Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em damnit!
Thanks to Phyllis for BL/AU2
"Brothers Larabee" Universe
Main Characters: JD, OC
Summary: A horrible misdeed leads the Brothers Larabee on a desperate mission to find their youngest.
Early morning, and while dropping in the weekly food supplies to the bunkhouse, and as the ranch hands prepared for the start of their day, JD caught the end of a conversation. They were discussing how the cows belonging to old Chet Simpkins were breaking through one of the few remaining fences on the property.
"Does Vin know?" JD asked.
"Jake's telling the boss now," wrangler Mike Henderson informed.
With a wave goodbye, JD headed back to the house. Jake passed him on the porch, and after a quick exchange of pleasantries, JD continued on in. He found Vin and Chris discussing the very issue.
"I could go over there," JD offered.
"What?" Chris asked as he looked toward his youngest brother.
"I can saddle up and ride on over there, maybe offer to help him fix the fence, I mean, the guy's in his seventies, right?"
Vin absently looked toward the back of their property, and the direction Simpkins lived. "It's a good hour's ride, even as the crow flies."
JD grinned. "Cool. I could use a long ride, and Milagro sure would enjoy the run."
Chris pursed his lips as he looked at Vin. "It's your call."
Tanner rubbed his stubbled chin. "Well, it sure would free up me and the guys to get on with other things. With fewer hands right now, we're pretty stretched."
Chris nodded. "Okay, JD, we'll leave it with you."
Beaming, JD spun on his heels to leave. He turned back. "Uh which way is the Simpkins' property?"
Both men laughed, and pointed.
Brothers Chad and Todd Simpkins were leaning against the worktops in their father's kitchen talking, and drinking coffee. Todd sighed. "I don't see as we have a choice. Neither of us want to move back here, and it's obvious Dad's losing his marbles. He's not eating, or sleeping properly " he gestured around him. " And this place is going to hell. We're here today because he almost blew up the generator."
Chad shrugged. "He forgot it was converted to propane."
"A costly and dangerous mistake, Chad. Couple days ago, we were here due to him digging a hole in the driveway and he can't recall why he was doing it. He needs to be watched 24/7."
"Well, with Lena's Mom living with us, I can't take him."
"And I'm on the road five days a week, and Penny works shifts, so we can't be much help." Todd looked at his brother. "I guess it's gonna have to be a nursing home. Probably for the best, his health is deteriorating, and he'd get medical care on tap there." He gestured around. "This place is rough, but it's prime land in a good location, so it'll sell at auction, no problem. There's not even a mortgage on it. His nursing fees will be covered."
"I guess." Chad glanced around. "Where's Dad now?"
"I left him in the den watching the news."
Outside his run-down barn, Chet Simpkins stared at the revolver in his hand, and then nervously around. "They're comin', I know it. They wanna lock me away and take my home." He stroked the gun barrel. "Well I ain't goin'. This here's my land, and I'll die defendin' it." A noise drew his attention and he narrowed his eyes before dipping back behind the open barn door.
"They're here," he said in a loud whisper. "I ain't goin', damnit. I ain't leavin' my home!"
JD inhaled the bracing air and patted his horse's neck. Both steed and rider had enjoyed their journey. During the ride, they cantered, loped, and flat out galloped on occasion, but now JD was walking Milagro toward the Simpkins' homestead.
Approaching the corral, he couldn't help but notice how run-down the place looked; not that he had seen it before, but at the very least it appeared in need of nails, paint, and wood preservative. He noted the corral fencing was damaged, but before he could take in the condition of the barn, Chet walked out to face him.
JD smiled and halted just in front of the man. "Mister Simpkins? Uh, hi, my name's JD Dunne, I live with my brothers at the Double L " He paused, but after receiving no response, he continued.
"Linc Larabee's place? We back onto your land? Okay anyway, one of our ranch hands noticed some of your cows were on our property. I guess the fence must've been breached. I'd be happy to take a look with you give you a hand fixing it if you need one."
Chet raised the revolver so JD could see it. "Go away. I ain't goin' with you."
JD stared at the gun pointed at him. 'Shit'. He could hear Buck's voice in his head. 'It ain't cowardly to walk away from a battle where you're outnumbered or out-gunned and can't hope to win. Live to fight another day.'
