Main Characters: Buck, Chris, Vin, and JD
Thanks to Mog for creating this Universe)
Ratings and Warnings: Some bad language
Summary: Buck's attempt at revenge for a practical joke gives an unexpected insight into four men's relationships and brings out a few facts that will change them forever.
Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em but if I could they'd be on season 10 by now!
Many thanks to Kay (jedjkay) for the truly stunning wall. Thanks Kay.
Just three of them left in the main office and Chris in his. Today was the day, Vin Tanner would go down for his crimes. There was no way he'd be allowed to escape. Buck was going to get his revenge.
Some in the building felt Buck should be jealous of the way Chris had become fast friends with Vin. But Jealousy wasn't his way. In fact, he rejoiced in all that Vin's friendship had brought back in Chris. However, even after all he meant to Chris, that wasn't enough to earn Vin a pass for what he did.
Vin had been ready to bolt all afternoon. The rest of the team had escaped a few minutes earlier. JD would have been with them if Buck hadn't convinced him to be his ally in this. JD needed bribing, of course, since he'd be caught in the fallout but JD being JD, he was game for anything.
JD had been talking to Vin for the last 15 minutes and most importantly was between Vin and the only exit. He was going to keep him talking until it was too late, no escape for Vin Tanner this time. Ol' Buck was going to take him down, teach him you can't do a man the way he had and come out of it unscathed.
Wilmington glanced once again to Chris' office door. 'Great, come on Larabee hang up the phone, that's it, now come on out here and get the bait I got dangling on my hook. That's right, come on out here now, yes--- he's heading for his door' --- Buck gave JD the high sign, Vin started to stand, but seeing JD in the doorway he sank back into his chair. Buck smiled to himself, 'Gotta give Vin credit, he's taking it like a man, no aborted efforts to get past JD.'
"Vin, JD you're both still here, would've thought you'd have left by now. Listen, Buck and I have this fishing trip planned for the weekend. Do the two of you want to come along?" Chris's voice asked as he walked into the bullpen, surprised to see the two youngest still there.
Chris had cast the bait, now Buck just had to reel him in.
"Vin, I know how much you were looking forward to fishing with Chris that time. He let me know on our last trip how you didn't want to encroach on our friendship and activities you sacrificed going with Chris so I could. Well, there is nothing I'd like better than to repay you for that kindness. So you and JD come along, the more the merrier I always say."
As Vin dropped in the net, what could he say without letting Chris know he hated fishing and saw it as an old man's activity? His 'kindness' four fishing trips ago had cost Buck a date with Emma Lou and now he was going to pay for it.
Buck smiled to himself. 'Yes' he thought, 'I love going fishing with Chris but I can't let something like this go unchallenged'. Buck Wilmington's revenge was complete as Vin replied.
"Chris, sure would love to go with you and Buck. JD, how about you?"
And now Buck felt bad for JD, rarely does anyone go fishing with Chris more than once. The man is just a little too intense, doesn't seem to realize it's meant to be a relaxing sport. All the other guys had been caught at least once and had given JD the heads up enough to know to make himself scarce. But misery sure does love company, and Vin didn't hesitate in dragging JD down with him. Maybe now Buck wouldn't need to keep his promised bribe to JD to let him and Vin go snowboarding without ratting them out to Chris and Nathan.
JD's a good man, and he maintains his end of the bargain and readily agrees,
"Sure, Chris I'd love to spend the weekend with you, Buck and Vin, three of my favorite people."
And he's a clever boy, Buck mused, he never lies unless it's to the bad guys. Buck noticed he didn't say anything about what they were doing which he's not keen to do, just that he'd be glad to spend time with us.
Wilmington leaned back in his chair. 'Well, my revenge is complete, only problem is the gleam now evident in Tanner's eye --- he's already plotting his revenge. Guess I'll just have to make it clear this weekend that this was a onetime deal, no need to escalate things and that peace should be declared because, after all, this is one big dog that will always get his revenge.
Buck was deep in thought as they rode out to Larabee's favorite fishing site. The young men in the back seat were in for a real surprise. None of the team had ever gone fishing with Chris when Buck was accompanying him. All but JD had gone with him at least once, just never at the same time as Buck---when Buck went along, it tended to be just the two of them.
Larabee could be intense when fishing, if you let him, but Buck didn't, but those boys didn't know that, hell, no one on the team knew that. Get ol' Chris in the right mood out in the woods and it could be one wild weekend. If you knew how, that is, and Buck knew just the right buttons to push where Larabee was concerned.
The next morning, Chris was up at the crack of dawn, a couple of hours before anyone else. Buck figured he was planning on catching their breakfast. Vin and JD had already gone down to the river a few minutes earlier. Wilmington decided it was time for the first step on the agenda to 'lighten up Larabee.'
Buck strolled down to the fishing site, spotting JD and Vin about 10 feet up river, and waved, meandering on over to stand next to Chris.
Larabee scowled and spoke, biting his words off as he did, "Just what are you dressed for, Buck, this is a fishing trip?"
Buck stood there barefoot and in nothing but some very short cutoffs.
Laughing he replied, "Thought I'd do it a little different this time. Not gonna fish standing on the bank with a pole, gonna fish like the bears do. You should give it a try with those lightning fast reflexes of yours you'd probably catch a few." Buck flexed his fingers, eyeing Larabee's empty net.
"Now give the master a chance to get breakfast for us all, seeing as you haven't caught any yet"
Buck waded out into the river and began to wave his arms and growl. Vin and JD's heads snapped up at the noise, staring at him like he was crazy. Reaching into the water in a very 'bear-like' manner, Buck started pawing at the surface, plunging deeper. Unable to take it any longer, Chris waded out to the thrashing man.
As soon as he reached Wilmington, he spoke quietly so the younger men watching from the bank couldn't hear.
