Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em but if I could they'd be on season 10 by now!
Ratings/Warnings: Some bad language
My thanks, as always, to Phyllis, whose patience and generosity knows no bounds! Your suggestions and additions make my writing so much better, girl. I can't thank you enough.
Thanks also to Lisa for the Boston links.
And my undying gratitude to Kay (JKay) for her beautiful wall to accompany this story.
Brothers on the Run/AU by Sue Morgan
Getting Out of Boston
Rest and Relaxation
Summary: Having fled from Boston to Denver to escape the Nichols family, their father's murderers, and to clear their father's name, brothers Buck and JD are rebuilding their lives and expanding their business empire with the help of five good friends.
Unknown to them, the Nichols have learned of their whereabouts.
Maybe this time, wealth and good friends won't be enough.
JD turned and looked up and around at the sprawling suburban campus of the University of Colorado. He had been here for two months and was happier than he had been in a long time. He had made friends quickly and easily with his friendly, easy-going demeanor, but had kept them at arm's length as he harbored memories of friends hastily left behind when they had departed Boston.
Finished for the day, he headed for the student parking lot to wait for Vin to collect him. He loved when Vin picked him up. He always came on his bike and JD got to enjoy his secret passion, motorcycling. He was building up the courage to tell Buck he wanted a bike, knowing full well his overly protective big brother would vehemently disagree. Vin had promised to help in persuading Buck to change his mind, on the understanding the young man would allow the older man to tutor him until his competency level was up to standard.
While he dreamed of shiny two-wheeled, crotch-rockets, he ignored the black limo slowly entering the deserted parking lot. As the car slowed just as it approached him, he broke from his reverie to focus on the vehicle, furrowing his eyebrows as he saw his reflection in the tinted windows. The back window began to whirr as it dropped down to reveal the muzzle of a gun followed by the smirking features of Peter Nichols. Moments later, JD reacted with a sharp intake of breath as the door flew open.
"Get in, John," Nichols ordered.
JD stood, frozen to the spot as he felt the blood drain from his face to seemingly pool in his feet making him incapable of movement. He watched as if in slow motion, as a huge unfamiliar form exited the car to step behind him, firmly placing large hands on his slender shoulders. JD felt a strong push on his back which edged him forward slightly.
Nichols' smirk was now replaced by a more menacing snarl.
"I said, get in."
JD shook his head as his breathing became more rapid.
"N. . .no, no, someone's coming for me, go away."
"Cute," Nichols said sarcastically, sighing, and sat back to allow the thug holding the boy's shoulders to hoist him from the ground and almost throw him inside the car's spacious interior. Landing at Nichols' feet, JD felt himself traveling upward as he was positioned next to the man, and then quickly flanked by his assailant on the other side. The doors closed and gravel crunched under the car's wheels as they calmly and elegantly rolled away.
Vin scowled at a big black limo that had left him little room to enter the college gates as it hogged the space between the posts. Spotting his friend, JD managed to reach the window nearest Vin and bang hard on the glass as he called out his name. In that split second, Tanner peered at the interior with his eye catching movement against the tinted glass. Something familiar tugged at his brain but he shrugged it off and continued into the grounds toward the parking lot.
Dunne yelped as the ape he had scrambled over twisted his fingers into the boy's thick black hair and pulled him back to his seat. JD stared at the end of the gun that was now inches from his face.
"Last warning. . .sit still," Nichols breathed.
Buck was tingling. He had thoroughly enjoyed his ride around Chris' ranch and he and the blond were making their way back to join Ezra, Josiah and Nathan for dinner. He knew Vin and JD would be with them soon and he looked forward to hearing about his brother's day.
The Denver branch of the Dunne Corporation was a huge success and for the first time since their father's death, he felt at peace. He reached down as his cell vibrated on his hip.
"Hey Ez. . .what? Hang on." He looked across at Chris, "How long are we gonna be?"
Chris held up both hands, fingers and thumbs outstretched. Buck nodded.
"Around ten minutes. . .ok, see you then."
"Trouble?" Chris asked. Buck shrugged.
"Not sure, I guess we'll soon find out."
Ezra paced as he waited for his two friends to arrive. He looked to Josiah and Nathan; both men's faces reflected his own anxiety. Finally he spotted them and walked out to greet them.
Sensing the tension, Chris nimbly dismounted as he watched Standish take Buck's horse's reins.
"Ezra?" Buck frowned.
Ezra swallowed, "They are in Denver."
Buck jumped down and approached the smaller man.
"Oh God, when?"
"I am unsure, maybe a few days."
Buck pushed his hand through his hair. He felt Chris' hand on his shoulder but did not acknowledge it.
Chris flipped open his cell and pressed his thumb to a button.
"Vin. . .where are you? Do you have JD with you? The Nichols are in town, look. . .Vin. . .? VIN?"
Vin arrived at the usual meeting place and looked around. JD was never late, it was a strict rule among the seven men, no one was late for a pick-up unless they called ahead. He answered his cell.
"Yeah?. . .No, he ain't turned up yet. . .SHIT!"
Tanner snapped his cell closed, stuffing it into his jacket pocket, jumped on his bike and just managed to push his helmet on as he roared off, suddenly aware of what he had seen through the limo's tinted window. . .the tiniest glimpse of JD's terrified face.
"What can we do. . .what can we do?" Buck was pacing.
"Wait." Chris pursed his lips and sighed as he sat in a chair on the porch.
Before Buck could muster a retort, Chris continued.
"Vin was onto something, he'll call when he knows what's happening."
Josiah placed a comforting arm on the agitated man's shoulders, "Stay calm, my friend, we cannot afford to panic."
Buck flopped into a chair opposite Chris, "He's just a kid, Josiah, he's finally happy again. If those bastards lay one finger on him. . ."
". . .I'll tear them a new asshole each. . ." Chris promised. Buck looked at his oldest friend and nodded. The expression on Larabee's face left him in no doubt the man would do it. JD was like a little brother/son to the man and Buck knew Chris would die to protect his family and friends.
Nathan was standing, his car keys in his hand.
"I think I'll head back to town. . .just in case."
"You mean to the hospital, don't you?" Wilmington accused.
Nathan looked lost. . .yes, yes to the hospital. If JD, Vin, or JD and Vin turned up there, he could be on hand to help them, and it had to be better than waiting around doing nothing. With a quick nod of his head, he jumped in his car and pulled off, kicking up dust as the wheels spun on the dry earth.
