Under the Skin of Men

By Beth © 2005

Brothers AU (Seven, sorry folks, mostly Ezra)

Please send comments and suggestions to artwriter@operamail.com

Chapter 6

Josiah had soup ready for dinner as the brothers arrived home. It was easy on the stomach and comforting for the soul. Nobody had a lot to say. Hands were washed and then one by one each brother took a seat at the table...all except Ezra.

Chris sprinkled salt into his soup and stirred, ignoring the looks of disapproval. He sighed when he spotted Ella driving her car down the driveway. He winced, placed his spoon on the table and excused himself.

When the screen door slammed on its hinges, Buck shook his head and ripped a roll apart. "You seen Ezra since you got home?" He looked at Josiah.

Josiah shook his head and pushed his bowl forward. "I showered once I got home, haven't seen him." He rested his elbows on the table and looked at each of his brothers. "What happened?"

JD sighed and leaned against the back of his chair. "Chris wanted to know what happened and blew his cork."

"Hell, JD, Chris is always blowin' his cork, that's what makes him Chris." Buck shook his head and glanced out the window. "Like now."


Ella stepped out of her Mercedes. "Thought you and your brothers could use some homemade ice-cream." She opened the trunk and removed the ice chest.

"What are you doin', Ella?" Chris rubbed his face and remained standing beside the car.

"I heard what happened, hell, the entire town knows what happened," she said, placing the chest on the ground. "You should have called me."

"I can handle it."

"You're covered in blood."

Chris looked down at his shirt, and then his jeans.

"Listen, eat the ice-cream - don't eat it, I just came by to make sure you were all right. I graduated with Ada - and I know Geoff pretty well."

Chris nodded: "I'm sorry."

Ella smiled and wrapped her arms around him. "Are you and your brothers okay?" She stood back, keeping her hands on his shoulders.

"I think Ezra's locked himself in his room - I lost my temper a bit."

Ella chuckled: "I can't imagine." She moved away from him and looked toward the ice chest. "Help me carry this into the house, and then maybe I'll make some brownies to go with it."

"I don't know, Ella."

She shook her head: "You worry too much, Chris."


"Wonder what she brought?" JD asked, reaching for his glass of milk. "Nothin' I can eat by the looks of it."

Vin grabbed his dishes and walked toward the sink. "I'm goin' to go look for Ezra."

Buck followed, grabbing his hat. "I'll be back once she's gone."

"Come on, Buck, Chris hasn't seen or dated anyone for three years," Nathan said, dipping his roll into his soup.

"Yeah, but...it's Ella." Buck grabbed a beer from the refrigerator. "And she makes shitty food - be glad you can't eat it, JD." He walked through the family room and exited out the back door.

"She does have shitty cookin'," Vin said, leaving the kitchen.

Josiah nodded.

"She seems nice to me," JD said.


Ezra sat on the floor of the tack room, stationed between two saddles and beneath a row of bridles. He rested his elbows on bent knees, his palms pressed to his forehead. Blood had dried in abstract patters along his arms, chest, and legs. His stomach continued to twist and turn, while he tried to ignore the stabs of pain in his head. Every movement, sounds, smell, and flash of light caused him feel sicker.

The tack room had been the only place he could think of that would supply him peace and adequate aloneness. The horses munched on the hay, stomped on the rubber mats in their stalls and, slapped their tails against themselves and the walls. He could smell hay, grain, dust, manure, sweat, leather, and timber, but the odors were tolerable in comparison to bad cooking, strong soaps, or cologne.

He leaned to his right, resting his head against the skirt of Buck's saddle. He took a deep breath, trying to fill his mind with something other than Geoff's screams or the sight of his mangled leg.


Buck entered the barn, took a pull from his beer and peeked into each stall. A few of the horses nudged him, looking for attention or treats. He turned and looked toward Vin who was searching the shop after failing to find Ezra in his bedroom. Chris and the others were in the house sharing ice-cream with Ella. Buck sighed, not finding her company wanted or necessary. He knew Vin would find something to do in the shop, and he would stay there until Ella left.

He peeked inside the feed room, a few mice scattered when the light went on. Grain littered the floor, combined with rolled oats, and a few bales of hay. Buck turned the light off and pulled the door to the tack room open. He saw the toes of Ezra's boots, entered the tack room, and grabbed the footstool. He took a seat, leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees, his bottle of beer hanging loosely in his hand.

"Are you all right?" Buck asked, watching as Ezra rubbed his left temple.

"Right as rain."

Buck nodded and tapped Ezra's arm with his beer. "Take a drink, you look like you could use it."

Ezra took the cold bottle and brought it to his lips.

"You have to ignore Chris most of the time, he thinks that everything we do directly affects him - the whole 'older brother' syndrome."

"I don't belong here, Buck."

Buck clenched his jaw, and motioned for Ezra to keep the beer when he moved to hand it back. "You probably saved Geoff's life."

Ezra looked at his hands, noting the dried blood that had been caked beneath his nails and gathered around his watch. He clenched his jaw and slowly started to rub his right hand with his left, trying to remove the stain. "He wouldn't let me grab him."

Buck nodded: "It's a damn good thing you hadn't."

Ezra looked at Buck and frowned.

"If you had, that piece of machinery would have pulled you both in."

Ezra nodded, having given up on his hand and leaned forward, pressing his palms to his forehead. "I have a job in three days, Buck...I don't know if I'm coming back."

"Listen, Ezra, don't make a big decision now - not after today - "

"It's not just today, Buck, you know that." Ezra rubbed his head and squeezed his eyes shut.

Buck stood, slapped Ezra on the knee. "I'll be right back, I'm going to get you a shirt and a washcloth."


He stopped at the door.

"Don't tell them where I am."

"I can't promise that they won't figure it out, but I'll keep my word." He opened the door and left.


Ella finished the dishes and carefully folded the towel and hung it on the stove handle. She smiled at Buck as he entered the kitchen through the back door. He nodded and looked at Chris who was sitting at the table. Josiah and Nathan were each reading a portion of the newspaper, and JD had entered the family room and was flipping stations.

"We need to talk," Buck said, stepping aside as Vin entered.

"Find 'im?" Vin asked.

"Yeah." Buck looked at his brothers. "Would you all give Chris an' me a minute?"

"Everything all right?" Josiah asked, folding his paper and getting to his feet.

Buck nodded: "I just need a minute to speak to Chris."

"Thanks for the ice-cream, Ella," Chris said, standing and then leaning against the counter. He crossed his arms in front of his chest and waited.

