Black Friday by Sue M

Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em…damnit!

Brothers Larabee Universe

Thanks to Phyllis for BL/AU2

Main Characters: JD, Chris, Buck, Vin

Summary: The cost of bargain hunting goes way beyond money.

Laden with packages, four of the seven Larabee brothers had shopped until they dropped, dealt with some necessary ranch business, enjoyed a meal and a few games of darts at Buck's bar, Rosie's, and were now heading home. Stormy weather delayed their return trip, but Chris decided it was unlikely to ease up and to just go for it.

Inside the traveling ranch truck, Vin looked back from the front passenger seat and winked at JD. "Honor the bet, Bucklin."

"Yeah, Buck-lin," JD sing-songed, "We won fair and square."

Buck and Chris had challenged JD and Vin to a game of darts, betting ten dollars on the former pair winning. After losing, Buck teasingly came up with every excuse under the sun not to pay; from JD having an advantage because his height made his eyes more in line with the board than his, to Vin's and JD's darts being sharper than his and Chris's. "Beginner's luck," the brunet insisted.

Buck grinned at the groans and to cover his amusement peered out at the torrential rain beating against the windows. His mirth evaporated. "Man, it's getting worse," he stated rhetorically.

"I can hardly see to drive…" Chris answered, the tension from the intense concentration required evident in his voice.

"Need a break?" Vin asked, quietly.

A ghost of a smile crossed the blond's lips. "I'll let you know." He glanced across. "Thanks."

In the back seat, Buck nudged JD while the boy was mid-yawn. "Hey! It was you who dragged us out at that ungodly hour this morning; don't be dozing off on us now."

JD irritably nudged Buck back. "I'm not. Jeez, can't a guy yawn without being accused of falling asleep?"

"Yeah, yeah," Buck teased. "It starts with a yawn, and then you rest your head against the window, or my shoulder…before we know it…" Buck made a snoring sound

"Oh, ha, ha. This coming from the master of nocturnal buzz-sawing," JD snapped back. He took out his iPhone in an attempt to prove he wasn't about to fall asleep, and hoped the game he chose would help him.

Ignoring the squabbling, but grateful for something to help keep him focused, Chris's straining eyes widened at the sudden glare of headlights on his side of the road. The beam cut through the slanted rain to flood the windshield with a blinding white-out.

"SHIT! Hold on!"

Taking evasive action, Chris yanked the wheel hard to the right, sending the truck sideways across a saturated blacktop. The spinning vehicle and skidding tires found purchase with a bump as they met a grass verge. The jolt tilted the truck over onto its side and down a sharp gradient. Rolling, crunching bodywork finally stopped, and quieted to leave just the sounds of rain, wind, and cooling metal.


With growing awareness that the groaning noise he could hear was actually his own voice, JD forced open first one eye, then the other. He panicked for a split-second, before realizing that he wasn't blind, it was just dark. He couldn't make his left arm work, so he reached up with his right. The interior light snapped on.

"Oh God."

Miraculously, despite the fact that the truck flipped several times, it had landed on its side. The first thing JD noticed was the blood on the lining of the buckled roof. JD was grateful of his slight stature, as he was fairly sure his three taller siblings’ heads likely bounced up against the roof during the truck's violent descent.

All the side and back windows were broken. The warped windshield drooped from its frame; numerous cracks stretching out from its shattered center like a huge spider's web. The backs of JD's and Buck's seats had folded in and Buck was wedged between his seat and Vin's. JD was in a similar position, but again, being smaller he wasn't so squashed. His left arm, ribs, and that side of his head and face hurt like a bitch, though.

Vin and Chris's airbags were deployed, but due to the combined force of JD and Buck's seat and bodies being pushed forward, both men were jammed in their seats between the wheel and dashboard. JD would wonder later whether his slighter build had saved Chris from a worse injury against the steering wheel.

It didn't take a medic to know that all three men were out cold, but he called out their names, in a vain hope of rousing one, or all of them. Having no luck, JD managed to unbuckle his belt and check for three pulses. He was relieved and emotional to find they were strong. The youngster groped around the vehicle, but couldn't locate his phone…wasn't it in his hand earlier? With a groan, he again attempted to wake the others.

"Guys…fellas…can you hear me? Hey…guys!"

Unable to rouse his three motionless brothers, or locate their cell phones, JD ignored his own agony and squeezed his damaged body out of the shattered side window that now pointed skyward. Being outside helped with the claustrophobia that had slowly been engulfing him. JD was just able to make out the battered outline of the truck. Though he couldn't smell gas, JD was suddenly struck with the fear that the tank might blow. With only one working hand, he somehow climbed along the vehicle to tug at the buckled driver's door in an attempt to get his brothers out. It wouldn't budge. He shuffled across on his butt to try the door he had just climbed through, but that was stuck tight, too.

"Aaarrggghhh! Damnit...DAMNIT."

His breath hitched as he sat dejectedly on the battered vehicle. "I'm sorry, guys." After a few moments, JD stared up at the highway.

"I need to get help."

He dropped heavily onto the sodden grass and rotting foliage. Despite the heavy rain, after the painful jolt to his beat-up body, JD laid still for a minute or so to catch his breath. Finally, the youth dragged himself to his feet. Standing upright, he took one last look at the truck and his injured brothers before staggering drunkenly through the cold, driving rain toward the embankment. He hoped he had the strength to scramble up to the roadside in order to flag down a vehicle.


After what seemed like a lifetime of painfully slow progress, and just as JD feared his abused body could go no further, a truck stopped at the side of the road just above him.

JD looked to the Heavens. "Thank you."

