FAMILY by Sue and Phyllis

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

Characters: JD, Chris, Buck

Universe: AU2/Brothers Larabee

Ratings/Warnings: Some bad language

Thanks to Phyllis for her usual sterling work and for allowing me to play in her sandbox.

It was due to this being Phyllis' AU2 that several questions from me and a piqued curiosity from Phyllis produced this little collaboration. This has been great fun!Thanks and hugs to Kay (JediKay) for the beautiful wall.

The seven Larabee brothers were enjoying an evening at Rosie's. Fall was setting in and as the nights were getting longer, chores around the ranch were being crammed into what little daylight there was, lending to long evenings in each others' company, and occasional needs to stretch outside the confines of the ranch.

They had enjoyed a good home-cooked meal and were now sampling the selection of beers Buck had to offer at Rosie's. JD had offered to be one of the designated drivers, Josiah, the other.

"Did you enjoy your meals, boys?" Inez asked.

Each man nodded, thanking her. JD looked around.

"Getting kinda busy, Inez, would you like a hand?"

"Have you tended bar before, JD?"

"Sure. . .I'd do anything to make money to keep me and Mom together." His statement sounded so matter of fact, but his features as the words tumbled out, revealed an entirely different story.

Inez cast a quick glance at Buck, who winked his approval.

"In that case, chiquito. . .I would be happy for your assistance. Gracias."

+ + + + + + +

JD instantly set to work and began by collecting up empty glasses, followed by bottles and general rubbish. He then stepped behind the bar and gave it a thorough wipe down until he was mentally geared up to serve. He hoped it would all come back to him.

Within half an hour, the bar was full and trade brisk. It was obvious JD was not only a reasonably good bartender, but was comfortable with the position, chatting to customers as he put them at ease and quickly filled their orders.

Buck had drawn attention to how often a group of girls seated to one side of the bar had placed an order, only to have JD bring it to their table, seemingly unable to manage the heavy load themselves.

"Lord, I fear we may have to curb young JD from spending so much time around Buck, as I fear some of his bad habits may well be rubbing off on the lad," Ezra commented.

The others laughed, "Well, he may not have my animal magnetism" Buck bragged, ". . .but I have to admit, the kid's doing pretty ok for himself."

Vin nodded, "He's doing pretty good at the bar, too. . .kid's a natural."

"Do you think we may have found the young man's vocation?" Josiah added.

"Hell, Josiah, I know the kid's been looking for things to do, but I hope he can find something a little more challenging than tending bar for a living," Nathan admonished.

"Hey," Buck huffed, "And what's so wrong about tending bar?"

The doctor raised his hand as a token of his sincerity, "I didn't say there was anything wrong with it, Buck. . .just, well, he's got a high IQ and degrees in electronics and computer science, he should be thinking about being the new Bill Gates or something."

That particular comment amused the brothers as they watched their youngest talking to a man at the bar.

"In any case," Buck added, "he's part of the family business now, don't be giving him ideas he has to work outside of it, I like him just where he is."

+ + + + + + +

Chris hadn't taken his eyes from the bar area. There was something brewing, he could feel it. Vin had already picked up on the blond's mood and had acknowledged him.

Once again, one of the girls came to the bar to place an order.

JD smiled at the man he had been talking to.

"Excuse me."

He turned his attention to the young girl, flashing her one of his face-splitting smiles that caused her to blush a little as she returned the gesture and placed her order.

"Hey, kid. . .what's the deal here. . .?" the man slurred, "I was here first."

JD winked at the girl and turned back to the man, "I'm sorry, sir. . .I thought we were just talking, I hadn't realized you wanted another drink."

"W. . .well, I DO," he slapped his hand down on the bar. . ."Now gimme a beer."

JD paused for a moment, and then leaned in to the man, who, although he had earlier assessed as heavily inebriated he hadn't actually addressed it. He spoke softly.

"Mister, I think you may've had enough. . ."

No sooner had JD started to speak, the drunk, using the foot rail that ran along the length of the bar, stood on it, drawing himself to his full height, and grabbed a handful of JD's thick, dark hair, slamming the youth's head down onto the bar so hard the boy could see stars. His vision blurred and things started edging toward darkness.

Inez reacted instantly, reaching JD in moments of the attack starting, while indicating to her other bar worker to call the police.

"You bastard. . .NO!"

Applying pressure to the dazed youth's head with one arm, the man leaned forward and angrily swiped at the hostess with his free hand, his fierce strike sending the Mexican woman backward into the bottles and glasses housed on the shelving behind the bar.

Just as he was about to turn his attention back to the youth trapped firmly under his elbow, the drunk was spun around, releasing his prize as he turned around to face six furious men. One enraged Buck Wilmington was right in his face, the brunet's fists clenched and ready for action

While JD slid as if boneless, to the floor, Chris squeezed Buck's arm as a warning to the bar's proprietor to think before he acted.

"Don't do anything stupid here, Buck," he breathed, loud enough for only the brothers to hear.

As Buck hesitated momentarily, Ezra stepped forward, "Indeed, brother. . . allow me," and as he spoke, the southerner punched the man in Buck's grasp to the floor, moving to prepare for another attempt.

"Enough," Josiah whispered as he caught the younger man's fist. Ezra turned angry eyes to his older brother, and then relaxed his posture as he nodded.

As Josiah and Nathan took control of the customer side of the bar, Vin and Chris dealt with the drunk, leaving Buck and Ezra free to help JD and Inez. Ezra reached them quickly and knowing Buck was right behind him, went to Inez first, gently helping her to her feet.

"Are you alright, my dear lady?"

The hostess nodded, "Si. . .si Senor Standish. . . gracias," She brushed her long dark hair from her face and held on to Ezra to steady herself as she rose from the floor. "I am just a little sore and shaken, but otherwise unhurt. How is JD?"

Ezra twisted to find out.

Buck scooped his younger brother up in his arms and leaned him against his shoulder, touching his face gently to test his reactions.

"Hey, hey squirt. . .can you hear me?" The brunet sighed with relief as he heard a soft moan, followed by a pair of hazel eyes trying desperately to focus on him.

"Are ya seeing me alright there, bro?"

"D. . .depends. . ." the youth whispered.

"Depends on what?" Buck asked.

"On whether you got two. . .identical brothers or. . .not."

Buck had to smile at that, despite knowing triple vision was not a good thing, at least the kid was capable of joking around. Nathan had made his way around as the police arrived, first checking on Inez and her bruised cheek, then when he was satisfied she was ok, turning his attention to his younger brother.

"'M fine Naayythan," the younger man slurred.

"Yeah," the doctor grinned as he did a series of checks, "I can see that."

Jackson looked at Buck and then to Chris and Vin, whose heads and shoulders had now appeared over the top of the bar.

"I'd be a lot happier if we took him to the hospital for an x- ray."

"Nooo," the youth protested.

"Hush, boy, Nathan's the doc, here," Buck admonished, pulling the dark head closer.

Suddenly, Chris jumped the bar, "Buck. . .shift!" The blond had clearly noticed something the others had not.

No sooner had Buck released his hold on JD, Chris took control, turning the youth to the side as the boy proceeded to empty the contents of his stomach.

"Aw, hell," Vin groaned as he watched Buck and Ezra go pale.

"Well, that about settles it," Nathan reiterated, "Once he's done throwing up, we're going to the hospital."

+ + + + + + +

It was four am when the weary brothers arrived home. Content to relinquish care to Nathan, the hospital released JD with the diagnosis of bruising and a mild concussion and a filled prescription for painkillers.

There was a chill to the house as they walked in, the heating timer had clicked off hours ago and the fire was nothing but a few glowing embers in the hearth.

JD shivered as the brothers passed through the living room to discard their coats at the mudroom and generally get their bearings. Buck enveloped the youth, rubbing the boy's arms to generate heat.

"C'mon, squirt, let's get you settled in bed, you'll feel better once you've slept a little."

Buck wondered whether to be concerned when there was no resistance from the younger man, but he shrugged it off and led the youth up the stairs to his room. Fifteen minutes later, Buck re-emerged.

"He's sound asleep, I think I should sleep in his room tonight, so's I can wake him like you said we should, Nate."

"I'd appreciate some help, Buck, thanks. I have a shift starting at noon tomorrow."

"Well, get on to bed," Chris ordered. "If we need you, we'll call you."

Nathan reluctantly agreed, but knowing he could trust his brothers implicitly, he retired to bed.

Ezra went to re-set the heating timer just as Josiah walked in through the front door, bringing a chill with him.

"Brothers," he nodded, "How is our youngest?"

"Doing ok," Chris offered, "How's Inez?"

"I'm happy to report she is safely home and doing better than fine. She asked me to tell Buck, that while she appreciates the gesture of a day of rest tomorrow, she will indeed be at work at her usual time, and also insisted I inform you that she will be organizing the staff rota in order for you to remain here with JD tomorrow. She said she'll call you to check up on him when she arrives."

Buck grinned as Chris nodded his approval. The blond turned to his family.

"Ok. . .how are we gonna do this?"

"Like I said," Wilmington repeated, "I'll sleep in his room tonight. I'll set my watch an hour at a time to check on him. If there are any problems. . ." Buck swallowed at the thought his brother might get sick again, "I'll deal with it, or call for help if I need it."

"Didn't Nathan say those painkillers are mighty strong?" Vin queried.

Chris nodded, "Yeah, he did. Bear that in mind, Buck, he might struggle a little to wake up, so don't panic if he does."

Buck nodded, "No problem. . .'night boys."

Once Buck had left, they all decided to follow suit and head for their beds.

