Little Donkey

by Sue M

Alternate Universe "Brothers Larabee"

Follows "What Breaks a Man"

Ratings/Warnings: Some bad language

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

Thanks to Phyllis for letting me play in her sandbox and for betaing this in her usual inimitable way!

Thanks to Blackraptor for giving my stories a home

"Do you have to leave?"

Buck's heart broke at the expression on his brother's face, as JD leaned against the doorframe to Buck's room, while watching him finish packing. Buck approached his youngest brother and pulled him close, mindful of his injuries.

"We won't be long, squirt, I promise."

"But... all of you?" he sighed.

The brunet felt the tremor run through the youth's body and pushed him back a little to look at him, saddened by the heavy tears pooling on JD's black lower lashes, which dropped as the boy blinked, despite JD's soft curse and efforts to stop them. Buck pulled him in again, this time embracing him fully. JD was nothing if not resilient, but this last week had seen him subdued and jittery, constantly looking for the company of one of his brothers. There had been a small breakthrough, but as the brothers' trips drew closer...circumstances dictating they all be away on business at the same time, and with JD deemed still too poorly to travel, it was decided just prior to departure day, he would be spending time at home with Nettie, alternating between Nettie and Inez.

Even with Buck's teasing about the beautiful Hispanic woman staying under their roof, JD became dejected, to the point where Chris was prepared to either call off the trip or go against doctor's orders and take their youngest with them.

That's when JD had a moment of lucidness and rallied. No one had been fooled, but respected the boy's decision. Only Buck got to see the ache in JD's heart.

"Four days... that's all, and Ezra said he'd catch the red-eye if it gets him here a day earlier." Buck placed a soft kiss into JD's dark hair, knowing the youth would never feel it, but it made Buck feel better. He felt a nod and then JD moved away to again look at him.

"You'll call?"

"Every chance I get. I'll even get Chris and Vin to growl down the phone at ya."

Wilmington's face beamed at a semblance of a smile. "Doc's coming out tomorrow to change your dressings and check on you. We'll be back in time for the stitches to come out."

Buck leaned in to rest his forehead against JD's, swallowing the bile in his throat that rose as the image from the barn that night flashed through his mind. In his anger and frustration, Chris had snapped and disposed of every pitchfork they owned and initially, they had struggled to work the hay. His actions hadn't helped JD, but it had sure made Chris feel better, at least while he was snapping them. The new ones had arrived and now were always locked away after use. If someone was going to intrude on their property, they sure as hell weren't going to provide them with weapons again.

Picking up his bag from the bed and placing his free arm around the boy's shoulders, Buck guided JD out of his room and down the stairs. Ezra had left an hour earlier, surprising them all with an affectionate hug for his youngest brother. Nettie hovered in the kitchen while the remaining brothers said their goodbyes.

Nathan's back to back shifts would keep him at the hospital for fifty- six hours, but at least he was close by. Before he had headed out, he had checked JD's dressings himself, promising faithfully he would swap out his shift if possible, but due to the flu bug going around the hospital, it was unlikely.

Josiah's hug was firm but gentle, his large hand cradling the back of the dark head. "Stay safe, John Dunne." He swallowed hard at the irony; one thing JD didn't feel at home at the moment, was safe.

Vin took something from around his neck and placed it around JD's.

The easterner lifted it off his chest to look at it. "What is it, Vin?"

"I once chased a guy onto reservation land. Didn't find him, but I met some pretty amazing residents. One man, Thomas Greyfeather, gave me this when I left... six months later." Vin smiled at the memory of his time there. "He said it was to keep me safe from the dark spirits and would protect anyone I cared for if I should choose to pass it on."

JD shook his head. "Vin... I can't... "

Tanner grinned, "Yeah, you can, I want you to have it." With that, he held both JD's shoulders and squeezed. "See ya soon."

The four men picked up their bags and headed for the door. Just as they reached it, Chris dropped his bag, turned and walked back to JD, snatching him up in a fast and firm embrace. He whispered into his ear.

"It won't always feel like this, it'll get better, I promise."

JD looked at him, his eyes glistening and full of affection. "I know," he replied, softly.

Nettie had joined them and, standing behind JD, pulled him back against her, wrapping her arms carefully around him as she looked at the four brothers.

"He'll be fine. You know we'll spoil him."

They all nodded approvingly and exited the door, but not before Buck had ruffled JD's hair one last time.

