Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em but if I could they'd be on seasom 10 by now!
My thanks to Mog for ATF, to K Poffenberger and S Berry for the LB universe and Barbretta Haydn for LB/ATF and to all the wonderful authors who have made this AU so special.
Thanks to Phyllis for her skills, and to Lisa S for 'baby seals'
Thanks to Nancy and all at Blackraptor for archiving my story.
'I guess it's been an eventful month.'
Buck laughed softly to himself as he sat in the rocking chair, his understatement suddenly registering in his head, eyes firmly fixed on the two huddled forms in their beds and the blond sitting on the floor at their side, smiling contentedly back at him.
Yeah...you could say that.
EARLIER THAT MONTH
"Which are the lady ants?"
Vin frowned, "Dunno...maybe it's the ones pushin' the eggs 'round."
Despite being flat to the ground, JD tried to get lower, squinting through one eye as he tried to decide. "Are ants' eggs heavy?"
"They are ta ants."
JD happily accepted Vin's answer as both boys lay in the dirt, watching the colony moving around.
"What if we're like ants?" Vin said, absently tracing a line in the dirt with his finger.
"What if someone really big..." Vin stretched his arm upward, "...was watchin' us like we's watchin' these ants?"
JD looked up to the sky in alarm, then back to his brother. "You mean... like God?" he whispered.
The five year-old's eyes were huge. 'Giants?' He wasn't sure he liked the sound of that.
Vin shrugged, "Miz Patterson said about it yesterday...while you was readin' with Miz Douglas. She said we should think about all sorts of poss'bilitees. "
JD shuddered; he didn't like their substitute teacher and wished Mrs. Sanders would hurry back.
"Boys...dinner' s about to be served."
On hearing Mrs. Potter's call, they got up from the ground, brushed themselves down and headed for the house. Their fathers were going to be late tonight, so Mrs. Potter had offered to settle the boys for the evening, the intention being to have them ready for bed and to share a bedtime snack and drink with the two agents. JD took one last look at the ants then up to the sky, again, shuddering. He felt Vin take his hand.
"C'mon, we has to wash up."
The squeak from Mrs. Potter as they walked inside alerted them to a high possibility of an early bath. They were not wrong.
Buck placed a soft kiss on his son's head as they sat together at the kitchen table. The brunet was a little concerned, the usually boisterous five year-old was subdued, practically glued to his father's chest, clinging to the man's shirt with one hand and sucking the thumb on his other hand. Chris and Vin were chatting happily, but Buck knew Chris had noticed. A shift in weight alerted Wilmington to his son being asleep. He stood carefully.
"I'll just go put him to bed." His look to Larabee was clearly a 'please ask Vin' request.
Chris stroked his son's soft curls. "Vin, may I ask you something about JD?"
Big blue eyes stared at him as the boy nodded through another bite of cookie.
"Do you know if anything is bothering your brother? He's real quiet tonight and Buck and I wondered if you knew of anything that was upsetting him."
Vin thought for a moment, "Might be Miz Patterson."
Chris frowned. "Who?"
"Missus Sanders is away on a..." he thought for a second, "...a course and Miz Patterson is takin' us. She yelled at JD for talkin'."
The talking part didn't surprise Larabee, but...yelled?
"Was he being very bad?" Chris wondered. Vin shrugged.
"No more'n usual. Missus Sanders just puts her hand on her hips an' says, 'JD...are you talkin' again young man?' an' JD giggles an' says 'sorry', an' she grins an' then we go on with our work." The little blond's face darkened, "Miz Patterson just yells."
Filing the information for future reference, Chris touched Vin's face. "Thank you for your honesty, son. You about ready for bed?"
As Chris stood, he smiled to see Vin's arms reach up for him and he happily swept the boy up in his strong arms and held him close, inhaling the lingering scent of shampoo from his still damp hair.
"I love you, cowboy."
Little Tanner hugged his father's neck. "Love you too, dad."
Buck sighed as he surveyed his son's slack face. He had such an angelic expression as he slept, but then, although he had his moments, JD was such a good little boy, so full of love. Buck hated to think something might have upset him. He gently removed the soggy thumb from the child's mouth and with a final sweep of wayward hair from JD's face, Wilmington leaned in to gently kiss his son's head.
"I love you, baby."
A soft sigh warmed the big man's heart as he pushed himself up and left the room, ruffling Vin's hair and wishing him goodnight as Chris carried him past. Fishing out a couple of beers from the refrigerator, Buck walked out to the porch to wait for Chris to join him.
