Getting out of Boston

by Sue M

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

Alternate Universe: Brothers on the Run

Ratings/Warnings: some bad language/reference of violence to a minor

Summary: Buck, 30 and his brother JD 19, are sons of wealthy businessman William Daniel Dunne. His first wife Eleanor, Buck's mother, was murdered while out walking their dog in a local park, her murderer was never found. His second wife Rachel, JD's mother, died two months ago of cancer. Still reeling from this tragedy, William is "executed" by the particularly powerful Nichols family who were angry at several deals they believe they were double-crossed on by him, placing his sons in danger as the Nichols believe they knew of the deals and what happened to the merchandise and the money, worth millions. They boys were unaware of their father's possible dubious business dealings, but know they must stay one step ahead of the Nichols family until they can either prove it or locate the missing money.

The Dunne brothers changed all their bank accounts etc. to Buck's mother's maiden name of Wilmington to prevent detection.

Money is no object, now all they need are friends they can trust.

Chapter 1
JD looked up at the house he'd lived in all his life, tears pooling in his eyes. Six months ago, life had been idyllic for the young man. College,
sports clubs, girls, a new car for his 19th birthday, girls. Yep, life was a blast. He had a mother to cherish, a father, the President of a multi-million dollar corporation, who was the epitome of a hero, and a big brother...ah yes, big brother Buck. He absolutely idolised the man. He was everything and more a big brother could be, tall, handsome, funny and so full of love the man was absolutely bursting at the seams.

Not that JD was a bad-looking boy, or so he'd been told. Now if he could just grow those few more inches...Despite his tears, JD had to chuckle to himself as he recalled THAT particular conversation with his brother and how he'd ended up feet-first in a pot of compost being liberally sprinkled with what he'd hoped was water!

His mom getting sick was the beginning of the end. A mother to Buck for twenty years, she'd lasted a lingering, painful four months before succumbing to the rampant bone cancer eating through her. Barely was she cold in the ground when his and Buck's father was gunned down with three work associates while out on the golf course one beautiful crisp Boston Sunday morning two weeks ago.

And now this. Buck was the company's VP, preparing to eventually take over his father's role when the man retired. After the murder, Buck had uncovered some particularly unsavoury dealings with the Nichols Corporation, an organisation their father William vowed he would never do business with. But someone in their company had, and William had paid the ultimate price for that person's treachery, he had died because it appeared his company had double-crossed the Nichols and absconded with any or all merchandise and all the funds for the deal. A deal worth millions, leaving the Nichols, a family concern, without the goods and a few million dollars adrift. Pissed off was not even close to their feelings on the matter.

Between them, Buck with the inside knowledge and JD, the technical wizard, had transferred all sensitive business issues and all finances to new accounts under Buck's mother's maiden name of Wilmington. They had set up accounts to pay employees at their three homes until they could resolve their personal difficulties and resume their normal lives.

And so there they were, packing the last of their gear into their recently purchased metallic silver birch Lincoln Navigator 4x4 with parchment cream interior, JD shook his head, he sounded like the god-damned showroom brochure, exchanged for their much-loved Ford Explorer Sportrac, which Buck feared may be traceable. JD closed the garage for, for all he knew, the last time, looking longingly at his own black Dodge Viper convertible alongside Buck's black Ford Mustang GT convertible and wondering if he'd ever see them again.

He walked back to the packed car, glancing at his brother as he desperately tried to control his emotions. Buck held out his arms as he approached the boy and the two hugged. Buck lightly kissed the top of JD's dark hair, as he breathed, "One day, li'l brother, we'll be back one day." He felt the slow nod into his chest and pulled the boy's face into view.

"Let's go," he said. The two climbed into their car and pulled out of the long gravel drive and away from all they knew, determined to clear their father's name, protect themselves from the danger this chain of events had placed them in, and eventually return. The only undetermined factor was when.

Chapter 2

JD answered the cell phone with confidence. Only one person had this number as the phone was brand new.

"Hey Ez."

"Good day to you Mr. Du...err, sincere apologies, Mr. Wilmington."

"What do you need Ezra?" JD sighed into the phone.

"Oh dear, do I detect a little melancholy in that tone, young man? I sincerely hope your spirits will be lifting in the not too distant future."

JD snorted a soft laugh, "yeah, yeah, and you're calling because...?"

"You're route, I call to confirm your route. Now as I recall, in the loosest of plans, it's Cleveland, Chicago, and Des Moines to Denver. Would that be correct?"

"Yep, sounds about right, maybe a few stops in between."

"Excellent news. Everything is arranged as requested, I have acquired a particularly nice rental property on a short-term lease, and all paperwork is poised and ready for your signatures."

JD was holding the phone between himself and Buck so his older brother could enter the conversation.

"Ez, thanks for this, man." Buck stated. "We couldn't have done all this without you, you're a good friend. We'll keep you up to date with our progress."

Ezra was touched by the sentiment implied by his old college friend. "You're most welcome, gentlemen. It will indeed be good to see you both again. It's been a long time." He ended the call, smiling to himself. Ezra was a creature of habit, and very rarely kept regular company. These men though, he would make an exception for. Buck and he had become good friends through college, despite their obvious differences; he'd even become quite fond of Buck's slightly older good, if not wayward close friend Chris Larabee. But they had drifted apart over the years, only coming together at the funerals of Chris's wife and child, a sad and tragic event that saw Chris completely withdraw from his friends, despite relentless attempts to the contrary by Buck. Ezra had become re-acquainted when Buck had come on board his father's company, Ezra was one of the corporate lawyers working out of Atlanta and they met during an AGM in Chicago. They had stayed in touch from then on. Ezra was now residing in and working out of Denver.

Ezra had met JD while staying with the family, thanksgiving two years ago and had immediately taken to the boy. JD became very attached to Ezra and regularly emailed him with news. So when Buck had asked him for his help and his discretion, he couldn't have been more willing.

+ + + + + + +

That same day, in Denver, Chris Larabee was perched at the bar of an establishment aptly named "The Saloon." He was staring down at an old newspaper that was lining a crate. The headline read, "Multi-millionaire murdered" and clearly showed a picture of William Dunne, Buck's father. He stared at it for some time, trying to sort out the information in his alcohol soaked brain. Buck and JD's father was dead? How the hell had he missed that, why didn't Buck call to let him know? He had to talk to Ezra.

