.”

“Promise me that you will, kid.”

“I promise.”

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

Buck had returned to the warmth of family and friends with JD. The gift opening that followed had been a strained affair, despite everyone´s best efforts to be delighted over their respective gifts the festive mood of earlier in the evening had been lost.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

JD had felt distinctly unsatisfied. After the gift opening Buck had taken a beer and gone back out to the barn. He had decided to leave him for now while he said his good-byes to the others.

JD found Chris in his office.


“JD.” Chris had been staring out the window into the gently falling snow. Hearing JD´s approach he spun around to meet their Kid.

“I just want to let you know, I´ll make you proud of me, Chris.”

JD made the vow with a little too much enthusiasm for Chris´s liking, “JD, I´m already proud of you,” said Chris seriously, “and that´s not gonna change.” He grabbed the kid by the shoulders and shook him gently, “So do me a favour son, just concentrate on taking care of yourself, doing your job and coming home in one piece. In that order… got it?”

JD felt a little deflated by Chris´s admonishment, “Yeah Chris, I got it.”

“Good,” he said moving to shake his hand as he clapped him on the shoulder. “I´m very proud of you… son.”

JD couldn´t help but smile a little with pride, “Thanks Chris.”

“How´s Buck doing?”

“Not so good,” JD replied ruefully, “I´m not sure he understands. Will you keep an eye on him while I´m gone?”

He understands only too well JD. “Sure I will JD.”

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

He had tried to shake hands with Nathan after being hugged, a number of times, by a tearful Rain. She had apologized saying the pregnancy had made her especially emotional of late.

“You´re not getting away with that,” growled Nathan as he pulled JD into his arms. For a man who was so gentle, Nathan had steel bands for arms. “You be careful!” he lectured, “I won´t be around to fix you up, understand?”

“Understood Nathan,” gasped JD, “Now lemme breathe!”

Nathan chuckled and let go and set JD back down on his feet.

“Nathan, Rain, you gotta let me know, right away, e-mail me, if I´m a niece-uncle or nephew-uncle when you have the baby,” insisted JD.

Rain choked up with tears again so she could only nod in agreement.

“I promise JD… right away,” said Nathan tears springing to his eyes. Life will go on but I can´t imagine what it will be like without you here.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

“Hey JD, good luck.” Vin and JD clasped forearms.

JD smiled in return, “Thanks Vin, at least you understand.”

“Sure I do, and they do too.”

“Then why are they all acting so ultra serious?”

“I guess ‘cause they saw action and I never did. Sure I went overseas but a short stint in Germany isn´t the same as ‘Nam or the Gulf or Special Ops with the Seals, even Waco.”

“I guess…” The reply was thoughtful. Vin could tell JD was beginning to put it together.

Vin rubbed his hand over the stubble of JD´s head playfully, “Keep your head down okay, I don´t wanta be the kid around here, got it?”

“Yeah, I got it.”

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

He found Ezra alone in the kitchen, for some reason the man who made an art out of avoiding menial tasks had volunteered to unload the first load of the dishwasher and reload it again.


“Yes Mr. Du… JD,” replied Ezra not turning around to look at him but continuing instead to work steadily away at stacking plates.

“I ah… came to say…” JD paused not sure how to continue with Ezra, feelings weren´t something Ezra liked laid out in the open.

Ezra suddenly turned to face him, “God´s speed Mr. Dunne. It is my most heartfelt hope that your absence will be brief and that you will both return to us safe and sound.” He said formally as he shook each man´s hand.

“Ez, not like this,” implored JD.

Ezra blinked several times rapidly then he had suddenly looped an arm around JD´s neck and pulled him in close. The gesture felt awkward but Ezra´s voice was rough with emotion, “Forgive me, but I don´t want you to leave… I understand that you must though. It is your duty.”

“Hell Ez,” scoffed JD mildly, feeling both a little flattered and a little embarrassed at Ezra´s uncharacteristic loss of composure. “I´ll be back before you know it.”

“It is my most fervent hope that that will be the case JD.”

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

Josiah came into the kitchen just as Ezra had left. JD knew Josiah had gone to the barn to talk to Buck, he could only hope that it had helped. Buck´s whole reaction here still had JD pretty confused.

Josiah drained the last of the coffee in the pot into his cup mug.

“Josiah, you haven´t said anything. You went to Viet Nam. You understand, don´t ya?”

It´s because I went to Nam JD, that I haven´t said anything. Josiah looked up from the coffee mug he´d been starring into. His face was unusually somber. “I understand JD,” he said quietly after a moment. How do I tell you about what you might find out there and how it will change your life forever?

Then mustering up an encouraging smile, Josiah put down his mug and walked over to the young man. “I´m going to miss you John Dunne.” He said as he looked down at him. He grabbed him affectionately by the back of the neck and then he blessed him. “God keep you safe and bring you back to us.”

