Main Characters: Chris, Vin, Buck, JD
Warnings: The forecast is for a high smarm alert.
Notes: This was my first endeavor in the Little Britches AU, back in around 2002. Many thanks to Joy for opening the door to this little corner of the fandom, and for showing me the way.
Webmaster Note: This fic was previously hosted at another website, and was moved to blackraptor in May 2012.
Buck Wilmington sneezed as he swept the dust from the farthest corners of the big den. He sighed as he thought about the changes in his life. He wasn't complaining, really, it was just that things were a lot different than he had expected. A year ago he certainly wouldn't have thought of a wintry Saturday afternoon as a time to clean the house. He would have been sleeping off a hang-over, getting ready for a Saturday night date, or snuggling under the covers with some long-legged beauty.
He smiled as he thought of the other body he'd found in his bed that morning. Chubby, blanket-sleeper covered legs had been draped across his chest, and five-year-old JD had been snoring and sniffling beside him. Both he and seven-year-old Vin had caught colds the week before, leaving the boys cranky and comfort seeking. It was rare that the little brunet would seek out his bed rather than crawling in with Vin, but they had been arguing more and more as they developed ‘cabin fever' from being cooped up for several days.
Wilmington continued cleaning, pulling out one of the leather covered Lazy boys to get behind it. Then he huffed in frustration as he beheld a bit of artwork. In crayon. On the wall. His eyes scanning the miniature mural of red, purple and black scribbles, he grumbled under his breath. Chris was not going to be happy. "JD!"
The slap-slap of quickly running, tiny stocking feet could be heard coming down the hallway. Buck turned, hands on his hips, to stare down at the little, dark-haired imp he had taken into his life a few months earlier.
"Yeah, Buck?" the little boy asked in a raspy, nasal, voice.
"C'mere Li'l Bit. I need you to tell me about something."
Looking up at the big man, JD saw that he was not happy about something. Sensing that he was going to hear about something he wasn't supposed to do, the little boy did the only thing he could. Popping his thumb into his mouth, he shuffled across the room until he stood in front of his surrogate father, gazing up from knee level. "Yeth?" he lisped around his little digit.
Pointing toward the errant artwork, Buck said, "Can you explain this?"
Following the long arm, to the big hand, to the extended finger, to the wall, the little boy frowned. Stepping toward the wall, he squatted down, studying the crayon rendering closely. Turning his head to one side and then the other, he absently scraped a chip of purple crayon from one line. Standing back up, he pulled his thumb from his mouth, nodded, and said, " ‘s Vin's."
Together the two room occupants turned to find Chris Larabee in the doorway. The blond had a big metal bowl in one hand and a dish towel in the other. When he got no answer to his question, he repeated, "What's Vin's?"
"Don't yell at him, Chris," JD pleaded softly.
"Why would I yell at him?" Chris asked with a sigh.
Pointing toward the wall once more, Wilmington said, "JD says Vin did that."
Stepping into the room, the other man studied the wall. Counting to ten and taking several deep breaths as he sat the bowl and towel aside, the ATF agent knelt down in front of JD. Catching the wide hazel eyes, he said, "JD, are you sure Vin did that? You know, pard, we've had to scold you three times for writing on things with your crayons."
Tears welling up quickly, the tot squeaked around his thumb, "I di'n do't! Hon'st, C'ris!"
Dropping his head, shoulders drooping, Larabee tried to decide how to proceed. He was very good at wrangling confessions out of hardened criminals, but was still working hard on getting the truth from his two wards. "You're telling me the truth?"
"Pwomith," the little boy whimpered, sidling over to cling to one of Buck's big legs.
Straightening, looking from JD to Wilmington and back, the blond nodded. "Okay. Where's Vin?"
"Our room," the little orphan answered, still holding tight to his surrogate father's limb.
Without another word, Larabee strode from the room and into the hall. He moved quickly down the hallway, going into the room the two boys shared. Rapping quickly, he entered as he called softly, "Vin?"
