Universe: Angela's 7B Ranch AU
Notes: Merry Christmas everyone, and thank you, Marnie! :)
JD slid across the kitchen floor in his stocking feet and slammed to a stop against the table. "Hi, guys!" He grinned, looking from Ezra to Vin with chipper expectation.
"Hi, JD," both boys replied, in unison, nowhere near as enthusiastic as JD had hoped.
He took a deep breath and pushed down the tiny spark of disappointment. He was not going to let anything spoil his mood. "Whatchya doin'?"
Vin rubbed his forehead and looked up from the math problems he was working on. "What's it look like I'm doin'?" he asked, grumpy because he didn't care much for math. His teacher had told him he was taking too long on his timed tests and given him some worksheets to practice on. She had suggested he skip the ones he wasn't sure of and come back to them when he was finished with the other problems, if he still had time, but he just couldn't do things that way.
"I'm practicing the waltz, of course," Ezra answered drolly, not even bothering to look up from the book he was reading, even though he'd already read it a thousand times before. His mother had bought him the book, years ago, and he liked to read it, mostly when he missed her -- not that he'd ever admit such a thing.
Struggling to remain unfazed by his brothers' hostile responses, he slapped the wrinkled piece of paper he'd been holding onto the table and beamed up at them. "I got my list all done!"
Ezra ignored him, for the most part; he simply nodded, turned the page and kept reading.
Vin, on the other hand, rolled his eyes in disgust. He was getting really, really tired of listening to JD carry on about this Santa Claus business. Personally, he thought the kid was a little too old to believe in Santa, but when he'd volunteered to be the one to break the news to him that Santa wasn't real, his older brothers had warned him not to even think about it.
"Cool, JD," he said, forcing himself to stay focused on his math problems.
"So," JD looked from Vin to Ezra, still wearing a too-cheerful smile on his freckled face. "Do you guys got yours done?"
"Do we got what done?"
"Your Christmas lists for Santa?"
Vin merely snorted and shook his head.
Ezra was a bit more tactful. "Not as of yet, JD."
"Oh," JD scrunched up his face, perplexed. "Why not?"
"Because, we haven't had time," Ezra said more patiently. "But don't you worry, we'll get to them eventually."
"Oh, okay, but ya better hurry 'cause there ain't a lot of time left." He paused a few seconds then added, "Ya want to make sure Santa knows what you want, don't ya?"
Vin shrugged, keeping his eyes on his homework. 70 times 3 is . . .?
"Two hundred and ten."
"Seventy times three is two hundred and ten."
Ezra started to laugh until Vin kicked him under the table. "Ow!"
JD smiled angelically at Vin. "What?"
Vin scribbled the answer on his paper then shifted it away from JD's view. "Just . . . go away."
The bright, happy little face fell. "I was just tryin' to help you get done so you'd have time to write your list for Santa." Boy, sometimes Vin could be rude.
"I don't need your help, and I ain't writin' no stupid list to Santa."
JD's mouth fell open in disbelief. "Why?"
Boy, sometimes JD could be annoying. "Cause, there ain't--" he started, glancing up at the younger boy for a second before returning to his homework, "Cause, I don't feel like it."
"But . . ." JD was not to be put off. He tilted his head and tugged on Vin's sleeve. "'Siah said we needed to write a list so Santa would know what we wanted! See," he pushed his paper closer to Ezra who, he'd apparently decided, was in a better mood than Vin. "I wrote all the things I want!"
Ezra smiled benevolently and picked up the piece of paper. "My, my . . . this is quite a list you have here," he said, as he skimmed the items. "What in the world is a Transformer Cybertron Ultra Figure - Scourge?"
JD brightened again and took a deep breath to explain. "It's a dragon that transforms into robot! He has three heads and a battle-ax for a tale, and he can scream like this--"
"Never mind." Ezra quickly placed a hand over JD's mouth until he was certain the demonstration would not ensue. "I'm sorry I asked."
Vin kept working on his math, but he had a grin on his face.
"Darth Vader Voice Changer Helmet?" Ezra raised his eyebrows, not entirely sure he cared to hear a description of this item.
Vin had a bad feeling. Nothing could get JD rambling more than the mention of Star Wars.