Ella kissed his cheek and grabbed her purse. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Careful driving home."

Ella smiled and left through the back door.

Vin, Josiah, and Nathan walked out of the kitchen and joined JD in the family room. A few words were mumbled about the news verses baseball and who had the best looking announcer.

"Well?" Chris asked, rubbing his forehead.

"Whatever craw you've got shoved up your ass, you need to pull it out."

"What in the hell are you talkin' about?"

Buck sighed and leaned with his hip against the sink. "I know it's been a real shitty summer, with Harry and now Geoff, but you can't keep bulldoggin' us like we're you own personal army - "

"What in the hell are you talkin' about?" Chris dropped his arms to his sides and furrowed his brow.

"I'm talkin' about puttin' everyone to work and crackin' your bullwhip every time somethin' shitty happens. We're all tired, shit, Chris, I haven't slept a full six hours in five weeks - neither has anyone else - Now, Ezra's out God knows where, covered from head to foot in Geoff's blood thinkin' about leavin' - "

"What are you talkin' about?"

"He's leavin' in three days for another job, Chris, an' he ain't real sure he's comin' back."

"We have a ranch to - "

"This is what I mean, Chris - Ezra's not a rancher - he doesn't want to be one!"

"We all have a job to do here, Buck - and because it's been a shitty year, we all need to pitch in!"

"He just watched Geoff get his leg chopped off inch by inch, Chris, you don't see shit like that sittin' behind a desk in the fuckin' city - unless you make a habit of tossing your neighbors into tree branch chippers."

"You're blowin' this entire situation out of proportion!"

"Am I? Damn it, Chris." Buck let his shoulders slump and he ran his hand over his face. "It was Ezra's dickerin' with the bank that got us that deferment...he's the one that's pullin' money out of our asses by makin' sure we're not spendin' it on shit! He understands what this farm means to us and he's worked his ass off makin' sure we didn't lose it - but all you ask for is more - drive truck Ezra - fix the slurry Vin - bring up the fall steers Buck!"

"It wasn't my intention to chase him off, Buck."

"Maybe not, but that's the problem - you push and push until someone breaks - an' if it wasn't Ezra it'd be me or JD or Vin...you have to learn how to keep your head, you're not the sheriff of this ranch, Chris, you're our brother, an' right now that's what we all need - you knew Dad better than any of us an' you need to help Ezra an' the others understand what it was Dad had in mind when he threw us all together - because right now, your plan ain't workin'."

"So what do you want me to do?"

"Back off - let Ezra do what he does best, you wouldn't ask Vin to round up cattle on horseback because you know he doesn't like horses - do the same for Ezra - and damn it, Chris, let 'im know that what he does is just as important as my job - or yours - or fuckin' Nathan's - For fuck sakes he's your brother - and don't give me this shit about Dad not wantin' to find 'im because right now I could kill him - this is bullshit what he's done to us - to all of us!"

Chris pushed himself away from the counter and reached for his hat. "Where is he?"

"Same place he's been for the past 27 years." Buck left the room, grabbing a shirt on the way out.

"What in the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"You figure it out," Buck said over his shoulder as the screen door slammed shut.


Josiah nodded, having heard the entire conversation, and knowing it had been coming for quite sometime. The others were quiet, even the TV had been turned down, and the interest in the game had diminished. JD tilted his glass, listening to the ice clang against the sides. Vin picked threads from the cuffs of his pant legs.

"You have to realize that since Dad died, Chris had taken it upon himself to make sure this farm and the town stays the same...they both hated change. Chris isn't very good at getting what he wants done across - he's a bit - "

" - Rough around the edges," Vin said, looking toward Nathan. "He's got a lot on his shoulders right now - seems to me that this's how he deals with shit."

"You didn't see it, Vin," JD said. "There was blood everywhere, and Chris just started yellin' at Ezra - wanting to know what happened - it's like he didn't even care that Ezra saw it all and was tryin' to do whatever he could to stop the bleeding."

"I care, JD...I just don't do a real good job of lettin' the rest of you know it." Chris took a seat on his chair and rested his head against the headrest.

"It's tough to believe we've had worse harvests," Nathan said, toying with the cuff of his pants.

"Are you going to speak with Ezra about his leaving?" Josiah asked, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees. "You can't deny it, Chris, you haven't been the easiest person to get along with these past couple of months - and we all know how Ezra feels about...about our father." He paused and ran a hand through his hair. "Feelings of abandonment - "

" - Dad didn't abandon anyone, Josiah!" Chris stood, looking toward the mantle.

"In your world, Chris, but only in yours. Have you asked Ezra how he really feels about Lincoln Larabee? You have no idea what he was told growing up about his father - neither does JD or Vin. You can't assume that their lives were as complete as yours. You have no idea the things that a child absorbs in a broken home - "

"There wasn't a home to break!"

Josiah nodded: "This bubble you're living in needs to be popped, brother, and I have a gut feeling Ezra's going to do it." He stood and headed toward his bedroom. "Goodnight, brothers."

Vin sighed and took a deep breath. "He's got a point, Chris."

"Don't you start." Chris rubbed the back of his neck and squeezed his eyes shut. "I have to be at the office in the mornin'. I'll try and get back to help clear the bottom field, but I can't guarantee when."

"Shit, Chris, take your time," Vin stood and headed toward the stairs, "maybe you'll piss someone else off."

JD looked uncomfortably at the TV.

"That's one thing you inherited from Dad," Nathan said, tossing his magazine aside.

"Don't start, Nathan, I've had a shitty day."

"That's the problem, Chris, we've all had a shitty day." Nathan stood. "I'm going to make some popcorn, JD, you want some?"

"Better not, but thanks, Nate."

"You doing all right?"

"Yeah, just don't like pickin' corn out of my teeth."

Nathan nodded and then walked to the kitchen.

Chris took a deep breath and then looked at JD. "You got anything to add?"

JD shrugged: "You got tractor grease on your nose."

Chapter 7

Buck opened the tack room door and took his seat on a five gallon bucket that had been turned upside down. Ezra remained between the saddles.

"Where's your job takin' you next?" Buck asked, resting two beer bottles on the floor by his feet.

"Seattle," Ezra said, leaning against the wall. He rested his forearms on his knees hanging his hands toward the floor.

"How long you goin' to be gone?"

"I don't know."

Buck nodded and grabbed a beer. "What do you do...exactly?"

Ezra chuckled.

"What's so funny?"

