AU/ATF - Mothers and Sons
PG ~ a couple of words
The following is a work of fanfiction based on the CBS television series, The Magnificent Seven. It is in no way intended to infringe on the copyrights of CBS, MGM, The Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp., or anyone else who may have legal rights to the characters and settings. I don't own the characters. (Like I'd have time to write this stuff if I did.) <g> This story is strictly for entertainment. No monetary gain will be made from it.
Note: I know that per ATF canon, the team has been together for three years, but this story takes place shortly after the formation of the Seven.
Michelle Phillips as Maude Standish
Fabiana Udenio as Inez
Mothers and Sons
"My home is in my mother's eyes."
Friday afternoon at the office:
"Another one of your weasel informants, Ezra?" Buck Wilmington raised his eyebrows at the red-faced agent.
"Hardly, Mr. Wilmington." Ezra Standish shook his head, angrily. "Just another wonderful, gut-wrenching conversation with dear, sweet mother."
"Ahh…the lovely Miss Maude…" Josiah Sanchez's eyes twinkled and the words rolled off his tongue, as if he were speaking of the Queen of England.
"The lovely Miss Maude…as you so kindly refer to her…has informed me that she will be having a six-hour lay-over in our fair city on Sunday…and has made herself…available…to me." Frustration getting the better of him, Standish snapped his pencil in two, tossing the broken pieces on his desk. "Her undeniable devotion has left me speechless…I must say."
"Geez, Ez…" JD Dunne sighed. "You slammed the phone down on your mom?" The team's youngest member stared at Standish in disbelief.
"You would mirror my actions, I assure you, Mr. Dunne…if she were your mother." The devastated look on the young agent's face had Standish immediately regretting his words, but they were gone now and there was nothing that he could do to get them back.
"No I wouldn’t." Dunne whispered as he pushed himself up from his desk and walked into the break room.
"Way to go, Ezra." Buck fumed. "You know Mother's Day's comin' up this Sunday…give the kid a break…will 'ya?"
Wilmington knew it was going to be a hard weekend for his young roommate and, thus, for himself also.
The older man had done just about everything short of legally adopting the boy since he joined the team a short while ago. The two had started out as co-workers, progressing rapidly to inseparable best friends and roommates and were now, undeniably, devoted to each other. The two truly were brothers ~ in every sense of the word.
And now, seeing the youth upset, was killing Wilmington. Anything that affected JD, affected Buck. Any time the boy suffered, Buck suffered just as much, if not more so. The older agent gave into JD at nearly every turn, not in an attempt to spoil the kid, but more in just the simple fact that Buck adored JD and couldn't stand to deny him anything that was within his power. Dunne had his big brother and just about anyone else he came into contact with, for that matter, wrapped around his little finger. But, the kid never took advantage of the fact. In actuality, the kid didn't even know of the power he possessed.
He was just that kind of kid.
Everyone's little brother ~ the boy next door ~ every mother's perfect son.
Every mother's perfect son.
Therein lied Buck's dilemma.
Buck had come up with a million and one things for the two of them to do on Sunday, but nothing had appealed to the boy. Plain and simple truth was, JD thought it was his obligation to be down-right miserable on Sunday, out of respect to his dear, deceased mother. It was as if the kid was afraid to even consider having a good time that day.
Wilmington knew the kid was hurting. JD never talked a lot about his mother. It still hurt the boy too much to talk about her, so the others usually just pretty much steered clear of the subject whenever possible.
But with the approaching holiday, it was a difficult subject to avoid.
And Standish's slip of the tongue had hurt the kid.
And for that, he knew he would pay.
"Kid's already got himself all in knots 'bout this Mother's Day stuff, Ezra." Buck snapped, his mood quickly souring as he stared towards the break room, thinking about the boy. "Nothin' like just throwin' it right in his face."
Standish rose from his chair and approached Buck. "I apologize for my insensitivity, Mr. Wilmington. I will go talk to the boy."
"Talk to the boy ‘bout what?"
Chris Larabee had a knack for appearing at the most inopportune times. Standish swallowed nervously. He did not look up, but he could feel the famous Larabee glare boring into his head. No one could possibly adore JD more than Buck Wilmington, but Chris Larabee was a close second.
A very close second.
One thing was a certainty ~ upsetting the boy was not the way to make points with the team leader. "I have made a careless remark, which I fear has upset our young friend."
Then it happened.
"Well…I’m sure you didn’t mean it, Ezra. JD’ll understand."
Amazingly, Chris had let the Southerner off the hook.
It was no secret that Standish was not Larabee's favorite agent. Far from it. Larabee had felt betrayed by Standish shortly after he joined the team and, when it came to who he could trust, Larabee was like an elephant ~ the man never forgot.
Standish was no dummy. He knew very well that Larabee's action was more for JD's benefit than his own. Taking Standish to task would have done nothing but upset the young agent further.
Whatever the reason, Standish was not about to stand around idly and allow Larabee to change his mind. He excused himself and headed for the breakroom, trying to organize his thoughts as to what he might say to JD when he got there.
Ezra found the youth staring blankly at the snack machine. Dunne never turned, but saw Standish’s reflection in the glass as he walked up behind him. "Peanut M&M's." was all JD said, as Ezra placed his hand on the boy's shoulder.
"Peanut M&M's, Mr. Dunne?"
"Yeah…" JD seemed a million miles away, still staring at the candy. "They were always Mom's favorite. I like plain M&M's…but not Mom…had to be peanut…or nothin'." Dunne turned to face Ezra and a nervous smile broke out across his pale face. "Stupid thing to think about…huh???" and the boy quickly brushed the back of his hand across his cheek to catch the tear that had escaped from under the long, dark lashes.
"Hardly, my young friend." Standish moved his hand to the boy's neck. "Any memory of a loved one is a cherished moment, I assure you."
Ezra felt so sorry for the loss the boy had had to face at such a young age. It hardly seemed fair. JD clearly cherished his mother. And she was obviously a remarkable woman. She had raised a wonderful, sensitive, caring, loving son ~ all on her own. And she had done something that Standish, drawing on his own life, could never begin to comprehend. She had put her son first in her life ~ before anyone else ~ and most astonishingly to Standish ~ before even herself.
"I…just…just really miss…her…'ya know?" JD turned to Standish, his huge, hazel eyes suddenly spilling over as Ezra took him into his arms and held the boy tight. He could feel his heart break in two as he felt the boy's hands grasping at the back of his shirt.
Standish had always been a loner.
Had never had many friends.
Had never had anyone that relied on him, depended on him.
Had never really cared a lot about people's feelings.
Had always just pretty much watched out for himself.
And he'd always been perfectly happy with the arrangement.
Then he joined Team Seven.
The Magnificent Seven the team had come to be called.
Six other men, or rather, five other men and one boy, actually, had taken him into their fold and made him one of their own.
Or, at least they had tried.
Standish still found it difficult to open up to people. Not that he didn't want to, but he'd just been raised that you didn't trust anyone. And, if you were playing your cards right, no one trusted you, either.
No loose ends.
But, then, what was he doing with this boy in his arms?
The boy that had wanted nothing more than to be a part of this team.
Standish felt a kinship with the boy right off. Dunne had not exactly been welcomed with open arms, either. The others, Larabee in particular, really didn't think the kid had what it took.
Larabee said he wasn't the kind.
Dunne had the misfortune of being young. Really young. And looking even younger than his years didn't help the boy at all. The kid had the face and the build of a sixteen -year-old ~ and was short to boot.
But the kid was nothing if not persistent.
And he'd had the guts to plead his case face to face with Larabee.
And that confrontation had gotten the boy his slot on the team.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
And now, here they were.
The black sheep and the kid.
**You poor, poor boy.**
"It is quite alright to miss her, JD." Ezra stroked the soft, dark head that rested against his chest. "I often find…myself…missing her, as well."
JD pulled himself away, slightly and looked up to Ezra. "You…miss…my mom?" the boy whispered. "Why?"
Standish steered JD over to the couch along the far wall and eased him down next to him, his arm still around the boy's shoulders. "Well…son…I have heard the wonderful stories of your mother. It would seem that she was the epitome of what a mother should be. I have always found myself rather…shall we say…envious…of your mother."
"But, Ez…you’re so lucky. You've got a mother. Why would you be jealous…of mine??? She's…gone." The despair and obvious heartache in the youth's voice tore like a knife through Standish's soul.
The words still reverberated in Ezra's head. **She's gone.**
My…mother…dear boy…and I use the term loosely…" Standish shook his head and continued. "would hardly be considered a candidate for mother of the year…I assure you."
"Just 'cause she's different, Ez…doesn't mean she's not a good mom."
"A…good mom…you say?" Standish scoffed at the boy's choice of words.
"Yeah…I mean…maybe she's not like my mom…or maybe she's not Mrs. Cleaver…but…hey…she's a good lady…right?" JD looked up to Ezra again, his eyes filling again as he continued. "I mean…you don't have to be a den-mother or bake cookies to be a good mom."
"Mother would hardly even know how to locate the kitchen, son."
"So…perhaps there are certain things expected of a mother. Especially when you are…a young boy…" Ezra trailed off.
"She…she never…hurt you…did she…Ezra???" JD's voice was soft and scared, his innocent face pinning Standish down.
