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
My thanks to Lisa for the story idea, which helped me move on with this sequel and to Phyllis, for her beta work on this and for all her input and encouragement.
A sequel to Getting Out of Boston
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, and now they have friends, family, they can trust.
Buck could not contain his amusement as his younger brother's laughter drifted across from Chris' corral. He watched as JD's hysterics had him flopping about helplessly, as Vin got up off the ground for the third time, dusting himself off and muttering. He found himself laughing out loud as Vin did an about turn and put JD in a headlock. That was how the two young men returned to the house, chuckling like fools.
Vin released JD and pushed him away, playfully. He turned to Buck, and Chris who had just stepped onto the porch.
"That dang horse is as ornery as a mule. I'll take another crack at him later," Vin panted.
Chris chuckled, "Yep, they said he'd be a tough one."
The three men watched as JD returned to the corral and was quietly approaching the stallion. He fished something out of his pocket and offered it to the horse, which accepted enthusiastically and allowed the youth to scratch his ears. Vin huffed
"Well, he seems to like the kid, maybe we should put HIM on, and he might have more luck."
"Oh no," Buck insisted, "Don't be giving him ideas. He's a good rider but that animal is way out of his league!"
Vin snickered, "Just yankin' yer chain Buck, I wouldn't do anything to get him hurt."
Buck smiled and watched JD return to them, "Well, that's alright then, hey kid, ya ready to go?"
The youth pulled a face, "Do we have to? I wanna see if Vin falls off again," he laughed, sidestepping to avoid Vin's swipe.
"Yeah, I think Ezra's got some papers for us to sign, and then we should have the Denver branch of the Dunne Corporation pretty much up and running."
"You don't need me, you and Ezra are the President and Vice President, isn't that enough?" JD asked hopefully.
"No, the company's half yours, now MOVE IT." Buck grabbed JD's collar and shuffled him towards the car, chuckling.
JD sat in the car in mock disgruntlement, his arms folded across his chest. His mood instantly changed as he looked back at Vin.
"We still going riding tomorrow?" he asked hopefully.
"Sure kid," Vin called back, returning the huge grin the boy was flashing him.
With a wave from the open window of the car from Buck, they were gone.
Chris was grinning, Vin frowned.
"Told you you'd get ta like them."
Vin grinned, "What's not to like?"
Josiah and Ezra were hunched over some paperwork as Buck and JD arrived, the four greeting each other as Ezra stood to shake hands. Josiah stepped toward JD and gave the grinning youth a quick squeeze of the shoulders.
"JD, am I correct in my belief that you have an appointment with Dr. Andrews, today?" Ezra asked.
"Yeah, I didn't forget, it's not until five." JD answered.
"Excellent. Am I also correct that you have come to sign some papers or is this merely a social call?"
"Yep, right again Ez," Buck smiled, gesturing toward Ezra's desk, "Shall we?"
Ezra opened a folder and took out the paperwork, pointing to the places for the signatures. Half an hour later they were finished,
"Dad always wanted to work out of Denver," he looked to Ezra, "That's why he sent you here, shame he never got to see it."
He looked across to JD guiltily as he caught the youth's head drop. He placed his hand on JD's arm and the boy smiled and nodded.
"Yeah, he would have loved all this."
Ezra extended his hand, "Well gentlemen, as from midnight tonight The Dunne Corporation of Denver is officially trading. Congratulations."
They all smiled but JD looked concerned.
"What's wrong, bro'?" Buck asked
"What if the Nichols come sniffing around? They're bound to be curious." "Allow me," insisted Ezra, gesturing to Buck. "Do not fret JD, all the paperwork comes through me as of tomorrow, there will be no obvious connection. Also they have no offices in Denver so rarely need to be here, if however they should arrive, I have many contacts poised and ready to inform us and we will then deal with that particular difficulty accordingly."
JD nodded, "Good, we're making good headway in our investigations; I would hate to run into problems."
"We knew it wouldn't all be clear sailing kid, but we got us some good friends who are gonna help us along the way." Buck smiled at Ezra and Josiah who returned his smile, nodding.
"Hold still, Vin!" Nathan ordered. Vin growled in agony as Nathan examined his shoulder in the ER at Denver General. Chris crouched down to offer support. He looked to Nathan.
"How bad is it?" Chris asked.
"I think it might be broken, I'm not sure, and he needs an x-ray." Nathan signed something and handed it to Chris. "Take that to reception and they'll sort out the paperwork." He watched Chris leave and looked at Vin.
"Fell of that dang stallion again, didn't ya?"
Vin nodded through clenched teeth, "Can't ya give me something?"
"As soon as an orthopedic surgeon has seen you, shouldn't be long now." Nathan answered. He turned as a familiar voice called out.
"Got your message," Buck stated, then looked at Vin, "What the hell happened?"
"Dang stallion," Vin grunted, looking at JD. "Sorry kid, guess I won't be riding anytime soon."
"No kidding," he answered, grimacing at his friend's discomfort. Chris rejoined them.
"Ok, Vin, time to get your picture taken. You two ok?" he asked the two brothers as he grasped the back of Vin's wheelchair and turned towards the door to the corridor.
"Never better," Buck replied,he gestured toward Vin, "Is it broken?"
"Looks like it," Nathan nodded, "We'll soon know."
"Can we go to x-ray with Vin?" JD asked Nathan.