Vin easily followed the limo and soon had them in his sights, heavy traffic assisting his pursuit as they were reaching the outskirts of the city.
Nichols looked at the shaking youth.
"You covered your trail well, it was only a lucky break that lead us to you."
JD looked at the man he should have been afraid of, but he realized he wasn't afraid for himself anymore, but for his new family.
"Why are you still persisting with this?" JD asked, "Wasn't killing our father and destroying our lives enough for you?"
"I want my money," Peter growled, "Your father took from us. . .he screwed us for millions on a deal, no one does that to us."
JD shook his head, "No. . .I have proof now, it was someone in our company, someone he trusted. I can show you the papers."
Nichols narrowed his eyes, "I'll keep that in mind, now be quiet."
JD heard a familiar roar before the other occupants of the car and smiled inwardly. A small white phone buzzed, Peter answered it, then looked sharply out of his window.
The youth had noticed the driver, who was separated from them by glass, was replacing a similar phone into a recess in the dashboard and figured he had noticed Vin shadowing them. The car swerved violently but Vin responded and avoided a collision, doing the same again several more times before he dropped back out of sight. The car's occupants were just about to relax, believing that they had lost their pursuer when Vin roared up on the other side. Nichols' henchman drew his weapon while Peter leaned in front of JD, mirroring the other man's movements.
JD took his chance and, pushing Peter as hard forward as he could, he reached over toward the door handle and pushed the door of the limo open. Despite noticing the ground speeding along underneath the now buffeting door, JD jumped, hitting the ground hard and rolling.
Vin was not sure what he was attempting to do, he just knew he had to keep doing it. He narrowly missed colliding with the car several times and he dropped back. Pushing hard on the throttle, the bike's front wheel lifted momentarily then landed back down on the asphalt, the friction pulling Vin forward again. He was now on the opposite side and aware a new face was peering at him through the tinted back window. Just as he was wondering if this man was armed, the limo veered again, but this time slightly away from him so he cautiously dropped back again to reconsider his options. Something rolling along the ground and into oncoming traffic at high speed caught his eye and he gasped.
Just as JD exited the vehicle, Nichols cursed, narrowly missing grabbing the youth. He pulled the door fully closed and banged on the driver's partition, drawing the man's attention.
"GO!" he yelled and suddenly the limo was speeding away, winding through traffic and crossing lanes in its effort to disappear.
JD was very aware of blinding pain as his body landed with a thud on the road. He was vaguely aware of horns blasting, then nothing.
Vin crossed toward where he saw his young friend land and got to him just as his body stopped rolling, breathing a sigh of relief as all the cars around them succeeded in halting, although none too gracefully. Barely stopping, he laid his bike down and jogged to where the youth lay still. He gently placed the palm of his right hand under JD's face and allowed himself a small smile as he saw the youth attempting to open his eyes.
JD felt something touch his face and tried to open his eyes. When he finally fought through the pain the light caused him, and forced his eyes open, Vin's blurred features came into his line of vision, his sight eventually clearing enough to see the blue eyes.
"Easy kid, let's work out how bad this is."
JD had him clearly now.
"V. . .Vin. . .g. . .get me outta here."
"JD, you mighta broke. . ."
"Please...I promise I feel ok, just help me get up."
Against his better judgment, Vin helped JD to his feet, allowing the younger man to dictate the speed at which he rose. Several people had gathered to check on the boy's welfare and Vin waved them off, thanking them.
"Can you ride?" Vin asked.
"Think so. . .home?"
"Nu uh. . .hospital, I can't risk you having done some internal damage."
JD sighed heavily but agreed. He sat on the bike, behind Vin,placing his arms around the slender waist and leaning hard into the man's back as he looked for comfort and a position to lessen the aches and pains he was feeling.
Within ten minutes they were at the hospital where Nathan worked, although Vin didn't think the man would be there as they were all due at the ranch for dinner. As Tanner put the bike stand down, JD gave up the fight and succumbed to the darkness that had been calling him for some time but he had ignored for fear of falling from the bike. Vin caught him as he slid to the ground and called to some passing nurses for assistance.
As he watched several medical staff attending to JD in a curtained off area of the ER, Vin pulled out his phone intending to call Buck.
Tanner turned to the familiar voice of Doctor Nathan Jackson and visibly relaxed.
"Nathan. . .thank God." He proceeded to give a quick summary of the events leading up to their arrival and allowed relief to wash over him as his friend disappeared behind the curtain to check on the injured youth.
Feeling bolstered by the comforting presence of Jackson, Vin continued with his phone call.
Buck was shaking as he approached the room JD had been allocated for the night. He glanced quickly through the observation window at Nathan, the attending doctor and his sleeping brother for assurance, then approached Vin for information.
Chris had driven himself, Buck and Josiah to the hospital, while Ezra had returned to the office. Chris and Josiah had joined them in the hospital corridor as Vin set out the events of earlier in the day
Chris' expression became darker by the second and Josiah stepped closer to Buck since he could see the man slowly unraveling as Vin's story progressed, eventually dropping hard into a chair and bury his face in his large hands as he sobbed.
Chris and Josiah sat on either side of Buck to offer comfort. Vin crouched in front of his friend and clasped the big man's forearms, causing Buck to look at him with reddened eyes.
"Vin," Buck whispered, "I can't thank you enough."
Vin smiled, "Hell, I just annoyed the bastards, it's that spunky kid brother o' yours that did all the hard work."
They all looked up as Nathan approached.
"You can see him now. The doc gave him something to make him sleep. He's got a heap of cuts and bruises and his left knee is pretty banged up and swollen, as is his left wrist, but no breaks or internal damage."
Buck rose shakily to his feet.
"Thanks," he whispered and walked to the room. Hesitating for a moment to compose himself, he turned the handle to enter the quiet darkened room, allowing the door to close softly behind him.
The others waited to allow Buck and JD some privacy.
Buck slowly approached the bed from the right, his eyes darting all over the boy's body, assessing the damage. Despite the marks on JD's face and a developing black eye, there were no head injuries, and for that, Buck said a silent prayer. Taking his brother's right hand, he leaned over and kissed the youth's forehead, gently brushing back the boy's dark bangs from his face as tears blurred his vision. As he sat down, he pulled their entwined hands toward him and sat there quietly, unmoving, almost afraid to breathe as he listened to the youth's soft breaths and watched him sleep.