Chapter 3

Cleveland had been a welcome stop for the brothers. The journey was tiring, despite them sharing the driving. Now they were almost at Chicago. They would have to be a little more cautious here as their company had offices in the city, as did the Nichols. They were only making a short stop and not directly in the centre of the city so they hoped it would go smoothly.

They'd stayed in a little motel on the edge of the huge metropolis and had decided to get a few supplies and move on. As JD paid for his groceries in the small store he was unaware of the eyes on him from the restaurant across the street. Peter Nichols flipped open his cell phone.

"You are not going to believe this, I've just spotted that Dunne kid, yeah, the youngest one, in a store right across from me. Yeah, I'm at Pico's. Make it real fast!"

Peter snapped shut his phone and proceeded to cross the street to the store. He timed it and "crashed" into JD as he exited.

"Ooof! Oh, I'm so sorry! Here, let me help you with those." He helped the youth to his feet and proceeded to assist him with his groceries. He gently guided him to a side alley, carrying the bag for him. JD smiled at him, attempting to take the bag.

"Thanks, but I can take it from here."

"Oh there's no hurry...Mr. Dunne!"

JD looked at the man hard and gulped, "I, I don't think you know who you're talking to," he stammered.

"Oh, but I do." Peter's smile was positively sadistic. JD heard the sound of car doors and was suddenly surrounded by four more men.

"We want you to deliver a message to your brother Buck," Peter continued, "and be glad you are doing this for us."

"Wh...why's that?" JD was feeling very nervous, his back tight to the alley wall. Peter leaned right into his face.

"Because we don't KILL the messenger."

+ + + + + + +

The sound of punching woke him. Josiah Sanchez had been on a bender, and had managed to crawl to the back of a dumpster to sleep it off. At first he shrugged and turned over, but soon the noises became too disturbing and then downright frightening as a young, scared male voice cried, "please, please stop."

Josiah rose unsteadily to his feet, still a little woozy and sleepy. He was a tall stocky man with a huge presence. He stumbled over to where the noise was coming from. A former man of the cloth and the son of missionaries was infuriated as he saw a young black-haired boy being cruelly beaten by five men.

"Hey!" he bellowed his voice hard and deep, "Get away from him!"

The Nichols brothers raised their heads, startled, looked to each other, walked quickly to their cars and drove off, unwilling to tangle with the large angry man moving towards them. Josiah glowered after them. He then looked down at the whimpering boy on the ground huddled against the wall. His features softened.

"It's ok son, I won't hurt you, let me help you."

JD cowered even more, terrified as he felt the man's huge hand tilt his face up to meet his gaze. JD looked into the man's gentle, kind blue eyes and instantly relaxed. Josiah winced on seeing the bloody features. He spoke softly.

"Come on, let's get you out of here." He could see the boy was well cared for and well dressed. He assumed he was being mugged, albeit an unusual mugging as his attackers were even better dressed than him. As JD went to stand his legs gave way and he collapsed into Josiah's arms. He was out. Josiah started patting JD's pockets.

"Forgive me son, but you need a little help here." He located JD's cell and speed dialled one. He was a little taken aback at the tone on answering.

"JD! Where the hell you been? Just a few things I said!"

Josiah cleared his throat,

"Forgive the intrusion but my name is Josiah Sanchez."

Silence, then "who the hell are you, and what are you doing with my brother's phone?"

"Your brother has been involved in a little accident. Do you know where he should be?"

Buck was shell-shocked and unable to speak. He soon recovered "err, yeah, I'm a few hundred yards from the store he went to."

"Good. Come to the alley just past the store and we'll meet you there, and bring a car."

Nothing about this felt right, so Buck decided to go to the entrance at the opposite end of the alley. Parking his car carefully to avoid detection, Buck made his way slowly down the dimly lit passage. At last he saw what appeared to be two people about a third of the way in from the other end. He instantly recognised one of them to be JD. He started running, skidding to a halt when he reached them.

"Oh my God, kid." He reached out to touch his brother's face with a shaky hand. His voice catching he looked earnestly to Josiah, "what happened to him?"

Josiah put a reassuring hand on Buck's shoulder.

"He's taken quite a beating. We need to get out of here."

Buck nodded, "my car's back there, will you help me?"

"Of course brother." He picked JD up in his huge powerful arms, "lead the way."

Josiah placed JD gently in the back of the Navigator. He looked at Buck.

"He needs to see a doctor."

Buck was shaking his head, "can't, too risky."

Josiah smiled, "if you will allow me to travel with you, I know someone who can help."

Twenty minutes and a phone call placed by Josiah, they found themselves outside a book store. Carefully lifting the unconscious boy they made their way to a side entrance and went in. Towards the back of the store was a small room in which stood a black man probably in his late twenties. He gestured for Josiah to put the boy down on an old sofa and he began his examination while listening as Josiah told them what he'd seen. Buck was in torment, his brother looking like shit and him trusting their fate to two strangers. He'd never felt so helpless. Finally he spoke.


Nathan Jackson looked up at him. "Well, he's got some nasty cuts and bruises, probably some damage to his ribs, but I don't think they're broken, though without an x-ray I can't be sure. He may have a concussion, but apart from that he should be ok."

Buck shakily exhaled and shook both the men's hands.

"I can't thank you enough. I don't know what we would have done without your help. Is there anything I can do for you, can I offer you some money for your trouble?"

Nathan waved him off, "not necessary. How 'bout a coffee while I finish up here?"

+ + + + + + +

An hour later and not entirely sure why, Buck had told the two men about some of what had happened in the last six months. For some unknown reason, Buck felt totally comfortable with these men, as if he'd known them his whole life. In turn they had shared their histories with him.

Josiah shared that after his parents died and his sister had been institutionalised he had lost his faith in God and all that the church represented. He'd been in a downward spiral ever since, though, never quite crazy enough to sink beyond recovery.

