Hazel '05: Moving Day

Chris picked up another box and turned toward the hallway, somewhere between moody and glum.

Not the best reaction, he admitted to himself as he trudged up the hall for the tenth time, but it was better than some of the alternatives.

Buck, empty-handed, passed him, a look on his face that shared all the alternatives, every single one: sadness, satisfaction, worry, distant pleasure, and a bitten-back denial that time was passing. That was the one that pissed Chris off. They were getting older, and by itself that was no big deal. Better than not getting older, he thought darkly as he used the box to push the front screen door open.

It wasn't age. It was the looming emptiness. He should be happy -- he was happy when he reminded himself to be, but what he felt most was lonely already.

Vin stood by his little pick-up, all 19 years of him: tall, energetic, fleshed-out, excited about moving into his life. Adult.

When the hell had Vin turned into a grown-up? he thought, and lowered his eyes, watching the top of the box marked "kitchen." Somehow, Vin had cleaned them out of enough old pots and pans and crockery to have a whole box marked "kitchen." And Chris would notice, every time he saw an empty cabinet, that Vin was gone.

He dropped the box into the truck bed, atop the other, bigger boxes they'd layered the bottom with. "You really think you're gonna get all that stuff in here?"

"Chris, I measured everything. I made JD check my math. It's gonna be fine. 'Sides, I'm only going 300 miles. What can happen in 300 miles?"

Chris refused to contemplate. Anything could happen in 300 miles. Anything, in 300 miles and the rest of Vin's life.... "I just can't believe you're going," he said. There. He'd said it out loud, for the very first time, on Vin's very last day in this home.

Vin snorted. "Hell, Chris, you were 'bout ready to kick me out after I laid around all summer."

He had been.

But not really.

More like, after Vin had graduated high school he'd spent June and July doing exactly nothing: no job, no sports, not much time with friends. Just sneaking beers as if Buck or Chris wouldn't notice, and watching TV, and riding Peso, slow and easy. Vin hadn't talked much. And the way he was at a loose end flew in the face of JD's big plans: an east coast college, Big Ten, criminal justice degree, maybe a law degree or computers. JD's whole future was wide-open in front of him, and Vin was lying around drinking beer at age 18, ignoring the future just as easily as he ignored that he was under age. That had annoyed Chris. Buck too, but less so. "Give him a little time," Buck had said, and Chris had, going against his instincts to bully his son.

Then just like that, Vin had rolled off the couch come August and announced he'd been accepted on a partial scholarship into a college in Santa Fe where he was going to study animal husbandry and maybe, maybe try being a vet. Chris and Buck hadn't even known he'd applied.

August had gotten busy after that, with harried trips to Santa Fe, apartment hunting, leases and surveillance of the neighborhoods, checks with the local PD to sniff out potential problems before Vin found them the hard way, endless shopping efforts that made Vin uncomfortable enough that they stopped trying to buy him things and let him raid the house for what he thought he needed, instead. And yesterday, Ezra, Nathan and Josiah had come out to drop off the new notebook computer that nobody had been willing to argue with Vin about. When Vin got too choked up and slipped out of the living room, Chris had just shoved the computer box into JD's hands and said, "Help him get this ready for school."

Yesterday too, Buck had brought the shiny new Trek road bike into the house and sat astride it, rolling back and forth in the hall and leaving black tire marks on the hardwood floor.

Chris looked at Vin now, trying hard to be calm and collected. "If it doesn't work out, you can come back," Chris said, desperate to make sure Vin knew that, to be positive that Vin knew this would always be his home, whenever he needed it.

Vin stopped tying down a blanket that would protect his bed's headboard, and turned full-on to Chris. He grinned, that cocky, self-assured smile he'd won over the last three or four years. "You missin' me already?"

Chris cleared his throat. "Guess so."

"Well hell," Vin muttered, in an "aww shucks" way that showed just how embarrassed he was, and maybe how pleased. "I'm only going to Santa Fe. And I'm only going for two years."

Two years was a lifetime. "Guess so."

"'sides, you don't want me sleepin' on the couch in the den watching Sports Center for the rest of my life," Vin went on. Chris met those pale blue eyes and caught the humor in them, the self-assurance.

"Guess not."

Vin chuckled, low. "That all you're gonna say?"

The screen door slammed behind him and Buck came out with JD in tow. "What're you two doin' out here?" Buck roared. "There's stuff to be loaded. Work to do. And Vin, after you're out of here I've already been scheduled." Buck, arms full, rolled one shoulder toward JD who practically bounced on the balls of his feet.