With a heavy heart, JD watched Chris' Ram pull away, Josiah, off to the airport, to go to wherever he was going, he hadn't been specific, but JD had gotten the feeling he was visiting someone and that it was urgent, and Chris, Vin and Buck to a three-day horse-breeders' auction. This was a huge event and they couldn't afford to miss it and JD would have been going too... but not this year, not now.

Four days... they'd be back in four days... he could live with that.


It was that time of year, lots of horse auctions and stock sales, leading up to one big three-day event, so the Larabee brothers were at their busiest. One smaller auction, in Great Falls, Montana, had all the brothers traveling for an overnight stay. It had been a great two days, but their business was concluded and they were preparing to leave.


Six of the brothers were laughing and chatting as they walked toward their RV. JD slowed, dropping to the back of the group, looked back at them, sighing and then turning to head in the opposite direction and stop at a corral. He leaned on the fence and stared at the sad little animal standing alone to the far side, his heart aching at the drooping stance of the little beast. A man approached him, smiling.

"You again?"

JD returned the smile and nodded toward the animal. "Why is he so sad?"

The man also leaned on the fence. "The gray your brother just bought, well they've been together since they were small. I only brought him today because he was making so much noise when I loaded up the horses for auction. I guess now, he's missing him."

JD felt a lump in his throat. "What'll happen to him?"

The man shrugged. "I honestly don't know. I don't want to put him down, but if I can't find him a home, I might have to. He's never been alone, not sure how he's going to cope."

Reaching into his back jeans pocket, JD took out his wallet. "How much?"

The man frowned. "Seriously? Mister Larabee, I don't think your brother wanted him... he's not... "

"Actually it's not Larabee... " JD stopped, smiling briefly, it would never really be his name, but, when he heard it said out loud... it had a nice ring to it... a sense of... family.

"... it's JD, and I want him, so Chris is just going to have to suck it up." As he handed over his credit card, he swallowed hard and prayed he wouldn't regret his words.


Just as the six brothers reached the door to the RV, Buck turned and looked at the group.

"Where's JD?"

Nathan frowned. "He was right with us. Where'd he go?"

Chris looked at Vin. "Did he say anything to you?"

Tanner shook his head. "Nope, but then, he hasn't said much since ya bought the gray and he saw the... "

They looked intently at each other.

"Oh no... "

Buck turned to Chris. "Now hold on, stud... we don't know for sure, yet, and besides... would it really hurt?"

Chris pulled his best scowl. "We're a horse ranch, Buck... we have a reputation... "

Josiah tapped Chris's shoulder and pointed. They all turned to see JD grinning sheepishly, pulling behind him a sad little gray donkey.

"I know, I know... " JD raised a hand against the tirade he was expecting, glancing earnestly at the six men in front of him.

"... I... I couldn't leave him there... he was missing the gray. I'll take care of him, I promise, he won't be any trouble." His throat was tight suddenly, the plight of this little donkey was truly hitting him and he was nervous of the answer he was about to receive.

Five brothers bit back grins; Chris walked toward his youngest brother, arms folded across his chest. JD swallowed nervously and stared at the ground. He loved Chris, but he was still a little intimidated by him sometimes.

"We run a horse ranch, JD."

Dunne nodded. "I know."

Buck chuckled as JD raised his head and produced 'the look'.

Larabee sighed, ignoring the quiet laughter behind him as his gaze softened.

"You gonna save every damn stray you come across, kid?"

Sensing a change in mood, JD brightened and grinned. "Maybe."

Chris gave the grin that told JD he was not about to get his ass whupped. "Go put him with the others for transport."

JD beamed. "Sure thing, thanks Chris."

The blond watched him go, grinning and shaking his head. He heard Vin's cackle.

"Eee aaawww... always gets his own way!"

The other four burst out laughing, Chris narrowed his eyes.

"Shut up, Tanner!"


Stumbling in the dark as he attempted to put on his jeans, JD looked to the light flooding through his bedroom door as Chris appeared in the doorway.

"We can't take another night of this, JD."

"I know... I know, I'm on it."

Three nights on and the donkey still hadn't settled. Each morning around two, he would bray... and bray... until JD went out to see to him. Pulling on his second sneaker while wrestling with his sweatshirt, JD grabbed his cap and stumbled out of his room and down the stairs. Punching off the alarm, JD unbolted the door and crossed the yard to the stables. He hit the night light on the wall.