"Hey, no problem, I'll just head on over there and take a look myself." He went to turn his horse, but froze when the gun's hammer clicked.
"No! Hold up there, young 'un! You're goin' for help. I can't let you do that; they'll make me leave my land."
JD raised his hands to placate the man. "Mister, no one's here to make you do anything. I was just gonna " He heard a gunshot, and registered a momentary sensation of pain in his head. Due to the momentum of a frightened, rearing horse, and having no hands on the reins, he tumbled to the hard ground. Unable to prevent his body hitting the unyielding earth at speed, he lost consciousness.
Chet watched the slight body drop and nodded to himself. "Told you, boy, ain't no one gonna take me away from my home, and ain't no one gonna get help to make me go."
Back at the Double L, it was well into the afternoon when Buck left the house to set off for Rosie's Bar. From the corral, Chris waved 'goodbye'. The blond straightened and turned toward him when Buck headed his way.
Buck glanced around. "I was looking for JD."
Chris pushed back his work glove to check his watch. "Been so busy, I hadn't noticed the time. I don't think he's back from Chet's yet."
Vin joined them from inside the hay barn. "Nope, Milagro's not stabled."
Buck's eyebrows rose. He thought that by now, JD would be back and working in the yard. "Really? Don't you think he's been a long time?"
Chris made a face. "Well, now I do." He watched Vin pull out his phone and noted Buck's look when the Texan dialed JD's cell, but it went straight to voicemail.
"Don't mean anything, Buck. He's likely in a poor reception area." Even as he spoke, Chris was pulling off his work gloves and walking toward the garage. "Still, I guess it won't hurt to head over there."
"Can't we call Chet?" Buck asked, as he and Vin hurried after Chris.
"His line's dead, that's why someone needed to go over in person."
Buck was already calling the bar to tell them he wasn't coming in. Something about Chris and Vin's demeanor was feeding Buck's growing anxiety. JD could find trouble in an empty room, and he was starting to fear he had done just that during his trip to Chet's.
Shouts from the rear of the property had the three men looking that way. Seconds later, Josiah was holding the reins to a rider-less Milagro, and looking back at them with concern. Chris hung his head. 'Damn'. He, Vin, and Buck jogged to their oldest brother, and checked over the lathered horse.
"No injuries." Chris glanced back toward the dirt trail JD would have taken. "Looks like we'll be taking a rough ride to the Simpkins place."
Vin touched his arm. "Why don't you and Buck hit the highway and go the fast route, and I'll saddle Quinn and double back on the path he took through the woods and meadow?"
Chris nodded. "Good idea." As Vin sprinted off to saddle up, Chris looked at Josiah. "Will you see to Milagro and let the others know what's happened?"
Josiah nodded. "Consider it done. God's speed, boys."
Inside the Simpkins' homestead, when Todd heard a gunshot he dropped his mug onto the tiled floor. "What the ?" He stiffened. "Quick, check the den." He and Chad hurried into the den to find the TV playing to itself. Chad groaned and pointed to the old Rosewood bureau in the corner, with one drawer jimmied open.
"Ah shit, he's gotten hold of the Colt."
"I didn't even realize Dad knew where we hid it," Todd replied, already heading outside. He froze when he spotted their father armed, and standing over a prone form. "Oh, dear God. What's he done?"
Hearing movement, Chet turned his head to see his sons heading his way. Although he wasn't really sure who they were, they seemed familiar, and appeared to know him, so he relaxed the trembling arm pointing the gun at them. He gestured to the body lying at his feet.
"See? See? I got 'im. He was comin' to take me away from my home. But I stopped him; I made sure he didn't go for no help, either."
Todd was already crouched down and inspecting the oozing furrow to JD's head. He checked for a pulse, and huffed with relief when he felt a strong one in the youth's neck.
"Who is he?" Chad asked.
Todd shrugged, and he searched for ID. He found JD's wallet. "John Dunne." He shook his head. "Never heard of him." Another pocket revealed an iPhone, but the fall from Milagro had shattered it.
"Damn, was hoping I might get a number."
Taking the gun from his already distracted father, Chad hissed a reply. "We can't let anyone know Dad did this."
Chad's jaw dropped open. "What?"
"If he ends up with something like this against his name, we'll never get him in a home." He nodded at JD. "He's alive, right?"
