Disclaimer: I don't own Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, not making any money, just cheap thrills.

Summary: Twenty years ago the McFadden brothers lost their parents. On the anniversary of their deaths will the actions of an old friend ultimately lead to the loss of a brother?

Warnings: Violence, angst

Prodigal Son

Chapter 1

Twenty years, Adam could hardly believe that tomorrow it would be twenty years since they'd lost their parents. There were days it seemed as if it had just happened but most days he could hardly remember the barely eighteen year old with the sudden responsibility of raising his younger brothers. He reached for the framed family photograph, the last one ever taken with their parents. They had one done every year for Christmas; Guthrie had only been a year old in this one.

There hadn't been another taken until he had married Hannah. It had never felt right without their parents but when Hannah saw the pictures she had asked about them. When Adam told her of the tradition begun by his mother for his first Christmas, Hannah had smiled that soft smile of her's and quietly suggested they revive the tradition. Adam could never say no to Hannah, not for long anyway, and in this he hadn't really wanted to. It had seemed right to celebrate their first Christmas as man and wife with a family portrait.

"You'd be proud of them," he whispered, tears welling up. Arms wrapped around him from behind and Adam looked up from his seat on the couch.

"They'd be proud of you too," Hannah leaned down, gently kissing her husband of ten years.

"You think?"

"I know." Hannah came around the couch, taking a seat beside Adam she leaned into him. "You did a good job raising them."

"We did a good job," Adam quietly corrected.

"Adam, except for Guthrie and Ford they were pretty much raised by the time I came along."

Adam snorted. "Not true. Yeah most of them were adults but they still had a lot of growing to do to become men our folks could be proud of."

"They were already on their way."

Adam pulled her close, his heart swelling with the love he felt for her. "Girl don't you know yet the miracles you worked for us all?"

Hannah gently slapped his chest, "Don't exaggerate Adam."

"You did," he insisted. "We were just drifting along, a bunch of rowdy bachelors with no real direction in life."

"A bunch of men and boys doing their best to keep the dream of their parents alive," Hannah corrected. "A boy forced overnight to become a man or watch his family be torn apart. You all were rough around the edges but you would have still become men to be proud of with or without me."

"Maybe, but it would have taken a lot longer and I'm not convinced we wouldn't still be those same rowdy yahoos we were when you first walked in the door as my wife."

Hannah sighed; she knew she would never win this argument. Adam was convinced that it had been her presence and love that had provided his brothers with not only direction but the will to pursue their dreams. She smiled, thinking of the changes the last ten years had brought.

Brian, the brother who had once wanted nothing more than to get away from the ranch and family obligations now lived, with his wife and son in a small house next to the main house. The brothers had built the home for them as a wedding present, surprising Brian and Becky with it when they returned from their honeymoon. Becky taught kindergarten at the local elementary school, she had met Brian when he had come to the school to help with repairs from a recent storm. Becky settled into ranch life easily though she kept her job.

They had all held their breaths when that announcement was made, expecting Brian to insist she give up her career now that she was his wife. Hannah loved Brian dearly but the man could be a bit of a Neanderthal and nobody could claim otherwise. He had surprised them all, giving his wife his whole-hearted support stating that nobody should have to give up their dreams for somebody else. They had been surprised again when little Ian was born and Brian eagerly helped with his care so that Becky could continue working, though she did take some maternity leave before returning to teaching.

Becky wasn't the only McFadden teaching at the local school. With the encouragement of his sister-in-law, the teacher, Crane had given substitute teaching a try. If nothing else it brought some much needed cash into the growing family. It wasn't any surprise to Hannah or Becky when Crane discovered a love for teaching. Everybody who knew him knew how good the man was with children, he would make a wonderful father someday. Hannah sighed, if only Molly had come back but she hadn't and as her mother used to say, no point crying over spilled milk.

Taking courses in his spare time Crane had soon added a teaching degree to the animal husbandry and business degree he already held. Last year he had taken up teaching the 4th grade class, soon becoming one of the most popular teachers at the school. He still helped on the ranch of course, taking time off for round up while a substitute took over his class. That was the only time off he ever took, using evenings and weekends to keep up his share of the ranch chores.

The others too had pursued their dreams but still they spent any spare time at the ranch, easily settling back into the familiar routines. Even Daniel, the big star, was home every chance he got. Daniel's band had finally gotten their big break about three years ago. A lot of his time was now spent on the road, touring, or in the studio recording. He didn't want to forget his roots, none of the boys in the band had and they had taken steps to insure they didn't. With the approval of their record company the band had used some of their first earnings to build a state of the art recording studio in Murphys, allowing them to spend time with their families even while spending long hours putting together an album. The studio had been a boon to the town as well, providing a few jobs and bringing in musicians from the surrounding area who wanted to put together a demo for the record companies. Those musicians stayed at the hotel in town, eating in Marie's restaurant, bringing much needed revenue to the small town.

