Magnificent Seven Alternate Universeblankspace

'Tis the Season by Sue M

Brothers Larabee Alternate Universe

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

Thanks to Phyllis for BL/AU2

Main Characters: JD, Vin - All Seven feature

Summary: A Double L countdown to Christmas.

Thank you to Nancy at Blackraptor for her wonderful archive for all our stories.


"Christmas cake and bowls of walnuts, fa la la la la, la la la la,"

'Tis the season to eat chocolate, fa la la la la, la la la la,"

While filling their plates with food at the breakfast table, five brothers' heads bobbed up and they grinned when their youngest jogged down the stairs and burst into song. At the same time, Vin walked out from the mud room and when JD caught up with him, the pair fist-bumped and unexpectedly, Vin continued the song.

"Gingerbread men if we're lucky, fa la la-fa la la-la la la,

Not forgetting Christmas cookies, fa la la la la, la la, la la."

They both laughed and without thinking, an ecstatic JD hugged his brother. The Texan went stiff, causing JD's expression to drop and him to relax his hold. Moments later Vin twisted out of JD's grasp, grabbed him around the neck and with a cackle, noogied his head.

"What have I told you about droppin' your guard, Kid?"

The giggling pair finally joined the others for breakfast. Buck winked.

"Put him down, Tanner, you don't know where he's been." He chuckled when JD passed him to take his seat and punched Buck's arm.

"Shut up, Buck."

There were a few moments of playful swatting before Chris's unsubtle cough settled the three brothers down.

"It would seem poets live among us," Ezra commented.

JD shook his head and replied around a mouthful of toast. "Nah, took me since last night to make up my lines..." he pointed to Tanner, "while the Vinster there made his lines up on the spot."

Others smiled while Josiah coughed a laugh into his napkin. Ezra mouthed the question 'Vinster?' to Buck, whose shoulders were already shaking with amusement on seeing Vin's berating stare at JD. Oblivious, JD continued heaping syrup onto his pancakes and sighed contentedly as he took a bite of the sweet breakfast treat. When he noticed how quiet it was, he looked up to see amused gazes directed at him. He frowned.


JD rubbed his nose, chin and cheeks with the back of his hand. "Have I got syrup on my face?"

Vin released a breath, shook his head, and grinned. His actions set off a conversation again. Chris began.

"Right, now that the main chores are out of the way, time to chop down this year's tree and get it home."

Buck could sense JD's excitement building and distracted him from the impending outburst. "Aww, man, how'd you get syrup way up there?" As he spoke, he slapped a huge unfolded napkin over JD's face and wiped.

"Mmmmffff." JD struggled and pushed Buck off. "Dude! What am I? FIVE?"

Buck faked hurt and removed the napkin. "Just trying to help is all..." He looked toward Chris, whose expression wasn't the happiest, and it occurred to Buck he'd just done the very thing he was trying to stop JD from doing. He cleared his throat. "Go ahead, Stud."

"Gee, thanks," Chris replied, testily, ignoring the other four's laughter. He raised his hands in defeat. "Okay, those finished here, meet me outside, for everyone else, we leave in half an hour. Bundle up!"

As he walked away from the table, Chris rolled his eyes at himself. 'Bundle up? Shoot, I'm turning into my father.'

"Have fun," Ezra uttered as he stood to leave the table. Curious gazes turned to the southerner.

"You're not coming?" JD asked.

"I have an audio conference in an hour, so I'm afraid I must withdraw from this year's traditional undertaking." With his familiar salute, Ezra retreated to the study.

Seeing Vin stand, JD's face dropped. "Are you coming?"

"Hell yeah. Go get ready," he urged.

The rest of the brothers also stood. "So...everyone but Ezra's going?" When the others nodded, JD relaxed, grinned, and ran off upstairs to put extra clothes on. Buck shook his head in amusement as he, Nathan, and Josiah followed. The latter spoke.

"Thank all that's Holy this is only once a year!"


This year's pre-chosen fir tree was located deep into the forest. To get to it, the boys had to leave their 4x4 truck on the snow-topped dirt road and hike into the white-blanketed woods. An apparatus hitched to the truck was devised by Gramps - Ernest Larabee - on his and Mema Lizzie's first Christmas on the ranch, except that, back then, a sturdy cutting horse would have towed it. Pulling it was heavy, thirsty work, and without a horse, and in order to transport the felled tree back to the truck, the six brothers would need to unhitch the sled and manually haul it to and from the fir's location.

The hardest part however, turned out to be actually getting the weighty, felled tree onto the sled, especially as the one chosen this year was particularly bushy. After much heaving and ho-ing, Chris, Buck, Nathan, and Josiah strapped the tree to the sleigh. Sidetracked by the surrounding deep snowdrifts, JD began jumping into them. He giggled to see the snow reached his waist, and prompted Vin to follow suit. Being around three to four inches taller than JD, the snow only reached mid-thigh, encouraging the pair to drift-hop some more in search of deeper snow banks.

They both eyed one at the same time, but as JD was closer, he leaped in first. Vin's laughter stopped dead when JD completely disappeared and the snow followed him into the hole he'd made. Vin's cry out caused the others to turn and look. When they saw Vin scraping at snow with his bare hands, they wasted no time in running to join him. A gloved hand appeared and Josiah grabbed it. Vin uncovered the second hand, which Buck held, and as Vin revealed JD's snow-encrusted head and shoulders, Buck and Josiah heaved. The more of JD that was exposed, the more the others were able to grab onto, and with a final haul, JD was out, the momentum causing Buck to fall backwards onto the snow, taking JD with him. Vin stood and ran back to the truck for a blanket. He returned to find JD sitting back against Buck while Chris and Nathan continued dusting snow off the boy.

Through frost-encrusted lashes, JD blinked and shook his coated hair like a dog would shake off water. He looked at the anxious faces of his brothers, blew out an icy breath and attempted a grin. "Man, that was intense."

The other five released soft, reassured laughs, Buck gave JD a quick and heartfelt hug and then stood, hauling JD upright with him.

"Thanks Vin." Nathan took the blanket and wrapped it around the shivering youth. JD squirmed.

"Aww, Nathan, I'm fine, just a little cold is all."

"Which is why I'm wrapping you up," the doc scolded.

JD turned to Vin and his grin widened. "I guess I won. My drift was deepest."

The Texan chuckled. "Reckon you did, Kid."

Chris looked JD up and down. "You all set for the walk back?"

"Sure. I'm fine, really." JD wriggled and made a face. "Just got a little snow where the sun don't shine."

Six men chuckled and took up positions at the sled's chain. On Chris's word, they all heaved, and pulled the tree back to the 4x4. Within the hour, they were arriving back in the yard with an eight-foot fir in tow.