His mind replayed the moment Vin had called, the obvious anguish in the young man's tone, but not hopelessness, at least the news was better than they had been fearing. Now they had a dilemma, he and JD were back to square one. Should they stand and fight, or move on. So deep were his thoughts he didn't hear the others enter the room, and as if Chris had read his mind, Wilmington felt his best friend's hand grip his shoulder as the blond whispered.
"Ya got us with you this time, big guy."
It was around seven the next morning when JD first stirred. The men had been in the room all night, leaving occasionally to get coffee, relieve themselves or just stretch their legs. Buck had insisted they go home, but no one wanted to, an emotion new to each man, but one that felt right. Ezra entered the room after collecting more refreshments. He had joined them around two in the morning after working on some outstanding paperwork and setting his people the task of monitoring the Nichols family.
JD looked around, where was he? His head and body ached and he attempted to stretch, but grunted as the effort caused pain.
Buck woke from his light sleep at the noise and couldn't hide his delight. He leaned in, once more taking his brother's hand.
"Hey, how are you?"
JD flashed a weak smile, "Fine. . .you?"
"I am now."
JD frowned, his brow furrowing as a memory flitted just out of reach. He glanced at the others, his eyes stopping on Tanner. Flashes of guns, cars, motorcycles, him desperately clinging to Vin with the world racing by, assaulted him and he gasped as the floodgates opened. He drew his arm up to cover his face, not wanting the men around him to see the fear. A comforting hand on his shoulder pulled his eyes upward to meet the troubled dark blue eyes of his brother.
"Wanna talk about it?" the brunet asked softly, as he reached for a glass of water and offered it to his brother.
"No...not yet, okay?" he whispered. At Buck's nod, he composed himself and looked at the others, "Hey guys."
They all acknowledged him. Vin noticed JD looking over to him and winked.
"Thanks, Vin," the youth rasped.
"No need to thank me kid, you're ok, and that's all I need to know, 'sides you did the hard part. . .not sure I coulda jumped out of a speeding car."
JD smiled, "Yeah, right. . .hell Vin, I've never met anyone like you, you're a regular action hero."
They all laughed, including Vin, but the tracker wasn't very comfortable with the comparison. He really liked this kid, and the way the youth looked up to him, but the last thing he wanted was for JD to think he was some kind of indestructible hero. He figured he'd talk to him about it when the kid was on the mend.
JD slowly looked around, "No police?"
Buck shook his head, "I don't want this to get too complicated. I contacted Mark back in Boston, he's keeping tabs should we need help."
JD nodded, remembering the man from visits years ago.
Mark Walsh was an agent with the DEA and an old college friend of Buck, Chris and Ezra's. He was keeping a file on events for them, there was no investigation of their company, but there was a cabinet full of files on the Nichols. He had been glad to hear the boys were still well and although he was unable to comment, he alerted them to the possibility that he may have some good news soon.
JD sighed, "Can I go home soon?"
Buck looked at Ezra.
"JD, I feel it would be in both your best interests not to return to your apartment for now," Ezra informed.
JD's face fell and he cursed inwardly as his eyes filled again. "We're not moving on again, are we?" As he asked the question, his voice wavered.
He really didn't want to leave these people behind; memories of the past few months swept the youth up as he thought about the men that were now as much family as Buck and Chris. He'd loved how close he felt to them all.
Josiah was a mine of information, kind and loving, Nathan was so caring, always asking how people were, and you could tell he genuinely wanted to know.
Vin was such an exciting person to be around. He seemed to be great at everything, he could shoot and track, he was teaching JD to ride and handle his rather feisty new stallion and self-defence, and he had the coolest motorbike he'd ever seen. He just wished he'd talk a little more sometimes.
Ezra had been around him for a few years and he loved the man. Ezra was clever and funny and despite the front he often put on, he clearly cared deeply.
Chris was as near to a brother as Buck was, though more reserved. JD hadn't realized how much he'd missed him until they met up again. He loved him almost as much as he loved Buck, and the thought of not seeing him again was starting to make his chest and throat ache.
Before he could stop it, a sob escaped his throat and he quickly turned his head and covered his face to hide his shame. The recent events were catching up with him and he felt his whole body succumbing to the emotion. With expressions of concern, Ezra, Josiah, Nathan and Vin started for the door. Vin gestured to Chris but Chris shook his head and stayed seated, his arms folded across his chest and his lips pursed as his mind ticked over.
Buck swept his kid brother up to comfort him and felt resistance, but it soon subsided as JD gratefully gave in.
"I'm sorry, Buck. . .I'm so sorry," the youth sobbed into his chest.
Buck rested his chin on the top of JD's head.
"What the hell for?"
"For this. . ." JD pulled away, "For. . .for breaking down, for. . .letting you down."
Buck's face appeared angry.
"Stop that. . .right now. I got Vin beating himself up 'coz he feels he should have been at the college sooner and you feeling guilty 'coz some evil shitty family think they got the right to intimidate us."
JD looked at his brother, frowning, he was starting to feel sleepy now, "Why is Vin feeling guilty? He helped me."
Chris rose from his chair and approached the pair.
"Vin shouldn't feel guilty, and neither should you. Now. . .what's really bugging you, kid?"
Now Buck was frowning as he gently released his brother and looked at Chris as he perched on the bed next to JD.
The boy sighed, "I. . .I don't want to leave you guys. I don't want to start all over again. I missed you, Chris. You stopped calling. . .it was awful. I don't want it to be like that again."
The blond edged closer and touched his godson lightly on the side of his head as images of a dark-haired five year old nestled between him and Buck during baby-sitting duty, flashed through his mind.
"I'm so sorry, kid. I totally ignored the fact I still had a family around. There were many times I thought of you all, hell, I almost came out to visit once. . .but it just seemed easier to put the air fare on the bar and drink to escape.
Since you guys came here, and I've gotten to know Vin and the others. . . re-acquainted myself with Ezra. . .got my business back on it's feet. . .well, let's just say I haven't been this happy in a long time. There's no way I'm gonna watch you two walk away again."
"So what do we do now?" Buck asked.
Chris stood. "We fight. . .You all come stay with me, and we'll make our stand. We'll be stronger together, and we can beat these assholes at their own game. Agreed?"
JD looked hopefully toward his big brother. Buck stood and shook his best friend's hand, holding the grip for a while.