"Sorry guys," he apologized to the horses as he made his way to the donkey's stall. "Alright, I'm here... knock it off!"

The donkey instantly went quiet. Entering the stall, JD picked up a blanket from a corner and snuggled down in the hay, pulling his cap down and the blanket over him as he did so.

"Happy now?"

In answer, the animal seemed to relax and soon both JD and the donkey were asleep.


Early the next morning, JD was brushing his little gray donkey vigorously. It didn't seem like he'd been brushed properly for some time, and JD's first three attempts were greeted by constant movements and a lot of noise from the little beast. Today, JD was determined.

"You're gonna love this, trust me."

The donkey lifted his head and as he brought it down, knocked the brush out of JD's hands with his chin.


Bending to pick it up, he felt a nudge to his butt which toppled him over. JD turned and sitting on the floor, frowned at the little animal.

"Oh yeah... think that's funny, huh?" As he got up, he felt his cap being lifted off his head. He looked up to see it firmly between the donkey's teeth.

"You think you're cute, don't you?" He snatched at his cap but quickly realized it was not being relinquished any time soon and a tug of war ensued.


"I'm not sure JD's gonna agree with this idea, stud."

Chris looked at Buck, then the rest of his brothers as they sat around the table, just after breakfast.

"I know it'll be hard, but he'll be with his own kind and our regular donations will help them out a lot."

"I fear JD has grown quite attached to the little animal," Ezra pointed out.

Chris sighed. "I know, but he slept in the damn stall again last night. Instead of the donkey pining after the gray, he's pining after JD, now. The kid can't go on like this... and neither can we. Trust me, I think this will work."

Josiah addressed them. "Well, I assume JD gets a choice in this."

"A choice in what?"

The brothers turned as JD joined them, noting his disheveled appearance.

"What the hell have you been doing?" Vin asked.

JD cracked a huge grin as he rubbed the palms of his hands down his jeans, then picked at the bacon left in a serving dish on the table. "That little donkey's got quite a sense of humor. I think I'll call him Toby. I've introduced him to Milagro; they seem to get on really well. Maybe he'll be better tonight." He finally looked at them all. "What do I have a choice in?"

Chris stood and handed him the letter from the Four Corners Donkey Sanctuary. When JD finished reading, he looked up.


"It's worth thinking about," Chris suggested. "He'll be with other donkeys, and our regular donation will ensure him and the others are taken care of."

JD stared back at his brothers, trying hard to hide his emotions. He'd gotten very fond of the little guy, and getting rid of him hadn't even entered JD's head. He needed to think... escape... before his emotions got the better of him. The youth jerked his thumb toward the door, walking backwards as he did so.

"I, err... just need to go finish up."

Chris watched him leave then turned to the others. Their expressions said it all. "Shit. I'd better go after him."


JD leaned on the stall door, watching, as Milagro and Toby became acquainted. It looked like the friendship might work. Both animals stuck their heads over the stall door to greet their master and JD obliged with a scratch to their ears.

"I'm real sorry, Toby. I thought we could give you somewhere you could feel safe... somewhere you could call home. Looks like my brothers don't think it's working out. The new place they picked out for you looks good, though... lots of other donkeys for you... " he smiled, "... who knows, you might even meet a nice lady donkey." A heavy sigh left the easterner as he pondered what Chris had told him, unaware of the blond's entrance into the stables until he felt a hand on his shoulder.

"I'm sorry, JD, I didn't realize how strongly you might feel about this."

JD shrugged, not looking at his brother. "I just thought it was kinda neat, y'know? Us finding him like that. He was all alone... all he'd ever had was one companion his whole life and he was so sad because his friend was taken away from him. But we were there and he had the chance of a new life... make new friends... be around people that would... " he swallowed, "... care about him."

Chris's heart clenched. Dear God... the kid was... he sounded like he was comparing the donkey's life... to his own, taking the family's rejection personally. He squeezed JD's shoulder.

The youth continued. "You're right, Chris... he should be with his own kind... call the sanctuary... tell them... "

"No... "

The easterner turned sad eyes to his brother.

"No, JD... it was only a thought, nothing concrete, or planned, just... a suggestion. Toby's welcome here for as long as you want him. I came up with the idea because I thought maybe the little fella was getting too much for you. We'll work it out, kid... it's no big deal."