Nathan had explained how he'd been unable to finish medical school due to his poor finances and was now working permanently at the book store, giving him an opportunity to keep up with his reading in the hope that he could resume his studies one day. Buck smiled as an idea blossomed in his head.

"How would you feel about moving out to Denver?"

Nathan looked surprised. "Why, and why Denver?"

"I have some good friends out that way, one of which is a lawyer who could help me set up a trust fund so's you could finish your studies."

Nathan looked even more shocked. "And why would you do that for me? You hardly know me."

Buck smiled even wider, "just call it a feelin', 'sides my Company has the resources set aside for this sort of thing. Are you interested?"

Nathan's face beamed, "oh man you bet I'm interested. I don't know what to say, thank you, thank you so much!" He shook Buck's hand vigorously.

Then just as suddenly, he turned a sad face to Josiah, "oh, Josiah, I...I..."

Josiah beamed, "brother you deserve this chance. Don't be concerned for me, rejoice in your good fortune."

Buck looked to Josiah, "hell, if there's nothing to keep you here, why don't you come too?"

Josiah paused for some time, "can I think on it some?"

"Well, we need to leave tomorrow, that enough time for you?"

Josiah nodded, "more than enough."

They were interrupted by a soft moan. Buck went instantly to his brother.

"Hey little bro' how ya doin'?"

JD's bruised eyes flew open and he started yelling, "No, no, leave me alone, Buck! Buck!"

Buck pulled his brother close to him and held him tightly, "JD, JD, it's ok, you're safe, you're safe now boy!"

JD's body was shaking violently as he sobbed into his brother's shoulder. After a few minutes he calmed down and looked up at Buck.

"Oh, thank God," he whispered, leaning into his brother's embrace. Buck rocked him gently until he felt the boy relax into a healing sleep.

Nathan walked quietly over to them. "Let him sleep here, I don't mind staying with him."

"Why don't we ALL stay," smiled Josiah, and so they did, the three of them talking through the night.

Chapter 4

Chris looked at the address on the slip of paper in his hand then back to the apartment building. He was impressed. If Ezra could afford this he was doing well for himself. He buzzed; Ezra's southern drawl was unmistakeable

"Who is it?"

"Ezra? It's Chris, Chris Larabee."

"Good Lord! Come on up!" he said, buzzing Chris into the building.

Within a few minutes Chris was in the apartment and admiring the view. Ezra handed him the coffee he'd requested and both men sat down.

"It's good to see you Chris, how have you been?"

"Didn't come to talk about me, I came to ask about Buck and JD's father."

Ezra's smile disappeared.

"Ah, I see you've heard. Nasty business, very distressing, especially so soon after Rachel's death."

Chris stared hard, his jaw had dropped. "Rachel's dead too, what the hell's been going on? Why wasn't I told?"

Ezra sighed, "I believe Buck tried to contact you at the ranch but was unsuccessful. With the trauma, the business and young JD's distress he felt his priorities were elsewhere. You're a hard man to find Chris."

"I need to get hold of them," Chris stated, choking slightly.

Ezra smiled, I cannot divulge too much at this juncture but I will say this, you may be able to contact them earlier than you think."

+ + + + + + +

They were well on their way to Des Moines. A pit stop had been ordered to ensure JD didn't get too stiff. Buck and JD sat at a table, closely followed by Nathan and Josiah.

They looked at the menus, JD put his back down on the table. Buck looked at him.

"Ya not eating?"

"Not hungry, sorry, can I just have some milk?"

Buck sighed, "you haven't eaten properly for two days. I don't want you getting ill!"

JD snorted, "hell no, wouldn't want me to feel uncomfortable in any way huh?" He looked at his brother's saddened features and instantly regretted his words. He put his hand on top of Buck's, "sorry, I'm just cranky. You know I don't mean it." He gave him "the look", the one that could stop a train.

Buck instantly brightened, "milk it is, but next stop, you eat!"

"Why Denver?"

Buck looked at Josiah, "I'm sorry?"

"I was wondering, why Denver. How will it help you to achieve your goal?"

"Aw, it's just we got some friends there, people we can trust. Also our company has no offices there, so hopefully they won't make a connection and come looking for us."

"I'm real glad you came along," JD said quietly, smiling at the two men.

They smiled back; Josiah put his hand on JD's arm and gave it a gentle squeeze.

"So are we, son. I'd like to think we're going to be good friends."

"New friends," he sighed, "sounds good." His face saddened at what he'd left behind. "Just going to the bathroom," he said moving away from the table. The three men watched him leave.

"He's a good kid," Josiah stated.

"That he is," Buck replied, a huge smile spread across his face, then faded. "It's been a hard year. If you'd known him nine months ago, you'd barely recognize him now. But we still got each other, some old friends to meet up with and some new friends to see us through to a new beginning. Things will get better for him, for us, we've lost too much and it ends here."

JD was looking at his face in the bathroom mirror. A man came in and went into a stall. His heart was pounding, he was shaking and had started to sweat. He was terrified, but he couldn't tell Buck, God knows he had enough on his plate. JD took deep breaths to compose himself; he had to keep it together.

+ + + + + + +

Chris stared hard at the place he once called home. The ranch was considerable in size, but in a sad state of disrepair. He hadn't been back for two years and shuddered at the memories. He got out of his black Dodge and walked up onto the porch, brushing his fingers lightly over the door handle. Despite taking out his keys he instinctively turned the handle, surprised to find the door open. Confused, he walked carefully inside, only to be met by the business end of a gun. He turned his head slowly resting his gaze on a pair of bright blue eyes.

"Who the hell are you?" Chris growled.

"I was just gonna ask you the same question," the man answered, lowering his gun a little.

"I own this place," he snarled, "now I'll ask again, who the hell are you and what are you doin' on my property?"

The intruder lowered his gun and placed it back in the shoulder holster he wore. He extended his hand.

"Tanner, Vin Tanner. As to why I'm here, that's a long story, but I've got the time if you have."

Chris looked the young man up and down, His age, he guessed around twenty- six, twenty-seven. He was tall, lean and his hair was light brown and a little on the long side. He shook his hand. "Yeah, I got time," and they went inside.

