Christmas Delay

by LT

Disclaimer: Don’t own the Seven, not making any money off of them.

Written for the December Christmas challenge as follows:

The guys all have plans to meet for Christmas, but fate is conspiring against them. You can focus on one or all of the guys, but each of them must be included at some point, and each must have some kind of trouble getting to their Christmas celebration. It can be humorous or serious (or both!). Bonus points if you include fruitcake, eggnog, yule log, snowman, chestnuts, and sleigh bells.

Chris hit the steering wheel with his fist and let out a big sigh. He had things to do before the guys got to the ranch. It was Christmas Eve and here he was, stuck in a traffic jam. The radio station he was listening to had reported a traffic tie up due to a ten car pile up. ‘Shoulda reported it twenty minutes ago!’ he thought. Well, there was nothing he could do about it now but sit and wait for the Denver police to get the vehicles towed.

He had been sitting there for almost half an hour when his cell phone played a Christmas song. Frowning and knowing it must have been JD who downloaded Jingle Bells into his phone, he flipped it open. The read out showed the call was from Nathan.

"Hey, Nate, what’s up?" Chris leaned back in his seat. At least it was some thing to do.

"I’m still at the hospital, Chris. You wouldn’t believe this place, it’s a zoo!" Nathan sounded almost as exasperated as Chris felt.

Chris knew he had gone to the hospital where his wife, Raine, worked to give her his Christmas present. She had drawn the graveyard shift for Christmas Eve even though she had seniority over many of the others. She had patted Nathan’s arm when he got upset and said, ‘Let the ones with kids have the night. We’ll be together on Christmas.’ Chris remembered Nathan telling them that Raine had probably volunteered for the long Christmas Eve shift, pride showing in the dark brown eyes.

"There ain’t any of ours there, are there?" the leader of Team Seven asked jokingly with just a hint of apprehension.

"No, but the evening is just getting started. It is Christmas Eve and we are planning to get together. That never goes smooth!"

Chris joined in with Nathan’s chuckle. "Whatcha still doin’ there then?"

"Haven’t been able to get two seconds alone with my wife, that’s why! Everytime I think she going to be free for a few minutes, someone else has an emergency that only Raine can handle. How the hell does this place run when she’s off?"

"She’s a gem, Nathan, you’re not the only one who knows it. Take as long as you need, I’m not even close to home yet. Stuck in the traffic jam from hell. Seems a semi slid as the snow started and nine brainless drivers ran into it. It’s Denver, for Heaven’s sake, don’t these people know how to drive when it starts snowing?"

Chris could hear the warm laughter through the phone line. It had a calming effect on the blonde. Things would work out tonight, they just had to.

"Okay, Chris, be there as soon as I can. Don’t drink too much egg nog before I get there." Nathan seemed more relaxed now too.

"See ya later, Nate. And tell Raine merry Christmas for me, alright?"

"Will do. Be out as soon as I can." The connection went dead and Chris was back to waiting in his truck by himself.

Chris could see tail lights start to glow as those ahead of him took there transmissions from park to drive. He leaned forward in anticipation of moving finally. He shifted the Ram into drive as his phone rang out Jingle Bells again. Flipping it open he noted it was a call from JD.

"Hey JD, where are you?" The young man was probably sitting in his car at the ranch wondering where Chris was.

"I’m still at Nettie’s. I’m taking them to the grocery to get...uh, chestnuts. Nettie doesn’t like to drive in the snow anymore and Casey fell last Sunday when we went skating and sprained her wrist so she can’t drive either. I stopped to put my presents to them under their tree and got sucked into a debate about roasting chestnuts on Christmas Eve being a tradition in the Wells family. Anyway, we’re going to go get chestnuts. Any of the others there yet?"

Chris chuckled, picturing JD in the middle of his women’s argument. The lad was in for many more given the fact that he was crazy in love with the petite brunette. "Hell, JD, I’m nowhere near home yet myself. Have fun with the ladies and be careful out on the roads, you hear me?"

"You sound like Buck! I’m a good driver, even on this stuff. Looks like its gonna snow a bunch tonight, leavin’ us with a white Christmas." The kid from Boston couldn’t hide his joy over the prospect of a beautiful new snow. This was how he remembered Christmas and this was how it was suppose to be.

"Yeah, Kid, I know. And I resent that comparison. I ain’t nuthin’ like that sorry old man with nuthin’ better to do than mother you." He smiled picturing Buck and JD arguing over the Easterner riding his motorcycle in the snow. At least the Easterner had a car now.

