Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em but if I could they'd be on season 10 by now!
Thanks to Mog for the wonderful ATF/AU
Thanks also to Phyllis, my wonderful, patient friend and beta, whose input is deeply appreciated.
As he opened the door and peeked outside, JD couldn't help smiling to himself. The light dusting of snow and the ominous skies more than hinted at a white Christmas. He pulled on his ski jacket and trudged across the yard to the stables.
He was alone for Christmas. Not that he was complaining...much. His original plans had been to spend his second Christmas in Denver, away from his teammates and alone with one very special young lady. One long weekend, tucked away in a cabin by the lake, just him, and Casey and the promise of memories in the making.
But things change.
He and Casey were no longer 'an item'. She was in Europe, had been for several weeks, and JD was stuck with a romantic getaway for two, and a 'no refund' policy that had him cursing his decision to pay for it up front.
And now the team had made their own plans.
Chris had decided to visit some cousins on his mother's side, due more to pressure than choice, returning home around Boxing Day.
Vin had packed his bike and left in search of solitude...whatever that meant.
Ezra was in Vegas visiting Maude, and Nathan had been 'persuaded' to accompany Rain to visit her family.
JD had offered Buck his holiday reservations and Buck, although initially refusing, had met up with a particularly athletic aerobics instructor and with the promise of his own personal 'work out program' he eventually, albeit reluctantly, accepted the gift, also promising to return sometime Boxing Day.
Josiah was working at a shelter in the city, right through from Christmas Eve to the end of Boxing Day and had tried to persuade the young agent to assist him, but despite his outwardly sunny nature, inwardly JD's heart was heavy and the last thing he wanted was to miss an opportunity to wallow in his self-made misery while house and horse-sitting for Chris.
The guys hadn't understood what JD had meant when he had used the term and the youth hadn't realized it was something his mother used only because of her Celtic heritage. Europeans referred to it when addressing the day after Christmas Day. JD had actually preferred it to Christmas Day, due to the fact his mother often worked on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day so they would spend Boxing Day together and open their presents to each other then.
Boxing Day...tradition was repeating itself as once more it had inadvertently become the day JD would look forward to this Christmas yet at the same time...not.
And so...there it was...Christmas in a nutshell and only himself to blame. As he walked into the barn he recalled a particular conversation around two months ago.
ONE WEEK BEFORE HALLOWEEN - THE CDC
"I owe it to Casey, Buck. She's been great about so many things, and... well, we're not exactly seeing eye to eye right now. I'm sorry. I'll be back on the 26th"
Buck pouted, "Christmas was gonna be so great...staying at the ranch, all the guys being there...I thought that's what you wanted."
JD sighed heavily, "It was...it is...but Casey and I need some serious alone time and when she asked if we could spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day together...I knew if we stayed around here we'd end up at Chris', so I thought I'd make a clean break. I'm sorry...but I will be back the day after..."
Buck approached and cupped his roommate's neck. "Stop apologizing, kid...I'm just teasing you. Sure, we...I'll miss you, but you'll be back in no time and we'll catch up then."
LARABEE RANCH PRESENT DAY
JD sighed; it was just after that everyone started making separate plans. It got him to wondering if they had actually preferred to do those things, but hadn't wanted to say. A sharp wind whipped around his legs as he entered the barn. The horses nickered on hearing him calling to them.
"Hi, guys...just coming to tuck you in for the night. Yeah, yeah...I know it's still early, but with this weather front closing in I'd rather know you're all safe and cozy, then I can get all safe and cozy."
JD had already cleaned out the stalls so he topped off their feed and water and fed them a few carrots and apples he had brought from the house.
"You might as well have these, I don't think Santa's reindeers will be stopping here tonight." He shook his head,"Dunne, you're cracking up, boy."
After securing the doors, the youth pulled up his jacket collar against the now swirling snow and made his way back to the house. Once inside, he stamped his feet to knock off any snow, kicked off his damp sneakers, shook the snow off his jacket before he hung it up and made his way to the kitchen for some hot chocolate. In ten minutes he was relaxing in Chris' leather recliner in front of the big screen TV, flicking through the channels in search of a movie to suit his mood. He somehow found himself watching 'Titanic'.
