Ours to Defend

by Sue M

Alternate Universe "Brothers Larabee"

Characters: JD, Josiah, Buck, Chris.

Ratings/Warnings: Some bad language

My thanks to Phyllis for allowing me to play in her sandbox and for all she does for me.

And thanks to blackraptor for giving my stories a home.

Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em but if I could they'd be on season 11 by now!

JD walked into the stables swinging the pail of 'special mix' for Clementine, one of their pregnant mares. She was a sweet-natured bay, the mother of JD's own bay, Milagro, and he enjoyed helping to take care of her. He chirped a breezy 'good morning' to all the horses as he passed them, promising to come back and let them out soon, making his way to a quieter area where three of the 'mothers-to- be' were stalled. He looked to where Clementine would normally have her nose over the door in expectation.

"Hey, girl," he called, "Aren't ya hungry tod..."

As he opened the stall door, he dropped the bucket in shock. Clementine was lying on the floor, in a highly distressed state, but worse still, blood was all around her hindquarters. JD dropped to the floor and touched the horse's neck.

"What is it, what's happening?" he whispered to himself. "Chris...Buck..."

He leapt to his feet and raced out from the stables.



It was an early start for the Larabee family. They had a lot to do and for once, all the brothers were around to join in.

"Excellent breakfast, as always, Nettie. Thank you for such a fine meal."

"You're welcome, Ezra," she looked at Buck, "Such fine manners." Nettie walked into the kitchen, smiling.

"Why does she always look at me?" Buck complained.

Chris grinned, "I can't imagine. Shift yer butt, we got fences to mend."

"Did I tell you that I know nothing of carpentry? I fear I will be of little use to you all."

Vin pushed him lightly in the back as he passed him, "Nice try, Ezra," he grinned.

Feigning innocence, Ezra looked to Josiah for support, met only with a wide toothy grin and a shake of the head. Nathan wiped his mouth with his napkin and stood.

"Well, it'll be a nice change of routine for me; I'm kinda looking forward to it."

A scream of Chris and Buck's names froze all six men to the spot momentarily before, almost as one, the six brothers moved swiftly to the door.

Vin was at the door first, stepping out and catching hold of his distraught youngest brother as he stepped from the porch.

JD was in tears and didn't give a damn who saw him. "Vin..." He looked beyond Tanner and saw a concerned Chris and Buck approaching.

"BUCK, CHRIS! Something's really wrong with Clementine...ya gotta help her...HURRY!"

The two men raced for the stables, closely followed by the others, who were alarmed at the expressions on the men's' faces as they joined them.

"Fuck!" Larabee grabbed the brunet's arm. "Buck...vet...NOW! "

"On it."

JD grabbed Chris' arm. "Wh...what's happening to her?"

Chris was a mixture of distraught and angry, "She's aborting her foal... FUCK!"

He slammed his hand against one of the posts, causing JD to jump. Buck snapped his cell closed.

"He's about twenty minutes away. We'll have to help her until he arrives."

"Ya think?" Larabee held up his hand, "Sorry, Buck...JD, Vin we need towels and water, there's a storage area at the side of the tack room where the towels should be."

Both men hurried off, Vin to get water and JD to get towels. Nathan crouched down to check the horse.

"Easy girl...easy there."

Chris was now next to him, he looked at Josiah and Ezra. "Get the rest of the horses out into the paddock, would you please?"

The two men nodded and set about their task.

Chris and Buck exchanged looks. They knew this was bad, not only was the mare losing her foal, but she appeared as if she had been suffering for some time.

By the time the vet, Tom Cowell, arrived, the seven brothers were back around Clementine's stall. JD was shaking to his boots but didn't show his despair as he knew his brothers had enough to deal with. He heard Tom say something about the umbilical cord wrapped around the neck as being the cause of the foal aborting, while he proceeded to aid the mare through her ordeal. JD was at the mare's head, soothing and stroking her, unable to control a sob as the tiny lifeless foal was finally removed. The next words spoken had the young man raise his head in alarm, staring in disbelief as the conversation continued.

"Would you like me to do it, boys?" Tom asked.

Their agreement resulted in Buck and Chris ushering their brothers out of the stables. JD shook his head as he followed his family to the ranch house.

"No...no, please, I'll take care of her...Buck, Chris...please. "

As they reached the porch, Buck pulled his youngest brother into a tight embrace and whispered to him.

"We have no choice, JD...she's suffering."

They were now all on the porch. Chris' face was hard as his jaw muscle flexed with tension. The others had all seen this before, at various times, though only once, twice in Josiah's case, but JD was a city boy and had only been around horses when he was very young and his mother had worked on a large estate. He had never seen one euthanized.

The brunet looked over the top of JD's head, his brothers returning his gaze. When the bolt shot sounded, despite the softness of the thud, they all flinched. Buck felt his brother's body jerk in his tight grip and a soft yelp vibrate through his chest.

Chris kicked a chair aside and strode off the porch toward his post- laden Ram.

"I've got fences to fix."

The others watched as he drove off in a shower of dust and spinning tires. JD pushed away from Buck and slammed into the house, the screen door shuddering in his wake.

Buck dropped his head. "Damn." He made his way over to the stables to settle any fees and final arrangements as the others slowly returned to their preparations to assist with the fence repairs.


JD was sat on the edge of his bed, his pillow in his hands just above his knees and his face buried deep into it as he shook. It was difficult enough to lose an animal you were fond of or loved, but to see such a traumatic end to two innocent lives left the youth heartbroken. When he had first entered his room he was furious, convinced Chris and Buck had acted hastily, but as he had sat alone, parts of the conversations drifted back to him and he soon realized Clementine had suffered horribly. He barely heard the knock at the door.


Before Buck had hardly stepped into the room, the boy flew at him, threw his arms around his brother and rested his forehead on his broad chest.

"I'm sorry...I'm so sorry."

The brunet frowned but held tight for a few moments, eventually pulling his brother back to look at him.

"Why are you sorry?"

Dunne shook his head. "Because I acted like a kid out there when you and Chris had so much more to think about..." he murmured.

Buck smiled and, pulling the youth close again, gave him another squeeze, resting his chin on the dark head.

They stayed that way for a minute and Buck could feel the tension draining from his brother's body. He smiled to himself, sighing compassionately as he thought about JD's self-admonishment.

"Don't ever change, kid...you're one in a million, y'know that?"

Now JD was pulling back.


Buck elaborated. "You care...there's no shame in that. We all do, but, well, the rest of us kinda...hide it, y'know? But you..." he laughed softly,"...you just let it all out...anger, happiness, frustration, excitement...you never hide from your emotions."