"Oh no, son." Ezra quickly put the boy's fears to rest. "She was never around long enough to hurt me. My life was one long string of boarding schools, each one finer than the last, as she married better each time."
"…least you had a dad…" JD sulked, pulling his legs up on the couch, hugging his knees.
Again, Ezra found himself immediately regretting his last statement. He'd forgotten another sensitive subject with the kid. "Ah…yes…dear old dad. If I'd known you needed one at the time, son…I could have given you your choice of several." Standish teased the boy, tousling his hair. "I had many cast-offs…you could have taken your pick."
Dunne scrunched up his nose, aggravated by the hair tousling. He hated being treated like a child. "Ezra…you love your mom…though...right?"
"Love…such a complex word, son."
"C'mon, Ez…either you love her or you don't." Sometimes JD got so fed up with all of Ezra's wordy-mumbo-jumbo he could just scream.
"I suppose…I love my mother…JD…just not so sure about the woman…Maude."
"You know…I bet you'd have really liked my mom." JD yawned, leaning tiredly against Standish's side, as the Southerner pulled the boy a little closer. "She was great." and the young agent, exhausted from a week of little sleep, was finally out.
Standish smiled down at the boy sleeping in his arms. **I'm sure I would have, son…if she was anything like you. That's a given.**
"Kid real upset?" Larabee was worried about the boy.
Larabee was always worried about the boy. It was his job to worry about the boy. Dunne had proven himself to be a top-notch ATF agent. The kid was a crack shot on the firing range, an honest-to-God-certified genius, a computer wizard and was loyal to a fault.
But ~ he was also a twenty-one-year-old kid who wore his emotions on his sleeve.
A twenty-one-year-old kid that Larabee still couldn't believe he'd hired to complete his team. Chris would usually kick himself about twenty-one times a day for allowing the kid to join the team.
And then the kid would go and pull some brilliant or heroic stunt, reminding Larabee that he really was a top-notch agent.
Or else the kid would team up with Wilmington and pull some practical joke and Larabee would threaten to kill the boy himself.
"Yeah…he's pretty upset. You know…he’s just ‘bout out of them brave fronts he’s been usin’ all week." Wilmington sank into his chair. "Poor kid. I just wish he’d let me take ‘im somewhere Sunday. He's just got it in his head that he’s supposed to stay home and be miserable."
"Everybody’s gotta work through things their own way, Buck." Chris patted Wilmington’s shoulder. "You’ll get him through it, though…just like always."
"Maybe." Buck was really at a loss as to how to handle the boy at the moment. He suddenly changed the subject. "Seems Ezra’s a might upset with Maude, too."
"You blame him?" Larabee knew of the friction between Ezra and Maude. Hell, everyone knew. Their strained relationship was hardly a secret. "I’ve got some stuff to do in my office. If anyone needs me…my door’s open."
"Yeah, Chris…if anyone needs ‘ya…I’m sure the little squirt knows where to find ‘ya." Buck smiled as he watched his oldest friend walk into his office. **Pard…you’re ‘bout the softest hard-ass I’ve ever seen.** Buck, and everyone else, for that matter, knew that Chris had a soft spot for the kid a mile wide.
Wilmington was pulled from his thoughts as Vin Tanner, the team's sharp shooter approached. "What’s goin’ on in there?"
"In where?" Buck tried to play dumb, hoping to allow JD and Ezra some privacy.
Tanner knew better.
He knew that Buck would know what was going on if it involved JD. He hitched his thumb and nodded his head towards the other room. "C'mon Buck…break room…JD & Ezra. And don't give me that I dunno crap."
"Uhhh…well…I think Ezra’s in there makin’ up with the kid."
"What’d he do?" Tanner matter-of-factly fingered the rubber chicken on Wilmington's desk.
"Not what he did…what he said." Wilmington snatched up the chicken and tossed it in his drawer.
"Let me guess…got somethin’ to do with Mother’s Day?" Tanner and everyone else on the team knew it was going to be a rough weekend for their youngest member.
"Ezra make an untimely remark?" Tanner's eyes sparkled as he drew upon some of Standish's vocabulary.
"Aww…he was gripin' 'bout Maude…per usual." Buck smiled, thinking back to some of Standish's colorful comments earlier. "Anyway…kid took offense to it…more so than usual."
"Uh-huh." Tanner sensed that Wilmington wasn't finished yet.
"I tell 'ya, Junior…I don't know what to do with the boy." Buck shook his head, thinking about his little brother. "Every time I suggest somethin' for us to do on Sunday…he just pulls away and ignores me."
"Buck…JD ain't gonna allow himself to have any fun on Sunday…you know that."
Nathan Jackson had walked up and jumped into the conversation. "But nothing, Buck. That boy would die of shame if he even cracked a smile on Sunday. If there's one word that describes JD…it's honorable. And the honorable thing for JD to do on Sunday…as far as he's concerned…is to think about his mama." A smile suddenly crossed Jackson's face as past scenes of Wilmington's protectiveness of the boy flashed in his head. "And believe it or not, Buck…as hard as you try…you ain't really his mama."
"Yeah…well…I'm the next-best-thing to one."
"No argument here, Buck." Vin laughed. "But you are one ugly motha'…" Tanner sidestepped the slap thrown by Wilmington as he headed for Larabee's office.
Tanner knocked on the doorframe to Chris' office. "You wanted to see me?"
Vin made himself comfortable. He really wasn't sure why Larabee wanted to see him. They'd just wrapped up a month-long case yesterday and he hadn't really expected anything else this soon, since the reports weren't even completed yet. "What's up?"
Larabee got up from his desk and closed the door, looking much too serious to suit Tanner. "Buck's about at the end of his rope with JD over this Mother's Day thing. So…anyway…I was thinkin'…maybe…" Chris stopped, mid-sentence, when he noticed a grin cross Tanner's face. "What???"
"Nothin'…just keep talkin', pard." the sharpshooter laughed.
"What???!!!" Larabee repeated.
"Just…here I'm thinkin' we got some big case comin' down the pike…and now I've got the feelin' we're gonna be baby sittin'…that's all." Vin couldn't help but laugh at the look on Larabee's face.
"That obvious?" Chris shrugged.
"Look, Chris…it's fine…really. You know me and the boys'll help out with the kid any way we can."
"Well…I've been thinkin'…maybe we could all go to The Saloon…take the kid's mind off of stuff for a bit. What'cha think?"
"Yeah…sounds good." Suddenly, an evil grin appeared on Vin's face. "I'm sure old Buck ain't gonna mind goin' there at all."
"Well…persistent is his middle name." Chris grinned.
"Inez ain't never gonna give him the time of day." Tanner laughed thinking back to the last time they'd gone to The Saloon. "I would'a thought he'd take the hint. I mean…she did handcuff him to his chair."
"You know Buck…he thought that was foreplay."
By the time Wilmington entered the break room, mumbling something about needing yet another cup of coffee, JD was curled up on the couch ~ asleep ~ his head resting on Ezra’s thigh.
"He OK?" Buck asked quietly as he crossed the room to the coffeepot. The big man’s concern for the kid was evident on his face.
"He is fine, Mr. Wilmington…just fine." Ezra whispered, his hand resting lightly on the boy’s head.
"Kid's exhausted…hasn't slept worth sh*t all week." Buck came over and stood at the end of the couch, somehow managing to resist the overwhelming urge to reach down and touch the boy, to assure himself he was really alright.
"So…how 'bout you, Ezra?" Wilmington tugged at his mustache, like he always did when he was treading in unfamiliar waters. Buck knew JD like the back of his hand, but Standish ~ Lord ~ that was a whole other ball game.
Who could really say they knew Standish???
"How am I?" Ezra repeated. "I'm quite well, Mr. Wilmington…and yourself?"
"Well, hell, Ezra…I'm fine…" Buck laughed loudly, then sheepishly lowered his voice when he noticed JD stir slightly. "…but I didn't just have a shoutin' match with my mama." the man finished in a whisper.
"Please rest assured, Mr. Wilmington, it was not the first…nor will it be the last."
Finally, the big brother urge got the better of Buck as he squatted at the end of the sofa, and laid a gentle hand on JD's head. "Just remember, Ezra…she's your mama…and take it from me and this kid here…don't take nothin' in this world for granted." That said, Wilmington lovingly patted the boy's head and he was gone.
"It’s hard to take for granted…what one has never known…Mr. Wilmington." Ezra whispered to himself after Buck had already left the room.
Larabee had busied himself with his work, keeping a watchful eye on the bullpen outside his office. He'd noticed that Ezra and JD had not emerged from the break room yet. He was beginning to worry that Standish might have somehow managed to upset the boy even more.
**Nah.** Larabee's police-honed skills kicked in as he noticed Buck was at his desk. The leader was sure that Buck had checked on JD at least once in the past hour and if Ezra had upset the kid again, the ambulance ~ to pick up Standish's remains ~ would have arrived by now.
The little voice in Chris' head told him not to worry.
The little voice that always managed to sound a lot like JD.
The little voice that always said…"Don't worry 'bout me, Chris…I'm fine."
Larabee bolted from his desk, coffee cup in hand.