+ + + + + + +
Chris was going crazy. His face ached from the permanent smile he had fixed to it and he now remembered why he didn't visit with these people, he hated them.
Boring, condescending suburbanites who had as much warmth as a wet candle and no clue as to how hard real life could be. The blond found himself wondering if two-thirty in the afternoon was too early to retire to bed as his mind started drifting.
LARABEE RANCH - 23rd DECEMBER
"I really appreciate this kid. I'll try and check in with you each night but I'll be back on the 26th so there shouldn't be any problems." He looked at his youngest agent.
"I'm truly sorry things haven't worked out for you, JD. You know, I could always get Nettie to watch the place, you're welcome to come with me."
JD was touched. "I really appreciate that, Chris, but I'll be fine. You go have fun with your folks and I'll see you when you get back. Watch out for the weather, it's pretty certain it'll be a white Christmas, probably quite heavy, too."
Chris squeezed his friend's shoulder. "I'll be careful, see you in two days,"
SUN VALLEY, IDAHO - PRESENT DAY
Chris jolted back to the present as his cell rang. His family turned to him and he feigned an apologetic look as he answered it.
"Larabee...hey Buck," Chris' grin grew wider, but he hid it as he turned his back to his family. He continued the conversation even after Buck had finished the call.
"Really? Oh this is bad...no...no of course I'll be there...see you soon."
He stood and gave a sad look.
"Guys, I'm so sorry, I have to leave."
ZION NATIONAL PARK - UTAH
'Solitude isn't all it's cracked up to be, Tanner. When did things change so much that you miss the company of six men more than you enjoy being alone, something you've been doing all your life?'
Vin was cold...he was never cold. He'd been an outdoorsman most of his life but he was chilled to the bone and lonely. Was he really thinking about a centrally heated office back in Denver?
FEDERAL BUILDING, DENVER - DECEMBER 22nd
Chris was leaning against the doorframe to his office, watching as his best friend gathered his belongings and walked toward the door to the outer office.
"See ya'll on the 26th," he called.
Each man nodded, Chris stepped forward to shake his hand.
Tanner chuckled, taking the offered hand, "Always am, cowboy."
Approaching the elevator, he met JD coming from the copier.
"You off already, Vin?"
"Yup, thought I'd get an early start. It's not too late to come with me y'know. C'mon, Whaddya say? Go get yer bike and we'll..."
"Vin," JD interrupted, "I really appreciate the offer, but, honestly, I'll be fine. Go enjoy the Park, and don't forget to take pictures, you got my digital camera, right?"
The Texan nodded, patting his rucksack, "Right here, kid, thanks fer lending it to me."
"No sweat, bro...you take care now."
"I always do, kid. See ya Boxing day."
UTAH - PRESENT DAY
Tanner was already packed. His cell rang and as he listened, he grinned widely.
"See ya Chris," he finished.
Pulling on his helmet, Tanner got comfortable and kicked down on the starter, suddenly feeling a whole lot warmer.
+ + + + + + +
JD woke up with a start. Damn...he'd missed the end of the film. Ah well, it's not like he didn't know what happened. He grimaced at the skin floating on top of his now cold hot chocolate. Stretching, he got up and went to the kitchen to make a fresh one.
The sugar canister was empty so JD opened an overhead cupboard in search of a new pack, switching to a lower cupboard when his search proved fruitless.
"Ha!" he grinned reaching in to retrieve the new pack. As he straightened, he forgot the open cupboard above him and, initially rising fairly quickly, he totally missed the sharp thunk to his head from the corner of the open door, due to the speedy descent caused by the blow. He now lay on his back on the kitchen floor wondering where he was and why his head hurt.
With a huge grunt, JD grabbed on to the kitchen table and pulled himself to his feet, leaning over the table as a wave of dizziness hit him.
He shuddered as spots of blood dropped onto the back of his hand.
"Oh wonderful...nice one JD."