"Don't see why not, if Vin doesn't mind."
"Sure, the more the merrier," Vin growled, as they moved away.
Chris and Buck were getting coffee.Vin had been assigned a room for the night, his shoulder confirmed as broken but now re-set and immobilized. He and JD were discussing the stallion, and what to do next.
"Nathan's got the weekend off, starting tomorrow. He's offered to stay over and take care of Vin until he gets his bearings," Chris offered, punching a button on the machine.
"Had me a thought about the weekend," Buck smiled, taking the offered coffee from Chris. "There's a working ranch down El Paso way, I called them and although it's a little early in the season, they said me and the kid could go down for the weekend, and if we like it, we can sign up for a cattle drive in late spring. Thought the kid might get a kick out of it."
Chris grinned widely, "That sounds great," he paused to think for a few seconds,sipping his coffee, "If Vin's got Nathan all over him for the weekend, would you mind if I tagged along? It's been a while since I spent some quality time with my godson."
Buck returned the grin, slapping Chris on the shoulder.
"Thought you'd never ask."
As the Navigator pulled into the reception car park of the 'Lucky D' Ranch, JD's eyes were huge. Despite his familiarity with Chris' home, he was totally in awe; this was just like in those Old West books of his dad's, a real working ranch, with cowboys, cattle and everything.
He watched as the two men got out to check in. He had been so excited when Buck had told him of their surprise vacation, he had hardly slept all night, especially when he had been told that Chris would be joining them.
The boy adored Chris; he was like a big brother to him, having been friends with Buck through most of their school years. He had missed the man, who had isolated himself after the death of his wife Sarah and son Adam, but Chris was much more like his old self these days. JD speculated things had improved with the amazing formation of their extended family over the last two months, bringing contentment to all seven men.
The youth watched as his big brothers returned with a key and some paperwork and climbed back into the car.
"Do we get to sleep in the bunkhouse?" JD asked, eagerly.
Buck smiled, "Not this time, bro', it's not ready to receive guests yet, we got ourselves a cabin out over past the corrals."
"A cabin, cool!" The boy yelped.
Chris leaned over the back of his seat.
"The owner himself booked us in. He said they were doing some branding this afternoon, if we wanted to watch."
JD could hardly contain himself, "That'd be good," he said, looking up at the two men, who were more than prepared for his next utterance.
"AWESOME, totally awesome!"
As his chin rested on the top of the corral, JD's nose wrinkled as he watched the hot iron sear into the cow's rump.
"Chris, are you SURE they can't feel it," he asked. "They can some, they also complain too, because they're wrangled to the ground," Chris answered.
"Hey, kid!" the cowboy called. JD blinked wide eyes at him, and put his finger to his chest, mouthing the word 'me?'
The cowboy nodded, "D'ya wanna try?"
JD was through the fence in seconds, "Yes please."
After a few minutes instruction, JD was successfully branding his first cow. Buck was positively glowing with pride; Chris smirked, shaking his head at the size of the grin on his godson's face. Within the hour, all three had taken a turn and were going back to the cabin to wash and change for dinner.
As the sun was setting, casting a pink glow across the sky, Chris and Buck were sitting on the porch of their cabin, sharing some whiskey. Chris had hardly touched alcohol since the day he had discovered Buck and JD's father had been murdered. He had been on a three-day bender at the time, and had considered the sad discovery a wake-up call.
JD had gone for a stroll to explore and was just getting back. He could hear the two men talking, Chris sounded a little drunk.
"Chris, you should slow down," Buck was warning.
"Jusst h...hear me out, Buck," he slurred. He took another shot.
"Ya need to cut loose, he's nineteen, and ya can't wipe his nose for him forever, Buck."
"He's no burden, Chris; in truth, I'd be at a loss without him."
JD was shaking. Why would Chris say such a thing? He turned around and walked back toward the corral, a tear rolling down his face, the rest of the conversation lost to him.
Chris was on a roll, his grief rising to the fore and the alcohol confusing his thoughts.
"Yeah, but see, one day he'll be gone, ungrateful li'l cuss'll get married or sump'n and leave you alone without a thought for you,'coz that's what happens, they leave you all alone," he paused as dark memories of emptiness and desertion clouded his mind.
"Why should JD be any different?" Chris insisted.
Buck turned to Chris, anger flashing in his eyes. He snatched the bottle from him.
"You're wrong, and you're drunk. I'm going to bed!"
He left Chris sitting alone to contemplate his words.
JD was backhanding tears from his face as he wandered aimlessly, ending up at the stables, a light casting out into the gloom. He stopped as he heard voices.
"I don't like it, Cole. There are people here now, they might see something."
"All they're gonna see is a small plane go over, the drugs'll be shifted and the plane gone before anyone's realized what's happening." Cole replied.
"And what if they DO see something?" Block asked.
Cole paused, "Plan B, we kill 'em."
JD gasped, and then cursed himself for the noise he had made. He turned and ran into the gloom and back to their cabin.
Cole and Block exchanged looks, and then ran out of the stables. The place was empty, but they knew they'd heard someone.
"Looks like Plan B will have to be enforced," Cole stated.
Early the next morning, Buck was woken by shuffling and banging. He looked sleepily across to see his little brother packing.
"What are ya doin' JD?" He yawned.
JD dropped down on to his brother's bed and grasped his arm.