With resolve driving him, he clawed at the embankment with his one working hand, crying out in agony as he somehow doubled his efforts in order to raise the alarm. However, before his head cleared the ridge the semi's engines fired up, and with a hiss of air brakes, the big truck rolled away into the driving rain.


JD was devastated at how close he came. Exhausted, he lost purchase on the slippery banking and slid gracelessly back to level ground, while unaware that, in his struggle to get help, he had wandered transversely away from the wrecked truck and his injured brothers. Worn out and hurting just about everywhere, the youngster tried to move; he had to get help, and fast; but his strength was gone. He fell back into the grass and cursed. To get his breath back, JD closed his eyes...just for a minute...if only they hadn’t gone into town shopping today.



Buck leaned against the study doorframe as he watched his youngest brother. What appeared to be lists were strewn across the desk, while a spreadsheet was displayed on the computer monitor. Curiosity getting the better of him, and aware Nettie was expecting them at the dinner table, Buck walked into the room. "Whatcha up to, Squirt?"

Jolting a little due to his concentration, JD grinned up at his brother and indicated as he spoke. "I've written down all the things we need, and at what times the stores that sell each item is open on Black Friday." He frowned. "I'm not sure I can make it to many, so I'm gonna have to ditch some things…"

Buck raised his hands. "Whoa…hold on there, li'l brother. Items? Black Friday? What's this all about?"

"Bargains, Buck!" JD said, his eyes lighting up at the mention of it. "These stores are practically giving stuff away, but it's just for one day, so it's a tight operation. Timing is everything…"

Buck was now next to JD and examining his handiwork. Unable to bring himself to nix the kid's idea by reminding him they were successful enough not to worry about such things, Buck nodded, grinned, and placed an arm around the youth's shoulders. "Come on, let's go eat, and we can discuss it over dinner." He prodded JD into moving.

While they made their way to the dining room, JD looked up at his brother. "What's there to discuss?"


Oblivious to the amused, but admiring looks passing around the table, JD was in full flow over his plan. There was a slight pause after he rounded it off, and five pairs of eyes glanced between JD and Chris, the latter clearly mesmerized by it all. The blond finally spoke, directing his comments to JD.

"Okay, Vin and me have some business close to town on Friday, and Buck's dropping into Rosie's for a few hours…" He paused for thought. "I reckon if we divide this shopping expedition between you, me, Buck, and Vin, we can get everything on those lists, do what we need to do, and still be back well in time for dinner."

JD did a double take. "Uh…you mean…you'll help me?" He glanced around. "This whole thing kicks off real early. I didn't mean for you guys to have to get up, too."

"Been a while since I went shoppin'…should be a hoot," Vin smiled. He looked at his three brothers. "And with a lot of the ranch hands gone for Thanksgivin', I'm sure Ezra, Josiah, and Nathan are real keen to do the chores Friday mornin', so it ain't like we got anythin' to hang around for."

Josiah and Nathan laughed quietly; Ezra raised an eyebrow. "Marvelous. As you see, my enthusiasm is positively overflowing."

Five brothers chuckled. JD eyed Ezra, glancing around at the others. "I'm pretty sure that was sarcasm."

Ezra simply stared. "What was it that alerted you to my demeanor?" he deadpanned.

"The look of pure joy on your face," Josiah replied.

"Now that was sarcasm," JD insisted.

Over dessert, and much to JD's delight, the family discussed plans and itineraries. The Larabee brothers were doing Black Friday. This would be…interesting.


Being a small town, Four Corners' stores opened their doors at 5:00 am. Chris hit the hardware stores, Vin and Buck went to the 'Tack Barn', which covered everything from tack, to stable and ranch supplies, to ATVs. JD headed for the electrical store. He wanted to upgrade their computer, buy a new external hard drive, and look into a new home security system to replace their ailing one. JD had researched the best buys meticulously before listing them. If his brothers stuck to the plan, they would save a small fortune. Nettie also gave them a list of housewares needed; and that store was where the four decided to meet up, and which was to be their final stop; alongside the possibility of purchasing clothes and personal items to end their trip.

Well, that was the plan, but the bargain bug hit them hard. Soon the truck was filled to bursting with packages from clothing to crockery, while something akin to a shipping order of hardware was to be delivered after the weekend. At almost 11:00am, the three brothers loading up the truck laughed when a pair of legs and a stack of packages staggered their way.

"You in there Squirt?" Buck asked. He and Vin took off several boxes to uncover their youngest's grinning features.

"Wow!" JD exhaled. "What a morning! I'm starved."

Wiping away any possible traces of the giant Cinnabon he consumed earlier, Vin nodded. "I could eat."

Chris closed the rear door of the ranch truck they were using due to its greater storage capacity. He grinned and patted JD on the shoulder. "You were right, we saved a bundle. I can't believe that only a week ago the stores were quoting us prices around a 150% markup on what we paid today."

"I know!" JD nodded. "Crazy, huh? Back home in Boston, Black Friday was an event you'd participate in even if you had to get up off your deathbed!" The impact of his words suddenly hit him and he went as white as their truck…well, as white as the areas not splattered in mud.

Buck recovered the situation quickly. "Food! Come on, let's head to Rosie's. I can take care of business, and we can eat…maybe play a game or two of pool…or darts."

"Darts?" JD asked, his color slowly returning. "I've never played darts."

Buck draped his arm around JD's shoulders. "Darts it is, then. You're gonna love it, Kid." Large spots of rain began to fall and bounce off the ground. Buck glanced up at the stormy sky. "Seems like we finished right on time."


"Wipe that smirk off your face, dear brother. Have you never seen a southerner in galoshes before?"