He walked drunkenly to the sink and ripped off some paper towels, pressing them down on his head as he took a seat at the table, fearing he might fall down if he didn't. Dunne examined the paper that he had touched to his head, wincing at the blood now soaked into it. Folding it to a clean spot he reapplied, checked and reapplied several times struggling to control the steady ooze. Eventually though, it did slow and he breathed a sigh of relief.
Getting up, he made his way to the bathroom and tapped out two Tylenol, knocking back some water to wash them down. Returning slowly to the living room, he looked out of the window, the snow was heavier now. He picked up his cell, paused, then popped it in his pocket. He was fine, no need to disturb anyone.
With a huge sigh he decided to call it a night. Just as he reached the stairs he looked up.
"Merry Christmas, Mom...Merry Christmas, guys."
+ + + + + + +
Ezra snapped his phone shut. After the call from Vin, he had called the airline and secured a first-class seat to return to Denver, grateful his mother's generous cash gift had come in useful. Smiling fondly, he recalled his last day at the office.
FEDERAL BUILDING - DECEMBER 22nd
Standish walked over to his youngest teammate, who was typing up a storm on his pc.
"JD...please reconsider. Mother likes you...something I rarely say to anyone. We would be honored to have you with us for the holidays."
JD looked up, grinning.
"Ez, you're a good friend, and I'm truly grateful for the offer, but no thanks...I'll be fine. Go spend some quality time with your mom, it's something you should never take for granted."
Ezra nodded his understanding, "Then that's what I shall do." He looked at his teammates.
"Gentlemen, 'Joyeuex Noel' to you all. I look forward to our reunion on the 26th."
As the others waved or nodded, he gave a quick salute and was gone.
LAS VEGAS NEVADA - PRESENT DAY
Adjusting his clothing, Ezra approached his mother at the gaming tables, kissing her lightly on the cheek.
"Mother, I have dreadful news. It would seem my presence is required elsewhere, I will be flying out tomorrow morning."
Maude's smile faded slightly. "You're leaving me on Christmas day, Ezra?"
"Alas, yes, I fear the request, via Mister Tanner, appeared somewhat urgent. At least you are not alone, Mother, you still have your most... charming companion." The southerner flashed a false smile as he spoke.
Maude's eyes flashed knowingly. "Very well, darlin', duty calls, I can appreciate that. Will you at least have dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow with Lionel and me?"
He kissed her hand, "My sweet lady, I would have it no other way."
+ + + + + + +
Rain leaned over and whispered to her husband.
"If you can get through tonight without one more pout I'll give you your special present early."
Nathan's eyes lit up saucily, "What, here, in this house, with your family here...?" he whispered back.
Rain blushed and released a tiny giggle, "Nathan Jackson get your mind out of the gutter, I was referring to the call from Ezra you just received."
Jackson frowned, "What of it?"
"Just humor my family tonight, be with me Christmas morning and I'll drive you to the airport for you to be with the guys by early evening."
Nathan recalled their departure two days ago.
JACKSON HOME, DENVER - DECEMBER 22nd
"All set, baby?" Rain looked to her husband, catching the sigh.
"Yeah...sorry, hon...just thinking about JD...y'know?"
"I know, and he knows he's welcome to join us. We can't force him, Nathan."
Before he could answer, the doorbell rang and he walked to the door to answer it. JD smiled as he stood on the stoop.
"Hey...I caught you."
Jackson ushered him inside, Rain beamed.
"Did you change your mind, sweetie?"
"Ah...no...sorry, I just wanted you to have this, seeing as Nathan's not coming back with the rest of the guys."
He handed over a parcel. "I have something separate for Nathan, for when he eventually joins us at Chris', this is for both of you."
"Can we open it?" Rain asked.
"Sure, if you want to."
She eagerly ripped at the wrapping as Nathan watched, amused.
Rain gasped, "Oh, sweetie, it's beautiful." She lightly fingered the delicate porcelain figurine.
JD grinned, "I knew you were missing that one from your collection. I found it on EBay."
Nathan slapped the younger man on the shoulder, Rain stepped forward and hugged him.
