By Joy and Kim

Nancy saw a news report about this subject and we knew instantly, it was a fic. This fic is set in the Double L Ranch A/U, where all 7 are the sons of Lincoln Larabee. This occurs shortly after the second fic in the series, Decisions. The first story in the series is A New Beginning.

"That went well," Ezra commented.

"Fuck off, Ezra," Vin said when Ezra settled on the lumpy sofa behind him. Vin was staring out the window of the loft in the barn. He liked it up here, especially when the family bonding became overwhelming. More often than not, he found himself with Ezra's company, something he wasn't sure he resented or not.

"Where, pray tell, would you suggest I go?" Ezra asked. "Our brothers are at this very moment commiserating over our bad manners, and highly likely our very existence. I, for one, have no desire to return to the house and continue the very unpleasant conversation your abrupt departure ended."

"Yeah, well, I have no desire to continue this conversation," Vin replied.

"It appears neither one of us is going to get our wish," Ezra said.

"What the fuck are you babbling about?" Vin demanded and turned around. "Great," he muttered, when his eyes followed the wave of Ezra's hand and spotted their youngest brother climbing the stairs to the loft. "Just great. We got three brothers who think we oughta forgive and forget that our daddy left bastards all over the country." The word daddy dripped with disdain. "And another brother who don't have an opinion about anything one way or the other. And him," Vin's head inclined toward JD. "Come on in, kid," he practically snarled, "Me and Ez were just gettin' ready to sing another round of Kum Ba Yah."

JD stopped in his tracks, hurt on his face. He was so tired of everyone fighting. Nothing was like he'd thought it would be. Finding out he had six brothers had been the best thing that had happened to him after his mother had died of cancer. She had been his only family and he'd been left to settle her affairs. Then he'd received the call from Andrew Brock and before he knew it he was in Colorado and he had a new family and a new home.

The only problem was his brothers couldn't seem to get along with each other. Josiah, Buck, and Nathan, were easy to get along with. Josiah didn't seem to mind anything and Nathan was always looking out for everybody. Buck was exactly what he'd imagined a big brother would be, alternately overprotective or teasing, but always dependable. JD just wished his other three brothers were a little more like them. Chris seemed to think he knew what was best for everyone and if you didn't agree with him, too bad. Vin was pretty quiet, but he had his own opinions on what was best for him and if Chris didn't like them, that was too bad, too. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to matter who was actually right. Ezra delighted in sniping at everyone. He'd even managed to get Nathan and Buck riled, smiling smugly when they lost their tempers.

Lincoln was like the giant elephant in the room. If any of them mentioned him, the conversation invariably took a nasty turn. Chris, Buck, and Nathan loved their dad. Josiah, if he had an opinion kept it to himself. Vin and Ezra had nothing but contempt for Lincoln. JD was still trying to decide what he thought about his father. His father. It was still hard for JD to believe that Lincoln was his father and he had six brothers. He sighed. If only those brothers could get along for more than five minutes.

Dinner had started out friendly enough, with all of them laughing and complaining about Josiah's latest culinary offering. They'd starting telling stories about bad meals they'd eaten, and comparing them favorably to Josiah's; even Vin had contributed a couple stories. And, then Buck had told a story about Lincoln melting a pot on the stove and hiring an industrial clean-up company because of the mess it made. Vin and Ezra had bristled at the mention of his name and Chris had bristled at their attitudes. Dinner had ended with Chris stalking off to his room and Ezra and Vin retreating to the barn. Buck had looked guilty; Nathan and Josiah had both dropped a brotherly hand on his shoulder and then started clearing the table.

JD had tried to think of something to say to make Buck feel better, but he'd only been able to come up with a lame, "I thought it was funny."

Buck had laughed a little to himself and shaken his head ruefully. "Me, too, kid," he'd said. "I'm going to go talk to Chris," he said. "Don't worry about it. Things will calm down soon." He'd given JD one of the frequent hugs that it hadn't taken JD long to realize, were genuine and just part of who Buck was. JD had been left sitting at the table looking from the kitchen to Chris's bedroom door, to the door that led to the rec room barn.

The glares coming from Ezra and Vin and Vin's hurtful words had him swallowing hard and wondering if he'd chosen the wrong brothers to try to make see reason. No. These are exactly the brothers I need to talk to, he thought. Maybe he could make them see the other side. He hadn't exactly been abandoned like they had, but he wasn't one of the sons Lincoln had raised, either. He didn't hate his father like they did, but he didn't feel any loyalty toward him either. JD squared his shoulders and walked toward them.

"Really, Vin," Ezra oozed with sarcastic concern, "our resident Pollyanna is only trying to help. You shouldn't be so unkind to him."

Vin gave Ezra the middle-finger salute, but as the comment sank in, he flushed and looked down at his boots and back to JD. "Sorry, kid," he said and kicked at some imaginary dirt.

JD shook his head. "I'm not a kid," he said. "And, I'm not gonna break if one of you yells at me." He pulled one of the hard-backed chairs out from under the table and sat down and leaned back.

"Still sorry," Vin said and flopped down on one end of the couch facing JD's chair. "No call to be mad at you. You ain't done nothin' to me."

JD took a deep breath and nodded his head. "You're right," he said. "I haven't done anything to you, or you," he said, nodding to Ezra. "But the thing you two keep forgetting is neither did they."

"Chris keeps defendin' that bastard!" Vin exclaimed.

"That's what he's supposed to do," JD answered calmly.

"What the hell's he supposed to do that for?" Vin demanded.

"I confess to being curious as to how you came to that conclusion myself," Ezra said and sat on the other end of the couch.

"It's what family does," said JD. "I know if someone said something bad about my mom, even if it was true, I'd be defending her. She's my mom. You would, too."

Vin gave a nod, but Ezra smirked. "You don't know my mother," he said.

JD frowned. He didn't want another argument. "Look, all I'm saying is it isn't Chris's fault that our father screwed up your lives. And even though his dad wasn't perfect, Chris still loves him."