JD sniffed. "Really, you're not just saying that because I look like I'm about to bawl... which I'm not... though, I won't lie... I'm pretty damn close."

Chris huffed out a laugh and moved his hand from JD's shoulder to the back of his neck. "You're so like your mom... she used to wear her heart on her sleeve, too. I loved her... we all did, so I guess that leaves no doubt in your mind of how we feel about you. Consider the subject closed. Toby's here and he's staying... unless you say otherwise. Okay?"

JD nodded. "Thank you. I'll make it work, Chris... I promise."

Larabee grinned. "I don't doubt that for a minute, kid. Now move... we have a busy day."


One week on and the brothers were around the house and the yard, enjoying a quiet family day. JD had been watching Josiah for some time. The man seemed preoccupied, reading and re-reading a letter he had received a few days ago. Buck was watching JD, amused at how the young man would appear to move toward the oldest brother, only to change his mind and turn away. The brunet caught JD's eye and patted the seat next to him, smiling as the younger man joined him.

"He'll share when he's ready, kid. Not everyone's like me and you... an open book."

Dunne grinned at that. "I guess we are, aren't we? Does it bother you... that we're so easy to read?"

Wilmington shook his head. "Nope. Now, how's Toby?"

JD grinned wider. "Aww, he's great, he's really settled with Milagro, gets on well with Samson, Sage and Chaucer, too. Bit wary of Peso and Pony though."

Buck laughed. "What about Beavis?" he asked of his big gray.

"Funny thing... " JD chuckled, "... they're never far from each other."

Buck beamed, understanding perfectly what his brother meant. He watched JD stand; nodding to him as the youth gestured he was heading for the corral, clutching a brown bag he had, to take with him. One by one, each brother stopped or looked up to watch, fascinated, as JD moved through the horses, offering them treats, while a little gray donkey followed his every move, trotting behind him like an oversized puppy and occasionally nudging him hard in the back to remind him he wanted a treat too. Chris nodded to Vin and Ezra.

"I can't believe I'm going to say this, but, I'm gettin' kinda fond of the little fella."

Vin laughed, Ezra nodded. "Assuming you are talking about the donkey, I must concur, there is something rather... charming about him." Ezra chuckled. "Funny how that description fits both JD and the donkey." He continued. "I can see why someone with a heart such as JD's would be unwilling to give him up."

"You sayin' the kid's soft, Ezra?"

They turned as Buck joined them.

"Buck... I merely... "

"Just yankin' yer chain, Ezra," Buck chuckled, jangling a set of keys. "Ya'll coming to Rosie's later?"

Vin nodded, "Hell, yeah... it's tamale night, we'll be there!"

As Chris and Ezra laughed at Vin's enthusiasm, Buck wandered over to the paddock, just as an over-eager Pony was jostling JD for more treats. Something about the way Pony was closing in on the young man clearly upset Toby and he barged between man and beast and brayed crossly. Buck grinned as Pony stared back at the feisty little donkey, his ears flickering as he listened to the piercing noise.

Holding out his hand to the big black, the horse sniffed JD's palm, then lipped the piece of apple, backing off gracefully once he had it. JD offered some to Toby and the little donkey settled down. Turning, he grinned at the laughter from now all six brothers, five of who were gathered several yards away. He looked at Buck as he approached and called over.

"You setting off, now?"

Buck nodded. "See ya later?"

JD returned the gesture. "I'm driving, though, then I can come back and check on Toby if the others want to stay on."

Watching JD climb then jump the corral fence to join him, Buck frowned as he moved to meet him half-way. "Y'know, kid, the little fella's more than settled now."

Dunne smiled. "Oh, I know, but it's the first time we've all been off the ranch at the same time, I just wanted to be sure."

Placing his arm around his brother's shoulders, Buck walked him back to the others. "Okay... see you later, then."

As Buck's truck pulled away, JD turned to Josiah. "Hey... you okay, Josiah?"

The big man grinned. "I am. Thank you for asking."

Realizing he wasn't about to get anything more out of the man, JD nodded... maybe another time. As they walked back to the house, Vin nudged JD.

"See ya got yourself a guard-donkey."

They all laughed; JD just shook his head, eventually grinning back.


"Vin, JD, where do you put it all?" Inez queried as she cleared yet another empty plate that once held tamales, from their table.

"Why do you always assume it's us?" Vin mock-pleaded.

