"Who did you say he was, again?" Buck leaned toward Chris as he dropped his voice. They had entered a corridor leading to their college recreation room and had been observing an altercation between a group of known troublemakers and a well-dressed young man.
"Standish. . .Ezra I think. . .why?"
"Just wonderin'. Why are those guys giving him a hard time?"
Chris sighed, "Because they're assholes, it's probably just because he talks differently. . ."
"Whoa. . .do you mean he speaks a foreign language?"
Chris tugged Buck's arm. . ."I'll show you, it's easier."
"Really gentlemen, I have heard all this before. If you wish to impress someone, I understand it is open day at the monkey house at the Boston zoo."
"Are you poking fun at us, Standish?"
"Oh, I assure you, there was nothing more sincere than my last remark."
Buck caught himself chuckling at the exchange and butted in, looking Ezra's hecklers up and down.
"What's wrong, boys? Lost your way to kindergarten? "
One of the boys squared up to Buck, "None of your business, rich boy. . . on your way."
"Oh, I don't think so. . .what do you think, Chris?"
Chris gave a stare that made the boy shudder, "I think I might need some wrestling practice real soon; don't want to get sloppy, do I?"
Buck chuckled softly as the small group of troublemakers backed away.
The main agitator started to leave and looked back at Buck.
"Tell that snot-nosed kid brother of yours to watch his back, Dunne; I have family in that school he's in."
Like a flash, Buck had the kid by his jacket and had slammed him up against the lockers.
"If my baby brother so much as sneezes any time soon, I'm gonna come looking for you, ya got that?"
Before the kid could reply, Chris stepped toward him.
"And when he's done with ya. . ." Chris gave a feral smile, ". . .it'll be my turn."
As Buck released the garment, the small group scuttled off, not once looking back.
The two youths composed themselves and turned back to Ezra.
"Where are our manners?" Buck approached Standish, "Bucklin Dunne and this here's my good friend, Chris Larabee. My friends call me Buck, and they call him," he thumbed toward Chris, "Hard-ass Larabee."
There was a short pause then the three youths laughed.
"Ezra. . .Ezra Standish. May I offer you boys a cup of coffee?"
"Hell, make it a Pepsi and you're on," Buck grinned.
"A Pepsi it is. . .shall we?" Ezra extended his hand to move them forward.
The three boys walked down the corridor together, Buck put his arm on Ezra's shoulder, "So. . .Ez. . .you got any sisters?"
DENVER - PRESENT DAY
Ezra smiled, "I have never looked back from that day. Even when my mother divorced and re-married, I stayed in Boston for several years. William Dunne kindly took me on as a corporate lawyer but moved me out to Atlanta. I don't know why it took so long, I suppose because I moved to Atlanta, but it was just under three years ago when I first met JD. . ."
THE DUNNE HOME, THANKSGIVING - ALMOST THREE YEARS AGO
With Chris and Ezra home for the holidays, Buck had invited them to spend Thanksgiving at the Dunne household and as the trio entered, the lanky young man called out. . .
"MOM! Mom, we're home!"
Rachel appeared from the living room, walked over to Buck, Chris and Ezra and kissed each young man on the cheek. Ezra was a little taken back but recovered, offering his hand.
"Ezra Standish, ma'am. . .very pleased to make your acquaintance. "
Rachel beamed and shook his hand, "Well, what delightful manners and such a well-turned out young man; your mother must be very proud of you."
"I fear I could not comment for my mother at this time, Mrs. Dunne, Mother is in the South of France and has been this past year. I would like to thank you for allowing me to join your family for this celebration. "
"You're very welcome, Ezra, the more the merrier, and, sweetheart, my name is Rachel."
Ezra smiled and kissed her hand. Rachel giggled.
"Charming, simply charming." She looked at Chris.
"Christopher Larabee, you get more handsome every time I see you. Do I get a hug?"
Chris grinned and leaned in to give Rachel a quick squeeze.
"I'm so glad you decided to join us; your parents are sorely in need of this holiday. I'm glad you understood. And I fear I must take the blame for them leaving so early. Your mother has had a hard time since your grandmother passed away."
Chris nodded, a sad expression marring the handsome face. A small smile crept back as he sniffed. . .
"Something smells good."
Rachel nodded, "Oh yes, Iris has out done herself this year. How are Sarah and Adam?"
"Visiting with her parents in Greeley, that's why I'm here; her dad isn't too fond of me. I can't wait to get back to Denver to see them."
Rachel touched his face affectionately, "Well I don't care what her father says, Sarah is one very lucky lady to have you. I'm sure you two are going to have a long and happy life together."
"Is JD home, mom?" He turned to Ezra before his mother could answer, "You're gonna love my kid brother, he's. . ."
"BUCK. . .. . .CHRIS!! Woohoo!"
Ezra blinked as a five foot six inch whirlwind slid down the banister of the staircase to land with a thump just in front of them.
"HA!" Buck yelled and grabbed the boy, giving him a tight hug, followed by a head-knuckling.
"Ow. . .ha, ha. . . quit it!" Slightly breathless, JD recovered and looked toward Chris, beaming.
"Hey, Chris. . ."
Chris gave a huge return grin and pulled the boy toward him in a gentler hug.
"Hey, squirt good to see you."
JD stared at Ezra, Buck introduced him.
"Kid, this is Ezra Standish. Ezra, this is my baby brother, John Daniel Dunne. . .or JD. . .or kid. . .or squirt. . .or shortstop. . .or. . ."
"Ok, ok. . .BUCKLIN. . .or should I say. . .Buchanan? "
Buck's eyes went wide. . ."JD!!"
Chris laughed, hardly anyone knew what 'Buck' was short for, and so Buck had opted for Bucklin, as he was not overly fond of the name handed down from his birth mother's family.
JD approached Standish. "So. . .Ezra huh?"
Standish sighed as he nodded, expecting a comment about his name.
JD grinned, "Cool name," he looked at his mother, "When are we eating? I'm starved. Come into the kitchen, Ezra, Mom made cookies. . .!"
JD dragged the man away, but the smile on Standish's face suggested he was more than happy to oblige.
DENVER PRESENT DAY
"I have never felt more at home than I did that day, which is a sad endorsement of my life, but nevertheless, true. I have never looked back since, and I count my blessings and thank my sainted mother for moving us to Boston," Ezra finished.