"So now you're defendin' him, too!" Vin growled.

"No," JD countered. "I'm defending Chris. He has as much right to love his father as you do to hate him." He sighed. "Look, it's not easy for any of us. Momma always told me holding on to my anger only hurt me in the long run. I'm not happy that I didn't get the chance to grow up with my father, but I can't change that. But I've got a chance now to get to know my brothers, and I'm going to make the most of it."

He let his chair settle so all four feet were on the floor. He looked at his brothers. Ezra's face was unreadable, almost like he wasn't listening at all. Vin still looked angry but he kept silent.

Vin shook his head slightly. The kid was just so damned naïve. He didn't have a clue what happened to a kid on his own. He wanted to yell at JD; to tell him exactly what he'd been through because Lincoln had forgotten that he had another kid. The hopeful look on JD's face stopped him. He couldn't disrespect JD's mother, and that's exactly what it would be if he slammed her advice. The kid didn't deserve that. He glanced at Ezra trying to read what he was thinking. He still had his mother, but from what little he'd said their relationship wasn't exactly ideal.

"So, just what are you proposing?" Ezra asked.

JD chewed on his bottom lip. He didn't know what to suggest. He stared at the wall of the loft trying to come up with an idea. "I don't know," he said. "I just think that maybe if we focused on getting to know each other as brothers, and forget about Lincoln being our father..."

"Tall order, kid," Vin said softly.

"I know," JD responded. "We've got a year," he added with a shrug. "We just gotta find some things in common. You know, do some stuff together."

"Such as?" Ezra asked, arching one eyebrow.

JD looked around helplessly. So far there hadn't been anything all seven of them had wanted to do. "I don't know," he said. "But there's got to be something we can all do. Hey!" he exclaimed. He got up and walked over to the wall behind the refrigerator that Vin had dented the night Chris had convinced him to stay. "Hey! Look at this. He leaned over and picked at the drywall that was slightly swelled and crumbling a bit as if it had absorbed moisture at some point. "Maybe we could fix this wall. Do something productive?"

"I am not a carpenter, nor do I ever wish to be," said Ezra, looking at the wall dubiously.

"Come on," JD pleaded. "It'll be fun."

"Oh the joy," Ezra said sarcastically.

Vin snorted. He didn't care one way or the other about fixing the wall, but the kid was right about holding on to anger. The problem was that he had years of anger stored up and the one person who deserved it was no longer here. He'd make an effort, but if Chris continued to try to shove Lincoln down their throats, Vin would give as good as he got.

"Cool!" said JD, taking their lack of protest as approval. "I'll bring it up at dinner tomorrow."

7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7

"Stubborn jackass!" Buck hollered at Chris's closed bedroom door, as he made his way back to the dining room, planning on helping Josiah and Nathan finish cleaning up. To his surprise, the cleanup was already finished. He must have been longer than he thought, trying to reason with Chris. He shook his head. When would he ever learn? Chris had his back up and he was bound and determined to be right. Nothing Buck could say would convince him to back off of Vin and Ezra.

He wandered into the kitchen and found Josiah putting the last few dishes into the dishwasher, while Nathan was putting the leftovers into the refrigerator. "Buck," Josiah said in greeting. Nathan just shook his head at the look on Buck's face. Buck should know by now that talking to Chris when he was in that kind of mood was a waste of time.

Buck leaned against the counter. "Are you two about as fed up with those three as I am?" he asked.

Nathan put the last bowl away and leaned against the island, facing Buck and Josiah's back. Josiah closed the dishwasher and dried his hands on the tea-towel that hung on a hook behind the sink. He turned around so that he could see his brothers. Nathan sighed and nodded his head.

Josiah's expression grew thoughtful. "Just about," he said. "The question is, what are we going to do about it?"

"Maybe you could refuse to cook," Nathan suggested. "Make those fools fend for themselves."

"Now, Nathan, you're not supposed to reward bad behavior," Buck said with a laugh aimed at Josiah. He couldn't resist the opportunity Nathan had provided to get in a dig.

Josiah laughed with him, unoffended by his brother's humor. "Maybe I'll start cooking breakfast, too," he said.

"Why do the rest of us have to suffer?" Nathan asked with a straight face, startling the two of them, until he grinned widely, then all three of them laughed.

They continued joking with each other for several moments until Nathan reminded them of their problem. "So, either one of you have any ideas?"

"I'm plumb out," Buck said. "Chris is dug in. You know there isn't any talking to him, when he's like that. And, Vin and Ezra seem like they're pretty near as stubborn as he is."

"None at the moment," Josiah admitted. "But, the Lord will provide an opportunity."

7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7

Chris slammed his drawer shut. What was the matter with Buck? Sure Dad had made mistakes, but he'd tried to make amends. And, he had been a good father - the best. If only Vin and Ezra would give him the benefit of the doubt. Those two were determined to find fault with everything Lincoln had ever done. They refused to see how much good the man had done in his life. All they could see were the mistakes he'd made.

Well, Lincoln had been a damned good father to him. And, no new brothers with grudges were going to convince Chris Larabee that his father wasn't a good man. If only they would listen to the facts, Chris was convinced that Ezra and Vin would understand that their father had been a flawed man, but a good one. He sighed. He just had to get them to see him another way.

7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7

Dinner the next night started out peacefully enough. 'Just like every night,' JD thought. Chris and Vin were seated across from one another, and so far, they were both acting like last night's fight hadn't happened. Ezra was watching them, JD noticed. He couldn't decide whether the look on Ezra's face was disappointment or amusement. It didn't seem like there would be a better time to bring up his idea, that they all fix the barn wall together. But, dinner was going so well. Would bringing up the wall change that?

He was looking at his brothers trying to decide, when Vin spoke up. "Hey, kid," he said. "Why don't you tell everybody your idea?"

JD startled. "Huh?" He felt his cheeks heat up and knew that he was blushing.