Buck patted JD's face affectionately.

"We all envy your ability to do that, and it's why we all..." his grin broadened, "...kinda like you."

A semblance of a smile appeared on the youth's lips.

"Yeah, well...I guess I kinda like you all too."

Buck laughed, "Really? We hadn't noticed."

The two brothers chuckled softly. Wilmington relaxed his grip.

"We got work to do, squirt...ya up to it?"

JD bobbed his head. "Sure...can ya just give me a minute?"

With a nod, Buck left as he told JD he'd meet him downstairs.

Dunne looked in his mirror and tidied himself up. After using his bathroom, he grabbed his jacket and joined his brothers on the porch. The easterner was greeted by five anxious faces and six saddled horses.

"All set?" Buck asked, handing JD Milagro's reins.

The younger man nodded as he touched his head to Milagro's neck and stroked the velvet nose that nuzzled his hand, watching while Buck set the alarms.

In a few minutes, six brothers rode out together to meet up with Chris, while the vet's truck and bumper-pull horse box trundled away from the ranch.


Dinner that evening was a subdued affair; Nettie had stayed on just long enough to put the food on the table and had touched each one of the brothers on the arm or shoulder at some point in passing.

She sighed at the lack of enthusiasm for their meal and bid them good evening as she headed for home. Chris finally spoke.

"We did good out there today, guys, got a lot of fences repaired, thanks."

Each brother looked up. You didn't often hear a thank you from Chris. He always acknowledged he was grateful, just never made too much of a fuss about it. They nodded.

"Shoulda been done a long time ago," Buck added, noting Chris' nod.

"May I ask..." Ezra began, "...is there a particular reason we undertook this outstanding task so determinedly today?"

Vin, Chris and Buck exchanged glances, an action not unnoticed by the others. Chris nodded to Vin. Tanner lay down his fork and looked around the table.

"There've been reports of rustlers in the area, we thought we should take some time to secure the property and count the horses."


They all looked toward JD.

"Wow...sounds like something from the old west," he grinned.

Chris gave his youngest brother a hard stare.

"It's no laughing matter, son. Rustling's big business and costs people like us thousands of dollars in lost stock and profits."

Dunne blushed and dropped his head, "Oh...sorry."

Buck couldn't hold back his grin as he nudged JD to look at him, then glanced at Chris, urging the blond to be lenient. Chris sighed.

"JD...kid, look at me."

Slowly, hazel eyes peeked out through dark bangs.

"Kid, I'm sorry if I was a little sharp. It's been a bad day all round, and I know we're wealthy but it doesn't mean I want to throw money away just because I can. Besides, even though I may sell some of these horses, while they're here, they're ours...under our care and protection, and I'll be damned if I'm gonna give some thieving bastard the chance to steal what's ours from under us."

And there it was...Buck grinned wider as he saw a look of adulation return to the boy's face.

"Sure, I understand, Chris. Sorry, it was a dumb comment."

For the first time that day, Chris chuckled.

"Naw, it wasn't...it's exactly what I said to dad the first time he mentioned it to me."

Now JD was chuckling and looked down at his plate to take a bite of food. Concentrating on pushing his own food around the plate, Chris totally missed the looks of admiration from his remaining brothers and before long, the banter was back and some food was consumed.


The next day, six of the seven brothers were back fixing fences, Nathan now working a shift at the hospital. The sun was taking its toll on them as it beat down relentlessly, causing each man in turn, to remove his shirt.

As JD and Vin worked together, the younger man looked around, feeling a little self-conscious of how white and scrawny he appeared next to five tanned and well-defined bodies. He looked at Tanner.

"Water, Vin?"

The Texan nodded, "Yeah, thanks kid, don't mind if I do."

The youth walked back to the Ram and picked up a six-pack of bottled water from the cooler and proceeded to hand one to each brother, each nodding to him as they took a bottle, grateful for the liquid and the respite as they sat down on the grass.

A few minutes on and Josiah nudged Ezra, who grinned and nudged Buck and Chris. Tanner took a swig of water and frowned as he noticed his brothers looking his way but just beyond him, turning to look himself.

JD was flexing his arm muscles, putting in quite a bit of effort to make his biceps as large as possible. He jumped as Buck spoke.


JD blushed red when he realized he had an audience, quickly swigging his water for something to do. Vin nudged him.

"We'll have to get you some weights," he winked.

JD smiled shyly, "Yeah...might not be a bad idea, might stop Buck from making fun of me."

Buck heard and standing, walked over to the youth, "Yeah...wouldn' t want you to be at a disadvantage now, would we?"

JD narrowed his eyes at him, "A disadvantage for what?"

Wilmington smiled wickedly, "For...this..." He threw the remainder of his water over his youngest brother, causing him to gasp, but in seconds he was rallying and Buck got a good soaking himself, along with Vin.


The Texan threw water back, catching Ezra and Josiah, their retaliation catching Chris and in seconds a full-fledged water fight had broken out.Fifteen minutes later, all water supplies had gone and six drenched brothers were stretched out on the grass laughing.

Chris sat up and turned on his side to the others, propping himself up on an elbow as he pushed damp hair from his eyes.

"I guess now that all our water's gone, we'd best head home for the day."

"D'ya want me to go back and get some more?" JD offered.

Ezra sat up, "Son...while your offer is indeed a...a...a generous one, I cannot bear to think of you carrying back such a cumbersome burden."

They all laughed.

"Okay, Ezra...we get it..." Vin chuckled, "...time to go home."

"Now gentlemen, I would hate to think you believed that was what I was alluding to."

Josiah stood and as Standish extended his hand, pulled the younger man to his feet. "Oh no, Ezra...we would never consider you to be that devious."

More laughter as the brothers put their shirts back on and gathered their tools to put back in the Ram.

As Chris got in his truck and the rest mounted their horses, JD edged his own horse forward slightly.

"Last one back at the ranch has to unload Chris' truck," he called.

With a cluck and a touch of his heels to Milagro's flanks, he took off.


Buck laughed, "Damn kid thinks he's a cowboy." With a bob of his eyebrows, he took off after JD.


Chris shook his head as he watched five grown men race off toward home, an air of contentment passing over him.


That evening, Buck joined JD at the corral, placing an arm around his younger brother's shoulders.

"Penny for 'em, kid?"

JD looked at him and smiled, then glanced back to Milagro.

"D'ya think he...knows...you know...that his mom is dead?"

Buck sighed and half-turned to lean against the fence and look JD full in the face.

"I'm guessing he knows she's not around, so yeah...it's possible, I think. Kid...you okay with all this?"

JD nodded, "Yeah...I am now, I guess...still...pretty awful though, wasn't it?"