"Yeah, but he needs help."
"We'll dump him on the highway then " He turned when the gun was jerked from his hand.
"I don't know you. Go away!"
About to lose his patience, Chad looked at his father. "Damnit, Pop, you've caused enough trouble. Give me the gun." His expression changed from frustration to alarm when Chet cocked the hammer.
At point blank range, Chet fired at Chad's head then spun toward his other son. Seconds later, Todd lay dead, too. Mumbling to himself, Chet dragged all three casualties, one by one, into the crumbling barn and slipped the bolt. He took up a seat on a hay bale and, nursing the Colt, he waited for those he feared were coming to take him from his home.
Carrying two grim-faced men, Chris's Ram raced along the highway to Chet Simpkins' place. Chris took bends at alarming speed forcing Buck's right hand to cling to the grab-hold above his window, while he flattened his left against the dashboard to brace himself. They were a mix of anxious and relieved when the gate to Chet's place could be seen in the distance.
On the woodland pathway Vin was making good ground as JD's trail was easy to follow. Halting, he dismounted and ground-tied his horse. Tanner squatted down to look at the hoof marks in the softer earth that lay under a canopy of trees. Touching the prints, he noted the difference in the tracks; deeper going toward Chet's place, but lighter on the return journey. If luck stayed with him, and the ground wasn't too solid as the trail continued, he would be able to figure out if JD had been thrown; and if so, where.
In a flurry of dust, Chris pulled the truck into Chet's yard and he and Buck stepped out. The pair looked around. Noting the ranch house door open, they approached. Chris knocked.
"Hello, the house. Hey, anyone in here? It's Chris Larabee, from the Double L. Hello?"
As he called, the pair was making their way inside. When they passed the kitchen, Buck pointed to a smashed mug on the tiled floor and what looked like coffee pooled around it. Chris nodded and headed for the sound of a TV. Inside the den, the TV was blaring while playing to itself.
Exiting the room, Buck jogged upstairs, calling out as he did so. Minutes later, the pair met up.
"Place is deserted," Buck concluded.
"Maybe they went out to check the fence," Chris suggested, though it was clear he wasn't convinced.
"And leave this place wide open? The TV on? And what about the spilled drink? Why leave it lying there like that?"
"All good points," Chris agreed as he turned to leave. "And not one of them making me feel good about this."
"I wonder how Vin's doing," Buck queried as he followed Chris out.
Chris didn't answer. He wasn't sure Vin having luck finding JD on the trail would be any better news. Soon they were passing the Ram and approaching the barn, and already the pair's stomachs were in knots. They knew blood when they saw it, and there was a whole heap of it just yards from the barn.
Before they could ponder on it, Vin came riding in. As he dismounted, the two men waited expectantly for his report.
"He ain't out there," Vin stated. "Hoof prints show his horse went all the way back empty." His gaze moved to the blood pool. "Shoot." Vin first examined, then followed the drag trail until it was obvious where it went. Silently, he pointed to inside the barn and held up four fingers before he moved back to his horse to get his rifle.
Once Vin was armed, Chris called out. "Chet, It's Chris Larabee from the Double L, are you in there?"
The bullet exploding through the tattered wooden door barely missed the three as they somehow ducked down just in time to miss its flight path. Scrambling for cover, they re-evaluated the situation.
"Hey," Buck called out. "We didn't come here for trouble. We're just looking for " He was cut off by another shot.
"I know what you're here for. I ain't leavin', so get the hell off my property."
The three exchanged looks.
"Who does he think we are?" Vin asked.
"I reckon he's losing it," Buck said.
"Lost it, more like," Vin replied.
"Question remains, whose blood is that? If it's not Chet's, is whoever it belongs to still alive in there?" Chris pondered aloud.
Buck suddenly stood, alarm reflected in his features. "What if JD's hurt? What if all that blood's his "
Chris dragged Buck back down behind cover. "Damnit, Buck, stay low!" He then pulled out his cell and dialed. "I'm not willing to take any chances in case it is JD, so I'm calling the cops." He glanced at Vin. "Best put that gun away for now, until we know what's going on in there. Get hold of the guys and let them know what's happening."
Chris stopped dialing and looked at Buck.