"What idea is that, son?" Josiah asked, his deep voice kind.

"Well, uh," JD began. "It's just that there's been a lot of fighting."

"There wouldn't be so much fighting, if some of us understood that people aren't perfect," Chris interjected. He looked from Vin to Ezra, glaring at them.

Vin's eyes narrowed. Ezra's face hardened into a mask of feigned indifference. "Wouldn't fight at all," Vin said, "if some of us, didn't think the sun shined outta-"

JD's face fell, along with his hope that things would be different. It was the same argument they'd had a dozen times. Chris didn't think Vin and Ezra were being fair and they thought he was blind to his father's faults. Why couldn't they just agree to disagree?

Buck read the disappointment in the sagging body language and the crestfallen face. Damn those three! "That's enough!" He pounded on the table. "I've had enough of this crap. Nathan and Josiah have, too." Both of the other men nodded. "Chris, just shut up. You don't know everything, and you're not always right."

"Would you mind repeating that, Buck?" Ezra said. "I'm not sure he heard you."

"You shut up, too." Nathan spoke up. "You two," he pointed first to Vin, then to Ezra, "need to understand that whatever you think of him, we loved our father. He was good to us. He might be lower than a slug in your eyes, but he's not in ours. We're never gonna see him the way you do. So, stop getting mad every time one of us says something good about him."

Ezra had the grace to look apologetic. Vin looked decidedly guilty. Chris's glare had faded into something resembling contrition.

"Now, what was that idea?" Nathan asked. He smiled and nodded encouragingly at JD.

There'd never be a better chance, JD knew. "There's a wall in the barn that needs fixing. I thought we could make it a family project. All of us could work on it together. It wouldn't take very long with all of us doing the work," he said. His voice became more animated with every word. "We could do it Saturday," he suggested, looking at each of them hopefully.

"I already voiced my objections." Ezra stated, hoping they would listen to him, for once. "Menial labor is not my forte."

"We're fixing the wall," Josiah stated. "On Saturday. All of us." He stood and looked directly at Ezra.

Chris started to offer his own objection. He had planned to check the fence perimeter on Saturday. Nathan and Buck moved behind Josiah, the three of them making a formidable team. "All of us," Buck repeated.

Vin chuckled and raised his hands in mock surrender. "Got nothin' against hard work. Man never drowned in his own sweat, Ezra." He grinned broadly at the distaste on Ezra's face.

"Or, apparently, a bathtub," Ezra muttered.

Vin flipped him the now familiar finger that was Vin's answer to most insults.

Chris spoke up. "Sweating is good for you. Ask Nathan."

Nathan nodded. "It's probably the exercise that's good for you, but it won't hurt you."

"First of all, I don't sweat, I perspire." Ezra affected a superior tone. "Secondly, I don't perspire."

"You'll learn," Josiah said, "On Saturday." He smiled. "Let's finish up and then we'll all-" He fixed his stare on Ezra. "All," he repeated for emphasis, "go take a look and see what we need."

Ezra looked decidedly unhappy, but he kept any further objections to himself. They finished dinner and had the table cleared, the leftovers put away, and the dishes loaded into the dishwasher quickly. Then the seven made their way to the barn, some more reluctantly than others.

They climbed into the loft and then JD pointed to the damaged wall. "See? Right there," he said.

"Kind of an odd place to have water damage," Nathan said.

"Maybe it's humidity from the refrigerator," Buck suggested. "Maybe we didn't get that drywall sealed well enough or something."

"We did it right," Chris said, his tone leaving no room for argument.

Vin gritted his teeth. They all knew that Chris, Buck, Nathan and their father had remodeled the barn to be a great rec room. Chris couldn't go five minutes without defending Lincoln Larabee. Before he could voice his opinion, Ezra offered his.

"I still don't see why we don't hire professionals."

"We put it up in the first place," Buck said.

"My point exactly," Ezra countered.

"Shut up, Ezra," Josiah and Nathan said at the same time.

"Don't say I didn't warn you when this turns into a fiasco," Ezra said, turning and walking down the steps. He'd find a way to avoid this room on Saturday.

"Forget him," Buck said, when he saw JD look torn between following Ezra and working out the details with the others. He waved off the protest JD was ready to make. "Just for now, kid, not on Saturday. Now, let's figure out what we have, and we need to buy."

"I could check the shed, see what's in there," Vin offered, hastily. He didn't want to be stuck up here, with the others, when Chris started up with the Lincoln was perfect bullshit.

"I'll give you a hand," Josiah said. He brushed his chin thoughtfully.

7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7

"I ain't gotta look in there," Vin said, when he and Josiah reached the shed. "They got everything 'cept the drywall, the glue, and the nails."

"I know," Josiah answered.

"Just couldn't stay up there no more, with Chris taking up for him every five minutes," Vin admitted, leaning against the wall of the shed.

"I know that, too," Josiah answered him. "Son, you don't hide your feelings very well."

"Son," Vin snorted. "That's the whole problem, I ain't his son. You got a son, you're a father. You raise him up. You teach him things. You look out for him. Lincoln never did none of that for me. He let me get-" Vin hastily bit off the rest of what he was thinking. He liked Josiah, respected him, but he wasn't about to tell Josiah - or anyone else the things he had been through after his Uncle Vince died.

Josiah looked thoughtful. "A father raises his son up. He teaches him things. He looks out for him."

Vin was puzzled to hear his own words come back at him, until Josiah continued.

"My father did all those things. And, I hated him for them. He raised me up, because he loved my mother, and I was the price he paid for keeping her as his wife. He taught me to hate being an obligation. He looked out for me, so that no one could ever say his son had disgraced him. My father, the man who raised me, hated me every day of my life."

Vin swallowed. He had no idea what to say to Josiah. "I-" He swallowed again. "I'm sorry," he finally said, unable to think of a single other thing. He touched Josiah's arm hesitantly.