After changing out of their wet clothes, the brothers warmed up with a helping of hot chocolate and Nettie's gingerbread cookies. Afterwards, Chris sawed off a thin slice from the bottom of the fir's trunk and then the seven brothers set the tree in a water-filled stand - its new home for the next few weeks. The tree decorating caused hilarity, disagreements, much tinsel throwing, and frustration from twisted lights, which JD swore he put away untangled when last year's tree came down. A further debate ensued over tree-toppers.

"JD, you put a star on the top, not an angel."

JD scowled at Nathan. "Not necessarily, back in Boston we had an angel."

Vin nodded in agreement. "Yep…best I can recall we did on our tree, too."

Chris looked back at the pair and frowned. "How come you didn't tell us? We've always put Gramps and Mema's star on the tree, but we could have changed it, if we'd all agreed."

Vin looked at JD and, even as he shook his head, he knew his younger brother felt the same. "No…we kinda liked the tradition…didn't want to spoil it."

JD confirmed his agreement with a nod.

"Well," Ezra started while aligning glass baubles on the tree's branches, "can't bring to mind Mother ever procuring our own tree, but I recall that some relatives had an angel, and others, a star."

Buck exchanged glances with Chris, who could clearly see something turning over in the brunet's mind at the mention of an angel.

Josiah pointed. "Ezra, the middle left bauble needs to be adjusted, it's a little unbalanced," he advised.

Ezra rolled his eyes. "I can assure you, my dear brother, nothing I do is…unbalanced."

Sitting amongst a small mountain of tinsel, JD cackled, quickly turning away as the southerner narrowed his eyes at him.

"Did something in that statement amuse you, JD?"

JD shrugged, "Just thinking of you...being unbalanced," he replied, honestly. Now the others were laughing.

Standish huffed. "This from a man who until only a few years ago, believed his Christmas presents arrived via a herd of reindeer hauling a sleigh, and a portly man in a red suit."

JD's jaw dropped. "What are you saying, Ezra? That Santa's not real?" He turned to the others. "Say it ain't so!"

JD picked up a can of fake snow bought to decorate the windows, despite the fact that the real thing was nestled against the outside frames. Standing, he squirted in the direction of Ezra's hair.

Standish was horrified. "Dear Lord…give me that!"

A tussle ensued, and both men armed themselves with tinsel, chuckling like fools as they attempted to wrap each other in it. The others howled with laughter. They'd never seen Ezra so playful. Before long they all joined in until Chris's piercing whistle settled them back into the task at hand.

JD wired up the lights, while some put the finishing touches to the tree decorations, and others made coffee. When JD said he was finished, the penultimate task of topping the tree was next. At JD's request, the tradition of the youngest performing the honors was adjusted so everyone could take turns. This year it was Ezra's, and at first, the southerner politely declined, but JD was having none of it and badgered him until he relented. Using a small stepladder, Ezra placed the original and traditional Larabee star at the top of the tree. His smile as he stepped down off the ladder, and then back to admire his handiwork was infectious and prompted a round of backslaps and various demonstrations of affection. Chris also decided not to stand on ceremony, at least for these lights, and gestured for Josiah, as oldest, to light the tree.

With a huge, toothy grin, Josiah stepped forward. He clasped his hands and looked at his brothers. "May I say a prayer to bless the tree?"

Chris had his own personal falling out with God to reconcile, but Josiah's occasional prayers always seemed fitting, and comforting. He glanced around, and as one, they all nodded. Encouraging the taking up of hands while they stood before the tree, Josiah prayed.

"Lord, give light to our hearts so we may always reflect
On those who enlightens our hearts.
Let us pray to the Lord, that the joy of this tree of illumination,
And the spirit of the season, be everlasting.
And that the peace and goodwill of Christmas
May dwell in the hearts of humanity, forever.

The ex-preacher raised his head, and with his smile wide, he walked to the plug socket and bent to flick the switch. The lights came on and cordially twinkled, mesmerizing all in the room. The conviviality of the moment brought contented smiles to the brothers' faces and was a fitting end to the efforts of a long day.


The seven tidied up before eating their dinner of beef casserole and dumplings, which Nettie made earlier and had left for them. JD caught himself staring at the tree. He turned to Chris who was close by.

"How come the Larabee tradition for the Christmas tree to go up is the first of December, and not Thanksgiving?"

Curious gazes turned to Chris. Buck and Nathan could recollect something once said, but the details escaped them. Josiah, Ezra, Vin, and JD however, had never heard the reason. Chris's eyes had a faraway look as he leaned on the back of the sofa. He offered a crooked smile.

"Dad told me that Gramps, Great Uncle Wil, and Mema cleared this land hereabouts with their own hands, and used the trees that were cut down..." he gestured around, " build this house and the original barn, and then eventually the bunkhouse, additional stables, outbuildings, and later on, the indoor arena. By Thanksgiving, they'd moved in, but barely found time to cook a meager dinner, let alone anything else. They took a ride out that Thanksgiving weekend, their first real look around the property together, and Mema got excited about the trees. Forests of firs, and pine trees, which Gramps planted more of as time went on to prevent mountainside erosion.

"Mema apparently commented on how wonderful it would be to have one of their trees in the house for Christmas. Gramps thought on it some, and then he and his brother made a sled - the one we used today. Gramps used one of three sturdy cutting horses he'd just bought, to pull the sled through the snow, and he and Uncle Wil brought back a fir. The next day, December 1st, Mema dressed the tree. Gramps handed her a box and inside was..." Chris looked up at the tree, "...that star. A simple, gold, blown glass star that Great Uncle Wil decided to make for them after he helped to cut the tree down. I guess it's a family heirloom, now."

Eyes turned to JD when he let out a squeak.


JD glanced at Buck, and then the others. "An heirloom? And you let me hold it?"

Chuckles circled the room. Chris smiled. "It's lasted the course of little kids, big kids..." Chris swallowed. "A grandkid. I reckon it's up for a lot more handling yet."

"They sound nice."

Attention turned to Vin.

"Your grandparents," he clarified. "They seemed like good people."

Both Chris and Buck nodded. "They were," the pair chorused.

Chris further explained that as soon as Rosie told Linc, a widower several years before they met, that Buck was his, the man encouraged his son to visit the ranch whenever he wanted, so Buck had grown up knowing, and loving Ernest and Lizzie, and grieved along with Linc and Chris when each one passed.

"So..." JD wanted to get an answer to his original question. "'Cause the first tree came in on the first of December it became tradition?"