"I've gone on five of these trips and you're the first to ask me what I do."

"I thought you told JD?"

Ezra smiled and shrugged: "I work for a security firm in New York as a private contractor; I take the jobs I want and pass on the others. I specialize in security breaks, weaknesses within architectural design and computer security programs."

"So you look at blueprints and computers?"

Ezra nodded, closed his eyes and leaned his head back. "Sometimes, other times I have to physically break into the target without getting detected and inform the client where the weaknesses are located."

"That how you ended up with a black eye the first time you went out?"

Ezra shook his head: "I fell out of bed and hit my head on the night stand."

"Was she pretty?" Buck asked, snickering. He placed his beer on the floor next to his boot and clasped his hands together in anticipation. "Don't tell me...some of that Larabee blood runs just as thick through your veins as it does mine. You got a girl in every city, don't you?"

"No," Ezra said, rubbing his fingers over his eyes. "Has Chris always had you to pick up his messes?"

Buck sighed and shook his head: "He didn't use to be this way - this bad anyway. Before...before Sarah died he used to be just as reckless as - hell, reckless as me." He paused and rubbed his thighs with his hands. "He's tryin' to make this place what Dad wanted it to be - an' it was goin' real good 'til a couple of years ago when the beef prices started goin' down, then gas, taxes, feed, an' everythin' else started goin' up. We started raisin' sugar beets and potatoes thinkin' it would increase profits, but by the time we paid labor and rentin' the machinery we barely cut even - so, we increased our herd by a few hundred Angus.

"Dad thought it was best, thought we'd pull more money in the long run - but, things didn't turn out like he'd planned. Then...after Sarah and Adam died, Chris hit the bottle - an' he hit it hard - "

"What happened?"

Buck took a deep breath. "Don't rightly know. Chris an' me took a load of cattle to the sales - we'd decided to take them south - they were brinin' better prices in Arizona at the time - nearly fifteen cents a pound more." He sighed. "I asked Chris if we could stay an extra night, see some of the town - when we got back the fire department was there - they'd just found their bodies. The official report was faulty wirin', but I know that weren't true - Chris and I built that house an' a good friend of ours approved the wirin'...still can't figure how the chief came to that conclusion.

"Chris hit the bottle hard after that - spent most of the time in his own jail cell. He's a mean drunk, will take a swipe at anyone who gets in the way, including family." Buck rubbed his jaw and then dropped his hand back to his lap. "Nathan, Dad, an' I confronted him, told him to get sober or leave the ranch." He shrugged. "Think the idea of leavin' Sarah an' Adam's graves struck 'im cold. It took 'im a couple tries, but when he made up his mind, he stuck with it - been sober nearly 2 years now."

"So he's been this way for 2 years?" Ezra said with a smile.

Buck chuckled: "He just wants this ranch to be everythin' Dad wanted it to be."

"What about you?"

"Me too, Ezra, I love this ground, this land, everythin' it stands for - Chris does too, he just doesn't know how to show it without forcin' everyone around 'im away."

Ezra nodded and rubbed his left temple. "I'm not connected like the others, Buck - this isn't my life...I'm not real sure it ever will be."

"You've got to give it time, just like Chris, you can't let 'im make your decisions for you - you can't let go of somethin' because you don't know it's worth - trust me, Ezra, there's more here than cowshit an' dirt - don't give up on 'im - don't give up on us."

There was an awkward silence for a moment, except the sounds of horses eating and stomping of shod hooves on rubber mats. The lights in the barn flickered and then wind passing through the rafters echoed.

"Looks like a storm's comin'," Buck stood, "I should get out an' finish bailin' that bottom field before that hay gets dumped on."

Ezra remained seated.

"I wish I could tell you this is the perfect life - God knows it ain't, but it's honest." Buck grabbed the frame of the door. "What you did today...you saved Geoff's life, whether you know it or not."

Ezra rubbed his eyes and took a deep breath. "He wouldn't let me pull him off." He still believed it would have been the best thing to do.

Buck nodded, understanding that something so simple could turn deadly: "If you had...that combine would've pulled you both in. You did good, Ezra." He stepped out of the tack room, the sounds of his boots scrapping against the pavement and then against the gravel as he walked toward the house.

Ezra flicked a beetle off the saddle and looked toward the wall of halters and bridles. He stared at the varieties of reins, bits, and the usages of nails verses old tuna fish cans as hangers. At one time Nathan, Chris, and Buck had carved their names into the wall above their horse's tack, Lincoln Larabee had branded the wall with the flying L, perhaps claiming his sons as his own.

Chapter 8

Chris entered the sheriff's department with his duty belt hanging over his shoulder, but he had his badge pinned over his heart.

"Your girlfriend stopped by," Marcie said, leaning against the back of her chair. She grinned as though she knew more than he did.

"What? - I don't have a girlfriend."

Marcie raised her eyebrows and crossed her arms over her chest. "Maybe someone should inform the little woman of that because obviously you're not makin' yourself very clear."

"Marcie...damn it." Chris rubbed his brow. "I really don't need this now."

Marcie stood and placed her hands on her hips. "I roll my husband's fat ass out of bed every morning, Chris Larabee, so don't walk in here with a box of donuts and tell me it's calf shit - as far as I know the whole town's got you married off and babies are fallin' at your feet. Seems to me if this ain't true you might want to take some interest in this God forsaken town and start listenin' to all the shit flyin' around."

"I'm here everyday - "

"Maybe your ass is, but your head ain't." She retook her seat and reached for a file.

"One of these days I'm goin' to fire you!"

"I wish to hell you would." She slipped her glasses on and looked at Chris. "Coffee's fresh but you might want to check the creamer before you go an' use it - Mary Poppins said somethin' about it bein' curdled."

"Mary Poppins?"

"Hey," Marcie raised her arms in defense, "she's your girlfriend, not mine."

Chris sighed, opened his office door and slumped into his chair. He rolled his eyes when he saw the note on his desk, Ella's handwriting covering the front. "Shit."


Josiah stood in his father's office looking at the pictures hanging on the walls, the books lining the shelves, and the knickknacks filling every crevasse available. He could recognize hints of cigar smoke still embedded in the furniture, and he rubbed his fingers over the moisture ring on Lincoln's desk. Josiah could tell his father had sat in his chair, kicked his feet up onto the corner of his desk and spent time looking out onto his ranch. Heel marks scarred the desk corner, and the armrests of the chair were nearly warn through.

