Friends and Enemies

by Sue M

Alternate Universe "Brothers Larabee"

Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em but if I could they'd be on season 10 by now!

My thanks to Phyllis for letting me have a little play with her AU2, for beta-ing this for me and for all her support.

JD sat astride his horse, gazing at the landscape around him. He had gone for his usual morning ride, but was alone today. Vin was resting Peso after a nasty scrape to the horse's fetlock, choosing instead to sort out and clean his tack.

JD had ridden as far as the top pasture and was rewarded by stunning views of the Double L. He couldn't remember ever being this happy and content, even when his mom was still alive. He missed her dearly every day, but their lives had been hard and now he wished she could be here with him, to meet his wonderful new brothers, his family, and to breathe clean air and relax. JD knew how much his mother had loved him, as he, her, but lately he had been counting his blessings and thanking God every day for the love he was feeling now.

He gazed around again, the soft, warm breeze gently ruffling his short black hair, his bangs falling over his eyes. His horse snorted softly and he chuckled.

"OK, I get it, we'll move on." He clucked and horse and rider moved forward.

After a few minutes he spied an old shack in the distance and gently urged his horse towards it. Just outside he jumped down noting it was in a pretty sorry state. He carefully pushed at the rotting door and was rewarded with a creak and a crash as it finally fell off its last hinge. JD wafted the rising dust away from his face, coughing slightly then started forward again, spying something in a corner. The light inside was poor, despite the bright sunshine outside and moving further in, JD reached out his hand to what looked like an old dirty blanket and slowly pulled at it. The blanket moved away from the object it covered. JD went rigid.


He started stumbling backward, his hands grabbing thin air in a desperate bid to find support. He fell back, his left hand impacting hard against the door frame and rusty hinges, but he felt nothing as he continued to desperately scramble back to fresh air. Finally he was out but his mind was spinning, his horse side-stepping nervously as if sensing the anxiety. JD pushed his hair from his face with his injured hand oblivious to the blood pouring from it and the trail it was now leaving over his face and through his hair.

Shaking violently, he managed to scramble up into the saddle and without looking back raced away.

+ + + + + + +

The table was set for breakfast and six men eagerly took their places, chattering as they sat. They slowly focused on the empty chair between Buck and Chris.

Nettie huffed. "If that young man thinks you're waiting on him, he can think again!" She put the final dish filled with scrambled eggs on the table and stepped back, wiping her hands on her apron. "Eat!" she walked back into the kitchen.

They all looked to Chris as if waiting for permission.

"Where did he say he was going?" he asked.

"He didn't," Vin answered. "Should I go look for him?"

"Nah, he knows when breakfast is; he'll probably come tearing through that door any minute now." They all turned as if in anticipation. Nothing. They turned back to their meal.

"Well I'm not letting my breakfast go cold while squirt gallops around the countryside like a demented cowboy!" Buck chuckled. They all snickered, put their hands together and Josiah said grace.

Ten minutes into their meal, the sound of a horse galloping up to the house broke into their conversation.

"The prodigal son has returned," smiled Josiah.

"And he sounds mighty hungry!" Nathan added, passing an empty plate over to Buck for JD. The door burst open and they all turned, smiling at the impending whirlwind that was their youngest sibling but what they saw turned each man cold.

JD staggered through the door, his face and hair were streaked with blood, his left hand discolored with blood dripping steadily from it. His brothers ran towards him. Ezra reached him first, catching him as he stumbled forward and lost his balance.

"Good Lord! What have you done to yourself?" Ezra asked.

JD's eyes were huge, as he was struggling to catch his breath. Nathan took control.

"Buck, get me a paper bag, Chris I need hot water and a cloth. Josiah, get me some towels, Vin a blanket. Ezra, don't let him go!"

Buck returned with the bag, Josiah some towels. Buck reached out to touch his brother's arm, to let him know he was there. Nathan put the bag to his youngest brother's mouth.

"Breathe kid, nice and steady." He wrapped a towel around the injured hand.

While JD regained his natural breathing rhythm and the others returned with the requested items, Nathan checked over his head, trying to locate the source of the bleeding. The others were gathered around, deeply concerned. Nathan concluded that the blood was from his hand and not any head injury, the brothers were relieved. JD had switched from erratic breathing to severe shaking and Nathan grabbed the blanket from Vin to wrap it around him.

"He's going into shock," Nathan pointed out, and with that Linc's youngest offered up the remnants of his previous night's supper. Once he was satisfied the youth was done vomiting he gently laid him on the floor and raised his feet a little in the air just as JD drifted off. Buck was alarmed.

"Give him a minute," Nathan said, checking his vitals. He took the water and cloth from Chris and wiped the boy's face. Rinsing out the cloth in the water he started tending to JD's hand. "Aaah this is nasty," he said, "looks like its broken and some real nasty cuts too. We should get him to the hospital 'coz he's gonna need a tetanus, an x-ray and some stitches."

JD started to stir but was struggling to focus. Buck and Chris moved in closer.

"Hey, Kid, you with us?"

"Buck?" he tried to get up from the floor but failed, "Oh God, Buck, up, up...ya gotta see...!"

"Take it easy," Chris stated to JD gently, "start at the beginning." He offered him a sip of water, which he took gratefully while Buck helped his little brother to a sitting position, supporting him from behind.