"Partly," Chris agreed, "and to some extent because Mema said something like 'Turkeys are about Thanksgiving, fir trees are about Christmas.'" He shrugged. "And it's stuck ever since."

All nodded their understanding. JD smiled to himself. His mama had also been of the same mind, even though all they owned was a small, artificial fir. He looked toward the tree standing proud in the room. Man, if she could only see this tree here, now. He watched his brothers clear the table. Before the blond could join in, JD called him back.



"Did...did Mom share a Christmas here with..." He couldn't bring himself to finish his sentence.

Chris moved to squeeze JD's shoulder. "Yeah."

JD left and Chris was alone. A fun day had included a trip down memory lane. He smiled inwardly. It felt good to talk about the old days. Chris glanced back at the tree and up at the star.

Real good.

Remembering Buck's reaction to the star versus angel discussion from earlier, and as Chris felt sure today's exertions in the fresh, mountain air meant he wouldn't be long for his bed, he hurried off to catch up with Buck.


After breakfast the next morning, JD, Ezra, and Vin were found standing together and staring up at the Christmas tree. As Buck and Chris looked on with satisfied expressions, Josiah and Nathan joined them to find that, hanging from a branch at the top of the tree and just below the star…was an angel.


After several lengthy debates, the brothers decided to spend their Christmas shopping trip in Reno. As a special treat, and much to Ezra's delight, they planned to spend two nights at the Grand Sierra Resort, and the southerner - slash - Las Vegas man, could hardly wait to try out the in-house casino there.

Being unaccustomed to such extravagance while growing up, Vin and JD were excited about a big city hotel stay. JD was pleased to learn that the resort supplied views of the mountains, and the river. If JD missed anything about Boston, it was the waterways and coastline, especially Quincy Bay, with its yachts, and the promise of a whole other lifestyle. He would jump on his bicycle and in less than an hour could be sitting on the dockside, watching the yachts glide in and out of the harbor.

Vin always lived a good distance from water, and although he loved the mountains, he appreciated a chance to visit any kind of waterway. At home, he and JD's favorite places on the ranch's vast lands were the small lakes dotted around, especially Lake Chiakowa, so he too looked forward to the novelty of a river view.


The time of year dictated room availability, and only mountain views remained. The brothers registered and settled in, but were soon hungry. Plans to eat were temporarily suspended when it became apparent that JD's comment about going out to take a 'quick look around' was over an hour ago. Vin recalled JD taking his coat, and figured that the extended absence meant he had likely found the river. Vin asked the others to let him check out his hunch, and not long after, he found JD at the rear of the huge resort and leaning on the sturdy railings running parallel to a river walk.

"The Truckee."

A startled JD spun around to face Vin. His breath hung white on the frigid air. "Huh?"

Vin joined the boy. "That's the River Truckee."

"Oh." JD stared at the frosty mist rising off the fast-flowing, choppy water. "Neat, huh?"

Vin smiled and also leaned on the railings. "Yeah."

JD pointed. "A sign says that, down there aways is a white water park - right here, in the center of downtown Reno. How about that?"

"Sounds like a good excuse to come back when we got us more time." Vin thumbed behind him. "Did you see the lake?" He noted the youth's surprise, and gestured with his head. "C'mon, the guys are hungry; what say we head back and take the lake route?"

JD straightened and gave a little shiver when his bare hands touched the cold metal of the rail. "You bet."

As they walked, Vin dialed, and while talking, encouraged Chris to head on down to the restaurant. He put away the phone, and the pair continued on. Vin winked at JD.

"The menu'll give 'em somethin' to think about 'til we get there."

JD nodded. "'ve seen the lake?" he asked.

"Yup. Part of it's for boatin', and another part looks to be a drivin' range to targets anchored on the lake."

"Driving over the lake? How does that work as to getting the balls back?"

Vin shrugged. "Beats me. Divers, maybe."

JD giggled. "Hell of a job, huh?"


Before too long, they reached the large, artificial lake. Lights lined its facade, their colors reflecting off the shimmering water to create twinkles and sparkles.

"Aww, man, that's awesome." JD looked just beyond the lake toward the hotel buildings, stretching high into the night sky. "Suppose we should get inside. Do we have time to change for dinner?"

"Reckon not. Come on, my stomach's singin' for its supper."

"Yeah, mine's rumbling, too." With one last look at the glistening water and a glance toward the distant mountains, JD followed Vin into the hotel. "Snow sure looks pretty on the mountains."

Vin Nodded. "Yeah, it does. Good skiin' up there right now, I reckon."

"You ever been skiing, Vin?"

Tanner opened a door off a long corridor and looked at his brother. "Nope." He grinned and gestured toward some bathrooms. "Best we wash up at least, but shift your butt, we're late."

Shoving his cold hands in his coat pockets, the youth teasingly dragged his feet as he walked toward the door. JD cackled and thrust his hips forward to avoid the cowboy boot aiming for his tushie. He failed.



There was more laughter as they went to wash up, and then go in search of their family.


"We should order." In the restaurant, Chris set his menu down on the table while checking his watch...again.

"Don't be too hard on 'em, no telling where JD got to before Vin found him," Buck defended.

Chris's cell phone rang and he answered it. A minute or so later, there was a hint of a smile. "They're heading in. Vin thinks ten minutes."

"What time is everyone venturing out in the morning?" Josiah asked.

Ezra grinned wide enough to flash his gold tooth. "With my shopping concluded some while back, I plan to avail myself of this resort's gaming facilities."

"Why am I not surprised?" Nathan's tone failed to match his acerbic expression, and Ezra chuckled.

"Am I to presume certain inclinations of mine have become predictable?" He full on laughed at the unanimous replies.


"Outrageous. Whatever would Mother say?" He shook his head. "No, let's not go there; we're having such a nice time."

"Are you ready to order, gentlemen?" a waiter asked.

Chris glanced at the menu, and then at the other five men. "We're waiting on our brothers. Would you bring us a round of one lemon and lime soda, and six beers..." he nodded at Ezra, " imported. Thanks."

The waiter left with a smile and a nod, oblivious to the warmth and affection circling the table due to the utterance of one simple word. 'Brothers'.


Vin and JD exited the bathrooms with their coats off and draped over their arms. On the way to one of the three restaurants in the resort, the pair glanced in through the glass walls of a bar they passed.

"Man this place is real fancy..." Vin cut off his conversation and stood still, causing JD to stop walking and look back. He could see Vin staring into the bar.

"Hey, you okay, Vin?" He was confused by his brother's stern demeanor as he continued to stare.

"Go on and meet the others, Kid, I'll be along soon."

His nerves jangling, though not knowing why, JD moved next to Vin and also looked into the tavern. "What is it?"