"No need for you to be sorry," Josiah said kindly. "Just remember that we all have our own burdens. What looks like paradise to one man, looks like hell to another man."

Vin nodded. "Chris is hurtin', too. That what you're tryin' to tell me?"

Josiah nodded back. "And, Buck, and Ezra, and Nathan, and JD, and me. All of us, even the ones who don't show it are suffering from the choices our father made. Ease up, son."

"I'll try," Vin said, miserably. "Can't promise nothin', but I'll try."

"That's all anyone can ask," Josiah said and squeezed Vin's shoulder.

7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7

Saturday arrived quickly. Josiah had intended to pick up the supplies, but had been waylaid, which in a way had worked out for the best. It meant that Chris was going into town to pick up the supplies, and he wouldn't be able to weasel out of the barn project, because he wouldn't leave his brothers stranded without the drywall.

With ranch chores to do, they'd planned to start the project mid-morning. They had an early breakfast together and then started into the chores. JD had just finished letting the horses out into the corral when he heard a car start. His heart sank as he watched Ezra pull out of his parking place and drive off.

"Aw, Damn it," he said softly.

Josiah stepped up to the fence next to him and dropped a brotherly hand on his shoulder. "You've done good, John Dunne," he said. "He's just not ready to step in, yet."

"He said he'd do it," JD answered.

"I'm sure he had good intentions," Josiah said. "Sometimes it's just easier to stick with the known, rather than face the unknown."

"You mean he'd rather be alone than with his brothers?" JD asked bluntly.

"I think if we were honest, it probably scares all of us just a bit," said Josiah. "Some of us are just a little more ready to give it a try." He squeezed JD's shoulder. "He'll come around."

They both turned as Chris started his truck. "Do you think he'll be back?" JD asked.

Josiah nodded. "Buck and Nathan know him best and they say he won't leave us high and dry without the materials."

They both watched the truck as it disappeared down the driveway.

"Let's get the chores done so we'll be ready," said Josiah.

JD nodded, but defeat still showed in the slump of his shoulders.

7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7

Ezra raised an eyebrow as Chris slid into the cafe booth across from him.

"You running out on me?" Chris challenged.

"I have other plans," Ezra said.

"Change them," Chris said flatly.

"I know this may seem hard to believe," Ezra said condescendingly, "But I have managed to do quite well for myself without following your orders."

Chris almost took the bait, but he stopped himself. "Look," he said without apologizing for telling Ezra what to do, "If I have to do it - you have to do it."

Ezra smirked. "You don't want to do it and neither do I. Find an excuse."

"Is that what you did?" Chris asked.

"No," said Ezra, checking his watch. "I have an appointment in ten minutes."

"Cancel it."


Chris glared.

Ezra glared back.

The waitress put a coffee cup on the table for Chris and began to fill it, breaking the tense moment.

Chris nodded his thanks. When she left, he said, "This means a lot to JD. If we do this one thing, maybe they'll leave us alone for awhile."

Ezra thought about that. Chris did have a point. But, menial labor? Not if he could help it. "There's just one problem," he reminded his brother. "I'm no farmer."

"You're no rancher," Chris growled.

"Thank you," Ezra said smiling smugly.

"You don't have to be a rancher to hold a piece of drywall in place," Chris said. "It's not that difficult."

"We should have hired someone to do it." Ezra wasn't ready to give up just yet.

Chris shook his head slightly. "That would defeat the whole purpose of this little bonding exercise. We spend a couple hours trying not to kill each other, and we fix the wall. It gets the others off our backs and it'll make the kid happy. It's going to take me about twenty minutes to pick up the supplies. I'll see you back at the ranch."

Ezra watched him stand and leave the cafe. He took a last sip of coffee and dialed his cellphone. As it rang, he motioned to the waitress for the check. It was against his better judgment, but maybe Chris was right. Do this job together and they'd leave him alone.

7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7

JD could hardly contain himself. He wasn't sure if he was more excited or more nervous. They were going to fix the wall. If they got this done, they'd find other things to do as a family. Maybe his brothers would stop fighting. He sighed. If Chris and Ezra came back. If all seven of them fixed the wall together.

"Quit fidgetin', kid," Vin said. "They'll be here."

"How do you know?" JD asked, and peered out of the loft window, toward the road, trying to wish his brothers to appear.

Vin shrugged. "'Cause Chris don't say things he don't mean. I ain't known him long, but I known him long enough to know that if he makes a promise, he keeps it. And, Ezra ain't gonna wanna put up with the bitchin' that he'll have to put up with, if he's the only one of us who doesn't show up."

JD couldn't fault Vin's logic. He turned to face his brother. "Do you think that's the only reason they'll be here?" he asked.

Vin shrugged. "I don't know, kid. Men got lots of reasons for doin' things. Sometimes, they got more than one reason for doin' a thing."

"Do you have more than one reason?" JD asked hesitantly. He wasn't sure he wanted to hear Vin's answer.

Vin considered how to answer JD's question. The kid was just so damned naïve. He could tell JD the brutal truth and help him grow up some. He could sugar coat it and let someone else shatter the kid's expectation. In the end, he decided to be honest, but to be gentle about it. "Yeah, kid, I do. Wall needs fixing. I got two working hands. I don't want to listen to the rest of 'em bitch. And, I wanted to stick it to Chris a little."

JD's face fell and Vin put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it, to soften his words.

"I know you want us to be one big happy family, but you can't make it happen, just 'cause you want it to," Vin told him. "You think us gettin' together and doin' this thing will make us see each other different. You can't force that. You gotta let each one of us find his own way in this thing. Maybe we'll all end up where you want us to. Maybe I even hope we do."

"Do you?" JD asked, searching Vin's face, with an expression so hopeful that Vin felt like 100 different kinds of dirt. He squeezed JD's shoulder again.

"I don't know," he admitted. "Maybe. I'm just tryin' to get through each day. Some days I think maybe all of us could be a family one day. Other days, I don't see how we can get through another day without someone killin' someone. It just ain't something you can force us into. You can't drag us all into a project and expect us to come out on the other side, closer than we started. Life doesn't work that way. At least, its never worked that way that I ever seen."

