Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep `em damnit!
Thanks to Phyllis for BL/AU2 and watching over me :o)
Alternate Universe "Brothers Larabee"
Summary: Seven brothers found each other, but observe that those departed are gone, but not forgotten.
In a small cemetery a mile from the Double L ranch, JD sat cross- legged on the grass. He gazed at the headstones of his mother and father's graves, the pair, like most of his brother's moms, united in death. Rising to his feet, he did a final adjustment to the flowers he had brought with him for his Mom.
"Sorry it's been so long since I visited. I think the guys could sense I was a little down today. It's just giving you flowers this way is hard, you know?" He sighed. "I shoulda told them it was your birthday and I will, but I felt so " his teeth worried his lower lip. " I was afraid I couldn't say the words without sniveling like some kid." He stroked the angel's head resting on the black onyx stone that guarded his mother's grave. "But, sometimes it hurts. When I think of what I have now, and all that you had to give up for me." JD glanced around at the vista. "You should be here, mom you should be having this life. " He looked up to see the once blue sky appear overcast. "You should be here."
A raindrop hit his nose. "Great." He turned to walk away, glancing back one last time at the little row of five headstones, three of them also marking the graves of Chris, Buck, and Nathan's mothers. "See you soon, mom dad."
While the six brothers enjoyed a rare lunch together, Buck looked glumly at the empty space next to him. "We shoulda asked."
Chris shrugged. "Maybe, but I got the feeling JD needed to work through something. He knows where we are when he's ready." In truth, lunch was going down in lumps. Chris hated seeing any of his brothers blue, and JD was always so upbeat, so it was doubly hard when he was down.
"Sometimes a body needs a push."
Buck pointed his fork at Vin. "What he said."
"He took flowers with him." All eyes turned to Ezra. "Wildflowers, I believe."
"An anniversary? " Josiah wondered.
Nathan, Chris and Buck stared at each other, speaking as one. "Birthday."
"JD's?" Vin asked, already realizing that wasn't it.
"Nah, his ma's," Buck answered, his memories of a tiny, pretty, dark-haired woman and her love of flowers on her birthday, causing him to smile. "Poor kid. He shoulda told us reminded us."
"He will, when he gets back." Chris spoke with confidence. JD was the sharing type; he wouldn't be able to bottle it up for long.
"He take his bike?"
Vin nodded at Nathan.
"Wanna watch the weather. Forecast is heavy rain heading in."
Buck grinned at the doctor. "That should bring him home then."
JD's bike refused to start. He'd had no trouble coming out, she'd recently been serviced, what the hell was wrong? He couldn't believe the engine had cut out like that. The youth had only traveled a few miles before it died. He'd have to get Vin, Chris, or Buck to take a look at it. Trouble was, he'd decided to take a little ride to clear the cobwebs, before heading home; to enjoy the freedom only his bike and his horse could give him; so was further away than he originally planned to be and now parked up on a patch of ground with little or no shelter.
JD sat astride his bike and shivered. When he left the ranch, it had been warm and fine, but after that one drop earlier, the Heavens opened and now his leather jacket and jeans were soaked, as was his hair. He called the ranch eventually, and knew Buck and Chris were coming, but felt like he had been waiting forever. JD checked his watch, thirty minutes. He pushed dripping wet hair from his eyes. Taking the helmet off had been a mistake. JD watched the rain bounce off the ground. If they didn't come soon, he'd have to swim home.
The rain was so hard Chris and Buck could barely see through the windshield, as wiper blades fought with the excess water of the fierce rainstorm.
"Where the hell is he? We should've seen him by now."
Chris glanced at Buck momentarily, his eyes fully focused as he struggled with the hazardous driving conditions. "Just keep looking, there's no shelter here so we can't miss him." Buck constantly scanned the roadside, suddenly relaxing and grinning as he pointed. Chris nodded and passed the youth, then turned to face back the way they had come and pull in next to him.
"Taxi for Dunne," the brunet grinned.
JD mocked smiled. "Gee, thanks for that, Buck I needed a good laugh."