"Kid, just...go!" His features earnest, Vin delivered his instruction with urgency, which just made JD more determined not to leave him.

"No! What's wrong, Vin?" For a moment it looked as if Vin was mad at him, but he knew Tanner's anger was only ever directed at those who deserved it.

Vin raised a hand to grip his brother's arm and expressive blue eyes gazed at JD. "See that fella at the bar, in the fringed jacket?"

JD nodded. "The jacket kinda looks like the one you have back home."

"That one is mine," Vin hissed, "and the guy wearin' it is a bounty I was once chasin'...some time before I got Linc's letter." He noted the question on JD's lips and his expression softened.

"I'll explain more later I promise, but right now, I'm gonna detain him until a buddy of mine workin' this area can get here." He squeezed JD's arm. "Go on now; I ain't gettin' an ass-kickin' from the guys for lettin' you get in the way of trouble." He watched JD's features turn defiant. 'Aww, hell...'


The boy shook his head. "No way." He gestured into the bar. "I'm guessing the minute that guy sees you, he'll run. I can keep an eye on him until you get hold of your friend and take over."


JD's eyebrow arched. "Fine, I'll go ask Chris..."

"Aaarrrgghh!" Vin growled in frustration, then paused a moment. "Okay...but if he's lookin' to leave before I come in, you signal it?"

JD nodded, and watched Vin take out his cell phone.

"And any sign of trouble, scoot, y'hear?"


"JD, swear on my life."

JD paled at the thought of such a heavy responsibility, after all, what if he unintentionally did something that counted as crossing the line. He held out his fist. "I swear." After he and Vin fist-bumped, JD entered the bar.


The suede fringes on Hal Irving's jacket sleeve brushed the bar's countertop when he picked up his glass and sipped on a whiskey. He didn't bat an eyelid at the youth climbing onto the stool next to him.  

"A beer, please Mister."

The barman looked JD over. "Sir, I...

"...Gotta card me? Sure." He pulled out his ID and showed it.

"Sorry, it's just..."

JD grinned. "No problem, I get it all the time." He turned to the man next to him. "I get it all the time."

Irving turned his head toward JD and frowned. "What?"

"Getting carded...happens to me all the time." JD could see the man had almost finished his drink. Would he be buying another? He decided not to count on it. "I'm on vacation, you?"

Irving huffed, but didn't look JD's way this time. "Came here for some peace and quiet."

Not missing the tone, JD continued. "And you picked this place? I mean, it keeps going all night. Oh sure, the rooms are real quiet, but..." A faded, stained slit under the right shoulder of the man's jacket caught JD's eye.

"Nasty cut to your jacket, there, mister. You been hurt?"

Hal turned to the lad and smiled, coldly. "Not me...just the fella it once belonged to." Irving leaned in close to JD. "I did it 'cause he pissed me off."

The realization of his words drained the color from JD's face and he unintentionally looked through the glass wall to where Vin was hanging up his phone.

With an instinct borne from years of running from the law, Hal Irving's head snapped round to see where his chatty companion was looking. His and Tanner's gazes connected just as Vin was entering the bar. "Shit."

In a practiced move, he jumped down off the barstool, pulled out a knife, grabbed JD and to the sounds of patrons' screams and howls, and to chairs toppling as people tried to escape, he held the knife to JD's ribs. "Back off, Tanner, or you know I'll use this."

JD swallowed. 'Aww shoot.' His gaze caught Vin's before the Texan's glare turned feral and he walked toward Irving. He shook his head.

"Not this time, Hal. Already got a hunter comin' in, and I reckon security, and the cops are on their way too, by now. Let him go."

JD uttered a soft gasp when Irving pressed the blade harder against him.

"I've been free this long, I'm not about to go down now, bounty hunter. Get out of my way."

JD gave Vin a look. Taking in a breath, the boy stomped his boot heel hard onto Hal's foot. Irving howled out and straightened, allowing JD the chance to ball his hand into a fist and swing it backwards into the man's family jewels. Roaring in pain, Irving threw JD aside, sending him crashing into tables bolted to the floor and scattering chairs; but it gave Vin enough time to throw himself forward to take the man down.

Vin clutched the wrist of the hand the knife was in and the pair wrestled along the floor, hitting the bar, chairs, and table legs in their struggle for possession. Pinned on his back, Vin strained to keep the knife away from his face. With a determined grunt, he turned Irving, successfully forcing the felon onto his back. Irving's free fist came up and hit Vin square in the jaw, and then the nose. The tough Texan quickly shook it off and delivered a hefty return punch, while the hand holding Hal's wrist slammed it down several times in an effort to disarm the fugitive. Another roll forced Vin's back against an unyielding table leg, prompting a grunt from him before a concerted effort succeeded in getting Irving onto his front.

Triumphant, Vin sat down hard on the man's back. He snatched up an empty bottle rolling along the polished tiled floor and brought it down hard on Hal's hand, causing the man to scream out and release the knife. Again, with the bottle, Vin used its span to sweep away the knife before discarding his makeshift weapon. Panting from the conflict, the Texan grabbed the hair of the still struggling Irving, and slammed his forehead down against the floor. Vin was relieved when Hal settled down and, taking advantage, he brought the man's arms around his back to cuff his wrists. He remained seated on Hal's prone body, and looked around for JD. Vin smiled to see his brother disentangled from the chairs he'd skidded into and now walking toward him, though he appeared to be favoring one side.


JD nodded. "Sure." He grinned. "Bro, you're awesome. Where'd the cuffs come from?"

Vin waggled his sore jaw and dabbed at the blood under his nose with the back of his hand. "I carry 'em from habit."

JD righted a chair and straddled it. "Just as well." He looked around at the damage. "Are we in trouble?"

"Nah. I still got my license, and in Texas, a bounty hunter has to be a sworn peace officer, so it's all legit. 'Sides, he threatened you, and me, with a weapon." He looked to the door when cops pushed past security and approached him.

"Evenin', officers." He gestured he was reaching for ID, and then showed them his badge. "Got a local bounty hunter comin' in any minute to take him in." Vin stood and explained who the man was. By the time he was through, Chet Coban, the Reno bounty hunter Vin had called, arrived with a copy of the writ out on Irving, and took over the man's custody.

Irvin looked back and called out. "This ain't over Tanner!"

The Texan waved a dismissive hand. "Yeah, yeah." He winked at an alarmed JD. "They always say that. What's he gonna do from prison?" He watched the man being hauled away and suddenly Vin called out

"Hey, wait up, he's got my jacket."


Once police business was concluded, Vin and JD went into the bar's bathroom to clean up. Looking in his mirror, but focused on Vin, JD spoke.