"You're a dead man Buck, I swear, if I can't get any fish for breakfast. I'll skin and cook ya myself."
Buck started chuckling but continued with his task. Larabee glared.
"I'm not kidding so get that grin off your face. Buck... step back, you know I hate it when you drive the fish away. Not one fish will go near a hook now."
Larabee gazed intently into the river while Buck now stood quietly, watching. He swooped one hand into the water and threw a fish onto shore next to Vin and JD. They both looked up at a fish flying at them, then back to Chris as another swoop from the blonde man sent another fish heading to shore. He did this six more times before turning on Buck and knocking him into the water.
Chris was laughing when Buck reached up, pulled him down and a wrestling match ensued for several minutes. Vin and JD were sitting on the bank with stunned expressions on their faces. They had never seen the two of them act up this way.
Chris escaped and made a run for shore. When he reached the bank he shouted to JD and Vin as he strode past heading upriver.
"You two head on back to camp, clean the fish, and start breakfast. I'm not gonna wear this mud all day, I'm going to wash up under the falls."
After he had gone another 20 feet, he yelled back to Buck. "Last one at the falls reds up after breakfast," then he began to run.
Lumbering up the bank Buck yelled, "Don't mind cleaning up, stud too dang early for running."
Larabee slowed and waited for Buck to join him. Buck shuffled up alongside his oldest friend and ruffled Chris's hair with his mud- covered hand.
"Last one to the falls, buys drinks next Friday at Inez's," and he took off running as fast as his long legs could carry him. He knew there was a good chance he'd still be buying the drinks come Friday as Larabee wasn't one to lose easily and he could be downright devious when it came to winning.
Sure enough, the athletic blond dove into the water below the falls rather than taking the trail down to the water's edge. Buck laughed at the sight. Damn him never could trust Larabee to lose graciously, always had to find a way to win even if it was risky and dangerous. God, he loved that side of the man.
Vin and JD had followed the two of them, still not quite believing what they had seen. After Chris' dive into the water, Vin motioned to JD to head back. As they made their way back to camp, Vin finally spoke.
"You know what we just saw JD?" The younger man shook his head.
"We just saw Buck's Chris, the one he's always telling us about. I always thought he was jus' remembering what he wanted to believe, not what Chris was really like. I was wrong."
JD nodded as he grasped what the Texan was trying to say.
"It was kinda like looking at you and me when we get all hyped up. I nearly pissed my pants watching Chris wrestling around in the mud with Buck. How come we've never seen him like this before? It was so cool, he seemed so free."
As they reached camp, Vin began to clean the fish and JD readied the pan for frying. They kept looking back toward the sounds of laughter floating into camp from the falls. JD looked at Vin and made a decision.
"Vin perhaps we should make ourselves scarce this afternoon, let Buck take the lead with Chris, what do you think?"
Vin readily agreed. "Okay, we'll tell them I'm taking you on a nature hike, y'know, ta get you familiar with edible plants and such, and then the two of them can do what they want. I agree with you, don't want to put a cramp in Buck's style with Chris."
JD nodded, "Cool." He listened, "Sounds like they're heading back we'll tell them after breakfast."
Appreciative and satisfied sounds came from the older men as the fish breakfast was enthusiastically devoured. JD collected up the plates while Vin disposed of any scraps. Buck approached his young roommate and punched him playfully.
So, you ready to do a little more fishing, squirt?
JD looked at Buck´s enthusiastic expression and felt his heart sink a little. He really wanted to hang around as a foursome, but he and Vin thought their plan was for the best.
Actually Buck, me and Vin thought we´d hit the trail for a while, he wanted to teach me some survival skills...or something.
Buck stared at his friend and hoped the hurt he felt wasn´t reflected in his face. JD was lying to him. He knew this kid like his own self and knew when JD wasn´t being honest, which was rare; JD didn´t lie well due to it not normally being in his nature to do so.
Sure kid...whatever you want. Guess it´s just me an´ Chris then.
Dunne watched him walk away. God I hope we´re doin´ the right thing.´
Chris and Vin were having a similar conversation. Chris too was confused but didn´t let on. He and Tanner shook hands and the blond turned back to catch up with Buck and collect his gear. The first hour of fishing was a subdued affair. Buck could stand it no longer.
What the hell happened after breakfast this mornin´?
Chris looked up from staring into the water, How d´ya mean?
Those two goin´ off like that. Did I miss something?
Guess they just don´t like fishing, Chris answered, disguising the fact he had been wondering the same thing.
Another ten minutes passed and Buck sighed, throwing down his fishing pole as he stood.
Well I need to know...are you coming?
Larabee placed his pole on the ground and stood, stretching to relieve the aches in his body from sitting so long.
Guess it wouldn´t hurt to get in a little walking.
With a nod of agreement the two men set off to find their friends.
Vin and JD had come to a clearing with a small waterfall and pool and were enjoying lying out in the sun. Vin looked over to the younger man.
We did do the right thing, didn´t we?
JD flipped from his back to his side and propped himself up on his elbow as he answered his friend.
Y´know, I thought we were, but Buck looked kinda...disappointed, I think. He flipped back onto his back. ´Course I could be wrong...it coulda been gas.
Vin laughed. No, I know what you mean. Chris seemed a little odd about it too, not that he said a whole lot, it was more a...feelin´, ya know?
JD nodded as he closed his eyes. We´ll talk to them later, huh?
Tanner returned the nod, Yeah...later.
An hour of walking and Buck could hear voices and gestured to Chris to hunker down behind some bushes as they listened in to the conversation.
JD was sitting up and tossing twigs at Vin. Tanner opened one eye.
Undeterred the easterner continued, jerking in surprise as Vin roared and leapt to his feet. He had the smaller man pinned in seconds but knowing JD would fight back he decided to head the chuckling youth off and released him.