"If we get cops here Chet might freak out." Buck looked to Tanner. "Vin's quiet. Let him at least try and get a picture of what's going on in there. We're not helpless, Chris. Cops, sure, but let's do some groundwork first, huh?" Buck could see the fear in his older brother's eyes, a fear of losing a loved one; a fear only the family was allowed to see. Buck leaned in and spoke softly.
"You know, there is nothing I would do to jeopardize that boy's, or any of my brothers' lives. At the first sign of trouble, I'll call the cops, okay?" Buck's eyes searched his brother's. Chris was the most decisive man he knew, but since losing Sarah and Adam, matters of the heart, of family, would eat him up inside.
Chris nodded. "Okay." He stopped Vin from leaving. "But I'll check it out."
"Chris " Vin protested, but Larabee was already moving and successfully hiding behind an old, rusty, abandoned hay reaper. Tanner pointed to the opposite direction.
"I'm gonna head off Josiah, Ezra, and Nathan."
His gaze never leaving Chris and the locked barn, Buck nodded. The tenderhearted man didn't know what was worse, having JD almost at arms' length but possibly injured, or having him out there somewhere, and again, possibly injured. Arms' length would always be his choice, but his gaze moved a few yards from the barn. Seeing all that blood
"Jeezus, Kid, please be okay."
Half propped up against some hay bales, with his head fit to burst, and his stomach rolling, JD reacted to the sounds next to him.
His eyes flew open when a grubby hand clamped down on his mouth, and cut off his air. JD's terrified, unfocused gaze sought out the threat.
"Hush, boy. They're out there; hear 'em? They've come for me." The hand relaxed its hold.
JD tried to center on the man next to him. "Wh who's come to get you?"
"Shhh." Chet pointed outside. "Them. The ones who want to take me from my home and lock me away." He tapped the gun barrel on his knee.
"My boys think I'm stupid, but I ain't so dumb. Was watchin' me an old war movie, and got to wonderin' about where I put my old Colt. I found it in a drawer, along with papers for some danged nursing home. Well I ain't goin', you hear, boy? I'm stayin' right here."
JD groaned; his head hurt so bad, his side and arm, too. He had no recollection of how he was in this place, or why his head hurt so much. He figured the old man was happier when agreed with, so he did. "Sure only fair "
"Damn right. You, uh, want some whiskey?" Chet looked around. "Got me some stashed in here somewhere."
A shake of the head was instantly regretted. "Aaahhh."
JD took a moment. "Got any water, mister?"
"Uh no, the water's out there, and I ain't goin' out 'til those men are off my property."
JD swallowed. "Mister...do you know what happened to me?"
Chet pointed. "It was them varmints, out there, that's what."
Aching, dizzy, and unsure what the truth was right now, JD closed his eyes and drifted away from the pain and confusion.
JD next awoke to the sounds of gunshots. His vision was a little more focused but he was disoriented. He looked around to get his bearings and his gaze settled on the nearby bloody corpses of Todd and Chad. Shocked, the heels of JD's sneakers scuffed at the hay- strewn floor in an effort to push away, but he had little strength to succeed.
"Oh oh, God they're, they're " His panic rose as once more, Chet's hand silenced him.
"As God is my witness, boy, you holler once more and I'll shoot you again, and it'll be dead next time. Quiet, y'hear?"
Wide eyes and a small nod conveyed JD's agreement. Once Chet released him, and with great effort, he turned his body away from the gruesome sight of the dead brothers and tried to focus on what it was Chet had just said.
He'd shot him?
JD touched his trembling fingers to the part of his head that throbbed like a bitch and felt the gory furrow there. He looked at his fingers.
Oh God, he really had been shot. But, why couldn't he remember?
"Mister Simpkins, Sir, I need help. Please. My head really hurts."
Chet shook his head. "Nope, sorry. Not 'til they're gone. Not goin' nowhere 'til they're gone." He pointed to the yard. "I shot at 'em. Can't be sure I got 'em, but they'll think twice about comin' in here for me, now."
JD groaned, unsure if it was aloud or not. He had no idea if anyone was outside, and began to fear he may be stuck here for some time. His muzzy head had yet to process that his family would be missing him by now.
Leaning hard against a large gap in the planks, Chris peered into the gloomy barn. He baulked at the sight of the two bodies to one side of Chet. He could tell the old man was talking to someone, but a stanchion prevented him from seeing who. He dialed his cell.