Children's drawings filled the east wall: crayon drawings by Buck and Chris. Nathan had excelled at coloring book scenes. Josiah stepped forward and spotted a piece done by Adam, small handprints made from blue and green finger-paints.

"He loved this room," Nathan said, framed by the doorway. "When we were all young he'd let us pick a book from that shelf and he'd read it to us." He stepped into the room and walked toward the shelf. He squatted and ran his fingers over the backs of the books.

"How do you feel about him, Nathan, knowing your mother wasn't the only woman in his life?"

Nathan rested his elbows on his knees and kept his eyes on the books, pausing just a moment longer at his favorite. He took a deep breath and ran a hand over his head before standing. "I can't say what he did doesn't bother me, but I love him all the same... He told me once that he was a very lucky man to have met and loved so many women." He walked to the window and looked out. "How do you feel about him?"

"There was one time I hated him," Josiah said, taking a seat in the old leather chair, "but I grew up and realized that the only person I was hurting was myself and I wanted to get to know the man my mother had cherished."

"Are you glad you did?"

"Yeah, only I wish I had met him in person - I think then, I would be complete."

"He's here, Josiah. He's in your compassion, Chris' temper, Buck's laugh, JD's spontaneity, Vin's diligence...he's here."

"A great man once said, "The joys of parents are secret, and so are their griefs and fears" I believe that was Francis Bacon."

Nathan nodded and smiled. Both men turned toward the door when Vin leaned in through the doorway.

"JD an' me are headed into town for some sodas - you want anythin'?" Vin raised his eyebrows, waiting for a reply. "I ain't gonna wait here all day boys."

"I'm good, Vin," Josiah said.

"Same here, maybe though, you could stop in and see what time Chris'll be home - he's suppose to help Buck move that bull of Nettie's." Nathan rubbed the back of his neck.

"I can help 'im with that," Vin said, slapping the frame with the palm of his hand. "See you in a bit."

Josiah chuckled and shook his head.

Nathan smiled: "Mind if I ask you something?"

"I'll do my best to answer." Josiah crossed his arms in front of his chest and waited.

"What happened with your marriage?"

Josiah took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. He leaned against the wall and gazed toward the pasture. "Bev and I were married for 16 years - and for 16 years she put up with a drunk who at times got real mean." He rubbed his chin, feeling the stubble, and continued, "My son was having a difficult time in school - just starting junior high, of course I couldn't do anything to help him - too much engaged in my own world. I received the divorce papers before Thanksgiving, signed them the day after."

"Your son?"

"Hated me until his senior year... I think he realized his mother's decision was for the best. Bev is the most intelligent woman I've ever met - for 16 years she thought with her heart, but when it came down to it she made the decision to divorce me because she knew she had to protect herself as well as Samuel." His voice broke, and he kept his eyes on the pasture as the young calves and foals played. "When I watched my son walk down that graduation aisle, I knew then Bev had done right by everyone."

"Do you miss them?"

"Every minute of everyday and my biggest regret is not being able to make what I've done...right. Bev and I are closer now than we've ever been, and Samuel is going to law school."

"When do we get to meet him?"

"Christmas," Josiah said, smiling. "He'll be here for his Christmas break." He pushed himself away from the wall. "What brought this up?"

Nathan ran rubbed his thumb over his bottom lip. "Been thinking about Raine a lot lately."

Josiah chuckled: "I've found through my time counseling people that taking advice from family is risky, but as a friend, brother, I don't believe you could make a better choice."

Nathan nodded: "I know."


Ezra zipped up his duffle bag and then tossed it over his shoulder. It was a simple job - testing a new security system. He liked Seattle, though; he enjoyed it more when it did not rain.

Despite his desire to pack his bags and leave for good, deep down, he knew he couldn't. There was something holding him here, something more than he understood. It wasn't the ranch per say, or the land, and he couldn't wrap his mind around the fact that it could be his brothers. He wanted to get to know them. He wanted the connection of being tied to something more than his life: he was always running, if not from one job to the next, then he was running from something or someone.

He wished he fit in, like JD or Vin, they arrived to the ranch knowing what they wanted - and they got it. Even Josiah had settled in, managing his practice and anticipating its growth. And here he was, alone in his room packing a bag, getting ready to run again. The need and want was hitting him hard.

Leave and never come back.

It would be easy to leave, take his trip and do his job...and never come back. However, that million dollars just eight months away was eating at him, like an addict in need of a hit. Granted the money he liked, the money would supply him with enough cash to go anywhere and do anything he wanted. It was a dream that always seemed out of touch - but now it was there, staring him in the face. More importantly, it was money his father had set aside for him.

Ezra sat on the edge of the bed and rubbed his eyes. Damn him...that selfish, arrogant, son-of-a-bitch, using money to get him to stay. Perhaps Lincoln Larabee was more like himself than he anticipated. Perhaps Maude had been correct when she spoke of how callused Larabee had been, how he pushed her away and forced her to make demands upon him. He left her with a child she didn't want, made her raise a son when she was too young to raise herself. Maude had made herself the martyr, forced to give up her life's dreams to bring up a child she didn't want in the first place. She had reminded Ezra of that until the day he left home. He wanted to see her as a JD saw his mother...even Chris or Josiah. Ezra squeezed his eyes closed after feeling sharp pains shoot from his neck to his head. He gripped the blanket on his bed and tried to breathe slowly; trying to ward off what he knew was coming.

The headaches were coming more frequently now, and Dr. Yakley had warned him they would. Rarely, the headaches came with warning, most of the time they knocked him off his feet - hitting him so hard everything stopped. Yakley had called them "sudden onset migraines", as though giving the ailment would in some way be comforting. But the name wasn't comforting when a tumor was attached. It sat there like a toad, waiting for the perfect time. At his last appointment with Yakley, the tumor hadn't grown, not at all, but the kind doctor had warned him that it may and a yearly MRI was the only way to be sure... That had been four years ago. He had tried medications, sleeping more hours, staying away from certain foods, but nothing seemed to help. The doctors he had seen over the years had been kind enough to let him know that stress could be a trigger to his headaches, and to try and avoid it.

He had laughed.

The entire idea was preposterous, avoiding stress to live without migraines. Had doctors actually tried their own remedies, and if they had, how come there were still so many doctors. Every corner he took there was a doctor staring him in the face - that doubled within his own family. Dr. Nathan, and Dr. Josiah both had the degrees and the stress that came with it, and Ezra had no idea how they dealt with it.

Ezra knew it was time to bite the bullet, see the specialist again...see if maybe he had a miracle waiting. Four years ago the tumor had been benign, but they didn't always stay that way...there were possibilities, circumstances that changed.