Jumping out into the rain, Buck and Chris had his bike secured in the back of the truck in no time, and just after, all three were inside the vehicle. Shucking his rain jacket, Chris handed his youngest brother a thick blanket.
"Here, kid, wrap this around you until we can get you home."
Shivering, JD nodded gratefully and did just that.
Buck smiled. "Sorry we kept you waiting so long, you were farther away than we'd expected."
JD nodded, snuggling into the soft, purple and black material. "No problem. Sorry I had to call you out, but I'm real grateful you came."
"Well," Buck grinned, "it was either pick you up, or watch football but the rain affected the picture, so "
JD shook his head and chuckled. "Lucky me, huh?"
After a few minutes of silence, Buck turned to look at him. "You okay?"
JD frowned. "Sure, apart from feeling like an ice block. Why?"
"Just wondered. You kinda just took off this morning."
Hearing Chris's grunt and seeing Buck's silent, animated facial movements in reply, JD couldn't help but grin. "Later, Buck, okay?"
The brunet adjusted his features back to a smile. "Oh yeah, sure no problem."
Having watched their bedraggled youngest head upstairs for a hot shower, four men approached their two siblings for some answers. All Buck and Chris could do was shrug. "He didn't say much," Buck offered.
Coming from the kitchen, Nettie interrupted their musings. "Dinner's almost done." She pointed to the abandoned TV. "Should I leave it for you to dish up after the game?"
Chris nodded. "Yeah, sure, you go on home. Thanks Nettie."
She smiled and went for her coat and bag, turning back before she disappeared into the mudroom. "John Dunne is a deeper thinker than either of you give him credit for. If it helps, he told me he had no money on his mother's last birthday before she died, so picked wildflowers from the roadside to give to her. He hadn't been home to visit her grave since, and now she's here, he wanted to give her the same. So I brought some from my garden." She smiled. "He loves you all, dearly, but today today he`s taken a step back in time, and I think it's thrown him some." With that, she left.
Buck broke the following silence. "See he told her!"
Josiah nodded, sagely. "He told a woman."
They all frowned. Vin spoke. "What? You sayin' he can't talk to us about stuff like this?"
"I'm just stating facts, Vin. I don't know what's in his head."
"But?" Ezra pushed.
Gesturing for them to sit, Josiah watched them take up seats, and continued. "We're all unique, but one thing stands out we're all strong. However, JD, while being no less strong, finds it hard to bottle things up. Mostly he shares, but sometimes, I believe he fears he'll look weak. So he fights with his conscience over each issue, and I'm convinced the question is 'what would my brothers do?'.
"We'd never judge him," Buck insisted.
"Not the point," Chris jumped in, suddenly understanding. "For some reason, despite all the difficult decisions he made in his life until he met us, at times, since coming here, he's been second- guessing himself." Chris's smile was filled with affection. "Idiot."
"Alright, so he wants to be seen as doing right by the rest of us. How can we make him understand he always has?" Ezra asked, missing the smile from Josiah. Ezra had come a long way since finding his family.
"Got just the thing," Nathan announced.
Taking his seat at the dinner table, JD growled as Buck mussed his still wet, just combed hair.
"Feeling better, kid?"
JD re-tidied his dark locks. "Yeah, great shower. I was freezing." He lifted the lid off a dish on the table and peeked into the pot. "Oh great, southern-fried chicken. We got fries?"
"Baked potatoes," Nathan pointed out.
Vin nodded, enthusiastically.
"Cool, I'm starved."
As they ate, glances were exchanged between six of the brothers, and Nathan cleared his throat. "My mom loved sunflowers. I remember one year, I grew one from a seed, just for her. That flower grew six feet tall."
"My mom loved roses," Buck grinned. "Like her name. Nothing made her smile more than me carrying a big ol' bunch of `em and giving `em over. `Course, she never knew they came from Missus Picket's garden." They all laughed.
"Bet Mrs. Picket knew," Chris grinned. "My mom loved lilies, especially tiger lilies. Lost track of the times I got that darned orange pollen over my clothes when I picked some up for her."
"Orchids," Ezra said, wistfully. "Mother adores orchids. I would buy her some, and she would pluck a bloom and place it in my buttonhole. Damned expensive buttonhole."