"We gotta get out of here, I think we're in danger," his eyes were wide and scared.
Buck propped himself up on his elbow and stared at the shaking boy.
"Why would you think that?" He reached out and thumbed away a tear from JD's cheek. "What is it, kid?"
"Last night, when I got back from my walk, I heard what Chris was saying about me..."
Buck winced and tenderly rested his hand on his brother's face, "He was drunk, kid, you know he loves you, he didn't mean it."
JD nodded, "I know," he whispered, "But I was upset and took off. While I was walking I overheard two guys talking in the stables about a drugs drop here somewhere, and we're in the way. They weren't expecting anyone to be here. I thought we could wait until morning. But now, I'm not sure we should. Please Buck, let's just go."
Buck nodded, seeing his brother so distressed was enough for him,
"You keep packing, I'll wake Chris."
He jumped out of bed, dressed quickly and left for Chris' room.
Chris was out of it. He hadn't slept like this for some months, now, his alcohol-sodden brain had him trapped in a nightmare world of death and despair. He was soaked, his blond hair stuck to his head, as he felt himself being shaken. Eventually the shaking and his name being repeated brought the man around.
"Chris, wake up!" Buck was saying.
Larabee cracked open one green eye at him.
"What?" He growled.
"Move it, we need to leave."
Both eyes were open now. "What? Why?"
"JD overheard a conversation last night, there's gonna be a drug drop here, and we're in the way."
Chris cocked an eyebrow, "Are you sure he didn't dream that? Boy's got a hell of an imagination."
Buck shook his head, sadly, "He's terrified, Chris. I believe him, but either way, he's had enough shit lately, I think we should just leave."
Chris was sitting up and scrubbing at his face, "Ok, then, let's do it."
"One other thing, he overheard what you said about him last night."
Chris frowned, "What did I say? I don't recall."
Buck nodded, fully expecting that answer, "Forget it for now, let's just get outta here."
The two men stood, turning to the door on hearing a noise and were shocked to see JD being held by one of the ranch hands, a gun to his head. Both men paled on seeing the distress on the young man's face.
Cole spoke, "I'm sure you gentlemen don't want to be wiping off parts of this kid's brain from yourselves, so let's all play nice, get dressed, and leave."
Without a word, Chris dressed quickly and the three of them were taken to a van and pushed into the back, JD going in last as the gun was moved from his head. Buck grabbed at the boy and held his trembling body tightly as the van started to pull away.
They had no wallets or ID, no phones. The three of them looked at each other, sitting in virtual silence, thinking...even if their bodies were found, they might never be identified, no one would know what happened to them.
The van traveled for about a half hour and then stopped. The back doors opened and they were gestured to move out. The three of them stood in the bright sunshine, looking back at the man with the gun and his companion, Block. Hearing the familiar click as he armed the gun, Cole pointed it at JD and was about to fire when the sound of a plane drew his attention, momentarily distracting him. Buck charged the man but as their bodies collided the gun went off.
Chris screamed as his body was flung back by the impact of the bullet.
Block panicked and without a second thought for Cole, jumped in the van and pulled away. Cole pushed Buck off, dropping the gun as he got up and ran after the van, which slowed just enough to let him jump in before it disappeared in a cloud of dust.
Winded, Buck turned to see JD cradling his oldest friend, calling Chris' name between sobs. Buck gathered himself, picked up the gun, and joined them, quickly checking the shoulder wound.
"It's not too bad, kid, it's gone straight through the muscle, but we gotta get out of this sun and stop the bleeding."
His eyes searched the vast open expanse and spotted a large outcrop of rocks a distance away. He encouraged his brother to help him help the stunned man to his feet.
"Come on, we're heading for those rocks."
By the time they reached the rocks, Chris had come around and was able to assist the two men. Thankfully there was enough of an overhang to offer some much needed shade.
Buck took off his shirt and t-shirt, balling up the latter garment, and pushed it against the wound. He looked at JD,
"Keep up the pressure," he ordered, putting his shirt back on. JD complied, apologizing to Chris for hurting him. The blond looked at the youth and winked,
"Not a problem, kid, appreciate the effort."
Buck disappeared for at least ten minutes, returning with a discarded tin, full of water.
"There's a tiny pool back there, but its source is long dried up. We should just drink a little of this, just enough to keep us going."
"You sound like a friggin' boy scout," huffed Chris, wincing in pain with the effort of talking.
"I'll have you know, I was a damned fine boy scout," Buck defended.
Now it was JD's turn to huff, "Buck, ya got thrown out for kissing the scoutmaster's daughter around the back of the scout hut."
Buck smiled fondly, "Oh yeah, so I did."
"Right," Buck said, clapping his hands together, "JD, take care of Chris, Chris, take care of JD."
"Where are you going?" the boy asked, his dark bangs falling over his eyes.
"I'm gonna walk back to the ranch, and get what's ours, maybe even pound a few heads, then I'm gonna call for help and come back and get ya."
JD was shaking his head, "No, no please Buck, they had guns."
Buck squatted down next to the two men, "JD, I have to, Chris needs help, and besides, I'll be back before ya know it. We drove about a half hour, so I should get back there by late afternoon. You won't even have time to miss me."
He stood and walked back to where they first entered the outcrop, turning to smile and wave, the very opposite of how he was feeling right at that moment. A familiar rattling noise drew his attention, but before he could assess the situation, Buck felt a sharp pain to his right calf, and then another. Like lightening, JD threw some loose shale at the snake and in the small distraction. Buck took the gun from his belt and fired twice, getting it on the second shot.