In the barn, Josiah simply chuckled harder. "I have, but there's something exceptional about seeing you in them, Ezra. It almost makes me wish it would rain more often...and that I had a camera with me."

Biting back a grin as he mucked out his third stall that morning, Standish shook his head. "You really should get out more, Josiah."

"Lunch is ready!"

Ezra glanced at the ex-preacher on hearing Nathan's call from the house. "Oh dear Lord, Nathan cooked?"

Josiah put down his rake and scattered fresh hay on the swept floor. "Nathan's a good cook," he said, defensively.

"Indeed, but after this much manual labor, if I am presented with a nut roast, I may just suffer the loss of my cool, outward demeanor."

Finishing up, the pair laughed, put on their coats, and headed for the house. "This I have to see," the big man cackled.


In Rosie's, Buck puffed out his cheeks as another game of darts was lost to him and Chris. JD and Vin hi-fived.

"I really like darts, Buck,” JD announced. “What do you owe us, now? Twenty dollars?"

The brunet glanced toward a smiling Larabee, and then narrowed his gaze at JD. "You sure you never played this game before?"

"Yup, I swear," JD offered up the darts. "Play again?"

Chris shook his head. "As much as I'm thrilled at the idea of losing more money to you two hustlers, we should be getting back. Josiah's texted to say he's cooking chili for dinner."

"Awesome," Vin replied. "I could just go for some of Josiah's Chili."

"Mmm, me too," JD agreed.

Chris and Buck simply glanced at their table laden with recently emptied plates, then at each other, and shook their heads.


Waving goodbye to Inez, the four headed for the exit. "Hey, did I miss when money changed hands?" Vin challenged as they jogged to their vehicle through driving rain.

"Ooh, is that the time? C'mon, we'd better get moving," Buck urged in an attempt to change the subject.

Chris laughed as he climbed into the truck and brushed off the rainwater. Vin shook his head. "Nice try, Bucklin, but I can do this all the way to an ATM if I have to." A thunderclap overhead drove the brothers quickly into the truck.

"I guess this storm's in for the day," JD announced, as they pulled out of the bar's parking lot and into the street. He shivered, grateful for the warmth of the truck, and the comfort of his brothers around him. Josiah's chili sure sounded good and warming right about now. He could hardly wait to get home.



Late afternoon and Nathan glanced at his watch. Ezra and Josiah were playing chess, but it occurred to the doctor, that neither man had made a new move since his earlier comment about how late their brothers were, and that there was no answer from their cell phones. Both men looked up at him when he re-entered the room.

"Anything?" Josiah asked, frowning at Nathan's shake of his head. He and Ezra stood. "I'm assuming we're all thinking the same thing?"

There was no need for an answer. Turning off the pan of chili, all three went for their coats and slickers, and within minutes were heading out into the storm to explore the route to and from town. Anything was preferable than sitting around waiting.


"Hurry up!"

Rob Sims watched in exasperation as his teenage son exited the car. Having enjoyed a quick stop at the McDonalds on the edge of town, the large soda Scott Sims had gulped down was now making itself known, despite the lad using the bathroom before they set out. Expecting it to take a minute, Rob sat back and tried to forget that their special time was over for a while. He sighed, frustrated with himself for snapping at his boy. Since the divorce, he barely saw him, so why did he allow himself to get so wound up? Rob already knew the answer…it was the very fact that he would have to wait a month before he saw Scott again that affected him this way.

He jolted when Scott appeared suddenly at the side window and pounded on it. "DAD! Quick, pass me a flashlight. I think there's a truck down there!"

Jumping out of his car, he joined the teenager and as the rain lashed them, Rob pointed the beam down the embankment. It was almost too dark to see, but there, in the undergrowth…the shape of a vehicle filtered up through the flashlight-bathed gloom.

"Shoot! You're right," Rob called out over the noise of the rainfall. "Call 9-1-1." He reminded his son which highway they were on and how far out from town they had traveled. "Lock yourself in the car, put on the hazard lights, call 9-1-1, and wait here for the services to arrive. I'm going down there."

"Dad!" Scott was terrified, but he nodded. "Be careful." Jumping into the car, he locked the doors and watched his father disappear down the embankment. Pulling out the new phone his dad had given him for Thanksgiving, Scott dialed 9-1-1


"Jeez, my head…" Chris tried to take a deep breath, but found it painful. He quickly realized he couldn't move much, either, and what he was able to shift, hurt. Where he half sat, half lay, his head was facing the front passenger seat and his brother. "Vin!"

There was a groan in the dark.


"Aaahhh. Quit yellin', my frickin’ head hurts."

Chris had never felt such relief on being cussed at. "Any idea wh…what happened to us?"

"Damned if I can recall." Vin screwed up his eyes as pain darted through his whole being, but he forced it to the back of his mind to focus more on Chris. "Y...You okay?"

"Can't move much. You?"

"’Bout the same." Tanner swallowed against the dryness in his throat, and tried not to think about not being able to feel his legs. Unable to turn, he called out.

"Bucklin…you with us?" There was no reply. "JD!"

"Aww, shoot…I'm bleeding, damnit!"

Chris's relief doubled on hearing Buck's voice. "How bad?"

Buck succeeded in shifting a little, but hissed when his ribs pinched. "Not sure. I'm a mite stuck back here, but I'll live. You?"

"Reckon I'll have a decent imprint of the wheel on my chest tomorrow," Chris answered, but was struggling with dizziness and a desire to sleep. His heart clenched when he remembered one voice was missing. "Is JD out of it? Buck! Is JD okay?"

There was a long pause, followed by a grunt, then an anguished cry from Buck. "He's not in here."

Vin felt the brunet's movements behind him, and figured Buck's new concern was for their missing brother. "Buck, keep still, you shouldn't move, you could do more damage to yourself."