Again they laughed.
"It was anemones for my mother," Josiah shared. "Especially pink ones."
"Cornflowers for my ma," Vin smiled, his eyes glistening. "She also loved Bluebonnets, but said that the blue of the cornflower matched my eyes."
JD stared at them all, his own eyes shimmering with unshed tears and adoration for these six men he called brothers.
Buck squeezed his arm. "We know."
He dropped his gaze. "I thought you'd laugh or maybe think "
"How can honoring your mother be a bad thing, JD?" Chris asked.
JD nodded, unwilling to risk his voice. A long pause later, he looked up and smiled at them all. "Thanks."
"Hey, it's almost Mothers Day, how about we make a point of visiting our mothers with some flowers, no matter where they're buried, or in Ezra's case, located together? "
With rumbles of approval at Chris's suggestion, and an insistence from Ezra he would prefer to send his bouquet on and then call Maude, dinner was consumed and plans were made.
The Friday before Mothering Sunday, and the seven brothers were refreshed from their overnight stay in a local hotel at their first stop, the small town of Medford, Oregon Together; they headed for a nearby church cemetery. Carrying a large bunch of pink and white anemones, Josiah was first through the small, wrought iron gate that was set in the low, dry stone wall, which encircled the church and its serene grounds.
JD was about to follow him in, when Buck yanked him back and gently held his arm. The youth frowned, and then realized his brothers were giving Josiah a moment before paying their own respects. He blushed at his lack of consideration, which just made Buck grin and ruffle his hair.
Josiah was shocked at how quickly emotion overtook him. He stood for a long minute, just taking in the vision of the man that raised him as his own, and his mother's, joint grave. Tears rolled down his cheeks. "Forgive me for not visiting sooner," he heard himself say. He inhaled, releasing the breath slowly. "For too many years, my soul was lost to all that was once familiar to me. I had wandered aimlessly for too long, while I searched for what I felt was missing in my life." He smiled and cast a quick glance back at his family. "Ma, I don't know why you and Linc Larabee had a child together, but all I do know, is that I now believe God created that union, to one day gift me with what I have craved since your passing. The love of a family. They're good boys, Ma, you'd love each and every one of them, as I do." He looked back again, this time gesturing for the others to join him.
"Thank you for all you did for me, and instilling the love and compassion in me that personified all that you were." Sensing his brothers around him, Josiah bent over and placed the flowers into the too-long abandoned pot. Straightening, he stretched out both his arms and drew his brothers into an embrace. After a minute of reflection, the group separated. JD reached out and touched the headstone. "I'm JD. Pleased to meet, you."
With a nod of approval, each man paid his respects before leaving the cemetery. As they walked away, Josiah smiled at them all. "Christopher, this was an inspired idea."
Despite this being their first stop, they all nodded. JD grinned as Josiah dropped an arm over his shoulders, the unspoken message prompting JD to make a vow to try to share what was on his mind more often. He stifled a grin. Maybe he'd take each concern on merit he could have a lot of things on his mind at any one time he'd likely drive them crazy.
Before they left, they took time to enjoy the annual `Art in Bloom' festival, an event deliberately scheduled over the Mothers Day weekend. After a meal, they headed for the airport. Next stop, Vegas, much to Ezra's chagrin; though JD was convinced he wasn't as vexed as he made out, and the others agreed.
JD's last and only visit to Vegas had been a painful and upsetting one for him. A business associate had kidnapped Ezra, while he escorted JD to the city, to investigate the situation that eventually got him abducted, and JD beaten. In truth, it held grim memories for all of them, as the remaining brothers had traveled there to retrieve their two lost siblings. Ever upbeat, as they sought out the casino Maude Standish was currently ensconced in, JD took a totally different view of the whole affair.
"We really came together here, didn't we?" he chirped. "Man, what a great end to that whole crappy affair."
Ezra shook his head. "Ever the optimist." His words were followed by a small grin.