Carefully, he pulled his bag off his bed and let it drop to the floor. He crawled into bed using slow, deliberate movements. He covered his head with his pillow, keeping the light peeking in through the windows out of his eyes.


Chapter 9

Chris tossed his service belt over the back of a kitchen chair. He could see Buck moving around in the barn, finishing with the horses before calling it a night. With only a few loads of hay left to bring, if they were lucky, they'd be able to pull a 4th cutting of alfalfa.

The house was quiet, except for the sounds of the TV.

"There's some leftovers in the fridge," Josiah said, shoving his glass beneath the ice dispenser.

"Nathan with Rain?"

Josiah nodded: "He seems pretty serious about her."

Chris ran his hand over his face and sighed. "He should have married her years ago." He looked toward the family room and saw JD and Vin sitting on the sofa.

"Why hasn't he?"

Chris shrugged: "Dad...me...who knows."

An awkward silence hung in the air. Chris turned and used the bootjack to slip out of his work boots. The day's paper had been tossed onto the dishwasher and he reached for the business section.

"Ezra around?" Chris asked, turning toward Josiah.

Josiah shook his head: "Vin said he saw him earlier, was getting ready for his next trip. If you want to talk to him...you might want to check his room first." He looked at Chris hard for a moment. "I was going through a few of our father's things today and I found some papers."

Chris frowned: "What?"

Josiah reached for a file he had placed by the phone and handed it to Chris. "Lincoln knew about Ezra - where he was." He watched him open the file.

"This's Dad's will."

"His first copy...Ezra's not in it."

Chris looked at Josiah.

"I don't know what happened between Maude Standish and our father, but Ezra shouldn't be stuck in the middle of it. If this is part of the shit coming between Ezra and you...you need to get it out of your system before you speak with him. He's innocent in all this," Josiah motioned toward the files, "and as much shit as our father has put us all through - we don't need this on top of it."

"Anyone else seen these?"

"No," Josiah said, "but Ezra's worked in that office all summer - if he saw any of it, he'll never tell us." He took a deep breath and leaned against the counter. "I called Travis today, told him I would like to meet with him tomorrow."

"And ask him what?"

"I'll ask him why."

Chris closed the file and handed it back to Josiah. "You should burn that."

Josiah nodded: "Talk to him, see if you can get him to stay."

"Shit, half the time I don't know if I want to stay."

"You were born here," Josiah said, "and you're tied to this place like the rest of us aren't." He nodded once and then left to room to join JD and Vin.

The front door squeaked and then bounced on its hinges after Buck entered. He slipped his boots off and then grabbed his sandwich from the refrigerator. "Vin will help me move that bull tomorrow - figure you'll be tied up at the office." He turned toward the stairs.


"I'm tired, Chris, and I'm goin' to bed because I have to be up..." he looked at his watch, "...in about 5 hours to start irrigatin' the bottom pastures if we're goin' to pull a 4th off that field." Buck turned with sandwich in hand walked to his room.

Chris rubbed his eyes and took a deep breath.


The pounding at his door caused him to wince and Ezra tried covering his ears. His head felt as though a million tiny explosions were going off simultaneously. The room was dark, except for the glow of the moon coming in through the far window. The pain made him sick, like sitting on a boat in the middle of the ocean, stuck between a storm and hell.


"Ezra?" Chris said again, tapping the door with his knuckles. He looked toward the clock and frowned. "Ezra?" Slowly, he twisted the knob and opened the door. He could feel a cool breeze coming in from an open window. He reached to his left and flipped on the lights. He wasn't expecting the gasp or the lightening quick movements as Ezra covered his head with his pillow. "You all right?"

Ezra remained still, unwilling to move and looking as stiff as a board, huddled on his left side facing the far side of his room. He was still wearing his shoes.

Chris squatted next to the bed watching Ezra's muscles shake and twitch. "Ezra?"

"Not now," he said, mumbling beneath the pillow.

"You need anything?"

Ezra sighed, but remained quiet.

"This one of those headaches?"

"Yeah," Ezra said, still unwilling to move.

Chris stood and grasped Ezra's right foot and slipped off his boot. When he tried to pull away Chris held tighter. "Knock it off, can't sleep with your shoes on." When both boots were removed, he grabbed a blanket it tossed it over him. "If I don't see you in the mornin' I will send Nate in here." He flipped the light off and left the room, leaving the door open.

Chapter 10

Chris entered the kitchen and found Ezra at the table reading the newspaper. He looked tired, as though he hadn't slept well, but at least he looked more relaxed. A small plate of half eaten toast and a cup of hot coffee rested beside him.

"How're you feelin'?"

"Better, thanks."

Chris nodded, and then grabbed himself a cup of coffee and took a seat at the table. "A bit early for you, isn't it?"

"I'm leaving today...I have to be in Seattle to meet with a client."

"You comin' back?"

Ezra sighed: "I don't know."

Chris paused, took a deep breath. "I'm not goin' to try and talk you into it, that decision has to be yours - but I would like to see you come back - "

" - Why didn't he ever ask for DNA comparisons to see if we're all related?"


"Seven children from seven different mothers - doesn't it seem a bit peculiar to you that Lincoln Larabee was that potent or every female he came into contact with was that fertile?"

"At this point in time, Ezra, I wouldn't be one bit surprised if 40 people showed up claiming to be related to us."

Ezra rubbed his brow and then pushed the paper away from the edge of the table.

"Am I the reason you're thinkin' about leavin'?"

Ezra shrugged: "I don't fit here..."

"Neither do I, Ezra - but then, there aren't a lot of places where I do fit." Chris rubbed his forehead. "Dad spent a lot of time tryin' to make up for all the shit he put us through. I'm sorry you never got to meet him, and I'm sorry for pushin' you - I shouldn't have."

Ezra nodded and got to his feet. "I should get going."

"Are you comin' back?"

"I don't know." He turned and walked to his room.

Chris sighed and glanced toward the front door, surprised to see Buck. "What?"

"Hell, Chris, if you'd have tried any harder I think dad would come up from the grave and beat the livin' shit outta you." He pushed the screen door open and paused. "You just don't get it...do you?"

"There's nothin' to get, Buck. If Ezra doesn't want to stay here, that's his business, not mine - and it's not yours either."

Buck chuckled and then nodded: "Maybe that's why there's so fuckin' many of us - Dad didn't think any of 'em were his business." He pushed the door open and walked outside, heading toward the barn.