The tall man collapsed to the floor, writhing in agony, as JD searched for a sharp object. Grunting, Buck pointed to his boot. The youth searched and found a small knife, tucked down inside, and proceeded to cut at Buck's trousers.
He located the puncture wounds, and remembering something Chris had told him, he removed his shirts, much as Buck had done earlier, and started ripping his t-shirt into strips, tying a band tightly above the bite and checking he could still insert one finger under it.
"Th...thanks bro'," Buck said, shakily.
Suddenly feeling queasy, JD ran toward a small crevice and vomited. After a few minutes he returned to the two men.
"Sorry," he coughed.
He looked at the two men, they were in serious trouble. JD knew his life, his very existence, had been one of wealth, love and protection, he'd never had to work anything hard but his brain, but had never been accused of being spoiled. Anyone who knew him knew him to be sweet, kind, thoughtful and honest. His failing was that he'd never wanted for anything, even to the point where his big brother pandered to him.
He had no real life experience, except for the last year and therefore no survival skills, save where someone took the time to show him something, or he read it in a book. But now he was needed. Two of the people he loved, idolized, most in the world were injured and needed help. It was down to him.
JD squatted next to the two men, checking them and making them comfortable. He drank some water, and then set the tin between them. He tried to push back the fear at seeing both men in pain and clearly uncomfortable, holding a hand belonging to each man; he looked them both in the eyes, looking from one to the other as he spoke.
"Looks like I'm going to be the one going on a little walk. Just point me in the right direction, please."
Four hours of walking in the sun was taking its toll on the nineteen year old, but he never wavered. His only thoughts were of the two men he left behind, and how they would suffer if he screwed up. He was convinced he would find help; he just had to keep going.
Chris looked across at Buck. He could see the man was struggling, so he thought he should try talking to him.
"How are you doing?" He asked.
Buck huffed a soft laugh, "Just dandy, you?"
"'Bout the same," came the answer. "He's gonna be ok, Buck he's a lot tougher than you give him credit for."
"Aw hell, I know that, just can't help thinking..."
"Well don't," Chris admonished, "Just focus on yourself."
They were quiet for a while, and then Chris once again looked to Buck.
"What did I say last night? Was it about JD?"
Buck nodded, "You insisted he'd dump me if something better came along and I should cut him loose before he does."
"Shit." Chris looked back at Buck and sighed, "Ya gotta know I don't really believe that, don't you?"
"Yeah, I guess so, but I'm not sure the kid does right now. You're a mean drunk, Larabee."
The blond nodded, "I know, that's why I've stopped drinking. I can't believe I fell off the wagon. Vin's been a tower of strength to me with this, ya gotta help me, Buck, don't let me drink again, I don't want to go back to that hell."
Buck looked at Chris and nodded, "You got it pard, and you have my word." Chris smiled, "And you have my word, I'll make it up to JD somehow."
"'Preciate it, though, y'know, the kid don't hold a grudge long, especially where you're concerned."
"I surely don't deserve that," Chris sighed.
Buck laughed softly, "Love is unconditional pard, get used to it."
JD was grateful the sun was no longer directly above him. He was just at a point where he thought he'd never find help when he saw some buildings in the distance. As he got closer, he realized it was the 'Lucky D' and thanked God he hadn't strayed from Buck's directions.
He eventually reached one of the outer buildings and, pressing his back close to the wall, he carefully scanned the area. He could see a few men dotted around, one very close to their cabin. Not knowing if there even were any 'good guys', JD decided he wouldn't approach anyone, and with the cabin cut off, his only option was to get out of there and look for help elsewhere, but he needed transport. He looked toward the unguarded stables and decided on a plan.
Buck was unconscious and had been for several minutes. Chris knew he was close to that point too. He hoped that JD would find help soon, but more importantly, he prayed the youth was safe. There were things that needed to be said, and his prayers carried the hope that all three of them would meet up again soon, to put things right. As Chris slowly drifted off, his last thoughts were of the six men that had helped him turn his life around.
JD had successfully entered the stables and was just finishing saddling a horse. Finding a half-empty water bottle hanging with the tack, JD swigged back a few mouthfuls, trying not to think of how long the water had been there. He led the horse to the stable doors and peered outside. The coast seemed clear, so he mounted and started forward, intending to ride calmly, so as not to attract attention. He was almost at the outer perimeter when he heard a shout, and looking quickly back he could see a man waving his arms at him.
That was the point when JD knew he had run out of time, so with a quick kick of his heels to the horse's flanks and a cry of "Yah!," they took off.
Cole looked to where the ranch hand was yelling and paled when he recognized the disappearing form. He raised the rifle to his shoulder, took aim at the boy on the horse, and fired.
Nathan was clearing away the dishes. He had cooked for Vin, Ezra, Josiah and himself and they were all enjoying the view from Nathan's balcony.
"Sure is a pretty view," Vin sighed.
Nathan nodded, "I pinch myself every morning when I see it. I can't believe how lucky I am to have it, and to be so fortunate to have such a great life, my friends, my job, my home, I am one lucky son of a gun."
"I concur wholeheartedly," Ezra added, "Life is indeed good. Talking of friends, has anyone heard from our three intrepid, would-be cowboys?"
