My thanks to Phyllis for betaing this so quickly.
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.
Chris' body went onto alert as he climbed to heavy-eyed consciousness. Somehow resisting the urge to leap from his bed and go for his gun safe, instead, he reached out and snapped on the lamp on his nightstand.
"Li'l Bit? You okay?" He rubbed his eyes to get a closer look at the little five year old leaning against his doorframe, thumb in mouth and clutching a stuffed horse. Pushing himself up to rest on his elbow, Chris tilted his head.
"Missing Vin, huh?" He watched JD's dark head bob slowly.
The words were so soft the blond almost missed them. He sighed. Vin had been invited to a sleepover. Tomorrow was Saturday, so Chris had happily agreed. However, Buck had been unexpectedly delayed in Houston, while giving evidence at the Brockhurst trial. The the first flight he could get to Denver was Saturday afternoon.
Vin had then been reluctant to leave JD, but Chris was insistent, the boy needed new experiences and this would be good for both JD and Vin.
Or so he had thought.
Vin had called right up until JD had gone to bed, and once more after that. Buck had been distraught about his delayed departure and had also called several times that evening. JD had sunk lower and lower into despair with each call, finally accepting a bath from Chris and going to bed a full hour earlier than usual, putting an end to Chris' plans to spend time with the little one, doing whatever activity JD had chosen. JD had even refused a bedtime story.
Chris checked the time; 2:45am. He smiled at JD. "Need a hug?"
"Uh huh." JD watched the man he considered a second dad flip back the bedclothes and eagerly scampered across the room, climbing up onto the bed to scoot as close to Chris as he possibly could. The pair wrestled positions for a minute, neither one getting comfortable.
Vin loved two positions at times like this. He either faced his father, snuggling into his chest and wrapping his little arms around Chris, or Chris would pull Vin back against him and wrap his own arms around his slender body. JD wasn't comfortable with either position and it took a few moments, but with a knowing grin, Chris rolled onto his back.
In seconds, JD had clambered on top of Chris to lay his head over the blond's heart. Smiling at the huge sigh of contentment from the boy he also considered a son, Chris wrapped one arm across JD's small frame and in less than a minute could hear the soft sounds of a child slumbering, one little hand holding onto Chris' ear as the other's thumb settled into the boy's mouth. Minutes later, Chris was asleep, too.
Cracking open one eye, Chris chuckled at the wide hazel eyes looking up at him from the new position at his side, that JD had slipped into overnight.
"G'mornin' Chris." JD smiled wider as Chris bent down to kiss his head.
"'morning, squirt. Did you sleep okay?"
"Mmhmm you's nice an' comfy."
Chris chuckled again, suddenly wincing as his body protested movement from the position he had remained in all night. "What say we amscray outta here, feed and let out the horses and cook us up some breakfast?" Bringing one leg up to deflect the knee aiming for a delicate area, he took JD's enthusiastic clamber over him and out of bed to mean a yes.
"I'll get dressed," JD called as he disappeared out of the door.
Watching him leave, Chris eased his aching body out of bed and headed for the shower, whatever else he did today, he needed his morning shower.
Feeling almost human again, Chris stepped out of the steaming cubicle to reach for a towel to wrap around his hips. Scrubbing his hair with a smaller towel, he moved into his bedroom and, after patting himself dry, dropped the covering to get dressed. Once in jeans and a light blue shirt, rolled up at the sleeves, Chris left his room to find JD in the kitchen, attempting to pour orange juice into two tumblers while standing on a chair. Moving swiftly, Chris snatched up the large overbalancing carton in one hand and the boy in his free arm, setting him gently down on the floor.
"Let me, kiddo," Chris smiled, pouring the drinks and seating himself at the table next to JD. Both eagerly drank the juice. With a resounding `Aaahhh', from JD as the tumbler clunked down onto the table while the back of his free hand wiped away the juice `mustache', JD took up Chris' hand.
"C'mon gots to see to the horses," he said seriously while `dragging' the blond to his feet, oblivious to Chris barely setting down his unfinished drink before following the child out into the yard.
With chores done and JD safely ensconced on the sofa watching cartoons, moving around the kitchen while cooking their pancakes, Chris balanced the kitchen phone between his ear and his shoulder, the long cord snaking this way and that as he did so.
>>"I got an earlier flight."<< Buck's voice sounded considerably lighter than the night before.
"That's great, pard, what time should we pick you up?"
>>"Nah, I'll get a cab. Surprise the boy."<<
"He's missed you."
There was a sigh. >>"Boy, howdy, do I know *that* feeling. "<<
"Later," Chris finished and replaced the handset. "JD Breakfast! " In seconds the little one was seated at the table.
"Did you wash your hands?"
JD nodded. "I had to go pee so I washed `em then."
"Good to know," Chris laughed and the two tucked in to their breakfasts. Before Chris had fully registered the sound of a vehicle outside, the thundering of little feet through the house assaulted his ears.