"This guy's either talking to himself, or someone in there's still alive," He whispered to Buck.
"You seen any...bodies?"
"Shit. I'll call the cops. Uh, Chris."
"The bodies "
"Not JD, Pard." He didn't have to see Buck to know the man's reaction to that. "You heard from Vin or the guys?"
"Not yet. I'll dial the cops and be right with you. Chris, be careful."
"Always am, Buck."
No sooner had Chris put his phone away and resumed his position at the barn wall, a resounding crack sent him through splintering, rotten wood and rolling onto his butt to face a shaky, angry Chet Simpkins.
The man stood and pointed his gun at Chris as a young, frightened voice called out.
Sprinting like a primed athlete, Vin slowed on seeing an approaching truck. Sweaty, but barely breathing hard, he flagged his brothers down. Ezra jumped out.
"Vin, what is it?"
"Looks like Simpkins has shot someone. He's locked himself in the barn, and we're not sure if JD's in there with him."
Ezra paled. "Do you think JD's been shot, Vin?"
"I sure as hell hope not. I left Chris tryin' to figure out what's goin' on in there."
"We should call the police," Josiah advised from behind the truck's wheel.
"We are, we just didn't want them blastin' into the yard and unsettlin' the old fella. He shot at us, and he's likely to fire again. Just not sure who he thinks he's shootin' at."
Nathan appeared with his bag. Josiah waved them on. "Go, I'll wait here for the police. Go!"
With nods, the three raced off. Seconds into their run, a gunshot sounded from the direction of the yard and barn. Vin increased his speed. "Oh God."
Chris froze when he saw Simpkins standing and yelling at him. "Chet, it's me, Chris, Linc Larabee's son."
Chris scrambled to his feet and for the first time, saw JD lying against a bale and looking back at him. "Chet, please" He's my brother."
With the Colt aimed at Chris's heart, Chet screamed out. "You ain't takin' me away, y'hear? This is my home!"
Moments later, he fired.
On hearing yelling, Buck was at the barn door in seconds and hammering on the dry wood. "Chris! Chet! Open up. Chris!" As he began kicking at the door Buck heard a gunshot.
Chris's unexpected, and noisy entrance jolted JD to full awareness. He could hardly bear the pain in his head, but had noticed Simpkins pointing his gun and yelling at something. Rolling his aching head to the side he'd been desperately avoiding, JD saw Chris stand up. JD would never be sure how he knew Chet would fire, but he did, and somehow managed to scoot forward enough to push a foot into the old man's leg. The move threw off Chet's aim, but Chris still howled out.
Outside, Vin, Ezra, and Nathan arrived to see Buck yelling out and kicking at the barn door. The big-hearted man's cheeks were streaked with tears. "Chris, JD " was all he could gasp out.
Four brothers worked together and attacked the rotting wood. They finally burst into the barn to see Chet sitting on the floor and rocking back and forth. With no need for words, Vin headed for Chris, who was on his knees and clutching a bloody arm. After glancing that way, Buck went to JD.
Seeing Chris was conscious, Nathan dipped into his bag and stuffed bandages into Ezra's hands. "Help Vin staunch the flow to Chris's arm with these."
Ezra nodded, and headed for Vin and Chris. Nathan moved to remove Simpkins' gun from the immediate area, then joined Buck.
Vin dropped down and skidded on his knees next to Chris. He held the swaying, fading man steady. "Easy there, Cowboy."
Larabee grunted through clenched teeth. "Aaarrgghh. It hurts like a bitch." He nodded toward their youngest. "But, thanks to JD, I'll live."
Filing that last comment for later, Vin came around to let Chris rest back against his chest, while Ezra pressed bandages over the oozing injury. Chris hissed, but did little else. He glanced over to JD, and wished he knew how the kid was faring.
JD's efforts had robbed him of his final energy and he was out cold. Kneeling next to his youngest brother, Buck gently took JD's face in his hands and rolled the boy's head to one side to check the wound. While there was no bullet lodged in JD's skull, Buck knew a wound like this could have serious implications, and so was relieved when Nathan dropped down next to him.
"JD, hey, Kid. You hear me?"