Bored now, huh? Tanner brushed himself down.
Yup...I wonder how Chris and Buck are doing.
Guess we could always go back and find out, Vin offered.
JD grinned and nodded. Vin?
It was kinda cool though, wasn´t it...seeing Chris and Buck so relaxed like that? I would have liked to have seen a little more of it.
The Texan plucked another twig from his hair. Yeah...me too...still, I guess we were privileged ta get a little peek this mornin´ and at least we gave em some time ta be themselves.
Buck and Chris looked at each other, understanding expressions on their faces. The brunet whispered.
So that was it...they figured we needed some alone time. Oh I have to get them for this. He scanned the area for something to use.
Chris frowned, Shit Buck, you make us sound like a couple. He narrowed his eyes. What are you planning on doing?
Buck had a rock in his hand and was looking at the shrubbery around them. Aiming for some bushes close to the younger men he tossed it, instantly ducking as it hit its target.
JD jumped to his feet. Wh...what the hell was that?
Vin was instantly alert and looking over the area. It had sounded like a large animal in the bushes close to them. He noticed the younger man´s concerned expression. Shit.´
JD...get behind me.
I need you to watch behind and I´ll watch in front. We´re gonna make our way out of here real slow...okay? Tanner ordered.
What do you think it is? JD hissed.
Dunno, but I´m not aimin´ ta stick around ta find out.
Having way too much fun, Buck threw another rock, slightly bigger this time.
Chris whispered while attempting not to laugh. Any minute now Tanner´s gonna work this out and aim his gun at you.
You saying JD´s stupid? Buck defended.
No, of course not...just that Vin´s more in tune with the outdoors, that´s all.
Vin was a little concerned now. Whatever it was was big but it hadn´t shown itself so they had a good chance to outrun it, though he couldn't for the life of him think what it could be to make a noise like that. Had he been alone he'd have likely checked it out, but he had JD with him, an out and out city boy. Despite JD's tenacity, Vin wasn't prepared to take chances. He touched the butt of his gun for reassurance.
Kid...when I give the word...run like hell.
Dunne looked alarmed, You´re coming too, right?
Tanner nodded, Hell yeah. I´m not sticking around to maybe wrestle anything from a possum to a bear.
JD´s voice went up several octaves as he picked up on just one word. A bear? Holy crap.
Vin squeezed his arm. GO!
As they took off, Buck chose that moment to show himself. Going full tilt, JD ran smack bang into him with such force the two men rolled for several feet.
Vin´s gun was out and pointing in the direction Buck had been standing.
Chris appeared, his arms outstretched. Whoa...whoa...it´s me, Vin...it´s Chris.
The Texan blew out a nervous breath. Fucking hell, Larabee, I coulda shot you.
Chris grinned, Nah...you´re too shrewd for that.
JD groaned. He didn´t know what to rub first, his head or his ankle, they both hurt like hell. Regaining some of the wind that had been knocked out of him, Buck pushed himself off the younger man, dropping down to one side.
Jesus Christ, kid...are you okay?
The youth winced as he half-sat, half-lay on the ground. Do I look okay? Hell Buck...what were you doing?
Feeling thoroughly guilty, Buck attempted to help his young friend to his feet but no sooner did JD put pressure on his ankle, he yelped and sat back down. Chris and Vin had joined them, the latter squatting down to take a look at JD´s injury. Buck did the same.
God, kid...I´m so sorry. How bad is it?
Dunne hissed as Vin maneuvered his foot. I´m not sure...just a twist I think.
Can you walk? Chris asked.
JD nodded as he was helped to his feet again. Sure...it´s fine, I...aaaahh!
Buck took the strain as JD looked at him.
Oh this is just great. I´m gonna have to limp all the way back now...damnit.
Don´t worry none kid...we´ll all help ya, Vin assured.
Got me a better idea. Buck gestured to JD to climb on his back. Hop up.
Chris couldn´t help laughing at the incredulous look JD threw at the brunet, as he instantly and painfully attempted to limp back toward camp.
Are you crazy...do you have any idea how far it is? Come on, I can do this, just... JD tried hard to ignore the pain but all three noticed it.
Half way home saw Vin and Chris at the front of the group. JD rested his aching head on Buck´s shoulder as the brunet shifted the younger man´s weight on his back to a better position.
I feel stupid.
Buck laughed. Yeah, well, you probably look stupid, but it´ll get you back to camp and that´s all that matters."
Yeah well...tell Vin to quit taking photographs.
Buck shook his head, Don´t worry kid...got me a plan to get the camera away from him.
In yer dreams, Wilmington, Tanner called back.
I swear he´s part bat, Buck huffed.
JD chuckled to himself as he dangled his aching foot in the cold water. Buck was au natural as he let the waterfall wash over his sweaty body. Vin sat next to the easterner and offered him a soda.
How is it? Tanner asked, nodding toward the submerged ankle as both men gulped down their drinks.
Well, you were right, as always...it killed for a while but it´s gone numb now.
Vin nodded his approval, as he watched Buck step out of the cascading water and put on some fresh sweats. Between them, the two older men helped JD back to camp, more as a precaution than a necessity as the youth appeared to be walking a little easier now. As they reached the camp the smell of fresh coffee, eggs, bacon and beans assaulted their noses, Chris grinning at their impeccable timing. After eating, Buck addressed the reason he and Chris had gone looking for Vin and JD.
So...as kind as it was of you guys to do that for us, it really wasn´t necessary.
Vin and JD exchanged looks, the latter speaking.
We didn´t want to spoil your weekend. He looked at Chris. I´ve never seen you like that, Chris...totally relaxed and goofing around...it was...awesome.