"Yeah," Buck commented. "Only JD could find something good in you being kidnapped and him getting the tar kicked outta him." They all laughed. JD brushed off the comment they had arrived. As before, six brothers stayed back, while they watched Ezra approach a handsome, elegant woman, sitting at a craps table. They had never seen or heard from Maude, and watched in fascination as she acknowledged him, smiled, stood, and eventually accepted the bouquet of orchids he was carrying.
Maude fussed with Ezra's tie. "You look handsome as ever, Ezra."
Standish smiled. "And you look younger every time I see you, Mother." They both laughed and she patted his cheek.
"Nice to see my boy still has it," she complimented, not missing the momentary flash of affection in his eyes.
Ezra gestured behind him. "Mother, I have my brothers with me "
She gathered up her belongings. "While I would love an introduction, I'm running a little late, darling." She plucked a bloom and threaded it into a buttonhole of his sports coat. "Thank you for these. Are you available for breakfast tomorrow? After all, it is Mothers Day."
Fighting the disappointment at her dismissal of his family, he shook his head. "Sadly, I have to be elsewhere, tomorrow." He kissed her cheek. "Goodbye Mother."
She smiled. "Goodbye, sweetie. Keep in touch." She leaned in. "I love you."
"I guess we don't get to meet her, then," Vin commented as they watched Ezra make his way back to them.
"Apparently not," Chris agreed.
"You okay?" Nathan asked as Ezra joined them.
"I am now." He smiled, his words were full of sincerity. He was who he wanted to be with, he knew that now. Ezra was grateful they were heading out to Texas in a few hours. He no longer considered this place home.
Home he smiled, wryly. Vegas had come to feel like home. Maude had brought him here more than any other place during his younger years, and was why he eventually settled here. They rarely stuck around Decatur, their true home. Not that Maude would allow him to share that. If asked, they were from Atlanta. These days, despite having a company here, Ezra found his business trips growing shorter each time. He had found his place, and it took this moment to drive it home. He looked at his brothers.
"I concur, Josiah, this was an excellent idea." They all grinned or nodded, not realizing that, for Ezra, the excursion had helped him finally cut most of his ties to his turbulent past.
Saturday, and later that afternoon saw the seven in the little town of Buffalo Gap, Texas. Clutching a posy of Bluebonnets and Cornflowers, Vin stood in hesitation at the broken gate of the churchyard in which his mother was buried. The others felt for him. He hadn't shared too much of his past, but they did know he had been orphaned at five.
When Vin first discovered his father had known about him, but failed to seek him out until just before his death, that early loss and subsequent loneliness had infuriated him. The same for JD. Neither of his youngest had known about Linc, or that they had brothers. Ezra and Josiah had known of their father, but the former hadn't met him, either. This fact had caused many a turbulent argument in their early days together, but a serious accident for Chris and JD had brought them together as a family, and from there they began to build.
Finally entering the overgrown grounds, Vin squatted down and began tugging weeds from his mother's simple headstone. "Sorry Ma, I shoulda come sooner." He glanced back at his brothers, his heart giving a little lurch when he noticed Chris and Buck were gone. Dusting off the faded stone, Vin smiled. "I brought you Cornflowers and `Bonnets " he placed them against the stone and smiled. "They look real nice, Ma." He brushed his hands together, keeping them clasped as he crouched there and talked.
"Got my brothers with me. Great guys, you'd `a liked `em." Vin sighed. "I miss you." The Texan glanced around. "Jeeze, this place looks bad." He jerked when a hand dropped onto his shoulder, looking up to see all six men standing there. Buck and Chris were armed with clippers, JD with a sponge, and a bucket filled with soapy water. Vin stood, somewhat bemused.
"Hope you don't mind, but we figured this place needed sprucing up," Chris smiled. No one missed the glisten of tears in Vin's eyes, but said nothing.
The Texan gave a shy nod. "Much obliged."
Within the hour, Mrs. Tanner's grave was immaculate. A man approached, and Chris shook his hand before introducing him to Vin.
"This is Elmer Chessman. His card was in the local hardware store window. He's a landscape gardener. For a small retainer, and a monthly salary, he's gonna keep this place neat for you."