An hour or so later, JD had been standing for some time, just inside the front door, listening to the two main men in his life talking and laughing about their Navy days. The slight drop in temperature was beginning to affect the still sleepy boy so he decided he would make his presence known.
Buck and Chris looked at each other, then to the door as the screen creaked open.
"Li'l Bit? What is it, what's wrong, son?" He swept his son up in his arms, a little alarmed at the tiny quaking body now clinging to him. "JD...talk to me, please."
Thumb firmly in mouth, the little one pulled his head up and started to speak. Buck grinned and removed the thumb.
"Try again, son."
"Do you thinks there's giants watchin' us?"
Buck blinked, Chris leaned in closer.
"Giants?" both men said together.
JD nodded his head vigorously and relayed the tale of the ants. "Miz Patterson told Vin we had to 'sider..." he opened his arms wide, "...all the possubultees."
Chris sighed, that name again, but he focused on the boy.
"I think that's one we can leave to the fairy tale books, Li'l Bit."
Buck nodded and hugged his son. "Hey...I'm kinda tired. How about you bunk with me tonight? I could do with a cuddle from my boy."
With a huge nod and grin from JD and a look of mild concern to Larabee from Buck, the two brunets disappeared. Chris proceeded to lock up, check on Vin, then head for bed himself.
JD scooted across the bed and snuggled down as he listened to his father brushing his teeth, squealing with excitement as he heard, 'I'm coming to get you.' The two wrestled for a bit as they laughed and tickled and dodged, then Buck lay on his back as his five-year-old adopted his favorite position, draped over his father's chest, his head just under Buck's chin, listening to the strong heartbeat. In seconds the boy was asleep; in minutes, so was Buck.
A few days on and Buck was stood at the door to the ranch, his arms folded across his chest. He was running late now; good thing the boss was sitting in the car just outside the house.
Buck frowned at his son. "Li'l Bit, let me pass, I promise we'll talk when I get home from work."
A defiant and pouting five-year-old stood firm.
"C'mon, son, are you sure you want to do this? You'll make Chris and me late."
JD shook his head vigorously. "No, Da...you an' me an' Chris an' Vin's gonna stay home today."
"Son," Buck pleaded, "Please...I have to go catch the bad guys."
Chris had crept up onto the porch and stood behind JD as the little one blocked the doorway, finally scooping him up in his arms. Both men were shocked, as a piercing scream came from the child as he thrashed about in the blond's arms, crying bitterly.
Distraught, Buck took him from Chris and hugged him tightly.
"What is it, baby...what's wrong?"
Vin, crept through the door past the pair and clung to his father's leg, looking up at the two men.
"The man on the news said that the pistentages of cops dying each year had gone up again," he sobbed, "Miss Patterson says that means more than last year."
"We's don't want you to die," JD howled as he clung to his father.
Both men looked at each other and clutched their heartbroken children. Pulling out his cell, Chris dialed.
"Josiah...Buck and me need a personal day...thanks, I'll be in touch."
Each man kissed their boy's tears away. "C'mon..." they sat in the living room together, "...we need to talk."
Gloria carried on with her housework as Vin snuggled into his father and they all waited for a distraught and sobbing five-year-old to calm down.
Chris looked into his son's eyes. "Vin can you explain why Miss Patterson would say this to you?"
As JD started to cry again, Vin shuddered but answered anyway. "She said it but we didn't tell her you and Buck and Uncle Ezra and Uncle Nathan and Uncle Josiah was p'licemans. Thomas Wilson writed it in his workbook then he read it out to the class an' JD put up his hand and asked her what it meaned, so she told us."
Larabee frowned. He glanced at Wilmington, asking, "I thought we made it clear to all the teachers about things like this." He felt Vin shaking and turned his attention back to him. "Never mind, let's just forget it for now." He looked across at JD who had started to peek out at him from Buck's now sodden shirt and tie.
"Boys, there are lots of things in the news that are true, but it doesn't mean it will happen to us. America is a huge country with many police officers; please don't be afraid; we promise we are always very careful."
JD shuddered as about six huge sobs came from him one after the other.
"But it means some other little boys' daddy or mommy will die," he sniffed.
The two men cradled their sons tighter. They had no answer for that, just determination to confront this Miss Patterson as soon as possible. Chris once again dialed his cell.
"Hello, can you put me through to the principle's office, please... Larabee, Chris Larabee." As he waited, he looked to Buck, who nodded approvingly, instinctively knowing what was coming.