"Oh please," she scolded, "I have eyes."

They all laughed, JD patted his stomach. "Wow... I'm really full, now."

Josiah gently poked the younger man's stomach.

"Hey!" JD squeaked.

Sanchez grinned. "He's right... it's full."

As they all chuckled again when Vin winked and patted his own stomach, JD checked his hour to closing time. He stood, stretching. "I'm gonna head on home, check on Toby and maybe catch up online."

Chris nodded. "Okay, kid, see you a little later."

With a high-five to Buck as he passed the bar, JD left. Vin looked at the beautiful Mexican as she swatted her dishtowel at a grinning Buck.

"Hey, Inez... what's for dessert?"


Leaving their vehicle and creeping from around the back of the barn, three men looked at the ranch house, just one or two lights shining from the windows.

"You sure there's no one in?" Mac asked. He flinched as Bob turned the flashlight beam toward him.

"Yeah, I'm sure, Ray watched 'em all leave. These guys are rich, so I reckon there's plenty in that house to take that'll be worth our visit, 'sides... they owe me. Larabee had no cause to fire me like that."

As he finished speaking, headlights flashed from the approach road to the ranch. Bob hissed.

"Aww, what? SHIT! Quick... in here." Hastily, the three men lifted the large latch to the stables and slipped inside. Once in, Bob ran the beam around, catching the horses in it as he did so. Suddenly, they all flinched as loud braying pierced the near-silence.

"What the fuck... ?"


JD parked his Blazer in its usual spot and walked out of the garage, clicking the remote to close the door as he did so. As he began to cross the yard, he frowned when a familiar noise reached him. "Aww, hell, Toby... what now?"

Inside the stables, three men froze to the spot, realizing whoever had pulled up, would hear the noise. Seeing the stable doors opening, Ray, raced to the wall next to the door. His hand touched something leaning against it and his fingers curled around the slender object. Bob and Mac just stood there, watching the doors open.

JD frowned as he realized the stables weren't properly closed, pulling open one door to step inside. "Toby... what the hell... ?" He jerked to a stop as he saw the two men in front of him, then hid his eyes as a strong beam hit his face. He peered back through the light.

"Who are you?"


Switching everything off, six men locked up Rosie's and walked Inez to her car. Buck bent to kiss her cheek. "Thank you, darlin' you've been wonderful, as always."

Inez smiled, first at Buck, then at the others. "You are most welcome. I will see you tomorrow?"

Wilmington grinned. "That you will, beautiful lady."

With a shake of her head and the small laugh that sent Buck's heart beating faster, she started the car and drove away.

"We all set?" Chris asked.

"Hell yeah, I'm bushed," the brunet admitted.

Climbing into their vehicles, they headed for home.


For a few moments the three men stared at each other. Toby's braying was relentless and now accompanied by frenzied kicking at the stall door.

"What is he doing?" Bob cried, trying to look back into the gloom.

"What the hell are you doing in our barn?" JD asked, anger more in control than fear. He stared past the blinding light into the gloom. "Hey...I know you!"

Toby's kicking increased, the braying seemingly getting louder and clearly rattling the intruders. JD was furious to recognize one of the men.

"Get the hell off our property!" He stiffened as something sharp touched his back.

"Shut up!"

Now JD was nervous, as he realized there were three men, not two. An almighty crash came from the back of the stables and the men reacted. As the two in front of JD surged forward, JD instinctively stepped back, at the very second the man at the rear decided to demonstrate to the youth just how well armed he was.

The youth inhaled sharply as something penetrated his body from behind, weakening him instantly and he dropped on his knees, to the floor, raised angry voices barely audible to him as the pain kicked in

"Get the fuck out of here... NOW!"

The men didn't need telling twice and in seconds, they were gone. Falling forward, JD put his hands out to hold himself up, but he was shaking violently with the pain from his back. His arms collapsed and his face hit the gritty floor, hard.

"Oh God... " He knew his breathing was too fast but he couldn't control it. Weakly, he just managed to touch where he was hurting, finding it wet as he tugged at the thing in his back. Unable to hold it together any longer, he passed out; the last thing he heard was Toby's braying.


It was obvious JD was home, his Blazer was parked, but all the men were curious as to why the little donkey was making so much noise. Chris looked at the house; it was as they had left it earlier. He glanced at the others.

"I don't like this."