What JD´s tryin´ ta say, Vin added, Is, we just wanted you guys to be yourselves for a little while longer, is all. We were afraid us bein´ here might stop that from happening.
Chris pursed his lips then looked around at them. You´re right...it is fun to let go like that...sometimes. His gaze rested on Buck. But that´s not who I am anymore. I like to cut loose once in a while, but I´ve changed, and I kinda like who I am right now.
Buck smiled and nodded.
Letting go in front of you just proves to me how I´ve come to terms with everything. I love Buck...love you all as brothers. I don´t have to put on a show around you anymore. Buck´s Chris will always be here...because he´s a part of who I am...a part of Buck´s and my past, but I like who I´ve become around you and the guys too. Does that make sense?
Buck grinned as Tanner smiled and nodded, clearly a silent moment passing between him and Chris, and JD´s eyes positively shone with hero worship.
So, Buck clapped his hands together. Fishing tomorrow?
All three men grinned and nodded.
I reckon so.
Vin was sitting by the campfire enjoying the solitude as he drank coffee from his tin mug. Chris was at the river fishing while Buck and JD were still asleep. He'd heard some sounds a minute ago that suggested JD might be rousing, but he'd quieted again.
This trip had turned out nothing like Vin had expected. JD and he had made plans to retaliate against Buck, to pay for trapping Vin into this trip. JD was the perfect partner for his scheme, he could look so innocent that no one ever suspected him, even though he'd been caught pulling pranks enough in the past that they should.
As he sat his mug down, he recognized his time alone was drawing to an end as JD was getting more and more restless and would be up soon. Vin was still a little angry with Buck and so was JD, although JD had been pretty smart and got Buck to promise not to spill the beans when they went snowboarding come winter as penance.
JD had it tough; he lived with Buck who was like an old mother hen where the kid was concerned. Vin lived alone and answered to no one about his plans, but JD couldn't make plans without Buck eventually finding out, and if Buck didn't like those plans, he didn't hesitate to bring Chris and Nathan into the picture.
Vin and JD occasionally liked to engage in activities that Chris, Buck, and Nathan considered too dangerous. They were always pretty vocal with their thoughts and Vin would be happy to avoid that when they went snowboarding. Buck had promised JD he wouldn't tell either Chris or Nathan about the trip, so there would be no problems until after they got back.
And that was a positive, but not quite enough to give Buck any leeway. Revenge had still sounded like a good idea Friday night as JD and Vin made their plans.
Yesterday, however, had changed all that. Vin realized that Buck had given them a rare gift. Buck had introduced them to his Chris, not the angry grieving husband and father, not the dedicated team leader, not the friend of the past few months, but the carefree, fun-loving Chris from Buck's past.
Vin was relieved that he had decided to give Buck a pass this one time. No revenge, no retaliation. He knew JD would agree, but if Buck ever pulled a stunt like that again, Vin would make him pay.
JD was really thrashing around in there now. Then the day would officially start 'cause there was no way JD would let Buck continue to sleep.
They had eventually concluded last night, despite their initial decision, that as a group there would be no fishing today. Of course, Larabee was a law unto himself and had decided to catch a few for breakfast. Instead, today they were hiking up to a meadow that Buck had said was 'a li'l ol' piece of heaven', have a picnic and play a game of touch football. Vin laughed. JD sure was a strange one, how many people took a football along to a fishing trip in the woods.
Just then JD came stumbling out of the tent and off into the woods. Buck could be heard grumbling as he roused and Chris was coming back up the trail to the campsite. His solitude ended, Vin stood and walked down the trail to meet Larabee. He was looking forward to seeing what the day brought and what more he'd learn about his friend.
JD growled to himself and cast a disgruntled look toward his snoring roommate.
"Like a Goddamned chainsaw," he mumbled.
He tossed and turned and managed to drift off for a little longer. No more than ten minutes later Buck's snoring had increased.
"Aaaarrrrggghhh!" The youth screamed his frustration into his pillow. "Oh great...now I have to pee...thanks a lot, Buck."
JD hauled himself to the edge of his bed and sat there as he rubbed his eyes. He glanced across at his slumbering teammate, roommate, best friend, mentor and big brother. JD had never cared about a man before, he'd had no father or uncles, no role models whatsoever. Then he joined Team Seven and suddenly had six big brothers to deal with, one over-bearing one in particular.
And he loved it.
He loved how they taught him, and cared for him and allowed him to care for them. More importantly, he loved how they trusted him, despite his age.
He loved 'Big Brother' Buck.
Despite all his protests of Buck's 'mother hen' routine, JD wouldn't want it any other way. If he wanted to escape...he had Vin. He knew how close Vin and Chris were, and loved Vin all the more for taking the time to do things with him too.
Yes...JD Dunne was one very lucky man.
He looked fondly toward his sleeping friend as yet another rip- roaring snore tore through the air and picked up his own pillow. In one smooth action, JD whacked Buck hard across his head, replaced the pillow and sat back down, stretching and yawning.
With one giant snort, Buck woke up, half sitting.
"Wha...who...what the fuck was that?" he asked the half- asleep youth.
JD shrugged. "What was what?" He yawned. "I just woke up. Were you dreaming?"
Buck rubbed his nose and dropped his head back onto his pillow. "Must've been," he mumbled and in seconds was fast asleep again.
JD chuckled to himself and stood and stretched one more time. His bladder was giving the orders now and he proceeded out into the morning air in search of relief and coffee.
Breakfast had been a quick meal, followed by them breaking camp. They planned to leave immediately upon their return from the meadow. Buck stopped JD as he was packing away the last of his gear.
"You sure your ankle's up to this, kid?"
JD nodded, "Yep...it feels pretty good today, thanks Buck."
Buck frowned, "Still, I'd like ta strap it up, if it's all the same to you...you know, just to be on the safe side."