"It's a mask just like Darth Vader's! When you put it on it makes your voice sound just like Darth Vader's voice. Not Anakin's voice, you know, Darth Vader . . . after he fights Obi-Wan and gets all burned up on that fiery planet and Chancellor Vallorum . . . .er, I mean Darth Sidious puts him all back together. Luke," JD made his voice deep and raspy, "I am your father."
"Oh, brother," said Ezra, looking toward the heavens.
"No father. Darth Vader is really Luke's father, not--"
"We know, JD!" Vin cut him off in exasperation.
A very small part of Ezra's mind was curious to know what exactly Electronic 'Thing' Feet and Hands were, but the death glare Vin was casting at JD kept his curiosity in check. "Aren't you a little old for a GI Joe, Ninja Battle Figure set?"
"Well . . ." JD shrugged, looking a little guilty, "no."
"My, my, this is quite a list you have here," Ezra repeated, shaking his head, not sure there was really anything else to say.
"Yeah," JD beamed at them. "I wrote all the things I could think of. So, are you guys gonna make your lists now?"
"JD?" Vin snapped.
"Can't ya see we're busy?" Vin sounded grumpier by the minute.
"JD," Ezra said more calmly, wondering why there were never any witnesses when he was behaving in an exemplary manner. "It might be wise to come back at another time."
"Yeah," agreed Vin, "like after New Year."
JD snatched his paper from Ezra, folded his arms across his chest and said, "Fine then, don't come cryin' to me when you don't get nothin' for Christmas."
"Don't get nothin'?" Ezra raised an eyebrow and opened his mouth to engage in a grammar lesson. He had long ago given up trying to correct Vin's abuse of the English language, but he hadn't before noticed that JD's had become almost equally corrupt. Before he could say anything, though, Vin reached out and gave the youngest boy a push toward the door. "We won't. Now, git."
"Santa's probably gonna bring you coal!"
"Fine with me."
JD's scowl deepened. Vin wasn't supposed to say 'Fine' he was supposed to apologize for being rude. He was supposed to be thankful that JD'd reminded him to make a list so he could get stuff from Santa. "Or maybe he won't bring you nothin'!"
"Won't bring you nothin'?" Ezra looked stricken. What were they teaching children in school these days?
"He probably won't be bringing nobody nothin', JD," Vin knew the smart thing to do would be to keep quiet and go back to his homework, but he just couldn't help himself. "Ya wanna know why?"
"No!" But it was obvious that he really did want to know. It took all of ten seconds before he narrowed his eyes and lifted his chin. "Okay, why?"
"Vin," Ezra warned quietly, but other than that he thought it best to remain neutral. Taking a sip of his raspberry flavored hot chocolate, he went back to reading, hoping that Vin would follow his example. Of course, this was Vin . . ..
"Cause I saw him, in town, on the way home from school and . . . well," Vin feigned an expression of sympathy, "he wasn't lookin' too good."
"The poor ol' guy was laid out, face flat in the snow."
Ezra choked, almost spewing a mouthful of hot chocolate.
JD's eyes narrowed with suspicion. "You're makin' that up."
"No, I ain't." It was the truth. Although, he didn't mention that the Santa he'd seen flat in the snow was one of them big blow-up Santas that everyone was putting up in their yards. "He was layin--"
Vin gave Ezra a quick glare. "Lyin' there flat on his face. Don't know what happened to him, but he didn't look like he'd be getting up anytime soon."
"Yuh-huh, and," Vin licked the corner of his lips, deciding to enhance the story a little, "there was crows, dozens of 'em all around, peckin' at him." There had been a few crows, but they hadn't been anywhere near the flat Santa. "I reckon the crows musta scared off his reindeer or somethin' 'cause they weren't nowhere around."
JD just stood there, his mouth hanging open, like he wasn't sure whether or not he believed Vin. He looked toward Ezra, eyes pleading for the older boy to set things straight.
Unfortunately for JD, Ezra found he was completely unable to continue in his role as The Good Brother. Some temptations were just too hard to resist. "Good Lord, Vin." He closed his book, set it on the table and leaned closer to Vin. "Where ever do you think they could have gone?"
Vin had a smirk on his face now; his eyes were bright with mischief. Ezra thought that even JD should be able to recognize that Vin was full of . . ..
"Probably panicked and hightailed it back to the North Pole."