"Miss Stapleton...hi, it's...yes, that's right. I need you to know the boys won't be in today. Could you arrange for Mister Wilmington and myself to speak with Miss Patterson as soon as...oh, I see. No, in that case, we'll leave it for now, but we would like to speak with you sometime soon. No...no urgency, I'll be in touch, thank you." He looked at Buck. "Miss Patterson is no longer needed, Mrs. Sanders came back today."
For the first time that morning...the boys smiled.
A week later Buck was calling out to JD again, having failed to rouse the boy twice previously. "Come on. Li'l bit, it's Saturday...I thought you wanted to go riding?" He looked at Vin. "Was he awake when you left the room?"
Vin rubbed his eyes, "He was coughing last night."
Horrified he hadn't heard his son once during the night, Buck rushed into the boys' bedroom. He could hear the sniffles as he approached the room, instantly dropping to his knees as he reached the bed.
"Son...JD, are you okay?" He winced as his hand touched a hot head. Watery hazel eyes peeked out.
"I's sorry...I wetted the bed."
Buck smiled and pushed back damp hair from the child's eyes. "That's okay, Li'l Bit, let's get you to the bathroom, huh?" The boy nodded, but coughed hard as he was lifted. Chris was at the door.
"I'll call the doctor's office, better to be safe than sorry."
Buck nodded and proceeded to the bathroom, smiling to see a concerned seven-year-old was drawing the water. By the time JD was bathed and wrapped in a huge fluffy towel, Chris had stripped the bed and had a children's analgesic ready for the boy to drink. Sitting in the kitchen with JD on his lap, Buck helped his son take the medication, speaking softly.
"Just gonna take you to see the doc, okay? Make sure we're doin' all the right things. Do you hurt anywhere else?"
JD nodded and stroked his throat and pulled his ear. Buck kissed his head and sighed. Chris squeezed Buck's shoulder.
"This is how kids are, Buck, fine one minute, sick the next...then...fine again."
Wilmington bowed to the man's superior knowledge on the subject, then went off to dress JD for the trip.
"Can we go too, dad?"
Chris smiled at Vin, "Of course we can. Go get dressed."
JD giggled as Doctor Emery placed his stethoscope on his chest. The man smiled.
"Bit cold, isn't it?"
JD nodded, watching in fascination at all the man did. The doctor addressed Buck.
"His chest's clear, but he is a little congested and he has a mild ear infection. I'll write you a prescription for some antibiotics. Give him a few days and he should be fine to return to school."
Buck smiled, clearly relieved. "Thanks, doc."
The doctor stroked JD's face. "You've been such a good boy, would you like a lollipop?"
JD nodded, "And Vin, too?"
Emery smiled, "Vin, too." He touched the boy's dark hair as Buck stood.
"So...seeing as you're getting to be big and strong, have you thought about what you'd like to be when you grow up?" He fully expected the boy to want to follow in his father's footsteps.
JD's eyes widened and he smiled up at the man as Buck put him down on the floor. "I want to be a baby seal."
As the boy bounced out of the office with the prizes for him and his brother, the two men looked at each other. Buck shrugged.
"I have no idea."
Traveling home, Buck pondered the words JD had said. Sitting in their kitchen enjoying milk and cookies, Buck could contain himself no longer.
Big hazel eyes peeked over the top of the glass as he drunk. He put down his glass and with the back of his hand, wiped away his milk mustache, much to Chris' amusement.
"The doctor asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, do you remember?"
JD nodded, "I 'member."
"What...what did you mean by...'baby seal'?"
Vin hid his grin, Chris stared, just as curious as Buck now, as the blond chewed on a cookie.
"Like you an' Chris...when you was talkin' you said you was baby seals."
Buck frowned and Chris spluttered, choking on his cookie as he started laughing. Vin jumped to his feet and patted his father's back. Recovering, Chris squeezed his son's shoulder in thanks.
"Navy SEALs," the blond rasped.
Buck frowned as JD nodded vigorously.
"He wants to be a Navy SEAL."
"Oh..." the light dawned and Buck stifled a chuckle as he embraced his son."You'd make a great SEAL, son."
"Thank you, Da. Da?"
"What do baby seals do?"
Buck stroked the boy's hair. "How about you take your medicine and have a nap, then we'll talk later?"
JD nodded and in ten minutes was fast asleep in his father's arms as they sat in the living room.
"You gonna put him down?" Chris asked.
Buck sighed and burrowed into the dark head resting under his chin.
"Nah...I think I'll stay here."
Chris turned to Vin. "You ready for that ride now, cowboy?"
Vin leaned into his father, torn between his love of riding and his sudden and unexpected need to want to stick close to JD. He made his decision. "Can we stay here and watch Scooby Doo instead?"