"Like losing family," Buck stated. The youth nodded.

"Yeah...just like that."

They stood in silence for a while. Finally, Buck spoke.

"So...you and Josiah are going up to the shack tomorrow?"

A nod, "Uh huh...thought we'd check it over, see how it's holding up. Why don't you come with us?"

Buck smiled, "Now, normally, I'd jump at that offer, but tomorrow Chris, Vin and me are gonna count heads."

JD whistled, "Sure sounds like a lot of work."

"Naw...it'll soon pass with three of us on it, and with Ezra logging it, we'll be done in no time."

Dunne frowned, "How come no one asked me to log it for you? I could do that."

The brunet squeezed the younger man's shoulder, "Because I think Josiah's kinda looking forward to spending the day with you."

"Oh." JD brightened, "Okay...cool."

"Yeah...come on, squirt, let's put the horses in and go have dinner."

The two men set about settling the horses for the evening.


The next afternoon, Chris, Vin and Buck met up at the lake at the far north of the property and rode back together to the ranch house. As they enjoyed some coffee, Ezra began inputting figures, commending JD for the program he had set up for such an event.Tanner frowned, looking at Chris as the blond spoke.

"Is this how many horses you counted Vin?"

"Yeah," he nodded, "A few less than the number you quoted me, that's for sure,"

Buck and Chris exchanged glances.

"What? So you really think there are rustlers around?" Ezra asked

"I may be wrong," Chris answered, "...but I'd say we're ten down since last week's count, some of them good brood mares."

"When are they hitting us?" Buck wondered.

Vin sipped at his coffee, "Could be doin' it right now for all we know...can't watch all the ranch all the time."

"We need to get all the horses down to the lower pastures, for now." Chris decided. "Where are JD and Josiah?" the blond asked.

"They took a ride out to the top pasture, to the shack." Ezra reminded.

Buck stood, placing his coffee mug down on the study desk. "There are loose horses up there, Chris."

Vin moved closer, "We should call 'em, tell 'em we're on our way to join 'em. We could sure use their help."

Larabee nodded, "Buck...call them, tell them what's happening, Ezra, stay here, just in case. Any problems, we'll contact you."

Standish nodded, Buck dialed.

The blond finished his coffee and glanced at Buck and Vin. "Let's ride."


The youngest and oldest Larabees were enjoying their day. The shack was in good order and they had finished their picnic lunch. As they packed up, JD turned slightly and looked up toward an outcrop, high above the shack.

"Josiah, did you hear something?"

"I don't believe so, son...what did it sound like?"

JD shrugged, "Dunno...kinda like a...door closing." Curious he started to climb toward the outcrop.

"JD?" Josiah put down his drink and followed the younger brother up the hill, eventually both men too far away to hear their cells ringing.


Chris, Buck and Vin were traveling at a canter, Buck was frowning at his cell again and the three men stopped.

"No answer...I'm gonna leave 'em both a text message." The other two men waited patiently until Buck was finished then carried on to their destination.


Josiah and JD were lying on the ground as they peeked over the outcrop, a soft breeze ruffling JD's dark hair. They watched in alarm as several horses in the field just below them were loaded into a large silver horsebox by five men, the sounds they made slightly out of sync due to the distance.

"Who are they, Josiah, do you know them? What are they doing with our horses?"

Sanchez patted his pockets. "Do you have your cell, JD?"

The youth shook his head, "No, I left it in my saddlebag."

Josiah squeezed his youngest brother's arm, "I'm going back to the cabin to call Chris, I think he'd want to see this. Wait here."

JD nodded, "Will do."

A lengthy walk later, the ex-preacher was relaying to Chris what the two of them had been observing.

Chris closed his phone. "Looks like the tricky bastards got greedy. They're in the top pasture right now."

With a nod, the three men galloped off toward their brothers.


Five minutes or so after Josiah had left, JD half-turned toward approaching footsteps, "What did Chris say?" he asked, not looking up, only to gasp as he was dragged forcefully from the ground to face a very angry lump of a man.

"Well, well, what have we here?" The behemoth looked around for others, eventually satisfied the boy was alone. He sneered and, fisting JD's shirt, drew the youth up to his face. "I knew I'd seen movement up here. I think my boss would like to meet you."

Alarmed, JD began to resist and protest loudly but was halted when his mouth was covered with the man's huge hand as he manhandled the struggling boy down the other side of the hill.

Upon his return, Josiah looked around, frowning as he failed to spot his youngest brother. He hadn't realized it would take him more than twenty minutes to get to the cabin and back. Even though it was open ground, he found himself calling.

"JD? Where are you, boy?"

Realizing the youth was nowhere in sight, Josiah felt his heart lurch as icy fingers of fear gripped him. He ran a shaky hand through his wavy gray hair, his face filled with anxiety

"Oh dear Lord, where the hell did he go?"

A noise alerted him and he looked over the ridge to see two vehicles pulling away. He instantly set off down the hill after them, beginning to fear the worst for his younger brother as he could see no other rational explanation for JD vanishing.

A third of the way down, Josiah's ankle twisted over. He screamed in pain as his body tumbled and bounced the rest of the way down the hill, coming to an abrupt halt at the bottom, but Josiah felt nothing as he was already unconscious.


Parker turned from the horsebox to see Maxwell stumbling toward him, dragging what looked like a teenager. He approached the pair just as Maxwell released JD, watching as the boy composed himself and tried not to show he was afraid.

"Who the hell is this?"

"Found him spying on us up on that there ridge," the big man said.

Parker looked him up and down, "Who are you, boy?"

"Who...who wants to know?" JD stuttered.

"Check his pockets," Parker ordered.

The youth gasped as rough hands searched his body, eventually finding an envelope JD had been scribbling on and stuffed into his back jeans pocket. Dan Parker read it aloud.

"John Daniel Dunne, Double L Ranch..."

He looked up at the clearly nervous youth, recognition dawning on him.

"You're a Larabee brother; I heard a few extra bastards had crawled out of the woodwork. You look nothing like 'em."

JD straightened, "I'm told I favor my mother."

Dan laughed, "Short and ugly, is she?"

Anger surged through the easterner at the slur to his mother and JD hurled forward, only stopped by a meaty hand on his arm.

"You take that back," he growled.

Parker threw up his arms partly amused and partly taken aback at the burst of anger, "Okay calm down, I was just kidding around." He went all serious. "What to do now though, can't let you tip off your brothers before we get out of the area, now, can I?"

JD's heart was beating so hard he felt sure these men could see it pounding through his chest. He swallowed as the remaining three men were now also approaching.