"The top pasture..." he began, starting to shake again. "In the old shack there," he sipped more water "there's a dead body!"

+ + + + + + +

Buck, Nathan and Ezra took JD to the hospital. Josiah waited at the house as a liaison, while Chris and Vin went to the shack. Within the hour police were all over the area. Chris and Vin were now back at the house with Josiah, talking to two officers. Chris was getting agitated, desperately wanting to know what was happening to JD. Finally, the police were satisfied, but pointed out they needed to return soon to speak with Linc's youngest son.

Nathan approached Buck and Ezra outside the emergency room.

"All sorted" he said, "he has a temporary cast on his hand until the swelling goes down and he has to come back in six days for a full one. He had six stitches and tetanus and they've put him on pain meds and a course of antibiotics. The doc wanted to keep him in overnight but I'll be there so I figured he'd be happier at home."

Buck and Ezra both nodded in agreement. Ezra took out his phone and moved toward the outer corridor. "I will inform the others that we will be home shortly."

Buck and Nathan entered the curtained area and helped JD to his feet. JD leaned his head on Buck's chest as he moved off the bed. "Ow," he moaned, looking up at Buck sleepily. "Oh, hi!"

Buck chuckled. "C'mon little brother, let's get you home and in bed."

"No bed, sofa." JD's knees gave way a little as Buck put his arm around him for support.

"Whoops, easy squirt, let me help ya there."

Ezra drove the Jag home, Nathan next to him. Buck was in the back with JD's head resting on his chest, the boy softly dozing. Buck had been more than a little surprised that Ezra had insisted on taking his precious car, seeing as JD was dirty and bloodied, but insist he had. He smiled to himself. They certainly had come a long way in the few months they had decided to come together as a family.

Chris, Vin and Josiah stepped out onto the porch to greet them as they pulled up. Chris was at the rear door before the car had fully stopped. Peering in through the window at Buck and JD he pulled the door open to offer a hand. Between him and Buck they eased the sleepy young man out. Vin stepped over and put his arm around JD's waist for support, leaning him against his side to take the strain from Buck and Chris. JD slowly raised his head, trying to focus at the face just above his while frowning with concentration. He smiled.

"Hey Vin, are you ok?" Vin chuckled and cast an amused look to Chris.

"Oh I think I'll live, how about you kid?"

JD tried to put his injured hand to his mouth but Chris stopped him before he could do himself any damage. "Shh, don't tell anyone, but I'm gonna take a little nap on the sofa." He sighed.

To the sofa they headed. Buck had already run on in and picked up some bedding. Vin settled JD down against some pillows, while Buck covered him with a quilt. Both men watched him drift off to sleep. Chris raised his hand in the air to get their attention and gestured for them to step over to the dining table.

"So what did the police have to say?" Buck asked.

Chris pulled out a chair and they all followed. "The dead guy," he paused, looking over to JD to make sure he was asleep. "The dead guy was a Marcus Frobisher. He's been missing for three weeks."

Ezra leaned forward, "Frobisher, of 'Frobisher Construction'?"

Chris nodded. "The police believe the company was fighting off a take-over bid. Marcus disappeared the day he was due to hold a board meeting to encourage his investors to sell their shares to him."

"Did they say how long he'd been dead?" asked Nathan.

"They think for as long as he's been missing," Josiah answered.

The men all looked around at each other. "So the underlying question has to be how the hell did he end up on the Double L?" Buck concluded.

They all nodded, their private thoughts interrupted by mumbling from the sofa.

"No, no. Oh help!" JD was tossing and turning. Buck's long legs took him to his side in seconds. He placed his hand on JD's forehead, pulling a face at Nathan as he felt the heat radiating off him, his temperature had risen considerably.

"Easy, JD, you're home. C'mon, look at me, it's Buck."

Vin returned from the kitchen with a cool damp cloth. He mopped at JD's face with it as the boy slowly calmed down and started opening his eyes. He stared at his brothers in confusion for a moment, and then started to show some recognition of his surroundings. He swallowed hard.

"'m sorry," he whispered, "did I wake you up?" They all grinned, sighing with relief.

"Yes," Buck stated, "and as punishment we think you should have some chicken noodle soup."

"'kay," he replied, and drifted back off. It was going to be a long night.

+ + + + + + +

By noon the next day JD was up and about. He had eaten a late breakfast prepared by Miss Nettie, and now stood watching Ezra pack, leaning his right side against the doorjamb.

"How long are you going for, Ez?" he asked.

"I should return in time to see you with your new cast," he replied.

JD sighed, "Wish you didn't have to go. Do you...have to go?"

Ezra nodded, smiling at the sentiment. "I'll be back before you know it."

JD sighed again, turned and left the bedroom. He hated it when one or more of his brothers were away. He joined Josiah in the huge living room, where he sat reading.

"Watcha reading?" JD asked, tilting his head to read the front cover. Josiah tossed a huge toothy smile at him, turning the book for JD to read the cover properly.

"The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe" by Roger Penrose," he read aloud.

Josiah slowly pulled the book back. "Impressed?" he asked.

"Nah read it!" JD chuckled. Josiah howled and proceeded to gently roughhouse with his younger brother. JD with a distinct disadvantage, wriggled helplessly. Buck, Chris and Vin came in on hearing the commotion.