Standish shook his head and smiled at the ruse. "I seriously doubt you will find any, Mr. Larabee. There seems to have been a run on coffee in the past hour."
Chris smiled. **At least I'm not the only one.** "He OK?"
"He is fine, Mr. Larabee. Just tired. Shall I wake him?"
"No…’course not." Larabee looked at Standish as if he'd just asked the most absurd question. Chris walked over and instinctively laid his hand on JD's forehead, a grateful sigh escaping his lips as he felt no sign of the fever the boy would so often get when he was just plain worn out. "Seems OK…poor kid's just dead on his feet, I guess. Lack of sleep can do that."
"Mr. Wilmington alluded to the fact that the boy has been quite stressed about the approaching holiday." Ezra fidgeted on the sofa for a few minutes and then carefully lifted JD’s head and slipped out from under him.
"Hold it…" Chris grabbed a coat that was hanging on the back on one of the chairs and wadded it up to stick under the boy's head. "OK…now."
Ezra gently lowered the kid's head onto the jacket. "I have a few time-critical details to attend to. Excuse me, Mr. Larabee." and he walked out.
Larabee watched as Standish exited. **Why's he always so G*dd*mn uncomfortable around me? Am I that scary??** Chris shook his head and smiled. **I can't be that scary…this little sh*t's not scared of me.**
Chris sat down on the edge of the couch and gently brushed the too-long bangs from the boy’s face. **You’ll get through this, kid…just like always…with a little help from your friends…and one very-over-protective big brother.**
Larabee sat quietly for a while; his elbows resting on his knees, until JD’s eyes fluttered open slowly. "Chris…???" JD seemed completely disoriented. "I…fell asleep???" The boy ran his hands through his thick, dark hair. "I’ll stay late. I…I can't believe…I…how long’ve I been asleep?"
Chris chuckled at the absolute confusion in the boy's voice and shook his head. "Don’t worry ‘bout it, son."
"No…really…I’ll make up my time." JD tiredly swung his legs to the floor.
"I said…don’t worry about it. That’s an order." Larabee's men put in so many extra hours, a few lost here and there was really of no concern.
"…kay…" JD sighed, suddenly feeling too tired to really argue the matter any further.
"We were all thinkin’ about goin’ to The Saloon after work. You up for it?"
"…uh…yeah…guess so…" JD said, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
"You feel OK, son?"
JD laid his head back on the couch, sounding and looking totally exhausted and defeated. "…yeah…m'fine…"
Everyone on the team knew what JD's fine meant.
JD Dunne's fine meant that the kid was sick, hurting, scared, upset, mad…or any combination of the above…and that he would deny any and all of the above to the end.
Larabee decided that the best solution was more rest. Rest always seemed to do wonders for the boy…when he was sick, hurting, scared, upset, mad…"Well, it’s only 3:00. You’ve got time for another nap before we go."
"I've got work to do, Chris. Jeez…I can’t believe I fell asleep…it’s like…really embarrassing."
Dunne hated being the youngest on the team. And he always stressed that he hated being treated like a kid. But some of the stuff he pulled ~ like falling asleep at the drop of a hat ~ really didn't help him prove his point.
But the truth was ~ right now ~ JD was just too tired to care.
"Well, kid…when you get tired…you sleep. It’s the way we’re made." Chris continued, choosing his words carefully. "Buck said you haven’t been sleeping too good this week."
JD hung his head, his long bangs virtually shutting Larabee out. The boy was ashamed that his hero knew he was having trouble sleeping. It made him feel so vulnerable ~ and he hated that. "Buck talks too much."
"Yeah…but he cares a lot, too, son." Chris leaned back on the couch and patted his leg. "C’mon…lay down."
JD was sometimes amazed by the way Larabee could read him like a book. Actually, how all the others could read him like a book. Buck always said that JD's eyes were windows to his soul and that the kid could never hide his emotions.
But Buck…and Larabee…they were the worst.
Buck was, at least, consistent. He just constantly smothered the kid.
But Larabee, he was worse. The man was downright unnerving. JD was astonished that the man could always tell ~ always knew ~ just when the kid was about to crumble and just what he needed ~ even if the kid himself was not ready to admit it.
"I’m not a little kid, Chris."
Larabee reached over and pulled the boy to him. "Did I say you were?"
"…no…" JD yawned. "…it’s…just…"
JD curled up on the couch and put his head in Chris’ lap and, even though he knew he should fight it, he quickly fell asleep. Chris reached over, grabbed the jacket and draped it, and his arm, protectively over the boy. **Poor kid. Worries so much about being treated like a kid…he forgets sometimes…he really is.**
Later that night at The Saloon:
As they had planned, the entire team gathered at The Saloon after work. It was just down the street from the office and many agents from the federal building would often gravitate there at the end of the week.
Ezra had left before the others, using the "I shall go ahead and procure a table." line ~ but the others had sensed perhaps an ulterior motive for Standish's early exit.
When they all arrived, they quickly became aware of Standish's ulterior motive.
The man was plastered.
And Larabee was furious.
Larabee didn't ask a lot of his men. But he did have two hard-and-fast rules that were set in stone:
One ~ Although Chris knew JD was of legal drinking age ~ he'd still laid the law down early to the boy about drinking in public. Larabee had been ridiculed and tormented unmercifully about robbing the cradle when he'd recruited the kid. He wasn't about to be crucified for allowing a kid that was barely twenty-one to over-indulge in public. Although Larabee couldn't make it an order, JD respected the man enough to do his drinking when the team was in the privacy of their own homes.
Two ~ Any agent ~ JD or otherwise ~ caught under the influence, especially this close to the office, could expect the full extent of Larabee's wrath. **Doesn't put us in a good light.** was always Chris' motto.
So the team was having a hard time taking in the scene before them.
The team just stared, unbelievingly, at Standish, until the kid finally broke the silence.
"Buck…" JD gasped and grabbed his big brother's arm. "Ezra's…uh…uh…"
"Snookered?" Buck bent over and grinned at the boy. "Is that the word you're lookin' for, son?"
"Uh…yeah…I guess it'll do." JD laughed. "I think he's got a big head start on us."
"Looks to me like Ez's got a big head start on everyone in here." Tanner drawled as he surveyed the bar.
JD walked over to Ezra and placed his hand on the man's shoulder. He noticed that Standish was drinking straight whiskey, not his usual beer or mixed drink. "You OK, Ez?"
Standish tilted his head back and took a long, hard swig from the bottle of Jack Daniels he had in his hand, using the other hand to push the boy away. "Leave me alone, kid."
JD was taken aback by Standish's tone, which was almost venomous. "What's wrong, Ezra?"
"What makes you think there is anything wrong?"
"Well…you look kinda…uh…uh…" JD stammered. He could never remember seeing Ezra drunk. Standish was the sort of man who never presented a less than stellar appearance.
"Young man…if you can not utter an intelligent sentence…then…please…just be silent." Standish snapped. His eyes fixed on the boy in front of him. He then added, in an acid tone…"Children should be seen…not heard."
JD sat down hard in the chair next to Standish and stared at the undercover agent. "Ezra…you mad at me?"
Standish stood suddenly, toppling his chair and glared down at the boy seated before him. The aggressive move launched Wilmington into action. Buck was heading for Standish, until Tanner grabbed his arm. "Hold off a bit, Bucklin."
"Mad? At you? Why, of course not, JD. No one is ever mad at you." Ezra swung his hand wildly in the air, then bent over, his face just inches from that of the boy's, which sent Larabee into action.
Standish continued to berate the team's youngest. "You, JD…are the kid…the little brother…the darling…of the team. Mad??? No, son…no one is ever mad at you. That emotion is always reserved for yours truly."
Standish was definitely being a self-absorbed, woe-is-me drunk. But in his efforts to cut down and insult himself, he was making the deadly mistake of trying to take the kid down with him.
And that wasn't going to happen.
"What the hell's gotten into you, Ezra?" Larabee grabbed the Southerner's arm and spun him around to face him.
The fact that Standish was being a downright mean drunk ~ and was directing that meanness towards JD, of all people ~ well, that was just about the stupidest move the Southerner could make.
"Ezra got some kind of death wish?" Nathan asked as he came up behind Wilmington. Everyone on the team knew that Larabee loved the boy like a son.
"I don't know…" Buck was clenching and un-clenching his fists, trying to control his temper. "But…he better cool it. 'Cause if Chris don't get him settled down…Inez is not gonna like the way I handle the situation."
The others knew that The Saloon would never be the same if Wilmington made good on his promise of a good ass whooping for Standish.
Josiah Sanchez placed a firm hand on Wilmington, trying to still the man. He could feel the pent up rage the agent was suppressing. They all knew it wasn't easy for Buck to control his anger where the kid was concerned.
Any one, who knew the two, knew that if you took on JD, you took on Buck, too. And any one, who knew the two, also knew that Buck was no where near as forgiving as young JD.
Chris righted Standish's chair and glared menacingly at the man. "I think you've had enough, Ezra."
"Oh…I assure you, Mr. Larabee…I have barely begun." Standish quickly sat down as he felt the room begin to spin.
Larabee mirrored Standish's stance of before, leaning over within inches of the man's face, his hands on the arms of the chair, pinning the agent in place. "OK, Ezra. You can drink yourself under the table for all I care…but…you leave JD out of it. Got it?"