"Wh...what then? You're already in serious trouble for horse- stealing, you going to add murder to that now?" Dunne questioned nervously.

Dan snickered, "What a drama queen." He looked at Matthews, "Find somewhere to put him for now, and shut him up."

JD was so focused on Parker he didn't notice Matthews arm come up until his face and the side of his head exploded with pain and he dropped unconscious into the man's huge arms.

Parker looked to Matthews angrily, "I meant gag him, you moron." He shook his head and looked around apprehensively. "Put him on the back seat of my truck and cover him with something, we'd better get out of here, just in case someone comes looking for him."

He watched Matthews carry the bleeding and unconscious youth effortlessly, JD's head and limbs dangling as the man walked.

"And make sure he doesn't choke," he called after him. He turned to the others, "Let's go."


As Chris, Buck and Vin arrived at the cabin, they could see Milagro and Sage tethered and waiting patiently for the return of their masters. Vin jumped down and secured the cabin as Buck took the reins of both horses and waited for the Texan to mount up. The three men assumed JD and Josiah were still on the ridge and rode up to meet them, taking the horses along too. On arriving, they were surprised to see the place deserted. Tanner dismounted and took a good look around the area, following a trail to the slope, then he looked down over the hill.

"Aww hell!" He jumped on his horse and raced off down the slope, reaching Josiah in seconds, Buck and Chris right behind him.

Vin leapt down from Peso and dropped next to his oldest brother.

"Josiah...Josiah, can you hear me, are you okay?" The Texan smiled thinly as the man groaned and, in seconds, was rubbing his head and attempting to sit up.

"Easy...easy there, big fella...looks like you've had a nasty fall," the Texan soothed.

Chris jumped from his horse and crouched down next to his brothers. "Josiah, what happened...are you okay...where's JD?"

Buck was scanning the area from atop Beau, his big gray, his eyes darting from place to place as his heart thumped in his chest. Somehow Buck knew what Josiah was about to say, he didn't know why, he just did. He watched as confusion was replaced with realization on Sanchez' face.

"Oh God...I left him...Oh God, forgive me...what have I done?"

Chris reached out and gripped the big man's arm.

"Josiah, you're scaring the hell out of me here...what is it?"

The big man moaned. "We'd left our phones back with the horses, so I told him to wait while I went back to the cabin to call you. It took a little longer than I anticipated, and when I got back..." his eyes roamed the area, "... John wasn't here. Then I saw two vehicles pulling away and I chased after them."

Sanchez turned bright eyes from one brother to another in some vain search of hope, watching Buck as he dismounted. "Do you think JD came down here to confront them?"


Vin's statement caused them all to stare. Tanner had moved and was again looking at the ground.

"Looks like he was laid down on the ground fer a spell up there..." he pointed to the ridge, and Josiah nodded his agreement,

"...then there are two sets of tracks together, they both come down this slope, looks like the man with smaller footprints was half- dragged."

Buck erupted, fear, anguish and pain hijacking his mind as what Josiah had been saying sunk in..

"Dear God, Josiah, did you... are you saying...YOU LEFT HIM ALONE?"

Sanchez hung his head. "Yes," then looked up abruptly, "What was I thinking? I should have taken him with me...at least told him to be careful...I never even looked back...dear God...I'm an idiot...WHAT WAS I THINKING?"

"Aaaarrrrggghhh! " Nervous frustration caused Buck to pace.

Josiah's heart ached as he watched the brunet slowly losing it, and all because of what he now considered to be, his carelessness. Once more looking to each of the men, he absently rubbed at his ankle.

"I'm so sorry...I truly didn't consider for one moment he would be in any danger. They seemed so far away. Buck, please...you know how much I love that boy, I would never knowingly put him in danger."

The shaking, older man now tried to stand but failed and angrily pounded the ground over and over as his despair ate into him.

"Damn...Damnit to hell...look at me, LOOK AT ME...sitting here helpless on the ground...I'm useless...useless... USELESS!" He threw his head back, shaking his fists in the air as he roared, then slumped and hung his head, his next words spoken in hushed tones.

"I'm a useless old man."

Buck sighed, his gaze dropping to the ground, "Josiah...don't... " he said jadedly.

Chris stood, noticing Tanner was still studying the ground. He looked at the others, trying to control the tremor in his voice.

"Josiah Sanchez, you are neither useless nor old. We need to get a grip here. Let's see what Vin comes up with and then we'll call the cops." He touched his older brother's shoulder. "Think hard now about what you saw when you were watching them...every detail will help."

As they followed Tanner's movements with their eyes, Chris dialed Ezra, filled him in and told him to stand by.


A few minutes later, three anxious men were waiting on Vin to finish his investigations. Buck was beside himself and could hardly even glance at Josiah. Finally, the Texan stood straight and looked at them, gesturing to areas with his hands.

"Looks like a big truck with a trailer parked there, likely a gooseneck...some other smaller type of truck...there's lots of footprints, flattened grass, 'bout four or five men, I reckon. I'd say JD stopped around here..."

His face hardened as he bent down to touch the grass, the others noticed his change of expression instantly.

"There's blood here." Vin finished, his eyes hard with anger.

Chris' face was rigid. "Josiah...you remembering anything yet?"

"Everything. "


The brunet was shaking and staring at the last point Vin had drawn their attention to.

"BUCK!" Chris had got his attention. "Call the police...now."


While the horse box trundled on its journey out of Nevada, Dan Parker had a decision to make. Where to dump an unconscious kid? He'd briefly considered holding him for ransom, but that wasn't his style. For now he'd have to stash the boy somewhere until he knew the merchandise was securely on its way. The money was already in the bank and his main aim now was to demonstrate he was a man of his word. His brother-in-law had a small ranch not too far away; he'd have to take the youth there for now.


Morgan Tatterson watched the familiar Chevy pull into his yard. He didn't like his brother-in-law; the man was deceitful and arrogant and clearly into something illegal, he just didn't know what. But his wife was adamant. He was family and should be treated with respect. The fact that he had his resident thug Tyrone Matthews with him made Morgan shudder. The two of them together were definitely not good news. His uneasiness grew ten-fold as what appeared to be a body was removed from the back of the truck. He rushed forward.

"Trish isn't here, she's visiting your sister for a week, what the hell are you bringing here?" He watched as Matthews began pulling at something from the back of the truck.

Parker held up his hand as Tyrone carried the unconscious boy to follow him.

"Nothing for you to concern yourself with, we just need to crash here for a day or two and for you to keep your mouth shut and we'll be gone before you know it."

Tatterson inhaled sharply when he saw JD's bruised and bloodied face.

"Dear God, what have you done to him? I assume he's still alive."