Despite regular wake-up calls, JD slept comfortably. When he awoke properly for the first time, it was midday. He glanced across at his big brother, curled up on Adam's oversized rocking chair, wrapped in a comforter, his head back and mouth open, soft snores the only sound in the room.

Dunne smiled. Trust Buck to be there with him all night. He didn't look too comfortable in the rocker, but JD knew it was actually more comfortable than it appeared. JD had been thrilled when Chris had allowed him to keep it. In fact, Chris had insisted on it when he realized it was the only place the youth could initially sleep, after the car accident the two of them had been involved in, just after the group of men had learned they were related.

Needing to use the bathroom, JD carefully edged out of bed, relieved to find there was no dizziness or nausea. Even after the easterner had used his bathroom, Buck was still happily sleeping.

Opening the wardrobe door to find some clothes to wear, JD caught sight of his bruised face for the first time. He touched the marks gently, sighing to himself. He couldn't even tend bar without getting into trouble. Slipping into his jeans,T-shirt and gray hooded zipper jacket, he carefully opened the bedroom door and quietly closed it behind him, walking steadily down the stairs and toward the living room. Ezra caught sight of him from the kitchen.

"JD. . .good morning," Standish checked his watch, "Excuse me, I should say, 'good afternoon.' I trust you slept well? How are you feeling this fine day?"

"Hey, Ezra, I'm good, thanks. Where is everyone?"

"Chris and Vin are at the stables, Nathan has gone to the hospital, Josiah is up at the shack and 'Sleeping Beauty' is still in your room, I believe."

JD chuckled, and then pulled a face, "Damn. . .I was meant to be helping Josiah, today."

"Mister Sanchez was well aware of that fact and asked me to convey to you that he is far from finished and has no doubt your assistance will be required in the near future."

"Cool, I hate to break a promise." JD gulped as a small wave of nausea washed over him. Ezra didn't miss it, but thought it best to play it down.

"I believe it might be prudent for you to eat, young man. Allow me to prepare something for you. Would you like eggs?"

JD blinked. . .Ezra was offering to cook?

"I'm not dying or anything, am I, Ez?"

The southerner frowned, and then realized the reason for the comment.

"Oh, how very droll, John Daniel . . .now, what would you like?"

"Could I just get a pop tart and some milk, please?"

Standish shook his head, "Good grief; very well, if that's what you want, that's what I shall get for you."

Two minutes later, both men were enjoying some pop tarts and their chosen drinks. As Ezra bit into the sweet treat, he threw JD a warning look.

"If you ever tell my mother I ate this. . .this. . ." he waved the item in the air, "I will deny all knowledge!"

JD laughed, "Aww, I wouldn't do that to you, Ez. . .this'll be our little secret. Will we ever get to meet your mother?"

"To borrow your phrase, 'I wouldn't do that to you', now eat, you need to take your pills." A rumbling sound from the stairs alerted the two that Buck was awake.

+ + + + + + +

A loud snort ripped through the air and Buck jumped awake, smacking his lips together to combat the dryness in his mouth. He looked around to get his bearings, his eyes finally focusing on the empty bed. For a second or two, he tried to remember why he was there, and then it hit him.

"Shit. . .kid. . .where are you?"

Wilmington jumped to his feet and headed for the bathroom. Seeing it was empty, he was just about to leave when he thought better of it and used the facilities. A few minutes later, he was out through the bedroom door and thundering down the stairs.

His socked feet slid to a halt as he reached the kitchen.

"Oh, thank God. . .you ok, kid?"

JD took a bite of his breakfast, "Uh huh. . .are you?"

The brunet nodded and joined them at the table as Ezra graciously poured him a mug of coffee.

Buck frowned slightly at the gesture then nodded. "Gee thanks, Ezra."

"My pleasure, Mister Wilmington. Now, if you will excuse me, gentlemen, I have to prepare to fly to Vegas on business." He turned to JD, "I will look in on you before I leave."

The youth looked disappointed but nodded his understanding as he watched his brother leave them.

"Why didn't ya wake me?" Buck nudged the younger man.

"I was fine, Buck, 'sides, you looked so peaceful."

Buck huffed a soft laughed. "How are you?"

"I'm ok. . .honest."

"Good, d'ya mind if I just check on Inez?"

"No, of course not, let me know how she is."

"Will do," and Buck left, taking his coffee with him.

JD looked at the pop tart that Ezra had left and with a shrug, picked it up and munched it.

+ + + + + + +

Chris and Vin were admiring the new addition to their breeding stock

"He's a beauty," Vin acknowledged.

Chris nodded, "Feisty, but perfect for our needs. Buck did a good job finding this one."

"Did I hear my name taken in vain?" Buck called out as he approached.

"'bout time you surfaced," Chris grinned.

"Well, hell, bro' I know it was worth the wait." Buck whistled as he looked at the stallion. "This boy gets more beautiful every time I see him."

"JD ok?" Vin asked.

"Yep, pretty good. . .and so's Inez. I guess we had us a lucky escape yesterday."

"I don't like that Inez, or anyone else, has to put up with that shit, Buck." Chris admitted.

"You and me both, stud, and it hardly ever comes to that, even if I'm not there. Hell, that boy could find trouble in a playpen."

"You don't really think it was my fault, do you, Buck?"

The men all turned to see JD standing in the stable doorway.

Buck started to move toward him but JD backed up, causing the brunet to stop.

"Now that's not what I said, kid. . .I. . ."

"It's ok. . .I heard ya the first time. I'm gonna go lie down."

The three men watched him go.

"Ah hell. . ."

"Leave it, Buck. . .he knows what you said and he'll work it out," Chris soothed, but he could see his brother had doubts.

"I'll talk to him later," Buck decided and walked half-heartedly toward the house.

+ + + + + + +

JD sat on his bed suddenly totally exhausted. His head ached and he couldn't find his pills. Buck's words echoed in his brain as he replayed them over and over. It was true. . .he seemed to court disaster at every turn, and Buck often got caught in the middle. He cast his mind back to the day he almost left them to return home to Boston and wondered if he should have been stronger and kept going.

But he loved it here. He loved his brothers and his home, his bedroom, his horse. He just wished his mother had lived long enough to have seen it all.

His mother. . .when was the last time he'd visited her grave? God, his head hurt. A noise at his door caused him to look up.

"JD, I have to leave now. I thought you may want these." Ezra shook a pill bottle then tossed it over to the younger man.

"You look like you may need them. Take care, my young sibling; I shall see you in three days."

"Safe journey, Ezra." Dunne sighed as he watched his brother leave. He examined the bottle and unscrewed the cap, tapping one pill out and swallowing it with water. Twenty minutes later, he was asleep.

+ + + + + + +

The next morning and feeling a hundred percent better, JD was up reasonably early and at the shack Josiah was renovating. He shuddered slightly. He hadn't been back since the day he found the body in there. It looked very different now; Josiah was doing an amazing job with it.

The man himself appeared from inside the shack, having heard a horse approach.

"Good morning, JD, what brings you here this early?"

JD grinned and jumped gracefully down from his mount. "Mornin' Josiah, I brought you some biscuits and honey; thought you might be hungry seeing as you must've left at the crack of dawn."

Josiah nodded in agreement. "Milk?" the big man inquired.

"Oh yeah, got to have milk with biscuits and honey."

+ + + + + + +

After they had shared breakfast, JD looked at the perimeter of the building as Josiah went back to work on his wall, trying to recall what Sanchez had said he was building. JD nodded to himself as he recalled a previous conversation.

"What's a dry stone wall, Josiah?" JD asked as he watched the big man break a large rock in half.

"A simple construction using no mortar," Josiah answered. "Would you pass me another rock, please, son?"

The weight in the wheelbarrow caused it to roll on the slight incline, so JD placed more rocks in front of the wheel to act as a brake. Handing over the requested item, JD smiled.

"You know what, Josiah? This shack looks really great now, so. . .cozy."

Josiah grinned, "Thank you, I'm glad you approve. It's because of you I started this project, and this perimeter wall should finish it off nicely."

"Because of me? How so?"

Josiah walked forward and placed his hand on the boy's shoulder. "The way you discovered this place haunted me, and I considered tearing it down with my bare hands to ease your pain. But then I got to thinking, 'what if I put it right instead?' and so I did. I hoped you would approve."

JD was in awe, the man had totally rebuilt the building, and all because of a stupid bad memory.

"You're a wise man, Josiah; I hope I can one day be half as knowledgeable as you are now," the youth said sincerely.

Josiah chuckled, "John Dunne, you undersell yourself, son. Now, hand me another rock."

JD saddened a little as he passed the rock. "Can I ask you a question?"

Catching the mood change, Sanchez once again approached his younger brother.

"Anytime, son. . .you should know that."

"Am I a trouble magnet?"

Josiah laughed out loud, taking JD by surprise a little as it had been a serious question.

"Now that is a good question, and my answer is this. . .yes."

JD's head dropped. The older man lifted his chin.

"But you know what? We could wrap you in cotton wool, then bubble wrap, place you in a steel box and lock you away in the safest vault in the world and you would still find trouble. . .it's just the way it is, it's more from the kind of luck you have than through it being down to any fault lying with you."

JD grinned; suddenly Buck's words didn't sting quite so bad. The youth couldn't help himself, he felt like a huge burden had been lifted and he hugged the older man, causing Josiah to smile widely and return the embrace, patting the youth lightly on the back.

"Thanks Josiah. I have to go; Nathan said I have to take it easy for a day or two. See you for dinner?"

"Oh yes, I wouldn't miss it for the world."

With a parting wave, JD mounted his horse and cantered off, mindful of his recent injury, the last thing he wanted was for his headache to return.

Sanchez watched him leave, and then looked to heaven.