"Maybe he went for help," Chris suggested.

Buck's eyes welled up on just being able to make out the misshapen, empty seat next to him. "God, I hope so," he whispered, while still attempting to inch his way free. If his kid brother needed help, Buck wanted to be there for him.

"Phones?" Chris rasped out.

"Pocket," Vin replied, followed by several strained grunts, "Can't...get to it…"

"Same…here…" Buck echoed.

Chris's was in his jacket, and his jacket...was in the back of the truck, along with their purchases. The blond cussed.


Just after a sound alerted them to movement outside, a piercing beam of light illuminated the truck's interior. The men could just make out a face at the windshield while, for the first time, appreciating that the broken windows were exposing them to the elements. The face became a whole head and shoulders as Rob Sims peered in.

"Hey guys. Hang in there, help's on the way."

Vin nodded and grunted a thanks. 'Nice one, Kid', he thought, as he assumed that JD had succeeded in raising the alarm. They answered all Rob's questions, only to do the same again when flashing blue lights heralded the arrival, and brought the blessed assistance, of fire trucks, cops, and paramedics.


An overwhelming chill caused JD to shiver and he pushed himself up onto his good elbow. He groaned on recalling how his earlier climb up the embankment had all been for nothing. Drenched, cold, and hurting, he was debating if he had the energy to try again when something behind him and away to his left caught his attention. Squinting into the darkness, he could see strong arcs of light in the distance, and his heart gave a little lurch. Had help arrived? Did someone find them?

Not caring how it occurred, or as to why he was so far away from the area, JD grunted and worked his way up onto his feet. Swaying from the effort and dizziness, he straightened up as best he could, then turned and walked unsteadily back toward the inviting illumination.


"Hey there, fellas. My name's Spud Ellis, and I'm a paramedic. How y'all doing in there?" While he spoke, and as the area was bathed in bright light, he was attempting to climb up and pull open the driver's door. The vehicle rocked, and the maneuver was abandoned.

"We’re just...peachy," Buck replied, his voice holding no animosity due to his appreciation of help arriving. He squinted at the brightness. "The kid…JD…he called you, huh?"

With a thunderous crack, the windshield was off. Ellis leaned through and balanced himself in the middle of the dashboard between Chris and Vin. Running skilled hands over Chris's body, the paramedic patted the blond on the arm to reassure him.

"Yeah, sure," he called back absently, presuming Buck was talking about the kid in the car up on the blacktop. He addressed his next remarks to Chris.

"We're gonna have to cut you boys outta here, but I'll just finish checking y'all out first, okay? Stick with me guys, you're doing great." He swiped at the cut over Chris's brow and dabbed at the blood under his nose, assessing it to be broken. "Tell me where it hurts."

Chris huffed. "Be quicker to say where it doesn't. Aaaaarrrrgggghhhh!"

The paramedic instantly removed his hand from Chris's chest. "I'm putting my money on that spot being tender." He offered a quick smile at the look he received. "Between the impacts of the wheel, and your seatbelt, you've taken quite a blow there. Once you're out of here and in the ambulance, I'll put an icepack on it." He turned on hearing an instruction that the firefighters wanted to start cutting. He said something back before sliding in further forward to check on Vin.


Noting his patient's legs were tucked in tight under the dashboard, Spud smiled at the bedraggled man. "Where's the pain?" he asked, softly as he examined the Texan.

"Head hurts." Tanner lowered his voice so Chris and Buck couldn't hear. "Can't feel my legs."

The paramedic carefully checked Vin's legs. He withdrew his gloved hand from one to note it had blood on it. "Not to worry, they're wedged in there, but I can't feel any breaks, and there's a strong pulse in each foot. Probably just gone numb due to being in one position so long."

Despite the lack of confirmation, Vin felt comforted by Ellis's words. At least they weren't smashed up, or worse…detached, as he feared.


Getting to Buck proved to be a precarious stretch. Balancing on the middle section of the back of the damaged front seat, Ellis ran the beam from a flashlight over every inch of the tall man. "Looks like you took a bump to the head like the other guys, but your pupils are reacting nicely to light, which is good. What's hurting?"

"My shoulder and side the most," Buck replied, 'but nothing like as bad as the ache in my heart', he thought to himself as how JD was doing, filled his thoughts. "Did he look okay - the kid who called you?"

Spud Ellis was surprised by the question. "Sure. He looked cold, and scared, but yeah, he looked good."

Hearing that, Buck relaxed a little. 'Be with you soon, Kid'.


Machinery whirred noisily to life, and Spud and his partner applied neck collars, and covered the three with safety blankets before withdrawing to a safe distance. In minutes, a cutter sliced through the metalwork of the large truck and as soon as the side and hood were lifted away, several more paramedics and a doctor quickly checked on the casualties. The firefighters then made the final cuts to set the three men free.


Buck was relieved to find that once he was eased out of his jammed position, he moved quite well; a little stiff, and mighty sore, but better than he'd feared. The three were strapped to backboards, then onto gurneys for the journey up the embankment. Chris grabbed a firefighter's arm.

"I need to call home."

The man nodded. "Sure, let's get you into an ambulance, and we'll do just that, okay?"

Vin groaned, causing Chris and Buck to become agitated until Vin spoke. The Texan winced. "My legs…Jeez…that kills."

Spud winked. "It's the circulation coming back." He patted his arm. "That's a good sign."

Clearing the ridge, all three noticed that the man who found them was waiting and standing with a youth. Buck glanced around frantically, his movements severely restricted due to the neck brace and backboard. "Who's that?"

Ellis leaned in. "That's the kid you were asking about."