"He's not your concern. He's just a mild pain in the ass that will be gone in a day or two. I need a room, preferably with a lock."

Reluctantly Tatterson agreed, for now. He would take this situation a step at a time. He led the two men to an attic room which had been converted to a guest room with bathroom.

"Very nice, Morgan...key?"

"In the back of the door." He turned and left them to it.

Matthews dumped his burden unceremoniously on the bed. JD's body bounced a little, causing his right arm to flop to the floor as he landed on his stomach. Satisfied he was safe there, the two men left, locked the door behind them and went in search of food.


The brothers had returned home with several detectives, leaving forensics to glean any clues available from the scene. Nathan had joined them, and was sitting with, and tending to Josiah, who was inconsolable; his shoulders hunched, his face lined with pain and sorrow.

The detective concluded their meeting. "I know it doesn't seem helpful to say this, Mister Larabee, but it looks, for now, as though your brother was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. We're on it, and I assure you, we'll keep you informed at all times. If there are any developments here, please contact us immediately. "

"Developments? " Buck rasped out.

"Should the young man return home, or...you...receive a ransom note."

"Do you think this might be a kidnapping?" Ezra asked.

"We can't rule it out, but, no, I don't think so at this time."

"You think he's dead, don't you?"

"Buck..." Chris began.

The brunet interrupted, "...just come out and say it...you think these guys..." He sank back against the wall he was standing next to, unable to finish his sentence.

Detective Mackie approached him.

"Mister Wilmington...Buck... I've learned it's best not to speculate in my line of work. I won't rest until we have some news for you, on that you have my word." Mackie had been careful to specify the term 'news' and not 'good news'.

The brunet nodded and the detective said his goodbyes and left. No one spoke for the longest time, Nettie made them all coffee and sandwiches, everyone drank but no one ate. For a second or two, Josiah and Buck locked gazes. The younger man moved toward the older and as Buck dropped to the floor on his knees, the two men came together in a tight embrace, each man seeking comfort.

"Buck." Josiah breathed.

Buck patted his back, "No more regrets now, Josiah, we need to stand together, for JD."

As the rest of the brothers watched the two men cling to each other, they nodded their agreement. No time for recriminations, this was a time to pull together...as a family.


JD tried hard to push himself up, but his face and head throbbed relentlessly. He felt nauseous and found if he didn't move, it diminished. Still disorientated he called out.


He tried desperately to remember why he was hurting, and it was with those thoughts uppermost in his mind that he drifted off, back to his dark and quiet place.


The next morning at the Double L saw everyone up early. No one had slept for more than an hour, and though reluctant to make the day any longer than it had to be, they all got up rather than lay on their beds or sit in chairs to dwell on 'what ifs'.

When the phone finally rang, they all started and watched as Chris snatched it up to answer. After a minute, he put down the phone.

"They found our horses and arrested the men with them."

Buck stepped forward after rising noisily from a chair next to the dining room table.

"Let's go visit these SOBs and get a few answers."

Chris touched his brother's shoulder. "The police have an idea. They're going to get one of the men to contact their leader and persuade him they have a problem he needs to deal with personally. Hopefully the guy will turn up."

Vin frowned as he joined them, "You mean, the guys they have aren't the main men?"

The blond shook his head, "Apparently not."

"Damn." Vin's utterance was a mere whisper, but everyone caught it.

Josiah continued sitting quietly in the corner of the room, his ankle elevated on a cushion-clad chair; he had fervently refused to visit the hospital, talking to no one save for the whispered prayers he would mumble from time to time. At one time or another, one of the brothers would move to be with him, he was never left alone.

Their wait was an agonizing one,Chris and Buck taking turns to pace. Occasional calls came from the police, but no updates to assure them their youngest was safe, or even alive.

Each man had by now, at some point reflected on how far their little family had come since the reading of the will, how quickly they had grown comfortable with one another and had come to care for...and love each other. Each brother had no doubt how they would suffer if any one of them was taken from them, and it was this fear that caused them to feel so helpless. They ached at not knowing what their youngest brother might be going through and if he was wondering why no one had come for him.

Josiah was in torment, as were Buck and Chris. Chris considered himself responsible for everyone. His lack of control of this situation was eating at him.

Buck was plagued with guilt, despite him having nothing to reprimand himself for. He considered JD 'his'...his to mentor, to guide, to protect and he felt he was failing miserably right now on the latter, if not all three. His heart was aching to know how his little brother was holding up.

Ezra and Nathan were around JD the least, due to Jackson's hospital shifts and Standish's occasional traveling, yet neither man considered themselves to be hurting any less than the others. They had become a tight family and knowing their youngest was missing was hurting more than they could ever have imagined.

Vin wished he could have done more. All he felt he had achieved was putting his family through hell by revealing what JD had been through, yet finding nothing to offer them comfort by aiding the youngster's return. He had grown deeply fond of his little brother. Despite his unique bond with Chris, Vin had found something to admire in all his new brothers. JD was sweet and caring and full of life, despite all the shit life had thrown at him. Tanner had admired that and found the two of them weren't really all that different in many ways, though Vin seriously doubted he had ever been as naïve as JD still was. But the Texan had found it endearing, and was now counting the minutes when he could teach the younger man even more, Lord knows he was an eager student.

By three the next morning they were unable to sleep, their nerves frayed to the point of utter despair. The phone rang, Chris answered while five men held their breath.

"We'll be right there."

Buck and Vin were already on their feet.

"Did they find him?" Buck implored.

Chris shook his head, "They wouldn't say, they've asked us to go to the hospital to meet up with one of the detectives there."

In minutes, they were split between the Ram and the SUV and on their way, no one daring to think beyond what Chris had said except once, when each man considered whether they would be going there to ID a brother...or a body.


It was a struggle, but the youth finally succeeded in pushing himself upright on the bed. He leaned back against the wall for support and to wait out the spinning in his head. It was light outside and he looked at his watch, realizing he wasn't even sure what day it was.

Glancing around the room, JD saw he had been left water and wrapped sandwiches. His stomach roiled...maybe he'd eat later, when the dull buzz in his head lessened a bit. He reached over carefully and picked up the water, taking several long sips before returning it to the floor. He rested his aching head against the wall and despite his upright position, JD slept.

The next time he awoke, it appeared to be late afternoon. He had drank half his water and greedily sipped more, stopping as he heard Nathan's voice in his head, admonishing him for gulping down water on an empty stomach. Then it hit him...his brothers. Where were they? Had he been taken far from them? He shuddered, now unable to stop a large tear as it dropped unashamedly from his one open eye, the other swollen shut, and he questioned whether they even knew he was missing. Could that be possible? Buck would miss him...wouldn't he?