"But it could," JD said, his hopes undaunted. "It could, Vin. You guys just have to let it."

Vin shook his head and laughed a little at his brother's optimism. "Maybe," he conceded. "We'll see what happens."

"Chris is back." Vin nudged JD. "Alone."

JD's face fell and his shoulders sagged. He closed his eyes and his bottom lip trembled ever so slightly. Vin was afraid he was going to lose control. Fuckin' Ezra, he thought. Just couldn't even pretend he gave a shit. Vin tried to think of something to say to keep the kid from embarrassing himself - and he was certain that JD would be embarrassed if he cried in front of the rest of them. But, JD surprised him. He shook his head and squared his shoulders. "It's just going to take him some time," JD said. He smiled at Vin a little wanly, but still a smile.

Vin smiled back and clapped him on the shoulder, "You're probably right," he said, not believing it. What the hell, he thought. Don't cost me nothin' and it makes the kid happy.

"You boys gonna jaw all day, or are you gonna give us a hand?" Chris called as he and Josiah leaned a piece of drywall against the couch.

"Let's get this show on the road," Vin called back. He walked over to the tool box, JD trailing him.

"C'mon over here and pick out a man's tool," Buck laughed. He set down a bag of nails and a roll of tape, and picked up a sledge hammer and swung it back and forth.

"Thanks," Josiah said and caught the hammer on the back swing. He hefted it easily. "Been a while since I swung one of these. You want first crack?" he offered the long-handled tool to Nathan.

"No, thanks," Nathan said, catching sight of his brother's offer. He was rummaging in his doctor's bag. "I'm gonna make sure I've got everything I need for when one of you hammers his hand instead of a nail."

Buck grinned good-naturedly at him. "Hey, we don't always get hurt."

Nathan just raised his eyebrow and looked at him skeptically.

"Okay," Buck admitted. "Might be a good idea for you to have your bag handy."

Josiah and Chris made short work of moving the refrigerator into the middle of the floor. "You hear something?" Chris asked, a puzzled expression on his face. "A buzzing sound," he said.

Josiah nodded. "Might be a good idea we're taking this wall down," he said. "If there's damaged wiring back there, this whole place could go up in flames one day."

JD could barely contain himself. His idea might have saved the barn! He'd just wanted to find a way for them to bond. Maybe, he'd also found a way to earn their respect. Too bad Ezra wasn't here.

Vin found a pry bar. "I'm gonna get the molding off, so we can pull the sheet rock down," he said and knelt and wedged the bar behind the molding that ran along the base of the wall.

7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7

Ezra pulled up behind the house and parked leaving plenty of room between his car and the others. Just because they were his brothers, it didn't mean Ezra trusted them to be careful when they opened car doors. He stood beside his car and looked longingly at the house. It would be so easy to just slip inside - but, no. JD was counting on him. It was strange having someone count on him. Stranger still, he actually cared whether or not he let JD down. What would Mother think? Ezra shook his head ruefully and headed for the barn.

7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7

Chris found the Sawzall and plugged it in. He found a spot in the wall far enough away from where Vin was working to be safe and put the blade against the sheet rock. He was just about to start, when he felt something hit his shoulder. "What the -?" he exclaimed as he turned around. Nathan was frowning at him. He looked down and saw the safety goggles. "Sorry," he said contritely and picked them up and put them on. "Now?" he asked, looking at Nathan.

"Now," Nathan said, and nodded with a satisfied smile. "All of you put them on," he said. "You too, Vin," he added and tossed him a pair.

"What'd you guys put this molding on with?" Vin complained as he put the goggles on.

"Three inch roofing nails," Nathan answered. "Chris and Buck told Dad they'd do it themselves. They did it alright. Took 'em forever. Halfway through the job, he finally told 'em to stop thinking they knew it all and ask someone for some advice."

"He coulda just told us molding nails were a lot easier to use," Buck said. "But, noooo. He wanted us to learn a lesson."

"What lesson was that?" JD asked, curious to learn a bit more about his father.

"Being too proud can cost a man," Chris answered.

Vin's grip on the pry bar tightened. Was that last remark meant for him? His rising temper warred with his desire to give the kid what he wanted. Fuck him! I ain't gonna let Chris fucking Larabee make me ruin this. He pulled harder and felt a small amount of satisfaction when the molding pulled out a little. A few more good tugs and this piece would come off.

Chris put the Sawzall back against the wall. He cut into the sheet rock and Josiah smacked the wall between the areas he and Vin were working with the sledge hammer. A large crack formed and Buck tapped Chris and Josiah each on one shoulder. "Hold up," he said. "Hey, kid, c'mon over here and do the honors, he said. It was your idea."

"What do you want me to do?" JD asked, not quite certain.

"Just grab hold and pull," Buck said. "Get your fingers in there where Chris cut it and pull the first piece. You started this whole thing, you get the honors."

JD grinned broadly. If only the piece came off like it was supposed to. Ow, he thought as he wedged his fingers into the gap and felt a brief sharp pain. Must be a sharp edge. He brushed aside the pain and pulled as hard as he could and fell backwards as a large section of the wall gave way.

He landed on the floor with a gasp, still holding the section of drywall and for a moment time stood still. Five brothers looked at JD, their minds trying to grasp why the back of the drywall seemed to be alive. Almost as one their eyes turned to the hole in the wall. The humming Josiah had assumed was faulty wiring, was now an angry buzz.

"Bees!" Buck screamed, as the insects swarmed into the room. His shout seemed to free his brothers from their momentary shock and they followed their instincts and tried to both fight off and flee from the bees.

Ezra stepped onto the floor of the loft in time to see JD land on his backside and hear Buck's warning call. Like the others, he was momentarily stunned trying to grasp what he was seeing. Nathan and Josiah were waving wildly. Chris was swearing vehemently as he disappeared from Ezra's line of site, near the refrigerator. Buck grabbed the piece of sheet rock from JD and flung it away yelping in pain.