The younger man rolled his eyes, but then could see the concern in his best friend's eyes. JD smiled inwardly, Buck might fuss at him on occasion, but his heart was truly in the right place. He nodded.
"Sure Buck...you're right. It's a good idea, better to be safe than sorry."
With a ruffle of the youth's hair and a cackle as the younger man batted Buck's hand away, the brunet sat JD down on a tree stump and went in search of the first-aid kit. He called to Tanner who pointed in a general direction. Buck found it next to Vin's kit and stared. He couldn't believe his luck. There was the camera, sticking out of Tanner's bag. With a glance toward Vin and Chris, Buck quickly snatched at it and tucked it into his pocket. Feeling mighty pleased with himself, and amazed at how easy it had been, considering the several failed attempts to obtain it the previous night, he continued in his search for strapping for JD's ankle.
By the time the equipment was packed into the truck and the others were ready to hit the trail, JD's foot was good and secure. Buck looked up from his kneeling position and smiled.
"There ya go, kid...good as new. That should hold pretty well, I reckon."
The youth lifted his foot and rotated it a little, then stood, relieved to find his sneaker still felt comfortable. He looked down at Buck, who was still on his knees.
"This is really good, thanks Buck. I know I go on at ya sometimes for fussing, but you know I don't really mean it, don't you?"
Buck grinned, "Hell yeah...that's why I just do it anyway."
JD bent forward and spoke softly into the brunet's ear.
"I know...and I love that you care enough about me to do these things...thanks big brother."
Both men looked at each other for a moment, then JD flashed a lopsided grin and walked over to Chris and Vin, testing his foot as he moved across what was once their camp.
As he remained kneeling, Buck watched JD go, emotion clogging his throat.
He took a cleansing breath to recover then called out.
"Ya coulda helped me up ya little shit!"
Without looking back, JD chuckled. "Hurry up old man...we're waiting on you."
Buck mumbled as he pushed himself up by using the stump JD had been sitting on. He smiled, that remark had allowed him to feel a little less guilty about hiding the camera in his roommate's bag now.
They started up the trail, Vin walking with JD while Chris and Buck lagged behind.
"Are you going to show me the edible plants for survival training? Since we never got to that yesterday, being interrupted by that bear and all."
The two men chuckled. JD continued.
"What made you think it might be a bear?" JD laughed as he questioned Vin.
Vin looked at the younger man. "Buck was real clever the way he threw those rocks." He pointed. "See those bushes over there, now if he threw into one of those a rock would bounce on the ground and give the game away. He didn't do that, he threw into a thicket like the one 'bout two feet back from the trail. Then it just rustles the branches and they're so dense it barely makes a sound when it hits the ground."
JD nodded. "Okay, I get that, but why a bear and not some other big animal?" JD was really curious about what kind of large animals could be found here. "And do we have to worry about running into any of them."
"Bears tend to stay close to flowing water," Vin explained. "Remember Buck pretending to be a bear and Chris fishing like he did? Well, bears like fish and that's how they catch 'em. Don't really need to worry, that's why I was so surprised yesterday, they don't usually come close to people."
"Unless they're looking for pickernick baskets," JD chuckled. Vin swatted him playfully.
"OK Booboo...this is supposed to be a serious nature lesson," he laughed.
While the young men continued to chat about nature, Buck and Chris discussed the upcoming touch football game.
"I'm worried about this game, I don't want you taking it too seriously. You know how you are about football." Buck complained.
"No, Buck, just how am I about football?" Chris countered. "You and the guys are the ones that decided on football Sundays at my place. I didn't even watch regularly before that."
"Not talking 'bout watching, talking 'bout playing," Buck pointed out. "During football season you used to virtually just stop living." Buck responded. "Remember our senior year? You didn't even date the whole season."
The blond shook his head. "The way I remember it, I went to the homecoming dance with the head cheerleader."
"I take it back, one date between September and January, big deal." Wilmington laughingly replied.
"If you remember we had a chance for the state championship." Larabee spoke with a fair amount of heat. "I was the quarterback and the captain, I had responsibilities to the rest of the team. Unlike you I couldn't spend my entire time off the field dating."
"Hey...what can I tell ya? The girls like a football hero," Buck said as he struck a heroic pose. "I wasn't about to disappoint them, and it kept me busy since my best friend couldn't be bothered to date any of them."
"Told you---I dated the head cheerleader at homecoming." Chris reminded.
"Yup, and I dated the rest of the squad throughout the season."
"Boys, boys," Vin called back to them, "...we're talking what 20, 25 years ago."
"Yeah," JD piped up. "It's ancient history. What's it matter who dated whom?"
Buck looked at them as if they'd taken leave of their senses, then stared at Chris. With a nod, they both took off up the trail behind the rapidly disappearing duo. After running a few feet they dropped off to a walk. The younger men hadn't realized they were no longer being chased and continued racing ahead.
Vin finally stopped running and grabbed JD's arm, stopping him. Putting a finger to his lips, he pointed off the trail into a small clearing. A doe and her fawn were nibbling at the grass there. Tanner grinned as he watched the awed expression on JD's face.
Eventually Chris and Buck caught up and after watching the deer for a short time the foursome continued on to the meadow.
A short time later they arrived. Just as the older men expected Vin and JD were taken aback by its beauty. However, their individual reactions were a bit surprising.
JD stood there awestruck with hardly a word leaving his mouth. Vin on the other hand was waxing lyrical about what he saw.
"Bucklin, you were right, it truly is a li'l bit of heaven. I wish we could've been here at sunrise. We have to stay 'til sunset. The trail's wide, the moon will be up, we got flashlights. We gotta stay 'til after the sun goes down. We just gotta.
"Look at the flowers waving in the breeze over there. Ain't never seen anything so pretty as those flowers. You ever seen anything so pretty, JD?"