"That's not JD," Buck confirmed.

"Oh…well, that's who called 9-1-1."

Any remaining color drained from the big man's features. "So…where's JD? My kid brother…our brother...he was with us. Why isn't he here? WHERE'S JD?!"

No amount of soothing talk could ease the man's distress. Vin and Chris instantly picked up on the dilemma. Vin joined in the anguished inquisition, while Chris took as deep a breath as his bruised chest would allow, and spoke more calmly than he felt.

"Sir, there were four of us in the truck. Our brother's missing." Larabee's soft, anguished words sent several men scurrying back down the slope to join those still with the wreckage. Buck loudly protested during his assessment, and over the decision to take them on to the hospital; nevertheless, the doctor ordered the ambulances to leave, promising they would keep them apprised of the situation. Before returning to the wreckage, he climbed into a warm fire truck and called the cell numbers Chris gave to him, starting with a name he recognized…Nathan Jackson.


Three men tensed in their vehicle when Nathan's phone rang. Unable to handle the suspense, Ezra pulled his Jag over and watched the animated conversation. When Nathan closed his phone, and on seeing his expression, the pair pounced on him with questions.

"The boys have been in a road accident. First evaluations suggest it's bad but not life threatening for three of them."

"The fourth?" Josiah asked, not eager to hear the answer. Sensing they would need to get moving, Ezra re-started the car.

"The guys confirmed JD was in the truck, but not at the scene. There's a search ongoing as we speak."

Ezra pulled out. "Did the accident occur on this road?" Nathan's nod was all he needed. They continued in silence until they came upon flashing blue lights several miles ahead.


JD had staggered and lurched toward the lit up area ahead of him, stumbling several times, only to set off again in the hope of learning how his brothers were doing since he left. As he faltered, the murky, undulating pathway became a blur of shadows and silhouettes. He cried out when arms encircled him and aggravated his bruised ribs and injured arm. He knew someone was talking to him, but JD was past the point of coherency. The only words filtering through the mire in his brain came out of his mouth in a slurred rush. "My brothers are hurt…help, please."

The youth's anxiety tore into the attending doctor as he and several EMTs eased JD to the ground and leaned him back against a firefighter. The doctor was halfway through his appraisal of JD's condition when a booming voice cut through the babble. "JD!"


Sliding a little on the saturated blacktop, Ezra cut the engine when they reached the emergency vehicles. The three brothers jumped out of the Jag and approached one of the firefighters. Seconds later, and despite warnings and protests against it, they were hurtling down the greasy embankment toward the floodlit wreck, to arrive just after JD's evaluation had begun. Relief surged through their tense bodies on seeing their brother. Desperate to announce their arrival, Josiah called out to their missing sibling. "JD!"

The doctor tried to stay unruffled when the boy in his care became animated and anxious, but due to the cold rain, and the injuries draining him of rational thought, JD was barely able to mumble. Josiah's large hand rested gently on JD's soaked tresses as he squatted next to him.

The easterner looked up. "The…guys…hurt…"

"It's alright, John. I'm told everyone's okay and that you're doing fine." Josiah had no idea how JD was doing, but it felt right to soothe him just then. Ezra hovered, his gaze transfixed between the wreck, and JD's battered form. Nathan crouched down next to Doctor Radcliffe, but simply observed. No brother moved until JD was secured onto a gurney and carried up the incline. Nathan insisted he travel with the paramedics, so from that point, and content in the knowledge that JD was in safe hands, Josiah and Ezra jumped into their vehicle and went on to the hospital to check on Chris, Buck, and Vin.


Vin was in hell. Having been stripped of his wet clothes, it took what seemed like hours before he was offered a gown that, frankly, was more than a mite drafty. After x-rays pinpointed any issues, and confirmed they were not life threatening, he was cleaned and attended to, and grateful to learn that his head injury only needed to be glued and not stitched. A kind nurse washed out the blood from his hair, and cleaned up the smattering of cuts to his face caused by the broken glass. Vin was currently waiting on a support bandage for his badly bruised and swollen left knee.

The trapped limb had twisted under the dashboard, straining ligaments and tendons. Thankfully, the laceration on the calf of his other leg wasn't too severe. He was instructed to rest the swollen leg completely for no less than one week, then another two weeks to get around by means of crutches or a cane.

Every inch of him ached, but he was assured the bruising, while considerable, was not too deep. Vin's thoughts turned to his brothers. Buck's audible, distant protests over JD's whereabouts had ceased for now. Vin couldn't be sure if the strain from the accident was the main cause, but the Texan found himself emotionally drained from Buck's distress, and the lack of news on how his family was doing, especially JD.

Vin was eventually transported to a side room where, a few minutes later a calm washed over him when Chris was wheeled in to join him. The pair locked gazes, and Vin felt some of the tension ease. He knew he couldn't fully relax until Buck and JD were with them. However, having Chris here now soothed his soul, and judging by the shimmer in Chris's green eyes, the blond was feeling no less affected.


Chris swallowed against the dryness in his throat, and thanked the nurse with him when she offered him water. Hearing Buck's anguish before Chris was taken to x-ray, had torn at the blond's heart. All three of them were distraught about leaving the crash site without knowing where JD was, and if he was okay, but Buck had vocalized his despair to the point where he was compromising his own condition.

Raising an aching arm, Chris touched his bruised chest…sternum, the doc had actually called it. He found it hurt to breathe deeply, and was told there was considerable bruising and a little swelling; but, although battered, the ribcage along with the truck's airbag, did their jobs well. He'd been unable to breathe in and out satisfactorily to give a breath test to the police, so had allowed them to take blood for testing. Chris knew he was clear, but it would be good to hear the cops say so.