"Well, looks like someone's feeling a mite better," laughed Buck.

"Enough!" called Chris, smiling. "We do NOT want to go back to the hospital today!"

A disheveled JD sat up straight, pushing his hair out of his eyes. Josiah looked suitably admonished.

"Gotta go to town to get some supplies. Wanna come kid?" Vin asked.

"Sure." JD started for the door. Buck held up his hands.

"Hold the phone! Shouldn't you be resting?" he stopped JD gently with his hand. JD sent him a glare. "Put that face away, I'm serious."


"Fine!" they all chimed at once, and then laughed. Buck looked at Vin.

"There and back, no more, got it?"

Vin chuckled, shaking his head and taking JD by the shoulder. "Yes Ma."

+ + + + + + +

On their way back, JD sat quietly, tapping his fingers on his knee.

"Ya gonna ask me or am I gonna have ta guess?"

JD looked at Vin, "'bout yesterday..."

"Uh huh."

"Buck told me his name, he'd been dead a while, huh?"

"Three weeks, they think." Vin looked at JD, there was more.

"He looked..." JD swallowed hard, his head dropping.

Vin slapped him lightly on his knee. "Don't beat yerself up none, coupla cops done threw up when they saw him. Ya did good, gettin' home."

"You ever see a dead body?"

Vin sighed, pausing for a moment. "Yup! Ya never get used to it; ya just learn to move on."

+ + + + + + +

As they arrived back at the ranch, they couldn't fail to notice the squad car parked up outside. JD closed his eyes and shuddered; he had no doubts as to why they were there. Vin placed a hand on his neck.

"Best to get it outta the way."

JD nodded, he knew Vin was right, but it didn't make it any easier. Chris and Buck stepped out to meet them. The four walked back inside together.

There was very little JD could add that wasn't already known. He hadn't stuck around to observe very much, and had only disturbed the dust and the blanket covering the body in his initial curiosity. He was, however, visibly shaken by the end of the conversation. Buck protectively pulled JD close and walked him outside to get some air.

"Will he be ok?" asked Officer Phelps, his head turning as he watched the two leave.

Chris nodded. "He will be, there are six of us to make sure of it," he said with certainty. The officer extended his hand.

"Thanks, I've got all I need. I'll be leaving now."

Buck and JD were over at the corral, JD sat on the top rail, his feet resting on the next rail down, Buck next to him, leaning back against the fencing on his elbows. They both watched as the car pulled away.

"Do you think we'll ever really know what happened and how he ended up here?" JD asked.

Buck shrugged. "Can't rightly say." He turned and faced his brother, smiling sadly, placing a hand on JD's arm. "P'raps we should try an' put it behind us?"

JD nodded, "yeah, that'd be good."

+ + + + + + +

Six days later and a return trip to the hospital saw JD staring hard at his new bright yellow cast. What had he been thinking? Buck looked across at him from his driving position and chuckled.

"Damn, boy, we're all gonna need sunglasses to look at you."

JD laughed softly, "Seemed like a good idea at the time." A truck passed them as they traveled back home. Reading the logo, "Frobisher Construction - any job, any place", a thought popped into his head which he filed for later.

That afternoon the house was quiet. Chris, Buck and Vin were out with the horses, Josiah was in town and Ezra was part-way home. JD was engrossed with the computer, grateful for the peace. He had been checking and cross-referencing for a few hours, quietly satisfied with his investigation, barely noticing Chris, Buck and Vin come in and call to him. It was only when Ezra approached him that he looked up. His smile was dazzling.

"Ez! You're back!"

"Yes, and I regret being unavailable to dissuade you from your choice of color for your cast!"

JD chuckled and gratefully accepted the milk Buck had brought over for him, taking a long gulp. "Thanks," he said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

"Something interesting?" Buck asked, gesturing toward the monitor.

"Just looking something up," JD answered, trying to be evasive. Buck nodded and walked over to the sofa. Ezra bent down and whispered in JD's ear.

"And why, may I ask are you concerning yourself with a deceased man's Company?"

JD spun around and looked earnestly at his brother, glancing around Ezra to see if the rest of his family had heard.

"Please don't say anything, I was just curious."

Ezra smiled widely and placed his hand on the youth's shoulder, tapping his own nose. "Fear not, your secret's safe with me. It might be a good idea to perhaps let this go now though, don't you think?"

JD sighed, he wasn't quite done. "I just wanted to check something in the archives but the link is down."

Ezra pondered, and then offered, "I need to go to town for a short while. Would you care to accompany me? I understand the archives are more accessible at the Library."

JD's eyes shone. "Cool! Now?"

Ezra checked his watch. "Give me half an hour to freshen up."

Buck had joined them. "Going somewhere?"

JD's eyes looked away. Ezra smiled. "JD is about to accompany me into town."

Buck returned the smile, slapping Ezra on the back. "Mind if I join you? I need to check on the bar."

"Of course not, Buck, you are most welcome. Half an hour?"

"I'll be ready, you ok there squirt?"

JD nodded, shutting down the computer, and then hurriedly left to get ready. Buck turned to Ezra and shrugged. Ezra smiled and went up to his room.

+ + + + + + +

The three had decided to meet at the bar when their business was concluded. They had called Josiah but he was already headed home. Ezra was almost at the bar and could see JD making his way there and was almost inside when a noise stopped him. He looked back toward JD to see him being manhandled by two men. He turned his head back inside.