"Lord. . .I don't know what I did that, in your book, you felt I deserved to find these wonderful people, but I thank you for it. My life is complete."

+ + + + + + +

That afternoon, JD was working at the computer as an email dropped into his inbox. He studied the address. . .Boston Memorial Gardens, Roxbury. His heart skipped a beat. . . that was where his mother was buried.

Shaking slightly, he clicked on it and began to read:

"Dear Mr. Dunne.

It is with deepest regret, that we must inform you of a serious incident involving a number of graves on our grounds, one of which belongs to your mother.

There has been some severe damage to several of the monuments and minor damage to many others. Your mother's burial marker falls into the former category.

A visit from yourself or a representative would be greatly appreciated so the damage may be surveyed and a plan of action discussed.

We await your reply, and once again, our sincere sympathies and apologies in this matter."

For a good while, JD sat, frozen. . .unable to comprehend what he had just read. He read it again, but half-way through his emotions caught up with him and he began to feel a mixture of anger, shock and disbelief.

It was like this that Nettie found him.

As she approached the young man, her eyes took in his pale appearance and trembling hands. After inquiring after him, he directed her to the email.

"Oh, darlin' boy, I'm so sorry. I think you should talk to your brothers. Let me see if I can find Buck or Josiah."

She kissed him softly on the head as she wrapped her arms around the young man. She tried to tear herself away for a few moments, desperate to seek out the people she felt he would need, but JD clung tightly, clearly in need of physical contact, and so she stayed.

Five minutes later, Buck came in from the back and was clearly concerned at the scene of JD's arms wrapped around the housekeeper' s waist as she clasped her arms around his head and shoulders. Nettie's eyes directed the tall brother's attention to the screen. After seeing the cause of the sensitive young man's distress, Wilmington took charge of the youth. Nettie guided both men into the kitchen and, able to leave the two together, she went to look for Chris.

+ + + + + + +

Finally feeling less emotional, JD inhaled deeply to regain composure and looked at a concerned Buck.

"W. . .why would someone do something like this, Buck?"

The pain in JD's face tore at Buck's heart.

"Don't try to make sense of it, kid because there isn't any. Just put it down to the fact that there are some sick bastards out there and you were just unlucky this time."

JD shook his head, 'unlucky'. . .surely there was a better word for the utter devastation he was feeling right now. He half turned at the noise from the hallway, to see Chris, Vin and Josiah coming in.

"What's happened?" Chris asked, crossing to the table and leaning his hip against it as he studied JD but expected Buck to answer. He wasn't disappointed.

"JD has to go to Boston, and I'm going with him."

The statement caused Chris to turn toward Buck and look at his kind- hearted brother, standing straight as Buck proceeded to relay the story.

"Aww hell, kid. . .I'm so sorry," Vin groaned, ruffling his youngest brother's hair.

"We'll all go." Chris decided.

"NO!" JD argued, a little louder than he had meant to.

"No, please. . ." he begged, "I don't want to do this in front of all of you," he dropped his head, for in truth, it was Chris he didn't want to break down in front of. . . to show weakness. "Buck will be fine. . ."

JD looked across at Buck, "Thanks."

Buck winked, Chris huffed.

"John," they all turned as Josiah spoke, ...may I accompany you, also?"

The youth looked at his oldest brother and nodded, too choked to speak. Josiah understood the silence and returned the gesture.

"Ok, that's settled then," Chris acknowledged, "When are you planning on leaving?"

Buck looked at JD and the youth gave a quick move of the head.

"Tomorrow," the brunet answered.

+ + + + + + +

Buck and Josiah looked on in concern while their youngest simply went through the motions as they traveled through the airports then on to their hotel. Buck thought it was due to fear of what he was about to face, but something deep inside him gnawed away that it might be something far worse.

After a restless night, the three brothers made their way to the Memorial Gardens to meet one of the managers. The three were dressed somberly in dark clothing though not formal and met Paul Sanders at the entrance to the gardens. They each shook hands.

"Mr. Dunne, I appreciate your prompt attention to this despicable occurrence. Of course, we will bear the cost of all repairs and work undertaken to put this right, but we needed your thoughts on the matter before we proceed."

Sanders looked to the other two men. He hadn't realized the person visiting would be so young and was deeply concerned at how this young man would react when he saw the desecration of his mother's grave. Buck and Josiah registered the silent concern and relayed their own message that they were there to support the young man, in any way required. With a nod of acknowledgement from the manager, the three men took Sanders cue and followed him out to the burial plots.

JD was so nervous, he felt sick. Most of what the man that met them had said had gone over his head. As they started to make their way out into the grounds, JD released an audible gasp as he took in the damage to the grounds and the monuments.

There were tire tracks everywhere, instantly recognizable as from one or more dirt bikes. The ground had been torn up and several monuments toppled over or smashed. JD could not believe his eyes; it was incomprehensible to him that anyone could be so cruel as to do something as evil as this.

He realized how much he had begun to shake when he became aware both Buck and Josiah had placed a supporting hand on him. Just as he was close to approaching his mother's plot, he stopped.

"Kid. . .you ok with this?" Buck asked.

Trying hard to control his breathing and mild nausea, JD looked at his brothers and, after a slight pause, he nodded and moved forward on his own.

The next sight almost tore his heart from his chest, his words barely audible.

"Oh, Mom. . .no. . ."

He stumbled toward the churned ground that had only recently been lush, trimmed grass. With shaking hands, he picked up the detached stone hand of the carved weeping angel that had draped over the small black marble monument which had once stood as guardian over his mother's remains, but was now shattered beyond recognition, the wings lying several feet away and speared into the ground.

At first he could barely believe what he was seeing, then as realization hit him, JD became distraught, dropping to his knees in despair as he clutched the Angel's hand to his chest.

Buck and Josiah looked at each other; how anyone could be so cold as to do something like this escaped them. They watched the range of emotions sweep over their youngest brother's face, then flanked him and once more, placed supporting hands on his shoulders as the youth dropped to the ground. Both men struggled with their own emotions at the devastation around them and the heartbreak their youngest was suffering.

JD swiped angrily at his tears. His heart was pounding and an adrenaline rush pulled him to his feet. He approached Sanders.

"Do you have any idea who did this?" he spat.

Sanders nodded. "We have some images from the security cameras, but it may be some time before they are fully identified."

"I want names," JD growled, startling Buck and Josiah a little. Neither of them had ever seen JD this feral before.

"I assure you, as soon as we know, you'll know, unless of course, they're very young. . .in which case. . ."

"I don't want excuses. . .I want names." Dunne handed Sanders a card, "Here's where we're staying and on the flip side is my cell number. I'll be waiting to hear from you."

"What about...this. . . ?" Sanders gestured to his surroundings.

Swallowing hard as he started to walk away, JD waved a hand, "I'll let you know."

Recovering, Josiah and Buck trotted after their fast disappearing brother, catching up with him at their rental car. The journey back was agonizingly silent. Josiah drove as Buck sat next to him, casting anxious glances toward the back of the car. JD was hunkered down, still cradling the stone hand of the Angel and looking for all the world as if he was asleep, but Buck knew differently.

Back in their suite, JD headed for the bathroom and closed the door.

Buck and Josiah looked at each other and sighed. While Sanchez ordered room service, Wilmington called home.

+ + + + + + +

Vin picked up the ringing phone as he emerged from the kitchen.

"Double L. . . Hey Buck, how's. . .. . .no shit? Holy crap, that's horrible, man. I'm guessing the kid. . .. . .aw hell. Just a minute. . . CHRIS!"

As Larabee walked into the house, Vin waved the phone at him. Dreading the call, yet welcoming it at the same time, he nodded his thanks to the Texan and sat down to take it.

Chris' face grew angrier by the second; his heart ached for the young man.

"Bring him home, Buck."

That statement was all that needed to be said. JD needed to be around people who cared about him, people who had suffered similar losses and understood his pain.


Buck could hear the pain in Chris' voice. A noise in the bathroom alerted him.

"Chris, I hear ya. . .I gotta go. I'll call soon."

Josiah watched as Buck walked quickly from the front of their suite to the bathroom, almost as if he knew something. Buck flung open the bathroom door.


The older man paled as he saw the youngest standing over the wash basin, his arms locked as he clung to its sides, while shaking violently. In seconds, Buck was behind him and gently released the grip his white-knuckled fingers had on the porcelain and slowly turned JD to face him.

The youth was making some God-awful sound in his throat as he strained to rein in his emotions, his eyes were squeezed tightly shut, covered by his dark bangs and his whole body was trembling.

Buck pulled him into an embrace, but the youth fought him. The brunet held firm and leaned into his brother's ear.

"Let go, son. . .come on, JD. . .let it go."

JD remained rigid for a few more moments, then he suddenly became fluid as he relaxed and leaned heavily into his older brother's chest, sobbing silently.

"Attaboy. . .let it all out."

Leaving them to it, Josiah answered the knock at the door and took the tray from the delivery boy, slipping him five dollars for his trouble. By the time Buck and JD had emerged, the big man had laid out the food on the table for ease of choice, and in the vain hope it might encourage JD to eat. The ploy did not work.

As they sat there nursing their coffees, JD looked at them both.

"Sorry," he whispered.

"Whatever for?" Josiah leaned forward, "You've just had a terrible shock; you have nothing to apologize for, especially to us, son."


A few minutes later, JD spoke again.

"I never even got to see it. . .the headstone. . .just a photo. . .I should have been here at Thanksgiving, I should have visited like I promised I would," He shrunk down in his chair, "I'm sorry, mom. . ." he whispered.

Buck swallowed the lump in his throat, "Chris wants us to go home. . . he's worried about you."

