Author's Note: For T.S. Blue, who has spent the last (seven? eight?) several years sharing, indulging, and encouraging my love of Dukes at every turn. Thank you for everything. Hope you have fun on the ride.
"It takes a village to raise a child." - African Proverb
It's almost nine by the time Jesse Duke steps foot on his own land again. Early by the standards of Hazzard's finest, and Deputy Higgins is yawning behind his hand as he returns Jesse's parting wave; but it's already mid-morning for his farm, kept running by generous neighbors. Good folks, all of them, and he hadn't had no doubts that they'd look after the old place where he couldn't.
That don't, of course, stop the animals from letting him know they ain't at all pleased with his three-day disappearance. The chickens weave deliberate-like under his feet on the way to the barn, doing their best to trip him up. Maudine the Mule won't even look at him proper until he promises her extra oats for supper and a rubdown later; she is young, but she's already got that stubborn Duke air about her. The goats ain't vocal with their displeasure just yet, but Jesse knows that's only on account of their plans for later today, when it's time for the afternoon milking. They'll make their complaints known then, he's sure. The hound dog is pleased to see him, at least, but even she abandons him after her welcoming lick yields her a lingering taste of jailhouse food on his fingers. She just turns tail and curls up under the porch swing for another nap, content to ignore him again.
The house, when he finally makes it inside, is empty, and he stops by the kitchen table, soaking in the silence. Quiet ain't something this place has seen much of, what with the five generations of Dukes it's seen raised already. There is days when Jesse don't know but that the three he's got now can make more ruckus than any that's come before them, his nephews tumbling into and over each other at every turn and their girl-cousin mother-henning over them at the very top of her lungs. Sometimes there ain't nothing he wants more than a little peace.
Lord help him, though, he misses that racket fierce right now.
The keys to his pickup are on his bedside table, and he's halfway to the door again before he even thinks of Sweet Tilly, sitting in the impound yard back in town. No more cause to hold her there than there'd been to hold Jesse, but there hadn't been anything but lint in his pockets either, so there she'd stayed. It had taken some mighty fine talking to convince Rosco's deputy (who'd finally set him free on the orders of Harvey Essex, seeing as how Rosco hadn't bothered to show up for work yet) to give him a lift home. He pauses at the screen door, casts a look back over his shoulder to the top of the fridge. There's a tin up there, tucked near the back; Lavinia's, and he keeps his money and her old recipes there, both equal by means of needing protection. Tilly is patient, though, and plenty understanding. She won't mind waiting a little longer, just 'til he's got his kids back.
Leastwise he knows they're safe: the farm he knew would be looked after, but the kids he made plans for. Since their aunt's passing, Jesse's gotten to know firsthand just how much trouble those three could be when they were left alone too long. And, well – Jesse's lips pull up in amusement. J.D. ain't ever been good with kids, not from the first moment Lavinia had planted a squalling six-month-old Bo in his arms one long night nine years ago. Things hadn't changed much since then, other'n the fact that J.D. was the one who was mostly bald now. And probably about ready to pull out the rest of his hair, at that.
Best he gets there quick.
"Get out the socks, Bo."
Big blue eyes come up to meet his, torn away from a close inspection of the cars lined up on their dresser. "Luke," Wasn't Bo complaining or agreeing, because he would have had to be listening to do either. "Which ones you reckon we should take?" His fingers hover first over the yellow Wayfarer, then the blue Packard, his eyebrows drawn together in concentration.
"I reckon," Luke answered. "That we need socks. Get some out." He turned back to the closet. "Underwear too."
He didn't need to be facing Bo to know that his little cousin's nose was wrinkled up in disgust. "We ain't gonna be gone that long," He said. No time to question that conclusion, though, because Bo was already on to the next thought: "Look," Bed groaning out its complaints as Bo stretched across to reach for a car that was further away, on Luke's side of the dresser. "You know he ain't got no cars, Luke."