"And Denver?" Nathan pushed.
Chris looked at Ezra and the lawyer sat back slightly, allowing his friend to interject. The blond sighed.
"I wanted to travel before I settled into a job, I reached here, met Sarah. . .well, you know the rest. I couldn't bring myself to leave here."
Chris' tone went to sadness.
Ezra took over, "I met Buck and William again at a conference in Chicago and Wil explained to me how he wanted to eventually set up a branch of his corporation in Denver and asked me to move here to help set it up for him. I have never been so flattered," Ezra looked at Buck, "Your father was an exceptional man."
That remark pushed Buck over the edge as he sobbed into his hands. They had been waiting for what seemed a lifetime for news of JD and the impromptu reminiscing had dragged raw memories to the surface.
Nathan came over to him and crouched in front of him.
"Buck, I'm so sorry, I shouldn't have asked. Please forgive me; my curiosity got the better of me."
Buck looked at Nathan and with a shaking hand, wiped away the moisture from his eyes and rubbed it on his pants before he clasped both of Nathan's hands. He hadn't intended to make Nathan uncomfortable, he had just been unable to resist the sense of loss and desperation of the past months.
"Please don't apologize, I've enjoyed looking back. . .it's just been a shit day, you know? And what Chris didn't mention is how these past three years have been hard for us all. Chris has suffered losses too," he glanced quickly at Chris to check for his approval, there was no argument or scolding look, "I guess it's at times like this when the stress kinda takes its toll and brings deep feelings to the surface."
Buck looked again at Chris and the blond returned the gesture, finally able to hear the words without breaking down.
Nathan nodded his understanding and, as he rose to his feet, a doctor walked out from the ER and approached them.
They all stood, Buck nodded, "Yes."
The doctor smiled, "He's a lucky boy. A few bumps to his head have caused a concussion and he's black and blue down one side and in a few other places. He has a few cracked ribs, a dislocated shoulder, which we've popped back in, and a nasty knee injury, but no internal bleeding."
The gasp of relief washed over the six men as Buck and Chris drew closer together. Vin flashed a huge smile and Josiah patted him on the back as he too relaxed a little on hearing the news.
"Do you have any questions?" the doctor added. Buck stepped toward the medic.
"When can we see him?"
The doctor smiled, "You can see him now."
Buck heaved a sigh of relief as he felt several hands squeeze his arms and shoulders. He walked toward the curtained area, stopped and looked back at his five friends.
"Are ya coming?"
The smiles he received were heartwarming and they all stepped forward to visit the youngest together. Chris stopped Buck for a moment.
"Buck. I need to take a moment. . ."
Buck nodded and continued on to visit his brother.
Chris stepped purposefully outside the hospital building, took a deep breath and dialed his cell. He listened as a phone rang and then picked up. He swallowed and quickly composed himself.
By the time Chris rejoined his friends, they were gathered around the young man's bed, and Buck had JD's hand in his. The brunet did a double-take, noticing the blond's eyes were a little red.
"You ok?" he mouthed.
Chris nodded and leaned in to Buck, "I called Dad."
Buck smiled. "I'm guessing he was pleased to hear from you."
Chris heaved a soft sob. "He cried."
With his free hand, Buck squeezed his best friend's shoulder. The others noticed the exchange but didn't comment. They looked behind them as they heard a small cough. A male nurse smiled.
"Excuse me, boys, but we're moving John to a private room now. You're welcome to join him as soon as he's settled."
The men moved from the bed and cleared the area as they watched plugs and cables being disconnected and equipment placed on the edges of the bed as it and JD were rolled out of the ER toward the elevator and their new temporary home.
Buck was exhausted and had wearily rested his head on the bed next to JD's arm and promptly fallen asleep. The others had stepped out into the waiting room to eat their brought-in sandwiches and coffee.
JD blinked awake as he slowly found his focus and looked around. He smiled slightly as he caught sight of his big brother asleep and, raising his hand, gently placed it on Buck's head.
As he hovered between sleep and awareness, Buck was soothed, as he dreamt of his mother gently touching his head. Eventually reality broke through and his thoughts were pulled back to the boy in the bed.
Sleepily, he looked at his brother and cracked a huge smile.
"Hey, how are you doing?"
"I'm fine," JD rasped, "Could use a drink, though." Buck leaned over and reached for a cup and a straw, watching as JD drew in the moisture and pushed the straw back out with his tongue.
Buck watched, catching each wince and every frown as the youth tried to get comfortable. Raising the head of the bed, the brunet helped his brother get settled. The door opened and Chris popped his head around.
"I thought I heard movement." He stepped into the room and walked up to the bed.
"How are you, kiddo?"
"Fine, thanks, Chris. Is Vin ok?"
"Yeah, he's good, hold on I'll get him."
JD's stomach flipped nervously and he fought to remember why. As soon as Vin appeared, JD instinctively touched his hand to the small bruise on his cheek as he remembered all too clearly the slap he had received.
Vin approached the bed as the others filed in behind him.
"Kid. . .I'm so sorry. . .I just wanted you to move away. I would never want to hurt you intentionally. "
JD sighed, his face sad, his eyes heavy again as his body called for sleep, "Hardly an accident, was it?"
Vin's head dropped as he struggled for words. The room went silent and Vin's misery was compounded until he looked once again at the youth to see he had fallen asleep.
Buck squeezed Vin's good arm, "Don't sweat it, junior, he's very forgiving. . .hell he has to live with me for crying out loud!"
Vin nodded, but wouldn't feel any better until he heard it from his friend himself.
Two days later and JD was curled up on Chris' sofa, wrapped in a comforter and flicking through TV channels. He smiled at Buck as the man brought him a drink and sandwiches and placed them on the coffee table. He then lifted JD's wrapped feet up in the air, sat down and placed the feet on his own legs. Buck looked into his brother's face, noting the gray complexion and bruising. The boy's cheeks were hollow and for the first time, Buck feared his brother might have been pushed too far.
JD gulped at the drink but ignored the food. Buck sighed; no one had gotten him to eat since he had come back to the ranch, and all he would drink was milk or water.
Vin came in and the look he gave Buck told him the tracker wanted. . . needed. . .to talk to JD. Before the youth knew what was happening, Vin had taken Buck's place.