Dunne shook his head, his voice barely above a whisper. "I should stay. . .I should be here to sort things out. . .put things right. You go. . . tell Chris and Vin and Ezra and Nathan. . . I'm sorry. . .I can't leave her right now. . .I owe her that much."

The brunet looked at Sanchez in alarm then back to JD.

"No need, kid, Sanders said he'd take care of whatever you needed him to do. Let's go home and talk to the guys. . . get some perspective. "

JD didn't seem to register Buck's words. "I think I'll go to bed."

He trudged off to his room as the two men watched him go. Josiah checked his watch, four-thirty pm. Buck sighed.

"He's coming home with us even if we have to stuff him in a suitcase to get him there."

"Amen, brother," Josiah agreed "But let him think it's his idea, Buck, or he could end up hating us for all the wrong reasons."

Buck agreed and stood to clear the table, he'd play this any way necessary to keep his new family together, any way at all.

+ + + + + + +

Chris felt relief wash over him as he watched the three men get out of the car. He and Vin walked to meet them and help with their luggage. Chris was a little taken back when JD emerged. He looked pale and tired, a shadow of the exuberant young man they had come to know.

"Welcome home, boys," the blond greeted. As JD passed him, he gave Chris a weak smile and a quick nod but went straight on to his room.

Buck sighed as Chris put a hand on the back of his neck. "It's gonna take time, pard. . .lots of time. His memories have been violated, give him some space."

The brunet shook his head, "We had hell persuading him to come home, he did not want to leave his mother. . .he felt he'd let her down somehow." The four had now reached the living room and moved to sit around the dining table to talk. Buck continued.

"I saw something in him that scared me Chris, something I saw in you once. He's taking this to heart, blaming himself for not being there to keep an eye on her, beating himself up over it even though there was nothing he could have done, whether he lived in Boston or not. He asked me about her and Linc."

Chris looked hard at his brother, "What did you say?"

"I sidestepped it; I figured that's your more domain, not mine."

Chris swallowed and nodded, "Yeah. . .yeah, thanks."

Vin sighed, "I should go say 'hi'."

Josiah agreed, "Yes, brother, that might help."

With a nod, the younger man stood and left the room.

+ + + + + + +

JD sat down hard on his bed, totally drained. He took out his wallet and looked at the picture of the monument he had bought to watch over his mother's grave. It showed a black polished granite headstone with a grey stone angel draped over it, clutching a small bunch of flowers as she buried her face in her arms, weeping.

He pulled out the severed stone hand he had retrieved from the devastated gravesite from his duffle and put the two items together as he tried to reconcile them. JD had chosen this particular monument as soon as he knew he had money in his account as it had emulated perfectly his thoughts and feelings, the utter loneliness he had felt as he watched his mother's coffin disappear into the ground and how he had wanted to do the very same thing that it depicted. . .drape himself over the coffin and cry.

He remembered those emotions as if it were yesterday, recalling the long trek home; he hadn't enough money for a car to the funeral so he had walked there and back, despite the bitter cold that had stung his face and hands.

But it had been no comparison to the chill that had enveloped his heart.

He had been left alone.

And the one thing he had been able to do for her, to pour his heart and soul into as an outlet for his grief, now lay in ruins back in Boston.

He felt so miserable. . .and so. . .guilty.

+ + + + + + +

Vin tapped on his brother's door but didn't get an answer until the third attempt.

"Hey, kid," he called softly as he entered the room.

JD nodded to him but didn't speak as he started to unpack the small duffle bag he had carried with him. Vin studied the youth carefully. He looked gaunt and frail in comparison to just a week or so ago.

"You ok?" Tanner asked.

JD shrugged, "Sure. . .just tired, y'know. . .traveling and all."

"Yeah, sure. Ya wanna come help me with the horses? They've missed the carrots you feed 'em." Vin had worked his way around to meet his brother's eyes.

"Milagro's missed ya."

For a few seconds, Dunne stopped unpacking, but resumed almost immediately, keeping his head firmly down.

"Not now, ok? I'm gonna finish this and get some sleep."

"Should I call you for dinner?"

JD sighed, "No. . .thanks."

With a nod, Tanner left, realizing he had not achieved eye contact throughout the whole conversation. The young man stopped for a few moments, clenching and unclenching his fists in frustration; this was not what he wanted. He walked back to JD's room and was about to speak when, looking through the slightly open door, he gasped to himself. JD was holding the bottle for his pain medication from the incident at the bar. He had tapped out the pills and lined them up on his nightstand, seemingly counting them as he sighed deeply.

Caught up in the emotion, Tanner's slight gasp had JD to turn quickly, horrified to see his brother 'lurking' there.

"Are you spying on me Vin?"

"N. . .no, of course not, I came back to say. . .err. . ."

JD angrily strode toward him and placed his hand on his bedroom door, slamming it in Vin's face.


For a few seconds, all the Texan could do was stare at the closed door in shock, then he snapped out of it and headed back downstairs.

+ + + + + + +

On hearing the slam, all the brothers looked up toward the sound, then back at each other. Nathan had joined them at the table after catching up with some sleep from a grueling night shift at the hospital. Before they could speculate, Vin was back with them looking more than a little shaken.

Chris stood and approached. "What happened?"

For a moment or two, Vin didn't speak which unnerved the men even more. Buck was also now on his feet.


Tanner looked at Buck and Josiah. "What was JD's state of mind in Boston?"

"Pretty upset," Buck answered, "Understandable reaction I thought."

"Fragile." was Josiah's simple answer.

Vin looked at Nathan, "What's in his pain meds? How many could he safely take before. . .?"

Buck streaked past them and bounded up the stairs two at a time, calling his youngest brother's name in earnest.


Chris hadn't quite grasped it, but was following Buck instantly, as was Nathan. Josiah hovered at the bottom of the stairs, Vin remained where he stood.

Buck attempted to open the door to JD's room but it didn't move. He slammed his hand against it.

"JD. . .open the door, boy. . .JD!"

Chris pulled Buck to the side and in one fluid movement had taken a step back, lifted his right leg and kicked at the lock. The doorframe splintered and the door slammed open. The first thing noticeable was the slight movement of the curtain, drawing their attention to the open window. Chris looked to the nightstand and could see the medication lined up, he didn't think any were missing. . .he hoped.

Ezra came in through the front door, having just arrived home from his trip to Vegas, to see Tanner frozen to the spot, one of his brothers hovering near the stairs and then hear a terrifying bang from above him. He dropped his luggage.

"What in the name of God is going on here?"

Vin snapped out of his musings and turned to him.

"JD's not doin' so good."

Ezra appeared alarmed, "Then should he be out on his bike?" He pointed outside.

The sound of an engine roaring to life moved Vin into action and he grabbed his keys from the hooks near the front door and raced past Ezra to the porch, just catching sight of JD as he raced away.

"JD. . .! Kid. . .WAIT!"

He raced to the barn and in less than a minute was on his own bike and giving chase.

+ + + + + + +

Chris and Buck hurried back down the stairs and joined the rest of their family.

"Ezra said JD took off on his bike, Vin's gone after him," Josiah informed the pair.

Chris grabbed Buck's arm. "Come on!" He called back, "You too, Nathan."

The blond reversed the Ram out of the barn and snapped on his seatbelt as Buck and Nathan climbed in, barely waiting for them to close the doors before tearing off after his brothers.

+ + + + + + +

JD was just a speck in the distance. Tanner hoped he could keep JD in sight until he calmed down and stopped. He berated himself for forgetting his helmet and prayed JD had not forgotten his. He lowered his body and pulled on the throttle as his bike tore on mile after mile.

Vin knew this was unusual behavior for the young man, even though they had only known each other a short while; JD had always been positive, sunny-natured and outgoing. Something back in Boston had reached the deepest darkest recesses of the youth's mind, and Tanner vowed to himself he would get to the bottom of it, either himself or with the help of their brothers.

Their brothers. . .that sounded so good. The Texan attempted to go faster.

Looking ahead, his heart lurched as events unfolded before him and he prayed he would get there in time.

+ + + + + + +

JD felt the wind whip through his hair and closed his eyes momentarily as the movement freed his mind.

He had felt as if everything was closing in on him, as all his mind would replay was his mother's death, her funeral, the utter loneliness that had penetrated his heart and finally the devastation at the Memorial Gardens. The wind in his face dried any tears instantly as he rode on full-throttle.

For the first time in almost a week he felt something akin to happiness. He loved riding his bike but seemed to use his Blazer more these days. Just as he came to a rather sharp bend he felt a pull from his back tire and the bike wobbled violently as he wrestled with it to regain some control. The bike bucked and flew sideways off the road, throwing JD clean off. The boy barely had time to wrap his arms around his head before his body impacted and skittered across the hard ground. By the time he had rolled several feet, he was unconscious.

+ + + + + + +

Chris was going as fast as he dared, glancing briefly at Buck, noting his brother's pinched features, and praying no harm would come to either of the men ahead of them.

+ + + + + + +

Vin barely managed a controlled stop as he threw his bike down and ran over to his brother's prone form.

His hands were shaking as one reached out to check JD's neck for a pulse. 'Please, kid. . .please. . .please. . . yes.'

He started checking for injuries, more than aware of patches of blood seeping through the youth's shirt. . . 'Road rash', he thought. He barely noticed the Ram pull in alongside them and was still fully focused as Nathan put his hands on his arms.

"Vin. . .let me."

Eventually, Vin showed recognition and stood up to allow Nathan access. Buck was distraught.

"What. . .what happened?" He was crouching next to JD's head as he rested his hand on it.

The Texan turned misty eyes to his older brothers.

"Blow-out," was all he could say. "Need an ambulance."