And that, that there, was the ultimate offense to Bo Duke. Here J.D. Hogg had come sauntering into their kitchen, told them, yes, their uncle Jesse was locked up in jail, but never they mind that, he was there to take care of them, back at his own house, until it all blew over. Tone low and soothing, like the type you used on kids way younger than they were, promising he was sure as shooting that would be real soon. In jail for what? Oh, it wasn't nothing for them to worry over. They was just to come with him, never mind that Uncle Jesse was the one who'd left them there in the first place, to look after themselves and each other. Placating words and broad hand gestures, pacing around in Aunt Lavinia's kitchen like he owned the place, and he might even have patted Bo's head if it had ever gotten close enough, like he was five instead of going on ten. But the fact that the man had no matchbox cars to play with – that was his only sin.
"I don't care, Bo," Luke decided, tugging free a pair of jeans. Bo's or his, it was hard to tell just by looking; he held them up against his legs to measure. Bo's: Luke had outgrown this pair last spring. "Take whichever ones you want, but," He crossed to his own bed, dropped the jeans into the open suitcase. "Don't you go losing any."
Bo made a face at him. "I don't lose things, Luke," And then, because he was a Duke and Uncle Jesse said Dukes couldn't tell lies, "Well, much."
Daisy picked just that moment to burst in, her arms full of clothes. Luke frowned. "Daisy," Here he had one cousin who didn't reckon on needing a single change of underwear, and one who figured on needing at least ten whole outfits, by the looks of it. "What's all that?"
"Clothes," Daisy replied, dumping her armful out across Luke's bed.
His frown deepened. "We only got the one suitcase," He reminded her. He wasn't even sure if it counted, either: the ragged thing was older than any of them, dark brown, and it wouldn't take much more than a sideways look for it to fall apart. Aunt Lavinia had always made Uncle Jesse carry it, because if it weren't held just so, everything spilled out.
"It'll fit," Daisy was confident. "You just gotta know how to pack things."
Which Luke apparently didn't, judging by how quickly everything he'd put in there was being hauled back out. "Daisy," He tried again, even though he knew it was a lost cause. "We ain't got all day."
Bo finally got off his bed, picking up the Wayfarer on his way. Not a surprise: Bo always went for the ones with the flashiest paint jobs, the brightest colors. "You best leave room for me and Luke's cars, too," He said.
Their girl-cousin ignored them both, already intent on taking her sweet time repacking.
Luke waited until he was facing his dresser again before he rolled his eyes. Just self-preservation: Daisy could hit as hard as Ernie Ledbetter, girl or not, and she took even less kindly to being told how to do things, even though Luke was the one who knew what he was talking about. And it would only be worse now, because packing their suitcases had always been something Aunt Lavinia'd done.
He yanked the top drawer open sharply, determined not to think about that. They'd been getting on all right since her passing, even if Luke hadn't quite figured out how she'd always managed to keep Bo's socks on his side of the drawer and Daisy still burned the bottoms of the biscuits every other night and didn't always cook the chicken all through the first time. Uncle Jesse was going back to running 'shine, wasn't he? That there was proof that everything was going okay.
Excepting, of course, he hadn't ever gotten caught before.
"Children!" That was Mr. Hogg, calling up from the base of the stairs. Stopped there, probably, because even laboring up the three steps to their front porch had seemed to take up all his energy when he'd first arrived. His voice was sticky-sweet, though, just the way that always made Uncle Jesse's eyebrows draw together like he knew trouble was coming. "Luke!" Just in case it wasn't clear who he was calling for. "Daisy! Hurry along now, Beauregard!"
At that last, Bo stood up from where he'd been leaning over the suitcase, his hands going to his hips. Luke was hardly ever wrong, even if he had to be the one to say it; but that there, that was the real greatest sin. Bo's full name, and his small chest was already puffing out in righteous indignation, the type that led to foot-stomping anger and, at least half the time, a trip to the barn. Luke met Daisy's eyes: they didn't want Bo starting out in a fit of temper, especially seeing as how they didn't rightly know how long they'd be expected to stay with Mr. Hogg.
"Bo," One job he didn't mind letting Daisy take every now and then, this rushing to interject before their cousin could get out what was on his mind. "Looks like we got enough room for a couple more cars. How about the, uh," Her eyes lit briefly on the cars still on their dresser. "The Hornet?"
"Daisy, I -" Started out indignant, a frustrated breath over the distraction. But then his eyebrows drew together. "We ain't got a Hornet."
"Oh," Downward tilt of her chin, pointing towards the Packard. "That one, then. The pretty blue one."