JD looked at his friend but there was little warmth there.
"I came to tell you I'm leaving."
JD gulped, "Why?"
"Don't reckon I should stay. I make you uncomfortable and you've been through enough lately, so, this is for the best."
"What about Chris, and the stud ranch?"
"Chris's still got Buck. . .and you."
"Well,sure, but he's always had us...but he needs you, and. . .what about me?"
Vin looked at him, "Kid, if I could take back that moment. . ." Tanner's eyes swept down to stare at his hands, resting on the socked feet of his young friend, his head shaking as he continued, "But I can't so I'll just say I'm sorry and move on. I'll never forget ya. . .I think we could have been great friends."
JD moved slowly toward Tanner grimacing slightly with the effort as he dropped his feet to the floor.
"Vin, I'm sorry, I've been acting like an idiot. . .it was just a shock, you know? Please don't leave. This business is yours and Chris', hell, you live here, Vin, Buck and me live in town, besides, the plans for the ranch were yours and Chris', and you made them long before we came along. Do you really want to go, to leave all this behind?"
JD could feel the emotion creeping from his heart to his throat and was desperate to get his point across before it consumed him.
Vin looked at the young man, his eyes filling.
"No. . .I've been real happy here. I have so much I wanted to show you. I feel so close to you all, Chris has been like. . .like a kindred spirit, I've never had me one of those before. Buck, Josiah, Ezra and Nathan are like big brothers and you. . .you're like the little brother I always wanted. No, I don't want to leave."
"Kid, I hit you because I'd rather have you hate me than have you get hurt or worse."
JD hitched a soft sob, Vin's words piercing his soul. He looked directly into his friend's eyes.
"Vin, I could never hate you. I feel like I've known you all my life." The youth dropped his eyes to his hands which were now twisting his comforter.
"It won't be right here. . .without you. I think we already are great friends and I really want to learn from you." JD's voice was barely more than a soft whisper, "Please. . .please don't leave."
Vin swallowed and JD screwed up his eyes, fearing the worse.
"Aww hell," the Texan drawled taking a few moments to compose himself, "Then I guess, if ya put it like that...I won't be leaving anytime soon." He extended his hand, smiling at the younger man, "Friends?"
JD took his hand, returning the smile, the first real smile he had shown in days.
Vin grinned, nodding, "I like that. . .brothers. "
From the kitchen doorway, Buck watched the exchange between the two. Vin had noticed the plate of sandwiches and was pointing to them, JD nodding. Within seconds, Vin had offered the youth a sandwich, which he took and Buck found himself smiling at the way they began to tuck in to the food as they talked.
This was turning out to be a good day
That afternoon, as they all sat around the living room, a car pulled up ourside, followed by a knock at the door. Chris opened it cautiously and JD heard him say "Got any ID?"
Just as the youth began to feel apprehensive, Chris laughed and warmly greeted the unseen visitor, closely followed by Buck, who had wandered over to join Chris at the door.
Seconds later JD smiled as Chris introduced the man that had stepped into his home.
"Guys, I'd like you to meet Mark Walsh, DEA. . .Boston."
Ezra was now next to the man as they heartily re-acquainted themselves. Mark excused himself and walked over to the sofa.
"Hey shortstop, heard you been skydiving without a 'chute."
JD grinned back at the handsome, dark-haired, six foot Bostonian.
"Yeah? Well I heard you actually made it to work on time last week for the first time ever."
Mark laughed, "Hell no. . .can't break that tradition!"
After a half hour of getting reacquainted, Mark got down to business.
"I came here in person as I thought you guys deserved to hear this first hand. The men that the DPD detained here eventually told us everything we needed to know, and then some." He looked at JD. "We picked up your email to the Nichols Company that Buck forwarded to us and acting on it, arrested Kyle Blatchley." Mark noticed JD's inquisitive look, first to Buck then back to Mark.
"You're not the only computer genius in Boston, kid."
JD nodded his understanding while paling at the name of the man he believed was ultimately responsible for Wil's death.
"JD, ya did real good kid, but you should have come to me first with that information. "
JD nodded again, scanning the group of faces sat around the living room, resting on Buck and then again back to Mark.
"I. . .I just wanted them to leave us alone. All I had was data traces which confirmed what the man had succeeded in doing. I wasn't sure if it was illegal."
Mark nodded, "Would it surprise you to know the man worked for both companies at the same time under different names?"
The silence gave him his answer.
"The guy's a computer whiz, but he didn't reckon on meeting his match anytime soon," he winked at JD.
"We have him in custody for fraud, and the men arrested here have kindly given statements that the Nichols hired them to tie up loose ends."
As Mark paused he could see the consternation on the others' faces, so he continued. "I reckon the Nichols may rue the day they didn't stay in Denver to do that job themselves."
"Now," Mark looked at Chris and Chris moved in closer to the two men he considered brothers. Walsh had shared the information with him first during a phone conversation before his trip to Denver, knowing these boys would need support.
"The hole your father and his associates were on at the golf club when they were murdered was close enough to some exterior cameras for us to eventually get some shots of the assailants. We've been sitting on them while we were putting the case together, as, while we can't prove he fired a gun, we have a near-clear picture of Peter Nichols sitting in the back of the car." Mark paused for a reaction but when nothing was forthcoming, he continued.
"He's now been arrested for murder, though I seriously doubt we'll get that to stick, but we have him now and I know we'll put him away on this alone, even if it's manslaughter, however we are confident of several other charges sticking that we've been working on for some time. . .drugs, weapons, we have a whole cabinet full of files on this family. JD, your email gave us the link we needed to trace a few offshore accounts and you'd be amazed at how many people are singing like birds now they see how close we are to breaking these assholes."
Mark was done and finally relaxed.
And then it came, a soft choking noise from JD's throat and a pale older brother was pulling him close in a moment. The two siblings clung to each other as raw emotion spilled out after months of fear, frustration and heartbreak, both of them grateful for the release.
The others in the room were choked at the scene but stayed close.
Chris and Ezra took a brother each and the four stayed huddled together, with Mark right with them, for some time.
Eventually, JD looked up, wiped at his eyes with the palms of his hands, and addressed Mark.
"Does that mean there's nothing to stop us going home now?"
Walsh nodded, "Yeah, I guess not."