"Already called 'em," Chris said softly and they all fell into silence as they watched the doctor at work, running his fingers through the young man's hair and gently over his body in search of injuries.

A soft moan drew the men closer.

"JD?" Nathan coaxed, touching the youth's face in an effort to ground him.

JD screwed up his face, growling with the pain, his eyes squeezed tightly shut.

"Uuuuuuuuhhhh. . . .hurts. . .Nathan, it. . .hurts."

"I know, kid," the medic stated honestly, "There's an ambulance on. . ."

"Nooo. . .home. . .please, Buck. . ." he feebly flapped his left hand around searching for Buck's hand and the brunet gratefully obliged and grasped it.

"Buck. . .take me home. . .please."

Buck squeezed his youngest brother's hand, "Ya have to go to hospital, JD, there's no telling what damage you've done here."

"J. . .just scrapes. . .p. . .please. . . "

The youth's face relaxed as he let out a shuddering breath and slipped into unconsciousness. The three brothers looked to Nathan, panic in their eyes.

Nathan eventually looked up from checking the youth's vitals, "He's just passed out. I can't feel anything broken around his back and legs but his right wrist doesn't look too good. I'm pretty sure he has a concussion, he's got a lump the size of an egg just below the crown."

Chris turned toward the road as an ambulance approached and he waved them in. They all stepped out of the way to allow the paramedics to work.

+ + + + + + +

It felt odd and he wanted it gone. Unable to move his right hand, JD tried to pull the oxygen mask from his face with his left. As if from a distance, he heard a familiar voice.

"Leave it boy, it's there to help you."

Groaning and trying once more to remove the offending object, a warm, strong hand gripped his own and held tight.

"Not gonna happen kid, give it up and just relax."

"B. . ." JD tried to call out but his voice lacked the desired strength.

"Just rest, son. . ."

JD struggled to open his eyes to seek out the disjointed voice, but found them impossibly heavy and eventually gave up, drifting back into a fitful sleep.

"You sure those drugs are working, Nathan? He seems to be in a hell of a lot of pain." Buck searched his brother's eyes for the truth.

"He has a head injury, Buck," Nathan reminded, "It can cause a person to become agitated, restless. Try and remain positive for him, he needs a focus."

Buck swallowed and nodded, grateful to find they had reached their destination. Both men jumped out of the back of the vehicle and watched the paramedics unload the gurney, turning as Larabee and Tanner joined them at the ER doors.

"Josiah and Ezra are on their way," Chris said, talking to his brothers but focusing one hundred percent on the young man on the gurney.

Nathan nodded, firmly holding Buck back as the gurney rolled into the ER.

"Let 'em do their job, Buck." He turned to the others, "I'm gonna follow them in, as soon as I know something, you will."

+ + + + + + +

An hour later, Jackson emerged from the ER. His brothers stood to greet him. He lifted his right arm and pointed to his wrist.

"JD's broken his radius in two places but the orthopedic surgeon is content to let it knit inside a cast for now, as the breaks are clean. His body's pretty banged up, some nasty bruising and road rash and, although his head x-ray shows no serious trauma, he has a nasty lump and a mild concussion. The neurologist is happy with what he's seen but wants to keep him here twenty-four hours for observation, especially since he suffered a concussion only recently."

The relief was evident from all five men.

"When can we see him, Nate?" Buck asked.

"He's in a side-ward here and that's where he'll stay for now. He'll be admitted to a room in the morning, when they're satisfied he's more comfortable. He was pretty agitated for a while, but he's more settled now. C'mon, it's this way."

They followed the medic through the doors and into a corridor until they came to several side wards, each with three beds. Nathan turned into one of them, passing two empty beds and walking over to the last one. The nurse there smiled at him.

"Good evening, Doctor Jackson."

"Good evening, Faye, how's he been?"

"Much more settled now." The nurse acknowledged the others. "I'll come back later." They watched her leave and approached the youth's bed.

"Shit," Buck groaned, "He's black and blue."

"All superficial, Buck," Nathan advised, "Our main concerns were his head, wrist and some of the deeper scrapes he's suffered, but we now know there's nothing that won't heal in a reasonably short time."

Nodding his understanding, Buck sat down next to the bed and wrapped his large hand around the youth's good wrist.

Vin put his hand on the covers, resting on JD's knee.

"When he came off his bike, I thought. . .I thought he was. . .dead." His voice shook as he spoke. Chris put his hand on his shoulder.

"Well, he's technically a Larabee, and we don't go down easily."

Vin nodded slowly, his focus still on the youth in the bed. "Can we stay, Nate?"

Nathan nodded, "Yeah, no problem. No one else will be allocated here tonight." I have to go home; I have a shift in six hours so I need to get organized."

"I'll drop you back, Nathan," Chris offered, "I need to settle the horses for the night." He turned to the others, "I'll be back later." They nodded as they watched him approach JD and lean in,

"Sleep well, kid, I'll see you later."

As the two men left, the others got comfortable.

+ + + + + + +

Buck stared at his youngest brother while he slept. Twelve hours and JD had hardly woken, and in those rare moments he had, hardly spoke. Nathan assured it was not uncommon; JD was still in shock, on strong painkillers and a mild tranquilizer to help him through the pain the scrapes and bruising were causing.

+ + + + + + +

It was early the next afternoon and Chris was sitting quietly, thumbing through the latest issue of Cutting Horse Chatter, remaining after he had sent the others away under heavy protests from each of them, to clean up and rest. Buck and Vin had been the hardest two to send off, both suffering from extreme guilt, Wilmington at not being able to console his brother better in Boston and Tanner at not being able to stop the young man before his disastrous crash. The two guilt- ridden men had insisted on staying the night with the injured youth. Josiah had stayed in addition to watch not only JD but also Buck and Vin.

Chris had beckoned to Buck from the door; he had cornered Tanner in the corridor, while on yet another coffee run. He smiled inwardly as the memory of his brothers' protests still rang in his ears.

Ezra had come home late the previous night and then returned with Chris with the intention of escorting the other brothers home for rest. The two men had entered the hospital room to find all four men slumbering.

Josiah had called earlier that morning to report that the youth had awakened late the night before, only slightly aware of his surroundings and then roused twice more during the night and early morning. He reported that the doctor had stopped by and pronounced that, barring any complications, JD would probably be released the next morning. Chris had told the older man that was good news and that he would be in later that morning to relieve the brothers.

After reassuring the men that he would call if there were any problems, Chris nodded to Josiah and Ezra and they each took an arm to escort Buck and Vin from the room He had laughed when an hour later Vin had called to check on the younger man. In the background, Buck's voice could be heard asking 'the kid okay?'. Larabee had told the Texan to 'shut up and get some rest'. As Chris hung up, he chuckled as he heard Tanner tell him to do something that was physically impossible. Putting the phone down, he turned his attention back to his magazine with one eye and his young brother with the other.

Movement in the bed drew the blond's attention.

JD's legs moved lazily beneath the sheets before hazel eyes peeked open slightly to gaze at the man.

Chris lowered the magazine and looked at the youth. "How're ya doing?"

JD sighed as he pushed up in the bed, stating, "Better, doesn't hurt to open my eyes so much now."

Larabee nodded, his eyes searching those of the younger man. The scrutinizing look had the youngest brother fidgeting, his eyes incapable of meeting the gaze.

"So, you want to talk about yesterday?"

JD picked at the cast as he glanced around the room. Finally, he looked at the blond and opened his mouth, only to snap it closed again. The dark, lank hair swayed slightly as he shook his head.

Chris leaned forward and clasped his hands together as he rested them on his knees. "Okay, I'll do the talking."

Dunne glanced over and then back, seemingly to study the swollen fingers that poked out of the cast wrist.

"I know you're upset. . .what with your mom and all." Chris hesitated before asking, "JD? Vin said you had the pain pills from earlier and it looked like you were counting them."

The dark haired brother sat up abruptly. "Vin should mind his own business." As soon as the words were out, JD wished he could pull them back. The look on Larabee's face was frightening in its unbridled rage and the youth began to shake his head. "No, I'm sorry, Chris. . .that's not what I meant. Please hear me out."

Chris' eye twitched as he fought to control his anger, but he finally gave a tight nod.

"I. . .I was. . .." JD sighed and dropped back into the pillow. "I honestly don't know what I was thinking. This whole thing with my mom's grave and the monument. . .it's got me all mixed up. First, I'm angry and then I want to cry or crawl into bed and pull the covers up and hide. Then I'm angry again."

He rolled over to look at Chris, grimacing slightly as the motion pulled at the shredded skin on his back. "I wasn't going to take the pills. I don't know why I laid them out like that. I can only imagine how it looked to Vin."

"Why did you take off like that. . .climbing out the window and riding off?"

JD's brows knitted as he thought about the previous day and then relaxed as he chuckled. "I didn't climb out the window. I was mad at Vin and after I slammed the door in his face, I knew that he would be back, so I went out through the bathroom, then Buck's room and down the back stairs. I just wanted some fresh air. . .to be alone for a while."

"And the door was locked because. . .?"

The boy frowned, then blushed. "Sorry. . .f'got. "

Chris thought for a moment and then snorted as he relaxed into his chair. "Awful lot of assumptions going on yesterday."

The two men were silent for several minutes before JD spoke. "I'm sorry about scaring you guys. I didn't mean to do that. . .I mean the crash or the pills."

The blond reached out to grasp the uninjured hand as it dangled over the edge of the bed. "That's good to hear, kid. Now, why don't you rest? Nathan promised to stop in after his shift and something tells me that Buck and Vin will be back before too long."

"Okay," the youth said. He started to turn over, but paused to ask, "You going to hang around?"

Smiling, the blond nodded. "I'll be here when you wake up."