Treading warily, the six men approached the yard, slowing directly between the house and the stables, as several exterior lights kicked in and it became apparent the stable doors were open. Wishing he was armed, Chris pulled the door, gesturing to Ezra to hit the interior light switch. The sight that greeted them caused audible gasps.

"Jesus H Christ!"

Chris heard Buck, but was transfixed to the sight of a little gray donkey, braying while standing over the prone form of their bloody youngest brother. As soon as the men were inside, Toby stopped.

"Oh my word, what's he done to the boy?" Josiah asked.

"No... look," Vin approached Toby cautiously as he pointed to a discarded pitchfork, its prongs dripping gore. "I think he's just watchin' over him."

Despite his own shock at what he was seeing, Vin took the donkey by the neck and carefully backed him away from JD. As soon as they were clear, Nathan, Buck and Chris dropped to the floor.

"Josiah, Ezra I need towels and my for an ambulance."

Acknowledging Nathan's call, they set to work. Buck knelt next to JD's head and whispered to him, jerking as Nathan grabbed his hand and placed it over one of the bleeding wounds.

"Press down." He and Chris did just that as Nathan checked JD's vitals. Vin had now joined them and, taking off his jacket, slipped it carefully under JD's head.

"He's lyin' in the dirt," he offered to no one in particular.

Nathan just nodded then took over from Chris to apply pressure.

A soft moan drew their attention as JD feebly and awkwardly, his eyes closed, tried to touch where it hurt. Buck clutched his hand.

"No... stay still son, we're all here and help's coming."

Another soft noise, JD seemed to hear him, but his eyes remained shut tight. Chris stood and began pacing. Vin joined him, squeezing his arm.

"Easy, cowboy."

Chris stared at the younger man. Vin knew exactly what he was thinking because he was too... what the hell had happened here?

Once paramedics and police arrived, it was out of the brothers' hands. Chris watched Buck and Nathan get into the ambulance and continued watching until it pulled away, Ezra and Josiah following in the southerner's Jag. Chris and Vin stayed behind to secure the area and talk to police, thoughts of the last time they had seen JD, Buck talking to him and carding through his hair just before the ambulance doors closed, filling their minds,.

Chris addressed a police officer. "Tell me as soon as we can go... we need to go to the hospital... we need to be with our brothers."


Having been directed to surgical waiting, Vin and Chris walked into the room to find Buck, Ezra, Nathan and Josiah waiting anxiously. Nathan approached.

"It's looking good. He lost quite a lot of blood and has had to have a few stitches but apart from three penetrating wounds, nothing vital was hit." He lowered his voice, glancing quickly at Buck.

"It just caught his lower back and his hip, but the wound to his leg... " Nathan swallowed, "... just missed his femoral artery."

"That sounds bad," Chris rasped out.

Nathan nodded. "Let's just say... if it had been hit, we'd have been making funeral arrangements."

Vin closed his eyes. On opening them, he addressed them all.

"When can we see him?"

"Any minute now, he's already in recovery. Doc says if his stats stay stable, he can come home tomorrow." Nathan smiled. "I'll take a couple of days off to help keep an eye on him."

Larabee nodded his approval. "Thanks."

"Would anyone like a coffee?"

They all looked at Josiah, but before they could answer, a nurse came into the room.

"Hi. You can see him now. He's actually awake... well, almost, a little sleepy still. He has an IV for his fluids, meds and antibiotics and we have him on a monitor, just for now. Doctor Jackson... " She spoke to Nathan directly. "They decided not to catheterize him, Doctor Platt would like him to walk as soon as he's able... with assistance, of course."

Nathan nodded and the brothers followed her into the room, all relieved to see JD trying to look at them, but shocked at how pale and drawn he seemed as he lay on his side, one side of his face scraped red and bruised from when he hit the floor.

"Are the horses and Toby, okay?" JD's voice was small and a little slurred.

Buck grinned and stood to one side of the bed, his hand automatically reaching out to push trembling fingers through the youth's dark hair. He didn't answer... he couldn't, so he just nodded his head. His throat was tight, not just to see JD lying there, but knowing their intruders almost got far more than he cared to think about.

"They've decided we can take care of you at home, so get some rest, behave and hopefully this time tomorrow you'll be in your own bed."

JD looked at Chris as the blond spoke, nodding slowly. Larabee felt the hair stand up on the back of his neck at the look JD threw him. He pushed it to the back of his mind, for now. Vin, Ezra and Josiah came closer while Nathan read the chart hanging from the bottom of the bed. Vin winked.