Chris clenched his jaw and shook his head.


Ezra tossed his duffle bag into the backseat of his BMW.

"You leavin' for good?" JD asked, tightening his hold on the rope he held.

Ezra shrugged and opened his car door. "I don't know."


"JD - "

" - I know Chris's a dick half the time, an' the rest of us are annoyin' as hell, but come back and finish the year. Buck said that Larabee left each of us some ground with that money - it's only right that you get some of that too - if the bank don't take it first."

"I'll think about it, JD."

"Don't think too hard," he said, standing back as Ezra slipped into the driver's seat. "With only six of us around here means I'll have to do more work."

Ezra smiled, started the engine and waved before slipping the car into gear and driving away.

JD sighed, slapped the rope against his leg.

"You gonna help or not?" Vin called from the fence where Buck was getting ready to take Nettie's Holstein bull to the butcher.

JD nodded: "I'm comin'."


Josiah entered Orin's office, not as impressed as many had been by the leather bound law books that were shelved on Mahogany carved ledges that bordered the room. Orin looked up, pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and placed his pen in its holder that rested next to his phone.

"It's good to see you, Josiah. How is everyone?"

Josiah took a seat in the burgundy leather chair across from the desk and then tossed a pile of papers in front of Orin. "I'm no stranger to bad behavior, but this exceeds even my callousness in regards to family."

Orin opened the file and looked at the papers, recognizing them. "Your father made bad decisions up until the day he died, and I can't explain nor justify them to you..." he paused and then closed the file, "... Has Ezra seen these?"

"I don't know, but I'd be willing to bet he has."

Orin took a deep breath and pushed himself away from his desk. "Your father changed after Nathan's mother died - he spent a lot of time getting angrier and angrier, the boys could feel it...and, as much as I hate to admit it, Lincoln raised his palm more than he should have and the boys were the ones that suffered for it. I was the one that talked Lincoln into going to Vegas for the cattlemen's convention. I thought it would be good for him." He stood walked across the room to his coffee pot and poured himself a cup; he filled a cup for Josiah as well. "Cream and sugar?"


Orin handed Josiah the cup and quickly returned to his seat. "Maude Standish is - was, not your average con-woman. She had Lincoln figured out in a matter of minutes and he ended up paying the price for it, a $6500 price. He seemed to deal with it okay until two months later Maude is sitting in my office claiming to have become pregnant by Lincoln - he of course said it was impossible because they'd used protection - but knowing him his idea of protection was enough booze to forget the entire incident."

"How come they didn't do a paternity test?"

"Maude was married at the time to Daniel Standish - a military man with an impeccable record. Standish was not capable of producing a child due to an accident in Vietnam - when he found out Maude was pregnant he demanded a paternity test to prove he was not the father..." Orin shook his head, "...he's not - they divorced before Ezra was born. Lincoln refused to take the test believing Maude had slept around and he was not about to take responsibility for someone else's son. He, after all, had three at home from different mothers. Maude threatened abortion, adoption, abandonment - none of it worked - Lincoln wouldn't have anything to do with the child."

"What changed his mind?"

"Cancer - I had Ezra's results from the prior test on file when Lincoln was diagnosed and it was at that time he wanted to have the test done...Ezra's his son - there is no doubt."

Josiah nodded, and then he leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. "Why didn't he do anything before he died, about Ezra?"

"I think he was afraid - the only thing Ezra knows about his father is from his mother and I think Lincoln was afraid that what she had told him would be true - it's no excuse, I know, but his fear outweighed his need to meet his son."

Josiah took a deep breath: "For everyone, I think this is hardest on Chris."

Orin frowned.

"He remembers more clearly than the others what our father was like in those days, and I think he's seen his father fall the furthest from that pedestal he was on."

Orin nodded: "Out of all of you, Chris is the most like him."

"Does he know any of this?"

"No," Orin said, fingering the handle of his coffee cup. He looked up. "How's everyone doing?"

"JD's found a home and six brothers he's going to fight for until the day he dies. Nathan's - Nathan's very accepting of the fact we're all different. Vin knows Lincoln Larabee was a complicated man and he's just accepted the fact. Buck is hanging on by a thread - he needs us...I think he needs to know we weren't mistakes. Ezra left this morning, and I don't know if he'll be back."

Orin nodded: "And you?"

"I'm angry that my father has treated his sons like commodities." Josiah stood and wiped his hands on his thighs before grabbing the doorknob. "I want this family to survive more than this, Orin."

"Whatever you need, Josiah, don't hesitate to ask."

Josiah nodded and quickly left the room.


Buck backed the truck and trailer up to the corral while Vin guided him. The cows and horses had all come to the fence to see what was going on, a few horses nickered while others looked displeased while reaching for weeds across the fence. Nettie's Holstein bull stood near the back of the corral and swung his head low to the ground, side to side in a methodical manner. He pawed the ground, tossing dirt and manure over the fence and onto his back.

"Hey, Buck," JD said, rubbing his eyes, "I've got to go get somethin' to eat."

"Shit, go, don't stand here askin' me." He slammed the truck door shut and watched the kid run to the house.

JD stopped when he got to the door. "Don't start without me!"

Vin chuckled and opened the trailer gate. "City slicks."

Buck nodded, keeping his eyes on the house.

"He'll be fine," Vin said, kicking his foot onto the bottom rail of the corral. "You sure just the three of us can handle 'im?"

Buck raised his brow in question and watched as the bull lowered his head and bellowed. "Should've butchered this bastard a year ago." The bull snorted, sending snot in all directions.

The screen door to the house slammed on its frame and JD trotted out with a sandwich and an apple. Mayonnaise marred the corners of his mouth. "I'm ready," he mumbled, shoving another bite of the sandwich into his mouth.

Buck chuckled and shook his head: "You all right?"

"Just give me a minute."

The horses had dispersed while the cows looked curiously toward them. Their ears were perched forward, eyes wide. Many licked their nostrils, their tongues reaching the insides of their noses.

"That is disgusting," JD said, tossing his sandwich crust toward the dogs.

Vin unlocked the latch to the gate and swung it to the trailer. The bull dug deeper into the dirt with his cloven hooves and dirt continued to scatter. Buck tossed Vin a long two-by-four and keeping one for himself he moved to the narrow slots in the corral fence. The two matching slots on either side of the corral were wide enough to a man to slip through, in case of an emergency.

"JD, I want you to stand behind the trailer gate, when he starts to come forward I want you to get ready to slam that gate shut and latch it."