"Yes, you're probably right." Ezra sighed dramatically, doing his best to avoid looking at either Vin or JD. "I wonder if they'll come back once they get their heads together?"
"Stop it!" JD slapped the table, his face filled with both anger and uncertainty. "You guys are lying!"
"Maybe," Vin shrugged at Ezra, ignoring JD's outburst, "or maybe they're lost out there somewhere, and they'll just keep on flying until they run out of steam."
"Hmm . . .." Ezra rubbed his chin in speculation, "I'm curious, did you happen to notice any reindeer tracks in the yard?"
Vin squinted his eyes as if he were trying to envision the scene. "Nope, now that ya mention it, I don't remember seeing none."
"You know, I wonder if it's possible that Santa merely took a spill from the sleigh as it was flying over our humble little municipality."
"Ya know," Vin nodded, as if the light had dawned, "that makes sense. They coulda been flying way up high-"
"Probably spying on all the poor, oblivious children in order to discern which were deserving of adequate presents, and which were deserving of coal."
"Yeah, and then ol' Santa just leaned a little too far over the side of the sleigh, lost his balance, and Splat!" Vin slapped his palm down on the table, startling JD.
"Or perhaps," Ezra lowered his voice, conspiratorially. He just couldn't resist this one last theory, "it wasn't an accident at all? Perhaps this is the work of a malicious elf?"
"Perhaps said elf had been waiting for years, biding his time for just the perfect opportunity."
"I heard some of them elves weren't real fond of Santa."
"That's stupid!" JD declared, glaring at them both. "Everyone loves Santa."
"Think about it, JD. How would you like to work every day, all year long, in a sweat shop?"
"Is there really a difference? Do you think the conditions of the facility meet OSHA requirements? Do you think Santa pays his elves a decent salary? Or offers them any type of benefits?"
"So, does that mean they shouldn't be allowed a vacation? Don't you think that even elves should be entitled to sick days every now and then?"
"Or a bonus for workin' all them long holiday hours every year?" Vin added.
"And, what about Health Insurance? I wonder how many times those poor overworked elves have woken up the day after Christmas, coughing and sneezing after being out in the weather for such an extended period of time?"
"I reckon them elves wish they had a nice warm suit like the one Santa gets to wear."
"I doubt they're able to afford such luxuries."
Ezra and Vin looked sadly at each other.
"Ya reckon they have doctors up there in the North Pole?"
"I highly doubt it."
"One of the elves is a dentist!" JD pointed out.
Vin rolled his eyes. "That's just on the TV show, JD."
Ezra was about to inform them that, to his knowledge, there were no doctors or medical facilities in that particular region when the back door opened and Buck came into the kitchen.
"Howdy, boys," he cheerfully greeted them as he hung his coat on one of the hooks. The grin he was wearing immediately faded at the sight of the saddest face he'd ever seen. "Hey now, what's wrong, JD?"
JD sniffled, mostly 'cause he knew it would get to Buck, and then took hold of his hero's big, strong hand. "Buck?" He made sure his voice quivered. "Are there hospitals at the North Pole?"
"Vin and Ezra said--"
Vin was suddenly out of his chair, with a hand on his younger brother's shoulder. "Hey, JD! Let's go upstairs and get started on them lists."
"Yes," Ezra appeared on JD's other side, "you can help us write ours."
"But you said--"
"Never mind that, JD. We changed our mind, we want to write them now."
Buck gave the older boys a look of warning then crouched in front of JD. "What did they say, buddy?"
"Ah, Vin," As a last resort, Ezra pulled a box from his book bag. He elbowed Vin and gave him a meaningful look. "Why don't you and I leave JD alone and the two of us can go upstairs and share this box of delicious Girl Scout cookies."
JD spun toward Ezra and the box of cookies. "Yum! Thin Mints!" He licked his lips and all but drooled, just as Ezra had known he would.
Ezra saves the day, again, he thought, feeling somewhat proud of himself. He was about to lead them upstairs and out of trouble, again, when he noticed Vin was not following his lead. Again.
Vin was standing still, staring at Ezra with distaste. He didn't look at all like a boy who'd just been offered his favorite food; he looked more like a boy who'd just been asked to put on a dress and high heels and perform a rendition of 'I Feel Pretty'.
"Vin," he called softly, ignoring Buck, who had an entirely too smug look on his handsome face. He tried waving the cookies enticingly in Vin's face, "They're chocolate."
