"Buck are you alright?" JD asked.
The meal over Buck had gone for a lie down. He was feeling distinctly unwell, and reckoned a sleep, some aspirin and he would be ready for his date. Besides, he needed all his strength, to tell his dad he was going out for the evening.
"Yeah I'm fine, just a little tired is all, what ya gonna do this afternoon?" he asked brightly.
JD shrugged, Buck looked at him, trying to work out what was wrong. Finally he sat up and tapped the bed next to him.
"Sit, talk," he instructed.
JD did as he was told.
"Spit it out kid, tell ol' Buck all about it."
"Chris' granddad is kinda scary."
Buck smiled to himself. "Ya reckon? Well maybe, but is he going to hurt you?"
"No of course not."
"Okay, is he going to make you do something you can't manage?"
"I don't reckon so and 'sides you wouldn't let him would you?"
"No, and neither would dad or Chris or even the others. So the question is what is there to be afraid of?"
"JD there are people out there that can hurt you, and you need to be afraid of them, but not all scary people can or even want to hurt you, it's just the way they are."
"So how do I tell the difference?"
"Well thats the difficult bit, it's part experience, part what you know about them, part instinct and part dumb luck"
"So how long does it take to learn?"
Buck put a long arm around his shoulders, "All your life kid, all your life."
The afternoon passed uneventfully at the ranch. Ryan Larabee had been working without a brake for months, and he was in need of a holiday. All morning he'd dozed by the pool, all afternoon he'd read the final chapters of the book he'd been trying to finish for weeks. All this meant that when a much rested Buck, feeling considerably better, informed him he had a date, he was feeling slightly less tense and more rested. Without any lecturing he reminded Buck he was on a midnight curfew and pointed out it had been nearly a year since he had last rode the dirt bike and to take it easy. After working on his tan by the pool and reading for a while, Ezra went exploring. He returned for supper then after a quiet evening took himself off to bed at nine.
By half eleven, even Chris and Vin had called it a night and were heading to bed, JD had flaked out on the couch and been sent to bed a half an hour earlier. On an off chance, Chris looked in on Ezra, at first he seemed to be sleeping, but something made Vin go into the room and look closer. The slumbering form of Ezra turned out to be pillows and a rolled blanket.
"Shit!" Chris swore, "Dad is going to flip, where the hell is he?"
"Do you reckon he can get off the ranch?" Vin asked.
Chris thought for a moment. "No I don't reckon so. Look, you and me gotta find him before dad does, come on."
He crossed the room and let himself out of the French windows that lead to the veranda. Then he and Vin slipped out into the darkness. They checked the stables and barns, both lads strained their eyes to spot Cromwell among the dozing and grazing horses in the dark field. They found no sign of Ezra and thankfully no vehicle was missing. Chris tried to think what Ezra would be looking for on a ranch in the middle of the night, just then he spotted a light as someone opened the bunkhouse door. The boys had been told in no uncertain terms the bunkhouse was out of bounds. As they moved closer they identified the person leaving the long building and heading back to the house.
"Evening Mr. Standish," Chris said softly behind him.
No matter how soft it was Ezra leapt back in terror at the sudden voice. He squinted into the dark, trying to make out who had spoken from the shadows. Chris and Vin stepped out into the limited moonlight. Ezra stood stock still, a wad of notes in his hand, frozen like an animal caught in the headlights.
"Saturday night poker in the bunkhouse, I should have known," Chris said with a sad resignation.
"Looks like he did alright for his self," Vin commented.
"Why Ezra? Why would you risk your freedom for that?" Chris pointed at the money.
"I needed it," he explained looking at the bundle of notes.
"For what? You have everything you need, food, shelter, clothes, recreation what else do you need unless you're fixing to run?" Chris asked.
"I have no intention of running, I have nowhere to go, and unlike Mr. Tanner I have no survival skills, I do not wish to return to incarceration but I need insurance."
All the time they had been talking, Ezra had been fastidiously sorting and straightening the money, he appeared to have finished, but continued to look down at the money, then he pulled out some notes and held them out to Chris.
"My stake money, I borrowed it," he looked up suddenly realising they might not have understood, "I was always going to give it back, I swear to you."
Chris looked at the money, ten five dollar notes.
"Where did you get this?"
"Your grandfather's safe in his study, I promise I was going to put it back, I'm not a thief!"
"You can crack safes!" Vin asked with undisguised awe.
"Some, old or cheap ones. Mr. Larabee's is very old," he said quietly.
Chris was in two minds, march Ezra into his dad or stand watch while he put the money back and deal with it himself. In the end he chose to let Ezra put the money back later that night once the house was asleep. The two older boys escorted Ezra back to the house, and with dire warnings about what would happen if he left the house again that night they went to bed.