"BUCK!" he bellowed. His older brother was at his side in seconds and without speaking they headed back out to the street.

JD had been heading to the bar, deep in thought. This man's death was very disturbing, his company was in no financial trouble and he seemed well liked and well connected. A name had stood out that JD wanted to ask Buck and Chris about, but how could he bring up the subject without admitting to what he'd been doing? Suddenly he was moving fast sideways. The back of his head impacted hard against the building he was pushed against and wincing in pain looked to see who was holding him. A total stranger had his face up against his own.

"You Larabee?" he breathed. JD tried to focus on him, his own face showing pain and confusion, his eyes were wide and his jaw had dropped open a little. He shook his head, ", no, I'm JD D..."

The man pushed his fingers into his cheeks, banging his head back against the wall again.

"You tell that son of a bitch to stay out of our business."

JD looked shocked.

"We know it was him, he left his tracks all over the place."

JD shook his head, "No, no that was me, I'm sorry, I was just look..."

Suddenly they were tumbling to the ground as Buck hit the two men full on, Ezra right behind, ready to pick one of the men off.

Buck pulled the man that had been manhandling JD up against his own car, their faces right up against each other's.

"You lay another finger on my little brother and I'll be sending them digits o' yours, back to your mama, one at a time, for a week."

Ezra had pulled the other man away from them. Both attackers scrambled to their car and sped off.

The two brothers turned their attention to their sibling sprawled out on the ground. Buck gently lifted him and cupped his face.

"JD? You ok kid? Hey!" He tapped his face but barely got a reaction. His fingers found a knot and blood at the back of JD's head, "Ezra, where's your car?"

"Just around the corner." He was already up and running. A crowd was slowly gathering as Buck cradled the youth's head to his shoulder, placing his other arm around the slender prone body. The Jag screeched to a halt, parting the crowd and in seconds Buck was once again in the back holding JD and they were on their way to the hospital. He flipped open his phone and pressed one, shouting instructions into it and closing it back up all in a matter of thirty seconds. The rest of the family would be with them soon.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan was on duty and approached Buck and Ezra as they sat waiting outside the emergency room. Both men stood.

"He's drifting in and out, but I don't think there'll be any major problems. X-rays are clear."

"Can we take him home?" Buck asked.

"No, not tonight. We need to keep an eye on him for twenty-four hours, just to be on the safe side." The three men turned at the noisy entrance behind them.

"What the hell happened?" Chris demanded, and then noticed Buck and Ezra's pale faces. He squeezed Buck's arm. "He is ok, isn't he?"

Buck nodded wearily and proceeded to give him a potted version of events. Nathan had slipped back into the ER. A few minutes later Nathan's head popped back around the door. The five brothers turned to him.

"Y'all can come in now if you'd like." They all filed in.

JD was tilted up in the bed slightly, his head bandaged. He looked back at them drowsily and tried to smile. Buck took his good hand, carefully avoiding the IV.

"The owners might wanna sue you for the damage you did to that brick wall ya hit," he drawled.

JD smiled. "'m sorry," he said sleepily.

"Don't be," Chris said, gently touching his cheek. "You can be sorry when we get you home tomorrow!"

JD huffed out a small laugh and drifted off.

+ + + + + + +

JD felt like he'd been here before, propped up on the sofa with pillows and a blanket, remote control in hand. This time, though, when his brothers surrounded him, he didn't feel quite so "cherished", more like, in trouble.

"Ezra wouldn't go into detail," Chris began, casting a glare at said brother, "but fears he may know why you were attacked. Care to share?"

JD hung his head, took a breath and began. The men sat down.

"I was doing some checking on Marcus Frobisher and his Company. I was just curious, but I got carried away and forgot to cover my tracks. They thought I was you," he looked at Chris guiltily. "They'd traced me to this terminal, I told them though, I told them it was me, not you, that was searching. That's when Buck and Ezra arrived."

"How is Ezra involved?" Chris wanted to know.

"He saw what was on the monitor. Please don't be mad at him, I begged him not to tell. I didn't want to upset anyone 'coz it didn't mean anything, at least, I thought it didn't." JD started chewing his lower lip. He looked around at his brothers' faces, expecting to see disappointment, maybe anger. He couldn't read them right now. "I'm real sorry," he whispered.

There was "the look", the one that got JD pretty much anything he wanted, not that he was aware of it, thank goodness, but nevertheless, it made the men crumble.

Chris pushed JD's bangs out of his face and tilted his chin up so he could see his eyes. Buck chuckled softly, looking around at the others. The crisis was over.

"JD, we wouldn't have been mad, just concerned. Family should be able to share their problems, talk them through, don't you think?" Chris asked.

JD nodded vigorously, and then winced, regretting the action. Nathan checked his watch then reached for some painkillers and water. He handed them to his youngest brother, who happily took them.

"Can I ask you a question?" JD asked looking at Chris and Buck.

"Always," both men answered together.

"Do you remember an Andrew Haines from school? His profile mentioned the school you both attended and he's around the same age as Chris."

Both men nodded. "He used to play here all the time when we were kids," Buck added. "Why?"

"He's one of the largest shareholders of the company, next to Marcus. Rumors were he was behind the take-over bid."

Both men blew breath out together.