"Ahh…yes…JD…" Standish turned to the boy again. "So kind of Mr. Larabee to come to your defense…don't you think, son? 'Course…there's always someone around to do your battles…am I right?"
"Drop it, Ezra." Larabee hissed through clenched teeth.
JD noticed immediately that Larabee was using his official voice. And that wasn't good.
Not good at all.
JD stood up next to his idol. "Chris…I…I think I upset Ezra today at the office."
Larabee placed a hand on the kid's shoulder. "I think you've got that backwards, son."
Vin casually walked over to the trio. He wanted to get the boy away from Larabee and Standish in case the situation escalated any further. "Forget it, kid. Ain't your fault if the asshole can't hold his liquor." Tanner wrapped an arm around JD and guided him to another table where Josiah and Nathan had taken Buck to get some distance between him and Standish.
JD looked shaken as he settled into the chair. Buck reached over and placed his hand on JD's. "Ain't your doin' here, son."
"Buck…he's really mad at me." The boy's sad eyes spoke volumes.
JD felt ~ well, truth be told ~ JD didn't know what to feel. He had never been the brunt of one of the other agent's anger before. At least not without good reason.
Standish had spoken the truth.
JD was the kid.
He was everyone's little brother.
He was the darling of the team.
"JD…Ezra's just drunk." Nathan soothed, placing a hand on the boy's back. "Don't let him get to you."
"Nathan's right, son." Josiah agreed. "He's just got some old adolescent demons resurfacing…that's all. Don't let him get you down." Sanchez raised his hand in the air and whistled. "Inez…let's get this boy here somethin' to drink."
Inez returned with JD's soda. She stooped before the boy, placing a loving hand on the youth's face. "For my dear chiquito."
Buck was doing what he usually did when Inez was in view.
The man had it bad for the bar's owner and did little to hide the fact.
Women usually fell head-over-heels for the big ladies man, but not Inez. She found Buck to be forward and rude, which just tickled JD to death.
Finally one that's immune to your animal magnetism, Buck! the kid would say.
And to make matters even worse ~ for Buck, anyway ~ Inez doted on JD. She found the kid's awkwardness around the fairer sex refreshing and she loved the boy's sweet, gentle nature.
"Do not let Senore Standish upset you, JD…he is a drunk. He will be sorry tomorrow…I am sure." Inez kissed JD on the cheek and returned behind the bar.
"Inez! Inez!!!" Buck called out, but Inez threw up her hand and never turned around.
"Guess she didn't hear me." Buck laughed, trying to cover up the rejection he'd just endured.
"Yeah…must be it. I guess she didn't see you either…" Tanner grinned and slapped JD on the back…"what with her little chiquito sittin' here."
JD shyly dropped his gaze to his soda. "…aw, Vin…"
"Now hold on there, son. Maybe Vin's right." Buck thought he'd try a little teasing to help take JD's mind off of Ezra's behavior. "She can't take old Buck right off…she's gotta kinda work her way up…slowly…'ya know. Just too much for a woman…all at once like. I guess she figures…what better way to start than with my little brother…huh, kid?" Buck wrapped his strong arms around the boy, dragging both him and his chair closer to him.
"So…I'm what…like an appetizer…???" JD laughed.
And it was like music to Buck's ears.
As the evening began to draw to a close, the decision was made that everyone would spend the night at Chris' ranch. It was obvious that Standish was in no shape to be left on his own. And the others were none to sure if any one of them could be trusted alone with the man, so it was decided that, for Ezra's sake, there was safety in numbers.
Larabee made no attempt to hide the fact that Ezra was not welcome to ride with him, so Josiah offered him a ride, along with Nathan and Vin.
JD still felt that he was somehow responsible for the evening's sad turn of events and wanted to ride with Ezra, but the others all thought it was a bad idea. JD was given the spot in the truck between Chris and Buck. "No safer place on earth, son." Josiah said, as he walked the boy to the truck.
"You think Ezra…hates me?"
"Hates you???" Josiah was taken aback by the question. It broke his heart to think that the boy even felt the need to ask such a question. And he would take the matter up with Standish himself later on.
Josiah opened the door to Chris' truck and told JD to have a seat inside. The big man rested his arm on the top of the open door. "Son…Ezra doesn't hate you. He may hate that he doesn't have what you have…but he doesn't hate you."
"What I have?" JD lifted his head to question Sanchez. "Josiah…I don't have anything anyone would want."
"Oh, son…you have more than you realize." Sanchez closed the door and reached in through the open window and wrapped his large hand around the boy's neck. "You, son…have it all."
"All???" JD chuckled. "All…what???"
"Everything you've ever wanted…correct?" Josiah knew the kid well enough to know that his answer would be…
Josiah pulled the kid to him and whispered in his ear. "That, son…is what's known as…having it all." Sanchez waved to JD and headed for his vehicle.
Josiah was right.
JD did have everything he'd ever wanted.
Ever since he was a little boy, JD had wanted to be a law enforcement officer. The fact that he was a member of one of the top rated teams in the country ~ at such a young age ~ well that was just icing on the cake.
And when JD was in grade school, spending a lot of time in the nurse's office after a beating on the playground, he'd always wished he had a big brother. And now ~ here he was with six of them.
But what he'd wanted all his life ~ more than anything ~ was respect, for a job well done. And he'd finally gotten that now, too. JD knew the others on the team respected him for his abilities, but even more important, for who he was.
Yep. Josiah was right.
JD really did have it all.
Until the fact that it was Friday ~ and Sunday was Mother's Day ~ popped back into the boy's head.
Then he realized.
He didn't have everything he wanted.
The silence in Chris' truck was deafening.
Larabee and Wilmington were hoping the kid's unusually quiet mood was due to exhaustion and nothing more. Finally, Buck couldn't take the reticence any more. "You OK, kid?"
Chris and Buck exchanged a worried glance. **Great.**
"Ezra's just drunk, kid." Buck slipped his arm around the boy. "He'll sleep it off…and if he remembers anything…he'll feel mighty foolish."
"…he said a lot of…"
"JD!" Chris' stern tone caught the boy's attention, his head swinging quickly towards the driver. "Like Buck said…Ezra's drunk. And he's a mean drunk, to boot. Mean drunks don't mean what they say…they just say mean things."
"But nothing, son." Chris put his hand on the boy's neck. He could feel the tension there and tried to rub some of it away. "It was the liquor talking, JD…not Ezra. You have to remember that." Though Larabee had his differences with Standish, he knew that he and the boy were close. "Don't let this come between the two of you."
"I…I won't. Josiah said Ezra doesn't really hate me…"
"Hate you???" Buck squawked. "Where the hell'd you get that from?"
"Well, Buck…he was pretty mad…"
"Mad ain't hate, son. There's a helluva big difference."
"I know…but…J'siah says…" JD tried, unsuccessfully, to stifle a yawn.
"Josiah says what?" Chris asked.
"J'siah…J'siah…says…" Dunne's head was beginning to bob, as he started to drift off.
Buck stroked the boy's dark hair. "Just relax, son. Why don't you…"
"…please…" JD started sleepily. "…if anyone says…I need to take a…nap…I'm…gonna…" and the boy was almost out, his head on Buck's shoulder. "J'siah…says…I've got…it…all…"
Buck realized the kid was finally asleep and turned to Larabee with a grin. "He's got it all…alright. Now…if he just knew what to do with it."
Once they arrived at Chris' place, Nathan and Vin helped Ezra up the steps and into the guestroom.
JD stood at the bottom of the stairs, watching Standish stumble and mumble his way up.
Chris came up behind the boy and placed his hand on his back. "Why don't you take Adam's room, son? Get some sleep."
JD started to argue about sleeping in the little boy's room, but then he looked up into Chris' face. The man looked tired. Really tired. Like the last thing he needed was to go another round with one of his agents. So, JD started up the stairs without saying a word.
"Need some help there, kid?" Buck called from below.
"I think I can get to bed by myself, Buck!" JD snapped. Then, thinking of what he'd just said and how it sounded, he turned and looked down at his big brother. "…m'sorry, Buck…I'm just…really…tired."
"I know, kid." Buck smiled up at the boy. He knew the kid got cranky when he was past his limits. "Get on upstairs now."
JD continued to slowly climb the stairs. He felt his feet get heavier and heavier ~ each step making him more and more tired. He wasn't sure how the big man had gotten there so quietly, but he was, of course, not surprised to feel Buck's gentle hand on his back as he reached the top. "C'mon, kid." and Buck opened the door and guided the boy inside.
JD dragged himself to the bed and flopped down. Buck pulled off his shoes and covered the boy with the quilt from the chair. He thought the kid was already asleep and turned to leave.
"…thanks…" and then he really was asleep.
The scene in the next room was not as warm and fuzzy as the one in Adam's room.
Jackson and Tanner had agreed to help Standish get to bed, due, in most part, to the fact that there was no one else willing to do it. Chris and Buck were hardly in the mood to help the man at the moment. Josiah, though he was a forgiving man, absolutely adored JD and was really not in the frame of mind, at the present, to deal with Ezra either.
"I still say we should'a put 'im in the barn." Vin snapped disgustedly, as he thought back to the display Standish had put on at The Saloon.