He touched a shaky hand to his face. His cheekbone felt odd. Could you break a cheekbone? It sure hurt like it was broken. He looked around his room...it was a nice room, but he wanted out. Everything hurt, even his hair and fingernails and now all he could think of was going home. JD dragged himself to the door and started beating on it and yelling.

"Hey...HEY...let me out...please...I know you can hear me...please...LET ME OUT!"


Parker rolled his eyes at the hammering above him as he stood in his brother-in-law' s kitchen talking to Tyrone.

"I have to travel to meet Collins. He called and said one of the guys they were due to meet has accused us of short-changing him and will only speak to me. I need you to stay here and watch the kid. If I'm not back by tomorrow afternoon, do whatever's necessary to get him out of here...dump him in the woods somewhere, just remember this, make it far enough away so as he doesn't make the connection to here, hell... put him back on Larabee land if ya want, just make sure he doesn't know where he is when you leave him. Do you understand?"

Tyrone nodded, "Should I tie him...blindfold him maybe?"

"Good thinking," Dan acknowledged, "But let him loose when you dump him, okay?"

With a nod between them, Parker left. Morgan had been listening to the conversation from his study, and could now hear the persistent pounding and yelling from the attic. His conscience was getting the better of him. He knew this wasn't right and he wanted no part of it. He felt for the boy they had imprisoned; from what he had gleaned from parts of overheard conversations, it had not been planned, and the rancher couldn't help wondering how this boy's family must be feeling. He would wait until the next morning, to see if he could reason with Matthews to maybe allow him to let the kid go, or at least he could ensure Matthews did as he was told. He shuddered as he observed the big man take the stairs two at a time, likely to quiet the boy down. Maybe...maybe he'd leave his decision to intervene open- ended; his confidence bolstered by knowing Dan would not be around to interfere...now it was more a case of, not whether he would...but when.

JD was hoarse, and exhausted, and just about to give up when a bang came from the other side of the door, causing him to jump back.

"Shut the fuck up, runt or I'll come in there and shut you up."

"Let me out of here," Dunne rasped, his voice barely a squeak now.

"When I'm good and ready. Now, if you don't want more of what you had yesterday...SHUT UP!"

The easterner wearily dropped to the floor behind the door and hugged his knees tight to his chest. His face and head ached and he longed to talk to Buck or Chris and ask them to come get him. He stared at the window, it was moving into evening now. He thought about the long drop to the ground outside and sighed, then almost instantly perked up. He had an idea...hell, it works on TV, it could work here. JD would wait until dark...he allowed himself a small smile...he would wait until dark...then he was out of there.


Parker was livid. All Collins had to do was meet the buyer at the contact point and leave. He considered the accusation; these final ten horses made up the quota of thirty that had been agreed. In the confusion, had they miscounted? He checked his watch and looked up at the darkening skies, he would know in less than an hour.


JD didn't need to know the time, he knew it was late enough and decided he was ready to put his plan into action. He listened at the door for sounds of life, then put his hand into a pillow case and, approaching the window, smashed it several times, making as much noise as possible, until a hole big enough to crawl through was made. The boy winced as he realized he had cut his hand, but he was not about to be deterred now. He dove behind the door, his heart pounding as he heard heavy footsteps on the stairs, then a key turn in the lock.

Matthews hurtled through the door and moved angrily to the window, searching for the escaped youth and momentarily missing JD as he slipped out behind him. The easterner almost whooped for joy as he saw the key still in the lock, and was just closing the door as Tyrone turned and saw him. The big man roared and flew to the door, as JD's shaking hands slammed it closed and tried to turn the key. He barely succeeded and the door rattled as Matthews attempted to exit the room. He sighed...he had bought himself some time.

His body coursing with adrenaline, Dunne raced down the stairs and out of the house, twisting left and right in an attempt to decide which way to go. He saw the long driveway, which he figured must head to a road, so he went full pelt toward it.


Tatterson awoke to the sound of his attic door splintering and fast and hefty footsteps coming down the stairs, groggily he made his way to his bedroom door. As he looked out, he made eye contact with Tyrone.

"Kid's trying to escape...come on!"

As he watched the man head off in pursuit, Morgan knew the time to intervene was now. He picked up his phone and dialed 911 then threw on some clothes to attempt to help the young man.


Parker grunted as he was pushed face down over the hood of his car.

"I'm telling you, I don't know what you're talking about. A friend of mine called to say he had a flat...I'm just helping him out."

"Drop the act, Parker, we know all about you and your thug, Matthews, now tell us where you took Dunne or I might just let the family ask you...I hear Chris Larabee's a real hard-ass, especially where his family are concerned."

As a ringing phone took attention from him for a moment, Dan recognized it would probably now be in his best interests to come clean. Suddenly his body jerked around and he was now lying on his back and facing two detectives and several uniformed officers.

"Never mind...looks like someone else had an attack of conscience...we know where he is." Detective Mackie pushed Parker toward the waiting arms of the other officers. Detective Jones looked at his partner.

"Should we tell the family?"

Mackie shook his head. "Not yet...we know where he is, not how he is."


JD had never run so fast in his life. He had passed the pain barrier a few minutes back, his head threatening to explode at any moment. He was running blindly; it was dark, save for a small amount of moonlight, so he was shocked when he hit a dip in the road and went sprawling across the hard ground, knocking the wind out of him. Desperate to recover, he pushed himself up onto his skinned knees and was just dragging himself to his feet when a meaty fist grabbed his hair and shoulder and as he yelped in pain, he berated himself for not being aware of his pursuer before then.

Matthews turned the smaller body and smacked JD down hard on his back, causing him to hit the back of his head on the ground. Apart from a vivid burst of white, JD's head was now swimming and he could barely focus.

"You arrogant little shit...did you really think you could beat me?" He slapped JD hard across the face and was just about to do it again when he heard a gun cock behind him. Turning, he could barely make out Morgan in the poor light, but he instinctively knew a shotgun was pointing at him.

"Enough, Matthews, leave the kid alone. The police are on their way."

Tyrone growled. "Stay out of this, old man...this isn't your concern."

"The hell it isn't...you made it my concern when you brought him to me, and I should have done this right then."

Before any more could be said, lights and sirens could be seen and heard heading toward them and in minutes, despite a desperate attempt by Matthews to escape, both men were under arrest.

As the paramedics loaded a semi-conscious youth into the ambulance, one of the officers was calling Mackie and telling him to head to the hospital.

Unable to open his eyes, JD was vaguely aware of hands on him, but these seemed soothing, comforting even. He knew he was shaking, but wasn't sure if it was shock, fear or cold. A voice told him to relax, so he did. His last clear thought as he went into the ambulance was hoping he would be seeing his family soon.