"Agreed, and Chris. . .thanks. "
Larabee nodded, "I'll go tell the others and get Ezra to make arrangements to get this kid outta here. Then we'll grab some stuff and head out to the ranch."
Buck nodded and watched Chris leave. He turned to JD.
"I'm so sorry you had to go through that again. . .do ya want me to contact Doc. . ."
". . .Buck. . ." JD interrupted, stifling a yawn, "It's cool. I was only afraid they would hurt the rest of you, I wasn't afraid for me. I really am ok with this, honest. Am I gonna have to give up college?"
Buck shrugged, "I hope not, let's take it one day at a time, huh?"
JD nodded and cautiously scooted back down in the bed. Five minutes later he was asleep. Buck covered JD with the bed linen, stroking the boy's head one more time, and quietly got up and left the room. They had plans to make.
Nathan helped JD out of the Navigator as the youth struggled with his swollen knee and an elbow crutch. He could only manage one, due to his painful wrist. JD's body ached most everywhere, but he bit back the urge to moan, he didn't want Buck to have any more to worry about or for the others to think he was weak.
Vin had relinquished his room to Buck and JD and had moved up into the attic. It was sparse but he was more than content.
Josiah and Nathan got the guest room and Ezra opted for a pull-out in the study.
Nathan insisted JD go to bed, which he did, without protest. As the six men sat in Chris' living room sipping coffee, Nathan addressed the group.
"He's in a lot of pain, y'know; he's just not letting on."
Buck looked up from his mug, "Is he not taking his meds?"
"Oh yeah, he is. . .but he took quite a fall, it's not going to disappear overnight." Nathan confirmed.
"What can we do" Chris asked.
"Nothing, really, just ensure he doesn't overdo it and generally keep him quiet."
"Easier said than done. . ." snorted Buck.
"Can you hear him now?" Nathan asked.
They all shook their heads.
"Do you reckon that's normal?"
Buck stood, "No, it sure isn't. . .I'll just look in on him."
"He is asleep," Ezra admitted, noticing the looks, "I checked on the young man myself just before we had coffee."
Buck sat back down, "I'll check on him later then."
JD was enjoying the feeling of the wind sweeping through his hair. He clung tight to Vin as they took corners at breakneck speed. He had never felt so alive. Suddenly a car was alongside them and the muzzle of a gun appeared through the small gap at the top of the side window. A loud pop and JD felt Vin go limp as the bike wobbled then skidded sideways. As intense pain washed over him JD screamed out.
"V. . .I. . .N. . .!"
He quietened slightly, "Vin. . .Vin, I'm sorry. . ."
"JD. . .JD, son. . .wake up. . .JD. . ."
With a start, JD awoke and found himself looking into the green eyes of his Godfather and surrogate brother.
"Ch. . .Chris. . .? Wh. . .wh. . .?" He found it impossible to formulate words as he tried to work out what was real and what was not.
"Buck's just outside in the yard," Chris informed, helping the young man to a sitting position and offering him some water.
"Where's Vin?" JD breathed.
Chris frowned, "He's out in the barn tending to the horses. You were dreaming. Do you remember what about?"
JD did, but shook his head. "No, sorry. . .sorry Chris, I didn't mean to disturb you."
Chris smiled as he absent-mindedly brushed damp bangs from JD's eyes.
"You didn't, are ya hungry?"
JD shook his head, "Nah, I'm good, thanks, I'm gonna go back to sleep."
The blond nodded and rose from his crouched position at the side of the bed. He watched for a moment as the boy settled, then left.
JD lay there on his right side, facing the wall as a single tear trickled and soaked into his pillow. It was a dream, Vin was safe. . .he could beat this. . .he was just dreaming.
Ten minutes later he was asleep.
The next day saw things well under way for an all-out defense against the unknown. Chris hadn't shared JD's bad dream with the others and felt absolved as he saw the young man hobbling around in seemingly good spirits. Alarms were set up at strategic points to act as early warning systems and the horses were transported to a ranch of an old friend fifty miles away.
Mark Walsh had been updated and was now pushing to resolve an outstanding investigation back in Boston; he was determined to end this torture for his friends.
Several days passed and there had been no sign from the Nichols brothers, Ezra's 'people' had found no trace of them, and the group of friends had begun to relax a little. Vin had decided to run the southern perimeter and back in his jeep, JD looked eagerly toward him.
"Can I come Vin?"
Vin instantly agreed but was surprised by a barrage of arguments from Nathan and Buck.
"Aw come on, guys, I'm fine. I can even walk without support, now."
"Whether you can and whether you should are two different matters," Nathan reminded.
But ten minutes later, the two youngest were riding out in Vin's jeep.
JD was getting used to Vin's quiet ways and was less inclined to 'run off at the mouth' these days to fill what he used to consider awkward silences. He watched as Vin's easy, relaxed manner, disguised the man's obvious vigilance as Tanner's eyes swept left and right with hardly a move of his head.
"Did you enjoy bounty hunting?"
"It put food on the table and a roof over my head."
"Yeah, but did you enjoy it?"
Vin cast his young companion a quick glance.
"Can't rightly say that I did, no. Why?"
"It sounds exciting, you know, chasing down a criminal, bringing him to justice. . .sounds almost like the Old West," JD grinned.
Vin Sighed heavily and pulled over. He stared hard at the youth.
"Is that all you think it is, kid. . .some romantic notion of justice and getting the bad guys?"
JD swallowed, "Isn't it?"
Vin snorted, "Hell no. . .these bastards shoot back, or carry knives, or sneak up on ya when you drop your guard. Sometimes it hurts, JD, Sometimes it can get ya killed."
"But you must be good, right? You're still in one piece."
"JD. . .you gotta understand. . .bullets hurt. . .hell, you done got shot once. I know it wasn't close up, didn't mean the guy who fired it didn't want ya dead. Wise up, kid. . .not everything reads like some story book."
JD frowned at the man he looked up to and admired. "Did I do something to make you mad at me, Vin? If I did, I. . .I'm sorry, it's just that. . .I've never met anyone like you before."
Vin's expression softened, "I hear ya, kid, but I'm no hero, I get scared too. . .fear keeps you alive. Come on, let's get. . ."