He was starting to feel a little nippy with the ice packs sitting on his chest, though. Chris's head wound was stitched once he returned from x-ray, and soon after a nurse sponged out the blood in his hair. The fact that the bruising from his broken nose made him look like a raccoon, was thankfully lost on him, for now.


Like Vin, on arrival he was stripped of his wet clothes and eventually put in one of the unflattering hospital gowns. Chris needed the bathroom, and only realized when inside the toilet that, on the way there, his ass had hung out for all the world to see. Thank God he was too weary to care at this point. He was told it could take around four to six weeks for his chest to fully recover, so there was to be no lifting or sports until then. Two orderlies entered the ER and rolled his bed out. Chris was pushed into a side room, and when his gaze met intense blue eyes, part of his prayers was answered. Strong emotions washed over him and he didn’t attempt to hide them when he saw his brother, battered and bruised, but alive, and able to look back at him.


On top of his distress over Chris and Vin being injured, Buck's anguish of JD missing, and having to leave the wreck without him, brought out raw emotion in the tall brunet, and he vocalized it at every opportunity. He wanted answers, assurances, but none was forthcoming and so he kept going. Buck knew Chris and Vin were no less worried, but those two had a way of controlling their emotions…to a point. Buck…struggled.

Chris was a quiet, brooding, to eventual angry protector; Vin was tactical, and physical. Josiah was wise, and nurturing, Nathan skilled, and compassionate, and Ezra…Ezra was not a man to be toyed with; he had many ways to take his revenge, and all of them intimidating, but subtle.

Buck - Buck was emotional, vocal, passionate, and quick to anger if provoked…and any of his brothers hurting or under threat was instant provocation. Especially so if it was JD. His little brother had captured his heart from the get go, and no amount of teasing would sway Buck from his profound enjoyment of watching out for the ex-Bostonian. The brothers had dubbed them a modern day 'Laurel and Hardy', constantly on each other's case, and entertaining to boot. The pair hadn't consciously considered it, but clearly needed the interaction, and thrived on it; an incident like the accident was a catalyst to either of them going near-loco until news was forthcoming.

Medical staff had a hell of a time prepping Buck for his treatment. The naked brunet at one point attempted to leave the ER in an effort to learn of JD's fate. However, his battered body let him down and he ungraciously succumbed to their ministrations. A diagnosis of a severely bruised shoulder, a head injury much the same as Vin's, and a bruised hip and ribs, along with multiple cuts, finally gave the doctors free rein to administer a mild sedative, safe in the knowledge it would not compromise his condition. Buck's distress, along with excessive movement aggravating his injuries, gave them little choice in the closing stages of his treatment.


A dozing Buck joined Chris and Vin in the side room, blissfully unaware of their concerned looks. A doctor walked into the room and smiled.

"It's only a temporary precaution. Buck should wake in an hour or so. We've just heard that your missing brother was located close to the scene of the accident, and is on his way here by ambulance with Doctor Jackson as I speak."

Both men were visibly moved by the news. "Is he okay?" Chris asked.

"Initially he was walking, and apart from bruising and a head lac…" the doctor smiled, apologetically. "A head wound, I have no more information." You shouldn't worry; both Doctor Radcliffe and Doctor Jackson are excellent physicians…"

"Nathan's our brother," Vin informed the man.

"Ah…well then I need say no more. Buzz if you require assistance. I'll be back later when there's more news."

After watching him leave, both brothers glanced over at Buck. Chris looked back at Vin. "Man, we were lucky, Pard."

"I reckon we've earned ourselves some good luck, Cowboy." Vin sighed. "Sure hope the kid's okay, too."

Chris nodded. "He's tough…as well as being a Dunne, he's a Larabee…JD'll be fine."

"Can I…get that in…writing?"

All eyes turned to Buck. Chris shook his head. "Doc said you'd be out for at least an hour."

Buck winced, and looked at the pair. He raised the head of his bed, while taking in the image of their bruises and cuts, and wondering if he looked as bad.

He did.

"Got me the constitution of an elephant. It'll take more than a knock-out pill to keep me down." Buck swallowed nervously as he assessed his brothers. "You two okay?"

Chris carefully nodded. Vin laughed, softly. He pointed at his elevated leg, grimacing at the pull to his injuries. "Never better."


On entering the hospital it took only seconds to locate their siblings, and Josiah and Ezra were directed to their room. Gently opening the door, the pair stepped inside, relief evident as three gazes met theirs. While one fat tear rolled down his cheek, Josiah clasped his hands and brought them to his chin as if in prayer. Ezra brought a hand to his neck, a sure sign the southerner was attempting to hide the emotion rippling in his throat.

"Good to see you," was all Ezra could say.

"You are indeed a beautiful sight to behold, brothers," Josiah half spoke, half sobbed. He glanced between the three casualties, resting his gaze on Buck. "JD's okay, beat-up, but talking…and asking after you all."

Chris and Vin noticeably relaxed. Buck's emotions spilled over, and Ezra walked across and perched on his bed. Taking Buck's hand in his, Standish offered a tight smile. "We thought you might be pleased."

Buck sobbed out a laugh. "Yeah…something like that."

They all looked toward the door when it opened, happy to see Nathan walk in. "Hey guys, quite a shopping trip, huh?" Approaching the beds, he read each chart before looking at them again.

"JD's in the ER. He's slightly hypothermic, needs stitches in a small, but deep head lac, and he may have broken his left arm." Nathan smiled reassuringly at the concerned expressions. "He's doing okay. I'm going back there, now; I just wanted to check in on you guys, first." Noticing Buck trying to get up, Nathan moved to his side and helped Ezra carefully ease him down again.