Acting without thinking, Ezra grabbed the fire extinguisher on the stairway and rushed across the loft's floor. He passed through the pandemonium and pulled the pin on the extinguisher, spraying the opening in the wall with the freezing vapor.

"Get out!" Nathan called as he pushed Josiah toward the stairs.

Buck finally had JD on his feet, and was steering him toward the stairs as well.

Vin yelped and cursed as Chris tried to pull him up off the floor. He was caught on something and Chris tugging at him was only making it worse. Ezra turned the fire extinguisher on the pair to give them some protection. Thankfully the goggles Nathan had made them wear protected their eyes from the foam as well as from the bees. Ezra focused the blast on Chris's arm as he swiped a swarm of bees off of Vin's back. In a few seconds the extinguisher was empty and Vin was able to free the shoelace that was caught on a nail from the molding.

Ezra slapped at his neck as a stray bee struck him. "Let's get out of here," he said as the two struggled to their feet.

Hurrying outside and closing the barn door, they moved toward the house. They could see Nathan by the porch with a broom sweeping off Josiah. Josiah returned the favor, and helped sweep the remaining bees off the other brothers.

"Anyone allergic?" Nathan asked as he looked at JD, who was already showing signs of swelling. The answers he received were all "No", "I don't know," or "I don't think so."

"Well, we need to get all the stingers out," Nathan said. "We'd best strip down to our skivvies and help each other."

"Nate," said Buck, "JD's a mess. I don't think I can find them all."

"Vin, too," said Chris as Vin pushed his hand away.

Nathan frowned and looked at the two youngest. They were a mess, but what concerned him was the slight wheezing he heard. He turned to locate the source. "Buck, are you all right?" he asked.

Buck nodded. "Just a little winded."

Nathan took him by the arm and sat him on the step, then looked up at Chris. "I think we'd better go to the hospital, just to be safe."

"The hospital?" Chris asked, hearing the seriousness in Nathan's words. He was bypassing the local clinic for the hospital. It was further away, but had better medical equipment.

Nathan nodded, keeping his attention on Buck, taking his pulse.

Chris did a quick visual exam of the group. "Josiah, Ezra, can you drive?"

Both nodded. Chris tossed the keys to his truck to Ezra.

Nathan took a moment to grab his emergency bag from the trunk of his car. He wished he'd been clearheaded enough to grab his well-stocked doctor's bag, before he'd fled from the bees. Within minutes the seven were on the way to the hospital.

7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7

"Fuck, fuck, fuck," Vin cursed softly. His face was contorted in pain. He clenched his hands into tight fists and then stretched his fingers wide again. When he began slamming his head back against the head rest and then hunching over his knees, Chris reached out hesitantly. Any touch was likely to add to Vin's pain, considering just how many times he'd been stung. Fortunately, his own arm, which had taken the brunt of the attack was still mostly numb from the cold of the fire extinguisher. If he was really lucky, it would stay numb until the emergency room staff gave him the good drugs.

He put a hand on Vin's back and stopped him from throwing his head back against the headrest again. "Easy," he said softly.

"Leave me be," Vin snarled and tried to flip back, twisting at the same time to evade Chris's arm. "This fucking hurts!"

"I know it's hurting," Chris said in a soothing voice. "We'll be at the hospital soon. They'll give you something for the pain, and probably a nice clean bed to spend the night in."

To his surprise, Vin not only stopped struggling, he seemed to melt against the seat. He turned and met Chris's eyes. Vin's eyes were as hard as Chris had ever seen them. "I ain't stayin' in no hospital overnight," he said. "I didn't pitch a fuss about goin', 'cause JD and Buck need t' go, but I'm tellin' you right now, I ain't stayin'. You try and make me, and I'll climb out the fucking window." With that, he turned toward the window, effectively shutting Chris out.

Chris didn't know what to do or say. Vin wasn't trying to give himself a concussion anymore. In fact, he wasn't moving at all. He was curled as far against the door, away from Chris, as he could get. And, he wasn't making a sound.

To Chris's surprise, Ezra spoke. "Vin, you have my word. I won't let them make you stay." Chris looked toward the front of the car. He met Ezra's eyes in the rear view mirror. He started to speak, but the determination and defiance in Ezra's eyes stopped him. There was something about this situation that Ezra understood, but he didn't. "Okay," he said softly. Ezra's head inclined in acknowledgment.

In the other car JD sat in the front passenger seat. He groaned and clawed at his aching arm. In the back seat, Nathan rummaged through the bag he'd taken from his trunk. A blood pressure cuff, a stethoscope, a box of Benadryl, and one epi-pen. From the sound of the wheezing in the seat next to him, Buck would need it. JD was obviously in pain, but his breathing seemed fine. The cursing he had heard from Vin at the ranch was reasonable reassurance that his other brother was in no immediate danger. The rest of his brothers, along with himself had also been stung, but not nearly as badly as Buck, JD, and Vin.

Josiah took one hand off the steering wheel, and pushed JD's hand away from his arm. "That won't help," he said calmly. "I know it hurts, but we'll get some relief as soon as we get to the hospital."

"Here," Nathan said, leaning over the seat and placing a Benadryl tablet in JD's hand. "This will help some, if you can swallow it."

"Thanks," JD said. He squeezed his eyes shut tightly, but couldn't stop a single tear escaping.

Nathan wanted to offer comfort, but he wasn't sure what to do or say. He couldn't touch his brother. From the red welts visible on his face, hands, and neck, Nathan concluded that JD had been stung over his entire upper body, at the very least. He wasn't about to inadvertently add to his youngest brother's pain.

JD dry-swallowed the pill and then leaned back into the headrest, grimacing in pain. Josiah glanced in the rear view mirror and caught Nathan's eyes. Nathan just shook his head in frustration. There was nothing else he could do for JD until they reached the hospital.