"We're painting the room. My new room," JD said proudly. "We're painting it green."

"Both the bedrooms are gonna be JD colors? Crap, I'm never comin' back," Vin said, and Chris felt a ridiculous prickle behind his eyes.

"Got more boxes to load," he said to cover, and spun on his heel.

He thought he'd made it safely inside, safely into the quiet of his and Buck's bedroom for a moment's peace, but footfalls behind him told him just how badly he'd done. A hand touched his shoulder, ruffled the longer hair at the back of his neck. "You miss him as much as I do?" Buck asked, voice feather-soft in the quiet room.

He turned before he thought about it, and wrapped his arms around Buck's ribcage, holding on tight. "Yeah."

Buck squeezed back for a second, then gently tugged him away. Eyes as blue as a mountain lake stared at him, open, kind, smiling at their corners. "We did a fantastic job, didn't we?"

"Yeah." Chris fought the urge to sniff and thought of Vin, loading his truck right now and heading off into the world, thought of JD barely a year behind him: JD was only 16, but he'd be a senior this year, and off to college next fall.

If he tried, really tried, Chris could remember what Buck looked like when they had first met, back when Buck hadn't been much older than Vin was now. Damn, how much they had changed.

"You remember when you took off?" Chris asked, thinking on his own college years and how they'd been tame, compared to Buck's -- if you could believe the stories. And Chris generally did.

Buck chortled. "Yeah. Good times."

"Stupid times."

"That too." Buck butted their foreheads together. "What's eating at you?"

"Nothing. Just, it's gonna be awful quiet around here."

Buck frowned, and Chris felt fingers rubbing at the small of his back. "JD's the one who makes the most noise," Buck said. "He's still here."

"Not for long. They're growing up, getting older, and you and me, we're just gettin' old."

The hands at his waist slid lower, cupped his ass. "You might be getting old. Me, I'm just gettin' better."

"Very funny." Chris pushed him away and turned back toward the window.

Chris listened to the silence behind him until it was broken by Buck's hard exhalation and heavy teenaged feet pounding on the porch. Buck grabbed him by the neck and tried to steer him.

"We've got work to do. You can have your pity party later, okay?"

Damn it. He could've used a little coddling right about now. He opened his mouth to grumble just that at Buck when JD's voice preceded the young man up the hall.

"I told you they were gonna disappear. Bet you twenty bucks they're --"

"Can it, JD!" Vin's voice came next, unnecessarily loud. "There is something seriously wrong with you, you know that? You ask nice, they might send you to a shrink for Christmas."

Vin's ribbing and JD's laughter were both familiar enough.

Buck met his eyes again, grinning; JD had definitely, definitely taken after Buck, happily exploring himself and anybody else who'd let him, dating far more girls than boys but pretty unspecific in his tastes so far. And JD was a loudmouth about sex in general, just like Buck had been back when they were kids. JD -- like Buck -- only got worse with age and confidence.

"Both of you can it!" he yelled, and ducked away from Buck to meet them in the hall. "Two seconds ago I was thinking I was gonna miss you two," he said when they pulled up short in front of him.

JD frowned. "I'm not going anywhere."

Vin shared a look with Chris that actually got him smiling again. "Right, JD," Chris said, and tousled his hair for him. "I'd be plenty glad of that, if you'd just keep your nose out of places it doesn't belong."

JD grinned, unrepentant. "Whatever. C'mon, we've got a million more boxes and stuff before I can figure out what colors I want my new room to be."

"You're really gonna let him paint?" Vin asked, when Buck grabbed JD around the neck and steered him down the hall.

Chris shrugged. "No reason not to."

"It's gonna be some shade of putrid green."


"What happens when I come back to visit?"

"You suffer?"

Vin turned away, shoulders slouched an inch. "I'm suffering already."

* * *

Three hours later, right after a late, last lunch together, Vin was gone, with promises to phone when he got to Santa Fe, or if he needed anything, or just to let them know how the drive was going. The little apartment they'd sprung for was already leased, waiting for him, not far from the campus; he'd be looking for a roommate, to keep expenses down. A part-time job too, once he got settled. Chris still wasn't sure if Vin would use the extra cash Buck had pushed onto him while the truck engine idled, or hoard it; Vin was still so careful about a lot of things other young men his age took for granted.

Buck faked a good mood, overly hearty and loud enough to shake dirty dishes off the kitchen table. Chris was gratified that he wasn't the only one torn up inside.