The silence in the room was palpable. If the brothers were to return to Boston, where would that leave the group? Each man wondered if this was the beginning of the end. JD's softly spoken words ended their speculation.
"Buck. . .I wanna go home."
Up until fifteen minutes before take-off, JD had been bouncing between seats like a ball in a pinball machine, but now half an hour into the flight on the Dunne Corporation executive jet he had gone unnaturally quiet.
Two weeks ago the seven men had been relieved at the news of the arrests of Peter Nichols and Kyle Blatchley and all JD could talk about was going home. At first the men had been saddened by the youth's enthusiasm to leave them, but it soon became apparent that he wanted them all to go. And here they all were, winging their way to Boston en masse.
Chris left his seat next to Vin and joined his Godson.
"Everything ok, kid?"
JD started slightly as Chris' voice drew him from his thoughts. He smiled at the blond.
"You seemed far away. Can I help?"
JD shifted slightly in his seat to face the man, and after a slight pause he began.
"All I've thought about since we left is home is going back, familiarity, you know? Now. . .now I know it won't ever be the same and I don't know how I'll feel about it all. . .how Buck will feel."
Chris nodded his understanding.
"Let's just get there, kiddo. This time will be different; this time you have five men to be there for you."
JD pulled his lips into a tight smile and nodded.
"Yeah. . .five good friends. . ." He shifted in his seat to lean into Chris. The blond smiled to himself and wrapped his arm around the youth's shoulder, pulling him in tighter, oddly comforted when JD relaxed further and rested his head on the blond's shoulder.
"Do you think Buck's ok?" JD mumbled.
"Not really. . .but he will be."
Larabee felt a slight nod against his shoulder and the two sat quietly together for a while.
Buck peered over the top of some papers he was working on and looked at Ezra, who was occupying the seat opposite him and working on the laptop resting on the table between them.
The brunet switched his attention briefly to Chris and JD, wondering what they were talking about, while at the same time, knowing it would be fine if Chris was involved.
Buck was nervous about returning to Boston. It had felt like a long time since he had looked forward to pulling into the long drive and stepping inside their former home. He was surprised that during his moments of reflection, images of their new apartment in Denver and Chris' ranch popped into his mind.
"Penny for them?"
The southern drawl broke him from his reverie.
"Your thoughts, my friend. . .I am offering recompense for them."
Buck's eyebrows went up, "I seriously doubt they're worth as much as a penny, Ezra."
"I am inclined to disagree; I could see your expression. I would say a penny would indeed be a veritable bargain."
Buck chuckled, "Then I'll leave you with that thought, my friend."
Standish smiled and continued working; he knew when he was being given the brush-off, no matter how politely it was delivered.
Vin was looking through the window and down at the patchwork on the ground far below him. He wasn't too fond of flying but he had felt settled knowing Chris was right next to him. Missing his friend's presence, he considered joining Chris and JD initially, but on seeing the two huddled together, he thought better of it and settled, instead, for looking out over thousands of acres of farmland.
Nathan had decided to wade through a medical text book, sitting opposite Josiah as the big man was clearly enjoying an audio book, which was currently playing through JD's iPod.
Josiah noticed Chris return to his seat next to Vin, patting the youngest on the arm as he left him. Sanchez switched off the iPod and removed the headset, placing it down on the seat next to him. He got up and moved to the seat opposite JD.
The youth smiled as the big man joined him.
"Everything alright, JD?"
"Oh yeah, sure, everything's cool. . .just a little nervous, excited. . .you know."
Josiah gave a slight nod, "Of course. Is there anything I can do for you, do you need anything?
JD shook his head, "Oh no. . .I'm fine, thanks. Josiah?"
Sanchez looked at him, his clear light-blue eyes filled with affection and compassion.
JD continued, "I just wanted to thank you for. . .you know, coming out here with us."
Josiah moved to sit next to his young friend, cupping the back of JD's neck.
"It was my pleasure, son. I'm flattered you asked me. Your home sounds wonderful."
JD's eyes filled and Josiah found himself regretting his words.
"It used to be," the youth sighed, "I guess it's just a house now."
"It will always be home, JD, because it will always be filled with good memories and even the bad ones have a special place there, you just have to learn to embrace each one."
The call from the captain for their imminent descent into Boston broke into the moment, and as Josiah returned to his seat for the landing, JD nodded his understanding.
Within seconds, Buck and Ezra had moved to join JD and soon after landing the seven men were in a limousine and headed for the suburbs of Chestnut Hill.
Nathan, Josiah and Vin stared out through the car windows as the limo gently rolled up the drive, coming to a halt just in front of the portico.
"This is ONE house?" Vin whispered to Josiah.
"Apparently so," the profiler answered. "I have seen pictures of it while in the office, but they do not do it justice."
They all climbed out, taken back slightly as the door opened to reveal a portly woman in her fifties. The woman let out a squeal and opened her arms in a grand welcoming gesture.
"My boys. . ."
Buck reached her first, picking her up and swinging her around once, before putting her back on the ground.
"Iris, darlin' you look ravishing."
Iris giggled, "Well it's nice to see you haven't changed," the housekeeper was craning her neck, "Where is. . ."
The object of her search was revealed as Chris and Ezra separated on exiting the car, closely followed by JD, who was the last out.
"John," she whispered and they made eye contact.
JD looked at the woman, who had had a big part in raising him, and grinned widely. He stepped forward and the woman swept him up in a tight embrace. They stayed that way for a good half-minute.
"You've lost weight," she scolded, releasing her grip on him.
"But do you think I've grown some?"
She looked him up and down, and then put the brothers next to each other.
"Hmmm. . .you know what? I do believe you have," she fibbed, causing Buck to chuckle softly.
Iris looked away to survey the small gathering.
"And who are these fine young men. . .oh wait. . .Ezra. . .and Chris?"
The two men moved forward to greet her and she hugged each of them, holding Chris for a few moments longer as she whispered into his ear.
"We've all missed you so much, sweetie. . .welcome back."
Chris gave her a quick squeeze and offered a lop-sided grin, "It's good to be back."
"Iris, this is Josiah Sanchez, Nathan Jackson and Vin Tanner." Buck introduced each one as he said their name and she greeted them each with a hug.