Having received the doctor's report on the young man, Brett Mackie checked his watch...2.55 am. Even though he was convinced this was JD, since he matched the picture Chris had given him, they had been unable to make a positive ID due to JD's slightly confused state. Mackie decided it was time to call the family to the hospital.

An hour later, five walking and one wheelchair bound group of men were anxiously heading Brett's way. He stepped forward to greet them. Chris extended his hand and Brett shook it.

"Guys, we have a young man here that matches your photograph but we've been unable to make a positive ID as the youth in question was incoherent when he was brought in. We need you to confirm whether it's JD...for the record. Now...I have to ask...are you ready for this?"

They all nodded, unable to speak, their throats tight with emotion.

"All of you or one of you?"

"All." Chris answered.

Mackie nodded and pushed open the door to a small three-bed room, though JD was the only occupant.

Each man held his breath as they peered in, then one by one a small smile or look of relief appeared. Buck burst forward, his eyes glistening with tears, his smile huge.



Dunne was conscious, but tired. His eyes were closed as he allowed the soft background noises of the hospital to wash over him. He barely heard the click of the door, but his good eye flew open at the next sound.


He turned to the voice and barely squeaked out, "Buck...guys..." He tried to smile, and did, but huge tears rolled down his face at the wonderful sight of six men he loved, and looked up to, coming toward him. Their looks of horror, joy and anger at seeing his battered face, escaping him.

Despite his bandaged hand, JD instinctively raised his arms and sank into the deep warm hug Buck gave him, finally giving in to his emotions as he felt enveloped in love and safety.

Buck would have liked to stay that way forever, his one arm around the slight body, his other hand cradling the back of the dark head, euphoric in the knowledge his little brother was right here with him and safe. But he knew he had to share and with a caring comment, he relinquished his hold, grinning like a loon as he walked teary-eyed toward the others and relaxing as Chris placed a hand on his arm. Josiah had struggled to his feet and took over from Buck at the side of the bed, emotion coursing through him at the sight of his youngest brother. His embrace was intense yet tender as he rocked the smaller body in his hold.

"I'm so sorry I let you down son." he whispered.

JD pulled back, frowning, looking deep into Josiah's eyes with his one open eye. "But...you didn't," he rasped then leaned back into the hug. "Not your fault."

Those few words warmed Josiah to his very soul.After a few minutes the others could stand it no longer and jokingly chided Josiah until he gave up his prize. Chris sat on the bed and the two brothers looked at each other.

"I have things I need to say to you, but not here, not now, I'll just say this...thank God you're okay, kid."

JD grinned at his brother, then winced at the pain in his cheek. He picked at Chris' sleeve, "It's good to be home."

Chris leaned in and gave the younger man a quick but heartfelt hug, whispering into his ear, "It's damned good to have you home."

One by one the others visited with him, the room filled with laughter and relief.Vin eyed his brother's injuries as he sat with him and wondered what it would take to be allowed ten minutes alone with the guy that had inflicted them.

Eventually the painkillers kicked in and despite the noise level, JD drifted off, leaning heavily against Buck, who had positioned himself at the head of the bed, shoulder to shoulder with JD.

Chris took his cue. "Time for some answers..."

Buck watched his brothers leave...waving them off as he preferred to stay where he was. Josiah had been sitting quietly in the wheelchair, next to them, eventually dozing off. Buck placed a comforting arm around his sleeping brother and settled in for the duration. There would be plenty of time for reprisals later.


Chris, Vin, Ezra and Nathan went in search of Mackie, finding him at the coffee machine in reception.

"I'm guessing you want some answers?"

Chris nodded as he folded his arms across his chest.

"Why don't we sit down?" Brett offered.

"We'll stand, thanks," Vin stated, watching as the detective paged a doctor.

They were guided to a lounge area by Brett and then joined by the doctor, who placed an x-ray on a light board and switched the board on.

"I'm Doctor Porter, Jack Porter. I've been looking after John." He pointed to the x-ray.

"John has a hairline fracture of the cheekbone, lots of swelling and bruising but very little we can do about it I'm afraid, he'll just have to be careful not to bump it for a while and of course, it's going to be mighty sore and a little stiff while it's healing. He's got a bump to the back of his head and bruising to the same side as his fractured cheekbone, but no concussion or hematoma, I am, however concerned about his initial confused state, though he seems clearer now. Being dehydrated and exhausted, plus he was apparently unconscious for an unspecified amount of time, hasn't helped. He can go home tomorrow, but we'll monitor him here for tonight."

Relief evident on their faces, the brothers thanked the doctor and he left. Then Chris thanked Brett, the man had kept his promise and come through for them.

"I want to see the men who did this." Chris threatened.

Brett shook his head. "Not likely, I'm afraid; they're wanted by the Feds. Their activities have attracted some very high-ranking officials, including MI5 and the European Commission."

"Europe?" Ezra inquired.

Mackie nodded..."Horse meat...very popular in some European countries."

All four men shuddered.

"Guys..." Bret continued, "Ya got you're brother back, and he's been through it and then some...isn't that enough?"

"No." Vin and Chris growled together, then looked at each other.

Chris finished, "But if JD can live with it...so can we."


"Buck, it's fine, I can manage."

The brunet looked hurt as JD batted him away while he tried to get dressed. Feeling thoroughly unkind, JD smiled.

"I can manage the sweater; can you put my sneakers on for me?"

Buck grinned, "Sure kid...happy to."

Both men looked to the door as Chris walked in pushing a wheelchair.

"All the paperwork's in order and I got your prescription filled. You ready, kid?"

Dunne grinned, "Oh God, yeah."

Ten minutes later the three men were on their way home. Looking into the back seat at his little brother, Buck grinned, noting the youth was asleep. His smile faded as realization hit and he released a shaky breath. Chris dropped one hand from the steering wheel and slapped the brunet's leg.

"Knock it off Wilmington...he' s fine."

Buck glanced sideways, "Yeah...right...and you're not in the least bit bothered...are you?"

Chris shook his head slightly. "I don't want to go there, Buck...all this stirred up some pretty dark memories for me." He looked at his brother.

"What have we done, Buck? We've let these guys into our homes, our lives...our hearts...what have we opened ourselves up for?"

The brunet frowned, "Are you saying you..." Buck glanced back then lowered his voice, "...are you saying you regret it?"

Larabee looked in his rearview mirror and pulled over into a small pull-in,switching off the ignition as he turned to the younger man, checking JD was still asleep.