Vin shook his head, "Not since they arrived yesterday. I've tried calling each of their phones, but they just go to voice mail. I can't help wondering why they haven't been in touch."
Josiah's deep laugh rumbled, "I would imagine young JD has them run ragged in his attempts to try everything before they leave."
Vin nodded, "Yeah, maybe so," but he couldn't help but wonder. Something in his gut was telling him something was wrong, and though he didn't know it, he'd set off a chain reaction in his friends, who were now wondering too.
Before long, Ezra was calling the 'Lucky D', his face showing confusion as he concluded his conversation.
"I see, yes, I am a little surprised, they haven't informed us of a change in their schedule. Thank you for your time." He looked at the other three who were watching him intently.
"The receptionist informs me, they checked out early this morning."
JD had never ridden so hard and fast in his life. While desperate to find reliable help, he was also terrified the men from the 'Lucky D' would follow him. He had gone back the way they had driven to the ranch, he knew there was a small town a few miles away. After a twenty minute hard ride he felt relief, as he could see the town in the distance. He couldn't help but smile.
"Hang on guys, I'm coming."
Four determined men sat in silence within Ezra's Jag, well on their way to El Paso. They had decided waiting was no longer an option and action was now necessary. They had alerted the El Paso PD and were told they would be kept informed of any developments. Vin was examining a map.
"The ranch is between El Paso and Las Cruces; it shouldn't take us too long."
"Acknowledged, Mister Tanner, I would appreciate it if you would continue to navigate," Ezra answered. Ezra's phone rang; Josiah was holding it and answered.
"Yes? Dear Lord, I see... and there's no sign...right, I understand, we should be there in two hours." Josiah's face said it all.
"The police went to the ranch and were drawn into a vicious firefight. It seems there were drugs on the premises, quite a considerable amount. The police located the cabin where the boys were staying and found all their gear, including their phones and car keys, but not them. They're searching the surrounding area now."
The atmosphere in the car hung heavy. Ezra accelerated.
As JD entered the town, he looked for the local PD, spotting a station about half-way down the street. Arriving outside, he jumped from the horse and burst in through the doors. He ran to the desk alerting several officers, who were now staring at him.
"Ya gotta help me," he gasped, "We were staying at a ranch called the 'Lucky D' and they were running drugs there, they took me and my brothers to some place in the desert, and shot one and the other got snake-bit, and they need help real bad, please, help them!" JD knew he could talk fast, but that had been fast, even for him.
One of the officers was now gently holding his arms.
"Ok, son, we hear you. We just had a call about that place, there are people looking for you guys right now. Can you tell me where they are?"
JD shook his head, "All I know is it's about a half hour drive from the ranch." He was starting to feel thirsty and light-headed.
The officer could see his distress, "Ok, son, let's get you..." He caught the falling boy in his arms. "Little help here," he called. As another officer came to assist, he gasped.
"Oh God, it looks like the kid's been shot!"
Something was making a noise...a vibration, if he could just open his eyes to look.
Chris desperately tried to lift his eyelids, but found it near-impossible. He felt someone touching him.
"Hey there, fella, take it easy, we're here to help you."
Chris managed a low growl as his wound was inspected.
"Sorry, but I need to take a look."
Chris had always been known as a hard-ass, his tolerance level of those who annoyed him was low, perfecting a no-nonsense glare that would send such people scurrying away. He decided that a glare was in order and through sheer willpower, opened his eyes.
The paramedic chuckled, "Well, hello there. I sure hope that's not your 'I'm so pleased to see you', look, 'coz I'd hate to see the one that says 'you're pissing me off, man'."
Chris croaked, "Buck...?"
"I assume you're talking about your friend. He's just off to Providence Memorial in El Paso, which is where you're going as soon as I get a line in."
Chris closed his eyes in relief. There was something else he needed to know, 'what... hell...was ...oh.'
"Sorry man, I don't know who you're talking about. You're all set, just going to get you into the chopper. Good luck."
Ezra, Vin, Josiah and Nathan had been directed to Providence Memorial Hospital, and arrived half an hour after Buck and just as Chris' chopper was touching down on the heli-pad. They went straight to reception and eventually were sitting in the surgical waiting room.
A doctor approached them, introducing himself as Doctor Miles.
"Your friend... Buck? Is doing as well as can be expected. His injury is no longer life-threatening, but his temperature is a little high so we've kept him sedated for now. Whoever took care of his injury did a pretty thorough job. A course of antibiotics and an anti-emetic should sort him out nicely." The doctor shook hands and left.
A nurse followed right behind.
"If you'd like to see your friend, he's right this way."
The nurse took them to a private room and left them with a sleeping Buck. They approached the bed, relieved at the news and seeing the evidence before them. Josiah took Buck's free hand as he stroked the man's thick,wavy hair.
"Sleep, my friend, you need to get your strength back."
They turned as the door opened.
"I understand you were asking after a Chris Larabee?" a young nurse asked. Ezra approached her.
"Yes, dear lady, do you have some news for us?"
She nodded, "Only that he's just been taken to surgery to remove a bullet."
The four men were shocked and were about to attempt to ask questions. The nurse raised her hand.
"Please don't worry, the news is that he's dehydrated, but stable, they foresee no problems." The nurse left.
The four men looked at each other, the relief that Chris was alive evident in their faces.For a minute or so they reflected on the news in silence, Vin looked up at them.