"Well, now we all know each other, what say we go have some cake and coffee?" Iris asked
With a collective nod, they followed her in and a half-hour later found them full of chocolate cake and coffee or milk.
Josiah looked around the living room.
"You have an amazing home, boys, truly beautiful."
Buck winked, "We'll have to give you all the 'tour', huh JD?"
JD was in a world of his own. Above the huge fireplace hung a portrait of Rachel and Wil, Buck just in front of his father with his father's hands resting proudly on his shoulders, both males smiling and Rachel sitting, smiling, just in front of them with a laughing five year-old on her knee. They were happiness personified.
All the men had seen it, but had declined to comment.
As if suddenly aware he had been spoken to, JD snapped his head toward his brother.
"The tour," Buck repeated, "We should give the guys the 'tour'"
"Yeah, sure," he sighed, not really hearing the comment.
Buck approached JD, the younger man stood to meet him.
"What's wrong, kid?"
JD stared at him, "What's wrong. . .? Hell, Buck...you're standing right under their photo, don't you feel anything?"
Buck gripped his brother's arm, causing JD to wince as it was the sholder that had been dislocated.
"How can you say that?" Buck growled.
The others looked on in shock, the brothers never raised their voices to each other and this was looking like it could get ugly.
"How can you STAND there and SAY THAT?" Buck repeated, "What. . .are you the only one who has feelings? Just 'coz I don't blubber or pout don't mean I don't feel JD, so knock it off."
JD looked hard at his brother. He knew Buck was right, but his own anger and sorrow were consuming him and he wasn't ready to admit he was wrong. He wrenched his arm painfully out of Buck's grip and squared up to him.
"Screw you," he spat back, and turned and walked out of the room climbing the stairs two at a time to escape.
"Don't you walk away from me. . .JD. . .Get back here!" Buck called after him.
Chris could feel the tension in the brunet's shoulders as he offered support. Buck turned to him, looking at him and then to the others.
"I. . .I. . .how could he not think it affects me. . .how could he not know?"
Chris squeezed the tense shoulder, "He knows, Buck. . .he just isn't thinking straight."
Ezra quietly slipped away and headed up the stairs. He found JD in his parents' room clutching two pillows to his face.
He looked at the southerner through teary eyes.
"Iris changed the bedding. . .I asked her not to. . .I can't smell them any more, Ezra."
Ezra sat next to JD and, tossing the pillows back onto the bed, he pulled the boy toward him in a tight hug.
"Aw son, I am so sorry. I wish I could offer you some solace, but I fear only time will heal on this occasion."
JD sobbed hard, as much for his argument with Buck as his loss. He was oblivious to the noise on the landing as Buck brought everyone up to show them to their rooms, looking in at the scene then turning away. He was still angry with his brother and wasn't ready to go to him.
Ezra sighed to himself, tightening his hold on the younger man. For the first time, he feared returning home might actually break the two brothers. He made a promise to himself that he would do everything in his power to prevent that.
As Chris stepped out of Buck's Mustang, he took in the sight of his family home and took a deep breath.
He walked as confidently as he could, twisting slightly to activate the remote locking on Buck's car. He didn't feel particularly confident, in fact, he was really nervous.
He hadn't seen his father for three years. His mother had flown to Denver once to visit but his father had elected to stay home. The first conversation they had had in that time was when JD was in the hospital several weeks ago, and although it had started awkwardly, it had ended well.
Once the group had made up their minds to come to Boston, Chris had decided he was going home too.
He paused for a moment, composing himself to knock at the door and was in mid-swing when the door opened and his mother stood before him.
His swing quickly turned to an embrace as the two grasped at each other.
"Mom. . ."
Caroline Larabee was a slim, tall, attractive strawberry blond whose hazel eyes sparkled with life. She pushed her son away slightly to take a good look at him.
"You've lost weight, you look positively scrawny."
Chris chuckled as he was reminded of Iris' comment to JD.
"I'm fine, Ma. . .in fact, never better. How have you been?"
"Good. . .yes, good. Better for seeing you, though." She took his hand and guided him into the hallway.
"How's Dad?" Chris wanted to know.
Caroline smiled, "He's very well, and although he would never admit it, very excited about your visit. He's in the garden, why don't you go say hi, and I'll make some coffee and sandwiches."
Chris nodded and walked through the kitchen and out into the garden.
Patrick Adam Larabee was snipping away at some roses when he spotted his son walking toward him. He drew his slim six foot frame upright, his blond/gray hair mussed from his activities; a smile grew on his handsome face as green eyes brightened with tears as his son approached.
Chris' heart rate accelerated the closer he got as his mind searched desperately for the right words, but he needn't have worried as his father reached out and pulled him into a tight embrace.
The younger Larabee was slightly shocked at first, but soon melted into the hug, the emotion washing over him as he felt his father's sobs trembling through his body. That was how Caroline found them as she stepped out into the bright sunshine and placed the tray of refreshments onto the garden table.
She joined them and hugged them both, kissing each of her men on their cheeks.
"Come. . ." she encouraged, ". . .sit."
Sitting around the large glass oval table, the three sipped at their coffees and looked at each other.
"Dad. . ."
Patrick raised his hand, "No. . .no regrets. . .time to put this behind us, we've wasted too much time as it is. I hear you have the ranch up and running again."
Chris nodded, "Yes, and it's doing really well. Buck and JD are partners as is Vin Tanner, a great friend of mine. I can't wait for you to meet him."
Patrick smiled, "Sounds like this friend has been a good influence on you." His expression saddened, "How are the boys doing?"
"Not great, Dad; in fact, worse since they came home. But there are seven of us now, seven great friends and the other five of us are gonna get them through this, just like they brought me back from the brink after I found out about Wil and Rachel's deaths."
Caroline poured more coffee, "It sounds like you've really got your life back on track, son; I'm so proud of you."
Chris nodded, "Yeah, it is, but Buck and JD's loss made me realize what I was throwing away here." He put down his cup and took his parents' hands in his.
"I love you both so much. . .I really want us to start fresh."
"Already have, son," Patrick squeezed Chris' hand, "Already have."
The next morning, as JD stood in the shadow of the giant stone angel, he sighed. He had wanted to visit here with Buck, but as the two had barely said a word to each other since their argument two days ago, the youth had decided to make the trip anyway. JD knelt down on one knee and started to arrange the flowers he had brought, gently touching the inscriptions on the marble plinth, tracing his parents' names as he brushed his fingers lightly across it.