"Knock it off, Buck. No way, no how, are you moving from this bed." Nathan touched a hand to Buck's cheek. "I'll take care of him for you, and before you know it, he'll be here, okay?"

Buck glanced at his nodding brothers, and bobbed his own head. "Thank you."

With a pat to Buck's arm, Nathan moved to do the same to Vin and Chris, and then left the room.


JD was so cold, yet he was barely shivering. Shouldn't he be shivering more? But then again, he really didn't have the energy to do so. Things were happening around him, he got that, but it seemed to be occurring in fits and starts, so JD figured he must be a little in and out of it. In the ambulance, and when heavy material covered his wet clothes it had felt good. However, if the fella in control of that siren could have just toned it down a bit sooner…or switched it off, things wouldn't have been half bad, but while it sounded, the piercing noise had made his aching head throb. Sensing JD's discomfort, a paramedic eventually mumbled something to someone; JD couldn't see who from his strapped position; but the noise ceased.

JD knew he was inside a hospital, despite his drowsiness. He turned to a familiar voice and saw Nathan smiling down at him. His brother was speaking, but the buzzing in JD's ears made it impossible to work out what he was saying. All at once, Nathan's features disappeared. Fear for his brothers returned, and the youngest Larabee could feel panic welling up inside him. Where were they? Were they all okay? Was Buck okay?

He was weak, but surprised himself how much fight he still had in him. Many hands on him quelled any thoughts of getting off the bed anytime soon. In less than a minute, his clothes were cut off him, to be replaced by foil blankets and heated pads. Everything from his eyes and ears, to his toes were examined. The visit to x-ray was a blurred memory, as was the insertion of a catheter…thank God.

Sometime later, JD awoke long enough to realize his left arm was strapped and secured to the rail of his bed, in order to immobilize it. Nathan was at his side while he was being pushed along a brightly lit corridor. They entered a room full of familiar voices. However, his drowsiness and pain meds ensured he wasn't quite ready to leave his peaceful and comforting stasis just yet, so JD allowed himself to drift off to the sound of Nathan saying something to someone about waking him every hour or so. 'Damn Nathan,' he thought. 'That's harsh…I'm exhausted.'


"Oh, thank you, God!"

Buck's relief was so profound it encircled the room. All six men watched as their youngest brother's bed was rolled into place and the orderlies snapped on the brakes. Nathan gave the others a quick overview of JD's bumps, lumps and bruises, including the youth's elbow hyperextension injury. That information made all five cringe at the thought of JD's elbow being forced to bend backwards during the truck's tumble down the embankment. Nathan explained it would take several weeks of rest to recover, but it wouldn't need a cast, just strapping.

The conversation in the room brightened considerably, despite the fact JD was asleep. All seven brothers together had an overwhelming effect on the injured men's demeanors; to the point that their doctor, pleased with their progress, assured them that, with appointments issued for check-ups, and barring any complications discovered during doctors' rounds, they could all be released later that day. At separate instances, all the men took time to glance at JD. Nathan woke the youth up every hour, but JD didn't stay alert for long. Later, as Buck watched his kid brother for the umpteenth time, he wondered if he was the only one aware that during the last hour or so, JD was feigning sleep.


The third time JD was forced to wake up and talk to Nathan he struggled to fall back to sleep. Lying there with his eyes closed, he listened to his brothers talking about their ordeal, or at least, what they could recall of it; but all he could think about was that he had forced them to go shopping; and he failed to get help for them. And then there was the terrible fear of not knowing they were okay for what seemed like a lifetime.

A cop came into the room to take statements and to inform Chris that his blood alcohol level result was zero. He left with a passing comment that all their purchases had been recovered, and were in good shape. The plastic carriers they were in had protected them nicely from the elements. Some crockery was damaged, and the truck was only good for scrap, now, but in consideration, the outcome wasn't too bad.

One by one, the voices quieted, until all that remained were the whispered goodbyes of Nathan, Josiah and Ezra, before heading home for what was officially left of the night. In the silence, JD began to tire, and finally drifted off burdened with a heavy guilt about dragging his brothers out for, what he hoped would be, the start of a new and fun tradition for the family…Black Friday shopping.

"He didn't fool you either, huh?" Buck said quietly to Chris and Vin, on noticing their glances toward the now slumbering JD.

Both men shook their heads. "We'll get to the bottom of it when we're home," Chris assured.


After leaving the hospital room to allow their brothers to settle down, the three visitors decided to have some coffee before venturing home. Nathan slipped away from the hospital restaurant to cancel his next shift, so he could be home with his injured brothers for a few days. Ezra stood outside his brothers’ room to assure himself they were sleeping comfortably, and Josiah wanted to spend a quiet moment giving thanks.

Inside the hospital chapel, the ex-preacher lit four candles, before picking up three more and lighting those, too. He bowed his head, uttering a prayer for the safe delivery of his four brothers, and that they were still seven strong. Sensing someone joining him, he looked to his left.

"Figured I'd join you," Nathan said, sitting next to him. They both looked up and smiled when Ezra also took a seat.

"Might I ask you say one for me, Josiah?" Ezra asked with a hint of a tease, while sitting down on the man's right. The big man chuckled and patted the southerner's knee.

After savoring the companionship, and the tranquility of the chapel, the three men bowed their heads in silent prayer and contemplation; while thankful that the difficult night was over. A little later, Josiah looked to Ezra and spoke.

"Are the boys okay?"

The southerner nodded. "Sound asleep." He turned to the pair, amusement dancing in his gaze that Josiah had deduced the southerner visited his injured family before joining them in the chapel. Relieved and exhausted the three men rose to their feet and headed home.