"Thank you so much JD, I love it."
"So...can we change your mind?" Nathan inquired.
"Naw, thanks guys, but I'm fine. You go have fun in Birmingham and I'll see you after Christmas."
With a wave, he was out of the door, on his bike and gone.
BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA - PRESENT DAY
The medic took his wife by the elbow and guided her to the deserted kitchen, pulled her to him and kissed her so passionately, he left her breathless.
"That doesn't even begin to show you how much I love you, Rain Jackson. I can't believe how lucky I am to have you in my life."
Rain touched his face. "I know how much these men mean to you, and I would never want to come between you. There's room for all of us in this relationship, there has to be, and I'm happy with that. Now, let's go see what Uncle Seephus brought over for desert."
+ + + + + + +
Josiah was content. He couldn't do much for these poor homeless souls, but he felt, at least, he had tried.
But this Christmas something ached in his heart that simply would not go away and he found himself recalling a conversation that morning.
FEDERAL BUILDING - DECEMBER 24th
As Sanchez clicked off his overhead light, he was drawn to the small figure hunched over his pc. JD had not heard his approach and started slightly as Josiah spoke.
"I know I'm not offering much, but I would surely appreciate your company over the next two days, John Dunne."
JD gave a tight smile, "Please don't be offended, Josiah, I just don't feel like company right now. 'Sides, I have to leave soon to get to the ranch before the snow gets any worse."
Sanchez nodded, "Very well, but you will call me if you need me? I promised Buck I'd keep an eye...err, keep in touch with you."
JD snickered, "Yeah, sure. Don't worry about me, I'll be fine...'Night preacher."
Josiah laughed and gave the youth a quick squeeze to his shoulders.
"Merry Christmas, son."
"Merry Christmas, Josiah."
DENVER SHELTER FOR THE HOMELESS - PRESENT DAY
The profiler was speaking into his cell.
"That's great, Nathan, I'll get to the airport at eight to pick you up and we'll head on out to the ranch from there. See you tomorrow, brother...Merry Christmas."
Josiah's heart felt considerably lighter, despite the fact that he would have to let the shelter down on...he smiled...'Boxing Day'... sometimes it needed to be remembered that charity often begins at home.
+ + + + + + +
Buck turned over in bed to face the beautiful woman he'd spent the last eighteen hours with and felt...empty.
They'd had fun, they'd made love, they'd eaten good food and drank good wine, and he'd enjoyed every moment of this wonderful woman's company...but he wanted more, and he knew now it wasn't here, in this cabin, at this time, with this woman.
He wanted his friends, his brothers. One in particular. One fast- talking, perpetually moving bundle of energy that had exploded into his life over a year ago and changed him, changed all of them...Buck felt, for the better.
This was meant to be JD's special time, his special memories, but instead he was back at Larabee's ranch alone. Buck climbed shamelessly out of bed, picked up his cell and dialed.
"Chris...I got an idea..."
Snapping his phone shut Buck reflected on his and JD's last conversation as he prepared to wake his companion, apologize and inform her of a change of plan.
CDC - DECEMBER 23rd
"I can still call it off, kid, it's not too late."
JD shook his head, "Naw...you go have fun with Mitzi, I'll be fine at Chris'. Besides, you'll all be back in two days."
Buck nodded, approaching his friend. "We could go...do some fishing... chill out, whatever..."
JD grinned, "I can't see us sharing a heart-shaped water bed though, can you?"
The brunette laughed out loud, "Point taken. Ok...two days it is then. I'll miss ya, squirt."
"Ditto, Buck...go have fun, I'll see you Boxing Day."
"Sure...you be careful, y'hear?"
"Yes, mom...I will. Buck...just go...I promise, I'll be fine."
ROCK SPRINGS, WYOMING - PRESENT DAY
Why suddenly did that last sentence trouble Buck? He shook it off as he finished loading the truck. Mitzi was happy, she was going to catch up with some friends and Buck had promised they'd get together in the New Year.
He looked at his watch, he'd hopefully make it back by late Christmas morning.