A shot rang out and Vin's body jerked. For a moment, time seemed to stand still as JD watched his friend wince in pain and grip the top of his arm, blood seeping through his fingers. Vin unhooked his door and rolled out through it and down to the ground, seeking cover. He stayed low and scooted around to JD's side of the vehicle.
"JD, git over here, NOW!"
As if jolted by a cattle prod, the youth flattened himself to the seat and slid out to the ground on his belly, dropping down next to Tanner, his heart was beating like it was trying to escape his chest, his mouth dry.
"Oh God, Vin, you're shot."
Vin glanced at JD quickly, fighting the urge to let fly with a sarcastic comment.
"Kid. . ." another two shots rang out close to their heads. Vin reached into the glove box and pulled out a pistol and three clips, causing JD to gasp.
"Kid. . .ya gotta go. . .I'll hold 'em off. . .move."
JD shook his head, "N. . .no. . .no. . .I'm not leaving you like this."
Vin sighed, "I'm ok. . .ya gotta go. . .when you get clear, call and get help."
JD was determined, "I can't leave you, Vin, it's not right. . .I'm no coward, I can call from here, let me get my cell. . ."
More shots; Tanner looked into the eyes of the young man. Along with the boy's big brother and four other men, Vin had learned to care...and care deeply. For the first time in years, he felt the weight of family on his heart. He did not want this boy to die here when there was a chance he could be safe; he owed Buck and Chris that much. With a heavy heart, he knew what he had to do. He raised his good arm and backhanded JD hard across the face.
JD's body jerked back against the jeep with the impact, he touched his hand to his face, tears welling in his eyes as he stared in shock at the man he considered a friend, clenching his teeth to stop the start of his chin wobbling.
"I can't be looking after some snot-nosed kid. . .you need to call for help, I'll hold 'em off. . .now GIT!" He pointed toward a wooded area, the direction he wanted JD to go.
Without a word, JD started to scramble away as Vin raised himself up to fire a few shots in the direction the others had come from. The next time Vin looked around JD was gone. His throat grew tight and his own eyes filled.
"I'm so sorry, kid. . .I hope you can forgive me," he whispered to himself and fired three more rounds for good measure, changing the clip for a fresh one.
Chris looked across the yard to behind the barn. . .something wasn't right. Suddenly, bullets pinged just over his head and around his feet. He quickly walked backward, pulled the screen door open and pushed into the house. Buck, Josiah, Nathan and Ezra had dived to the floor and looked up at him as he walked quickly to the gun cabinet.
"We got company."
"So we heard. Are they crazy. . .shooting at us? What do they hope to achieve?" Buck asked.
Chris handed each man a rifle, "I don't know if they aim to kill us, but I'm sure as hell not going to sit here and not defend my home."
The men nodded and prepared for the worse. Buck's cell rang.
"Kid. . .where are. . .what? Shit. . .ok, ok...Ezra's calling the police, now. . . find cover. We'll find you. . .JD. . .JD? Damn!"
They all looked at a now pale Buck as Ezra continued relaying information to the 911 operator.
"Kid says Vin got shot a ways back, Vin sent him off to get help. . .I don't know how bad. . ." the brunet shook his head, "Jesus, Chris. . . what have we brought down on you?" Buck ran his hands through his hair as he anxiously paced, almost in a circle.
Chris approached his best friend and squeezed his arm, "Nothing we weren't already aware of. I'm guessing the Nichols' aren't anywhere near here right now, they wouldn't get their hands dirty; let's take care of business until help arrives."
Chris swallowed nervously as he turned. The last thing Buck needed was more anxiety, but Chris was worried, Vin had been shot. . .JD was God knows where. It was obvious the other three men felt the same as each man nodded and settled in for the duration.
JD was in agony; his knee throbbed along with his head as he ran blindly. He'd called Buck but the signal was poor. At least he'd gotten his message across and Buck confirmed the police were being called. Suddenly he tripped and went hurtling forward into leaves grass and twigs. He cursed as his knee jolted when it hit the ground and he lay there for a moment.
He didn't even know if he was being followed, but that thought now penetrated his mind and he dragged himself to his feet. He had gotten turned around and was now unsure which way to go. He saw what looked like a clearing ahead and decided to go for it.
Tanner was not about to run out of bullets but couldn't help wondering how long he would need to defend himself. His arm burned but experience had taught him it wasn't too bad. He knew he wanted to get back to his friends and check that they were ok; he wanted to see JD and tell him he was sorry. He'd sent JD back toward the ranch as the crow flies, heavy woodland but good cover. He would be fine if he kept straight. It now occurred to him no one was firing any more. The sound of an engine alerted him, relief evident as a 4x4 with police markings rumbled toward him. He struggled to his feet and placed his gun back into the glove box.
Josiah ducked as a bullet pinged through a window and sailed over his head.
"Do you get the feeling this isn't really going to do us any damage, brothers?"
Chris nodded, "I reckon this is a tactic to draw us out from cover. They want us where they can see us." The blond pursed his lips.
"JD told me he'd sent an attachment to an email account of the Nichols with the proof of who had been involved in the fraud that started all this. I hope someone reads it soon."
Buck sighed, the blind faith that kid had in modern technology. Buck had had the foresight but without JD's knowledge, to send a copy of the evidence to Mark. And now he was thinking about Vin and JD. He hoped they would be fine, but he wouldn't feel right until he could see them in person.
"Gentlemen," Ezra started, "I believe the shooting has stopped, and is that a siren I hear?"
Chris cautiously opened the door, there was indeed a squad car heading their way, two in fact. The men relaxed, it was over for now.
JD was almost at the clearing, he hoped there was a stream or something similar, he was parched. He cleared the trees but was not prepared for what lay beyond.
Just feet from the edge of the tree line was a sheer drop. His momentum prevented him from a quick stop and despite every effort to retain his balance he lost the battle.
"Oh SHIT, SHIT!!! Aaarrgghhh! "
As he went over the edge, he grabbed frantically for something to cling to but there was nothing. As he fell, he hit the cliff wall twice, the second time he felt a blow to the back of his head. His tumbling body crashed hard onto a ledge a good fifteen feet down, but mercifully he was not awake to feel the impact.
As Buck's black Ford Mustang GT convertible glided through the suburbs of Boston, JD looked across at his big brother and smiled. Buck looked particularly smart in his dark brown suit and cream shirt with matching tie.
"He did it, didn't he?"
"Did what, kid?" Buck grinned.
"He made you VP."