The tousled head of chestnut curls bobbed up from behind a stuffed cat. Vin sat curled up in one corner of the room, hugging his favorite toy. Wide blue eyes regarded the big blond, and he rasped in a hoarse voice, "yeah?"
Crossing the room, Chris perched on the corner or the lower bunk and watched his foster son. Never one to pull punches, he asked quietly, "Did you color on the wall in the den?"
"What?" the little boy asked vaguely.
"Did you color on the wall in the den?"
"Yes… did you color on the wall in the den?"
Drawing a breath deep enough to wonder if he was going to explode a lung, he continued evenly, "Did you color on the wall in the den?"
"Th' den?" The blue eyes shifted from the big blond to the window to the door to the ceiling and back to the blond.
"Vin," Larabee's voice didn't change in timbre, but a note of warning let his ward know he had reached the end of his patience.
Hugging his cat tight and pressing himself closer into the corner, the little boy whispered, "Yeah."
"Why… why'd I do ‘t?" he decided against playing the question-question game when one look from his surrogate parent let him know that he had already gone too far.
"Yes, Vin, why did you do it? Why did you color on the wall in the den?"
Shrugging, the little boy said, "Dunno."
Folding his arms across his broad chest, Larabee said, "Well, come with me and let's see if we can figure it out."
Buck looked up from where he was sitting on the couch with JD at the sound of two different footfalls announced the approach of his old friend and their older ward. He stifled a grin as, a few steps behind Chris, Vin entered the room. The tiny boy looked for all the world as if he was walking the last mile.
Knowing that Vin was behind him, Larabee stepped across to the tarnished panel wall. He turned and regarded the little boy, nodding at the crayon markings. "Wanna tell me about it yet?"
The child looked down at his feet, studying his tennis shoes. He shrugged, not able to look up at the big man. He hugged his cat close, wishing very hard that he could make himself disappear. He hated to disappoint his foster father, but couldn't bring himself to explain his sudden destructive urge.
Chris stood silently, waiting for an answer that he knew wasn't going to come. Giving the child ample time to make the decision to explain or remain silent, he said, "All right then. Since you don't want to tell me about it, I'll go get the stuff for you to clean the paneling. You stand right there."
Big blue eyes darted upward, a hint of sadness in the pale depths. Then they darted back toward the floor, and the little boy remained silent.
Sighing, brushing a hand through his cropped blond hair, Larabee left the room. He came back a few minutes later with cleaning supplies and deposited them by the wall. Turning toward Vin, who hadn't moved an inch, he said, "There you go, kiddo. No playing or TV until it's cleaned up."
Vin slanted a quick look upward, but didn't say anything. No arguments, no whining, no bid at negotiation. He simply stood there.
"I'll check on you in a little bit." With that, the blond turned away, picked up his discarded bowl and dish towel, and left the room.
Picking up the thumb sucking five year old, who had sat quietly snuffling on his lap throughout the one-sided exchange, Buck said, "C'mon li'l bit, we need to get that nose taken care of, then you need to go finish cleaning your room."
"But Buck! Me ‘n Vin's ‘posed to do it together," JD protested as they left the room.
Chris finished the dishes and returned to the den a short time later to find Vin still standing where he had left him. He stood in the doorway long enough for the little boy to acknowledge his presence, held the solemn eyes, then returned to his own housework.
He moved on to sweeping and mopping the kitchen floor, then returned to the door. Vin was sitting beside the colorful drawing, idly turning the bottle of cleaner around and around on the floor. Once more Larabee waited to be acknowledged, saw he wasn't yet ready to comply, and left the child to himself once more.
He moved to the boys' bathroom, scraping toothpaste out of the sink and sanitizing the toilet before returning once more to the den. Vin was rocking, cat in his arms, mumbling softly to the stuffed pet.
Realizing that he was getting no where, Chris said, "Vin, you've got another ten minutes to clean the wall. If you don't, you're going to spend the rest of the weekend in your room, without your GameBoy or your Legos."