"Interesting," Vin commented, "He played here as a kid, he'd have a pretty good knowledge of the land and its buildings, don'tcha think?"

Buck and Chris thought for a minute, looked at each other and frowned.

"Well, we're not detectives, so maybe we should pass this on to the cops." Chris concluded.

"It's gone." They all turned to JD. He gestured across from the sofa to where the computer was positioned, the Magnificent Seven screensaver showing on the monitor.

"I checked back through some of the files of theirs I uncovered the other day, everything I turned up has been wiped from their records. They've covered their tracks, like it never existed." He looked around nervously, huddling down on the sofa, waiting for the row for not resting as he'd been instructed. It didn't come.

"That's that then, I guess," Buck sighed.

JD bobbed his eyebrows, "Well, not quite, I downloaded it to disk yesterday at the Library, probably not too long before the records were wiped," he smiled.

+ + + + + + +

The two detectives sat back in their chairs, finally taking their eyes off the monitor. They looked at the seven men, smiling.

"This is good stuff. I'm not sure how you got all this. I just hope it can stand up in court."

Chris put his hand on JD's shoulder. "Well, this is the guy ya need to thank, and the only one that can answer that question for you."

JD blushed. He looked directly at the detectives.

"There's nothing there that couldn't be accessed legally, before they wiped it all, you just gotta know where to search," he answered, smiling.

The detectives stood and shook hands with them all. Detective Bailey clapped JD lightly on his back.

"This is pure gold, son, can't thank you enough." He looked at them all, "gentlemen, we'll be in touch."

As they got outside JD inhaled the clear air noisily, exhaling slowly. He felt as if a burden had been lifted from him. He noticed his brothers smiling at him, which he returned.

"Home?" asked Chris.

"We could eat in town," Buck suggested.

JD pondered for a moment, looking at his family. He nodded to himself, looking apologetically at Buck.

"Home sounds good," he said quietly.

Buck wrapped him in a bear hug, lifting him off his feet.

"Then home it is!" he chuckled.

JD slapped him gently away. "Quit it Buck," he grunted, his smile never leaving his face as they happily made their way home.

+ + + + + + +

Three weeks on and the grisly incident had hardly been mentioned. The first full conversation arose when the local newspaper had run the full story of Andrew Haines' attempt to illegally take over Frobisher Construction. A warrant was out for his arrest, but so far he'd evaded capture.

"So," Buck sighed, "the cops believe the body was dumped temporarily until Haines could dispose of him properly."

"Yeah," answered Chris. Haines probably figured he'd never be spotted way up in the top pasture. Hell, we hardly ever go there."

Buck nodded. "Pretty gruesome thought though, that someone we used ta play cowboys with when we were kids could become a murderer!"

"Or worse if they ever dig up some of those construction sites." Chris shuddered.

Noise announced the arrival of the rest of the brothers from their ride. Chris and Buck acknowledged them all as they joined them at the dining table.

"Where's JD?" Buck asked.

"Spending some time with his horse," offered Josiah.

"Still sulking, huh?" Buck added.

"Oh yeah, reckons his hand's "fine" and he coulda ridden today," Vin said, sitting down and passing bottles of beer around to the rest of his brothers.

"He'll get over it," smiled Chris, "he'll thank us for it when he's properly healed."

"Brothers," Josiah looked at them, "would anyone have any objections if I undertook a little project with the shack in the top pasture?"

They looked at him, intrigued. "What do ya have in mind, Josiah?" Chris asked.

"Still thinking on it. Can I get back to you?"

Chris nodded and sipped his beer. A car pulling up hard had them all looking towards the door. It suddenly burst open, five men entering, all with guns.

"What the...!" Buck yelled. Chris held him firm. Behind the men a well-dressed man entered.

"Haines!" Chris breathed. He noticed movement from his family and held up his hand, "NO!" he commanded. They remained seated.

"Good move, Chris," the man smirked. "Been a long time." He gestured to Buck, "Buck!"

"Not nearly long enough," Buck growled out. Haines laughed.

Suddenly, he was all business.

"Now if you play nice, we'll play nice. I've come to meet this little genius you keep hidden away here."

Buck went on the defensive immediately, "ain't no-one else here!" he snarled.

"Now, now, Buck. My men have met him, remember? He even admitted to what he'd been doing to protect your big brother there. Was he lying, Buck? Was it Chris that was digging around in my business?"

"Yes, it was me." Chris admitted, which made Haines laugh even harder.

"Now I know it was him," he smiled. He looked up as three of his men came back from the other rooms in the house, shaking their heads at him. He gestured his head toward outside and the three men left the house.

Chris kept a tight hold on Buck as their anxiety grew. He could feel Buck shaking as he looked around the table, the anger and frustration evident in each face. He tried to convey a silent message of patience to them; they had to get this right.

+ + + + + + +

JD was brushing vigorously, mumbling to himself. His hand was almost healed; riding would not have been a problem, heck, he didn't need both hands to hold on. He barely turned at the sound of the car pulling up.

"Great, now we got visitors, just what I needed." He brushed harder, causing his horse to snort. He snapped himself out of it.

"Sorry!" he whispered into her ear and he started to pack up.