"Sorry I screwed up."

Vin glanced in his own mirror to reply. "Reckon you did just fine, Kid." Gingerly dabbing at a graze on his cheek with a damp towel, Vin straightened and turned to JD. "What d'you think you did wrong?"

Taking a fresh towel to dry his face, JD looked at Vin, and then to the slit in Irving's coat. "He...he said the damage was the former owner's..."

Suddenly wishing he hadn't shared the information about the jacket, Vin subconsciously touched his back.

"I've seen that scar, Vin. I...I had no idea..."

"Please..." Vin stepped forward and rested his hand on JD's shoulder. "I promise, I'll explain everythin', to all of you, but not right now, okay?"

After a short pause, JD nodded. " lips are sealed." He gestured to Vin's grazed cheek. "How you gonna explain that?"

Vin squeezed JD's shoulder. "The same way we'll account for why you're favorin' your side...with the truth." He smiled. "A toned down version."


"About time!"

The brothers around the table looked to Chris, and then followed his gaze toward their missing siblings.

"Long ten minutes..." Chris stood. "…What's happened to your face, Vin?"

Buck hadn't been slow, either. "Why are you walking funny, Kid? You in pain?"

The pair took up seats between Chris and Buck and picked up menus. Vin spoke. "Y'all must be famished, I know we are."

JD nodded, enthusiastically. "Let's eat, and then we'll give you the details back in our suite. Okay?"

Chris took the menus off the pair. "No, not okay. You'll do it now."

The nerve in Vin's cheek jumped as he clenched his teeth. ""

While the pair staged a glare-off, the other five snatched up menus to place their orders. JD peeked over the top of his and was relieved to see that, while Chris's gaze remained fixed, he picked up a menu. Seconds after, he and Vin's interest turned to their options.


After an awkward meal, Chris asked for the bill to be put on their room's tab, including a bottle of whiskey to go, and then they left the restaurant. At this point, Ezra planned to leave them and head for the gaming tables, but decided instead to do so once he knew all was well. He hadn't missed that Vin was carrying a buckskin jacket, as well as the sheepskin one he wore to go looking for JD. This was going to be interesting.

The last man into their suite had barely closed the door when Chris plopped the whiskey bottle down hard on a side table and turned to Vin.

"Okay, now tell us what delayed you and JD."

Still considerably wound up after his encounter with Irving, Vin was irritated by Chris's attitude.

"Later, I need a shower."

Chris clenched his jaw and turned his head "JD..."

Vin raised a hand. "Hold it, Kid, I'm handlin' this." He looked at Larabee. "Chill out, Chris, I said I'd tell you, and I will."

"Maybe a drink..." Josiah tried.

Chris replied without taking his eyes off Vin. "Not now. Vin, what is it you don't want to tell us?"

Seeing JD fit to burst, and with no way of telling how this would go, Buck pulled the boy back against him and wrapped his arms around his little brother. If anyone was going down, it was not gonna be the kid.


"Then talk," Chris urged.

"Quit treatin' me like a kid, and I will."

"Fellas..." JD said softly, but a squeeze from Buck, and a shake of the head from Nathan was a clear message to let the bickering pair sort things out between them. If anyone knew how to handle Chris, it was Buck, Nathan…and Vin.

"It's you that's acting like one. Quit stalling and spill."

"What makes you think you got the right to ask?"

Chris's next move surprised everyone in the room. He approached the Texan, wrapped one hand around the back of Vin's neck and drew him close. "It's not about rights, it's about fear. You and JD are hurting, and it scares me that not only do I not know why, but that I was right here when whatever it was happened, and I wasn't able to watch your backs."

JD's eyes filled, and he stared at Chris with undisguised hero worship. Buck, Ezra, Josiah, and Nathan each felt emotion catch them unawares and swell like warm cotton in their throats.

Shimmering blue eyes fixed on anxious green orbs before Vin dropped his gaze. "Sorry," he murmured.

Chris relaxed his shoulders and squeezed Vin's neck. "Whiskey?"

Tanner looked up and nodded. "Whiskey."

While Josiah instantly went to the purchased bottle and cracked open the seal, Chris's hand moved to Vin's shoulder. With another squeeze, and a nod to the man, he turned and walked over to JD.


JD felt the body behind him stiffen, but then quickly relax when Chris's raised hand rested on JD's cheek.

"You hurting bad?"

"No sir, just a bruise." JD hissed when Chris's hand moved off his cheek and touched his side. "Okay, maybe more than one."

Indicating that the whiskey was poured, Josiah handed the glasses out and all but JD took a seat. Squatting down at the fridge, the youth took out a Dr Pepper before taking a seat on a padded footstool between Vin's, and Buck's chairs. During the momentary lull, he looked at Vin, who first winked at him and then reported all that happened up to the point Hal Irving was taken away and except JD being held at knifepoint. Neither Vin nor JD missed the tension crackling around the room, especially around Chris and Buck. The former spoke, his tone clipped.

"Why did you let JD get involved, Vin?"

Buck's focus was also fully on the Texan. JD stood. "Whoa! Now just you hold on there. One, I'm right here, and two, he didn't let me get involved, I refused to go away. Vin was gonna take on this guy alone, all I did was buy him a little time to call in the cavalry...uh, his bounty hunter buddy."

"And you got hurt, how?" Buck pushed.

JD shrugged. "Things got a little rough for a moment there, and I got in the way..." he saw the looks, "...and I also got out of the way; though man, it was tough seeing Vin and that fella rolling around the floor fighting over a knife..." His head turned sharply toward Vin. 'Shit, too much information.'

Chris pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. His voice was husky. "A knife?" He waved a hand. He'd rather not know, they were both okay...that was all that mattered. "Never mind."

"May I ask..."

Attention turned to Ezra. "Where did the buckskin jacket come from?"

"It's mine," was Vin's simple reply.

Ezra was none the wiser, but he was a man who knew when not to pry.

Buck's eyes narrowed when he noticed JD's look to Vin. It was a mix of adulation, and fear. There was more to this story than these boys were admitting to, but Buck knew JD would never intentionally let the cat out of the bag. He took a sneaky glance around the room, and figured the others were clued in, too.

Vin hadn't missed JD's gaze, and without warning, stood. "Truth is, I had a brush with Irvin before I knew about Linc." Vin raised his shirt to reveal a scar they'd all seen before.

"The jerkass knifed me, stole my jacket and cell phone, and left me alone and bleedin'."