+ + + + + + +
JD cursed having to go to the bathroom at five in the morning, but it was probably for the best as he had to go check on the horses, anyway. On his return to his room, he staggered slightly as dizziness swept over him and he clung to the nightstand until it dissipated.
Touching his hand to his head, he winced as it came away damp and a little red. He looked at the pillow he'd slept on and groaned, walking slowly forward and stripping it of its slip. JD rummaged until he found a fresh one to replace the bloody one and took the stained one into the hallway, tossing it into the hamper and just missing.
With a dismissive wave and a promise he'd get it on the way back, the young agent made his way down the stairs and slipping into his warm thick ski jacket and gloves, he went outside to the stables. He turned the horses out into the corral, leaving one of the doors secured open should they want to go in to a warmer environment, and watched them for a moment or two as they kicked around in the fresh snow, then turned and spread out some fresh hay
'Just like kids', he chuckled to himself and turned to go back to the house. As another wave of nausea and dizziness hit him, his vision blurred and he found himself unexpectedly kissing the ground. Pushing down on shaky arms, JD tried to get up, but the darkness caught up with him and he flopped back into the snow, unconscious.
+ + + + + + +
Buck had dropped Mitzi off and was now well on his way. He was tempted to call the kid but, mindful of how early it was, he left it for now.
Chris was in the air and looking forward to seeing Buck at the airport. He marveled at how his feelings for these six men affected his life so completely, but knew he didn't want it any other way.
Vin was making good time. He'd arranged to hook up with Buck and Chris in Denver and follow them out to the ranch. He found himself a little excited, which made him smile.
Nathan was making sure Rain was well rewarded for her kind gesture, attentive, passionate and loving as he laid hands on her, knowing he would not see her for three days. They had another two hours before she took him to the airport, and he intended to make every second with her until then count.
Josiah yawned as his alarm clock beeped. 6am...the shelter would be serving breakfast in two hours, dinner five hours after that and then later, the profiler would be heading out to the ranch...perfect.
Ezra was enjoying his breakfast with his mother and Lionel, despite the early hour, but he considered it might be more because of the fact he would be back in Denver in six hours, than his present company. His mother had already grown bored with her vacation and Standish was relieved that he would not be around to witness her growing discomfort.
+ + + + + + +
He felt numb, but a voice, suspiciously like Buck's, screamed 'MOVE!' in his mind.
JD shakily pushed himself up and clinging to the corral fence he stood upright. The youth took a deep breath and was grateful to find he was no longer dizzy, just cold...wet and really cold. Glancing to check the horses were ok, JD shivered and took a moment or two to compose himself and then trudged wearily into the house, checking his watch...6.45am...hadn' t it just been 5am?
Shaking off the confusion, he stripped off his outer garments and was about to head to the kitchen for a warm drink when he got another dizzy spell, not as fierce this time but enough to persuade him to head back to bed, the fact it was Christmas morning totally escaping him.
By the time he had undressed, he was shivering violently and his head was pounding. Pulling on some sweats and a t-shirt, JD climbed under the comforter, wrapping it tightly around himself as his body ached and shuddered with the chill. In ten minutes, he was once again asleep.
+ + + + + + +
Larabee grinned as he jumped into Buck's truck. "Did ya call the kid yet?"
"Nah...." He bobbed his eyebrows, "Might be more fun to surprise him, don't ya think?"
"Yeah...providing he doesn't blow our heads off thinking we're breaking in."
Wilmington thought about that for a moment then laughed, "I guess we'll just have to take our chances."
Twenty minutes of waiting in the parking lot and a familiar bike engine came into earshot. Ten minutes later, the bike was in the back of the truck and three men were headed out to the ranch.
JD jerked awake and realized he'd been dreaming. His throat was dry and he kicked off his comforter as his body felt hot. Taking two more Tylenol to ease his aching head, Dunne propped himself up in the bed, pushed his sweaty hair from his eyes and sipped the tepid water that he had taken with him when he first went to bed.
He tried to remember his dream and found himself back in Boston.