"Get some sleep, kid. We want you home."

The meds and Buck's continuous stroking of JD's hair soon sent the youth to sleep.

Chris sighed. "Buck, you want this shift?"

The brunet nodded, his eyes fixed firmly to the form in the bed.

"I would like to stay, also."

Chris nodded to Ezra. "Okay... once he's in his own room, we'll leave. I've got a barn to clear up. Buck."

Wilmington turned to look at him.

"The police are dropping by tomorrow to take a statement from JD. I'll probably be here, but just to let you know."

Buck nodded again, knowing full well Chris *would* be there.


Chris stared at the clean floor of the stables, his stomach heaving at the thought of what they had walked in on only hours before. He turned to see Nettie and Inez standing in the doorway, smiling thinly, as he remembered Ezra mentioning he had called one of them.

"Thank you."

Nettie nodded. "Figured you boys had enough to do, without having to clear this lot up. How is he?"

"He's doing good; he might be home tomorrow... if he keeps improving." He glanced around as Vin, Josiah and Nathan walked in.   Inez smiled at them. "I would guess Buck is with JD?"

Chris answered just as something took his attention. "Yes... and Ezra."

Remembering the police bagging the bloody pitchfork, Larabee strode over to the wall and picked up one of three other pitchforks leaning against it, studying it for a moment. Suddenly, he howled, placed the head on the ground and, stamping hard, snapped the handle clean in two. He then proceeded to pick up the others one by one and do the same, his chest heaving from the exertion when he was done. On his way out, he looked at his brothers.

"I want a lockable cabinet for any implements..." he checked the time. " ... today. "

Understanding, they nodded and watched him go. Nettie sighed.

"Christopher has demons."

Vin swallowed. "Ma'am, tonight, we all do."


After arriving home, it was soon apparent JD was not himself, only sitting in a chair on the porch on his second day home and refusing to go anywhere near the stables. He smiled as Buck and Vin brought Toby over to see him.

"Reckon this little fella saved your life," Vin said.

JD stroked the donkey's nose. "Yeah... I reckon he did, at that. I guess he wasn't such a bad purchase after all, huh?"

The two men nodded. Wasn't that the truth? JD looked around.

"Where is everyone? It seems kinda quiet."

"Josiah traveled into town, Ezra's on a conference call, Nathan's getting ready for his first shift back at the hospital and Chris went to get some gas for the trip." Buck watched JD's eyes drop at the mention of their upcoming trip to the auction. The youth would be unable to go due to his injuries. JD looked up, shifting awkwardly to get comfortable.

"Are you guys going anywhere now?"

Vin shook his head. "Nope, guess you're stuck with me, today."

Buck nodded. "I have to go to Rosie's for a few hours." Again, JD looked down, suddenly finding picking at his blanket interesting.

"But I'll get back early, okay?"

"Sure, thanks," With that, JD rose gingerly, then limped off into the house.

Vin scratched Toby's ears, sighing. "I guess Chris was right."

Buck nodded. "Yep... kid's real angsty about being alone. At least JD identified Chivers... sure hope the police find him soon... reckon I might just be up for a spot of detective work, if not."

Vin took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. They would all like to be re- acquainted with ex-ranch foreman Bob Chivers, right about now.

Ezra had joined them from the house. "Hardly surprising JD's nervous, is it? Being brutally attacked is one thing. Being attacked in your own home... well, it is quite a horrific personal violation." They were all silent for a moment. Ezra broke into it.

"I am unable to accompany you to the next auction, I have pressing business in Vegas. I was originally going to forgo the auction trip to stay with our young sibling, but now I cannot. I will, however, return as soon as I am able."

Acknowledging Ezra's apology and patting both his brothers on the back, Buck left for town.


Two days later, around mid-morning, Chris gestured to the others as he looked back from the corral, at JD, again sitting in a chair on the porch.

"He still not been into the stables, yet?"

Vin shook his head. "No, I was just gonna bring Toby out... "

"... Don't... " Chris interrupted, "... I'm gonna finish this."

Buck watched his older brother stride toward the porch. "Aww shit."

Josiah frowned. "What?"


Looking up as Chris approached, JD smiled.

"Hi, Chris."

"Hey... how are you?" The blond stopped just in front of him and leaned against a support.