With a returning smile, JD rolled over onto his back, grimaced and continued over until he was facing the opposite wall. He took a few moments getting comfortable but soon settled down and drifted off to sleep.

Chris watched as the younger man's breathing evened out with sleep and then returned to his magazine.

+ + + + + + +

As anticipated, JD was released into his brothers' care the next day but only on strict orders for complete bed rest until his brothers considered it appropriate for him to get up. Buck hovered as much as he could get away with.

JD quietly exited the room, not wanting to disturb Buck. The big man had made it his job to check on the youth each night since the accident even though the easterner had told him it wasn't necessary. He hated that Buck was feeling guilty about the events of the past few days and as a result was losing sleep over it.

Moving down the hall, JD headed downstairs and into the front room. He stopped at the entryway when he spotted Chris sitting at the computer, working. He started to turn back when the blond called softly.

"Come on in, kid. I was just finishing."

JD sighed and moved into the room and took a seat. Moments later, the blond joined him and they sat quietly, listening to the crackle of the wood in the low burning hearth.

"Buck driving you crazy?"

Chuckling, JD nodded. "Yeah. I know he means well but I can't pass gas without him running in to see if I need something."

Chris laughed softly. "Yeah, he gets like that at times."

Silence descended once again, both men comfortable enough to not have to fill the void.

After noticing several glances directed toward him, Chris spoke. "Spit it out, JD."

Hazel eyes widened as they turned to stare at the older man.

Chris cocked his head slightly as he waited. Finally, JD's eyes dropped away.

"I. . .I was wondering. . .about my mom. . and Linc."

The blond turned in his chair to fully face the youth. "What do you want to know?"

Pulling his stockinged feet into the chair, he wrapped his left arm around his knees and rested his right on top of the angled joints.

"Linc didn't say much in the letter he left me. . .only that he loved my mom but he didn't do right by her."

Chris nodded. Taking a deep breath, he began, "I remember when she came. . .and when she left. She was sad both times. Didn't seem like she was much older than me."

He stood and moved toward the fire, stoking the flames briefly before turning back to face the younger man. "I think she was about twenty- four." Chris paused a moment and smiling, corrected himself. "No, she turned twenty-four. Dad ordered two dozen roses and put all our names on the card. She didn't stop smiling all day."

The blond moved back across the room, grabbing a blanket from the back of a chair. He tossed it across JD's knees as he passed and dropped into his chair once again. He waited as the youth drew the blanket around to his shoulders and snuggled into the soft material.

"Dad hired her to do basically the same things that Nettie does now. . . except there were three teenage boys living here. She definitely had her work cut out for her."

JD sighed, "She liked doing things around the house. I was a big slob as a kid. Mom was on me all the time to clean up after myself."

Chuckling, Larabee nodded. "Yeah, she could be a taskmaster when she wanted to be."

JD looked down as he asked, his eyes coming back up on the last word. "So what about her and your dad? Did he make her leave?"

Chris was shaking his head before JD's words died. "No. No, that was her idea."

His eyes moved to stare at the fire as his mind drifted back in time. "She had been quiet for days. Dad had been away at a horse show and the day he was due back, your mom had packed her bags and had them waiting at the door when he walked in. We were watching from the stairs."

Looking back at the younger man, he explained. "Dad looked surprised at first, then he listened as Rachel talked. We couldn't hear what she said, but Dad was nodding." Chris stopped, his features softening. "He cried."

He glanced at JD. "I only saw him cry a couple of times." Chris looked away, turning away from the youth. "Dad took her bags out. Your mom started out the door, but she stopped and turned around and looked at us. She. . .she didn't want to go, but. . .she did."

Chris turned to JD again, a smile tugging at his mouth. "I guess I know why now." Sobering, he leaned forward and clasped his hands "JD, what dad did. . .with Rachel. . .your mom. . was wrong. He shouldn't. . ."

A soft voice interrupted, a hint of mirth in the rescuing words, "Well, maybe not, but then you'd be short a brother."

The blond stared at the younger man for a moment before chuckling. "Couldn't have that could we?"

The two relaxed and sat quietly, watching the fire burn. Chris had noticed out of the corner of his eye as JD settled into the couch and he thought the young man was asleep. A tentative question quashed that idea.

"If Mom had stayed. . ."

"Linc would have married her. . . if she'd have him."

The remark drew a look from the younger man.

Quickly, the blond continued. "He loved her very much and I think she loved him. But Rachel was very traditional. No one knows that better than you."

JD smiled at the memories. "Yeah, she was definitely that," he said through a yawn.

Within moments, the boy was asleep, firmly ensconced on the couch, tucked completely within the blanket. Chris considered waking the younger brother and directing him to bed, but decided to leave him, knowing that the easterner had been having trouble sleeping. Kicking off his boots, he propped his feet up on the coffee table and joined his brother in slumber.

+ + + + + + +

Several days passed, and while physically JD was healing, mentally, he appeared to be slipping away from his family. He was restless and becoming less and less communicative, as he appeared to be wrestling with some huge unseen burden, though Buck had become increasingly fearful he knew what it was.

That evening, the six men sat around the room, the silence heavy in the wake of the youngest man's quiet 'good night'. JD's depression was affecting the entire family. Each man sought some way to restore the light to the boy's eyes. So far, all attempts had failed and they feared that the younger man's love for his mother and the need to protect her, even in death, would drive him to return to his hometown and stay.

Everyone's attention was drawn to Buck as the man jumped up and began to pace. He ran both hands through his hair as he moved from one side of the room to the other. "What are we going to do?"

Buck stopped and tossed his hands out in frustration and a fair amount of fear.

"He's going to leave. You know he's going to leave, don't you? We have to do something, Chris."

The blond just sat quietly, his chin resting in one hand.

"The boy is devoted to his mother. The vandalism affected him as deeply as a personal attack. He will not be easily dissuaded if he feels honor bound to return to Boston."

Wilmington began to pace again. "It ain't right. It's not his fault. Even if he had been there, he couldn't have prevented it. He doesn't have to go back."

"I might have a solution." Larabee's soft voice cut through the tense atmosphere.

Seeing everyone looking at him, he continued. "I understand JD's response. I can imagine that I would react the same way if something happened to Sarah or Adam's graves, Mom, Dad, any of them. Buck, how would you feel if it was Rosie's headstone?"

Buck stared at the man a moment and then dropped his head back to stare at the ceiling.

"Now consider if you were thousands of miles away."

Buck brought his gaze back to Chris. He sighed before saying, "Chris, I understand, I do. I just don't want him to leave."

"Buck, none of us do. What's your idea, Chris?" Ezra prompted.

"Bring Rachel here. . ..bring her home."

The room went silent again as they thought about the idea, the pros, cons, arguments for and against.

"Have you talked to JD, yet, Chris?" Tanner's soft drawled voice asked.

"No. I wanted to talk to all of you first." He stood and moved across the room to stand in front of Buck. "A decision like this is something we should discuss."

Wilmington was already smiling. "I think that is the perfect answer. Kid, gets peace of mind and we get the kid." Clapping his hands on the blond's arms, the big man lightly shook the smaller. "Thanks."

"Nathan? Your mother is buried here, also."

The quiet man nodded. "I think this is the answer that will keep our family together. Having Rachel here feels right to me."

Josiah stood and moved toward the two men. "If I may play devil's advocate for a moment, young John is a Catholic. The idea of disturbing his mother's resting place may not be as appealing as we hope."

Vin leaned forward to rest his arms on his legs and asked, "What's the rules of the church for moving a body, Josiah?"

Rubbing the crude cross that hung from his neck, the man shook his head. "I'm no longer an ordained priest but I believe that as the guardian of Rachel's remains, JD can petition for the exhumation and relocation of his mother's remains with the church. It should pose no problem."

"I know some people that can assist in the transfer and the paperwork for the interstate transport should the need arise," Standish offered.

Chris nodded his approval and turned toward the stairway. "Guess that just leaves JD's reaction." Larabee headed up the stairs to broach the idea to their youngest brother.

+ + + + + + +

JD sighed at the single rap on his door. He really didn't want to talk. His head hurt from thinking. He knew what he had to do, but he just could not bring himself to say the words out loud. Once they were spoken there would be no going back. He would be committed to a return to Boston and the loss of six big brothers. Rolling over, he pulled the covers over his head.

The sound of the door opening had him turning his head into his pillow, but the softly spoken words took him by surprise. Tossing the covers back, he said, "Chris?"

"I thought we should have a talk. You up to it?"

Pushing up, the boy leaned against the headboard and scrubbed his face with his hands, careful to not hit him self with the cumbersome cast. "Sure, Chris. I need to talk to you, anyway."

The blond sat down at the foot of the bed, one lean leg curled up with the ankle resting on his other leg. He leaned forward, placing his hands on his knee as he studied the weary features of Linc's youngest son. Chris watched JD's eyes as they cast about the room while avoiding looking at him. Finally, the blond reached out and touched the foot nearest him, drawing the hazel gaze to him.

"What is it, son?"

JD fidgeted. His hands picked at the blanket and his feet moved restlessly under the covers until finally he stilled and straightened his back. "I've been thinking hard on this, Chris and I've come to a decision. I'm going back to Boston and live there."

The words came out in a rush and JD seemed to breathe easier once they were spoken aloud.

Chris did not move or react to the words. It was a development that all the brothers had foreseen happening even as they hoped it would not. But thinking it may happen and knowing the youth had made the decision did not prevent the man's pulse from accelerating. Larabee prayed that his solution to the dilemma would be acceptable to the easterner and keep him in Nevada and at home.