"Oh God...no...it's just..." he sighed, "...it's just I don't think I'm strong enough to do this anymore, Buck. Extra responsibility, extra worry...I just don't know if I'm...strong enough." he gripped the steering wheel, turning his knuckles white.

"We should just ask them all to leave then, yeah?"

Chris glared, "That was uncalled for."

"Maybe...maybe not, snap out of it...strong?" the brunet huffed, "I know what you've been through Chris, but know this, just surviving that hell shows how strong you really are. These boys...hell...every one of us, look up to you, admire you, and look to you for direction. You're our rock, Chris, and this kid here..." he jerked his thumb behind him, "...absolutely idolizes you, hangs on your every word. 'Course," Buck snickered, "...he's pretty much stuck on the rest of us, too, but no one lifts his self-esteem like you do. I've never once regretted Dad's decision to tell us about each other, and I don't believe you have, either."

Buck watched his older brother relax a little as he nodded.

"So...we done with the guilt-trip now, big brother? Can we go home?"

The blond laughed softly. "Smart-ass."

Buck grinned, looking back briefly as he spoke, "Yeah well...I'm getting plenty of practice in thanks to the little one in the back there."

Both men relaxed as they continued their journey home.


JD was overwhelmed. He was ensconced on the sofa, remote in hand, wrapped in a comforter with various types of food and drink close to hand. All his brothers were sitting with him as they enjoyed each others' company.

The youngest had been horrified to learn the horses were heading for a European slaughter house, grateful their horses had been intercepted. No one had the heart to tell him several others may have gone that way already.The brothers had been informed, that very morning, that Parker's brother had been released on bail, pending trial over his involvement in JD's abduction, six of the men surprised to learn JD didn't even know who they were talking about...he had never properly met him.Larabee looked around at them all and shuffled in his seat.

Sensing Chris' mood, the others benevolently moved out of the living room to leave the two men together. The blond squeezed onto the edge of the sofa and looked JD in the face, touching the bruised cheek just for a moment.

"So...how are you?"

"I'm fine, Chris...I can see a little out of my eye now, and my cheek hardly hurts at all."

"Good...all good," Chris sighed, "But...how are you?"

The youth smiled, "I know where you're going with this, Chris...but honestly...I'm okay, or at least...I will be. How are you? I'm sorry if I caused you any trouble...I really was doing as Josiah asked...honest. "

Now Larabee was laughing, "I should damn-well hope so, too." He sobered a little. "Kid, I just wanted to say this...what happened to you just about tore me apart, I felt so helpless, and angry...hell, even guilty. Watching the others hurting, Buck and Josiah unraveling, while not even knowing if you were alive...Jesus boy...I don't ever want to do that again. So I've made a decision...as from now...you're grounded until further notice."

JD's jaw dropped open, "What?" he squeaked.

Chris stood and ruffled his hair. "Gotcha!"

He squeezed JD's shoulder. "Just do me a favor, okay...try and stay out of trouble for a while...I'd hate to have to go all 'big brother' on you anytime soon, or have to tell you again..." Chris swallowed, "...that I've kinda gotten used to you being around and it's made me realize...how much...I care about you."

JD watched in absolute awe as his older brother strode away, whispering one word to himself as he settled into the comforter.



"John Daniel Dunne...move out of my way or I'll be forced to move you myself."

Chris, Buck and Vin were in the barn, Ezra was in the house, and all of them came to see what the commotion was about. Buck grinned at Vin.

"Well...it took three weeks but I guess the peace had to end sometime."

Ezra had arrived first to find his brothers on the yard, JD stepping in front of Josiah every time he tried to take a step forward.

"Gentlemen, gentlemen...is there anything I can do to assist here?"

"Yes," Josiah barked, "You can move this young man out of my way."

JD glared, "Tell him why I'm standing in your way, Josiah."

Sanchez grunted and moved again, JD mirroring his movements.




The three men looked at Chris as he, Buck and Vin joined them.

"Alright then, seeing as you addressed the need for a question JD," Ezra persisted, "Josiah, why is JD standing in your way?"

Sanchez straightened, JD answered.

"Because he wants to go tear down the shack, that's why."

"What?" All four men spoke at once.

"I want it gone," was all the older man offered.

"Buck stepped closer, "Josiah...why? Why would you want to destroy all that hard work?"

"Yeah," JD added, "We both put it back together...well, okay...you worked and I watched a lot...but still...why?"

All five men were stunned as the normally quiet man shook then exploded with anger.

"Because it's evil...I should never have re-built it. John finding a body there should have been enough warning to know the place would bring bad luck down on us...I WANT IT GONE!"

No one spoke for a few moments, then JD stepped forward and touched his oldest brother's arm.


Sanchez enveloped the smaller man in a tight embrace, but despite his surprise, JD relaxed into it. Chris looked to the others...he had worked it out, and now the rest of his brothers seemed to be getting there too.

"Son...if we hadn't been checking it over that day...we would not have found the rustlers and your ordeal would never have happened, not to mention what the rest of us went through."

Buck touched Josiah's arm. "Hey, big guy...ya need to let the little guy there breathe."

If the situation hadn't been so serious, JD would have giggled as he gently pushed away from the strong grip, but he held on to the man's arm.

"I know what you mean. When you first started working on it, it used to creep me out, but...the times I've spent there with you, watching you build it and make it all...nice again...they've meant a lot to me, Josiah...I've learned so much...about you, life...how to make a dry wall..." the boy smiled, "I'd hate to see it destroyed, I was kind of hoping we could go back there soon."

Vin caught Sanchez's eye. "Think on it some, Josiah...if after that, if you still want it gone...I'll help you myself."

"We all will," Buck added.

Chris nodded his approval, "How about we take a portable barbecue and go up there this weekend...try and make some new memories for the place."

JD grinned, "Cool." He looked at Josiah. "What d'ya think, Josiah?"

The older man visibly relaxed, "I'm willing to give it a try...for you."

There was a brief pause then Chris moved.

"Okay, that's settled. Can we get on with some work now? Ezra, would you call Tom for me please? JD, Josiah you might want to join us, you too Ezra."

Ezra went to make the call, five men walked toward the stables.

"Why?" JD asked.

Chris Vin and Buck grinned, the blond answered,

"Delilah's about to foal."

"Really?" JD was excited.

Buck grinned, "Yeah, squirt, and we all decided...you get to name it."

"REALLY? Oh wow...thanks."

As they entered the barn, Ezra caught up with them.

"I was wondering, will we need to wear galoshes?"


Buck chuckled, "He'll be wanting goggles and a catcher's mitt, next."

They all laughed and prepared to welcome their new foal into the world. JD had already decided on a name if it was a girl.


The End