"Hey…I wasn't the one who argued about it." Nathan pointed out.
"Yeah…who'da figured it'd be JD, of all people, puttin' up a fuss."
Nathan and Vin looked at each other and laughed. They both knew the boy would protest the idea even as they jokingly presented it when they were helping Standish out of the car.
And protest he did.
//"You can't put him in the barn!!! He'll freeze!!!" the boy had argued.//
//"Who the hell cares?" Buck stared down at the boy, one hand on each shoulder.//
//"…I care…" and the puppy-dog eyes had acquired Standish the guest room.//
"Yeah…well…I still say he should be in the barn…" Tanner drawled. "…with all the other horses asses."
Standish was mumbling something about drawing to an inside straight when Nathan and Vin finally shut the door.
"He asleep?" Chris asked as the two came downstairs.
"Yeah…or passed out…not really sure which." Nathan stated.
"Don't care which…either." Tanner added, then asked…""The kid?"
"Out like a light." Buck smiled.
"I guess we should all try to get some sleep." Chris yawned, running his hands down his face. "What a helluva day."
"Helluva day, indeed." Josiah rose from his chair and stretched. "And tomorrow, brothers, will be another helluva day, I'm afraid."
"Why'd 'ya say that, Josiah?" Buck wondered.
"Humility, Buck…never easy." Josiah knew that Ezra would regret his actions in the light of day. And it would not be easy for the man to atone for what he'd done. "But he's got one thing in his favor." Sanchez smiled.
"What's that, Josiah?" Vin wondered.
"He's going to need forgiveness from the most forgiving person I know." And the big man stretched out on the couch. "Good night, brothers."
Chris headed up to his room and the others scattered in a wild game of finders-keepers for the various couches and recliners throughout the house.
Chris woke in the middle of the night to hear someone vomiting in the bathroom across the hall. **Aw…kid.**
Larabee knocked and entered. "JD?" He was surprised to find Standish kneeling before the porcelain god. "Whiskey don't taste as good, second time 'round, does it, Ez?"
"I would thank you, Mr. Larabee, to keep your good-old-boy remarks to yourself." Ezra got out between heaves.
"OK by me…" Chris turned to leave. "I only came in here 'cause I thought you were JD."
"I assure you…Mr. Larabee…you may leave. I do not need anyone to hold my hand."
"That supposed to be another cut-down for the kid?"
Standish sat back on the floor, thinking of his behavior from before. "No. It was certainly not intended to be."
"Good…'cause I really think you've hurt him enough for one day…don't you?" Larabee closed the door and headed back for his room.
Parental instincts took over as Larabee found himself unable to pass by JD's door without stopping. The moonlight shining through the window provided just enough light to see that the boy was sleeping soundly. As he closed the door and turned towards his room he ran right into Buck.
"Sh*t, Buck…scare a man to death…why don't 'ya?"
"Oh…like you're a pretty sight in the middle of the night."
"What the hell 'ya doin' up here…anyway?" Larabee asked.
"I thought I heard someone sick up here." Buck had naturally assumed it was JD.
"Ezra." Chris relayed what he'd witnessed in the bathroom.
"Oh…well…what a shame." Buck then nodded toward the bedroom. "Kid OK?"
"Yeah…he's fine, Buck. Go back to bed."
"Ezra real sick?"
"Uh-huh." Chris nodded.
Buck snickered all the way down the steps.
Saturday morning at the ranch:
Standish woke with a headache that made Mt. St. Helen's seem like steam escaping a tea kettle. He rolled over and looked around the room. Nothing seemed recognizable. The only thing he was sure of was the fact that he was not in his own home.
As his eyes began to adjust to the light, he noticed some framed photographs on the nightstand next to the bed. A beautiful young woman and an adorable little boy.
Ezra attempted to push himself up off the bed and realized that it was probably the worst decision he'd ever made in his life.
Well ~ maybe not the worst.
He'd obviously accomplished that little stunt last night.
Standish tried to remember what had transpired the prior evening at The Saloon. Scenes flashed quickly before his eyes.
A table alone.
A bottle of Jack Daniels.
Feeling sorry for himself and drinking heavily in an effort to rid himself of the inadequacies in his life.
The others arriving.
Picking on the kid.
Chris threatening him with bodily harm.
The last thing he remembered was Nathan and Vin helping him into a vehicle.
Ezra looked around the room again. Was there anything lying close by that he could use to slit his throat???
**Picking on the kid.**
Where in the hell had that come from? Standish loved the boy like a little brother. Why, of all people, had he taken his anger out on the boy?
Maybe because he was too drunk to take on the others. He knew that JD would make an easy target. Isn't that what his dear mother had always taught him? **Only fight the battles you're sure you can win, sugar.**
Standish knew that JD was probably the only one on the team that wouldn't pound him into the ground at the drop of a hat. Ezra had always felt like the outsider on the team. He had never seemed to fit in and he'd come to accept the fact that he probably never would.
JD had been the last to join the team, but was the first to put forth an effort to make Ezra feel truly welcome. The two had accepted each other right off. Being the youngest and the least experienced of the agents, JD never felt worthy of judging the others. He just accepted people for who they were and saw the best in everyone.
A trait that the others had never quite mastered where Ezra was concerned.
Oh, sure ~ they were civil and they watched his back on the job.
But, did they trust him?
Really trust him?
Standish was never sure of that answer, except with JD. JD had complete and total faith in all of his teammates.
He was pulled from this thoughts by a light knock at the door. **Sh*t! Just what I need ~ one of them coming in here with their "What-the-hell's-the-matter-with-you-Standish?" bullsh*t!**
"Ezra?" came the soft, young voice from the other side.
Standish panicked. What the hell was he going to say to the boy? What could he possibly say to the boy that would even begin to make up for his words and actions of last night??
"Ezra?" came the voice again. "You OK?"
**G*dd*mn! Now the little sh*t's worried about me. This just keeps getting worse.**
Ezra opened the door slowly. "Yes…Mr. Dunne…I am fine."
JD grinned. "When I say that…everyone jumps on me."
"That is because you are usually being less than honest when you say it, Mr. Dunne." Standish looked at the boy. He looked OK, physically. Which was a relief. Ezra truly couldn't remember if he'd actually attacked the kid or not. But then he looked harder at the young man before him.
Really looked at him.
The boy looked ~ afraid.
"Are you alright, son?"
"Me?" JD squeaked. "Yeah…I'm fi…yeah…I'm OK."
"You look…what is it?…worried?"
"Well…duh, Ez." JD rolled his eyes and stepped into the room. "You were actin' totally whacked last night. I thought maybe you fried some circuits with that whiskey."
"I assure you, Mr. Dunne, if you have come to inquire about my circuits…they are all quite intact." Ezra said, distantly.
"OK…fine…" JD headed for the door. "I guess you wanna keep bein' a jerk…but hey…that's cool. I won't let the door hit me in the ass on my way out."
"JD…" Ezra called.
JD stopped and turned. "…yeah…"
Standish sat on the edge of the bed and patted the spot next to him. "Come here, son."
**Great…not him, too. Just what I need…another one that's gonna make me take a nap.**
JD walked over and sat down next to Standish. "Yeah?"
Ezra put his arm around the boy's shoulder. "Mr.…Du…JD…I can not begin to apologize for my behavior towards you last evening. I am ashamed that I took my insecurities and foul mood out on you." Standish took the boy's chin and turned his face towards him. "You are the last person on this earth that I would ever dream of hurting. I want you to know that."
JD of course, blew right past apology, never even thinking one was necessary in the first place. But the boy immediately picked up on the feelings of his friend. "Insecurities? Ezra…you're the most together guy I've ever known. What could you possibly be insecure about?"
"Believe me, young friend…you are way ahead of me in this department."
"Ezra…we talked about this yesterday…you've got a mother."
"And you, son…have got six mothers."
"JD…you have six men, myself included, that love you as much…if not more…than most mothers love their children. That distinction and honor is yours alone among this team…and rightfully so. I have, however, let the approaching visit from my own mother cloud my feelings for you…and bring a lot of painful memories to the forefront for myself."
"Ezra…your mom loves you…you know that."
"I assure you, JD…I know no such thing." Standish rose and walked across the room, turning back to the young man before him. The young man that looked completely confused by what he'd just heard. "JD…Mr. Wilmington demonstrates more affection and love for you every waking moment of every day than my mother has shown me throughout my entire life."
JD stared at Ezra and shifted his eyes to the floor. "…sorry…"
Standish quickly made his way across the room and knelt in front of the boy, taking his hands in his. "JD…I am in no way trying to make you feel sorry for me…I am just trying to…in some way…justify my actions of last evening. I am truly ashamed of my…jealousy…of you…"
JD's face rose eye-to-eye with Standish. "Jealousy?"
"Yes, son. You have lost your mother…and for that, I am deeply sorry. But you have also gained six more. I have not lost my mother, JD…as you have pointed out…but I have also never…had…a mother to begin with."
JD threw his arms around Standish. "I'm sorry, Ezra."
Standish wrapped his arms around the boy. "Please, son…I am the one who is sorry."
The others heard JD and Ezra on their way down. Or rather, they heard JD on his way down. "Buck…I sure hope you're not cookin'…" the boy called out.