+ + + + + + +

JD felt sick to his stomach. The traveling was exhausting his battered body and his head was pounding. He inadvertently let out a soft moan, causing Buck to swerve slightly as he looked quickly across at him.

"You ok?" he asked, concerned. JD didn't answer, he was concentrating too much on not throwing up in the new car. Buck spotted a pull-in ahead and indicated, hoping Nathan would follow. As they pulled up, Buck jumped out and raced around to JD's door. He'd just got him out when JD regurgitated his milk from earlier. Nathan and Josiah pulled in just as he was dry heaving. Buck handed the shaking boy some tissues, gently rubbing his back.

"S...sorry," JD apologized.

Buck squeezed his neck, "what for? Hell JD just tell me if you're sick, don't suffer."

JD wiped at his eyes and took a small breath while straightening up, "didn't want to delay us any more," he coughed.

Nathan walked over, followed by Josiah and handed the boy a bottle of water, touching the back of his hand to JD's forehead. He frowned slightly.

"I think we should stop for today Buck, he needs some rest."

"No," JD protested, "let's keep going, I just want to get there." He looked at Buck.

"Ah no, that look ain't gonna do it boy, Nathan's right we should rest,"

When they were sure he was ready, they continued on to a motel and settled in for the night. JD was asleep almost instantly, the Tylenol kicking in nicely. Buck was in the room next door with Josiah and Nathan, playing poker, but was unable to concentrate as he slipped between the two rooms to check on his brother.

"Why don't we call it a night, brothers? Let's see what tomorrow brings," yawned Josiah.

"He'll be fine, Buck. It's just the traveling and lack of rest. We're almost there now; he'll be good to go once he's more settled," Nathan reassured.

Buck nodded slowly and bid them goodnight. In their own room, he sat on his bed and stared at his brother's battered sleeping form. After a few minutes he placed his face in his hands and wept.

Chapter 5

It was getting dark at the Larabee ranch. Chris and Vin had talked for hours and were now looking for lanterns to light.

Chris had learned that Vin was a bounty hunter but was laying low due to some unsavory characters believing he had killed their brother. He had stumbled on Chris's home while riding his motorbike across some old dirt tracks that ran across the property. He had been staying there for several weeks.

Vin had learned that despite being reasonably wealthy due to a once successful stud ranch now no longer operating, Chris had not worked much in the last few years since his family died in a car accident. He had more than enough to live on comfortably, but had occasionally done menial labor in between alcohol soaked sessions just for the hell of it, often getting into fights and losing his job. The day he'd stopped drinking was the day he'd seen the headlines in the newspaper.

The two men drank coffee made over a fire Vin had built in the hearth. Chris hadn't felt this relaxed in three years. They had talked as if they were old friends and Chris had enjoyed that feeling of companionship again. He was sure the softly spoken Texan with him felt the same. He desperately wanted to see Buck and JD, he'd already re-acquainted himself with Ezra and now he found himself hoping he would remain close to this man also. Maybe he'd finally turned a corner.

Vin was still trying to understand the immediate bond he'd felt with this man. He was a loner, had been pretty much since he was orphaned at five. He was used to making his own decisions and answering to no-one, yet now he found himself quietly hoping this man would want to stay in touch, hell more than that even. If he could keep himself out of trouble, maybe his life could change for the better. He now found the idea of being alone less appealing. Maybe he'd finally turned a corner.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra couldn't help but smile as he saw the two cars heading towards him. He raised his hand as they pulled up. JD exited the car a little awkwardly but his natural exuberance shone through as he took in his surroundings, his mouth open in awe. Buck couldn't help but smile, he hadn't seen him this bright in a long time. He walked towards Ezra to shake hands but found himself hugging the man instead. Ezra patted him on the back chuckling.

"Good to see you my friend," he said then looked towards JD as the youth approached him.

"Ezra!" JD exclaimed, hugging the man tight as his brother released him. Ezra had heard of JD's encounter with the Nichols and returned the embrace as fiercely. He pulled back after a while and stared at JD's face, shaking his head in disbelief.

"JD, if ever there was a good argument for a change of venue I believe I am looking at it right now."

JD leaned back into the man, "yeah, I think I agree."

Moving his arm to the youth's shoulders, Ezra looked across to the two men exiting the Ford. They were moving towards him while looking around.

"And you two gentlemen must be Nathan and Josiah. It's a privilege to meet you both," he shook hands with each man. Ezra turned to Buck.

"As per your instructions, I've acquired the two apartments in this block and you have an option on them for six months." He looked at JD and gave a wink, "if you think this artificial lake is a sight to behold, wait until you see the view from the other side."

Buck gave JD the key and he eagerly opened the door. The youth gasped. In front of them was a vast space fully furnished in creams and browns, but what JD gasped at was the full length, full width sliding glass wall that opened out to a wooden decking, behind which was the most amazing mountain views he'd ever seen.

"Awesome!" JD breathed, opening the doors and stepping out onto the deck.

Buck chuckled and winked at Ezra, "ya did good Ez, real good."

In the next apartment Josiah and Nathan were experiencing the same emotions. Eventually they joined the three men.

"Buck, JD,'s too much. We can't accept this." Nathan gasped.

Buck smiled. "Hell boys, we just made five times what these apartments cost to rent in the last second in interest alone. Don't sweat it!"

Nathan shook his head in disbelief, he was sure he would wake up in a moment and find himself back in the book store. Nothing could be this good.

Ezra finally broke the silence. "Nathan, I have arranged an interview with Denver General for two days time. It's merely a formality, you start your internship in a week. Josiah, I understand you are a learned gentleman. I have need of a personal assistant to deal with my client profiling and research. I have a salary in mind which I hope will be suitable. Would you be interested?"

Josiah's face broke into a huge toothy grin, "I would be honored sir. I'm sure your terms are more than agreeable. Are you sure that you want me? You know nothing about me."

Ezra smiled, his gold tooth catching the light. He gestured toward Buck and JD, "I trust the judgment of these gentlemen. Their word is good enough for me." Ezra beckoned to Buck.

"Chris has been in touch," Buck looked surprised, "he is desperate to see you both, shall I set up a meeting for tomorrow?"

Buck nodded enthusiastically, "absolutely. How is he?"