He stayed there for a moment or two, swiping at the tears, then got up and brushed off his jeans. He sighed again.
"Mom, Dad. . .I'm sorry I'm alone today. It's all my fault that Buck's not here. We had a fight. . .well, I guess you already know that. . .you looking down on us and all." JD brushed his hands down his jeans. "I should say sorry, but just can't find the words. I'm so useless at the moment. All I seem to do lately is get myself into trouble or cry. And now. . ." he looked a little guilty, ". . .now I don't think I like being home anymore. It physically hurts to be here, like. . .like I don't belong here any more. I have no idea how Buck feels about it. . .like I said. . .not talking right now." JD pushed his hand through his hair.
"I know, I know. . .it's not like us. You're right. . .it's nothing like us and I'd give anything to have him standing here with his arm around me telling me everything's gonna be alright. Except that's it, isn't is it? He's been doing all the reassuring, and I've taking it all, without a single thought for him. I'm sorry, guys, I've let you down.
I've done some serious thinking and I've come to a decision. . .I'm gonna head back west. I love where we've been living and our new home. You should see the mountains. . .they' re awesome. But most of all, I love being around Chris and Ezra and Vin and Josiah and Nathan. They're the best friends a man could wish for, they're like. . .brothers.
I just hope Buck wants to go back too. I can't imagine my life without him.
I miss you and love you both so much." The youth swallowed, desperately attempting to hold down his emotions. "If I do go back to Denver, I promise I'll come and see you before I go."
He turned slowly and looked across to where he'd parked his Viper.
A noise like a whip crack sounded and was the last thing JD saw or heard as his body spun and flew backward, landing face down on his parents' grave.
A black BMW moved slowly away, picking up speed as it distanced itself from the scene.
JD lay still, his eyes closed. The only movement was his black hair as it lifted gently in the breeze and the trickle of blood down his face.
"Where the hell did he go?" Buck was directing the question generally as he pulled on his jacket.
All five men shook their heads.
"He didn't say," Josiah answered, "But he must have left reasonably early."
"His car's gone," Vin pointed out, "Maybe he just went for a drive."
Buck cursed, "Well, we'll have to go without him. I want to see if Nichols wins his appeal for bail. Mark says he has no chance, but I want to see for myself."
They all nodded their agreement.
"D'ya want me to wait for him? I don't mind," Vin offered.
Buck shook his head, "Nah. . .he'll be fine, he knows his way around. Are we all set?"
They all agreed and within minutes they were in the limo, out of the gates and gone.
Two hours later, the six men were standing on the steps of the court building, relaxing slightly in the sunshine having just stepped outside.
"Well, Buck, I have a good feeling this is going to go our way from now on," Chris smiled.
Buck agreed, "Yeah. . .sure looks that way."
No one noticed the black BMW until it was too late. A noise pierced the air and for a split second nothing moved, then suddenly Buck flew backward grabbing Ezra and taking him with him.
Ezra gasped as he hit the steps hard and was about to admonish Buck when he saw the blood.
"Oh dear Lord."
Chris and Vin looked down at Buck, then back at the BMW which had attempted to accelerate but was hindered by traffic. Both men took off down the steps, closely followed by Josiah. Nathan went to Buck so Ezra joined the pursuit.
Vin had jumped on the car hood while Chris had wrenched open the driver's door. The BMW jerked as the driver, surprised by the assault, released the wheel. Chris leaned in and pulled the man clear out of his seat, while Vin, satisfied the car was going nowhere, raced around to the back doors and pulled one open while Josiah and Ezra jerked at the other one, as the car slowly continued forward to bounce against the car in front of it and eventually stop
Mark and John Nichols blinked at the men in surprise; hemmed in on both sides they offered no resistance.
In moments, the police were there and took over. Still breathing heavily from the adrenaline rush, Chris looked back at Buck.
"Oh God," he murmured and ran back up the steps, the others right behind him.
Buck was agitated.
"Settle down, Buck," Nathan scolded, "I need to work here."
"J. . .JD?" Buck breathed.
Chris watched Nathan apply pressure to his friend's right shoulder.
"He isn't here, Buck. . .he's fine."
Buck lifted himself up slightly and grabbed at Chris' jacket.
"Where. . .where is. . .he. . .? If. . .if they shot at me. . ."
The men all looked at each other, stepping back as the paramedics arrived.
Chris and Vin exchanged looks as they stood on the steps of the courthouse, Josiah, Ezra and Nathan next to them, no one knew what to do next
The groundsman tutted as he looked at the Viper. It had been there for some time and now he wanted to know where its owner was. He scanned the area, finally catching sight of a shape in the grass.
He shook his head. . .assuming the person was drunk or asleep, as he climbed the slight incline toward the Dunne's graves. He crouched next to the prone figure and tapped at the pale face.
"Hey. . .kid. Can you hear me? Hey. . ."
The man gently rolled the boy over, gasping as he saw the blood on the young man's head and face.
"Shit. . .easy kid, I'm gonna call for help, hang in there."
The man's hands were shaking as he reached into his pocket to retrieve his cell. He dialed 911.
JD was in a dense fog. He felt such pain yet he couldn't move. . .or open his eyes. Someone touched him, moved him. . .was that him, groaning? He slipped back into the darkness, grateful for the release.
The groundsman snapped his phone shut and attempted to make the boy comfortable.
"What the hell happened here, kid?" he asked, not expecting an answer. He sat protectively next to the still form and waited for help.
Nathan exited the bathroom on the surgical floor and returned to the waiting room. Buck had arrived, been examined and prepped for surgery all in the space of an hour.
The doctors were hopeful. They needed to repair some damage so were unwilling to comment too much until they could see how extensive that damage was, but they seemed optimistic.
Chris refused to sit, pacing to keep his mind focused. JD wasn't answering his cell and no one knew where he had gone. They had all been lulled into a false sense of security, assuming the brothers' ordeal was over after proof of dirty dealings within their own company had been sent to the Nichols. They hadn't bargained on this family's dedication to their 'eye for an eye' way of living. The one good thing to come from all this was the imminent demise of this evil family, but at what cost?