"Will Daniel be home tomorrow?" Hannah asked.

"He's coming in today. He called earlier, said they made better time than they expected and he'd arrive in Murphys today. I think he's going to stop by the school and surprise Crane."

Hannah gave Adam a tight hug, "I'm so glad he'll be here. It wouldn't be the same without him here."

Adam swallowed past the lump in his throat. "No it wouldn't be," he admitted. Every year the brothers would gather at the cemetery, visiting with their parents while they cleaned up their graves, cleaning the stones and pulling weeds. The tradition had started with Adam who had found himself at the cemetery a year to the day after their deaths, talking out his fears and concerns. His brothers had found him there, thankfully after his tears were spent. Adam had been embarrassed at first to be caught talking to himself, and then Brian had started talking to them too, the others quickly following, even Guthrie, though he didn't really remember their folks. From there it had quickly become tradition, new members of the family joining along as they were added to the McFadden clan.

"Evan looks good," Hannah commented. "No casts this time."

Adam laughed, "Not sure how he avoided it. Did you see how hard that bull threw him last week?" They had watched it on the television as Evan competed on the professional rodeo circuit. Every member of the family had winced when their brother flew off the back of the bull, hitting the fence with a thud they swore they could hear over the roar of the crowd. Miraculously he had escaped with nothing more than scrapes and bruises. He had come home three days ago for a long stay, the circuit over for the season.

Hannah stood only to be pulled back down for a long kiss. "What was that for Mr. McFadden?"

"Just cause you're so pretty Mrs. McFadden," Adam grinned, loving the blush his teasing brought to his wife's face. Even after giving him three children, she was still the prettiest thing he'd ever laid eyes on. Adam didn't think he would ever tire of just looking at her.

"Nice as this is I need to get supper started. Everybody will be coming in before too long and they'll all want something hot to eat."

Reluctantly Adam let her go. She was right of course. Ford didn't help on the ranch as much as he used to, his residency at County General taking up most of his time but apparently being a doctor was as good for working up an appetite as ranching could be. Guthrie, the only other McFadden, aside from him and Brian, to take up ranching full time would often find his brother the doctor out eating him. The first few times it happened Guthrie had teased Ford, asking if it was really that much work handing out lollipops and wiping noses.

The day Guthrie sliced his leg open, nicking the artery all the teasing had stopped. Ford had, thank God, been home that day and in an amazing example of field surgery he had went to work on their youngest brother. Guthrie still had to undergo surgery at the hospital, the repairs Ford had made weren't going to hold long term, but they had held long enough for Guthrie to make it to the hospital. Adam had nearly fainted and Hannah had when Dr. Atherton, the hospital surgeon, told them that without the patch job Guthrie would have bled to death before reaching the hospital.

"Daddy!" his youngest, and the first girl born in the McFadden family in over a hundred years, screamed in joy as she launched herself into his arms.

"Aren't you supposed to be napping young lady?" Adam asked with mock sternness.

"I woke up," three year old Abby gave her father a look that clearly said she wondered about his intelligence.

Adam grinned. "I see that."

"Where's Sam and Davey?" she looked around the room as if her brothers might be hiding somewhere within it.

"They're still at school, but they should be home soon." He stood up, sitting Abby on the couch. "As a matter of fact I should go meet the bus." Five year old Sam and seven year old David, as independent as any McFadden, insisted on riding the bus home everyday, in spite of the fact that they could have easily rode home with Crane and Becky.

"Can I come too?"

"May I?"

Abby sighed, bringing a grin to her father's face, "May I come too?"

"Yes you may," Adam tweaked her nose. "If you can get your shoes on in the next five minutes," Adam laughed as his daughter squeaked and jumped down from the couch, running to her bedroom. Even the house had changed in the last ten years. As the family expanded it became clear they needed more room. Crane and Ford had both offered to move into town but neither Hannah nor Adam would hear of it. This was their home as much as anybody else's; they shouldn't have to move just because the family was growing. And so they had converted the attic into bedrooms for Crane and Ford, Daniel and Evan sharing with their respective brothers whenever they were home. A small bedroom had been added to the back of the house for Guthrie with Adam's kids taking over the bedrooms that had once belonged to Crane and Ford.

Adam was pulled from his thoughts as Abby came down the stairs, shoes on her feet. Too bad they weren't on the right feet. He made quick work of changing the shoes to the proper feet. Calling out to Hannah he let her know he was taking Abby with him. "Let's go get those brothers of your's young lady." He laughed as Abby tugged eagerly on his hand, dragging him out the door with her.

TBC...

Please feed the muse with reviews.