Ezra tipped his head to one side then back again, "I think it's safe to say whatever dark cavernous hole he was traveling through, he would seem to be emerging on the other side."

"Tomorrow it is then Ezra, tomorrow it is!"

Chapter 6

JD sat on the deck with his chin resting on the rail. He was totally at peace for the first time in eight months. The sun was just rising and bathing the mountain tops in a bright yellow light. He had never been west and now regretted it as he began to wonder what he'd been missing out on. A creak alerted him to his brother's presence. Without turning, but sporting a satisfied grin he spoke softly.

"'Mornin' Buck." A coffee was wafted under his nose and he turned grinning, to take it. "Thanks"

Buck sat next to him and dropped a hand on his shoulder. "And a very 'good morning' to you" he smiled. They sat in silence for a while then Buck spoke.

"Ezra says Chris came to see him, he wanted to get in touch with us."

JD turned to face him, "is he ok?"

"I think so. Ezra said he was better than he'd seemed in a long time. Do you feel up to meeting with him?"

JD nodded, "of course why wouldn't I? Chris was like a big brother to me. He is my God father remember."

Buck chuckled at that, remembering their father's horror at two pre- teenagers being God parents, Rachel had been insistent, and until a few years ago both Buck and Chris had been as good as their word.

"Yeah, some role model eh kid?" he sighed. He took a sip of coffee and continued. "Probably head off around noon, ok with you?" JD nodded his answer and resumed his position at the rail.

+ + + + + + +

As Ezra approached the ranch house he wondered if Chris had already left, the place seemed deserted. His fears were alleviated when he saw the blonde walk out through the door to greet him as he pulled up.

"So what's so all-fired important that you needed to see me so urgently?" Chris asked.

Ezra approached him, "I believe you wanted to see Buck and JD?"

Chris nodded with a curious expression on his face, "yeah, and?"

"They arrived in Denver yesterday. Would noon be a suitable time for you?"

Chris gave a half smile, "sounds good, where?"

"The venue has yet to be established, do you have anywhere in mind?"

"There's a place called The Saloon, ya heard of it?" Chris enquired.

"I know it, I also know the owner Inez very well. JD is under age you understand?"

"Shoot, never thought of that!" Chris cursed.

"Fear not, I will endeavor to consult with Inez on the matter, I'm sure we can come to an arrangement. See you at noon then."

"D'ya think Buck would mind if I brought someone with me? I'd really like them to meet."

"Ezra smiled, "I believe Buck was thinking along the same lines. Noon it is then." He touched two fingers to his forehead, eased into his Jag and left.

Vin came out onto the porch. "You sure 'bout this Chris, don't wanna intrude."

"You'll like Buck and JD, they're great guys, they'll be real happy to meet you. Guess we should go get ready then."

+ + + + + + +

Chris and Vin had been the first to arrive. They sat quietly sipping coffee observing the customers as they came and went. Inez approached their table with the coffee pot.

"Would you like a top-up?" she offered in her gentle Spanish accent. Both men held out their cups, thanking her. A familiar voice towards the front of the bar caused Chris to smile and he stood.

"Chris! My God, how the hell are you?" Buck was positively beaming as he approached, ignoring the offered hand and going for a full embrace, causing the patrons to turn briefly to look. Chris couldn't help but return the gesture, though somewhat more subdued. He whispered in Buck's ear,

"Buck I'm so sorry, I..."

Buck pulled away, "Ah ah ah! That's for later." He moved slightly and Chris caught JD's eye.

"C'mere you!" he grinned and pulled the boy toward him. They held their grip on each other for some time, Chris finally releasing and looking back at him. "I do believe you've grown some," he remarked with a wink.

"Really? Cool!"

"Ezra told me about Chicago, sorry kid," Chris tilted JD's chin up a little to get a better look. JD shrugged.

Buck gestured to the two men who had followed them in. "Chris, I'd like you to meet Nathan Jackson and Josiah Sanchez. Without these boys in Chicago, I'm not sure we'd be standin' here now. Boys, this is my long-time good friend Chris Larabee." They all greeted each other.

Chris pointed to Vin. "Buck, JD, fellas, I'd like to introduce you to Vin Tanner. He's been keeping an eye on the ranch and is gonna help me get it up and running again."

Buck leaned in and shook the young man's hand vigorously, "that's great news, any friend of Chris is a friend of mine." Vin shook hands with him and nodded to the rest.

"You must be JD," Vin drawled, eyeing the youth. JD smiled and shook hands also.

"Good grip," he continued, "ya wanna learn some self-defence moves sometime, make the bastards think twice before beating on ya again?"

JD nodded, flashing a grin. "Yeah, I'd like that, thanks." They all took a seat around the table and proceeded to get acquainted, Ezra joining them with a tray of drinks, ensuring no alcohol for Chris and milk for JD. The afternoon flew by, the banter light and easy. It couldn't have gone any better.

+ + + + + + +

Early evening saw the noise level in the bar increase slightly with occasional louder outbursts. It eventually caught the attention of the seven men. Ezra explained, grimacing slightly at the noise intrusion.

"Inez has informed me that a rather bawdy group have been frequenting the bar recently causing a few minor fracas. It would appear they are in good voice this evening."

JD was at the bar and had been chatting to Inez. She was totally taken with the young man finding him "enchanting" as she'd put it, causing JD to blush and the other six men to chuckle and tease. As JD turned to leave the bar area with his drink one of the rowdy men lost his balance and knocked into him, causing the milk to splash.

"Watch where you're going you clumsy little shit!" he screamed at him.

JD swallowed hard, "s...sorry, but you knocked into me."

The man fisted the front of JD's shirt and pulled him towards him, causing the boy to drop the glass, shattering it as it hit the ground. "Did I just hear you say it was my fault?"

A shadow was cast on them and he turned to see six men surrounding him.

"Ya really don't wanna be doin' that mister," Vin rasped.

Buck stepped in closer, "Get your hands of my kid brother or you'll be wearing your teeth as a necklace!"

As the man released JD his own friends stood to support him and he suddenly became bolder. "Who the hell do you think you are?" he yelled.

Chris stepped in, "we're your worst nightmare," he threatened.