One week on and Vin was able to put weight on his knee, even if he couldn't walk without crutches just yet. Unable to do much around the place, the Texan was occasionally testy, and a little stir-crazy; but on a bad day, he would remind himself that it could have been much worse. There were occasional unseasonably warm days, on which Vin would enjoy simply sitting and watching the world go by. He vowed to himself that, when recovered he would take more time to stop and smell the horse shit, instead of just shoveling it.


Chris had learned a painful lesson when he attempted to check a mare's hooves; one that taught him that bending to lift even a horse's leg was off the agenda for a while. Like Vin, he was painfully frustrated at his inability to perform manual labor, although he was very much still at the helm. One evening talking to Vin seemed to put things into proportion for the pair, and from then, they made a point of sitting quietly and taking their recovery a day at a time. Nathan was convinced that their new attitude was actually speeding up the healing process.


Buck asked Ezra to drive him to Rosie's for a quick look over the place and to bring home his books to work on. His delight at the fuss made of him while there, ensured their trip home was delayed by several hours. As he was unable to lift, Buck appointed Inez in charge until he could return to full duties. Like Vin and Chris, he took that time to heal, and appreciate they were in a position to do so. Making sure JD took it easy ensured Buck did, too. His only dismay, and something not missed by the others, was that JD had immersed himself in rebuilding the new computer from the components purchased on Black Friday. Buck was convinced it was all a cover, but for what, he had yet to work out.


Nathan helped as much as his shift work at the hospital would allow, and Josiah and Ezra undertook most of the daily chores, much to the latter's dismay - or so he made out. JD swore the southerner was making more of a deal of it than he truly felt, assuring them all he'd heard Ezra whistling while out in the stables one morning. Standish had quashed that instantly by suggesting JD take lessons from Vin in the recognition of native birdsong, for that was most certainly the only whistling occurring while he was performing manual labor.

He convinced no one.


It was halfway through the second week home from the hospital. During dinner one evening, and over an animated conversation about the four's exploits during their Black Friday shopping trip; the others were prompted to stop JD from wanting to leave the table and to finally talk over his obvious issues about the incident that day.

"I think we've let you brood long enough, JD," Chris stated, gesturing for the boy to sit down. "What's the problem?"

Feigning lack of knowledge, Dunne shrugged. "What? I can't be a little down after having a car accident?" His cheeks colored and he dropped his gaze, ashamed of saying that to a man who had just gone through the same awful incident, and in front of two others who suffered likewise. When JD finally managed to look back up, the anguish in his features caused Chris to feel bad about bringing up the subject. Nevertheless, as Chris's mom used to say; 'the eggs are cracked and in the bowl…might as well make the omelet'. The blond's gaze met Buck's and Vin's, indicating his decision.

"Kid?" Buck's soft tone prompted JD's admission.

"I thought it would be fun," JD rasped out through a thickening throat. "If I hadn't pushed for us to go out that day…"

If collective realization could make a sound, it would have been like a heavy thud, followed by the twang of a coiled spring. "JD," Vin started. "Not one of us felt obliged to go." He smiled. "We wanted to."

"Hell Kid, it's the most fun I've had with my clothes on in years," Buck grinned, his smile widening at the groans and airborne pieces of bread roll that accompanied his statement.

"JD, it was a great day," Chris added.

"And we saved a considerable amount…"

"See!" JD interrupted Ezra. "That's why I never said anything. I knew you'd all try and make me feel better…"

"So, what if it does? It's still the truth," Chris insisted. "Hell, I was only saying to the guys the other day that I hope we can all go next year."

JD narrowed his eyes as he glanced between them all. "For real?"

"Son…it was an accident," Josiah reminded. "Yes, you went out especially, but as I recall, Vin, Chris, and Buck had already planned to do so. I have no doubt Ezra would lay odds that, had you not made your plans, you would have decided to accompany Buck."

Ezra nodded his agreement.

"And maybe the truck's seat bolts did shear and cause problems, but it was a sturdy beast, and likely saved your lives. Would any of you taken it had you not needed a bigger vehicle?" Nathan asked.

"Your collective trip and the motive for it was the reason for your vehicular choice that day," Ezra summarized.

The others bobbed their heads in agreement. JD swallowed the thick lump in his throat. He couldn't speak, but it was clear he was absorbing the information.

"JD, are we good, now?" Chris asked.

Slowly, a trademark Dunne smile lit up the boy's features. "Yeah," he finally choked out. "We're good." JD nodded to each of them. "Thanks, guys."


Over dessert the four relived their shopping trip; of lining up, maneuvering through hordes of demented and determined shoppers to acquire the items on JD's lists; to literally being dragged along a store floor by wild-eyed folk determined on a bargain. Chris described the moment he watched a pair of jeans literally tear in two from the crotch, as one lady snatched up the garment at the same time as him, and a 'tug of war to the death' ensued. It was at that point, and the realization that he was struggling to maintain his cool, outer exterior, that he gave up on his bargain hunting.

In the melee, Vin had his wallet snatched, only to retrieve it seconds later with a flying tackle to the thief. JD stated on that day he'd heard and learned cuss words which literally made his ears go red, while Buck couldn't figure what all the fuss was about; ladies had been happy to help him choose clothes and crockery, followed by handing him their cell numbers at the checkouts. All four had suffered bruised butts, though with so many hands around them, they had no way of telling who was pinching their asses.


The laughter in the room lifted the mood and partially erased the idea that any one of them…or all four, could have died that day. Suddenly, it didn't matter. They were here, alive…and still seven in number.

However, they decided that, during their shopping trip on the following year's Black Friday…maybe they'd play safe and wear padded underwear.

The end

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