"Oh, he has better things to do, he just doesn’t seem to be doing them when I get ready to leave. Hell, he’s out deliverin’ Christmas joy, as he puts it, takin’ presents to all his lady friends. He may be busy all night what with his ‘animal magnetism’."

Chris shook his head and snickered. "He does seem to have a way with the ladies, always has, always will. He’ll be ninety and use a walker and still be flirtin’ with the opposite sex."

"Yeah, probably will. Hope he likes the new laptop I got him. Ya think he will?"

"I know he will, JD," he stated, thinking to himself ‘because its from you.’ That boy still don’t know that Buck thinks the sun rises and sets with him. Easing down on the accelerator, he finished the conversation with "See ya when ya get there, JD."

"Won’t be long, Chris. See ya there."

Chris turned the Ram onto Route 15 and felt a glow of peace and harmony settle in his chest. It was Christmas Eve and his ‘family’ would soon be joining him to celebrate. Jingle Bells chimed again and he wondered which one it was this time.

"Larabee," he answered, not bothering to check.

"Mr. Larabee, it is I. I am still here at the airport awaiting my mother’s plane. If they would only declare it cancelled I could be on my way but they insist on merely saying it is delayed." He sounded at the end of his rope. Ezra had left work early so he would be on time to meet his mother’s plane. She had called him on the 22nd and informed him that she had a layover in Denver on her way to Palm Springs where she was spending the holidays with her latest beau. Ezra had related to his co-workers that it was the perfect way to spend Christmas with his mother, an hour and a half and on his way.

Chris cringed at the thought of Ezra sitting by himself waiting for the selfish bitch he called ‘Mother’. "Sorry to hear that, Ezra. Any idea of how long you might be there?" Chris knew Ezra wanted to be at the ranch, drinking wine and laughing right along with the rest of his family, as that was how they all felt.

"No. I inquire every thirty minutes but so far all they do is point at the arrival screen and smile. I have sat here and watched as the grounds crew made an actual snowman on the runway and still they smile and point. I will give my mother another half hour and then I will proceed to be on my way. Are the others at your residence already?"

"Not there myself. Don’t worry about us. We’ll see ya when ya get here. Be careful, okay?"

"Always. Don’t start without me. I should have gone with Vin to hand out toys to the urchins in his building, I would have enjoyed that more."

"Yeah, I bet you woulda. Later." Chris slowed as he neared his driveway, expecting Josiah and Vin to be there as he hadn’t heard from them yet. He was wrong, no one was there. A niggle of worry began.

He got out of the Ram and carefully made his way to his porch. Stomping the snow off his shoes, he unlocked the door and went inside. The phone rang as he turned on the lights.

"Larabee," he said, unbuttoning his coat.

"Cowboy, its me. Ya got the yule log started yet?" Vin sounded light hearted which was good as he had had a hard week at work. The deputy D.A. had ripped into him in her office after he had spent two full days on the witness stand. It was unfair to pick on just him, Chris thought.

"Just got in the door. Where are you?" Chris set down his briefcase and moved to the refrigerator where he grabbed a beer.

"Still in Purgatorio. Long story short, when I got to the costume shop they had screwed up and only had an extra extra large Santa suit. Josiah agreed to come over and hand out the toys. Now I can’t get him outta here. He’s dancin’ with Maria from next door."

"Oh that’s good, Santa gettin’ drunk and dancin’. Did he manage to hand out the toys first ‘fore he started partyin’?" Chris knew the kids and seeing their faces light up when they got their presents meant everything to the young Texan. It didn’t sound like he was having that much fun.

Hearing the worry in his best friend’s voice, Vin quickly said, "Oh, he did a fantastic job. The kids loved him and they think its great that Santa’s havin’ so much fun. Tonya is lovin’ the fact that her mommy is smilin’."

"So what’s the problem?"

Silence stretched out along the line. "Jealous I guess," he said softly.

Chris grinned. He could just see Josiah as jolly old St. Nick, holding the kids on his lap, tickling them under their chins, making the mothers smile with relief and joy. He probably made a much better Santa than Vin did just due to his size and age. "Are the kids happy?"

"Yeah. Got it, Chris. Ah, he’s not dancin’ anymore. Now he’s at the goody table, munchin’ on fruitcake. We should be outta here soon. What delayed you for so long? Is somebody in the emergency room?" Vin asked half jokingly.

Chris snorted into the phone. "Nah, just a traffic jam. Be careful out there. Snow’s gettin’ pretty thick."

"Will do, Boss man. Looks like he’s ready to go. Ho Ho Ho, see ya soon."