No-one but JD seemed surprised as the first punch was thrown by one of the man's friends. All hell broke loose, Inez reached for the phone.

JD crept away to a corner and looked back in horror. As the sound of the punches filtered through to his brain he was instantly transported back to a dimly lit alley and the pain he felt as each punch and kick rained down on him. He could feel the bile rise in his throat and instinctively cowered further into the corner.

Buck ducked and delivered a blow to a stomach followed by a left hook. Vin and Chris were tossing bodies around almost in unison, while Josiah was picking men up and depositing them in a heap to one side of the brawl. Nathan was enjoying himself a little too much and even though it wasn't the gentlemanly thing to do Ezra was right in the thick of it, each man holding his ground while protecting the others' backs.

As the police arrived Inez directed them to the men who had been the original troublemakers and it soon settled down as they were removed.

The six men were laughing and quietly congratulating each other, patting backs and shaking hands. JD walked up to them, shaking.

"Are you all crazy!" he yelled. Still laughing they looked at him.

"Aw hell kid ain't the first time some of us have done that, we were ok." Buck soothed.

That's not the point!" JD growled and started walking to the front exit of the bar, Buck chasing after him. The men followed, a little surprised by the outburst. Vin touched Chris on the arm.

"Give me your keys and I'll bring your car around from the back. You know this kid, you should go help Buck."

Chris nodded and handed him the keys then turned and went after the others.

Outside, Buck had caught up with JD just where they'd parked their car in the street outside the bar. He blinked at the early evening sunshine after the dim light of the bar.

"Take it easy JD," he gasped out, turning the youth to face him "we knew what we were doing."

"Oh really," he seethed, "you anticipated a glass in the face, or a kick to your kidneys did you? Do you enjoy the feeling of never ending punches to your stomach or your face, OR BOTH, WELL, DO YOU!!" JD was shaking.

Buck was shocked and unable to answer, looking around at the others as they caught up to them. Chris had also joined them and held onto JD's arm. He could feel the boy was shaking and noticed sweat beading his upper lip and dampening his bangs.

"Calm down, son. No-one got hurt here, you've nothing to get all worked up about."

JD glared at him, "Oh like suddenly YOU care, you haven't given a shit about us for years so what do you know?" He watched Chris's face pale and jerked his arm away hard, the momentum carrying him off the sidewalk. He continued around the front of the Navigator in a blind rage.

It was at that precise moment Vin advanced the Dodge towards the familiar group on the sidewalk, intending to pull in just below them. He gasped and slammed on his brakes as JD was suddenly in front of him.

JD was so mad he couldn't think any more. Buck was an idiot and what the hell did Chris know. He suddenly jerked his head up and watched in horror as Vin's face showed shock through the windshield of the approaching car, a car heading straight for him.

Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. Buck watched exasperated and a little shaken as his younger brother threw verbal abuse at Chris and pulled away hard and into the street. He looked down at his feet, shaking his head when noise from the others caused him to look up just in time to see a black dodge hit JD side on. He watched in horror as his brother was thrown up in the air then roll over the cab of the truck and land in a boneless heap on the ground, the only noises seemingly to stand out was the squeal of brakes and the thud as JD's head hit the ground.

Chapter 7

Chris gave JD's details at the reception desk while Nathan, Ezra and Josiah hovered around a distraught Buck who was pacing frantically outside the ER doors. Just as Chris was concluding his business with the receptionist he half-noticed Vin walking into the waiting area to join the others. It took a few seconds for the information to penetrate his racing mind but when it did he looked alarmingly at the receptionist, causing her to gasp. He held up his index finger.

"I'll be back," and he raced through the doors after Vin.

Buck turned to look as he heard the door open. Vin didn't know what hit him as he came to a hard and painful stop against a wall with Buck's face closing in on his and Buck's right fist connecting hard with his jaw.

Buck was screaming, "YOU USELESS F***ING PIECE OF SHIT, WHERE DID YOU THINK YOU WERE, DAYTONA?!" Buck kept hitting out, his anger consuming him as he threw the slighter man around the room like a rag doll. Vin did nothing to retaliate, he was sure he deserved everything he was getting; he sure as hell couldn't feel much worse than he already did.

It took a few seconds for the other men to react, shocked as they were to see the normally placid, jovial man so angry and so fast on his feet. At the precise moment they began to intervene Chris came flying through the door and headed straight for Buck. He locked his arms around the middle of the big man and started to half pull, half lift him away from Vin.

"Buck! Stop it! Stop it! That's enough!" Chris was struggling to contain the raging man but he was slowly starting to gain control. Ezra and Josiah helped a bleeding Vin to a chair and Nathan started checking his injuries.

Chris manhandled Buck towards a wall and managed to pin his back to it, holding the tops of his arms back flat and leaning into Buck's body with his right hip.

"Get out of my way Larabee, this is between me and him! Get the f*** off me!"

Chris was right in his face "Like hell I will. Listen to yourself, man, I know you're hurting but you're acting like an idiot! It was an accident, there was no way Vin could have prevented it, he wasn't speeding, come on Buck, get a grip!"

Buck turned cold eyes to his once best friend and stopped struggling. "So that's it huh Chris, looking out for your new best friend? Never mind that he put my kid brother in the hospital, let's just make sure HE's ok, RIGHT!"

Chris swallowed hard at the accusation. The remark hurt but this wasn't the time for that argument. He stared into Buck's eyes, still maintaining his hold, his voice was menacingly low.

"Because I know you're hurting and because I, WE all are too, I'm gonna ignore that remark this time. I know I've been a total bastard where JD and especially you were concerned these last few years Buck, but I didn't deserve that." Chris started to choke back his emotions. He gestured toward the door to the ER. "Knowing that kid in there might be fighting for his life is tearing me up too Buck, but it doesn't change the fact that it was still an accident and Vin would give anything for it not to have happened."