Vin didn't answer, but his body language spoke volumes. His body stiffened and his rocking grew almost frantic. He wouldn't look up into his foster father's face, or even acknowledge the ultimatum.
With a deep sigh, the blond man stood for a few seconds more, then shook his head and retreated from the room. He returned to his cleaning, keeping an eye on the time. Nine minutes and fifty-five seconds later, he returned to the den. He frowned as the unmistakable sounds of stifled sobbing greeted him, and padded across the room to kneel down beside the crying child. Trying unsuccessfully to catch Vin's eye, he said, "All right little cowboy, tell me why you don't want to mind me."
Sniffling hard, Vin wheezed, "But I do, Chris! I don't wanna be a bad boy, I don't wan'cha t' be dis'poin'ed in me!"
Reaching out to stroke a hand through the tumble of brown curls, the agent said, "You're not a bad boy, and I'm not disappointed in you. I'm just confused about why you don't want to mind, and sad that you think it's okay to mess up the house."
"'S not a mess!" Vin cried out indignantly, "it's my picture!"
Frowning, Larabee said, "I know it's your picture, son, but your picture is on my wall. You have lots of coloring books and paper to make your pictures on. Now –"
"But I made it so's y'd have one of us perm'net!" Vin protested.
"Permanent? I don't understand."
Leaping to his feet, the little boy stomped angrily across the room and pointed a little finger upward. "Perm'net… like them pictures."
Chris looked up at the cluster of pictures on the wall, and understanding began to dawn. Standing slowly, he walked carefully across the room, mindful of how skittish the little boy could be. Coming to stand beside his tiny charge, he laid a gentle hand on the narrow shoulder. He scanned the grouping, made up not only of portraits and Polariods, but crude pictures made with crayon, marker, or tempera paint, lovingly preserved behind glass.
Vin wanted a permanent place for his artwork, just as Adam had. He wanted that little reassurance that, like his natural son, Chris wanted keepsakes from his adopted son. His child's mind hadn't quite grasped the fact that there was a difference between framed art paper and colored wax applied directly to his wood paneling.
Gently gathering the sniffling child into his arms, Larabee looked into the little face. "Perm'net, huh? Guess we need to do something about that."
The Sunday evening sun was shining warmly into the big den. Inside, two little boys laughed and danced manically to the cheerful medley at the end of Shrek . Watching the impromptu performance, their two guardians laughed and applauded. As the music faded, JD collapsed against Buck's legs with a wheezing giggle. Vin crawled up into Chris' lap, giving him a winded chuckle as he fell into the man's arms.
Larabee, smiling broadly, gathered his foster son into his arms, hugging him closely. Over the tousled head, he exchanged a contented look with his old friend. Yes, the days of working hard and partying harder had come to an end, but neither of them regretted the decisions they had made or the changes those decisions brought with them.
"All right you two, time to start getting ready for bed." He rolled his eyes at the twin groans of protest. "I know it's earlier than usual, but since you two have been sick, you need to get your rest. Now, if you get your baths and get into your pajamas real quick, we'll watch Dr. Seuss and have popcorn before you have to go to bed. Deal?"
With a squealed chorus of "deal", the two little boys dashed from the room, intent on breaking the record for baths. Behind them, the two adults couldn't help but laugh.
"I'll get the popcorn, you make sure they don't put the entire bathroom under water," Chris said.
"Deal," Wilmington said with a hearty laugh as he trailed after their charges.
Shaking his head and hoping that Buck wouldn't remember where he had hidden the squirt guns, Larabee started toward the kitchen. He paused to look at the newest decoration on his den wall. The piece of paneling had been carefully cut from the wall, matted and framed, and would now serve as the centerpiece in a new grouping of memories. He glanced at the new piece of paneling that had replaced the removed square. It was too new, the wood a shade off, but it didn't matter. Paneling could be replaced… "perm'net" memories were irreplaceable.
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