Buck's breathing was becoming increasingly labored and Nathan used the epi-pen on him. He took Buck's blood pressure and pulse again, not liking the results at all.

"Breathe as slow and as deep as you can, Buck," Nathan said. He carefully let Buck's arm down so it was resting on his stomach. Buck was sprawled uncomfortably on the rear seat of the vehicle, propped up to ease his breathing.

Nathan leaned over the front seat and said, "Drive as fast as you can and still be safe. I'm going to call for an ambulance to meet us on the way."

"Buck's that bad?" JD asked fearfully.

"The epinephrine I gave him is helping, but it's not enough. An ambulance will have what we need to help him sooner than the hospital." Nathan sat back and took out his cell phone and dialed.

7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7

Vin was emitting a sound that was a cross between a grunt and a growl. Chris watched him closely, wishing there was something he could do to ease the pain. A sudden increase in speed made him look at Ezra.

"What's going on?" he asked.

"I don't know. Josiah just picked up speed, and I felt it prudent to keep pace," said Ezra.

Chris's cell phone rang and he answered. "Larabee... How is he? ... Miller's Junction. Got it." Flipping his phone closed he said, "An ambulance will meet us at Miller's Junction. Buck's getting worse."

Ezra nodded. "Where is Miller's Junction?" he asked.

Chris cursed softly, realizing the two brothers who were driving didn't know the area very well, yet. "Do you remember the turn off to Cody Porter's ranch?"

"Vaguely," Ezra answered.

"It's a turnout on the side of the road a couple of miles past that."

"Helpful," Ezra muttered sarcastically.

"Just keep up with Josiah. Stop where he stops," Chris growled in frustration.

7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7

The transfer to the ambulance seemed to take far too much time, but the resources available to help Buck were more important than the few minutes lost changing vehicles. As a precaution, the paramedics had given both Vin and JD injections with epi-pens before Nathan climbed into the ambulance with Buck. The EMTs were entirely capable, but they wouldn't turn down the assistance of a doctor.

Arriving at the hospital Buck was rushed into an ER treatment room, and Nathan was shut out. He did have working privileges at this hospital, but not when the patient was a relative. He returned to the lobby area to inform the staff that his brothers were coming in, and to begin the paperwork. The nurse at the admittance desk handed him three clipboards, and he sat down to start filling them out. He could handle the paperwork for Buck, but he didn't know enough about JD or Vin's medical history. He glanced at the door and then at the clock. Where were they? He'd practically ordered Josiah and Ezra not to try to keep up with the ambulance. Vin and JD were in pain, but they didn't appear to be in any immediate danger, so risking an accident for the sake of ten minutes was unthinkable to Nathan. He only hoped Chris hadn't bullied Ezra into driving unsafely. But, still they should be here by now, shouldn't they?

"Thank god," he said softly, when Josiah and JD stepped through the entrance doors. JD's face was tear-streaked, when he allowed Josiah to assist him to a chair. Nathan handed Josiah a clip board to begin filling out JD's paperwork.

Josiah saw Nathan glance toward the entrance again. "They're right behind us," he said. Sure enough, the other three men entered just at that moment. Ezra came in first, looked around and spotted the other three and started toward them.

"Thank the good Lord," he muttered as he sat in the seat across from Nathan. "The next time you want someone to challenge a command from God on high, as our brother apparently believes himself to be, I suggest you do it yourself," he hissed.

"He can be a bit bull-headed," Nathan said, with a smile, finding the humor in the situation. Ezra just looked so indignant.

"A rodeo bull is bull-headed," Ezra stated. "Our brother is -"

"Here," Josiah finished. "And, they don't look any too happy, either."

Vin stopped dead in the doorway. He didn't want to go in. They couldn't make him go in. He knew he needed treatment. He wanted treatment. His entire body hurt. He wanted nothing more than for someone to make the pain stop. But, he didn't want to go in here.

"Get offa me," Vin hissed, as Chris tried to take his arm and guide him over to where the other four sat.

"Would you just let someone help you for once?" Chris asked angrily. Why couldn't his brother just admit that he needed someone once in a while?

"Fuck off!" Vin said loudly enough to draw the attention of the other people in the waiting room.

"I'll be right back," Nathan said quickly. "Over here," he called and met them. "Chris, why don't you fill out this chart for Buck?" he said, and shoved a clipboard at his older brother, none too gently.

Chris had the grace to flush and take the clipboard. "Alright," he muttered. "How is he?"

Nathan shook his head. "They kicked me out as soon as we got here. Let's get JD and Vin in the system and I'll see what I can find out."

Chris nodded and crossed the waiting area. He flopped down into a chair and began to fill out Buck's form.

"C'mon," Nathan said to Vin, who was staring at the doors to the treatment area behind the reception desk. "Vin, please, let them help you."

Vin looked at him and Nathan was taken aback at the intensity of the look in his eyes.

"Vin," he said softly. "Will you let them help you?"

"You." Vin's answer was barely a breath.

"Me what?" Nathan asked.

"You take care o' me," Vin said, more clearly. "I don't want nobody else pokin' on me."

"I can't," Nathan said. "I'm not allowed to treat family."

"I don't want nobody else, Nathan," Vin said flatly. "I'm not gonna let nobody else touch me."

Nathan studied him, seeing resolution and something else he couldn't quite put his finger on. Whatever it was, Vin meant what he said. "I can't treat you," Nathan said. "But, I can be there when they examine you. Will you let them examine you if I stay in the room with you?"

It was Vin's turn to study him. "Yeah," Vin said finally, his voice resigned.

"Okay," Nathan said. "Let's go over here and get your paperwork started," he prompted and nodded toward where the others sat.

Vin followed him silently and Nathan handed Ezra the clipboard. "I want to go check on Buck," he said. "Can you help him fill this out?"

"Of course," Ezra answered.