"Never," JD barely whispered the word as he kept looking from one part of the meadow to another.
"We'll stay, Vin." Larabee figured he'd better agree or lunch was never going to happen.
Buck headed over to a shaded area and laid out the blanket he had in his pack. The others joined him and quickly unpacked the food. They discussed the rules for that afternoon's game as they ate.
Once they had finished eating, they repackaged the food and packed it away. During lunch, they had drawn for teams. Chris was paired with JD and he dragged him off to strategize as soon as lunch ended.
Buck leaned back against a nearby tree and prepared to nap. Vin followed Larabee with his eyes.
"He takes the game real serious when he plays," Buck raised his voice so Chris could hear.
Chris flipped his middle finger in response. Joining Buck, Vin sat down. He was curious about what to expect in the game.
"Buck, you played with Chris in high school. What was it like?"
"Chris was the quarterback, always ready with multiple plays," Buck began reminiscing. "He could run, he was fast, but he was one hell of a passer, too. He could throw long or short.
"Now, me I had these long legs and arms, not filled out yet so a bit gangly. I could run and if Chris got the ball anywhere within reach of my arms I'd catch it. Once I got my hands on the ball, it stayed there.
"What I said earlier about football hero, the town paper was constantly writing about the Larabee-Wilmington combination. I don't know how many touchdown passes he threw to me that season.
"I think that's when football ceased to be fun for Chris. He took the chance for the championship to heart, shouldered all the responsibility, he couldn't disappoint the rest of the team. We won that championship and he had offers of football scholarships from a couple of different colleges but he turned them all down, did ROTC instead, never played again except in fun pick-up games of touch when we were in the Seals or with the Denver PD."
"That's another thing I never understood, why the Seals, I mean he grew up in Indiana so why the Navy?" Vin asked.
Buck considered his answer, then spoke. "We decided to go to the local community college, my grades wouldn't let me do anything else. I needed to build them up. Anyway during that time, the ROTC people came around. We listened but Chris wanted to do something different, maybe finish college but outside of Indiana.
"One of the ROTC guys said the Navy ROTC down in Mississippi was always looking for students. So we checked it out and ended up going to college in Biloxi and joining the Navy ROTC program.
"Chris wanted to be an officer but I never hankered to be more than a non-com. As soon as we finished college, we signed up full-time and when the opportunity of specialized training for the Seals came up we went for it.
"Those were good years, then one leave Chris met Sarah. It got serious fast and when re-enlistment came up six months later, he decided not to re-up. That worked for me too.
"We'd talked about breeding and training horses, having a place of our own when we finished our twenty years. When we left after only four years, we decided to find some land we could afford. There was this nice piece of land outside of Denver. We bought it and looked for work in the area, joined the police department, and Chris asked Sarah to marry him.
"We built the ranch house in our spare time. They lived in town and only moved out to the ranch a couple of months before Adam was born. My gift for Adam was my half of the deed for the ranch." Buck was looking off into the distance as he spoke so reverently of his and Chris's past.
Finally looking back at Vin, he noticed Chris and JD returning from their strategy session and realized he needed to warn Vin of a few things.
"Vin, this may be touch football and you think you only need to stay out of reach," Buck cautioned. "Well, that may be the case with some players, with Chris you need to realize he will take a dive to grab that ribbon, so you need to keep a fair amount of distance between you."
Vin quickly nodded that he understood as the other two joined him and Buck.
The game had been going on for over two hours with only one 15- minute break. Chris and JD were winning and it was agreed that the next play would be the last of the game.
Buck and Vin had been playing a running game, while Chris and JD had played a combination of a ground and air game. Usually Buck hiked the ball to Tanner and Vin would run with it, Buck blocking the others from getting to him. Occasionally Vin would hike the ball to Wilmington. They had steadily been moving towards the goal line 5 and 10 yard runs at a time.
Buck knew how to pass, he just usually didn't. For the final play, Tanner hiked to Buck and the brunet took off to the right with Chris quickly moving towards him. JD was a bit more distant and Vin had a clear line to the goal. Buck threw the ball to Vin just before Chris reached out to grab Buck's ribbon. Chris had no chance to stop Tanner before he scored. Vin ran for the goal line when JD threw himself behind Vin grabbing his ribbon as his dive ended with him sprawled on the ground.
"Chris, you've been teaching the kid your tricks," Buck complained. "Guess we should've expected it."
"What do you mean? I never told him to do that," Chris called back, defensively.
"We won. Hey, Buck what did you think of that move? I bet you never thought I'd reach Vin in time." JD called out in excitement.
"Sometimes you scare me, kid. The way your mind works." Buck joked with JD. His thoughts drifted back 13 years to the first time he saw that move in a Seal's pick up game from another young man he called friend. JD often reminded him of that young man from his past, in fact it was unnerving how much JD sometimes resembled the young Chris Larabee.
The game well and truly over, Vin suggested watching the sunset before eating. They could eat while they waited for moonrise to help guide them on the walk down.
"Sounds like a plan," Buck said as he halted his dwelling on past times.
As they headed over to the picnic site, they fell into their normal pairings. As Buck and JD joked around and rushed on ahead, Vin and Chris followed quietly and took their time.
Sunset was still an hour off when they quit their game. Vin and Buck had quickly dozed off in the warm sunshine, leaning against two nearby trees. JD and Chris were relaxed as they sat on the blanket staring out at the horizon. JD kept glancing over at Chris then looking off into the distance.
"What's on your mind, kid?" Larabee finally asked.
The younger man seemed hesitant for a moment, then at last spoke.
"Why'd Buck say you taught me that move? Ya know, the one I used to win the game." JD had been curious about that allegation since Buck had made it.