Wide, incredulous eyes pinned on Luke, asking him with a look how anyone claiming to be a Duke could confuse a Hudson with a Packard. His commiserating shrug had Daisy's eyebrows drawing down angrily, but at least the more pressing danger had been avoided.
"Daisy," Bo turned back to her, his voice going high with disbelief. "That ain't - "
She slammed the suitcase shut and turned sharply on her heel. "I don't care. And don't you dare spill that suitcase, Luke Duke," She declared. Then, her voice deceptively sweet, she hollered, "We're coming!" and stalked out of the room.
"But Daisy, that ain't a Hornet!" Bo shouted after her, to no response other than stomping on the stairs. He looked back at Luke. "What's her problem?"
It was a thankless job, looking after Bo Duke's hide. Luke hooked his hand around the latch and carefully slid the suitcase off the bed, breathing a sigh of relief when nothing spilled. "I don't know, Bo, but best we get going."
Bo did as he was told, still muttering after girl cousins who didn't know their cars.
"Well, well, well, and well. If it ain't my cousin, Cletus Hogg."
In the rear view mirror, he saw Jesse's oldest make a face. Sort of look that served as a warning that sass was about to come out of his mouth and, "Well." Sure enough. "We are at his house."
J.D. pointedly ignored that, just as he had everything taking place in the Ghost's backseat since Jesse's brats had piled in. His runner, and when he'd slid behind the wheel this morning, he might have been expecting trouble, but not this kind. Thought he was in for far more fun when Jesse had used his one phone call to reach him, figured at least there'd be plenty of shucking and jiving to do. An easy win, because Jesse hadn't even been caught with 'shine. He was driving Tilly, sure, but that wasn't a crime onto itself - and near about everyone inside of three counties knew there hadn't been so much as a drop of Duke 'shine run in near about six months.
Turned about that that wasn't what Jesse was after, though, and so here they was, even though the Ghost hadn't been built to haul a bunch of squirming, complaining kids. Seemed like the arguments kept taking twists he didn't quite follow anyhow, something about girls and how well they understood cars mixed in with who was sitting in whose part of the seat and who could dang well keep their opinion to themselves. Nothing he was getting in the middle of, anyhow.
"What are we doing here?" Bo piped up, straining to see around Luke, who had that ratty old suitcase pressed between him and the door.
"Yeah, ain't we supposed to be going to your house, Mr. Hogg?" Daisy wondered.
"Well, I just figured," He said, perfectly reasonable. "That you'd rather spend the day with someone closer to your own age."
Three pairs of eyes were on him now, and Luke's eyebrows were coming together, a near-perfect imitation of the thundercloud his uncle quickly became when he thought he was being shucked and jived. That was them Dukes: always suspicious. "But if Uncle Jesse said - "
"Look here," No reason to let that thought ruminate. "No need to fuss. Your uncle Jesse just figured," His fingers started for his coat pocket, for the cigar tucked in there; but then, they stilled. It had been Lavinia's rule, not smoking in front of her brood, but he didn't figure it was out of effect yet, not with her memory still so strong. "That I," He reached for the door handle instead. "Would make sure someone looked after you." No use trying to reason with a Duke, after all. He swung open the door. "Cletus!"
His cousin came out of his sleep with a cut-off snort, the chair he'd had leaning back against the side of the house dropping onto its feet. "Cousin J.D.!" He exclaimed, and then winced in the direction of the house. Where his mama was laid up, no doubt, and probably none too happy to hear her son making so much racket, but J.D. couldn't help that.
Cletus stood to his feet. Stretched like a dog waking up from a snooze in the hot sun, and then he was coming down to join them. Them, because Jesse's brood had only just started piling out into the yard. "You want me to do a run for ya?"
"Dat, Cletus!" J.D. snapped. Glanced back at Jesse's kids and then leaned in close. "You just keep your mouth shut about my business, you hear?"
"But," Cletus blinked. "You brought the Ghost, so I - "
"Cletus," He rushed on, over his cousin. Cletus was a good enough driver - naturally, him being a Hogg - but he needed to learn to keep quiet. They'd work on it. "I got another kind of job for you."
After all, J.D. Hogg wasn't meant for such piddling things as babysitting.