Vin stopped dead behind him, and Nathan turned around. "I'll be back," he said too quietly for anyone but Vin to hear. "Ask Josiah to come get me, if they call you in before I get back."

Under the welts and red splotches on his face, Nathan saw Vin blush. "Thanks, Nathan," he said just as softly as Nathan had spoken. "I know it don't make sense to ya, but it means a lot."

Nathan gave him a quick smile. "I'll be back as quick as I can," he told all his brothers. "Don't let them kill each other," he said to Josiah, and glared at Chris, Ezra, and Vin.

7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7

Nathan wasn't allowed in with Buck, but a nurse updated him as a courtesy and let him look in from the doorway. Buck was on oxygen, and had two IVs feeding into his body. A blood pressure cuff automatically measured his BP every few minutes. He was nude, with a sheet draped over him for privacy. Several nurses and a doctor were working methodically to remove all the stingers and to wash the injured areas.

Buck appeared to be either unconscious or asleep. They hadn't intubated him, which Nathan considered to be a good sign. It meant Buck was breathing well enough on his own for the time being. Hopefully they would be able to keep it from getting any worse.

"Dr. Jackson," the nurse said, "Dr. Nelson said as soon as they get him cleaned up he'll be moved to ICU so we can keep a close watch on him."

Nathan nodded. "Could you let me know when they move him? I'll be with my other brothers."

She nodded. "I'll let you know."

7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7

JD was miserable and humiliated. He'd managed to shuck his clothes and put on the hospital gown, but when he'd climbed up on the exam table, he'd found that the bees hadn't just stung his arms and face. The nurse, hearing his yelp, had made him stand up while she removed stingers as discreetly as possible from his backside. Fortunately there weren't many, but one was one too many as far as JD was concerned.

"There ya go, Honey," the matronly nurse said. "You'll be a little tender, but there are no more stingers in your bottom." She smiled at the mortified look on his face and gave the exam table a pat. "Climb on up."

Doctor Morton entered the curtained cubicle and introduced himself to JD. He quickly reviewed the admission notes and started the exam.

"What kind of bees were they?" he asked as he checked inside JD's mouth for stingers.

"I don't know," JD said. "I was just trying to get away."

"Any trouble breathing? Itchy eyes? Coughing?" he asked.

"No. It just hurts," JD answered.

"Have you taken anything for it, yet?"

"Nathan gave me a Benadryl pill in the car, and the paramedics gave me a shot of something. An epi-pen?" JD said trying to remember the name.

"Good," Dr. Morton said. "We'll get you some stronger antihistamine and an anti-inflammatory. It will make you drowsy. Then we'll get the rest of these stingers out and get you cleaned up. Then we're going to want to keep an eye on you overnight."

"I have to stay?" JD asked. "I... I need to see how Buck is. I can't stay."

"We'll have someone check on him for you," said the doctor, "but you really need to stay. You were stung a lot of times. It's not likely, but you could still have a reaction."

JD's heart raced a little at the thought of that possibility. "Could you let my brothers know?"

"Sure," the doctor said reassuringly.

7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7

"Can we see him?" Chris asked, when the doctor informed them that he wanted to keep JD overnight but that he expected their brother to make a full recovery.

"Yes," Dr Morton said, "but, one at a time please until we get him into a room."

"Thanks, doc," Chris said. He started toward the treatment area, when Josiah put a hand on his shoulder. "Age has its privileges," Josiah said.

Chris laughed and shook his head. "Alright," he conceded and settled back down to wait.

About ten minutes later, the door to the treatment area opened and the same nurse who'd escorted JD back called, "Vin Tanner."

Vin tensed at the sound of his name being called. "Where's Nathan?" he asked.

"Nathan's checking on Buck," Chris said. "They're waiting on you," he reminded his brother, with a glance at the nurse standing with what he assumed was Vin's chart in her hands.

"They can wait," Vin said, the tension in his voice matching the rigidity of his posture and the white knuckled grip he had on the vinyl arms of the chair he was sitting in.

"Vin," Ezra began hesitantly.

"I ain't gonna let no one touch me 'til Nathan's there," Vin said. "Y'all can bitch all ya want, I'm not changin' my mind." He looked up at the nurse. "Ma'am, if it's all the same to ya, I'll wait for Dr. Jackson."

The nurse walked over to where the brothers were sitting. "Mr. Tanner, Dr. Jackson spoke to the duty nurse. He asked that we not administer any treatment until he arrived. I just want to take you back and get you settled into a cubicle, while I've got the time."

"Vin," Chris said with uncharacteristic patience, "I'll go find Nathan myself, if you'll go with the nurse.

Vin looked from where the nurse was standing to the exit. Ezra had left enough places on the fly to recognize the face of a man determining if he could make it to the door without being apprehended.

"You can't make me," Vin said. "I got rights."

"Yes, you do," Ezra said softly. "Chris, find Nathan," he said, turning to meet his older brother's eyes. "Please," he added softly.

Chris only hesitated a moment. "I'll be back," he promised and left to find Nathan.

The nurse tried again. "Please, Mr. Tanner, just come back and get settled. Dr. Morgan will wait for Dr. Jackson, before he treats you."

Vin shook his head. Why couldn't they just leave him alone until Nathan showed up?

"Nurse," Ezra started.

"Nancy," she informed him.

Ezra inclined his head and smiled warmly at her. "Nancy, would it be possible for me to accompany my brother?"

She nodded. "As long as you don't get in the way," she said.

"Vin," Ezra called softly. "What if I accompany you? Would you agree to let Nurse Nancy escort you to the treatment area, if I stayed with you until Nathan arrives?"

Vin was miserable. He hurt all over and no one would just leave him alone. He really wanted this to be over. He wanted someone to give him something to make it stop hurting. Ezra wouldn't let anyone touch him, unless he wanted them to. Ezra would make sure they waited for Nathan. "Yeah," he said tiredly.

"Lead the way," Ezra told Nancy. "This way," he told Vin and helped him out of the chair.

7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7