"Like I'd cook for your little ass." Buck shot back as the two entered the kitchen. "Get a bowl of that Count Chocula crap Chris keeps out here for 'ya, kid." Wilmington grinned at the boy and added…"I think it's got some kinda toy in it…'bout your speed. For ages three and up the box says."
Dunne picked up the box and slapped Wilmington on the head with it. "Yeah…I guess you need me to figure it out…huh?" JD teased.
Everyone was glad to see that JD seemed to be in better spirits. That, plus the fact that JD and Ezra had come downstairs together, had to be a step in the right direction.
No one mentioned the events of last night.
"Gentlemen…I feel that I must apologize for my behavior of last evening." Ezra began. "One would think that by now I would have learned that a bottle of alcohol, when mixed with an impending visit from mother, is a volatile thing."
"Kind of a Maude-otov cocktail…???" JD laughed. "Get it???" He stared at the others. "Maude-otov cocktail???"
"Jeez, kid." Vin groaned. "Where do you come up with this stuff???"
"It's too early in the morning for this." Nathan said.
"We still goin' ridin' this mornin', Vin?" JD asked, his mouth full of cereal.
"I dunno, kid. Depends. You gonna tell any more of them jokes?" Tanner asked.
"Not if it means you're not goin' ridin' with me." JD smiled.
"OK…I'll saddle up the horses. You finish up and come on out." Tanner headed out the back door towards the barn.
After finishing his cup of coffee, Ezra excused himself to the living room. JD walked around the table and scooted a chair up close to Buck. "…uh…Buck…"
Wilmington put down the morning paper, shifting his full attention to the boy. "Yeah, kid?"
"Buck…I know that there was a lot of stuff that you wanted to do tomorrow…and I kinda blew you off on all of them. I was just…kinda feelin'…well…you know…"
Wilmington wrapped his arm around the boy and pulled him across to him in a big hug. "Yeah…kid…I know…" Buck felt the muffled sobs that racked the boy's small frame.
Chris sensed the two brothers needed some time alone and motioned for Josiah and Nathan to follow him out of the room.
JD finally composed himself and pulled away. "Anyway, Buck…thanks."
"Any time, kid…any time."
"So…I hope you don't get mad…but…I'm gonna go to the airport tomorrow…with Ezra…to meet his mom."
Buck smiled at the kid. **What a G*dd*mn treasure this kid is.** "I think that'd be a real fine idea, son. I'm sure Ezra would appreciate it."
"You know, Buck…Ezra says you're more of a mother to me…than his mom ever was to him."
"I'm sure he's exaggerating, kid."
"I don't know, Buck…" JD paused as he headed for the back door. "…she'd have to be awful good…to beat you." The boy grinned ear-to-ear at his big brother and was out the door.
Vin had the horses saddled and ready to go by the time JD got to the barn. "Here, kid." He handed the reigns to the boy. "Where 'ya wanna go?"
"I don't care. You pick." JD said. He really didn't care where they went. As long as it was on horseback ~ and as long as it was with Vin. The boy loved spending time with the quiet man.
"How 'bout we just head out to the canyon and see how we're fixed for time when we get there?" Vin suggested.
"Great." JD smiled, then suddenly thought that maybe he was keeping the man from something. "You got somewhere to be. Vin?"
"Nope. Just not so sure Buck won't come lookin' for us if we're gone too long." Tanner laughed. "You know how he is."
"Christ, Vin…I live with the man." JD squealed. "Believe me…I know how he is." And the two friends headed out.
After they'd traveled a few miles, Tanner decided he'd try to feel the kid out. "So…what you and Buck got planned for the weekend?"
"Uh…I guess nothin'…really…I mean…Buck wants…to…but…well…" JD stammered, before finally opting for the vague…"I dunno."
"What? The dynamic duo…with no plans???" Vin smiled. "What gives?"
"I…I just…don't wanna…" JD hung his head, feeling his eyes fill as he spoke and not wanting Tanner to see he was breaking down.
"JD?" Tanner called, trying to get the boy to lift his head. "JD?"
Dunne turned his sad hazel eyes towards the quiet man. "…yeah…?"
"Ain't nothin' wrong with missin' your mama, kid."
"So how come you think you gotta get through this all on your own?" Vin asked. "Don't you think Buck and Chris…and me…all wanna help 'ya?"
"So…then let us. Don't go shuttin' people out, JD…it hurts you…and it hurts them, too."
"You mean…Buck…???" The boy couldn't stand the thought of hurting his big brother.
"Buck wants to be there for 'ya…and he says you're shuttin' him out."
JD held his emotions in check for as long as he could, finally breaking down. "I don't mean to…it's just…I…if I'm with Buck…I'm gonna be thinkin' 'bout Buck…and havin' a good time…like always…and I…I don't think…I should be havin' a good time on Sunday."
It nearly broke Tanner's heart seeing the boy so upset. "There some kinda rule…says you gotta be miserable Sunday? 'Cause…if there is…I ain't never seen it."
Vin smiled, thinking back to some of the stories he'd heard about JD's mother. "But…hell…from what I've heard…your mama ain't the kinda woman's gonna s'pect her little boy to be miserable on her account."
"I ain't sayin'…forget her tomorrow, kid…but just remember her like I know you do every day. Good ways…'ya know. Don't go makin' Mother's Day into some kinda torture for 'ya. You're too good 'a kid to do that. To yourself…and your mama."
JD smiled at Tanner and quickly wiped his hand across his face, the tears there mixing with the dust from the ride, smearing mud across his cheeks.
Vin tossed the boy a kerchief from his pocket. "Here, kid…you look like Pigpen."
Dunne chuckled. "Thanks, Vin…for…everything."
"Sure, kid…that's what brothers are for, kid." Tanner prodded his horse ahead, the boy galloping to catch up.
Another hour ~ and one million questions ~ later, Vin and JD finally reached the canyon.
Every time Vin went riding with JD, he realized that Buck had the patience of a saint. Tanner always had a hard time picturing the big, impatient, ladies man putting up with the kid. Without thumping him on a regular basis, that is.
But he knew the man did. And as he'd ponder it a little more, he knew why.
JD was Buck's little brother and he played the role perfectly.
Tanner remembered Larbee telling him one time that Buck had a habit of picking up strays.
And that had pretty much described JD when he arrived.
JD was alone for the first time in his life and he was looking for something ~ or maybe ~ someone. And it hadn't taken long for him to find it ~ or him.
The kid didn't know it, but he'd been looking for Buck.
And Buck ~ well, hell ~ Buck never even knew he wanted a little brother.
Until he got one.
Tanner jumped. "Wha…huh?"
"You keep daydreamin', Vin…and you're gonna fall plum off your horse." JD smiled, glad that for once it was Tanner and not him that was not paying attention to what was going on around them. "I asked if you knew what kind of plant that was? It looks kind of familiar…but I'm not sure."
"JD…you ask too many damn questions." Tanner tried to cover up the fact that he had absolutely no idea what kind of plant it was that JD was pointing at.
"…sorry…" JD got off his horse and walked over to get a closer look at the plant.
"Kid…I'm sorry…" Tanner apologized, then suddenly panicked when he noticed JD pulling the plant out of the ground to examine it. "Hell, JD…I told 'ya I didn't know what kinda plant it was…leave it the hell alone!" **Christ almighty…like watchin' a freakin' two-year-old!!!**
"…OK…OK…chill V-man." JD laughed and held his hands up in the air, dropping the plant. "You can arrest me if you want. Let's see…you can charge me with…what??? Oh…I know…" an evil grin crossed the boy's face. "…you can charge me with… leaf-ing the scene of an accident. Get it??? Leafing…" JD laughed. "Get it???"
"Again with the jokes?" Tanner groaned. "I'm not Buck, 'ya know. I'm not above leaving your little ass out here."
"Aw, Vin…you wouldn't leaf me out here by myself." JD was laughing so hard he was having trouble catching his breath.
At least ~ that's what Vin thought it was.
But ~ knowing JD ~ he should have expected the worst.
Which is exactly what he got.
Vin suddenly realized it wasn't the boy's bad jokes that were going to kill him. It was definitely something else.
JD had sunk to his knees, gasping for air. Tanner was off his horse in an instant, making it to the kid's side just in time to catch him as he collapsed backwards into his arms. JD's face, which was flushed and hot to the touch, was also swollen and blotchy. Vin quickly noted that the kid's breathing was now a constant wheezing and his heartbeat was racing.
"…Vi…" the boy couldn't finish his plea as he began to choke.
"Keep quiet, kid." Tanner pulled his cellphone from his pocket and dialed Chris' place.
"Chris…me and the kid…we're at the canyon…get out here quick. Tell Nathan the kid's havin' some kinda reaction…he's chokin'…and he's swellin' up like a blowfish…and…"
<Get a grip, Vin…we're on our way.>
"BUCK!!!" Larabee hollered as he headed out the door.
**One day…just one day without a situation.** Buck was in a full-blown panic attack by the time he'd reached the SUV. "What's he mean…reaction???"
"Buck…if I knew…I'd tell 'ya. That's all he said." Chris spun the wheels of Josiah's Suburban and took off hell bent for leather for the canyon.