+ + + + + + +

It was ten o’clock and six men sat in a warm living room, staring at the fireplace, nobody wanting to ask where their seventh was. Chris knew every one of his men was worried about Buck. JD had tried calling him several times both at home and on his cell phone but he never answered. Buck loved Christmas more than any other holiday. It was the two days of the year that Nicole, Buck’s beloved mother, had spent with just her son. Now that she was deceased, Buck carried on her tradition and spent Christmas Eve with the ones he loved. And he loved the six men he worked with, they were his family. Nothing would keep him from spending the night with them, not even a woman.

"Any of you want another beer or glass of egg nog?" Josiah got up and started for the kitchen. He waited for an answer and got nothing. He returned to his chair as he had lost interest in his own drink.

"Chris, maybe we should call the sheriff’s office. He might have had an accident, not that I’m saying he’s hurt or anything." Nathan knew the luck of the Seven and their record of injuries on holidays.

"Already tried that last time I went out to the kitchen. They got nothing but a couple fender benders. ‘Sides, Buck woulda called us if anything like that would have happened." Vin got up and poked at the yule log that was slowly burning done to ashes. Sparks flew up the chimney and the flames rose higher. "Let’s get our coats on and go looking."

"Looking where, Vin? We don’t have any idea where he went tonight or which direction he would be coming from. JD, try his cell again." Chris began to pace like he had been off and on since Ezra finally got there around eight. It wasn’t like Buck to be late for this kind of get together.

An hour later, they were all ready to leave, to check out the area hospitals and police stations for anyone resembling their lovable Lothario. Just as Chris reached for the door, it opened and in walked a cold, snow covered Buck Wilmington.

"Where the hell have you been?!"

"We’ve been scared out of our minds that something horrible happened to you!"

"You don’t answer your cell phone when it rings?"

"Are you all right?"

"Brother, you had us worried!"

"Bout time ya got here!"

Buck brushed the snow from his hair with his hand and stomped his feet. "Hey, I tried to get here hours ago but something happened and I got delayed. But I’m here now so ho ho ho."

Chris inspected the big man before him, looking for any sign of injury but didn’t see anything wrong. "You gonna tell us what happened or don’t we want to know?"

"Yeah, I’ll tell ya all but I think I need something warm to drink first. Any coffee?" Buck took off his coat and boots while Josiah fixed him a cup of coffee. All seven men moved into the living room and gathered around Buck to hear his story.

"Well, I was on my way here, driving along Highway 49 when this VW started spinning out of control. It was coming right at me so I had to swerve and I ended up in the ditch. I got out and checked on the other driver and it was a woman."

"Oh, isn’t that a shock, Buck finds a woman in the middle of nowhere." JD figured he had heard this story before.

"Hey, you woulda helped her too, she was nine months pregnant!" Buck declared, glaring at the first interruption in his story. "Now, where was I? Oh yeah, her car was in the ditch on the other side of the road but she was out and seemed okay. We checked out both vehicles and they were both stuck but good. Poor thing, she had just come from Alabama and she only had on a thin coat. I told her she could sit in my truck and warm up but ol’ Betsy wouldn’t start."

"Hell Bucklin, that truck starts about as well as my old jeep. Ya need ta do something about that, maybe get a new truck." Vin popped a piece of peanut brittle into his mouth and sank back in the couch, waiting for more story.

"When you get yerself a new car. Anyway, all of a sudden Maria starts having pains and then her water broke. Well shit, we’re stuck out in the middle of nowhere and the damn cell phone wouldn’t work. I couldn’t leave her to go get help so I tried to make her comfortable in ol’ Betsy. Chris, I had to use your present, a handy little heater that you could put on the gate of the stall you’re cleanin’ out, to keep the cab warm. And JD, I used your present, that nice leather bomber jacket you been eyein’, to put around Maria’s shoulders. It was dark out there and I couldn’t see a thing when all of a sudden a light shone down through the windshield and lit the whole cab up."

Josiah harrumphed. "I suppose you’re going to tell us it was a star that lit the sky."

"No, just so happens it was a street light, came back on after bein’ out for a few minutes. Well, the pains started gettin’ worse and she was insistin’ the baby was comin’ so... Nathan, that set of towels I got you and Raine, that got put under Maria. And right there, with my own two hands, I delivered a healthy baby boy!" Buck was beaming with pride. He displayed his two hands for all the others to see.

"I suppose you are going to tell us next that the grateful young lady is proceeding to name her son Bucklin," Ezra guffawed at the ladies man’s story.