"Shot?" Vin said, shaking his head.
"Just one thing," Nathan queried, "No one's mentioned JD."
Ezra moved to the door, "We need to talk to the police."
The others nodded in agreement and all four walked from Buck's room to search for someone to help them.
After making a few inquiries, the four men located one of the police officers who had found Buck and Chris.
"Excuse me, officer, could you help us garner some information on the third of the missing men?" Ezra asked.
"What do you need to know, sir?"
"We need to know where he is and if the young man in question is well." Ezra continued.
"Are you family?" the officer wanted to know.
The four men looked at each other, "Closer, I'd say," Josiah stated.
The officer sighed. "He was flown directly to Thomson General. I don't know why, maybe they specialize there."
"Specialize in what?" Vin pushed.
"He was shot in the back, I understand he's critical."
Everyone was stunned into silence. They'd had no idea he had even been injured. Finally Nathan found his voice.
"Does anyone know how, or when?"
"Apparently he made it to a little town not far from Mesilla. How he found a horse to get there, or what happened to him, is still a mystery. He told the officers where to find his companions and he passed out."
The men were devastated, and torn. Three different friends... in three different locations... all hurting. Ezra made a suggestion.
"What if I go to Thomson with Nathan, Vin stays with Chris and Josiah with Buck? When we get there, I'll call Denver and arrange for the company's private jet to come down with a few employees to drive the cars back, it will make the journey home easier."
They nodded; Josiah put his hands on Ezra's shoulders, "Sounds like a plan. Call us when you know something?"
"Of course, give my best to the boys when they wake up. Please tell Buck that Nathan and I will endeavor to take the utmost care of our youngest."
With that, he and Nathan were gone.
Buck had a killer headache, and a thirst to match. As he struggled with consciousness, strong arms lifted him and he felt a straw at his lips. He took a long draw and relaxed back, finally opening his eyes to see Josiah grinning at him.
"Good to see you, brother," Josiah smiled.
Buck grinned, "Likewise, I guess I made it then. How's Chris?"
Josiah smiled even wider, "Growling at the nurses, but even one-handed, Vin can take him."
"I assume JD made it then, is he here?"
Josiah's smile faded, "First things first, Buck, let me inform the nurse that you're awake."
As Sanchez left the room, Buck had an odd feeling in his stomach, and as memory served, that feeling was never a good one.
Outside the room, Josiah motioned to Vin, who was just about to go back to Chris.
"Have you told Chris about JD yet?"
Vin shook his head, "No, I was waiting until we heard from Ezra or Nathan."
Josiah sighed, "Buck is awake and asking, I don't know what to say. I've made the excuse of alerting the medical staff to his improved condition."
Vin nodded, "Let's stall with that for now, hopefully we'll hear something soon."
Ezra and Nathan were consulting with JD's surgeon.
"His condition is critical, but stable. He was severely dehydrated as he had been injured some while before he reached help and he is also running a temperature. We've given him three units of blood type specific and started an IV for fluids and antibiotics. The bullet was trapped just past the surface of the Lattisimus Dorsi muscle and was easily removed with minimal damage. He will be quite stiff for a while, but our biggest concern right now is that he is still unconscious. Hopefully, with the additional fluids we should see an improvement very soon."
Thanking the doctor, the two men entered JD's room, visibly shocked at how pale and frail he looked. His chest was heavily bandaged and he was propped up on his left side. Ezra took the boy's hand, his eyes misty. He turned to Nathan.
"Would you let the others know how he's doing, please?"
Nathan nodded and left to make the call. Ezra leaned in to the youth and spoke softly.
"All your friends are here JD, waiting for you to get well. Buck and Chris are doing splendidly, so you have nothing to worry about, just rest now."
He could feel the heat from the still form and instinctively put his hand to JD's forehead, absently brushing the hair from his eyes.
"You did very well, just rest now."
Josiah snapped his phone shut and knocked on the door of Chris' room. As he entered, two pairs of eyes looked at him.
"Good afternoon, boys. You're looking much better, Chris." Chris half smiled, "Thanks, I feel a whole lot better than I did a few hours ago. Now let's cut the crap, I want to know how Buck and JD are."
Josiah looked at Vin and nodded. Vin returned the look and relaxed to let Josiah tell whatever news he had received.
"Buck is awake and doing well, though I haven't been to see him since Nathan called. He's asking after JD. Ezra and Nathan are with him at Thomson General,"
Josiah paused, preparing himself for the reaction.
"While going for help, he was shot... in the back."
Chris tried to sit up, "What? How the hell...? Who?"
"Apparently, Nathan tells us, after walking some hours from yours and Buck's position, he found a horse and despite being shot, got to town and alerted the authorities to your location, eventually passing out from blood loss and dehydration. Nathan tells me the lad is critical but stable."
Chris was visibly shocked; he looked at Vin, then Josiah, "And Buck doesn't know yet?"
Josiah shook his head, "No, and I dread having to tell him, but I know I must."
Chris started moving, wary of his bandaged shoulder, "Get me a wheelchair, we'll do this together."
His words were greeted with arguments, but he glared at them. "Now, damnit! Or I'll walk!"
Buck was shocked to see Chris being wheeled into his room.
"Should you be up?" he asked.
"You ok?" Chris asked, sidestepping the question. Green eyes met blue.