Buck beamed and JD felt a swell of pride for the brother he adored.
"About time," the youth stated.
"I got something for ya," Buck offered, gesturing to the console with his head.
"But it's not my birthday until tomorrow," JD grinned as he reached across to flip the compartment open and take out the silver and black striped gift box.
"It's not for your birthday; it's for. . .well whenever Dad gives in to you."
JD frowned and opened the box. It held a key chain embossed with the symbol for a Dodge Viper and on the flip side was engraved 'John Daniel Dunne, from Buck'.
JD smiled, but there was no humor in it. "It's beautiful, Buck, thanks, but I'd rather have the car that goes with it. Guess Dad'll never give in, will he? Hell, I'm eighteen tomorrow, I should have my own car by now instead of being picked up by my big brother like some five-year old."
Buck absently nodded, "It's twenty-two carat gold, you know, and there's a diamond in the center of the logo."
JD huffed a laugh, "Thanks, I love it, it's just . . .aw never mind."
The brunet looked at the younger man, "Yeah, well, you know you'll get it one day. . .that's for when you do."
The mustang slowed as it reached a gated entry with a security pad and after Buck tapped in his personal code, the large black iron gates gracefully swung back to reveal a wide, gravel drive that formed a full circle around a large lawn and fountain. As the car crunched along, the gates shuddered and closed. The car purred toward a sprawling Colonial-style eighteen bedroom house, drawing to a stop in front.
"Jump out," Buck ordered causing the younger man to frown. JD usually drove in to the garage with him and went into the house via the kitchen entry. He shrugged and did as he was told, entering the house through the large ornate oak door, framed by the tall pillars at the front of the portico.
JD's nose twitched and he headed straight for the kitchen. As he entered, he smiled as he watched his mother roll cookie dough while their cook hovered in the background, preparing a joint of beef. The youth reached over the table and took a still warm cookie from the plate, spraying crumbs as he spoke.
Rachel Dunne was a petite, pretty, raven-haired woman with hazel eyes that twinkled and danced, much as the young man's in front of her did. She looked up from her activity and half-smiled, half- scolded.
"John Daniel. . .did you wash your hands?"
JD sighed, "Sorry, ma'am," then he grinned and she melted.
"Do I have to beg for a kiss, too?"
In seconds, he was at her side and kissing her cheek. She dusted her hands off and hugged him.
"I can't believe my baby will be eighteen tomorrow."
The youth mock-rolled his eyes, "Geez Mom. . .are you gonna call me your baby when I'm old and forty?"
She pulled his ear,causing him to yelp, though it didn't really hurt.
"Firstly, forty is not old, and secondly, yes,you will always be my baby."
At that moment, Buck came in through the back door. He grabbed JD in a bear hug and started to shake him up and down.
"Does Mom want for me to 'rock' the baby?"
"Buck. . .get the hell off me!" JD scolded as the cook chuckled.
Rachel Dunne sighed, "Buck, knock it off; JD, go get ready for dinner."
"Yes, ma'am," they both said in unison and JD disappeared, sneaking another cookie as he left.
"Buck," Rachel called, "How are you?"
Buck turned from watching his brother's departure and grinned, "He told ya, huh?"
"JD? No. . .your father, yes. You thoroughly deserve this, son. You have an excellent business mind and a wonderful way with people." Rachel sighed, "Your mother would have been so proud."
A sad smile flitted across Buck's handsome face and he stepped forward and hugged the woman in front of him, "I should hope you are." He nodded to show he understood she was referring to his birth mother who had died twenty years prior.
"I have a word for both my mothers. . .'Saints. '"
JD chuckled to himself as he listened in; then walking away from the door to the hallway, went to his room to change.
"Honey, I'm home!"
JD trotted down the large staircase to greet his father at the front door. He was grinning.
"Hell, Dad, you say the same thing every night!"
William Dunne just managed to ruffle his son's dark hair as the boy ducked away.
"I'm nothing if not consistent," the handsome dark-haired executive smiled.
As they finished dinner, Rachel and Wil looked at each other, then at Buck.
"So," Wil began, "Eighteen tomorrow, eh, squirt?"
"Yup, or are you going to tell me otherwise?" JD joked.
"And you're still happy to spend the day with the three of us?"
"Sure Dad, I've been really looking forward to it. I forget the last time we were all together for a whole day."
"Son, I left my briefcase in my car, will you go get it for me?"
"Sure." JD left the table and headed for the kitchen to access the garage.
With a giggle from Rachel, she, Wil and Buck waited until the boy had left the room and all got up to follow him.
JD opened the door to the garage and snapped on the light. He blinked as his eyes adjusted, then blinked again as he looked to where his father's car was normally parked.
Sitting there was a black Dodge Viper convertible, wrapped in a red bow. The youth stepped shakily forward and gently touched the shiny paintwork as if to ensure it was not a mirage. He jumped as his father spoke.
"If I see or hear of you tearing around Boston in this baby, I'll ground you for a year."
For a moment, JD was lost for words as his throat tightened and his eyes filled.
"Well, boy. . .don't you like it?"
JD stepped forward and hugged his father hard. The man placed his arms around his youngest and squeezed back.
"I'll take that as a yes, then."
They all closed in for a quick group hug. JD finally found his voice.
"Thank you so much. I promise I'll look after it. Thank you. . .I can't believe it's mine."
"Shall we take it for a ride, bro'?" Buck asked.
"Can we?" JD looked at his parents eagerly. They both nodded and William held out a key.
"Be careful, and you might want to take the bow off first."
JD flashed a blinding smile and within a few minutes the garage was open and the car was reversing out, JD driving and Buck sitting next to him, making a sign of the Cross back to his parents, causing them to laugh and JD to scowl.
The next day was enjoyed by all. They started out with a trip to Boston's Franklin Park Zoo. JD ignored Buck's teasing about it being for kids, he hadn't visited since he was seven and was insistent, and amused to see Buck enjoying it too. Then down to the harbor for a trip out and lunch on their yacht. That evening Buck walked into JD's room and scooted him over to sit next to him on the bed.
"Great day, huh?"
JD nodded but sighed.
Buck looked at him, "Hey, what's up?"
"I knew Ezra couldn't make it, and he's called, but I didn't even get a card from Chris."
Buck hugged his brother to him.
"Aww kid. . .don't take it personally, he's in such a bad place right now. One day, he'll come back to us, you'll see."