"Let me see, Buck." Nathan's examination was painstakingly long, or so it seemed. He placed gauze over the deep furrow, and bandaged around JD's head. "Just keep him warm. He's gonna need an x-ray, and maybe a head scan."
Buck didn't need to be told twice. He rolled onto his butt, scooped his brother up and cradled him close.
Moving to check on Chris, Nathan approved of Vin's and Ezra's efforts. Placing fresh pads over the wound, he bandaged the upper arm tightly enough to slow the blood flow. He smiled at Chris. "Cops are on their way. I suggested Josiah call for paramedics, too."
"JD?" Chris asked.
"Nasty. Won't know how bad until he's been x-rayed. Rest up, Chris. You've had quite a shock and lost a fair amount of blood."
Chris's kick-ass grin appeared. "So, what's new?" He gestured toward Buck and JD. "Get me over there."
Appreciating it was pointless arguing, the three men helped their brother up.
Buck's glistening gaze fixed on Chris as he approached. "How you doing, big brother?"
Chris patted Buck's shoulder, then rested a hand on JD's heated, sweaty, bandaged head. "Doing good, Pard, doing good."
Nathan and Ezra went to Chet. While Nathan checked the rocking, withdrawn septuagenarian over, Ezra slipped off his jacket and wrapped it around the man's shoulders.
All but JD and Chet looked up when cops, paramedics, and Josiah entered the barn. While forever grateful all seven brothers were still alive, the six, and later JD, would be shocked to learn Chet had killed his own sons.
A day that started out with straying cows had ended in two deaths, two gunshot injuries, and an old man destined to live out his days in a secure establishment.
Along with a homestead and livestock without their owner, or its heirs.
JD's x-rays showed no swelling, or edema, but his concussion and disorientation was a concern, so he remained in hospital for twenty- four hours. Due to the blood loss he needed to make up, and the introduction of several antibiotics to fight an infection, Chris was also kept in, the doctor deciding he needed to keep an eye on him, too.
JD drifted in and out, but each time he woke, was more lucid. By the middle of the night, he was wide awake and needing the bathroom. Vin was crashed out in a chair next to Chris's bed, and Buck was likewise, while situated next to JD.
"You need help?"
JD glanced across through the sparse glow from the nightlight to see Chris looking his way. "Need to pee."
Buck snorted awake. "Wha ?" It took him a moment or two to focus. "Hey Kid." His smile faded on seeing JD's expression. "What's wrong?"
"Need to pee," JD, Chris, and Vin said together.
Chris raised an eyebrow. "You're awake."
Tanner sat up. "Gettin' shot didn't take away your powers of observation, then."
Chris huffed, and watched Buck dragging JD's IV pole along, while half walking, half carrying JD to the bathroom. "Kid looks rough."
"His head's fit to bustin', but he's alive."
Chris sighed, softly. "Yeah."
"And so are you," Vin reminded, his blue eyes misty as he stared at Chris.
When JD returned to bed, Buck helped him sit up a little. "Thanks." He smiled when Buck also helped him with some water.
"Did he wipe your tushie for you too?" Vin teased.
JD giggled, and they all smiled at the welcome sound.
"JD." Chris's look was earnest. He shifted his strapped arm for comfort. "Thanks for what you did in that barn. Reckon you saved my life."
JD's gaze dropped. "Don't recall too much, I'm afraid." He shuddered out a sigh. "Poor Mister Simpkins and his family." His eyes narrowed in thought and he looked up at his brothers. "Or did I dream someone said he'd killed his boys?"
Buck took up JD's wrist. "Nope, it was no dream, and I reckon it would've happened whether you were there, or not, Kid."
JD touched fingers to his bandaged head. "I guess. A case of being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, huh?"
"Exactly that," Chris assured.
The four relaxed back into companionable silence, and were soon joined by Nathan, Josiah, and Ezra, who carried in sandwiches, coffees, and sodas. Several hours later, the injured would be taken home and life on the Double L would attempt to get back into routine, but they would never forget their once good neighbor Chet Simpkins, or that they could have easily lost two brothers that fateful day.
Over the next weeks, more than one brother would ponder as to it being viable to put in an offer for the Simpkins' place. In the meantime, thanks again to fate, gritty determination, and the love of a good family, there were still, should they decide to go ahead, seven brothers to take that step.
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