"I'm good, thanks."

"Have you been to see Toby, today?" Chris asked, "He's been cooped up in there most of the morning."

"No... uhm, Vin's gonna bring him out, now, err... yeah, any minute."

Chris leaned forward and gripped JD's arm, gently pulling the youth to his feet.

"No need... come on, I'll walk you over to the stables." He felt JD go stiff.

"Vin doesn't mind, Chris... it's okay. Besides, I'm feeling kinda tired... "

"No problem," the blond smiled, tugging JD along, then putting his arm around his waist to grip the easterner's good hip. "I'll help you."

Despite his weakness, JD dug his heels in. "NO! No, really, I can't just now... I'm gonna go lie down... Chris... CHRIS! Damnit... let go... I don't... I can't... let go, Chris... please... PLEASE! "

Larabee had him halfway across the yard, their brothers aching at the scene. Vin could take no more and went to help his youngest brother, surprised when Buck's hand wrapped around his arm. He glared at Buck.

"Get your hand off me. This isn't right, the kid's hurtin'."

Buck blinked back a tear. "So's Chris. This is Chris's call, Vin... let it go. We have to trust him on this."

Not fully convinced, Vin looked to Josiah, Nathan and Ezra for support, but instead found men in deep despair, also.

"Nooo... Chris... Chris... noooo!!"

They watched, heavy-hearted, as the pair disappeared inside the building. Vin hung his head.

"Oh God."


Just before he was dragged inside, JD clung to the door. Chris easily moved him and half-tugged, half-carried the smaller man inside.

JD felt his whole body flush hot, nausea fast overtaking him, as he stood almost on the spot he was attacked. Chris's stance softened and he pulled the trembling body back against him, wrapping his arms around JD's chest more in support than to keep him there. He rested his chin on the youth's head.

"Time to stop being a victim, kid. This wasn't your fault and I'm damned if I'm going to watch you fall apart over this. This is your home, son... let's deal with this and move on... time to stop being afraid."

JD wept, softly. "I... I... God, Chris... " He shuddered out a breath. "I... I'm not afraid, it's just... "

The blond held him a little tighter. "I know... believe me... I know. Be strong... let us help you. It will help us, too."

After a few minutes, Chris felt JD relaxing a little. He released his brother. "Now... go and check on Toby, and when you're ready, bring him out to the paddock." Larabee turned and left the stables.

JD's stomach flipped. He was alone. He could feel the trembling starting again, but fought it. Limping over to Toby, he found he could look around. It wasn't so bad, the light was on and the sun was streaming in through the open door. JD smiled when Toby brayed as he got nearer, reaching out to scratch the little guy on the nose.

"Hey, fella... how are you? I'm sorry, I bet you're just desperate to get out there, aren't you? Come on... let's go see Milagro."


Five men watched as Chris exited the barn. He nodded once and walked through them to go into the house. No one spoke for a few moments as they continued watching Chris until he went inside.

"Job done?" Josiah asked, his question soon answered as JD came limping out of the barn, leading Toby, a small smile on the young man's face as he did so.

Buck grinned and slapped Vin on the back.

"Job done."


JD grinned as he heard Buck's voice over the phone. He answered him. "Chris sounded pleased. I'm glad you got some good horses. Tell Vin... it's scary, but I can understand each grunt, now, I think we actually had a conversation. " He was laughing as he heard his big brother chuckling at the other end.

"How's Toby, kid?"

"He's good... still noisy, but not as bad. Ezra just brushed him for me... Buck... Buck?"

The brunet almost choked on the beer he was swigging back. "Shit, kid... I could have sworn you just said Ezra was brushing a donkey."

"I did." JD laughed again as he heard Buck call out.

"Chris... we better get going... Ezra's doing menial labor... Hell's gonna freeze over and we got to get home!"

JD pushed the phone harder to his ear to hear Chris, Buck and Vin laughing, smiling at Nathan while he listened, as the doctor brought him some sandwiches and at Josiah and Ezra as they came in through the door, debating the merits of their donation to the Donkey Sanctuary being tax deductible.

JD thanked everything Holy that he had these men in his life, sighing contentedly as he heard Buck say, see ya tomorrow, kid.

"Yeah," JD smiled, his voice soft, "can hardly wait."

He decided after eating, he'd take a stroll out to the stables and give a rather special little donkey a scratch and some treats... and maybe he'd wear his cap.

The End