"No phone calls. . .you and Ezra couldn't even find him a few months ago. Do you think he's ok. . .really?"
"Ezra knows he's in Denver, but if Chris doesn't want to be found, we'll just have to be patient and wait until he does. Now, I think Mom and Dad are waiting on you to say goodnight."
JD nodded and got up to say goodnight to his parents. As he approached their bedroom door he heard them talking, his mother was crying.
"Rachel, I'll get the best doctors in the world on this, we'll fight it, I swear."
"Oh Wil. . .the boys. . .I don't want to leave the boys."
"You're not going anywhere. Cancer can be beaten, and we are going to beat this. I love you, baby, please don't get upset. JD'll be along in a. . ."
A noise from outside the door alerted William and he jumped up from the bed and moved into the hall to see JD disappear around the corner.
"JD. . .JD, come back. . .come back, son. . .."
As intense pain swept over him, JD shivered. His head hurt and he felt detached from his body as the limbs refused to move. He could see he was outside and appeared to be high up, though, how he had gotten there from his parents' bedroom eluded him. All he could hear, besides the wind, was his father's voice, calling to him. Just before he sank back into darkness, he whispered one word. . .
Vin looked up as Chris' Ram trundled toward him and the two officers who had come to his assistance. As soon as the car rolled to a halt, Nathan was the first out, his medical bag in his hand. After a quick examination and clean up, he bandaged Tanner's arm and announced the wound was not serious.
"Could 'a told ya that," Vin huffed.
Chris addressed the officers, "Are you going to do a sweep of the area? One of our boys has gone walkabout, so we're gonna start the search while your guys arrange some help for us."
"Yes sir, we've been informed. We were just waiting on you." The officer turned to Vin, "Take it easy fella, you still lost some blood. Now, you said the shots came from over there?" he pointed up the hill, away from the woods.
Vin nodded, "Yes sir, not too high up either."
With a final gesture of the head, the officers climbed into their vehicle and pulled off.
The men approached Vin; Chris spoke.
"He went in there?" The blond pointed to the woods.
Vin nodded, "Yeah, I told him to stay straight and he'd come through about a mile from the ranch house."
Buck looked nervous, "What if he got lost?"
Vin drew his frame up straight, "I can find him."
"There's a small clearing to the one side with a ravine, did you tell him?" Buck asked.
Vin paled, "I didn't know."
"Let's not speculate," Chris warned, "Has anyone tried his cell?"
Ezra nodded, "Yes, there was no reply."
"Vin, you should rest," Chris pointed out.
Tanner shook his head, "There's something I haven't told you," the man started moving his feet, his hands now lightly clasped together as he spoke, The five men were alerted to his unnaturally nervous demeanor and moved closer to him. "We didn't exactly part on the best of terms, I need ta speak to him, tell him I'm sorry." He cast a quick glance at Buck.
"What happened, brother?" Josiah wondered.
Vin hung his head. When he looked up, he again looked guiltily at Buck, "He wouldn't go, when I told him to run. . .he wouldn't leave me. . . so. . .so I hit him."
Buck's face changed instantly and he stepped toward the ex- bounty hunter. Vin stood his ground.
"You did what?" he growled.
"I had to get him to run, Buck." Vin put his hand from his uninjured arm on Buck's shoulder, wincing slightly as he felt the man tense up.
"You know how I feel about that kid, but he. . .he wouldn't leave me. . .he could've been shot too, I had to make him leave."
Josiah stepped in, placing a comforting hand on Tanner's good shoulder.
"I'm sure Buck understands the reasoning behind it, Vin." Josiah looked at Buck with a hint of a warning. "Now, shouldn't we be searching?"
Buck huffed, but backed off. Taking ropes, flashlights and water the men started out.
The breeze seemed to cut through him as it danced and swirled around the cliff. JD knew he was in trouble, he just couldn't remember why. He was very confused, still clinging to the images of his concussion- fuelled dream, yet knowing somewhere in the back of his mind there was more he should be remembering. He wished he was five again, snuggled between his two big brothers as they 'camped out' in JD's room....
The two sixteen year-olds had erected a small tent in JD's room while he suffered with chicken pox, but the little guy had been poorly and unable to sleep. At first he had slipped into Buck's sleeping bag, snuggling in to his brother's white cotton t-shirt and inhaling, as he always did, for comfort.
Once he got hot, he'd started wriggling, so he decided to join a slightly slimmer Chris. The blond was shirtless and JD had been unsure of whether he should rest his head on his surrogate brother's chest, but Chris had pulled him in and hushed him as he desperately tried to go back to the blissful sleep he had been enjoying before the little one had joined him. JD could hear Chris' heart thumping underneath his ear and to the steady rhythm, he'd finally dozed off. By the morning, the two sleeping bags had been zipped together and Rachel had entered the room to be greeted by two tall sixteen year- olds pushed into the far sides of the bags while a contented five year old was sprawled over the majority of the bags, between them.
JD inhaled, but all he could smell was his own blood that was dried and trapped in his nostrils.
The light blur his eyes registered of his surroundings had now cleared to reveal a sheer rock wall and trees lined across it some distance up. The youth was really cold now, as he tested his limbs again. It appeared he had movement in both legs, but his side burned and ached. He suddenly felt very afraid as it dawned on him he was in a very precarious and exposed position. He decided not to move for fear of the unknown, shivering and struggling to stay awake.
Dizziness swept over him and once more the darkness pulled him back.
Vin's eyes scanned the ground as they made their way slowly forward. Eventually he came to the point where JD had fallen. He bent down to examine the area then stood and looked around, frowning.
"What is it?" Chris asked.
"He changed direction, must 'a gotten confused." Tanner pointed, "He went this way."
Buck closed his eyes then, on reopening them, looked at Chris."
"Am I to assume this is not good news?" Ezra stated more than asked.
"That's the way to the ravine," Buck answered flatly.
In silence, the men pushed on. They were soon at the clearing and Vin was instantly next to the tracks at the edge. Each man was now anxious, Buck was shaking. Tanner dropped to his stomach and cautiously made his way to the crumbling rim, peering over.
"Oh God, no."
Buck fought the nausea that now accompanied his fraying nerves, and mirrored Vin's actions, as did Chris. Seeing his brother lying on the rocky ledge below them was too much for the brunet and he began to shake violently. He was more than aware he was hanging by a thread, but determined to be there for his brother.