"Kid's allergic to nearly every G*dd*mn thing there is." Buck cursed. "I’m puttin' his ass in a bubble…I swear to God…"
"Calm down, Buck." Nathan soothed from the rear seat. He was busy checking his medical kit, trying to imagine from the symptoms Vin had mentioned, what all he might need.
"You got somethin' for this in that little shop of horrors of yours?" Buck prayed Nathan's answer would be…
"Yeah." Nathan fumbled around some more and finally pulled out what he'd been looking for. "Here it is."
Buck was confused by what Nathan had pulled out of his bag. "What the hell???"
"Epinephrine." Nathan said calmly.
"It's a G*dd*mn ink pen!!! What'cha gonna do??? Write him a prescription???" Buck was so scared he'd never even heard what Nathan was saying.
"It's an EpiPen, Buck." Nathan explained, calmly. "It's a device that's made specifically for administering a dose of Epinephrine. I keep a couple of 'em in here now. Got 'em after JD had that really bad reaction to those Macadamia nuts…remember that???"
How could he have forgotten? Buck and JD had gone to the Cineplex at the mall and then opted for some late night cookies and milk at Mrs. Fields. That little ten-minute stop had cost the kid a night in the emergency room.
"Anyway…if it's what I think…JD's gonna need a shot of this…or…"
"Or what?" Buck asked, but knew he probably really didn't want to hear the answer.
"Buck…JD's probably in anaphylactic shock." Nathan saw the man's mouth open to ask, but he stopped him with a raise of his hand. "Now…what that means is…JD's face ain't the only thing that's swellin'. His throat…his bronchial tissue…his lungs…they're all swellin'…and this…" Jackson held out the unit in his hand, letting Buck get a good look at it…"this is gonna help stop that swellin'."
"Christ almighty." Chris breathed as he slammed on the brakes, stopping next to the team's youngest members. He jumped out and ran to them. He was afraid JD was already dead. The boy looked like hell ~ his face and neck were swollen and his skin was flushed and covered with hives.
"…Vin…???" Larabee touched the man's arm gently, not wanting to alarm him. He could tell by the look on his face, Tanner was scared to death.
"…he's breathin'…barely…" Tanner whispered as he relinquished his hold on the boy to Buck.
Wilmington pulled JD up to him and held him against his chest. He wrapped his hand around the boy's small wrist, checking his pulse. "…Nate…???"
Nathan busied himself, using scissors to cut a slit in JD's pant leg. He placed the device on the boy's leg and pushed, injecting the epinephrine into his thigh.
"He's…he's…gonna…" Buck broke down. **God, kid…c'mon…don't do this!!! You gotta stay with me!!!**
Chris squatted next to Buck. It was as if he knew Wilmington's thoughts. "He'll be OK, Buck…he ain't gonna leave you."
Josiah was busy spreading out some blankets in the back of the Suburban, knowing they would be transporting the boy to the hospital. Even if the shot Nathan administered
helped, he'd still need to get checked out.
Ezra had placed himself by Jackson's side, offering to assist in any way he could. He knew that Buck would be in no condition to help and Tanner was still pretty shaken. And Larabee was busy, trying to split himself in two, to calm both men.
After a few moments, Nathan placed his hand on JD's neck again. He could feel the boy's heart rate begin to take on a more normal pattern. And, as pitiful and heart wrenching as the sound was, he was relieved to hear the kid gasping to suck in some much needed air. "I think he'll be OK, Buck."
As if to prove Nathan right, JD's long lashes began to flutter. Buck gently put his hand on the boy's forehead, to shield the hazel eyes from the blazing sun as they opened weakly.
"Ssshhh…I'm here, kid." Buck soothed.
"Ssshhh…you just relax, son. I'm here now…and you're gonna be fine."
Buck had worked his usual magic on the boy and, as far as JD was concerned, all was right with the world. He would be OK ~ because Buck had said so.
Plain and simple.
"What happened, Vin?" Nathan asked after Tanner had calmed down.
"Hell if I know, Nate." Vin walked over and picked up the plant that JD had discarded. "He pulled this outta the ground…and then dropped like a rock. What is it?"
Nathan studied the plant. "I'm not sure."
"Yeah…those were JD's exact words. Right before…" Tanner visibly shuddered, thinking back to the events earlier. "I swear, Buck…you need to put that kid in a box or somethin'."
After a four-hour stop at the hospital to get the kid checked out, the team headed back to Chris'.
"How 'bout we stop off and get some steaks?" Josiah suggested. "Throw 'em on the grill...some corn on the cob…bottle 'a beer…anyone game?"
"I don't care what we have…as long as somebody cuts JD's food up for him…real…small…pieces." Tanner stressed each word. "I can't take another trip to the hospital today. I'm shot."
"Funny, Vin…real funny." JD whispered from the back of the Suburban. He was curled up under a blanket, trying to wish away a God-awful, pounding headache. Buck had the boy's head in his lap, gently stroking his temple, trying to give the kid something else to focus on.
The boy was still feeling pretty woozy, but the doctor at the emergency room said he could probably relax at home better than in the hospital.
The doctor had praised Nathan's quick treatment, pronouncing that JD would be fine.
When they arrived back at the ranch, Buck insisted on helping JD out of the SUV, helping JD up the steps, helping JD through the door and helping JD get settled on the couch. "Christ, Buck…leave me alone…would 'ya?"
"So…you can do…what???" Buck huffed. "Scare us to death again?"
"Look, Buck…sh*t happens…OK???" JD was cranky from the headache and Buck's constant hovering. The boy moved a little too quickly, grimacing as a sharp pain shot through his chest.
"Kid??? JD???" Buck panicked. "NATHAN!!!"
Nathan was there immediately. "What???"
"…m'fine…" JD muttered. "Just moved the wrong way…really…m'fine…"
"Fine…my ass. I've seen your fine, son. Ain't…worth…sh*t!!!" Buck proceeded to hover and fuss over the boy, adjusting the throw pillows, trying to make him more comfortable. "And if you tell me to leave you alone…I swear to God…I'm gonna thump 'ya…got it?"
"…got it…" JD surrendered, weakly, sinking deeper into the pile of pillows Buck had assembled behind him.
"Here's the remote, kid." Chris came up, trying to save the boy from big brother Buck. Larabee leaned close to the boy's ear and whispered. "Maybe…if you aim it at 'im…he'll shut up."
Dunne giggled, pointing the remote at Wilmington. "…What…???" Buck wondered out loud.
"Nothin', Buck…" JD giggled again, looking at Chris, who just shrugged his shoulders.
JD was asleep long before dinner was ready. The day had definitely taken a big toll on the already exhausted boy.
"I don't understand it. Epinephrine usually makes 'ya kinda restless. Look at him." Nathan was shaking his head and waving his hand towards JD, who was curled up on the couch. "He's really out."
"C'mon, Nathan…this is JD we're talkin' 'bout." Buck snorted. "Kid takes a Tylenol…he's gotta have a two-hour nap."
"I guess…" Nathan figured the rest was good for the boy. "Woulda liked to have gotten some dinner in him before he settled in for the night."
"Tell 'ya what, Nate…" Chris started, a mischievous look twinkling in his steel blue eyes. "You wake him…and…"
"Hell no!!!" Nathan threw his hands up in surrender. "He may be little…but sh*t that kid can get cranky when he gets woke up." Nathan made a quick exit and left Buck and Chris alone with the boy.
Chris decided it might be a good time to approach Buck about his plans for the next day. "So…you get things squared away with the kid? You guys doin' somethin' tomorrow?"
"Nope. Ezra handled that little situation for me."
"JD's goin' with Ezra to meet see his mom at the airport."
"Oh…and you're OK with this?" Larabee was surprised. After what had happened today, he'd figured it'd be a while before Buck would let the kid out of his sight.
"I'm just grateful Ezra got him to do somethin'…anything…tomorrow. I sure as hell couldn't." Buck confessed.
"It's just…after today…I can't believe you're gonna let him…I mean…Christ…I'm tempted to keep him here." Chris figured Buck would be over-reacting ~ just like himself.
"Chris…contrary to what everyone on this team seems to think…I do not smother that boy."
"Uh-huh…just keep tellin' yourself that, Buck…and maybe you'll believe it someday." and Chris headed for bed.
The big man paced around the living room, trying to decide what to say. Finally, he walked out onto the porch and stretched in the cool night air. "Beautiful night…ain't it?"
"The proverbial ice-breaker, Mr. Wilmington?" Standish sensed Buck's uneasiness, then looked up at the stars. "Yes, Mr. Wilmington…it is indeed a lovely evening. I do believe I have never seen a more beautiful twilight."
"Yeah…it's funny. It's the same sky we have in town…but it just don't look the same, does it?"
"No…" Ezra shifted uncomfortably. "Mr. Wilmington…if you have something to say to me…I wish you would just do so."
"JD says he's goin' to the airport with you tomorrow to meet Maude."
"Yes…he has graciously offered to accompany me." Standish hesitated before continuing. "Is that a problem?"
"Problem?" Buck repeated.
"Perhaps you do not want the boy spending time with me." Ezra turned away. "If so, I will tell him that mother has had a change of plans."
"Hell no, Ezra…I'm plum grateful to 'ya for takin' 'im off my hands."