"Vin!" JD was off his chair in a flash, but the little blond beat him to it, resulting in a fierce hug as the two bodies bumped together. "I missed you," JD mumbled into his brother's chest. Chris stood and moved to acknowledge Vin's ride home.
"I missed you, too, JD," Vin sighed, squeezing him tighter as his blue eyes tracked to his returning, smiling father, the message within them as clear as if he had spoken it. Vin had missed them both. Chris checked his watch.
"How about we finish up here and go for a ride?"
With a resounding 'whoop', both boys settled down at the table to finish off the pancakes while Chris loaded the dishwasher, all three then heading out to saddle Pony and Peso.
Chris proudly glanced across at his son. Vin was becoming a good rider, clearly at ease with his horse, considering it was a large mount. He and Buck had decided not to buy a pony as Vin's first horse, recognizing early on that the seven year old had a natural affinity to horseback riding, and had made an instant connection to this stunning black gelding. Both fathers knew it wouldn't be too long before JD would be riding solo, also. When having lessons with the two main men in his life, JD had shown remarkable instinctive ease with Buck's gray, Beau, and the men were quietly searching for the perfect horse for the little one. They were in no hurry; he was still a little young, and with that thought, Chris squeezed the boy riding double with him, a little tighter.
"Having fun, Li'l Bit?"
JD tilted his head backwards to look at Chris upside-down.
"Oh yeah, fank you."
"Thank you," Chris repeated.
JD frowned, still looking upside-down. "Why, whad I do?"
Chris laughed, grinning back at Vin. "Just being you," he answered.
"Oh," JD replied, once again facing forward and placing his hands over Chris'. "Can I drive?" he asked.
"Sure," Chris smiled, handing JD the reins. "Nice an' easy, now."
"Can I go for a run?" Vin asked, hopefully.
"Sure, son not too far, we're heading back soon."
With a nod and a cluck, Vin galloped off, just missing his father's look of adoration.
"Wish I could do that," JD sighed as he watched his brother flying off into the distance.
Chris kissed the top of JD's head, taking the reins as he did so to wheel Pony back toward the ranch.
"Not too long now, baby. You still got a bit of growing to do."
"Yeah, I knows Da says I's too little but, when will I not be too little, Chris?" He was looking upside-down again.
"I really don't know, but I promise you, as soon as Buck and I think you're ready, we'll tell you, okay?"
JD relaxed back against Chris. "'Kay, Chris." They ambled on back toward home, laughing as Vin galloped past them, whooping with delight.
The horses brushed, fed, watered and settled, Chris held out his hands and both boys latched on to walk back to the house. With a wink to each other, JD and Vin wrapped themselves around Chris' legs and, much to their delight, the blond 'walked' them to the house, swinging his legs hard with each stride while the pair squealed with delight. Chris quickly realized the door wasn't locked and a huge grin split his face as he opened it, to find Buck in the middle of the floor, resting on one knee, arms open wide.
"DA!" JD practically screamed the name as he unhooked himself from Chris' leg and raced over to a welcoming embrace.
Buck barely stopped himself from being bowled over as he held his boy tight, burying his face in the little one's neck and shoulder.
"I missed you, Da." It was barely a whisper, but Buck squeezed tighter. "Oh Lord, baby, I've missed you, too. Have you been good?"
JD lifted his head to glance at Chris, the blonde smiling and nodding.
"He's been perfect."
Giving one long kiss to JD's head as the little one once more buried his face in his father's shoulder, Buck looked across at a fidgety Vin. He knew the seven year-old wanted to come over, but had allowed JD his moment first. Buck held out his free arm and Vin ran to embrace him, the three hugging hard as arms enveloped each other.
Chris contemplated joining in, instead, settling for putting a hand on both boys' heads, then touching the top of Buck's as he passed him.
"Welcome home, pard."
"Good to be home, stud," Buck grinned as he raised his head out of the huddle.
After milk and sandwiches, a game of Twister, dinner, a bath for the boys and then a Disney DVDathon, the two men sat in their recliners while their boys slept soundly in their arms.
"Brockhurst locked away for good, this time?" Chris whispered.
"You better believe it," Buck said quietly back. There was a pause. "JD really been okay, Chris?" He brushed a gentle kiss into his son's hair, smiling at the soft sigh and deeper burrowing into Buck's broad chest.
"He's missed you like crazy hell, we all have. Last night was a bad one; he ended up sleeping with me."
Buck nodded. "Thanks 'preciate it." More silence as he gazed from one boy to the other. "Y'know it never ceases to amaze me just how wonderful this life of ours is."
Chris grinned back, never thinking until these boys and the other men of Team Seven had come into his life, that he could ever feel that way about living again.
"Yeah it doesn't get much better than this."
With a grunt, both men hoisted themselves and their boys out of their chairs and locked down the house for the night, the little ones still sound asleep and draped over their father's chests and shoulders. Pausing for a moment outside the boys' room, both men grinned at each other, mouthed 'goodnight', and headed on, with their sons, to their own rooms.
The perfect end to a perfect day.
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