"Oh, no. . .no kid. Please be ok. . .don't leave me."
"I need to get down there," Nathan insisted.
"We can't be sure if it's safe," Vin pointed out, "You could both end up falling to the bottom."
Nathan balked but rallied, "No matter, I still need to get to him."
"We have ropes," Ezra reminded, "We could secure the ends and send one down to JD, thus securing both men in the event of a disaster occurring."
Vin was already on it and within minutes Nathan was ready to go.
With a deep breath, he clambered over the side and the men began to lower him. Nathan progressed slowly while fighting the need to look down. After what seemed an age, he reached the youth and secured him with the rope that was firmly anchored at the other end. He then began his examination. Buck and the others watched helplessly, praying for good news.
"He's alive," he called up.
Buck half laughed, half sobbed as huge tears threatened to drop from his eyes. "I need to get down there," Buck insisted. Chris looked back over the edge.
"Can we pull him up?" he shouted to Nathan.
"If you send me your belts I think I can strap him securely enough to immobilize him," Nathan replied. "He's borderline hypothermic, he needs warmth, fast."
Nathan was satisfied he knew what external injuries he was dealing with; now he hoped there were little or no internal injuries. He had applied a neck brace and as the belts were passed down, he strapped JD's body securely, and despite preferring to wait for assistance, he decided the boy would be better off up top than in his current position. Checking the rope was secure under the unconscious youth's armpits, Nathan slowly pulled him upright. A soft moan came from JD's lips and Nathan pressed his face to the boy's ear as he balanced him against his own body.
"Hold on, son, you'll be with Buck in no time."
With a tug and a nod from Nathan, the men at the top of the cliff took the strain and slowly and carefully guided the young man's secured body to the top, taking care not to jerk him or swing him. Just as his head reached the top, the men stopped, holding him there, and Josiah gently brought him up and over.
Buck was instantly next to his brother and proceeded to check him while the rest of them pulled Nathan up. Once on firm ground, Nathan guided Buck to a position where he could envelop the young man without too much movement. Despite knowing JD needed the warmth, Buck was also grateful for the physical contact he had desperately craved. While Buck whispered softly into JD's ear, the others sat around in a tight protective circle.
Vin couldn't bear to look and yet felt compelled to do so, his guilt compounded with every ragged breath JD took.
They sat in silence as they awaited assistance, each man lost in his own thoughts. A soft murmur drew Buck close to his brother's face.
"JD. . .hey, kid. . .can you hear me?"
"B. . .Buck. . .h. . .hurts. . . " the youth breathed.
"I know kid, I know, but we'll get some help soon, just hang in there, ok?" The brunet stared at the blood-stained face of his younger brother as it creased in pain as JD struggled with consciousness.
"D. . .dad. . ."
Buck frowned and looked at the others.
"What about Dad, JD?"
"C. . .calling m. . .me. . ."
Unsure of what he was referring to, Buck smoothed the youth's hair.
"Ok. . .ok, just relax now."
Buck was terrified, was JD dying and was hearing his father calling to him? He slightly increased the pressure of his hold as he prayed help would be with them soon.
Thanks to Ezra's quick phone call, help was with them within half an hour. Two paramedics gave the young man a thorough work-up, assisted by Nathan, and hoisted him into the hovering air ambulance. Buck followed after him and insisted Vin come too, in order for his wounded arm to be examined.
Chris and the others returned to the ranch to get an update from the police. They had captured two men leaving the area and acting, in their opinion, suspiciously and had already connected one of them to the Nichols Company. The police were now linking with Mark back in Boston and, having now detained the men and read them their rights, they were hopeful of some answers soon.
That sorted, the remaining four men made their way to Denver General to check on their friends.
Buck watched helplessly as his brother was taken into the ER. He was instantly handed forms to fill out and dutifully dotted the I's and crossed the T's. Buck walked back toward the curtained area JD and Vin had been taken to.
Vin popped his head around the curtain from the bed he was currently occupying in the ER in the hope Buck had returned, relieved when he caught sight of him.
The brunet shook his head, "No, not yet, how are you?"
"Hell, I'm fine; this is nothing I haven't had before. I knew it was only a flesh wound." The young man sighed as Buck came a little nearer.
"This is all my fault, Buck. I thought I was doing the right thing by him. . .he'd have been safer if he'd stayed with me."
Buck looked wearily at him, "Well unless you have the gift of foresight, there was no way you could have known what was best. I reckon the only one that might give you a hard time is still lying unconscious behind that curtain over there, and I'm guessing it'll be more for the slap than anything else. Excuse me, Vin," he added as he realized the rest of their friends had arrived.
"Any news?" Chris asked.
Buck shook his head, "For JD. . .no, Vin's just there, though," he gestured toward the curtained area, "And he's doing great." They all looked to see the ex-bounty hunter with his arm in a sling, thanking a doctor, accepting a prescription, and then turn and walk toward them.
"What's the verdict, brother?" Josiah asked.
"Minimal damage and blood loss; just need ta rest and drink lots of fluids" Vin answered.
"On that note. . .shall we?" Ezra gestured to some chairs and they all took a seat.
After five minutes of sitting in silence, Chris spoke.
"Remember when the little shit gave us chickenpox? God I itched like hell. Ten long days of watching the clock, no girls, no car, no. . . nothing!"
Buck chuckled slightly, "Oh yeah. . .it screwed up my love life BIG time. How many girls caught it from me?"
"Was it six?" Chris wondered.
Buck shrugged a little, "Sounds about right. . .they were not amused."
Both men snickered, as the other men smiled in amusement. Chris became serious.
"Poor JD had it bad though, didn't he?"
Buck nodded, "That he did. . .you were terrific with him, y'know that?"
The two friends locked eye contact and a silent message passed between them.
"I was wondering," Nathan looked at Buck, Chris and Ezra, "How exactly do you boys know each other?"
Chris took up the question as he saw Buck slump slightly.
"Buck and I have known each other since we were five. Our fathers were friends in college and when we moved back to Boston, Wil. . .Mr. Dunne. . . helped my parents find a house and helped us settle in. Unfortunately, within a month of moving, my father's job fell through. We were just about on the verge of moving away again when Wil offered my father a job with his company. He's still there to this day." Chris looked at Ezra and smiled.
Standish took up the story "I met these two reprobates in college. I was new as I had just moved from Alabama when my mother re- married. . ."