JD nodded, quickly getting into position. He wiped the juice from the apple he'd been eating onto his pant leg and then placed his palms on the trailer gate. "I'm ready."

"Vin," Buck said, holding the large stick of wood, "if he comes after you, dive."

They both slipped into the corral through the slots and moved to the back. The bull tossed his head and looked from side to side, watching both men. He stepped forward and then swung his head in Buck's direction.

"Whoowhee, get up there," Buck threatened, holding his two-by-four in a position to swing. "We're goin' to make you into hamburger and jerky."

The bull snorted again, sending snot toward the ground and he dug his hooves into the soft dirt and kicked upward.

"Why don't we use the horses for this?" Vin asked, creeping forward as the bull moved closer to the trailer.

"Dad killed a horse doin' just that," Buck said. "Corral's too small and we can move faster than a horse in here."

Vin nodded: "What about the loadin' shoot?"

"Too small."

"Why not put a cow in the trailer first?" JD asked.

"Trust me, JD, that's not what we want to do right now."

The bull caught a glimpse of JD behind the trailer door and he charged it, hitting the post the gate leaned against. JD fell backward, but quickly regained his feet. He caught the gate before it could swing open. Shaken, he watched as the bull turned and charged Buck. Wood snapped and splintered as the rammed the fence. Buck dove through the railings and swung his two-by-four, slamming it against the bull's left eye.

The bull spun and charged Vin who tossed his two-by-four and ran for the gate. The bull caught him beneath his right leg and tossed him up and over the fence. He landed in a heap and Buck unhooked the support gate and swung it toward the bull, hitting him on his back legs causing him to jump forward. JD swung the trailer gate as soon as the bull was within the confines. The large animal bellowed and rammed his head against the trailer frame while Buck secured the gate.

Vin lay on his back, his eyes squeezed shut. He scraped the ground with the heel of his left boot. "Shit, he was fast."

"You okay, Vin?" JD asked, squatting beside him. He jumped when the trailer divider slammed against its frame.

Vin pressed his lips together and shook his head: "Think I broke somethin'." He gasped. "Fuck me."

Buck wiped blood from his hand onto the front of his shirt. The cut on his palm continued to seep, but he ignored it. "You all right, Vin?"

Vin opened his eyes but kept his jaw clenched. He flared his nostrils and winced when he tried to raise his right knee. "Shit."

Buck rested his elbow on his knee and clasped Vin's shoulder. "Your leg?"

"Yeah - just give me a minute." Vin took a couple deep breaths and slowly moved his left leg, finding it less painful than the right he bent his knee and grasped Buck's arm to pull himself into a sitting position. "Think it's my knee," he said, clasping a hand on his right thigh.

Buck wiped his brow with the back of his hand and looked toward the truck. He could see the swelling start, and Vin's grasp on his arm was tight. The kid was in pain. "JD," he said. "You and me are goin' to lift slim here up and move him to the truck." Buck took Vin's left arm and placed it over his neck. He could feel Vin squeeze his shoulders trying to help as he and JD slowly lifted. "You alright, Vin?"

"Yeah, sure."

JD shook his head and slowly maneuvered his way to the passenger side door. He noticed the sweat dripping down Vin's face as well as the quivering of his muscles. Together he and Buck slipped Vin into the passenger seat, carefully moving his leg to lessen the pressure as well as the pain.

"JD, jump in the back, we'll take Vin into the clinic and leave 'im with Nathan then you and me 'ill take the bull down to the butcher." Buck slammed the pickup door shut and jogged around to the driver's side and slipped in.

JD wiped his brow and then jumped into the pickup bed. He listened as the bull slammed his head against the sides of the trailer and bellowed as Buck put the truck into gear and started toward town.

Chapter 11

"Mrs. Brasin, you're a perfectly healthy woman," Nathan said, folding his fingers together while sitting on the exam stool.

"You're wrong. It's this new technology that's got everythin' so screwed up - I've seen it on TV how doctors are missin' things and diagnosin' the wrong people. Now, I want you to recheck my blood work. Before you came here Dr. William always checked it twice an' he always made sure I came in for an exam every four months. I don't want you missin' anythin'."

"Mrs. Brasin - "

"Four months, Dr. Jackson, not 12. My third cousin on my father's side died of breast cancer and I know how it could be genetic."

Nathan ignored her file full of magazine articles. He rested his elbows on his knees and looked critically at his patient while listening to her paranoia and genuine fears. He comforted her by agreeing to see her every four months. She seemed to calm herself and agreed that blood tests twice a year would be adequate for detecting any abnormalities.

Having cared for her husband for 42 years she found it difficult in caring for herself, and Nathan understood her quandary. Mr. Brasin had died of cancer. Had it been caught early enough, it would have been treatable and they would be together still.

"I have five children, Dr. Jackson, you should know, you went to school with Sara and Tim."

"And how are they doing?"

"Oh," she sat back and shook her head, "Tim's out there tryin' to find new ways to make my hair go gray and Sara's pregnant with her third baby - can't believe they both had to move so far away." She gripped the handle to her purse and sighed. "You know Tim's got himself a contract with some company over in Europe for makin' some sort of contraption for parachutin' - did he ever act so bad in school?"

"He put a cherry bomb in the boys bathroom our freshman year." Nathan smiled, rolled his stool to the desk and started filling out a form.

"You didn't need to remind me of that," she said, pressing her lips into a straight line. "I bet it was that brother of yours that put him up to it."

Nathan chuckled and then nodded: "Knowing Buck..." he handed her the slip of paper with the notes to see her again in four months written at the top.

She took the paper and stood. "Four months...okay, Nathan, but if I start feelin' poorly - "

"Call Raine and she'll make you an appointment to see me."

Mrs. Brasin smiled: "Okay."

Nathan watched her leave and he chuckled grabbing her chart and then he headed toward his office.

"Nathan," Rain said, stepping out of the receptionist area, "I think Buck just drove up."

He handed her the chart and rushed through the waiting area and then out the front door. Raine had followed.

"Hey, Nate," Buck said, opening the passenger side door. He bit his lower lip and raised his eyebrows. "Think Vin twisted his knee pretty bad - it's swellin' up like dead gopher in the middle of a heat wave."

Nathan sighed and moved to stand beside Vin who remained in the seat of the truck.

"What happened?" Nathan asked, gently applying pressure to certain areas of Vin's knee. He shook his head when Vin jumped back, grabbing the seat of the pickup and locking his elbows. "That hurt?"