The air in the room was thick with tension and astonishment. The shock of that moment of insight in the bar after seeing the slit in the jacket, and the very idea of steel penetrating flesh, was all it took for JD's eyes to finally spill. The idea of any of his brothers being hurt - or worse - never coming back, produced an overwhelming sensation of dread for him. Memories of the knife poking at his own ribs generated thoughts of himself maybe one day not being around. JD didn't realize how ashen he'd gone until Buck's voice was telling him to drink up.

JD knocked back the drink placed in his hand. The violent cough the whiskey triggered brought the boy back to reality. Still panting, his wide, moist eyes looked at Buck, then to Vin. "How did you get help, Vin?" he rasped out.

Vin's fist gently swiped at JD's arm before he spoke. "Back then, I carried two cell phones. One was always on silent, and was a burner phone, purely for emergencies."

Eyes turned to look at JD when he nodded his understanding.

"Uh, it's a phone with a sim card that you toss away and replace so no one can trace your number. It's popular with crooks, or folk who deal with sensitive or confidential material."

Vin bobbed his head at JD's explanation, then turned sharply as Chris stood and looked about to leave the room. He grasped his brother's forearm and held fast.

"We all have a history, Chris. Don't punish me for what passed as mine."

There was a long pause until eventually Vin looked down at his arm when Chris's hand wrapped around it in a grip unique to them. Vin was the first to use it, back when the brothers first came together, and its message to Chris was that this guarded man was putting absolute trust in him. Vin's gaze rose on recognizing his expectation was being returned, and he smiled at Chris.

"Judging by the day's events, and the heavy shopping day we have planned for tomorrow, we should perhaps consider an early night," Josiah suggested.

Collective weariness prompted five return nods, Ezra however, stood up.

"Well, gentlemen, unlike you, I consider the night as still young, so I'll take my leave." With his customary two-fingered tap to his forehead, the southerner grinned at his brothers and left.

Outside the room, and on his way to the poker tables, Ezra pondered on what transpired this evening, and what they had learned because of it. There was still so much they didn't know about each other, and it was painfully apparent that such a state of affairs was becoming progressively unsettling.


In the suite's living area, the remaining brothers cleared away the glasses and returned furniture to their rightful positions before making a move for their bedrooms. Vin maneuvered close to JD and tenderly brushed his bruised side.

"Thanks, Kid."

JD offered a tight smile and nodded. "We didn't lie," he reminded.

The words prompted the pair to look guiltily at each other, and then toward their brothers. With a nod of agreement, Vin patted JD's back in encouragement.

"Guys!" They called together.

The remaining four looked to Vin and JD. The latter nervously licked his lips.

"There was one more thing," Vin admitted. "It didn't crop up while you were hearing about events earlier this evening but, we think it's something you should know about."


After JD relayed his and Vin's experiences at knifepoint with exceptionally vivid narrative, no one spoke for a while. Vin and JD saw that the four men became visibly shocked during the account, and yet now, with the tale told, they appeared...sympathetic.

Vin and JD glanced at each other. Where were the stern words...the chewing out? Their gazes followed Chris as he got to his feet.

"Well, you're here, and both relatively in one piece, so clearly it worked out. Now I'd like to put it to bed...along with my weary bones." The blond's tone softened further and a small smile emerged.

"Boys, I appreciate that you shared this with us, and while I won't pretend to be thrilled about it all, I would never want anyone to think they'd have to hold out on any of us, or worse still, lie, just 'cause they're troubled over the consequences." Chris's accompanying gaze to the pair spoke volumes. He wasn't overly happy, but he sure wasn't mad.

A relieved JD and Vin nodded their reply.

Chris went on ahead to the bedroom he shared with Vin. Tanner nudged JD, smiled at the others in the room, and quickly followed. Those left prepared to follow suit to their own rooms. Still a little bowled over by the evening's revelations, JD was jolted out of his daze when his shirt rose and cool air goose bumped his skin.

"Nathan! You made me jump."

"Okay to use this?" The doctor held up a spray can.

"Uh, yeah, sure." JD made a face and went rigid when the can's icy mist hit his flesh. "Woooooh, man that's cold."

Nathan grinned at JD, and nodded to a chuckling Buck when he joined them. He handed JD the can. "It'll help if the bruising aches."

"Thanks, I'll use it if I need to, I promise."

When Buck draped an arm around JD's shoulders, the youth happily leaned into the big man and walked with him to their bedroom. As the pair reached the door, they laughed out loud at the commotion coming from Chris and Vin's room.

"Aaaaarrrggghhh! Nathan! What the hell?"

"Vin, it's just iodine…"

It feels like acid on my skin."

"Have you ever had acid on your skin?"

"Uh, no, but if I did, I reckon it'd feel just like that! No! Back off!"

"Vin, your cheek needs cleaning up!"

Chris's softly spoken words cut in, bringing calm to the fray.

"Okay, I'll leave it with you, then." Nathan left the bedroom and walked to his own. He shrugged at Buck and JD and continued on into his room.

Shaking their heads and sill grinning, Buck and JD went into their own bedroom. JD's thoughts however, turned to what kind of lives his brothers led before meeting up.

JD shook himself out of his pondering. It would soon be Christmas and things had almost gotten way too intense, so he decided that tomorrow he needed to get extra presents; gifts that would help lighten everyone up. JD grinned to himself. He knew just the thing.  


Next morning, and initially, the six brothers out shopping separated in order to purchase gifts for each other. They agreed to meet up several hours later in a local restaurant for lunch. Buck and JD arrived first and the headwaiter guided them to a table. After ordering drinks, Buck tried to peek into JD's bags and cackled when the youngster slapped him away.

"Nuh-uh, Buck, you'll spoil my secret surprise."

"Secret surprise, huh?" He bumped JD's arm with his shoulder. "Aww, go on, Kid, you can tell me."

JD's eyebrows rose. "You? Tell you, the guy who told Josiah what I was planning to do for his birthday within five minutes of confiding in you?"

Buck glanced to one side, and then regained eye contact with his youngest brother. "Fair point." He thanked the waiter for his beer, clinked his bottle with JD's glass of Seven-Up, and relaxed. "Wonder where the others have gotten to?"

JD put down his drink and glanced at his watch. "We're early."

Buck grinned. "That's gotta be a first."

JD chuckled and sat back, mirroring Buck's position. "Yeah."

The brunet's smile widened as he glanced at JD. He'd always felt that life was good, but since the remaining family had grown from three to seven, life was magnificent. He was just about to tell JD as much when four harassed brothers arrived with armfuls of bags and brown paper-wrapped parcels. Ezra, unruffled and relaxed, soon joined them. Neither one of new arrivals missed the delighted yet, mischievous grin on JD's face, which prompted each man to not only wonder what their youngest might have in store for them, but eager to find out.