He looked at Vin and a thought flashed through his brain. Approaching the younger man, he pinched his arm.
"What the hell did you think you were doing, jumping on the hood of a moving vehicle?" The blond growled.
Tanner looked shocked, but soon rallied, "Oh right. . .and do we ignore that you opened the door of said moving vehicle to eject the driver?"
Larabee and Tanner glared at each other for a moment or two, then softened their features as smiles threatened to break out.
"Yeah, well. . .we got enough on our plates as it is. . .no need to borrow trouble."
Vin raised his eyebrows, "The day you choose to live by that rule, then so will I."
Again they stared, but this time a message passed between them and a silent understanding was reached.
Josiah had gone in search of coffee, ending up back in the ER because the machine on their floor was dispensing hot water only, due to a lack of maintenance.
At first, he ignored the noisy entrance of a gurney and two paramedics shouting information to a doctor and two nurses, but the words 'Minor GSW to the head' piqued his curiosity.
The coffee Josiah had already purchased clattered to the floor on recognizing the bloody face as it passed him. He grabbed at one of the paramedics.
"W. . .what happened to the boy?"
"Sir, if you don't mind. . ."
"I DO mind. . .I know him. . .what happened?"
The paramedic's features softened. "Follow us."
Josiah stayed close and remained just outside the ER, waiting for the paramedic to return. After what seemed like an age, he did, along with the doctor.
"You know him? Can you confirm his name?" the doctor asked, clutching at JD's driver's license.
"His name's JD. . .John Daniel Dunne, or maybe Wilmington. . .long story. . .how is he?"
The doctor nodded, "He's stable but unresponsive. The bullet glanced off his skull but has left quite a crease. He needs x-rays and a CT- scan before we'll know anything for sure. Are you family or friend?"
"Both," Josiah said with assurance. "The rest of his family is here too, I'll go and inform them if you don't mind."
The doctor agreed, "He won't be admitted to a room for some time yet, so please, carry on. I'm sure he'll be glad to know someone's here for him."
Josiah was on his way back to the surgical floor in seconds, his heart heavy. How was he going to tell the others. . .? How would these brothers survive this ordeal? He was at the waiting room before he knew it.
Chris was still on his feet, and although Vin couldn't explain why, he stood too, as soon as Josiah entered the room.
"JD. . ." Josiah gasped, a little out of breath, "He's in the ER. . .gunshot wound to the head."
Chris felt his legs wobble but he stood firm. All the men were now standing.
"Dear Lord. . .how bad?" Ezra asked.
"The bullet glanced off his head. . .he's having tests now, but he's unconscious and unresponsive. "
Ezra, Nathan and Chris exchanged glances.
"Why don't Josiah and myself go to JD and you stay here with Buck?" Ezra offered Chris.
Chris was torn, but nodded. Vin approached.
"Actually, I'd like to see him, too."
Josiah squeezed his arm. "You go, Vin, I've seen him. He'll be grateful to know you're there for him, he idolizes you."
Vin blushed, "Actually, I think he pretty much feels the same 'bout all of us."
They all nodded and Vin and Ezra left.
Nathan, Chris and Josiah turned as a doctor approached them.
"Mr. Wilmington has done very well. The damage was easily repaired and he should have full mobility within a few months. He's been taken to recovery and you can see him in a few minutes. Do you have any questions?"
"Will he understand me if I tell him something?" Chris pushed.
"Well, he'll hear you, but whether he'll understand. . .I couldn't say."
Chris nodded his thanks and sighed with relief. At least one of the brothers was out of the woods.
Ezra and Vin searched desperately for assistance, eventually finding a nurse coming from a curtained area.
"Excuse me," Ezra drawled, "We are looking for a young man, our. . ."
". . .brother," Vin interjected.
Ezra smiled and squeezed his arm, "Yes, our brother, if you will. He was admitted with a gunshot wound to the head."
The nurse nodded, "He's gone for a CT-scan, I'll get his doctor for you."
The men waited patiently and the doctor soon arrived.
"His portable x-ray showed a hairline fracture to the skull, but no internal bleeding, edema or fragments. The CT scan will give us a more in-depth view, but we are hopeful at this point, although he's still unconscious. "
The two men nodded and sat to wait for JD's return.
Chris grasped the cold hand of his oldest friend and leaned in.
"Hey. . .Buck. . .time to wake up, big guy."
Although his eyes felt like the lids were weighted, Buck eventually blinked them open, taking a little longer than he would have liked, but eventually focusing on Chris' face.
"Hey. . ." he gasped.
"Hey, yourself," Chris smiled. "You're doing great, pard. Your shoulder's gonna be sore for a while, but it's gonna be ok."
Josiah and Nathan came into view and Buck tried to smile,
"'Siah. . .Nath. . .an. "
"Hello, my friend. Just relax now, everything's under control," Josiah soothed.
"Hey Buck. . .take it easy, man," Nathan smiled.
Buck's eyes widened and he started to move, "JD. . .? Chris. . .JD?"
"He's here. . . in the hospital; Ezra and Vin are with him."
Misunderstanding Chris' words, Buck nodded and drifted off to sleep.
Chris released a breath, "Well, at least we didn't have to lie to him."
Back in the ER, JD was finally clear to be allocated a room. All his tests were fine and now it was just the inevitable wait until he woke up. Ezra offered to inform the others, so Vin settled in for a role he was unfamiliar with. For a few minutes, he just sat, watching his friend sleep, then he leaned in and took the youth's hand, staring at the bandage on JD's head and the bruising forming under his eyes.
"Hey, kid. . .just wanted you to know, I was here. I guess it's been a rough couple 'a months for you and Buck, while for me, it's been about the best time of my life. . .except when I was with ma, of course.
I wouldn't blame ya if you wanted to stay here. . .what you have here is awesome. . .but I really hope you come back to Denver with us. . .Buck too. It won't be the same without you."
Tanner sighed as he watched the youth continue to sleep. Settling in again, Vin began to talk about his life as a bounty hunter.
Buck was vaguely aware of voices. . .distant voices, but there none the less. Something about them called to him, familiarity, comfort, family. He found himself wanting to be with them and willed himself to pull them closer. Yet the nearer he got, the more something tugged at his mind, something not quite right. . .something. . . missing.
"Would you like a drink?"