DORCHESTER, BOSTON - BOXING DAY TWO YEARS PRIOR
JD bumped open the door to his mother's bedroom with his elbow.
"Morning, Mom." He hovered over her bed with the breakfast tray, waiting patiently as his mother slowly woke. She smiled warmly at him and awkwardly propped herself up in the bed.
"Morning, honey, this is a nice surprise."
JD placed the tray down on top of the covers to rest on her knees. He then scooted next to her and kissed her on the cheek.
"Well, it is Christmas."
She giggled and crooked a finger at him, kissing him on the head when he was near enough for her to reach.
"Well, thank you...it's appreciated. " She started to rake over her food as JD sighed inwardly, wishing just once she'd eat something and keep it down. Rachel Dunne hadn't worked for several months due to the cancer attacking her body, but despite her being home, they stayed with tradition and planned to open their presents on this day...Boxing Day.
JD's captain had been exceptionally kind in ensuring the young officer was allowed time with his mother over the Christmas holidays.
Rachel handed JD his gift and after thanking her, he ripped it open, smiling as he turned the leather-bound book in his hands. It was a book he had been searching for to finish his dissertation. He opened the cover to find an inscription,
"To my beautiful boy, who has always made his mother proud."
He kissed her on the cheek, his eyes glistening, "Thanks mom, I love it...right, your turn." He gave her a small package and watched her open it, her eyes filling as she pulled out the tiny silver locket. He demonstrated the clip and she opened it to find two pictures inside, one of her and one of JD. "Oh darlin'" she sobbed, "It's beautiful, thank you...I love it."
JD clipped it around her neck and went back to encouraging her to eat.
LARABEE RANCH PRESENT DAY
JD poked his fingers inside his shirt and hooked out the necklace which hung around his neck and looked at it. He was going to bury it with his mother, but at the last minute took it from her neck and popped it in his pocket. Just before, weeping, he kissed her goodbye, then watched as they closed her casket for the last time.
As he gazed at it, he was glad he had saved it now; it made him feel closer to her somehow.
The snow had started to fall again. It was just after three in the afternoon, so JD wearily climbed out of bed, took a quick shower to freshen up, avoiding his hair, and dressing, he put on all his outer clothes once again and went back out to put the horses in for the night.
He returned to the side door to kick off his shoes when he thought about wood for the fire, so he walked around to the bin at the back of the house to collect it, too weary to return to the main storage bin near the barn. Chris kept the back bin stocked in case of bad weather...JD figured this counted, promising himself he would refill it when he felt stronger. As he disappeared around the corner and started pulling wood out, he totally missed the arrival of Buck's truck.
"Hello the house!" Buck called as the three agents entered, glancing around. Chris walked through and into the kitchen and several moments later, came out carrying the trash can and sporting a look of concern.
Vin looked into the can, realizing what it was Chris was concerned with. Buck joined them and cautiously lifted the bloody towels out, then dropped them back in as he turned toward the stairs.
He was now on the stairs and taking them two at a time, Chris and Vin right behind him. Buck stopped at the room JD was staying in to see the unmade bed and more bloody rags. Chris nudged him as Vin picked up the blood-stained pillow case from the floor, next to the hamper.
"What the fuck's going on here?" Buck asked, each man now drawing his weapon and searching each room. A noise from below alerted them and they stealthily made their way back downstairs. Buck's mind was racing, all sorts of scenarios dancing in his head, kidnapping, revenge attack, gunshot wound, stabbing...he wanted to run the rest of the way but knew caution was best.
Chris squeezed Buck's shoulder and kept it there as they continued.
JD pushed open the door with his shoulder as he reversed in, his arms full of wood. A noise from above the kitchen alerted him and he tossed the wood out into the snow, pulled off his gloves with his teeth and reached around his back to his belt holster.
He had left his gun upstairs, Buck was gonna kill him. Reaching the wall next to the kitchen door, he pressed his back to it, turned his head slightly and listened. Whoever was in the house was on the stairs.
His heart thumping, JD reached for a kitchen knife and resumed his position...he knew now there was more than one...and they were getting closer...just stay calm.