Beers and whiskies were flowing, and lunch was going well until a line of conversation took off. Memories had been emerging and Buck was laughing.

"Hey, remember that one Christmas when, after the big day, Dad took us out to the cabin and we did Christmas all over again? Well, the turkey dinner, anyway."

Nathan and Chris nodded. Nathan took up the story. "We'd had a great year money-wise, and were given the best Christmas presents ever, yet right there, on the lake, was the sleekest, shiniest speedboat we'd ever seen. It was way too cold for water skiing…" He started to chuckle, "…but we did it anyway!"

Buck laughed harder and leaned in. "Even with wetsuits on, we came off the water like popsicles!"

He and Nathan clinked beer bottles. Chris's cheek dimpled in a smile, but he was more interested in the change of mood between Josiah, Ezra, Vin, and JD - especially the two youngest. Josiah and Ezra were smiling and nodding politely, but there was a longing in theirs, JD's, and Vin's eyes that was slicing into Chris's very soul. JD and Vin looked like they wanted to escape, and fast. The battle to hide their feelings was painful to see. Chris knew there wasn't an ounce of resentment in their bones, but he couldn't even begin to imagine how listening to a life filled with Christmases with their father while, eventually, wanting for nothing, could affect the four - though he could take a good guess. JD instinctively reached out, but for Vin, not Buck. His touch caused the Texan to stand abruptly, which made JD jolt. He looked up at Vin, as did the others.

"I, uh…gotta get goin'."

JD stood. "I'll come with you…"


Vin's raised voice made JD's eyes go wide and he sat down hard. Tanner's expression softened and he forced a smile.

"Can't have you snoopin' while I'm still buyin', can I?" He moved to leave, glancing back at the others as he walked toward the door of the restaurant. "See you guys back at the hotel."

Chris watched Vin go. Without moving his head, his gaze switched to Buck and Nathan, and it was painfully obvious they'd cottoned on to what was going down. He then glanced at JD when the shaken youngster stood once again.

"Need the bathroom," JD mumbled, before hurrying off.

Ezra downed his whiskey, and picked up his coat off the back of the chair. "As enjoyable as this has been, I feel unable to resist the call of a poker game, and the lure of a rather delightful female croupier." He tipped an imaginary hat. "Gentlemen."

Josiah rose to his feet. "I'll walk with you, Ezra. See you at dinner, boys."

The three remaining brothers sat in silence. Buck put a hand over his face and groaned. "Chris, I didn't mean anything by…"

Chris wrapped fingers around Buck's wrist. Nathan was equally troubled. He looked at the pair. "I know, and they do too. We can't change what's past, and there'll be times like this again." He smiled, kindly. "But we're family, and we'll get through it."

JD rejoined them. His eyes told their own tale.

"Damn," Buck whispered to himself.

Chris squeezed Buck's wrist, and then let go. He looked at JD. "Ready to head back, Kid, or do you have more to buy?"

JD grabbed his jacket. "Nah, I'm done," he said, softly. "Might get take a nap when we get back. Got a headache brewing, don't want it to turn into a migraine." He felt a warm grip on his neck and sighed at the gentle massage to the taut muscles. He smiled up at Buck.

"Come on, let's go," Buck urged.

"I'll give you something when we get in, JD," Nathan assured.


While coats were put on, Chris paid the tab and then the four left. On their return to the hotel, and determined not spoil what was left of their trip, each one became silently resolute to move past any awkwardness; while feeling confident the other three brothers were already thinking along the same lines.


With no one left on the ranch but the seven brothers, there was no time to spare. Vin, Chris, and Josiah took care of the horses, while Ezra and Nathan started prepping the provisions for Christmas Day dinner, and Buck and JD cleared the yard and drive of snow...again. With snow falling steadily, they couldn't afford to let it settle for too long through the day, or it made every job on the ranch ten times harder and longer.

JD cheerfully cleared the outside area in a 4x4 with a plow attachment. Buck trundled out of the hay barn in a tractor, and with one large hay bale nestled in its bucket, and one on the back prongs, he delivered them to the paddocks around the ranch, and the indoor arena. Soon after, he and JD would take hay out for the horses in the lower pastures.


Inside the stables, Vin lifted off his slouch hat to swipe away the sweat on his brow. With the hat still in his hand, he rested his arm on a stall door and glanced around to check his, Chris's, and Josiah's progress. His cheek dimpled in a satisfied smile, which quickly disappeared when he felt his hat tugged from his hand.


Vin turned sharply to find JD's donkey, Toby, holding the hat's brim between his teeth and appearing as if he had a huge silly grin on his face. "Gimme that back, you ornery mule!"

Vin made a swipe for it, but Toby easily sidestepped the attempt. "Damnit, it still ain't too late to have donkey burgers for Christmas dinner, y'know!" He tried for the hat again, and failed. Now he'd have to go into the stall. The Texan opened the door.

"Come on now, Toby, be a good donkey."


Hearing the commotion, Josiah and Chris looked up from the stalls they were cleaning. The pair grinned, and then laughed as they watched a usually composed Vin snatching at his hat while a grinning donkey pulled away from him. In seconds, Toby reached the dividing wall between him, and JD's horse Milagro, and Vin could only stare in astonishment when the bay's nose came to the bars that divided each stall and it appeared that Toby passed the hat off to him. Toby brayed in triumph when Vin hastily exited his stall to move across to Milagro's.

"Should I go get JD?" Chris asked between chuckles, laughing harder at the glare he received from his younger brother. He mock shivered to Josiah. "Ooh, cold. That look was positively frosty."

Vin was about to snap out a reply when the little bay plopped the hat onto the Texan's head, and then whinnied his delight of the game. The sight of Vin with a hat covering his eyes while it dripped slobber was too much for Josiah and Chris. Now standing in the central aisle between the stable blocks, the pair full on guffawed at the antics. Vin snatched up his coat and as he passed them by mumbled something to himself about JD and a broom handle. The two men found support from holding onto each other until their laughter subsided.


Later that evening, the seven were relaxing in front of the log fire after a meal of various pizzas, made by Nathan and Ezra while they were preparing for Christmas day. Some of the guys were drinking whiskey, Ezra had brandy, and JD and Vin were drinking bottled beer. Several drinks in and teasing started about the mound of presents under the tree. Talk turned to Christmases past.

"With my mother and father being missionaries, no matter where in the world we were, we celebrated Christmas," Josiah explained, "but there were few presents exchanged. Moving around so much made traveling light a necessity." He smiled. "My sister and I never felt hard done by; it was all we'd ever known."