JD became aware of movement at the barn door and turned, expecting to see one of his brothers. The shock on his face was evident as he stared at the three armed men but before he could react, one of the men had gripped him by the shoulder of his sweatshirt jacket and was pulling him forward. That very moment was the point where John Daniel Dunne had finally had enough. Enough of being manhandled, of hurting, of missing out on things, just...enough.

With more strength than he knew he possessed, he brought his cast up and hit his assailant full in the face. The man crumpled to the floor, screaming in pain. In a split second the other two men were in front of him, but JD was on a roll. He lowered his head and went straight for the second man's abdomen, sending him flying backward into the third man. JD was almost through the open doors to the outside when a shot bounced off the door frame just above his head.

He froze.

The first man was stood, gun in hand, facing the youth's escaping back. His nose was dripping blood, but clearly it had not interfered with his aim. "Turn around!" he bellowed.

Slowly and carefully JD turned to face him. The other two men had regained their composure and were at his sides, pulling him back fully inside the building. The shooter approached JD, swapped his gun to his left hand and backhanded the youth so hard it took him off his feet. JD shook his head and looked groggily back at his attacker. Before he realized what was happening, he was off the ground and being frog-marched to the house.

+ + + + + + +

Inside the house, six men tensed and paled on hearing the shot. Buck stood, alerting the other two men with Haines. Chris tried to pull him back down. Buck was shaking.

"If that boy's hurt, no amount of air miles is gonna keep you safe, Haines!"

Haines hid his concern with a tight smile. He hoped that what he'd heard was not what he feared, that was not the plan he had in mind, not yet anyway.

"Shut up and sit down Buck, this is my game, with my rules. If you continue to annoy me I might be forced to share my plans with one of these other gentlemen you have sitting with you." Buck sat, still shaking. Chris could barely keep it together and he sensed the rest of his family was feeling the same.

The door noisily opened. JD hurtled through it, falling to the floor. The three armed men followed him in, one of them pulling him back to his feet and depositing him in front of Haines. Although Buck could see the welt on the right side of JD's face and his bloody nose, he was deeply relieved not to see any oozing bullet holes. Haines looked the youth up and down and handed him a handkerchief gesturing toward his nose.

"So you're the little shit that brought me down. Who'd have thought it?"

JD glowered at him, still furious, despite his injuries. He faced up to the man.

"Go to hell!" he seethed. Haines laughed.

"Oh no doubt I will!" He pushed JD backward until the boy was sitting on a dining chair, where Haines handcuffed his good hand. Facing his brothers, he looked at them for the first time. Chris had pursed his lips and was giving him his best glare. JD knew exactly what that meant. He scanned the others around the table, all looking strained and concerned, Buck looking like he was ready to explode. Haines' voice dragged his eyes back to the man. He was now caressing a rather large old-fashioned handgun.

"Beautiful, isn't it? Had it specially made, a Colt .45 Peacemaker. I opted for the bone grips, classy don't you think? A working replica, of course."

JD found himself staring at the gun. He then watched as Haines flipped open the barrel, placing in two bullets in opposite chambers then spun it.

He turned to JD. "Your little 'investigation' took away my life. So I thought it only fair I take away yours."

JD swallowed hard. His heart felt like it was beating out of his chest. He fully expected Haines to point the gun his way, but instead he pointed at Josiah.

Six men, six chances, two bullets, which two are you prepared to live without JAY DEE?" Haines was right in his face now.

JD shook his head in terror, looking from one to the other of his brothers then back to Haines. He struggled against his bonds.

"No, no please, they had nothing to do with it, it was all me!" His voice was trembling, his eyes filling.

"Oh I know that," came the reply, "like I said, I plan on ruining YOUR life." He cocked the gun and fired at Josiah. No bullet.

All six men jumped, JD jumped hard and heard himself yell, and tears were tumbling from his eyes.

"Lucky," smirked Haines, cocking the gun again and pointing it at Nathan. He fired. No bullet.

"The odds are dropping gentlemen," he pointed out. JD was sobbing and pleading, Haines ignored him and cocked and aimed at Chris. He fired.

Chris flew back with a grunt. JD screamed.


The boy was crying hysterically, the brothers were horrified. Buck went to help Chris, noting the pooling blood under his left shoulder, but five armed men took a step forward.

"NO!" Haines yelled at Buck then cocking and aiming his gun at Vin, he fired. No bullet.

Vin's eyes closed momentarily, he thought he would die. He turned his attention to the still form lying on the floor. JD was crying bitterly, reciting over and over again how sorry he was and how it was his entire fault.

Haines ignored his mutterings, cocked and pointed the gun at Ezra. He fired. No bullet. JD's only reaction was to hang his head while his body jerked violently at the sound of the clicks. Suddenly JD lifted his head, there was still a bullet in the gun and Buck was left. He started shaking his head violently, willing his tormentor to look at him. Haines ignored the noise, cocked and aimed at Buck.

"Bye bye Buck," he grinned. As he fired, JD attempted a lunge with his feet at him, just catching Haines on the knees and placing him off-balance. The bullet hit Buck in his right thigh and he grunted hard and fell to the floor. Haines cursed, his men aimed their guns at the rest of the brothers.

"Ah well, game over." He unlocked the cuffs, putting them in his pocket. Pulling JD's drooping tear-stained face upwards by the boy's hair he sneered, "Enjoy your life, kid."