Buck shook his head: "That hurt me," he said, shaking his head, "shit, Nathan, why don't you just take a two-by-four to him and call it a day."

"Buck," Nathan warned, standing straight, "if you're not careful, I'll take a two-by-four to you."

"Who shoved a corn cob up your ass?"

Nathan took a deep breath and looked toward Raine who wore a familiar smile. "Would you get me a wheelchair?"

She nodded and quickly turned, jumping when a vicious slam came from the trailer.

"Why in the hell didn't you wait to move that bull when you had more help?" Nathan helped Vin get more comfortable.

"Because I've been wantin' to move this bull for a month now. I wanted him gone before he got out of the pen and killed someone, and I'd still be waitin' if JD and Vin hadn't of helped me. Listen to him, Nathan..." he pointed toward the trailer as the bull continued to stomp around and smash his head against the sides, "thank God, it's only Vin's knee because that son-of-a-bitch wouldn't hesitate to take someone down and none of us are big enough to fight back."

"Or fast enough," JD said, still sitting in the back of the truck.

Nathan looked up in time to see Raine push out a wheelchair. He looked toward Vin: "I don't want you moving that leg, let Buck and I do the work." He looked toward Buck.

JD jumped out of the back of the truck, wincing when he heard the whispered swears. Vin looked ready to pass out, and sweat soaked his shirt and hair.

"JD," Buck said, after Vin was settled, "stay here with Vin, I'm goin' to run this bull down to the butchers."

"We're goin' to eat him?" JD frowned.

"Yep," Buck said, "and with enough tenderizer, he'll be damn good."

JD nodded and followed Nathan and Vin into the clinic. Buck turned and slammed the passenger side door shut and then slipped into the driver's seat.


Chris heard the banging of an empty 5th wheel behind the diesel truck and he looked out his window and saw Buck park the rig. Chris grabbed his hat and stepped out of his office and met Buck at the entrance. "What is it?"

Buck scratched his brow and then pulled the bill of his cap down. "Vin's with Nathan, screwed up his knee helpin' me move that bull."

"Damn it, Buck - "

"Don't start, don't fuckin' start with me. You can either go with me to the clinic to see how he's doin' or you do whatever the fuck you do, just don't start." He slipped his thumbs into the belt loops of his pants and waited.

"Let's take my rig, won't take up so much damn parking."

Buck nodded and followed.


With harvest just about over the clinic had picked up some, and a few patients were waiting patiently in reception. Magazine pages were flipped and book spines cracked. The phone rang and was quickly answered. Rain opened the door and motioned for them to join her.

"He's okay, but he won't be climbing any mountains for a while," she said, leading them down the narrow hall. She stopped in front of an exam room and knocked on the door before opening it.

Nathan sat on the exam stool, Josiah stood behind him, JD sat in the chair next to the narrow desk while Vin sat on the exam table. His right pant leg had been cut at mid thigh, and a blue brace supported his knee. The brace was heavy and covered with ice packs. Vin looked tired and streaks of sweat had run down the sides of his face and dried.

"How's he doin'?" Buck asked, moving aside as Chris stepped into the room.

"X-rays came out clean, so it looks like a severe sprain of the patella ligament and possible the medial collateral ligament," Nathan said, checking the ice packs. "He's going to be laid up for a while, but hopefully - if he does what he's told, we can keep him out of surgery, but we won't know if he needs it until we can do an MRI, but that takes some money and we don't have any insurance - "

"You don't know anyone at the hospital that could pull some strings?" Buck asked, scratching his chin.

"Using those machines costs a lot of money, Buck, and even if my friends could pull some strings it wouldn't be for but a small amount of what we'd end up paying. I suggest Vin stay off the leg as much as possible, let the ligaments heal and if he's still in pain...we may have to look at getting some insurance to cover the costs because if the MRI results come back with bad news...the only other option is surgery."

Vin sighed and slapped the mattress with his hands: "Don't talk like I'm not in the room...I'm right fuckin' here, an' frankly, surgery ain't an option."

"I'm with Vin," JD said, crossing his arms over his chest. "I heard that anesthetic kills a lot of people every year - "

" - JD," Nathan said, shaking his head.

"It's true."

"Really, JD, you can shut-up now," Vin said, laying back and covering his brow with his forearm.

"I'm just sayin'..."

"How's the knee feel?" Chris asked, looking toward Josiah and then back to Vin.

"It'll be fine."

"How about I take our brother home and the rest of you finish your day," Josiah said, pushing himself away from the counter. He grabbed the crutches that were lying up against the wall behind Nathan and parted them. "You ready to attempt these?" He looked at Vin with a smile.

With Nathan's help, Vin slipped off the bed. His knee began to throb after the ice had been removed, and black and purple splotches were already marring his skin.

"I'm not a rookie with crutches, Josiah," Vin said, slipping them beneath his armpits. He grabbed the handles and looked up. "I don't know about the rest of ya, but I want to get back, put my foot up and drink a glass of lemonade with one of them pain relievers Nate's been so kind to prescribe." He moved toward the door and slipped outside after Buck opened it.

"Make sure he's got a pillow under than knee, Josiah. No activity other than getting him from the truck to the house." He stood, put the ice packs into a bag and handed them to Josiah. "That knee is hurting him a lot more than what he's letting on and it's only going to get worse in the next day or two."

"Maybe we can put him in Ezra's room while he's away...it'll keep Vin from havin' to be moved up an' down those stairs." Buck moved aside as Josiah slipped past him to stand in the hallway.

Chris nodded: "JD, why don't you go with them and help Josiah move a few of Vin's things upstairs."

Josiah cleared his throat: "We'll see you boys as home." He motioned for JD to follow.

Chris watched him leave and looked at Nathan. "Just a sprain?"

Nathan sighed, crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the exam bed. "His range of motion is really good, but I'm worried about the extent of the bruising as well as the swelling. The x-rays were clean, no fractures, but I am worried about the ligaments in his knee...if there are any tears he'll need surgery to repair them - "

"Shouldn't he have the surgery right away?" Buck said.

Nathan shook his head: "Not necessarily - "

"How long's he goin' to be laid up?" Chris asked.

"Until he heals," Nathan said.

Chris rubbed his forehead.

"Even with one man down we'll get the hay up and even get a 4th cuttin' off the bottom pastures." Buck clenched his jaw.

"That's not what I'm worried about," Chris said, slapping Buck on his shoulder as he left the office.

Buck looked at Nathan confused.

"Don't ask me."