At that point Buck's knees gave out. Chris took the strain and guided him to a chair, taking the seat next to him. Buck started rocking gently. He kept playing the events over and over in his mind, how he froze initially, unable to believe what he'd just witnessed, and his race to the middle of a once busy street to get to JD. How he'd desperately wanted to scoop him into his arms but Nathan seemed to be saying something and holding his hands while checking on the still form lying in the road, Chris shouting instructions and running back and forth between himself and Vin, Vin doubled over, retching. Ezra talking on the phone and Josiah at his side, and all the while the blood around JD's head was pooling and trailing along the ground. He was now convincing himself it was totally his fault, if they hadn't been fighting, if he'd seen how upset JD had been, if only..."

Buck stared at Chris and looked over to Vin, nodding his head.

"You're right, it WAS an accident, weren't nothing he could've done about it. Me, I knew JD weren't right, should've gotten him to a doctor." He looked hard at Chris, fear tearing through him, suddenly he was racked with sobs.

"Can't...can't lose him Chris...can't go on if..."

Chris dropped to his knees in front of Buck and pulled the man tight to him. "We're not gonna lose him, I'm only just getting to know him again, we're not gonna lose him," Chris soothed, praying he wasn't giving Buck or himself false hope.

+ + + + + + +

Chris was in hell. He was sitting next to Buck in the hospital waiting room and the man was inconsolable. Across from him Vin was sat on the floor his back against the wall, alone, his arms were folded across his bent up knees and his head resting on them, hiding his face. As if sensing his dilemma Ezra and Josiah nodded to Chris and sat either side of Buck as Chris joined Vin.

"How ya doin'?" Chris asked Vin, sitting down beside him.

Vin looked up at him, his face bruised, his eyes red-rimmed. "How d'ya think!"

Chris rested his hand on the man's shoulder, "you know it was an accident, you couldn't have done anything to prevent it."

Vin spoke without looking up, "don't think Buck would agree with ya!"

Chris sighed hard, "Buck's hurting is all, he knows." He patted Vin on the shoulder and rose to his feet. Josiah moved over to Vin and Chris resumed his seat next to Buck.

"I got two men convinced it was their fault, and I'll bet when JD wakes up he'll be blaming himself too."

Buck looked up at him. "He is gonna wake up, isn't he?"

Josiah spoke, "have faith, brother, faith can move mountains."

Ezra nodded, "Absolutely, besides, the young man promised me he would personally oversee the upgrading of my infernal computer system and I intend to hold him to it."

Chris realized all the men including Vin were around them, Nathan had just arrived back with some drinks. They all closed around forming a small semi-circle, Chris turned to Buck and held his forearms tightly.

"I'm making this promise to you Buck, I know I've been an asshole, especially to you, but I'm swearing to you now, I will try never to let you or JD down again. I'm gonna stick to you two so tight you're gonna think you grew a third arm. No more losses, no more shit, no more pain, just us looking out for each other." He felt the other four men step in closer still; he looked up at them all and nodded in understanding of the body language, "the SEVEN of us."

Buck looked to Vin and rose shakily to his feet. He pulled the young Texan toward him and they stayed comforting each other for several minutes. Finally they pulled back. No words were spoken, the looks exchanged were words enough. Buck gave a weak smile and looked around at his five good friends.

"Yeah," he nodded, the SEVEN of us."

+ + + + + + +

Six men sat quietly in the private hospital room. JD had been moved from ICU that morning but his condition had not improved significantly. There was serious concern that he had not regained consciousness, but there was some swelling and fluid around the brain at the site of the head trauma so the doctors weren't entirely surprised. The young man's left side was black and blue including his face. He had broken his left humerus and suffered a hairline fracture of the left femur. His skull x-ray was showing a hairline fracture also but the CAT scan revealed only minimal swelling.

Buck was sat at his brother's right side carefully holding his right hand with one hand and stroking his right cheek with his other. He looked across at Chris who was occupying a chair on the opposite side of the bed then around the room at his friends.

"Why don't you go home guys, I'm about to launch into one of my rambles here and there's nothing any one of you can do, though I surely have appreciated your support these past two days."

Josiah smiled, "ramble away my friend, there's nowhere else I'd rather be right now."

Everyone else nodded and settled in. Buck couldn't help but smile.

"Ok, but I did warn you." He turned back to JD and pushed his hair out of his eyes. He was so still and so pale. His left leg was slightly elevated his head was bandaged and his left arm was strapped to his body. Buck stroked the smaller hand with his thumb.

"OK kid, enough is enough. I got some things we need to talk about, plans I'd like to run by ya. Partners, right? Everything we do from here on in, together." He looked hard at his brother almost willing him to look back at him. Buck dropped his gaze and continued.

"I remember the last time ya got real sick, you were five and ya had chicken pox. I'd never seen you so quiet. Me an' Chris used to take it in turns to read to you." Buck laughed softly, "'course, you being the generous soul you are, shared your chicken pox with both me an' Chris, not to mention at least six young ladies I was seeing at the time and who caught it from me. You set me back six months with the ladies for that ya little rat."

Chris smiled at the memory. He looked to JD and his heart thumped hard as he noticed a pair of hazel eyes staring at Buck from the bed. He turned to the others who had also noticed but gestured for them to wait.

" anyway, I took her number but before I could get outta the door I'd lost it. Talk about mad, I was spittin' feathers." Buck continued.

JD took a small breath and quietly said, "and mom used to think I was the talker of the family."

Buck stopped speaking and looked to his brother in surprise. Tears started to fall from his eyes and he chuckled at the same time.

"Well, you are, it's the first time in nineteen years I've been able to get a word in edgewise!" Buck stood and bent over the bed, kissing his brother gently on his head. He moved to his ear and whispered, "welcome back li'l brother, I've missed ya."

JD smiled weakly, "where's Vin?"

Surprised, Vin approached the bed. JD looked at him and smiled.

"Sorry man. I made a pretty bad mistake, I hope you can forgive me."

Vin came closer and squeezed JD's good leg. "Jesus JD it's me that's sorry. If I could change places with ya I would, in a heartbeat. I just hope you can forgive me and we can put this behind us."

"Nothing to forgive," JD answered then laughed softly, "thank God, I thought you were gonna tell me that was my first self-defence lesson!" He closed his eyes and gently drifted to sleep.