"Mr. Wilmington…I fear your ploy will not work with me. I know what the boy means to you."
"Little too obvious, huh?" Buck grinned.
"It's just…the little sh*t ain't got a lick 'a sense sometimes…needs a G*dd*mn keeper…"
"And…???" Wilmington sat down on the top step and looked back at Standish. "And…I guess I don't know what I'd do without 'im…either."
"Ahhh…the truth comes out." Standish said.
"Really, Ezra…I'm glad he's goin' with you tomorrow. I tried and tried to get him to do something tomorrow…anything…and he just wasn't buyin' it. But he told me about goin' with 'ya…he was excited…I think it's somethin' he needs to do. He feels like…like he owes 'ya or somethin'."
"I can assure him…he owes me nothing. I…on the other hand…can in no way make up for the hurt I have caused him."
"Aw, Ezra…JD don't hold no grudges…you know that."
"The fact that the boy is of a forgiving nature…does not make me feel any less remorseful."
"Look…JD wants to do it…and it's the only thing he's shown any interest in doin' tomorrow…so you ain't gettin' out of takin' 'im."
"I am not trying to get out of it, Mr. Wilmington."
"Just make sure you bring him home in one piece…or I'll mount your ass on the wall." Wilmington grinned, standing up and stretching. "Got it?"
Standish saluted Buck as the ladies man smiled and returned inside the house.
JD was sleeping so peacefully on the couch that Nathan decided it was better to let him rest than to wake him to go to bed.
The others had all turned in by the time Standish made his way in from the porch. There was just enough light in the room to make out the form on the couch.
Ezra started for the couch, then hesitated. Until he heard a slight moan and he approached the sleeping youth. "JD…son…are you alright?"
"Why am I not surprised by your response, son?"
"…dunno…" JD yawned and rolled over to face Standish. "You OK, Ezra?"
"Why do you ask?"
"It's late…you should be in bed."
"As should you."
"You can have Adam's room if you want it." The boy hunkered deeper under the covers. "I'm good here."
"I don't believe Mr. Larabee would care for my sleeping in his son's room, Mr. Dunne."
"You gotta sleep somewhere."
"I will perhaps just take this recliner…next to you…if you have no objections."
"…whatever…" JD rolled back over, turning his back on the Southerner. But Standish was able to make out the weak, muffled plea that crept from under the covers. "…don’t leave…without me…tomorrow…"
"I assure you, son…I have no intention of facing Maude alone."
Sunday at the airport:
Ezra zipped his Jag into the parking spot and threw his door open, looking at his watch. **12:30…sh*t!**
"Come along, young friend. We must not keep mother waiting. She is not a patient woman." Standish was pulling on his blazer as he hit the remote, locking the car.
"We're not that late, Ez." JD was practically running to catch up. "’Sides…planes are never on time…anyway."
"Mother's plane would not have the audacity to be late." Standish smiled as he turned to see the boy trying to keep up.
Ezra and JD made their way into the terminal, heading straight for Gate 102. They stared at the board, checking to see if Maude's flight was on time. "What did I tell you, JD? Flight 208…from Geneva…landed…on time…fifteen minutes ago."
"We only have a few hours, Ezra…" came the voice from behind the two. "I would think you would want to be on time…to enjoy them to the fullest."
"Ahh…yes…mother. Please forgive me." Ezra took Maude's hand and gently kissed it.
"Why…Mr. Dunne…what a pleasure." Maude smiled politely at the young man.
JD was his usual, exuberant self, wrapping his arms around the woman in a hug. "Great to see you, ma'am. Happy Mother's Day!!"
"Why…thank you, JD." Maude seemed taken aback by the display of affection from the young man. She absentmindedly ran her hands down her dress, straightening her outfit.
"You and your mom talk, Ez." JD turned to Maude. "I'll go get your luggage if you give me your claim ticket."
"How sweet." She handed the boy the ticket and he was off in a flash.
"Does he ever just walk any where?" She asked Ezra.
"Never." Standish smiled after the boy, wishing he had his energy sometimes. Especially on days like this. It was going to be a long day.
"So, dear…why is he here?" Maude questioned. "I thought it would just be the two of us."
"Young JD has been in quite a state for the last couple of days…what with it being Mother's Day." Ezra explained. "I just thought he might enjoy seeing you…that's all."
"Doesn't he have a mother of his own to see today?"
Ezra sighed, shaking his head. "Mother…do you ever listen to what I tell you? I have told you…time and time again…that the poor boy lost his mother shortly before joining the team."
"Anyway…please be kind to the boy. Show him a little compassion…if you will."
Ezra heard a loud crash and turned to see that JD had stumbled carrying all of Maude's luggage and had managed to knock over several of the metal posts and velvet ropes that made up the maze leading to one the gates. He rushed over to help the boy. "Are you alright, JD?" he asked as he pulled the youth up to his feet.
"Yeah…there was just so many of 'em…and one of 'em started to get away from me…and…"
"Say no more, son." Ezra was checking the boy over carefully to make sure he was not injured in some way. "I should have warned you that she packs as if she's clothing a small nation."
JD laughed. "I guess you get your fashion sense from her, then."
The two walked up to Maude. "I certainly hope you got all of the luggage, JD."
Ezra started a slow burn. "I'm sure you meant to inquire that the boy was alright…correct…Mother?"
"Oh…yes…you're not hurt…are you darling?" Maude lifted JD's chin with her hand and kissed him lightly on the cheek and walked away.
"…m'fine…" JD blushed.
Ezra grabbed the boy in a headlock, pulling him close to whisper in his ear. "At least you got a kiss…" and the two broke out laughing.
"Coming…boys?" Maude called back over her shoulder as she headed for the airport restaurant. "Perhaps we're not too late to get brunch."
"Brunch???" JD grinned. "Who eats brunch???"
"Today, Mr. Dunne…you do." Standish helped JD with the luggage and the two smiled as they followed behind Maude.
In the restaurant:
"Tell me, Ezra…how is Josiah?" Maude inquired.
"Quite well, Mother." Ezra was eyeing the menu. "He sends his regards."
"Wonderful. So…tell me, JD…how long has your mother been gone?"
Ezra dropped his menu to the floor. **Good Lord.**
"Uh…a…uh…a little…while…now…" JD shifted his eyes down to his menu quickly. "Order me a burger…OK, EZ? I'll be right back." JD darted from the table and headed for the restroom.
"My, God. Is this your idea of compassion, Mother." Ezra lashed out. "Because if it is…you definitely need to work on your people skills."
"Surely the boy doesn't mind talking about his mother."
"Of course not…on Mother's Day…why would he??? Have a heart, Mother." Ezra threw his napkin on the table in disgust and headed towards the restroom.
Standish pushed the door open and heard JD vomiting. He went to the sink and dampened some paper towels, entered the stall next to the boy's, stood on the toilet and handed the towels down to JD. "Here, son."
JD gratefully grabbed the towels, leaned back against the door and wiped his face, trying to gain some sort of composure. "…thanks…" he said, shakily. "…guess…I'm still…a little sick…from yesterday…"
"No need to cover for the woman, son. She is quite the diplomat…eh???" Standish smiled down to the boy.
"…yeah…" JD grinned, before he felt his stomach lurch again and was sick once more. Ezra leaned over into JD's stall and unlocked the door. He went around and pulled it open and stood beside the boy, rubbing his back gently until the vomiting stopped.
JD turned red, tear-filled eyes to Standish. "…sorry…" the boy apologized. Ezra pulled the boy to him and let him cry.
"Nothing to be sorry for, son."
Which just made JD cry harder.
"…you…gotta love your mom now, Ezra…now…before it’s…too late…"
"I do, son…I truly do."
Later that day:
After seeing Maude off at the gate, Ezra steered the Jag onto the freeway. "I am truly sorry about Mother, JD."
"How are you feeling, son?"
**Great!!! One word answers. The boy was anything but fine.**
Standish, as usual, was ashamed of his mother. The woman had, in her uncaring, un-motherly fashion, hurt this innocent soul that sat next to him. JD ~ a boy that couldn't hurt a fly ~ but could be so easily hurt himself. Ezra didn't know what to say.
So, the two friends rode in silence for the rest of the trip.
JD sat quietly in the seat, as pale as Standish could ever remember seeing the boy. The youth's unusual stillness spoke volumes that the kid himself would not utter. Ezra knew exactly what JD needed and he pushed his sports car to the legal limit to secure it.
As he pulled into the driveway at Buck and JD's townhouse, Ezra first noticed the warm glow of the waiting porch light, then saw the front door open as Buck stepped out onto the porch.
Standish noticed the immediate transformation in the kid. The sad, glum face was now replaced with the warm hint of a smile.
JD turned to Ezra, his hazel eyes dancing. "Guess I should've stopped and got Buck a card, huh?" JD pushed the door open to get out.
Ezra placed his hand on the boy's arm. "Excuse me?"
"You know…it's Smothers Day…right?" and the boy grinned as he got out of the car.
"Right you are, JD." Ezra sat and watched his two friends. The big man took his little brother into his arms in a Buck-hug on the front lawn, then placed a gentle, guiding hand on the boy's back as he ushered the kid inside.
"Happy Mother’s Day, Mrs. Dunne." Standish whispered as he backed out of the driveway.