"JD, what're you doing tonight, son?" Buck asked after he'd fetched himself and Chris a beer.

"Staying home with you guys."

Chris caught Buck's eye. Between ball games and dates and horse shows and school events, that'd be a first in months. "On a Saturday?" he prodded.

JD shrugged, and years of experience told Chris the move was just as fake as Buck's banter. "Yeah. Didn't really want to go off, what with Vin bein' gone. Thought maybe we could have an early family night."

Buck sucked on his longneck, trying and failing to hide a proud little smile. Yeah, they'd done a hell of a good job with these boys.

"Family night sounds like just the ticket," he offered, more grateful than he could say. "You got a movie in mind?"

"Yep. And I invited a friend over, if that's cool."

"Who's the friend?" Chris asked, just as Buck said,

"What's the movie?"

"I don't think you've met him. His name's Mike. I have to go pick him up, though; he's only got his permit. And the movie's 'Big Eden'."

"What kinda friend?" Buck asked, sing-song voice implying all sorts of intrigue. "The kind you get to study with in your room, or the kind you don't?"

"You think I'd tell you?" JD huffed.

Chris just grinned. It had to be hard, being JD. Especially in this house.

Much later, sitting on the couch not-quite tucked up against Buck's side, Chris could tell that they hadn't had to ask. JD was that close to holding this Mike's hand. Good-looking kid. No in-his-bedroom study sessions. As for the movie, he should've known he was being set up. It was a good film, but the gay theme leapt off the screen. Everybody in it was just fine with everything.

When the guy got the guy in the end, Buck had the gall to go "Aww, ain't that sweet," and wrap an arm around his shoulder. JD, on the floor, cast a sly look up at them, and edged an inch closer to a blushing Mike. The only thing that saved Chris from drowning in the romantic sappiness that overflowed the den was the telephone, and Vin.

"Hey kid," Chris said in the freedom of the kitchen. "You have no idea how glad I am to hear your voice."

"He get you to watch 'Big Eden'?" Vin asked, chortling.

Chris considered banging his head against the wall. "Three hundred miles away and you're still in cahoots with him to make my life crazy."

"Yep. I've got local calling cell to cell, too," Vin went on. "I'm gonna keep doin' it. Make sure ya don't miss me too much."

Chris didn't ask when Vin had seen this movie, or how, or why. He didn't ask anything that would remind him that Vin wouldn't be at another family night for two months, if then, if his friends didn't latch onto him and keep him out of the house for the whole Thanksgiving holiday.

Feeling weepy all over again, and thoroughly pissed at himself for feeling that way when Buck, obviously, was weathering the storm better than him, Chris nodded, unseen. "You do that."


He jumped a little at Buck's quiet voice, frowning at his partner and wondering not for the first time how the hell the man moved so quietly when half the time he was too loud to be ignored. "Buck wants to talk to you."

Chris re-entered the den just in time to catch his younger charge kissing the new boyfriend, and pivoted back into the hallway. JD was only 16. How the hell was the kid coping so well with sex at all, much less the wide-open field he insisted on playing in? But it wasn't like Chris, partnered with Buck for coming up on 15 years now and still happy to swap spit at the drop of a hat or the wink of a too-blue eye, had a leg to stand on in this arena.

"Boys, you want anymore popcorn?" he called, then walked in again. Blessedly, they now sat a safe two feet apart.

"No, thanks Mr. Larabee," Mike said. Polite kid. Polite kid probably after JD's ass, and Chris groaned at the idea of another discussion of birds and bees and boys and girls. Maybe Buck would do it -- hell, maybe Buck already had. He hoped Buck had.

"We're good, Chris," JD said, eyes too bright. "I'm gonna drive Mike home now, I guess. His folks don't want him out too late."

Mike was only 15. JD was practically cradle-robbing. "Vin's on the phone with Buck. You want to talk to him before you take off?"

JD shook his head. "I called him when I went to get the movie. Tell him I'll call him later too, okay?"

And with that, they were on their feet, and car keys rattled in JD's hand.

"Buckle up!" Chris yelled after them.

"You think?" JD called back, and once more Chris felt old. Really, really old. Ancient.


He grabbed up bowls and empty glasses and wandered back into the kitchen just in time to hear Buck signing off.

"We love you, Vin," Buck said. "Yeah. Yeah, I will. See you next week."

Chris perked up at that. "Next week?"

Buck grinned. "Thought we'd drive down and see how he's settled in before he advertises for a roommate. Think JD'll want to come?"