Buck started to sit up, he had gone pale." Oh, God, JD."
People turned to look as the noise level increased at the entrance to Thompson General Buck limped determinedly to the reception desk, followed by Josiah.
"Can you tell me which room John Daniel Dunne is in?"
The receptionist scowled at the noisy pair, then scanned the monitor in front of her.
"No one by that name is registered here, sir..."
"I was told he was here," Buck was getting more agitated.
He pulled away as he felt an arm on his shoulder. He and Josiah turned to see Ezra looking at them.
Ezra looked to the receptionist and flashed her a smile,
"Allow me, dear lady," he insisted.
"I believe you were referring to John Wilmington?" Ezra said to Buck, with emphasis on the 'Wilmington'.
Buck looked at his friend and screwed up his face in realization of his mistake. He nodded.
"This way please." Ezra gestured to both men to follow him. Away from reception, Buck, sweating slightly, gripped Ezra's arm.
"Straight up Ezra, how bad?"
"Let's just say, he isn't any worse. The doctors have no reason to believe he will not regain consciousness, it's just a matter of when."
Buck's shoulders dropped with relief. They resumed their journey. As Buck pushed open the door to his brother's room, Josiah stopped Ezra just outside.
"Did Vin call you?"
Standish nodded, "He also added his and Chris' regrets at not joining you, but I assured him they were right to keep Chris hospitalized for now." Josiah nodded in agreement.
Buck quietly approached the bed. His eyes filled as they looked the boy up and down. He put his hand on JD's head, wincing at the heat he felt there, a hand that was still covered by tape where only an hour ago an IV had been.
He leaned in, "I'm here boy, Buck's here. Everything's gonna be fine, you did great, kid, I'm so proud of you." He whispered softly, stroking the damp hair as he spoke.
Josiah and Ezra had joined him and both nodded in agreement. The three men sat down, and waited.
Someone was calling him, was it time to get up already? He decided to ignore it.
Nope, this guy was not going to let him sleep. JD decided a dirty look was in order, but he seemed to be having a little trouble opening his eyes.
"C'mon, boy, I know you can do it."
JD finally succeeded in looking at the owner of the insistent voice.
"Wh...what?" He croaked, "I'm tired."
Buck chuckled, "Can the attitude, squirt, there are people here waiting to speak to you."
JD looked at the grinning face of his brother and he half smiled as his eyes drifted closed again. A few more minutes saw the youth's eyes pop open as his mind started clearing.
"Oh, God, are you ok? Chris? Is he ok?" he whispered.
"Don't I look ok?" Buck asked, "And I heard Larabee's growling at everyone, so he's fine too."
JD tried to sit up to look around, and groaned from the pain itcaused. Buck put his hand on his brother's shoulder, his face now serious.
"Don't be moving, kid. Doc says to take it nice and easy at first, then they'll get you sitting up."
JD nodded, but could feel his eyes growing heavy again. He fell asleep to his brother's hand rhythmically stroking back his hair.
Two days later JD was sitting up in bed, chuckling at his brother as he struggled through the door with a four-foot teddy bear.
"Is that for me?" the youth asked, laughing
"Well, it sure as hell ain't for me!" Buck huffed.
"Jeeze, Buck, I'm nineteen, not nine."
Buck mock-pouted, "Well, if ya don't want......"
"No, it's ok, seeing as you've gone to so much trouble I suppose I could take it. One of these days, Buck..." JD grumbled as he begrudgingly accepted the gift, secretly giving the bear a squeeze when he thought his brother wasn't looking and smiling to himself at the thought from the heart, if not the head, that was behind it.
The noise from just outside his room, told him his friends had arrived. Chris was walking reasonably well, but his face reflected he was still obviously in pain. The light banter between the men indicated a more relaxed group from a few days ago.
Within ten minutes, JD's room was filled with balloons, fruit, cards and chocolate. He shook his head and chuckled, he was one lucky guy.
Vin snorted, "D'ya think ya got enough balloons there, Ezra?"
"One can never have too many balloons, Mister Tanner; I was merely demonstrating that fact."
Buck sat on the bed chuckling at the pair. He looked at his brother, "Doc says you can travel in two days."
JD was disappointed. "Oh, ok, I guess."
"Better to be safe, than sorry," Josiah smiled, "You'll be much stronger in two days, as will Chris and Buck."
Both men flashed Josiah a warning glare, Josiah only smiled wider.
"Boys, the lad's young, not stupid. He can see you're both still in pain." He winked at JD.
"So," JD began, "Did the cops get all the guys at the ranch?"
Chris, sitting next to the bed, nodded.
"Looks like it. They had quite a nice little off-season business there."
Still sat on the bed, Buck looked around his friends, then back to JD; he squeezed his brother's hand.
"I'm so proud of you, y'know, what you did, was real tough, but you came through. Thanks."
JD grinned, "Hell, Buck it was nothing that you and Chris wouldn't have done."
"That may be true," Chris nodded, "But credit where credit is due, kid, you did it, and I can never thank you enough."
JD blushed and Buck glowed with pride... his little brother was all 'growed up'.
JD got up from his pc and stretched, wincing as he felt his healing wound pinch. They had been home just over two weeks, and were all recovering nicely. He noticed his brother sitting out on the deck and walked out to join him, swatting the large feet from the chair he wanted to occupy. Buck grinned.
"You about ready to go to Chris'?"