Chris smiled, knowingly. "Well, you see, Buck thinks I take the game too seriously, he feels that I have to win and will do anything to succeed, and not just in football, in anything I do." Chris tried to explain. "Thing is, he's probably right."
"I don't understand. Buck likes to win, hell, everyone likes to win." JD questioned the answer he'd received.
"Sure, okay, but here's the difference according to Buck. He likes to win, but I need to win...big difference, at least, so he's always said. Do you understand now?" Chris asked.
"I think so. So...does that mean he thinks I need to win?" JD sounded a little hurt at the implication.
"Doesn't matter what he thinks, JD, what matters is what you think," Chris quickly responded. "Why did you make that play? Was it because you wanted to beat Buck and Vin at all costs? Or a different reason?"
The youth pondered that for a moment. "I wanted to win, no, actually, I needed to win. It wasn't just to beat Vin and Buck though, it was because I had to do everything I could to succeed, I had to know I'd done my best." JD said thoughtfully.
Larabee nodded. "I know, kid, and it's the same with me. Now Buck knows he always does his best, he doesn't feel he has to justify it. Others like you and me, we need to know we couldn't have done anything more."
Chris felt a little exposed revealing so much of himself and so completely to JD, but his youngest agent's expression told him it was an important moment for them both and continued. "It becomes so much a part of us that it carries over even into the things we do for fun.
"I guess I'm a little too old to change my ways, kid, but you aren't. You should keep your high competitive spirit for the job, but you need to know how to let go of it when you're with friends.
"Buck'll help you, JD. He'll let you know when you get too intense. Buck has always set me straight when I'm taking myself too seriously and I have no doubt he'll do the same for you."
JD was about to respond when another voice spoke up.
"JD doesn't need to change, Chris," Buck spoke softly. "You are a great team leader and some day JD will have a team of his own to lead and learnin' from both you and me is the best way he can prepare for that. I'll never be a team leader, don't want to be, don't have the same need for control the two of you have.
"Don't mean I'm right and you two are wrong, and it doesn't mean you two are right and I'm wrong. Just means we have different personalities, different needs, and different goals in life. You two need to make the world a better place, need to see justice done, and you need to do it your way. I'm happy to do my part to make the world a little better, but I don't necessarily have to take the lead to do it."
A lazy drawl could be heard from the unmoving Texan, looking for all the world as if he was still dozing. "Can we wait 'til the sun sets 'fore ya' all change the world too much?"
They all laughed. JD looked across at Chris as the man winked back, and the youth knew their private moment of reflection was over. He turned to Tanner.
"Get your lazy butt over here then, or you're gonna miss it."
"Still got time," Vin stated, ignoring the instruction and resisting the urge to open his eyes. Then as if jolted by electricity, he jumped to his feet.
"Hell, best check the camera's got some charge left."
Buck stopped dead in his tracks as he was rising from his previous position.
"Er...you don't need the camera...hell, ya got no chance of gettin' a decent shot with a digital...it needs a...special filter...yeah, a special filter."
JD frowned, looking at Buck. "Huh? Yeah, if Vin was taking professional shots, but for what Vin needs, the digital is more than up to it."
The easterner pulled several faces as he tried to decipher a series of hand actions directed at him by the brunet, one of which appeared to be a slicing action across his throat. He shrugged helplessly as Tanner was next to JD as he searched through his backpack.
"Anyone seen the camera?" he asked, just catching one of Buck's frenetic movements as the big man quickly dropped his hand and grinned sheepishly. Vin narrowed his eyes.
"Bucklin...you got somethin' ta say on the matter?"
Buck shook his head. The sharpshooter moved over to Buck's backpack.
"Then ya won't mind if I do this..." He upended Buck's pack, the contents spreading over the ground.
"Hey...whatcha do that for?" Buck called, knowing exactly why, but playing for sympathy all the same.
Vin looked suitably embarrassed as he began to collect the items and put them back in the bag.
"Sorry, Buck...I felt sure..."
JD was going through his own backpack as he searched for his BlackBerry in the hope of capturing a picture of the sunset too. Just as he found it, he gasped softly and pulled out the digital camera, not realizing Vin was watching him.
The youth's mouth gaped open as he stared at the device in his hand as if it were a snake, then realization hit and he looked at Buck.
Wilmington was trying desperately to avoid eye contact. Chris had worked out what he had done and sat back to enjoy the show.
Recovering slightly, JD looked at Tanner.
The Texan plucked the offending object from the younger man's hand. "JD...I thought I could trust you." Vin smirked to himself as he turned his back on his friend.
Dunne was mortified at the words. Vin was his partner in crime...how could he not trust him? He jumped to his feet and pulled the Texan's arm.
"Vin...I swear, I didn't..." He glared at Buck. He had wanted to get the camera away from Vin, but he couldn't believe Buck had not only been successful but had dumped the evidence on him and then failed to tell him.
Vin instantly picked up on the dilemma.
"Bucklin...you should be ashamed of yerself, dumping yer ill- gotten gains on poor JD here."
Buck approached the two younger men. "Poor JD...oh yeah...let's feel sorry for the kid...who...by the way woulda done the same thing in a heartbeat if he'd had the chance."
"Well at least I wouldn't've dumped it on you and then not told you." JD countered.
Buck gave his roommate a sideways glance. "D'ya mind? The grown ups are talkin' here."
JD's face was a picture. Chris rocked with laughter.
"What? Take that back."
"Take it back, Buck."
Wilmington turned to him and folded his arms across his chest, a glint in his eye.
With a quick look and a nod to Tanner from JD, the two younger men flew at Buck, all three tumbling to the ground in a heap. Buck was cackling as he attempted to fend off the two men, succeeding in flipping JD onto his back and sitting on him while attempting to bat Tanner away.