Chris picked the boy up and tweaked his nose. "That's sounds great. Go set up the DVD."
With a nod and a grin, Vin sought out the desired DVD. An hour later they were all sound asleep.
JD didn't return to school until the Wednesday, his face falling as he spotted Miss Patterson sitting in Mrs. Sander's chair. With a huge sigh, the boys took their seats. Half-way through the morning, Miss Patterson called for their attention.
"Get out the book you are all currently reading with Mrs. Sanders and we'll read a few pages. Chloe, will you start?"
Chloe read a few pages, then Damian. Miss Patterson looked to Vin.
"Vin, would you read now, please?"
The two brothers stared at each other, both alarmed.
"Vin, I asked you to read, please."
JD's hand went up in the air.
"Not now, JD. Vin?"
"Miss," JD was too concerned for his brother to consider if he was doing right by his teacher. "Miss, Vin doesn't read out loud, Mrs. San..."
Miss Patterson rose to her feet. "Didn't I just tell you not now, JD?"
"I don't read out loud..." Vin whispered.
"Everyone in my class is treated equally, Vin. Please continue."
"But...MISS PATTERSON!" JD was desperate.
"John Dunne...GO STAND IN THE CORNER! Vin...READ PLEASE!"
The children gasped as JD got up and walked to the corner, unsure of what the teacher meant as he had never had to do so before. He stared at Vin.
"Turn around, child. We don't want to see your naughty face for at least ten minutes. VIN...read to the class, please."
As Vin stuttered through the sentences, JD's heart was breaking. He could tell by his brother's tone how distressed he was and JD's tears flowed freely. A mean giggle drew the five-year-old's attention, Thomas Wilson, snickering behind his hand.
"Thank you Vin. Clearly we need to work on your pronunciation. Alright, as it's almost break time, put your books away and sit quietly until the bell rings; JD you will see me when the class has left."
As the bell rang, Vin looked back at his brother and with a heavy heart went on out to the playground. JD turned and approached the substitute teacher.
"JD, I expect my students to do as they are told. Do you understand?"
"I'll ask again, do you understand?"
The little one nodded, his head bowed.
"Good. Now go out and get some air, I think you could use some, maybe you'll come back with a better attitude." She watched the child walk dejectedly out of the door, shaking her head. "Insolent child."
As JD scanned the playground for Vin, he was aware of a huddle in one corner but ignored it to continue searching. A spiteful voice drew his attention back and he gasped, his little legs propelling him toward the group of children. He could see Thomas Wilson pushing Vin in the chest.
"You're a baby, Tanner...an ickle baby...you act like a baby, and read like a baby."
Although Vin wanted to push back, his father had been very precise in his condemnation of fighting, so he let it go.
"See, you can't even hit me back...'waah...waah... Tanner's a baby, Tanner's a baby'..."
JD stepped in and pulled his brother's sleeve.
"Oh look, it's the other baby...ha, ha, ha...you want your diapers changed babies? Ha, ha, ha!" He pushed JD back into Vin. "Go away, BABY!"
All the hurt from the last hour surged through JD's tiny body and he pushed the boy hard, sending him back to fall onto his bottom. The other children gathered around, laughed, Thomas was a bully and they liked to see someone get the better of him. As JD and Vin went to walk away, Thomas got up.
As the five year old turned, the boy lashed out, hitting the small boy hard in the face, catching him on the cheek, just below his eye. As JD fell to the ground, Vin launched himself at JD's attacker and tackled him to the dirt, pummeling at the boy for all he was worth and receiving a few hits back. Hands reached in and pulled the boys apart. Miss Patterson was furious.
"I saw everything, Vin, JD, wait for me outside the principle's office." She helped Thomas up, the boy burst into tears.
"Samantha, take Thomas to the nurse, I'll be along shortly."
On reaching the office, the teacher ushered the boys inside, knowing the principle would be enjoying a coffee break with the other teachers. She sat them down as far apart as she could, oblivious to JD's distress and both boys pain, and looked in the rolodex for a number, dialing, while the boys shivered with shock and fear.
All four men looked up from the bullpen as something made Chris' blinds clatter.
"One of these days, our glorious leader will call us by name," Ezra commented. Buck went into the office, realizing instantly he saw his friend, what was wrong.
"We'll be right there." Chris looked at Buck. "We have to go to the school, now."
In less than twenty minutes, five men arrived at the school, three of them remaining outside in the corridor as the two fathers knocked and walked into the office.