But, Vin stepped back, shaking his head and holding up his hand as if warding off evil. "No thanks, I ain't eatin' no Girl Cookies."
"Girl Cookies?" Girl Cookies? What on Earth . . .? He had no idea what to say -- no clue as to what was going on in Vin's sometimes very twisted mind.
One glance at Buck told him that Buck knew, though.
"I don't blame ya one bit, buddy." Buck smirked at Ezra before turning a concerned look on Vin. He dropped his hand consolingly on Vin's bony shoulder and said, "Why don't you just come on over here, and me and you'll have us some manly cookies and then you can tell ol' Buck what you boys been up to today."
Ezra sighed. Divide and conquer. It was a method that always worked when his two younger brothers were involved. He estimated that it would take less than five minutes for Vin to spill his guts to Buck.
"You got to be careful about them Girl Cookies, pard," Buck confided, guiding Vin away from his accomplice. "You eat too many of 'em, and Bam! The next thing you know you're asking Santa for lip gloss and Barbie dolls."
"No way." Vin shuddered.
Buck patted him on the back. "Way."
With another sigh, Ezra handed over the box of 'Girl Cookies' to JD, who apparently wasn't the least bit concerned that they'd affect his masculinity, and headed toward the stairs. JD ripped the box open and stuffed a cookie into his mouth as he followed Ezra like a faithful puppy.
Ezra wondered how it was that he always managed to end up in these situations? And what the odds were that he'd find himself grounded on Christmas? He pictured Vin, at this very moment, eating Oreos with Buck as he confessed to everything they'd done in the last six months.
And, it didn't seem fair that he usually ended up in the most trouble, even when Vin was the instigator. His older brothers always claimed it was because he was older than Vin, so that made him responsible for keeping the younger boy in line, but he wasn't that much older than Vin, and neither of the younger boys ever obeyed him unless it suited them.
JD stuffed another cookie in his mouth and sat down at Ezra's desk. He opened a spiral notebook and plucked a pencil from the drawer. "So," he said after chewing and swallowing his mouthful, "do you know what you want for Christmas?"
"A reprieve?" Was the first response that popped into his head, and that actually gave him an idea. A way to appease all of his brothers - and kill two turtle doves with one stone.
"Never mind. Hmm . . . let me think. . .."
JD smiled brilliantly, pencil at the ready.
"There's nothing I'd really like for myself, however, if I could ask for anything it would have to be. . .."
~~ ** ~~
"What the hell is a Transformer Cyberwhatever?" Chris wondered aloud as he browsed over JD's very lengthy and detailed list.
"I have no idea, but look, this is scary." Josiah held out Vin's list - the list that Buck had strongly encouraged him to write in order to make up for the way he'd teased JD. "It seems our young Vin would like a set of drums."
"You think that's scary? Get a load of this." Buck placed Ezra's list on the table. At first he'd thought Ezra had made out a list simply to make JD happy, but now that he'd seen the content of the list, well, he'd be willing to stake big money that there was some ulterior motive.
"Peace on Earth? Good will toward men?"
Josiah grinned. "That's our Ezra, always putting the welfare of others first."
"Yeah, right." Chris read and reread the words, just to make sure he wasn't seeing things. When he was done, he shoved the paper aside and looked at his brothers. "Okay, what could he possibly have done?"
Buck shook his head, at a loss. "I don't know, but it must have been bad. Real bad."
"Did Vin mention anything this afternoon?" Chris asked, knowing that Vin and Buck had eaten an entire package of Oreo cookies, which had somehow led to Vin's decision to write a letter to Santa Claus. Until now, Chris really hadn't wanted to know any more of the details from that odd session.
"No," Buck answered, then he grinned. "Well, you know Vin. He fessed up to everything from the sinking of the Titanic to stealing all of JD's Butterfinger candy bars at Halloween, but he didn't mention anything about
"Great, what do we do now?"
"Before we do anything," Josiah reasoned, "I think we need to figure out what Ezra's done."
"And you know how difficult that will be."
Buck let out a long sigh and shook his head sadly. "He'll never admit to doing anything."
Josiah grinned. "Not without his lawyer, anyway."
"Well, we can't just ground him without evidence."
"Chris, it's Christmas."