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

The whole situation had become tense and unbearable just as Nettie declared that she was tired and wanted to go home. JD and Casey escaped with the excuse of driving Nettie home. They ended up back at the CDC in each other´s arms.

“It wasn´t your fault,” she had said, trying to comfort him. “It´s only because they care about you. They just need a little time to get used to the idea.”

She was right, they just needed more time, maybe he should have told them right away but given everyone´s reaction couldn´t have stood a week of this.

He remembered looking into her eyes, he had wanted to drown himself in their depths. Then as now he loved her so much it hurt.

Casey had wanted to please him but instead he insisted on making love to her. He had spent hours going over her body learning and relearning every inch of her. Every mole, every freckle, every sensitive spot, memorizing every part of her, every sound she made, these memories would have to last him a long time. When she couldn´t wait any longer she pleaded for release. They had lost themselves in the sensations of each other´s bodies. Clinging to one another they had peaked together. A few minutes later, after his five senses returned, he had rolled over taking her with him in his arms. Then they had talked.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

“JD, come on in.” Casey ordered him. “JD we´re over twenty-one and free to make our own decisions.” When he didn´t move from behind the steering wheel, “What we do is our business, not hers.”

JD sat in his uniform and looked at her skeptically. Casey still had that “well kissed” puffiness to her lips, there was no way Nettie wasn´t gonna know what they had been doing last night... and this morning. Actually it had been nearly six months and he figured Nettie probably knew anyway, heck she probably even knew when the first time was. That woman seemed to know everything before it even happened.

Casey prodded him again, “If you don´t come in, it´s likely she´ll come out here and get you.”

JD winced, better to be chewed out in private than in public. “All right,” he replied grudgingly. What was the matter with him? He was shipping out to serve his country in a few hours and he was more afraid of what Nettie might to do to him than any enemy he might meet, but then the enemy wasn´t dating Nettie Welles´ niece.

Nettie met them at the door.

“I have to change my clothes” mumbled Casey as she took off up the stairways to her bedroom. JD gaped after her “where had all her bravado of a few minutes ago gone?” he wondered.


He cringed inwardly as he turned to face the old woman alone.

“Come in here and sit down young man.” She ordered.

He meekly followed her into the kitchen and sat down at the table.

She poured him a cup of coffee, set the mug down in front of him and pushed the sugar and milk across the table toward him.

“You two didn´t argue last night did you?” Her manner was calm, her gaze penetrating.

“No,” he dropped his eyes to concentrate on putting sugar into his coffee and shook his head. A smile curled his lips just a little as his thoughts travel back to what they had done last night.

“You made memories instead,” she stated quietly.

His eyes shot up to hers.

She reached across the table and laid her hand on his. “It´s alright son,” she whispered, “that´s exactly what you two should have been doing.”

Then he saw it in her eyes. She understood.

He let out the breath he hadn´t realized he had been holding and took a long drink of the hot liquid.

He stared down at the coffee in the mug in his hands. “Nettie?”

“Yes JD?”

“What happened last night?”

He brought his eyes up to look at her. He saw sympathy in her eyes. He suddenly realized that she was in fact a far cry from the crusty old woman she made out to be.

“I didn´t do anything wrong, I know I didn´t, but I feel like I did.”

She smiled ruefully to herself, “No JD, you didn´t do anything wrong.”

“She took another drink of her coffee and set it down on the table before answering him. “JD, my husband fought in the Korean War, my father in the Second World War, my mother lost her father in the First World War. Edmund and I lost one of our sons in Viet Nam. Some of our great-nephews, Casey´s cousins, saw action in Gulf War. Now you´re going to this war.”

He opened his mouth to correct her.

She held up her hand. “I know, officially the hostilities are over.”

She shook her head gently. “JD, every generation of mothers prays their child won´t have to go to war but for some reason that never seems to change.”

“Nettie, nothing´s going to happen to me!”

Young people and that notion that they are indestructible, she thought, from generation to generation some things never change. She smiled sadly at him, “Likely not, JD.”

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

Buck had slept little and was up with the dawn´s first light. He´d stayed at Chris´s, deciding to give JD and Casey their privacy on what was likely their last night together for a while.

He stood in the yard watching his breath curl in white clouds before him in the cold morning air. The new snow sparkled under the first rays of sunlight.

“God, why the hell did people ever have kids?” he wondered. He´d lost more sleep worrying over this “kid” in the last four years than he had in his previous thirty eight. Now this kid…. his kid… was walking into harm´s way and, sonofabitch, there wasn´t a damn thing he could do about it!

His head turned toward the road at the sound. At this God awful hour here was Josiah´s suburban coming up the driveway. Nathan could be seen in the passenger´s seat, yawning.

“´Morning Buck!”

“Josiah,” Buck frowned, the man was obscenely cheerful for this early hour of the morning.