+ + + + + + +

JD could not believe the size of the TV in their living room. All seven men were gathered in Buck and JD's apartment for an afternoon and probable evening of companionship and sport. Buck had supplied the group with most every sandwich he could think of that they might like plus dips potato chips and pretzels. JD was playing with the controls of the electric wheelchair Ezra had hired for him while idly flicking through the channels.

"This chair is so cool Ez, thanks."

Ezra turned to him from his chosen seat and smiled, "it's my pleasure, however should you choose to sideswipe me again, albeit accidental, I will allow Mr. Tanner to supercharge said vehicle, take you to the I-25, point you in a northerly direction and let you go! Now hand me the remote control so I may catch up on the world of business."

JD chuckled hard at Ezra's remarks causing a ripple of laughter from the others. It was good to hear him laughing. JD's mirth was also due to his amusement with Ezra's ability to string so many words together, coupled with his belief that JD was about to give up the remote control anytime soon.

Vin crept up behind the youth and successfully removed the remote from his grip. He faked a throw to a hopeful Ezra then proceeded to sit on one of the sofas and resume the channel-flicking.

"Hey, no fair!" JD mock pouted. Vin bobbed his eyebrows, smiling," THAT'S your first lesson in self-defence kid, expect the unexpected!"

Finally they were all seated.

"Are we gonna ask 'em now?" JD asked his brother eagerly.

"Yes, we are," Buck answered. He turned to Chris.

"This stud ranch you plan to get goin' again, need any help?"

Chris noticed JD looked fit to burst and trying not to smile answered, "I might, why?"

"Oh, just wonderin' is all," Buck swallowed back a grin as he waited for the explosion.

"Oh for goodness sake, Buck, you're getting as bad as Ezra!" JD gasped out.

"I'm as bad as what now?" Ezra asked.

JD continued, "we were wondering if we could invest in the ranch, y'know, like partners?"

Chris looked to an amused Buck. Buck explained.

"Just thought we could get involved in some way. Wouldn't want to interfere, just have an excuse for shortstop there to come over and play cowboy from time to time."

JD threw him a scowl.

Chris chuckled, "hell, ya don't have ta pay me just to come visit boys." He looked to Vin and nodded, "I think that's a real good business proposal, I assume Ezra has already drawn up a contract?" he smiled.

"A mere formality, I assure you," Ezra added.

"Ooh, tell them about the apartments!" JD exclaimed.

"I was just getting to that!" Buck huffed. He looked at Josiah and Nathan, "Our Company purchased the four apartments in this block so as from now, we're your new landlords!"

Nathan smiled, "are your terms affordable for an intern and a legal clerk?"

Buck winked at his brother and tossed Josiah a set of keys. "Two tenants, two apartments, no waiting...oh and no charge."

Before the men could protest Buck stopped them, "consider it a thank you from two grateful brothers, they're yours for as long as you want 'em. You reminded us both of what's important in life, and hell, our Company's loaded, so why the hell not?"

They all laughed. Nathan shook both their hands; Josiah walked over and gave Buck a good old bear hug, causing the big man to laugh again. He approached JD and crouched down in front of him placing his hands on his shoulders.

"I believe fate sent me to you that day JD, I only wish it could have been a little kinder."

JD nodded. They were all quiet for a moment. JD's voice broke through.

"Oh hey the other apartment's free so you and Vin got somewhere to stay over!" he called to Chris.

Chris nodded, "sounds like a plan!"

"Gentlemen, a toast," Ezra announced. "To us!" They all raised their drinks.

JD wheeled out onto the deck. After a few minutes Buck joined him.

"You ok?" Buck asked coming around to face him.

JD smiled widely and nodded. "Yeah, just taking in the view. I guess we need to start looking into the business soon, we can't let the trail go cold."

"Yeah, we will. One step at a time huh? Come on, the game's about to start."

JD looked back in at his group of new and old friends and smiled.

"It's weird," he began pointing back at their friends and at the general surroundings, "everything here feels so...right! I don't understand it, but I kinda like it. Do you know what I mean?"

Buck nodded a huge grin on his face. "Yeah, I think I do." They both looked up as Ezra joined them.

"May I join you, or am I intruding?"

"Hell no, you're not intruding. We wanted to talk to ya anyway." Buck replied.

Ezra sat down and looked to JD. "I wanted to remind you of your appointment with my friend Dr. Andrews next week. I promise you, he is just the man to get you through this difficult time. Lord knows I've found him invaluable on occasion, of course, those occasions usually coincide with a visit from my mother."

Buck chuckled, he'd met Maude once, once was enough.

"Thanks Ezra," JD smiled, "I'll be there, I promise."

"You wanted to speak with me?" Ezra continued.

Buck looked to JD and they nodded in silent agreement.

"Well y'know that now dad's gone I take over as President, which leaves the Company without a VP. JD's still thinking on finishing college, so we were wondering, as well as keeping most of the duties you have now, whether you'd be interested in taking on the position?"

Ezra looked shocked.

"Me? I, I don't know what to say. Gentlemen, it would be an honor, no-one has ever shown that much faith in me before. Are you sure?"

JD squeezed his arm, "Ezra, dad had nothing but good things to say about you, mom adored you, you treat Buck and me like brothers and you know the business almost as well as Buck, not to mention what you've done for us. We trust you Ezra, we need you. Please say yes."

Ezra was almost too emotional to speak, but he swallowed and smiled." I've never been happier than while working for your Company. Your father was a great man, and I will do everything in my power to help you to clear his name. I adored your mother, on the occasions I visited with you she was more of a mother to me in those few days than my own mother has been to me in my lifetime. You are two of the most loyal, remarkable, generous, kind, loving men I've ever encountered. How could anyone NOT want to work with you?" he shook their hands, smiling broadly at them.

Buck clapped his hands together. "Excellent, we'll sort out the formalities another day, right now it's time for football."

They moved towards the doors and JD faked a swipe at Ezra with the wheelchair, chuckling. Ezra frowned and called into the living room.

"Mr. Tanner, I have a job for you!"

JD laughed harder as he watched the two men walk indoors. He paused for a moment, reflecting on what they'd left behind, his features saddening briefly. He was jolted from his thoughts by raised voices from inside, followed by guffaws of laughter. His face brightened and he continued on inside, yes indeed. This definitely felt right.