Chris sighed. "Yeah, I know."
"I say, in the spirit of the holiday, we give the kid a reprieve."
"Okay, at least until we have incriminating evidence."
"If it's anything too bad, we're sure to find out soon enough."
"Hopefully, there's no blood or money involved."
~~ ** ~~
Why was it that things like this only seemed to happen to him? Ezra wondered, as he thought back over the events that had led to his incarceration.
Josiah had asked him, in a round about way, if there was anything he might have done recently that he would want to 'get off his chest'. An inquiry to which he'd answered, No. He'd felt a tiny bit of guilt over the way they'd teased JD, but the cookies and the letter had made up for those sins.
If he had never let JD talk him into writing that ridiculous letter he wouldn't be grounded right now. On Christmas. "That's what you get for trying to be a good brother," he muttered to himself.
"Ezra?" Vin poked his head inside the room.
He wasn't sure if he was speaking to Vin or not. Vin really wasn't at fault for his predicament, but still . . .it all came back to him.
When his brothers had insinuated they had incriminating information on him, he'd been sure they were alluding to the ordeal with JD. How was he supposed to know that Vin hadn't implicated him in that particular crime? Then they'd promised he wouldn't get in trouble as long as he admitted to the crime, but unfortunately he ended up admitting to the wrong one. Who knew they'd get so upset over an innocent game of cards? After all he'd won them an entire case of Girl Scout Cookies -- of which they had all indulged. All except Vin, of course.
"Chris said you can come downstairs, 'cause you're ungrounded."
"Really, well, maybe I like being grounded."
"Chris said you'd probably say that."
"He said to tell ya that 'Siah invited your momma over."
Ezra's jaw dropped. "Josiah invited Maude over here?"
"Yep, she's here right now, and Chris said you best get down there before his Peace and Goodwill runs out."
Ezra couldn't believe it. He hadn't seen his mother for months and had only spoken with her over the phone a few times. He wouldn't trade his life here for anything, but sometimes he still really missed his mother. He could hardly believe she actually agreed to come here. That Josiah would actually invite her here. "Maude's . . . here?"
"Yep," Vin grabbed his arm and tugged him off the bed. "Come on."
"Wait!" He stopped in front of the mirror to check his hair, straighten his clothing.
"Ya look fine."
"Josiah invited Maude, here," he said it to his image in the mirror, because the reality of it still hadn't sunk in. "Maude's here."
"Yep." Vin rolled his eyes and dragged him away from the mirror. Halfway down the stairs, Vin paused. "Did you really say you wanted Peace and Goodwill for Christmas?"
Vin shrugged, "Okay," and resumed pulling him down the stairs.
Before he felt sufficiently prepared, they were standing in the entryway of their noisy living room. He glanced at their tree. It was decorated with a hodge-podge of ornaments, tinsel, strings of popcorn, and flashing multi-colored lights. The angel on top had seen better days; it was faded and listing to the right. He imagined his mother found the tree distasteful, but, although he would never admit it, he thought it was the most beautiful
tree he'd ever laid eyes on.
Beneath the tree there was an array of presents, all shapes and sizes. The wrapping was less than perfect, the red and green bows slapped on top - they would later be slapped on his brothers -- but the gifts were priceless because he knew his brothers had saved and scraped and sacrificed to put them there.
There was a fire in the fireplace and he smiled when he caught sight of the stockings hanging from the mantle, above. His and Vin's would be filled with coal, like they were every year. JD's would probably be filled with 'snowman poop', aka jumbo-sized marshmallows, unless they'd decided JD deserved coal, too, which was highly unlikely.
Vin had sat down on the floor by the tree, next to JD. The two of them were obviously finding it difficult to restrain themselves from touching the presents until Buck managed to distract them both by wrestling them to the ground and away from temptation. The rest of his brothers were talking, laughing and teasing each other, drinking cider and, he noted, helping themselves to his Girl Scout Cookies.
In the midst of the revelry, wearing a red dress trimmed with white fur, his mother sat -- in, of all places, Chris' favorite chair. Chris winked at him from across the room, and then his mother spotted him and smiled, held up a cookie and said, "Merry Christmas, Ezra."
For one brief moment, he found himself unable to contain his feelings of peace and goodwill . . . and the warmth and love that he felt for his home and his family.
~ the end ~