Buck's eyes fluttered open to reveal Nathan's face inches from his.
"Please, yes," the brunet answered, gratefully taking the straw and ingesting the liquid.
"Your shoulder's looking real good," Nathan continued, "No permanent problems at all, you just need some physiotherapy and you'll be as right as rain."
Buck nodded his understanding and drifted off for a moment. The next time he opened his eyes, he focused on Chris.
"JD gone for food or something?" he rasped. The blond shook his head.
"No, not this time."
Chris moved in closer, "Look to your left, Buck."
As Wilmington turned and saw the person in the bed next to him, he emitted a wail the likes of which the others had never heard before.
"God. . .oh God. How bad?"
Larabee forced his friend to look at him.
"All signs are good, Buck. . .he just won't wake up."
"What. . .what did they. . .what happened?" Tears rolled down the big man's face as Chris raised his bed for him to get a better look at them all. He wiped the moisture from his friend's eyes with his thumb.
Ezra stepped forward and Chris nodded to him.
"He took a shot to the head, Buck, but it just creased him. . .he should be fine."
Buck's eyes grew wide and he looked at them all and then back to Chris, who nodded.
"He's ok, bro. . .I swear to you, he just needs to wake up."
The room was pure white, ALL white, no corners or edges just a cocoon of white. At first, the room was silent, and JD found peace and solitude. He felt safe here, as he sat cross-legged in the middle. A noise. . .a voice. . .several voices broke through the silence.
'NO! Go away. . .let me think.'
He couldn't decide if he wanted to stay here. He DID like it here. . . yet. . .something. . . something was telling him it wasn't right.
JD covered his ears to drown out the background noise and for a while it seemed to work.
Then a sound. . .an unearthly wailing sound, that disturbed him so deeply the room changed color and he found himself lying on his back, on the grass, under the stone angel of his parents' grave. He lay there for a moment, soothed to be close to his parents. JD closed his eyes. . .he felt safe here.
Once again a voice buzzed around him until it forced him to open his eyes. It seemed to be calling him. . .drawing him away from safety. 'But I want to stay here' his thoughts anchored him to the grass he lay on, but still the voice pulled at him. . .and finally he could resist no longer. . .
"JD, come on now. . .I need you. . .JD!"
The five men pushed the two beds as close together as possible and Buck was able to reach his brother's hand.
"Can you give us a minute?" the brunet ordered rather than asked.
Voicing their goodbyes, the five friends left the room and decided to go in search of food. As they left the hospital, Mark approached them.
"Hey guys, I was just going up to see Buck and JD. . .how are they?"
"Needing to be alone right now," Chris offered, "Why don't you come and get some food with us?"
Mark frowned for a moment then nodded, "Sure, might as well. So fill me in. . .how are they?"
Buck had been talking for five minutes, about their argument mostly. He had started off admonishing the boy, then himself, then apportioning blame, then removing it. He watched for a reaction. At first, nothing.
"JD, come on now. . .I need you. . .JD!"
A slight frown. Wilmington's heart skipped a beat.
"Atta boy. . .come on now. . .d'ya hear me. . .? Wake up!"
The youth absently raised a hand to rub his nose but found he couldn't move it, something was holding it down. In frustration, he tugged again. 'Who was laughing at him?' In defiance, he cracked open one eye, a little uncomfortable with the light, but he persevered, eventually opening both eyes. He was met with the piercing gaze of dark blue orbs.
"There you are," Buck grinned.
"'M trying to sleep." JD mumbled.
"I know, boy, I just wanted to tell you something."
"I love you, kid."
JD looked fully at him, "Love you too, Buck. . .can I rest now?"
The brunet laughed. "Sure, I'll talk to you later." As he watched his brother drift off, Buck pressed the buzzer. He wanted the staff to know the youth was no longer unconscious.
An hour later, six men returned to room 566. They all grinned on entering as they saw the two brothers sitting up in bed and talking quietly. Well in truth, Buck was talking and JD was nodding gently, but it was a fine sight. For the first time since they arrived in Boston, they all relaxed and Mark finally had a conversation that didn't involve the Nichols brothers. Normality was creeping back and they were all grateful to finally seem to be moving on. Now all they needed was a direction.
Two weeks later saw the limo being loaded with Vin's, Nathan's, Josiah's, and JD's luggage. Chris and Ezra had returned to Denver to take care of business a week earlier.
The trials of the Nichols family were at hand and the newspapers were full of it. The men had gotten a kick out of one that had picked up on the personal story of the brothers and their friends and had headlined with;
"Magnificent Seven Help Foil Criminal Family's Activities."
JD had bought seven copies and had them framed for each of them.
Buck and Iris stood at the front of the portico, watching the activity. One by one the men said their goodbyes to Iris and Buck, JD hanging back. Eventually, the youth approached the housekeeper and hugged her tight. She returned the gesture, crying softly. They pulled back and looked at each other.
"You take care now, y'hear?" she warned. "I promise I'll take care of things here until you come back to see us again, and I'll take good care of Buck, too."
JD nodded, his throat thick with emotion. He approached his brother and the two embraced for a good while, careful to avoid Buck's strapped shoulder.
"Let me know when you get back. When your Viper arrives in Denver, you make sure you drive it carefully," Buck reminded.
Squeezing tighter, JD nodded.
"I wish you were coming with us," he sighed.
Buck pulled back, his eyes bright, "Three weeks will soon go by, squirt. You be sure to do as Chris says, he has my permission to whup your ass if you step out of line."
JD beamed, "Yeah, right." He sighed, "We are doing the right thing, aren't we?"
Buck nodded. "This will always be home, kid, but we need a fresh start. We can come back here anytime, and we will, but for now, let's move forward and take full advantage of what we have in Denver. We've been granted a second chance, and I'm more than ready to take it. . .are you?"
With a lop-sided grin, JD nodded, "Yeah, yeah I am. See you in three weeks?"
"Three weeks. . .be good!"
With a final wave, the four got in the car and it slowly pulled away. JD looked back, waving once or twice, until they pulled out of the drive and onto the road. They had one more stop. . .Boston's Green Meadows cemetery and then on to the airport and Denver.
JD looked at the three men with him and felt contentment. He pulled out his cell and speed-dialed two.
"Hey, Chris, we're on our way," he grinned at the others, "We're coming home."