Buck swept his son up in his arms when he saw the little one sitting in the chair, shaking, his eye swelling, despite the cold pad he was holding against it. Chris was doing the same for Vin, noting the bloody nose and grazed cheek as the seven year old clutched at a bloody tissue. The men looked in shock to Miss Patterson.
"Their uncles are outside. Do you mind if we hand them over?" Chris asked.
"Of course not," the teacher replied.
Ezra and Josiah automatically held out their arms as the boys appeared, all three visibly shaken by the children's appearance. Chris and Buck kissed their sons, then swapped to kiss the other boy.
"We'll be back," Chris promised as Buck winked to them.
The boys clung to their uncles as they watched their fathers return to the office.
Once the boys had gone, the three discussed why they were there.
"I will not tolerate fighting, gentlemen. I may only be a substitute, but while I am in charge, children will behave. JD attacked a boy in the playground, Vin then stepped in to take over. They are like a veritable little 'tag' team."
Buck frowned as he paced in front of the desk the teacher was sitting behind.
"Why did JD attack the boy?"
"He was taunting Vin, but that's no excuse..."
"What was Vin being taunted about?" Chris inquired, his arms folded across his chest as he stood in front of the desk.
"I believe JD said it was about Vin reading aloud in class."
Chris fumed, placing both hands down on the desk in front of the woman, as he leaned forward. "Have you not read his notes? He has a learning difficulty and has been excused..."
"Mister Larabee...I will not single out a child for preferential treatment. Vin must do as other students do."
"Where's the boy?" Buck asked.
"The boy that started this. Where is he?"
The teacher licked her lips. "Resting with the school nurse, he was most upset. Now, how to punish your sons..."
"Just hold on...will this boy be punished?" Buck questioned.
"It was two against one..."
Chris leaned further over her desk. "But it's likely he started it. JD and Vin have injuries. I hardly call that equality."
Miss Patterson shifted in her seat, "That's my decision to make."
"Hardly," Buck huffed then approached her as realization struck him. "Just a minute...weren' t' you here last time Mrs. Sanders was away?"
"I do believe so, yes."
Chris glared, "You told our boys what the newscaster meant about percentages rising in cop deaths."
She thought for a moment. "Why yes...they asked me about it, and I explained."
"Did you know we are cops," Chris growled.
"I did for certain after the question. Is this going somewhere?"
Both men reigned in their anger. Chris stood upright.
"We'll be having a word with the principle about this, in the meantime, we're taking our boys home...unpunished. " Buck assured her.
Chris smiled, but to anyone who knew him, it was not the sort of smile to warm your heart. "And lady...I'm going to see to it personally, that you never be allowed to teach in this school again," Chris promised.
Leaving the office, they retrieved their sons from their uncles and held them tightly.There would be a conversation, but for now, they would go home and two little boys would learn how their fathers loved how much they cared for each other.
Three days later, Buck shifted awkwardly. He almost felt as if he was in trouble himself as he sat with Chris to speak to the principle, Miss Stapleton. She began.
"I'm so sorry, gentlemen, I have been putting these events together and the other children in the class have all given me identical versions of them. You know how much I care for your boys and I am mortified this got so out of hand. I can assure you, this teacher's methods are not encouraged here and she has now been removed from our list."
Chris nodded. "When Buck, Mrs. Wells and myself looked at schools to suit the boys needs, you came top of our list and is why we chose you. Until recently, we have been more than happy with the boys' progress and their relationships with their teachers, but I have to tell you, this past month has made us look at our choices again."
Buck and Chris could see the woman becoming emotional.
"I understand, but...please think about this. Your sons are simply wonderful; especially after all they've been through. Everyone is so fond of them. Mrs. Sanders would be very upset to lose them, as would I."
The two men looked at each other. They stood and nodded.
"We want your assurance you will call us if you have any concerns during their time in school."
"You have it Mister Larabee. Our training program is complete for the year. I see no reason for Mrs. Sanders to be away for the rest of the term."
Chris extended his hand. She shook it and then Buck's.
It was a simple endorsement by the two men, but it spoke volumes.
As they stepped outside, they grinned at the two boys peeping out from behind their uncles' legs, all three men opting to go along for support.
Buck waved them over. "How about some pizza?"
THE BOYS' ROOM, PRESENT DAY
Chris got up from the bedroom floor and the two men made their way to the kitchen to join their teammates. They had all spent the day together and were now winding down.
"It's been a tough few weeks, guys; we can't thank you enough for all you've done for us, all the support, you've shown, both at work and here," Buck stated.
"Giving our time for those boys is a mere trifle, gentlemen, we would willingly give our lives."
They all looked at Ezra, no one doubting that statement for a moment. This was becoming one hell of a family.