"Gerroff me you lump!" JD yelled, his attempts to dislodge the man futile, as he began to wonder how long it would be before the remnants of their picnic would resurface if Buck continued to bounce on his stomach like that.
Chris was positively weak with laughter as he watched the display. Tanner called out.
"Take it like a man, Wilmington...yer goin' down!"
Totally incapable of movement, JD turned his head toward the west. He started pushing against Wilmington's back.
"Buck..." he called weakly, the air in his lungs restricted due to the brunet's weight.
"Hey...HEY! The sun's setting."
The fight stopped mid-blow as Vin turned to the west.
"Aw hell!" Tanner moved instantly to take a few shots while Buck gave one final 'bounce' to JD's stomach before getting to his feet. Satisfied with the squeak it produced from the younger man, the brunet turned and extended his hand to help his friend up. JD took it, but instead of pulling himself up, he jerked his grip and in seconds had Buck on the ground and pinned.
"Remember, old man...I need to win," JD whispered in his ear. Satisfied with the outcome, Dunne pushed himself up, using Buck's body for leverage then picked up his BlackBerry to join Vin.
Wiping his eyes, Chris rose to his feet and walked toward Buck his hand out ready to help him up. The brunet's eyes were following his roommate as he walked over to stand next to Tanner while he reached out and gratefully accepted the offered help. Chris looked at the grinning man.
"This trip was a terrific idea, Buck...thank you."
Buck nodded, "That it was, my friend...that it was."
The walk back to Chris' truck in the bright moonlight had been an uplifting experience, any dangers far outweighed by the beauty and peacefulness of it all.
Buck's poor attempt at ghost stories had them laughing more than scared, though Tanner was amused and touched that JD had unconsciously gravitated toward him and was walking considerably closer than he normally would have been as soon as the stories had started.
Chris had finally dropped off all three men and was heading for home. Despite his eagerness to sleep in his own bed, the blond couldn't help but smile as he replayed the events of the weekend. He always enjoyed his and Buck's trips, but this had by far triumphed over any preceding excursions. He knew Buck, Vin and JD would be eager to regale their teammates of events the next day, but for the first time in a long time, Chris looked forward to it.
Vin collapsed on his bed and lay there for a time. He had grown close to Chris in an almost surreal way, knowing there was much of the blonde's past he had yet to uncover. But seeing Chris so relaxed this trip had gladdened the Texan's heart and he considered himself privileged to have witnessed it. He hoped Chris' confession had opened a new door for the team leader, it was certainly a door the sharpshooter and JD had enjoyed peeking behind.
Buck laughed at the sprawling youth as he lay face-down and sound asleep on his bed, one sneaker off, exposing the still-strapped ankle. The brunet was tired too, but was always amazed how JD could just crash out like that. He walked over to the bed and gently pulled the comforter up and over the softly snoring youth, smiling to himself as he left JD's room to ascend to his own. It had been a wonderful weekend, better than Buck could ever have dreamed. It had warmed the big man's heart to see his old friend so happy and more than just a semblance of his former self. Yes indeed, this trip had definitely been a good idea.
"I swear to you, Ezra...Chris was thrashing about in the water like a kid, it was awesome." JD's hands were everywhere as he talked animatedly about their weekend to the rest of Team Seven.
"Don't forget how he caught fish with his 'bear' hands," Vin laughingly reminded JD as he imitated giant paws with his hands. The youth groaned.
"Aw Tanner, that's worse than my jokes," he snorted.
Standish frowned, "I fear we are missing out on some of the facts, here," he suggested.
JD took a swig from his soda can and gestured excitedly, "Oh guys, you should have seen him, Chris just waded on out there into the river and just flipped..." he mimicked the actions, "...and the fish just landed right there on the bank next to us."
Ezra, Nathan, Josiah and Vin all looked at JD's feet as if imagining the fish there.
"So...this was after they followed you and pretended to be a bear?" Josiah wondered.
JD howled, causing Vin to chuckle as he answered, "No...before."
"A bear!" JD was almost on the floor laughing, Vin was slowly getting as bad as the laughter became infectious.
The others were amused by the two youngest's hilarity.
"Sounds like ya'll had a great time," Nathan concluded.
Both JD and Vin answered together.
"VIN TANNER...GIT IN HERE!"
Vin's eyes twinkled. "Sounds like Buck's a mite pissed at me," he grinned.
"Did it come from the conference room?" JD asked.
"Reckon so." Vin nodded his head. All five men trooped off to see what all the fuss was about.
They all gaped at the enlarged pictures around the room as Buck and Chris stood close to the center of it all. Vin stood way back and waited for the fall out. Josiah spoke.
"Lord in Heaven...these are magnificent."
Between the photos Vin and JD had taken, the selected few showed candid shots of the four men's weekend. There was one of both Buck and JD with severe bed-head, another of Chris and Buck catching fish like 'bears', Buck naked under the waterfall, JD sleeping in the glade where Buck had lobbed stones, Vin cleaning fish.
A particularly nice one of Vin and Chris sharing a quiet moment as they laughed together, one of Chris watching the sunset and a touching one of Buck looking back at JD as he carried his injured friend back to camp, the look between the two men illustrating without a shadow of a doubt the affection between them. JD swallowed hard when he saw it.
And the display was crowned with a picture of a glorious sunset.
Ezra commented. "I almost feel I want to offer a round of applause. These are quite...spectacular."
All eyes turned to Tanner, but instead of anger, there was sincere approval, thanks and joy on the faces of the team.
Chris looked between JD and Vin, finally resting on Vin as Buck grinned broadly.
"Nice work, guys."
Even though he knew he had taken some of the photographs, JD acknowledged to Vin how he loved how the Texan had brought them to life.
That evening in the Saloon, Team Seven planned the next weekend...this time with all seven.