"I think we'll have to make him, or him and 'Mike' will be up here doing more than studying."

"You think they aren't already?" Buck asked, genuinely curious.

"That boy's 15 years old!" "Yeah?" Buck asked, like he truly didn't understand Chris's point. It made Chris remember that Buck had been younger than that when he'd popped his cherry. It made him not want to think about this at all.

"We gotta have a talk with JD..."

Buck actually laughed at that, loud enough and long enough that he had to wipe tears from his squinted-shut eyes.

"What." Not like it wasn't obvious.

"Chris, you missed that boat a good year ago."

"Are you serious?"

"Hell yes! Vin -- well, let's just say Vin let me know it was time for a talk. So JD and me had one. Had a few, in fact." He frowned and shifted uncomfortably. "That boy, he's got no qualms at all about asking for information."

Chris blanched, relieved to have gotten out of it so easily. "I don't want to know."

Buck chortled. "You sure don't." Chris felt a flush rise up his neck. "So, JD take Mike home?"


Buck sidled forward and fingers slipped into Chris's palm, turning it. "We've got a good hour, all alone."

"Where does Mike live?" JD wasn't supposed to drive the freeways at night yet, wasn't supposed to be dating outside his school district in fact.

Buck chortled again. "'bout ten minutes from here."

"Ah, shit."

"Hey, you asked."

"Forget I did." He glanced toward the front door, wondering how bankable Buck's prediction was. Damn good, he decided. "Hot tub?"


He grinned, thinking about the generally good results to be had in a hot tub when the boys were out. "Want to pretend Vin and JD are out at a movie?"

"Oh, yeah."

They slid the cover off and slid naked into steaming water, the only light nearby coming from the single bulb over the barn door and what spilled out the kitchen window. Buck still looked so good and vibrant and filled with life, even sprawled against the side of the tub, head back and arms spread wide. His cheeks and jaw had softened just a little in the last 10 years, and in decent light you could see where the hair at his temples had begun to gray. It gave Buck a distinguished look of maturity that Buck kept threatening to start coloring any day now.

Lower, under the line the water cut across his chest, maybe Buck was showing his mileage a little; they both had too much desk work these days, and not enough manual labor since the boys had been taking up more and more slack with the horses. But still. Rangy, tall, Buck could carry a few extra pounds. Gave his waist just enough meat for Chris to tease him about. Lower than that… Chris bit back a smile. A little gray down there too, not so distinguished, and thinking about that sobered him up quick; it was all a sign of things to come, like the way Buck's back could ache under too much stress and the twinges Chris felt in his own body, sharper and more demanding now.

Buck didn't look old, not yet. Eventually, maybe, but not yet....

"You enjoying yourself?" Buck asked, his voice as smooth and warm as the water.

"Yeah," he said, not quite willing to admit the truth. He slid closer and rubbed his hand over Buck's belly, savoring that softness. But they didn't get up to any of the antics Chris half-expected; too despondent, or just too sober for stupid games, they sat close enough to touch, kissed on occasion, and remembered Vin's antics at home. His first day up here, eyes as round as saucers and still just as wary as a feral cat... the next trip and the next, when he finally admitted he was scared of the horses... his first ride... his first fall.

The broken collarbone he'd gotten when he'd let Pony kick him after he'd snuck to the barn unattended, and how he'd tried to cover it up for fear they'd be mad at him, pretend nothing was wrong even though his shirt was dirty and his face was ashen with pain.

His first "C" on his report card -- cause for celebration... his first "A"... his first horseback riding trophy... his second broken leg, when he was calf-roping... highlights of every baseball game and rodeo and accomplishment and failure.

Kisses grew slower and sweeter, but by the time he was ready to grab Buck's hand and press it to his groin, automobile headlights cut a wide streak on the trees behind the house. Chris sighed. "Guess it's holding our breath and biting the pillows after all," he sighed.

Buck climbed out of the tub and grabbed his bathrobe. "I've never complained," Buck said softly, "and I'm not gonna start now."

"Yeah." Vin was an adult now, on his own and ready for anything life would throw at him. JD wasn't far behind, and if anything, even more ready. Not long before they could make all the noise they wanted again, or do it in the middle of the day without getting heart palpitations that one of the boys or their friends would somehow sneak up on them. Even with just one gone, Chris missed them both already.

"What?" Buck, sensing his mood or just wanting to break the silence, asked.

Chris smiled into the darkness and stood. He caught Buck up, kissed him hard and wet and quickly. "You're right. Nothing to complain about at all."

-the end-