"Yeah. Can we talk first?"
Buck sat forward. "Sure. What's on your mind?"
JD took a breath, "I don't think I need to see Doc Andrews any more."
Buck frowned. "Now kid, we agreed..."
"Please, just hear me out. I feel different now, more relaxed about our situation, more...confident in myself. I can't explain why, I just do. That weird, jittery, gut thing is gone and I don't get panicky when I'm alone any more."
Buck sighed, "Kid, I'd love for you to be ok now, but we have to be sure."
"I am sure. Ever since that day I walked out into the desert to find help, I've felt different, like...like I can do...anything."
Buck nodded slowly, "Alright, I'll think on it. Is that it?"
JD shook his head, "No, I want to go back to college."
Buck's face dropped, he had wondered when that would come up. "I'm not sure Boston's an option any..."
"No it's ok; I can re-start my degree right here in Denver."
Buck's grin widened as he stood, "Well, alright then." He went to hug his little brother, but JD halted him.
"I've been looking into accommodation."
Buck's face dropped again, "Oh, yeah, sure, of course." His heart sank at the thought of JD moving out to live alone, leaving him...alone.
"So I figured, if I can have a car, you wouldn't have to drive me there and back every day." JD ginned widely.
Buck laughed and grabbed at JD, pulling his brother into a gentle hug. "You little shit; ya had me going there for a minute."
They both laughed, JD eventually relaxing into the hug, burying his face in Buck's chest and inhaling. He was instantly transported back fourteen years, to the memory of a sleepy five year old, enveloped in strong safe arms and the smell of a warm body.
Buck felt the boy lean in and gripped a little tighter, resting his chin on the dark hair. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the moment.
They had never been afraid to show their feelings to each other, but moments like these were few and far between these days.Eventually, they broke away.
"Chris'!" They both said together.
Accompanied by Josiah and Nathan, they arrived at the ranch an hour later. Vin, his shoulder still strapped, waved at them from the corral as they pulled up. Buck chuckled as he watched JD jump out and head straight for the stallion, fishing something out from his pocket to treat him with.
Chris, favoring his injured arm, joined them, looking toward Vin, JD and the stallion.
"Damn kid's spoiling him," Chris grinned.
"Well, at least he's allowed to get close," Buck smiled.
Chris called out, "Hey, cowboys, food's ready!"
After they had eaten and cleared away the mess, Chris addressed the matter of the stallion.
"You know, JD, I'm impressed just how much you've gotten that horse to trust you. You seem pretty in tune with him."
JD shrugged, "It's just something I've always been able to do. When I helped out at a local riding school for special needs kids in Boston, I originally volunteered to help the kids, which I did, but I found myself doing more and more with the horses. Mac, the guy who owned the school, said I had a gift." The youth shrugged again, "Don't know about that, I just know I loved being around them. Just after that summer with the school, mom and dad bought me my bay, Whiskey."
Buck nodded, remembering. The two brothers looked at each other for a moment. Chris smiled, sipping on his soda. He looked around the porch at his friends, sitting there, all looking interested as to where the conversation may be leading. Chris didn't disappoint.
"I know we'll break him eventually, but I need you to do something for me, JD."
JD looked at Chris in surprise; he didn't know the first thing about breaking horses, so what could he possibly do to help.
"He's going to be an important addition to our stud stock, but I was thinking," Chris continued, looking at JD, "He'll need to be ridden regularly, and seeing as you don't have your own horse here yet, and this horse seems to like you, Vin, Buck and I, wondered...how would you feel about us giving him to you... to look after, you know, ride him, groom him..."
JD was on his feet, "You mean he'll be mine?"
"Oh yeah, did I not say that?" Chris chuckled, closely followed by the others.
JD was speechless for all of thirty seconds, and then he moved toward the stool Chris was sitting on and hugged the man, who returned the gesture, winking at the others.
JD pulled back, "Really, you mean it? Thank you, thank you so much. I'll take good care of him, I promise, I'll come out every day and do whatever I need to do..."
"Breathe, JD," Nathan warned, "Or you'll hyperventilate."
"But know this," Chris continued, "This horse is very high spirited, and until he's fully broken you will do everything Vin tells you to do, no more, no less, and you only ride him when he IS broke. Understand?"
JD gave them all a huge grin and nodded.
"You have my word." He left his friends on the porch and jogged over to his prized gift.
"Thanks guys," Buck said, "That was a mighty nice thing to do. I know we three are partners and all, but it was a great gesture."
"It's a pleasure pard, God knows he deserves it. I can't begin to thank him for what he did for me... for us, and I got a lot of making up to do for what I said the other day. But this is a good start."
The men relaxed, grateful to all be safe and together again.
New Hampshire State Prison
Cole looked at the man as he stood calmly in the visitors' room.
"Well? Why did you call me, Cole?"
Cole folded his arms across his chest, "I understand you've been circulating some photographs, I wanted to take a look."
The man handed Cole a large brown envelope and watched as he took out the photographs and studied them. Eventually Cole handed them back, a feral smile on his face.
"Yes, sir, I know these men, and I know where they live."
Peter Nichols returned the smile.
"Thank you, Mister Cole; I'll see to it personally that you are taken care of."
Nichols picked up the two photographs of Buck and JD.
"And I'll definitely be taking personal care of you boys," he said to himself, grinning,
"And that's a promise."