All six men exited the house and drove away; the brothers were too concerned with their injured family to care. Nathan yelled instructions for Buck while he focused on the still form of Chris.

After a few nerve-wracking minutes Chris was declared alive and comfortable. Buck was the same, though far more vocal. Josiah had called for an ambulance and the police. Ezra wrapped a blanket around a shaking JD and moved him over to the sofa.

Half an hour later, at the hospital, JD had been sedated, Buck and Chris were going into surgery and the remaining four were assisting the police with their enquiries. An APB had been put out on Haines and his goons but had so far failed to locate them.

By the following morning, both injured men were sleeping comfortably and out of danger. JD was still sedated and the others were dotted around the waiting room. By late afternoon, both men were awake and talking, all seven men back together for the first time since Haines' visit. Buck had his leg heavily bandaged and elevated. Chris was sitting up slightly, his shoulder and most of his chest bandaged. The bullet had gone clean through but fortunately the internal injuries were restricted to blood loss and some muscle and tissue damage. He looked pale with black circles under his eyes but was in reasonable spirits. JD was awake but not talking, in fact, he hardly acknowledged his brothers were there.

By day five, all the brothers were back at home, trying to get back into a routine. Buck sat on the sofa, his leg propped up on cushions, and Chris was in the recliner, pillows behind him, swaddled in blankets. All were in a relaxed mood. JD remained in his room.

"Haul his ass out here!" Buck ordered, Chris frowned at him.

"In his own time, Buck. He needs to come to terms with all this."

Buck huffed, "No good will come of this, mark my words!"

JD was broken. Each time he saw Chris wince or Buck use his crutches, his heart ached. He had finally come to a decision, and it would be tonight.

+ + + + + + +

Vin was an early riser, he liked to do the early chores and see to the horses. This morning, something was a little off. After a while, he realized JD's horse had been groomed and fed and all the tack arranged neatly. He felt a strange ache in the pit of his stomach and walked back to the house. He went to JD's room to find it neat and tidy, bed made, no debris. There on the nightstand was an envelope, addressed "To you all". With shaking hands Vin tore it open and began to read. After a minute he slammed his fist against the wall.


He pulled out his cell phone and speed dialed JD's cell. All he got was his answering machine.


He ran to Chris's room. Chris blinked hard, stretching, "This better be good, Tanner," he huffed.

"JD's done up and left, we need ta get everyone up!" He was already helping Chris out of bed. Chris batted him away.

"Go, I can manage, get the others."

Fifteen minutes later the six brothers were gathered in the seating area of the living room. Josiah read the note:


There are not enough words, even for me, to express how I feel about you all. These last few months have been some of the happiest times of my life.

And that's why I can't stay. No one deserves what my careless actions put you all through, especially what Chris and Buck went through. I can't even bear to look at you all I feel so bad, and it's tearing me apart.

I've only taken what I came with. I understand my leaving before the year was up would allow me nothing and I'm totally cool with that. I've left you my bike; perhaps Josiah can sell it and donate the money to the Mission.

I hope one day you can forgive me. I will never forget you all, or the time spent here. Please take care of my horse.

Love always


No one could speak, they were choked and stunned, and more than one of them appeared to be wiping his eyes. Ezra moved to the computer.

"I must assume he would have booked himself a flight, I must also assume it might be to Boston." He started trawling through flight information.

Buck looked around, his face full of despair. "We're wasting time," he said.

"We at least have to know how he planned on traveling," Chris pointed out, while listening to Ezra, Vin and Nathan muttering.

Suddenly Ezra slapped his hand against his forehead, startling the others.

"Oh, I'm an imbecile! He says he left with only those things he brought with him."

The others stared at him, he continued.

"He had very little when he arrived here, including money. He most likely can't afford to fly."

"Bus!" they exclaimed all at once. Within ten minutes, Ezra had pinpointed a bus from Four Corners to Boston, had confirmed JD's booking and the men were heading for the Bus terminal. The schedule had shown departure at 10.00am, it was 9.15am.

Despite Nathan's disapproval, Buck and Chris were with them. Buck's nerves were fraying fast; there were things he needed to tell JD, things he should have said long before. He prayed they would not miss him, but he vowed to himself that if they did, he would not stop until he caught up with him. JD needed to know where he belonged.

9.45am and the terminal was in sight. Josiah pulled in as close as he could and they all piled out, helping Chris and Buck to keep up. They scanned the waiting area, it was virtually empty.

There in the far corner, a sight that almost broke their hearts. JD was sat sideways across two chairs, his back against a wall. His knees were up, his head resting between them, his arms wrapped around. He looked the epitome of misery.

+ + + + + + +

JD's stomach was rumbling, but the thought of food just made him nauseous. He had cried so much he was exhausted, but he knew at least he could catch some sleep on the bus trip. He wished he had his bike, but felt bad that he had "family" money in his bank account which he desperately needed, so felt it was only fair to "trade". His thoughts turned to his brothers. God, he was going to miss them, but he felt this was right, right now he considered himself the lowest of the low, his meddling curiosity had finally gotten someone he cared deeply for seriously hurt and for him that was unforgivable. He hoped one day they would understand.

Totally exhausted he sat himself across two chairs and rested his back and aching head against the cool wall. Feeling the nausea creeping up again he leaned forward and rested his forehead on his knees. He drifted off, oblivious to the call for his bus.