Buck looked at Vin and Chris, put his finger to his lips and pointed, mouthing the word 'kitchen'. Vin and Chris were ready and the three approached the kitchen door. Larabee put three fingers in the air and as the last one went down, Tanner crossed to one side of the door, Chris took the center and Buck the nearest side. As they made their presence known, JD leapt out, waving the knife and yelling.
Four men jumped one step back and stared at each other.
JD blinked, his body shaking from the adrenaline rush, "Buck, Chris... Vin?"
Buck released a breath, "Kid? What's going on here?" He looked his friend over, "Are you ok?"
Feeling his energy sap slightly, JD leaned against the doorframe, then looked up and grinned.
"Yeah...I'm fine, except ya'll nearly gave me a heart attack. What are you doing here? You're a day early."
Chris stepped forward and relieved his youngest agent of the knife.
"We figured enough was enough and came back to see what you were up to...good job we did, what's happened?"
JD frowned, "Nothing, why?"
Vin holstered his gun, "The bloody rags in the kitchen...upstairs... just wonderin'."
"Oooh!" JD grinned as he understood, then he blushed.
"Err...had a little accident," He looked at Buck who's face reflected concern, at least he thought it was concern. "Nothing serious, just my head and a cupboard door..." As he finished speaking, JD's legs wobbled slightly and he tried to grasp the doorframe but missed.
Buck grabbed him and pulled him close, "Whoa...easy there, kid." The four men walked to the living room and Buck eased JD down onto the couch.
+ + + + + + +
JD felt his knees wobble and in seconds was being held in a firm grip. He leaned heavily into the supporting body, grateful for the concern. He allowed himself to be guided to the sofa and appreciatively sat down. He looked up as fingers started moving through his hair, surprised to see Chris there.
Larabee beckoned the men over, wincing at the dried blood in the youth's hair.
"Here, see...got a nasty cut and a bump here."
"Is it bad, Chris?" JD asked, he hadn't seen it himself and he was curious.
"Don't think it needs stitches, I'm more concerned with the dizziness... you may have a concussion."
JD blushed, "Err, or it could be I haven't eaten for...actually I can't remember the last time I ate."
Buck punched JD's shoulder, causing the younger man to glare at his roommate and say a silent 'ow' while rubbing the spot.
"What the hell's wrong with you, boy? How can you forget to eat?"
JD pouted, "I didn't mean to...between bumping my head, caring for the horses, passing out in the sn...err...I just lost track of time."
He recoiled slightly as three men stood in front of him staring.
"You what in the snow?" Chris growled.
JD's eyes widened.
"Well?" Buck pushed.
Dunne turned to Tanner for support but as the sharpshooter' s eyes narrowed at him he figured it was a lost cause.
"P...passed out," he stammered.
"Jesus H Christ...for how long?" Wilmington ran his fingers through his hair.
JD seriously considered lying...'five minutes...say it...go on...no more than ten...'
He sighed, he couldn't lie to these men.
"About an hour, I think...probably less..." he added, hastily.
Chris glared, "Calm down Buck." He turned back to JD, "How are you feeling?"
"Oh, honestly, I'm..."
Three voices cut him off.
"Don't say fine."
Dunne laughed, he couldn't help himself, "I'm much better now...thanks."
Buck touched the back of his hand to JD's head. The youth slapped it away, only to get his hand slapped back. Chris stepped in before it escalated, looking at Buck. The brunette shrugged.
"He's a little warm, not too bad."
Vin smiled and disappeared into the kitchen, Chris pursed his lips.
"We'll wait and see what Nathan thinks..."
"Nathan won't be here for days..." JD began, turning at the sound of a high-powered engine pulling up outside.
Seconds later, Ezra appeared carrying several pizzas.
"Do not ask me to cross the threshold of that establishment again," he complained, "Should you require this poor excuse for sustenance again, kindly make a call...to them."
"Merry Christmas, Ezra," Buck smirked relieving him of the boxes. JD's stomach rumbled and he snickered.