Ezra broke the silence that followed Josiah's pronouncement. "Christmas gifts were always in abundance," he paused and swirled his brandy around in its glass. "But I would have gladly traded them all for one full Christmas with my mother."

The mood in the room had turned contemplative.

"I miss my mom." JD took a gulp of beer when he realized he'd spoken his thoughts out loud.

Vin sneaked a glance at the gazes focused between him and JD. He took a drink and shrugged. "I worked over Christmas. Great time to catch a bounty off-guard." His eyes moved just enough to catch a glimpse of Chris's expression. He stood and glared at Chris.

"What is it with you and my former line of work?"

Chris met his gaze. "Well, for one, you're here, now."

Vin made a face. "And…?"

There was a pause before Chris replied with a question of his own. "If it's your former occupation, why have you renewed your license?"

For once, Vin was taken by surprise. "How could you know that?"

Chris pursed his lips and then answered. "Back about six months ago I came to your room looking for you. You were in the shower, and on your bed were the new license and its accompanying letter."

"So you read it?" Vin spat.

"Didn't need to, I could see what it was."

JD's expression spoke for all of them, but his showed a hint of alarm, too. "You're not leaving, are you, Vin?"

Seeing the look on JD's face, softened Vin's stance. "No, Kid, I ain't leavin', just keepin' my license updated for now, is all. I worked and saved hard to earn it."

Noting Chris's facial expression was unchanged, Vin decided he was done with this conversation and turned to head for bed. "Y'know, I got by just fine before meetin' y'all." He focused on Chris. "If you can't support me, then stay out of my business."

Chris rose to his feet, causing Vin to straighten and look back at him. "It's not just about supporting you, Vin…"

Voices rose to quell the expected impending storm. Josiah urged calm, Buck suggested he make hot chocolate, Ezra offered around his decanter of brandy, and Nathan reminded everyone it was almost midnight. Through it all, Vin and Chris held each other's gaze but never spoke.

JD's voice broke through them all. "Guys, come on! It's Christmas."

Vin's attention snapped to JD. "Kid, just once in a while, would you knock off the eternal optimism." Vin jogged on up to his room.

Silence ensued. JD offered a tight smile as he stood up and looked around at his brothers. "I, uh…g'night all. Merry Christmas." Moments later, he too went upstairs.

Chris rolled his eyes and looked up at the ceiling. "Damnit."

Ezra approached. "Chris, while I can appreciate your concern for Vin and his former profession, are you more angry that he reapplied for his license, or at the very nature of the job?"

Chris sighed and looked back at the group. "I'm not mad at him, I'm disappointed he reapplied yet couldn't tell us he wanted to keep his license. As for the job itself, yeah, the unpleasant side of it worries me. What happened in Reno brought those concerns to the surface." Chris's eyebrow rose when Buck chuckled. "Did something I say amuse you, Buck?"

"Just can't help being a mother hen, huh, big brother?"

Chris's shoulders relaxed and he cracked a smile. "That's your job, Bucklin."

Everyone settled down a little. Josiah spoke.

"While I believe on not going to bed on an argument, maybe this is one occasion sleeping on it might be for the best."

In agreement, and after finishing their drinks, the five men gathered up their glasses, wished each other goodnight, and went to bed.


In his room, Vin grabbed a pillow and pummeled the crap out of it. When done, he flopped down onto his bed and sighed. He'd instantly regretted his spat with Chris, and especially his sharp words to JD. It wasn't fair to have taken out his frustration on the kid. Rarely one to let things fester, Vin made a vow he'd make it up to his brothers in the morning, starting with an apology.


His mind still mulling over Vin's words, JD pulled out six colorfully wrapped parcels from under his bed. He hadn't put them under the tree due to a plan he'd formulated for Christmas morning. JD wondered now whether he should abandon the idea. He quickly set his doubts aside when he reminded himself that Vin was just lashing out in frustration, and didn't mean to be sharp with him, and that Vin and Chris would definitely make up in the morning, they never stayed mad at each other for long. With a grin emerging, the youth waited for the house to go quiet, and then, after writing out six accompanying notes, he dropped his gifts outside each of his brothers' bedroom doors.


JD opened his bedroom door and peeked out. All the parcels had gone from outside the doors except Buck's. Straining to hear any movement, he tiptoed to Buck's door, knocked hard, and rushed back into his own bedroom, quietly closing the door behind him. Hardly able to contain his laughter, and with a plan to enter Buck's room from the adjoining door, JD walked toward the joint bathroom he and Buck shared.


Buck was about to put on his slippers when there was a loud knock at the door. "Come in!" When no one did, Buck called out again, but with no reply, he went to the door and opened it.

He frowned at the empty hallway, and was about to go back inside when something on the floor caught his eye. Bending to pick it up, Buck could see that it was for him from the accompanying note…he smiled…and which undoubtedly was written by JD. Walking back inside, Buck closed the door and turned around. He stepped back in shock to find JD standing before him.

"What the…" Buck stared long and hard at his little brother before a smile eventually cracked and he gestured to the parcel in his hand. "Is this what I think it is?"

JD nodded. "Uh, huh. I gave one to everybody."

Buck read the note.

"Merry Christmas. True family forgive and forget, and that's what we are, true family. I love you all, and I beg you to remember that when you open this gift. - JD"

The genial man blinked hard. "Love you too, little brother," he said, softly. He hugged the boy. "This is gonna be a great Christmas." Buck relaxed his grip, grinned at JD, and ripped open the parcel. He laughed as he held up the gift. "Oh - yeah!"


Four brothers stood in the living room and stared at each other. No one spoke. A sound caused them all to look toward the stairs where they saw Vin shuffling their way. It was the final straw and smiles twitched, turning into full-blown laughter. Vin joined in the hilarity. He shook his head.

"That kid's butt is mine!"

Chris padded over and he and Vin clasped forearms. "Get in line, Tanner!"

Laughter once more erupted when JD and Buck came in. JD flung his arms open wide. "Awww, man, you wore them!" He grinned, widely. "You guys look great."

"Your ass is mine!" Vin threatened, but there was no malice in his words. His expression went more serious and he walked up to JD. "About last night…"

JD grinned. "New day, remember?" He held up a hand. "Ooh, wait up, I got my camera ready for this." He hurried into the study and returned with a tripod-mounted camera. After a minute setting it up and directing his brothers into position, JD joined them. He glanced at Buck and nodded.

"This is gonna be a great Christmas. Smile, guys!"

One black bear, three brown bears, a panda bear, a teddy bear, and a polar bear said 'cheese' and, before the high spirited exchanging of gifts, the images of the Larabee brothers dressed in their bear onesies were captured for posterity.

The End