Vin's jaw dropped slightly. He saw his family smile at him. "Chris, I " He couldn't hold it. One solitary tear dropped and he sniffed. "Thank you," he rasped.
Chris offered his hand and they clasped forearms. "She deserves the best," he stated.
Again, each man paid his respects. Chris grinned broadly at Buck and JD's red eyes. God, those two were so alike. With a promise from Elmer that he would send regular and dated photograph updates, the men headed to their hired SUV and on to the airport. By midnight, they were back at the Double L, and preparing for their final visit.
Despite it being Sunday, and Mothers Day, the ranch was still on a working day, and even though Chris had told her not to come over, Nettie had turned up to cook breakfast, and prepare a casserole for the boys to have for their dinner, later. A woman of few words and rare emotion, her guard slipped a little when Chris presented her with a giant bouquet of flowers and a return plane ticket to visit Casey at a time of her choosing. When she left that morning, she looked back at them all as they prepared to visit the small family plot at the local cemetery.
"Damnit to hell, but I'm gonna have to say it " She opened the door. "I love you all." Without looking back, she was gone.
Buck chuckled. "See I knew she liked us, really."
Nathan raised an eyebrow at him. "Well, most of us."
The pair started a poking match. Chris called a halt. "What say we ride the horses to the cemetery?"
JD whooped and they all laughed. Vin nodded. "Great idea."
Ezra, Vin and Josiah stroked and fussed the horses while Chris, Buck, Nathan, and JD visited with their mothers. JD had brought a cloth to buff the shiny black onyx stone. His flowers this time were a much grander posy, shop bought, and a mix of wildflowers and all the flowers the guys had mentioned that their mothers had liked. He explained to his brothers, it was his way of introducing his mom to all of theirs.
Nathan dug a little hole and dropped in a sunflower seed, before placing a small bunch of the same against his mother's headstone. He stroked the cold stone. "I love you, momma. I pray you found the peace and happiness that I have. JD reckons y'all should be up there, together, partying. I sure hope he's right."
Buck reverently bent over and kissed the headstone that marked his mother's place of rest. "Looking good," he smiled. "But then, you always did. I went with red roses this year just like the color lipstick you used to wear. I wanted you to know I miss you every day, but I'm real happy, too. I know you'll understand what I mean by that." He smiled. "Oh, one thing if you reckon I should propose to Inez give me a sign." When nothing happened, he chuckled. "Fair point I can wait plus, I kinda like my 'boys' in my pants and not in a garlic press...Lord that lady can be creative." Reaching out, he grabbed JD and pulled him close. "And tell JD's ma, this here runt's a pain in the ass " he winked at the grinning youth. "But he'll do."
Chris cursed as he brushed at the orange stain on his new blue shirt, quickly realizing what he was doing. "Sorry Mom damned pollen got on me again." He divided the bunch of Tiger Lilies in two, and placed the blooms in the pots either side of her headstone. "We've had a busy coupla days. All the boys but Ezra have buried their moms, so we spent Friday through Saturday visiting the graves, and Maude. It was a tough trip, we had to drop from Oregon into Vegas, and then onto Texas, but I wouldn't have missed it for the world." He paused. "I need to say this out loud, so hear me out." Chris glanced around; pleased to see his brothers were occupied. "I love you, I love dad, Buck and Nathan and I love these four lunatics that invaded our home and " he grinned. " made us a family. God bless and keep you both." He turned as he realized the others were gathering around him. Chris frowned when Josiah and Ezra handed him three more bouquets.
"One for Dad, and one each for Sarah and Adam," JD babbled out. He looked at them all apologetically. "Sorry got carried away."
"It's Sarah's day, too," Vin smiled.
"And we couldn't leave out Dad and Adam," Buck added, snatching at JD for comfort as his emotions threatened to emerge yet again.
Unable to speak, Chris moved to his wife and son's graves, spoke softly and briefly as he placed the flowers close to the headstones, then put flowers on their father's grave. Without a word, the seven mounted up and rode for home, with a silent vow to make this an annual pilgrimage. The memories of the last few days would be ones that would stay in their hearts forever. Together, they had shared, laughed, and cried. And grown even closer.