"JD. . .before you tell the others, I have an idea that I'd like to toss out for you to think about." Chris could see the argument building in the younger man's face and he held up a hand as he stated, "It's only an option for you to consider, JD. If you still feel that moving is best after you hear it, then. . ." Chris paused. ". . .well. . .I'll go back with you and help you find a place."

"You won't try to talk me out of it?" JD asked hesitantly.

"No. But then I'm hoping I won't have to."

Those words brought a smile to the youth's face, though it was a sad one at best. He obviously saw only one solution to the problem but was willing to listen to the older man's idea, at least.

"First of all, let me say that there is nothing that you could have done to prevent this from happening-close or far away." The blond held up his hand as the boy's mouth opened in protest. "I know. . .I know. Being closer would allow you to deal with the situation faster, right?"

JD sighed and reluctantly nodded.

"What I'm about to propose is that. . ." Chris hesitated, unsure of the reception his idea would receive. ". . .that instead of you moving closer, we bring your mom here."

Confusion showed on the haggard features of the dark haired youth, so Chris explained. "We move Rachel's body and bury her here. . .in Nevada."

JD began to shake his head. "I don't know, Chris. I don't think that would work. I don't know if we can do that. . .if she would have wanted that." He tossed the covers back and jumped off the bed to begin pacing the length of the room. "No. . .no. . .I don't think that is a good idea. No."

Chris watched as JD's anxiety increased along with the rate of pacing. "I talked to Josiah and the church would not likely have a problem with the exhumation."

Horrified eyes turned to the older man. "Dig my mom up?" JD whispered. "Oh, God, Chris. . .NO." While the word was not yelled, it was spoken with great conviction and Larabee feared the youth would never agree to the move.

Slipping off the bed to go and stand before the slighter man, Chris reached out to gently grip both of Dunne's arms. He directed him backwards until they reached the rocking chair that set in the corner of the room and he lowered the distressed JD into it where he immediately covered his face with both hands.

Squatting down in front of the chair, Chris asked, "JD, what did your mom ever say about here. . .your dad?"

JD seemed to wilt; his form molding it's self to the shape of the chair. Watery eyes stared past the blond's shoulder at the scene beyond the house, at the mountains that surrounded the home.

He began slowly, his voice low. "She never talked about it much. I asked a few times, but she would get so sad. . .I stopped asking." His eyes moved to meet Chris' gaze. "She said that she loved it here. She just never said where 'here' was. Said once that she missed her kids but she never explained."

"What about dad? Did she say anything about Linc?"

JD's brow furrowed as he thought back. He nodded. "Yes, but it wasn't much. Only that she wished she had been older, more sure of herself." His face reddened and he looked away.

A gentle hand on his knee had him looking back. "What?" Chris prompted.

"She was talking to a friend one night. This woman was seeing a guy that was older and she was upset. I was about thirteen and supposed to be in bed, but I couldn't sleep. I heard them talking and I snuck down the hall to listen."

Chris chuckled. "I think we've all done that at one time or another. Buck and me almost got caught outside Linc's door once when Rosie was here. The whole idea of your parents having sex is disturbing."

JD laughed softly, nodding. "Well, it wasn't that bad." He looked at the older man and continued. "Mom told Teresa that my father was an older man. She called him 'kind, gentle', said she had left out of shame. . .of what they had done. But now, years later, she knew that she could have stayed, should have stayed with him."

"I'm glad to hear that." Chris dropped back to sit on the floor, a cheerless smile on his face. "We wondered why Rachel left so suddenly. We even blamed Dad. I think he felt it was his fault also." He looked up at the younger man. "So why not move her back? Back to the place she loved, close to those that loved her?"

JD began to shake his head again, but said, "I don't know. I mean to dig her up. . .it. . .it just feels weird. . some kind of violation. . ..worse than what happened already."

"As long as it is handled properly, JD, it's not a violation of her grave. Josiah could do a service. Ezra can handle the details. He's already offered."

JD leaned forward abruptly. "You talked to the others already?" he asked accusingly.

The blond gazed into the angry eyes of the younger brother and nodded. "I asked them if it was okay. Buck's mother is buried here. So is Nathan's. My mom and dad, of course, as well as Sarah and Adam. This decision affects all of us, JD."

His cheeks reddening again, the young man dropped back into the chair. "I'm sorry, Chris. Of course, it affects us all." He leaned over to cover his eyes with one hand as the other gripped the arm of the rocker.

"JD, no one wants to see you leave. We'll abide by what ever you decide."

Pulling his feet underneath him, Chris pushed up off the floor and stood for a moment in front of the youth. Patting the clenched hand once, he quietly left the room.

Larabee walked back down the stairs slowly. He knew the others were hoping for a decision upon his return and all he had to offer was a glimmer of hope. Stepping into the room, five pairs of eyes turned in his direction. With a sigh, he shrugged before heading to the bar area. Once there, he leaned heavily on the strong wooden bar. The others moved closer. Before he could say anything though, a voice spoke from the doorway.

"I don't want to leave. I think Mom would be happy here, so. . .let's see what it will take."

Chris moved to stand in front of the slight youth. "You sure?"

"I'm sure that I don't want to leave. So. . .yes, I'm sure. Let's do it."

The five others quickly surrounded them. There were plans to be made.

+ + + + + + +

The arrangements had been put in motion for the exhumation by Ezra. The regulations were fairly simple and straightforward. As the legal heir and agent of Rachel Dunne's estate and affairs, JD had the authority to request the body be moved.

Request forms had been filled out and sent to Boston. Authorization had been requested and received from the church, which was necessary when a body was exhumed from consecrated ground.

Now that the arrangements had been made, JD and Buck were headed back to Boston with Chris joining them this time. Josiah had wanted to join the two men but decided his time might be better spent preparing for the internment and spoke to Chris on the matter. The ex-preacher wanted to make this occasion a meaningful one, for JD and the family. After a call from the police reporting that the vandals had been apprehended, JD had been asked if he wanted to press charges against them. He had evaded the question, simply requesting an opportunity to speak to the boys. The entire incident had the boy's mood once more spiraling downward until Chris announced he would be joining them in Josiah's place. For some reason, this change seemed to bolster the youth's attitude.

They arrived at the hotel and checked in. Going to the suite, the blonde claimed the room with the king size bed, leaving the second room with two double beds for the other two men.

After unpacking, they decided to order room service. The journey had been hard on the youngest Larabee, leaving the young man tired and irritable with the next day's events weighing heavily on him. They were waiting on the food when the phone rang. Buck answered.

"Wilmington. " Blue eyes cut over to JD as the tall man listened. "Yeah, hang on." He held the instrument out to the young man.

JD frowned as he moved forward and took the receiver. "Hello?"

Buck looked at Chris and mouthed 'Cops'

"Yes." JD responded.

The two older men watched as the easterner listened. Both men stepped forward as the youth paled and dropped into a nearby chair.

"Yeah, I want to see them." JD paused and his head began to shake. "No, but I want to talk to them. Tomorrow? Okay."

Hazel eyes glanced up and the dark haired youth held up a hand. "Okay. Tomorrow morning. . .at ten. Thanks, detective. I'll see you then."

Chris approached the younger man and placed his hand on the slender shoulder. "JD, you don't have to do this."

Hazel eyes looked up with a weariness that did not belong in such a vibrant young man as he once again stood. "No, I have to see them. I have to look at them and see. . ."

The silence drew out, to be broken by the blond. "See what, JD? They're just kids."

The dark head dropped and when he answered, his voice was soft and spoken into his chest. "I. . .I don't know what I want. . .what I expect. I just feel that I have to see them. . .talk to them. . .maybe just look them in the eye."

Buck had joined the pair and he now stood behind the youngest Larabee. Wrapping one arm around the youth's chest, he gently pulled him into his own chest. Feeling JD relax into him, the mustached Wilmington brought his other arm up to surround the slender frame. "We understand, kid. I remember facing Rosie's killer during the trial and, hard as it is, it's something that you just have to do."

Resting his head on the dark hair under his chin, he finished with, "And you won't be alone. Chris and I will be right there beside you."

At the knock on the door, Buck reached up to ruffle the thick, black hair. "Sounds like the food is here. Let's eat and relax tonight and we'll worry about tomorrow. . .tomorrow. "

JD chuckled and stepped forward. "Sounds good, Buck."

Larabee opened the door, admitting the waiter with the cart. He pulled a bill out and, handing it to the man, escorted him to the door and closed and locked it. The three men ate and settled in for a quiet evening.

+ + + + + + +

JD looked at the three boys sitting across the table from him. The police had traced the vandals down using a video camera installed at a second cemetery that had been vandalized in the Boston area. Tire tracks taken at both locations matched, tying the two incidents together. That evidence, along with the pictures from the surveillance camera had been enough to track the boys down.

Chris and Buck stood on either side of the youngest Larabee brother, silent sentinels glaring at the hapless youths.

"Why?" JD asked softly.

Two of the boys twitched and squirmed while the third boy crossed his arms and rolled his eyes.

"Man, we done talked to the cops. . .answered all their questions. . .I ain't talking to no one else but my lawyer."

Sensing more than seeing the older men tense, JD raised a hand to still them.

"I talked to Detective Terrell. He told me that you three all live off Franklin and Eighth. I know that area. I was raised two blocks from there."

The angry boy on the end shook his head. "Man, who cares? It's just rocks, dude. We didn't hurt anybody." He placed his hands on the table in a move to stand up but paused with his butt in the air as Chris Larabee moved around to grasp his wrist.

"My brother isn't finished." The words were soft but the sentiment behind them had the blood draining from all three youths' faces and the boy dropped heavily into his chair and moved as far to the side, away from Larabee, as possible, his hand rubbing the wrist that the blond had released. Chris hadn't gripped the joint tightly but it was as if the heat from his palm had seared the youthful wrist in the boy's mind, though.