"No, she’s naming him after his father whose in Iraq fighting for his country. His name is Joe Jr. Josiah, I used your present, a nice soft afghan, to wrap the baby in, after I used Ezra’s new silk shirt to put around his bottom. I got her and the baby all bundled and then I set out to find a phone."

"Hold on a second. Your telling us a pregnant woman with nowhere to go named Maria had a baby in your truck which was lit up by a mysterious light. And that the father’s name is Joseph. When do you get to the shepherds and wise men?" Now even Chris was laughing at the big man’s story.

Buck watched as all the men burst into belly laughs, slapping each other on the back and falling on the floor. "I walked about a half mile and there I found a small house with a barn so I knocked on the door. An old man and his grandson lived there and they gladly helped by calling for an ambulance and a tow truck. Their name was Shepherd," he added quietly.

"Oh God, Buck, this just keeps getting better and better. How long did it take you to come up with this whopper? She musta a been something for you to be this late and try to pass off this story on us." Vin was still on the floor, holding his stomach from laughing.

Buck’s back straightened and he glared at his friends, competing with the infamous Larabee glare. "This is all the truth. The guys got there with the two tow trucks right after the ambulance took Maria and her son to the hospital. They were real helpful and when I noticed that the youngest one, Jerry, didn’t have any boots, I gave him yours Vin! Anyway, they towed my truck to their repair place and gave me a lift to the end of the drive. And now, since all of you think my tale is sooo funny, I think I’m gonna go to bed!" Buck got up and stalked off to the spare room he stayed in when they all got together.

"My, my, my, I never knew he had it in him to tell such a whopper just to get out of getting us gifts." Josiah shook his head as he and Nathan got up and left the room.

"Maria, Joe, the Shepherds, this has got to be the best tale Bucklin’s ever told. Night guys," Vin exclaimed as he too left the ludicrous.

"Ya see what I gotta live with day in and day out? Night, Ez, night, Chris." JD yawned and took himself off to bed.

Ezra banked the fire in the fireplace and turned to find Chris sitting in his recliner, his head in his hand, staring into space. "Mr. Larabee, are you all right?"

"Yeah, just somethin’ don’t make sense. Buck loves giving gifts, he starts in September trying to find the perfect gifts. And Christmas has always meant something special to him, as long as I’ve known him, he’s been right with me on Christmas Eve. I don’t buy it that he was with some woman."

"You cannot believe that ludicrous story!" Ezra was shocked that Chris was even considering it. "I’m going to bed!"

"Did you hear his truck pull up? He was covered with snow like he had walked from the end of the drive. Why would he do that if the story wasn’t true?" Chris looked up at Ezra’s back. "Tell me, Ezra, why?"

"Well, it just cannot be true. Maybe he wrecked his truck because he was late and speeding in this foul weather. Anyway, we’re all safe and sound and together. Good night, and Merry Christmas."

+ + + + + + +

Chris awoke to the sound of sleigh bells and a truck coming up his drive. He slipped on his robe and boots and went to the door just as a man began to knock.

"Can I help you, Sir?" Chris didn’t have his gun but he wished he did. Who would come knocking at seven o’clock on Christmas morning but someone up to no good.

"Name’s Charlie Weissman, and I got Buck’s truck runnin’. He said to bring it here when I got it fixed. Returnin’ the boots he loaned my half wit of a son too. Have a merry Christmas and tell Buck what he did was really a Christmas miracle." He turned around and left, his son sitting in a tow truck waiting for him.

Chris stood and watched the truck leave. A car came up the drive just as Chris was shutting the door. He walked out into the sparkling snow and greeted the Latino man that got out of a beat up car.

"My name is Emanuel, is Buck Wilmington here?"

Chris eyed him suspiciously. "Yeah, he’s here."

Emanuel smiled and it lit up his face. "He helped me become a grandfather last night and I just wanted to thank him. I also wanted to return a few things to him." He handed Chris some towels, an afghan, a bloody shirt, and a leather bomber jacket.

"Let me go wake Buck up. He’ll want to meet you." Chris backed away from the man, all the items in his arms. He hurried inside and woke his oldest friend.

The two men went to the front door and walked outside. No one was there.

"My truck! I can’t believe Mr. Weissman fixed it on Christmas but I guess he’s Jewish. What a beautiful day! Merry Christmas Chris." Buck was absolutely glowing with his love of the holiday.

"Yeah, Merry Christmas, Pard. You really are somethin’, aren’t you?" Chris smiled at the man he had known for half his life. What a night he had had!

"Yup, that’s what I’ve heard. What’s for breakfast?" Buck swung his arm up and over his old friend’s shoulders and the two went back inside.

Merry Christmas to All and have a Magnificent 2006