"Seasonal salutations, my young friend, it is comforting to see the Larabee house is still standing, I congratulate you." Ezra crossed to the younger man and squeezed his shoulder, his smile wide enough to dimple his cheeks and expose his gold tooth.
"Merry Christmas, Ezra, why aren't you in Las Vegas?" He looked around, smiling at Tanner and taking the water and pills he was offering him. "For that matter, why are any of you here? You're all a day early."
Each man shuffled uncomfortably, mumbling something. JD frowned, checking his watch before taking the pills, then, as he looked back at his friends, realization struck him and he ducked his head to hide the blush.
Buck stepped forward, "Aww hell...truth is, I missed ya...and the guys and when I called them, they were feeling the same, so we came home."
JD beamed, "I wondered why no one had called, I figured you were all having such a great time you couldn't find the time."
Four sad faces looked at him, Buck cupped JD's neck, "Never woulda happened kid...come on...let's go eat."
+ + + + + + +
By the time Josiah and Nathan had arrived, JD had dozed off on the couch, startled when Nathan woke him to examine his head and growling and wincing as the EMT had led him to the kitchen to clean the wound and his hair.
Wide awake now, the young man poured himself some milk and walked back to the living room to sit on the rug in front of the blazing fire. Vin dropped down next to him.
"Couch gotten too uncomfortable for ya?"
JD shook his head, "Naw...I was just thinking about Christmas at home... in Boston. We couldn't afford to run the heating so we'd build a big fire in the old hearth...we lived in an old converted house, and me and mom would sit on the rug, in front of it, sipping warm milk and eating raisin cookies, except for the last Christmas...she was too sick... couldn't keep anything down."
Buck joined them, beer in hand, and squeezed JD's shoulder, "My mom usually worked Christmas, but never late. Our time was breakfast, always had breakfast together."
Tanner sighed, "Christmas usually meant guarding anything you got with your life...there was always some kid wantin' to take away my one new toy..."
JD's face crumpled as he looked at the Texan, so he turned away.
Josiah joined them also but stayed behind them on the couch. "Most of my Christmases have been in foreign countries, the worst had to be on the front line."
Nathan sat next to him, "After momma died, we didn't really celebrate Christmas again, daddy just didn't have the heart for it."
Ezra joined Nathan and Josiah, "Well...I was lavished with the most expensive gifts I could have wished for, I just wish one of them had been my mother's presence for more than few hours on the day."
Larabee leaned on the mantelshelf and listened to all his colleagues, his friends, his...brothers.
"No prizes for guessing my Christmas regrets...I'm just grateful now that I had what little time I did with Sarah and Adam."
A soft sob caused Buck to smile and place his arm around his roommate's shoulders and pull him close.
"But that was then...and this is now...and I for one am proud to call the people in this room...my family," Buck announced.
JD looked up and around the group, "Yeah...family. Thanks guys, for coming home early, I really appreciate it."
Chris crouched down in front of the group and raised his whiskey glass.
"Plans are made to be broken, kid. To family."
They all raised their glasses and sipped their drinks, each man lost momentarily in his own thoughts.
JD sighed contentedly, this was turning out to be a great Christmas... and they hadn't even gotten to the gifts yet...the gifts they would be exchanging...on Boxing Day.
Smiling to himself, he looked around at his contemplative friends and decided not to waste an opportunity, while attempting to lighten the mood a little.
The six men turned to him.
"Why did Santa Clause use the chimney?"
"Because it 'sooted' him...get it? 'sooted'..."
"Ooookaay...who hides in a bakery at Christmas? A mince spy...What's Santa's wife called? 'MARY' Christmas..."
JD was chuckling now, "What does a snowman have for breakfast? Snowflakes... oh come on...these are funny."
Six men looked around at each other, and before JD read the signs they were diving on him as cushions assaulted his body.
After a minute or so the youth was lying on the floor, winded and covered in cushions, as his friends abandoned him in search of alcohol, which they considered preferable to listening to any more jokes.
Happy to lie there, he smiled, as six men's laughter filled the air, lifting the atmosphere, and his soul.
'Merry Christmas, guys.'