As Chris returned to his side, JD continued. "My mom worked as a maid in the big houses on the hill, in the hotels. . .long hours, low wages. She worked for a company that provided services to those places. They were nice people but there were plenty of others waiting to take Mom's place, so she worked hard for the little we had and didn't buck the system."

Dunne leaned forward, resting his hands on the table as he idly rubbed at his cast. "Knowing where you live, your parents work just as hard. . .providing for you. . .your brothers, sisters. They pay for the bikes that you were riding?"

One of the boys nodded, his eyes wide in fear and anxiety. Another boy dropped his eyes, not meeting Dunne's gaze while the defiant youth stared at his wrist.

"Sound like pretty good parents to me." JD didn't break his gaze as he continued. "Mom never had the chance to buy me something like that. I didn't need it. But I know it made her sad that she couldn't do that for me."

JD laid his arms on the table and leaned in closer. "I worked hard to make my mom proud. I wanted to give her things that she couldn't get for herself. I worked hard in school, graduated early, earned a scholarship. "

"Man, I don't care about your life story. What the hell do you want?"

"Shut up, Craig." This came from the boy that had refused to look JD in the eyes. His brown eyes finally engaged Dunne's hazel ones. "Dad left us a long time ago. I have to take care of my little brother and sister. Mom bought my bike second hand, but she was so happy when she gave it to me on my last birthday. I saw her face when the cops came."

His eyes dropped and he swiped at them. "I never want to see that look on her face again."

"I understand. I had the same reaction when I saw that same look on my mom's face." The boy sitting at the end of the table away from the angry youth added, "Dad and her. . .well, they aren't perfect but I know they try hard."

JD nodded. "It was my hope to repay her for all that hard work and years of providing for me. I was going to get rich in computers and buy her a big house, hire someone to clean it for her. I planned to give her the world. And I almost made it. I got a good job, saved some money, even started looking for a place to buy. Then we found out she had cancer. The next couple of years all the money went to paying for doctors and treatments, medicine and I had to give up my job to take care of her. She died before I could repay her for all those years of love."

The boys stared at the older yet still young man as he spoke. "The only thing I could give her was a grave and a stone to go on it. . .a tribute to the most loving mother that anyone could ask for. It isn't the money, guys. That monument. . .that statue. . . was the only thing I could give to my mom for all her love. No big house, no maids or cars, no trips. . ..just a stone to show how much I loved her and how much I'll miss her."

Tears sparkled in JD's eyes but did not fall. "It wasn't just a rock. It was a symbol of my love for my mom that you destroyed."

He stared at the boys as the words sank in. "Every stone that you damaged or destroyed was a sign of love from the ones left behind. Not rocks. . .not statues. . .but love."

JD sat back, gazing long at each boy. He stood abruptly, the chair shrieking across the flooring.

"I just wanted you to know. . .to understand. You were only having fun I understand that, but you have to understand the extent of damage that you inflicted. It wasn't just headstones you damaged. . .it was people."

Without another word, the young man turned away and left the room.

+ + + + + + +

Buck looked over at Chris who nodded slightly. Wilmington followed JD as Larabee rounded on the boys. The three boys flinched as the blond stepped forward.

Chris moved slowly around the front of the table. As he circled, he began to address the trio.

"My brother. . ." he said slowly, strolling to the end of the rectangular table, ". . .decided to not press charges." Green eyes narrowed as the boys seemed relax. "He came from your neighborhood. . .he can relate."

His stroll took him around the table to the side where the boys sat.

"Now, my brother. . ." He dropped a hand on the shoulder of the first boy, squeezing. ". . .he's a really idealistic kid. . .non aggressive type."

He removed his hand and moved on. "He believes in talking. . .making people think. . ." His hand slapped down on the next boy's shoulder and squeezed ". . .that's what I love about him...that trusting nature. "

Releasing the shoulder, he continued walking. "But me? I don't have that trusting nature. Me? I don't trust easily." He dropped both hands on the shoulders of the last boy, feeling him tense, his chin dropping toward his chest as Chris tightened his grip. "But I do trust my family and I don't appreciate anyone that hurts. . ." His grip tightened again. ". . .any of my family. Now. . ."

He removed his hands and stepped back, moving around the table again. "..I don't think you should get off with a talking to. You're all three old enough to take responsibility for your actions. But that's not what JD wanted, so all I can say is. . ."

He paused, looking each boy in the eye. ". . .I plan to keep an eye on you. And don't think that I can't do that from out of state. I have money. . .I can buy eyes."

He glared once more at the three boys before turning and walking out the door, leaving three pale and quaking boys in his wake.

+ + + + + + +

The afternoon was still young but the three men felt old as they watched the machine claw at the ground, working its way through the earth to the concrete crypt below. Buck stood with his shoulder against JD's, his mere presence giving the youth the strength he needed to watch the operation. Chris was watching from the other side of the youth, his jaw slowly flexing with emotion. It had been a hard day for all three men. Only a few more hours and they would be home, putting an end to this ordeal.

The Bobcat made short work of uncovering the crypt and, within a short time, Rachel Dunne's remains had been lifted from the grave and loaded onto a truck for the trip to the airport and the flight back to Nevada. With trudging steps, the men moved to their rented car to follow the large truck and its precious load.

It took a couple of hours to get through all the paperwork that went with transporting human remains, but finally they were done. They had chartered a private jet for the journey back home and the three stood watching as the truck backed up and off loaded its cargo into the plane's compact hold.

After the hatch was lowered and sealed, JD turned to the older men. With a sigh, he smiled gamely. "Let's go home, guys."

The two men clasped the boy's shoulders and turned and headed to the ramp to begin their journey home.

+ + + + + + +

John Daniel Dunne gazed fondly around the tiny gathering. It was a clear bright Nevada morning as seven men stood around a small plot in the family cemetery, each man dressed smartly in black suits and shoes, white shirts and black ties, even Tanner. JD's eyes remained on the Texan as the man fingered his collar, clearly uncomfortable. The easterner had never loved him and all of his brothers more than at this moment, in awe of the love, kindness and efforts they had shown him, and their determination to keep him with them here, in Nevada. . .keep him... home.

His eyes locked with Buck's as the brunet walked toward him and he leaned heavily into the larger man as Buck stopped at JD's shoulder. Nettie had insisted this be a family affair, despite protests to the contrary, offering to prepare food for their return. Each man straightened as Josiah stepped toward the side of the freshly dug grave and began to speak.

"We are gathered here today to commend our sister, Rachel Dunne, to her final resting place." Josiah tossed dirt onto the coffin. "Earth to earth. . .dust to dust. . .ashes to ashes, these words I speak as our memories we hold dear of a life snuffed out all too soon." The ex- preacher glanced toward JD, noting how the boy was straining to maintain his composure.

"A mindless incident thousands of miles away has brought about this blessed reunion and while each of us here will forever hold this moment close to our hearts, we would like to mark the occasion with three poems, the first of which will be read by me and is called 'Death is Nothing at All', by Henry Scott Holland."

The words held such meaning as Josiah's soft baritone voice recited them.

All Is Well

Death is nothing at all,
I have only slipped into the next room
I am I and you are you

Whatever we were to each other that we are still.
Call me by my old familiar name,
Speak to me in the easy way which you always used
Put no difference in your tone,
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow

Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was,
Let it be spoken without effect, without the trace of shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was, there is unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near,
Just around the corner.

All is well.

As he spoke the last line, Josiah looked to JD, his eyes glistening. Closing his book, he walked to stand between Ezra and Nathan and next to Vin. Chris stepped forward.

"This poem is by Mary Frye and is titled, 'Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep.'" He cleared his throat.

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there,
I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you wake in the morning hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
(Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die!)

Choked with emotion, the blond returned to stand next to JD, smiling encouragement as tears streaked the young man's face, Buck faring no better, each of the brothers clearly moved.

Buck watched with pride as JD stepped toward the grave and paused for a moment before he spoke, his voice shaky and raw with emotion as he addressed not his brothers, but his mother's remains.

"This is a poem I wanted to recite on the day, when you were buried in Boston, mom. . .but. . .I'm sorry, I just couldn't bring myself to say the words that day. I can't be sure, but I feel we've done the right thing, bringing you home to the Double L. Knowing you were happy here and took care of my brothers once, in a strange way, kinda helps toward filling one of the gaps in my life."

The youth shuddered as his emotions threatened to consume him, but he swallowed and shook it off.

"This poem is by Nicholas Gordon, and is called. . .'You Were My Mother and My Friend.'"

You were my mother and my friend,
Which was unusual.
Somehow our characters still blend:
Your wisdom and my will.

I turned, and you were there for me;
I spoke, you understood.
I felt cared for, but also free;
You loved, and I was good.

I'm fortunate that I was born
To someone just like you;
I love you still. Though you are gone,
You live in what I do.

"God bless and keep you, mom."

JD just managed to sob those last few words, before he finally allowed himself to give in to the overwhelming grief and sense of loss he had never been able to share before. Buck was next to him and holding the shaking youth in a matter of seconds, closely followed by the others, and the seven brothers remained that way for a long while.

+ + + + + + +

Two days later the brothers were back at the cemetery for the final dedications.

JD was contented to see an exact replica of his original Weeping Angel monument once more stood as guardian over his mother's remains and now an extra monument stood in the small area to mark the occasion as well as lay tribute to the poignancy of the small graveyard.

A grey granite upright stone adorned with a white weeping 'Tree of Life' stood proudly as a reminder to all the brothers of what was lost to them, but more importantly of the new beginning that was borne of those losses.

Happiness. . .security. . . love

. . .Family.

The End