He awoke with a slight start as a hand gently touched his arm and he looked sleepily up at a familiar pair of dark blue eyes. He inhaled and blew out as he tried to remember where he was, and then he saw the other faces. His face crumpled, his chin wobbled and he turned away before they could see his tears. A strong, warm hand pulled his face back around. Buck sat down next to JD's feet, trying to achieve eye contact. Finally, he got it and smiled.

"What, you were in so much of a rush ya couldn't groom ALL the horses?" Buck grinned.

JD scrabbled to look at his watch. "Shit," he mumbled, "I gotta go!"

Buck placed his hand gently on his brother's chest. The others closed in. "Nuh uh. This stops here!"

"Buck please," JD pleaded, "I...I..." He caught Chris's eye.

"Home, now," Chris commanded softly, "time to talk."

+ + + + + + +

JD wasn't sure how he came to be sitting back in the living room of the Double L. He was sure he'd heard himself protesting as he was pushed into the vehicle and he'd turned to the window so as not to engage in conversation. Had he drifted off? He WAS pretty tired and he could feel himself shaking as he sat on the sofa. Most of his brothers were there, sat around him in a semi-circle, but he kept looking at the floor to avoid them. Finally, Nathan and Josiah joined them, bringing two trays of coffee and one glass of milk. Once they were all seated, Buck next to JD on the sofa, Chris sat directly in front of them, Vin and Ezra to Chris's left and Josiah and Nathan to his right, Chris cleared his throat. They all looked except JD.

"JD, you can't avoid us forever, please look at me."

JD raised his head slightly and peered at him through his bangs.

"OK, that's a start, d'ya want to tell us what the hell is going on in that head of yours?"

Ezra leaned into Chris.

"Nicely done," he whispered, "very subtle!"

"Shut up Ezra. JD, could you answer me please?"

JD took a deep breath "I'm guessing you read my note."

Chris sighed, "yes, and...?"

"And nothing, it said everything that needed saying." JD was barely audible.

"JD," Buck interjected, "nothing can be THAT bad ya felt ya had to run away!" Those words were the ones that pushed JD's buttons.

"Jesus H Christ, I'm twenty-three, twenty-three year olds don't run away from home, Buck!" He took a deep breath.

"Nothing could be that bad, you say, really, let's see, feeling bad enough that madman came here and held us all at gunpoint, worse when he started his version of Russian Roulette, devastated at watching you all suffer as the chambers clicked through, mortified when you and Chris actually got shot, oh and what else, oh yeah, IT WAS ALL MY FAULT!"

JD was shaking so hard his teeth were hurting. He sneaked a look at everyone's faces, why weren't they angry, he sure as hell was?

Chris chuckled, "so not that much then." He leaned closer to JD, putting his strong hands on both of JD's arms; he could feel the youth shaking. Chris looked into his face and held his gaze.

"Right, my turn. First off, what happened was not your fault," JD started to open his mouth as if to speak, Chris shook his head, "uh uh, I'm talking now, and you listen. Second, crazy things happen in families, you just move on. If any one of us were given a choice of having another of us leave through guilt or working through it until it was fixed, I have no doubt each one of us would make the second choice." Everyone nodded.

"As for you, we love the way you need to know about everything, we love how you challenge us every day, how you bounce around the place 'til you drop. We love that you have so much love for each of us and how you make it so easy to love you back. You were the first brother who wanted to make a go of this, and you were part of the reason Vin and Ezra didn't leave. It wouldn't be right without you, without any of us, it wouldn't be home." He leaned toward Buck, "did I miss anything?"

Buck "faked" a back-handed whisper, "snoring, ya forgot to mention his snoring..."

Everyone laughed, including JD, despite the tears pouring from his eyes. He backhanded them away.

"I thought you'd all hate me," he said softly, "I saw how you all looked at Chris and Buck and I felt SO guilty. I got to the point that I couldn't look at you all without feeling physically sick. I never wanted to leave," he sobbed, "I just didn't know how to stay."

Chris pulled JD toward him and hugged him tight, waiting for the sobs to subside.

"Let's get your stuff back to your room. Miss Nettie's left us a hot-pot and crusty bread, so how 'bout we wash up and sit down to lunch, as a FAMILY?"

No one was about to argue with that.

+ + + + + + +

JD was finally riding again, his cast was gone. He looked around at the mountains, this place was so beautiful, then turned toward the sound of a horse trotting behind him. JD smiled.

"Keep up, old man!"

Buck tried to swat him, but missed. "D'ya have to do everything at full speed? I'm still a mite sore y'know." JD just chuckled as his reply.

"Hey!" called Buck, "come 'ere." JD complied and trotted next to Buck. Buck stopped and looked at him, JD returned his look.

"Y'know? There were things I needed to say to you, guess for now the moments kind of gone, but at least know this, from the minute I saw you with your skinned knees, ripped jeans and stupid long bangs, I just knew you were someone special that I wanted to get to know real bad. Don't ever sell yourself short son, ya got family now, we'll be there for you, just like you'll be there for us."

JD's eyes filled but he flashed Buck a huge grin. "Race ya home?" he challenged.

Buck returned the grin, "You bet, but no...hey; false start, wait up, I got a cramp, come back!"

JD looked back at his brother, laughing. "You're so full of crap, Buck," he laughed to himself, "don't ever change."