“Coffee?” Nathan barely got the word out before he was gripped by another yawn.

“Pot should be ready by now,” replied Buck nodding toward the house.

“Good, I´ll get breakfast started,” he mumbled as he made his way up the stairs into the house.

“Breakfast?” Buck asked Josiah.

“Yeah, we decided to meet here and go see JD off at the airport this morning. Vin and Ezra should be here any minute.”

“…and when was this decided?”

“Last night… you were in the barn.”

Buck replied with a scowl.

“You okay Buck?”

“Yeah fine!” spat Buck as he turned away from Josiah to watch the sun crest the horizon.

“That´s good.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Buck could see Josiah watching him. He sighed, “No, no I´m not. I can´t pretend. I don´t want the kid to go.”

“Buck, he´s serving his country and what´s more, he very proud to be doing it.”

“I know, I just always, sorta, hoped if JD´s Ma could have, she would have chosen me to keep an eye on him and I feel like I´m letting her down by letting him go.”

“Well for one thing if his Mother had had anything to do with it, I have no doubt she would have chosen you to watch over him. For another, you´re not letting him do anything. He´s his own man. He´s made a commitment and he´s going to see it through.”

“I wish I could fix it so he wouldn´t have to go.”

“If you did Buck, he´d never forgive you.”

“But he´d be safe for sure.”

“Buck, you of all people knows there is more to life than just being safe. How you live it is way more important.”

“Okay then, how am I supposed to deal with this Josiah? Tell me how because I sure as hell would like to know!”

Josiah watched the tall man beside him. “So that was it!” he thought to himself. “Buck couldn´t back JD up this time, this was situation was out of his control and Buck had no idea how to cope with it.”

“Buck, it´s really pretty simple but it´s not easy to do. You let him know you respect his decision, that you love him… and then you pray every minute he´s gone.”

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

JD stood in amongst the dozens of other young men and their families, his kit leaning against his hip, his arm around Casey. He watched the other men in uniform around him. Some held small children, most were smiling and talking encouragingly with wives, girlfriends and parents.

JD noticed one man leaning over talking to a boy of about twelve. The boy wiped repeatedly at his eyes while his father spoke to him. The look on the father´s face was gentle. The man finally stood straight again and hugged the boy to his side with one hand and cradling his head against himself with his other. The father looked at his wife who smiled back at him then he planted a kiss on top of the boy´s head. The little scene had JD choking back tears.

JD sighed impatiently and for the fiftieth time in the last minute he stretched up and swiveled his head around looking for a familiar, actually six familiar faces.

“They´ll be here,” Casey assured him confidently, for the fiftieth time.

“I know… I know… I´m just worried about Buck, ya know?”

She was about to reply when the crowd to their left began to part. Casey broke into a relieved smile, as she caught sight of the six men as they arrowed their way slowly through. Buck at point.

“JD,” said Buck with a small but genuine smile as the group reached them.

“Buck,” replied JD nodding, “Guys, glad you could make it.”

“We almost didn´t,” groused Nathan.

Ezra held his hands out from his sides in innocence, “My dear sir who would have thought there would be such traffic at this hour on a Sunday morning!”

“By the looks of the crowd Ez, most everybody else,” observed Vin wryly.

All too soon the crowd began to separate and the men in uniform began moving toward the departure door.

JD hurried shook hands and received pats on the back and “good lucks.”

He turned to Casey and took a few precious seconds to memorize her face again. He kissed her long and lovingly.

“I promise I´ll e-mail you as soon as I can.” He whispered as they stood forehead to forehead after the kiss.

“I´ll be waiting,” she smiled bravely up at him.

“I love you Casey.”

“I love you too JD.”

He swung his heavy kit bag onto his shoulder and took one last look at everyone, “Well, I guess this is it.”

“JD!” said Buck suddenly as he turned to leave.

The kid turned back to face his partner. Buck´s eyes said it all… and JD suddenly found himself buried against Buck´s chest.

“Take care of yourself son,” Buck whispered into his ear.

“I will, I promise I will,” he replied into Buck´s shoulder.

Buck sniffed, slapped him affectionately on the back as they let go of each other.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

The line on the windswept tarmac stopped moving. JD took the moment to look up at the windows filled with family and friends. His eyes ran quickly along the faces of the people. There they were! He lifted his hand and waved and received seven simultaneous waves back.

“Friends?” asked the young soldier behind him as he followed JD´s gaze.

“Family,” he replied with a smile.

The soldier scanned the group, an immaculately dressed dandy, a black man, an older guy who looked like he´d seen his share, a man whose stare would cower the meanest Master Sergeant and a young guy with shoulder-length hair. In the middle of these five stood a tall mustached man with his arm around the shoulders of a petite beauty.

“Helluva family ya got there,” commented the soldier dryly.

JD snorted, “You have no idea!”


Sequel: Surviving the First Few Days...