Ryan Larabee woke up and pulled himself off the couch, checking his watch, it was 11:50pm. He looked over at the couch where his father had been sitting reading, it was empty, clearly he'd gone to bed. Ryan left the living room, and in his bare feet and trooped around to the boys rooms. He looked silently in on Ezra, finding him apparently asleep. He didn't bother with Vin or Chris, but went straight to the room Buck and JD shared. He listened for a while and then risked a look; young JD was dead to the world, sprawled out on the bed, Buck's bed was unslept in. He rechecked his watch, 11:58pm. in two minutes Buck would be late, again.
Ryan sat down on the front porch in the darkness and lit up one of his father's cheroots, smocking it slowly, trying to decide what to do. He had issued a warning, given a deadline. And as a good parent, and stick to it. He didn't like it but what signal would he send to the others, especially Vin and Ezra, if he didn't. It wasn't that he didn't trust Buck, he did, and he had placed JD in Buck's care quite deliberately, knowing he would take the lad under his wing. But he couldn't help remember the boy Buck had been when he first came to live with them, just after his mother had been sentenced to six months, for soliciting. Buck had been used to taking care of himself for a long time, he had resented the constraints placed upon him. He wasn't wild or out of control, but he was independent and stubborn. And now he was entering manhood, with all the temptations and pitfalls it presented, especially girls. Chris had a girlfriend and they seemed to be happy, Sarah was a nice girl from a good family, but Buck just went from one girl to another. Most boys his age lusted after every attractive girl they saw, but unlike Buck, most only got anywhere with one in twenty. Buck seemed to get almost every girl he went after. It was a dangerous and heady concoction, freedom and testosterone.
He heard the bike coming up the drive at around 12:30, he watched from the shadows as Buck put the bike away and walked back toward the house. Ryan got up and intercepted him just as he was heading along the veranda to his room. With a silent gesture he motioned his adoptive son to follow him. His heart in his boots Buck followed him to the front of the house. Once they were well away from any bedrooms, Ryan turned to face Buck.
"Well what do we have here?" He turned on the porch light.
Buck was quite a sight, his knuckles scraped and bleeding, the smell of strong spirit wafted from him, he looked pale and drawn.
"You're late, again, you stink of booze, again, and you look like shit, again!" He took in the damaged knuckles, and although he didn't say it he suspected Buck had been fighting.
"Dad please I can explain "
"I bet you can and I'm sure it will be very plausible, but I know what I can see and smell. Worse you were out on the bike, intoxicated. Christ Almighty Buck, you know better than that, it's unforgivable!"
Buck had had enough, he was tired, he felt sick, his hands hurt and he wanted to go to bed. "Yeah, you see just what you saw two nights ago, right? You looked at the evidence lieutenant and jumped to the first conclusion, the worst case scenario, and without waiting for further evidence, you acted upon it; right?"
"I have to do what I think is best for you." Ryan tried to sound reasonable.
"But not Chris oh no!" The hateful thought he had had for two days was surfacing. "I come home late and you assume I'm drunk and hangover and I get my ass chewed out and a curfew slammed on me. Perfect son Chris does the same and gets a slapped wrist at best. I don't expect you to love me like you do Chris but I did think you would treat us equal. If it was Chris here right now you'd be listening to his side and having some chat about responsibility, but not me! I'm tried, convicted and sentenced without benefit of trial. Why? 'Cause Buck can't be trusted, he didn't benefit from your perfect parenting while he was growing up in the rough part of town with no dad and a jail bird mom so naturally he's gonna screw up!"
Ryan seethed inside, he totally resisted the idea he had treated Buck unjustly, that he trusted him any less. He knew Buck was drunk, he only had to look at him, let alone smell him to know that, not to mention how he was acting. But he was also upset and hurting and good father that he was Ryan couldn't let it go without trying to sort things out, to explain.
"Son," he began.
"Don't you 'son' me, you're not my father, I ain't gotta father!" Buck turned to go.
That hurt Ryan, his own anger took over, and thoughts of conciliation were pushed to one side.
"Buck, come back here now!"
Buck stood still, then he slowly turned around and walked back, he continued until he was close enough to make Ryan have to look up to look him in the eye, making the most of his three inch height advantage. Ryan took a step back, desperately trying to keep a lid on his temper.
"You're grounded," he informed Buck.
"That means you don't leave the house all day tomorrow."
Buck frowned. Tomorrow? What about tomorrow? Than it dawned on him, the trail ride and picnic. He had been looking forward to taking JD out on that ride for days, especially since he found out the kid had a special talent for riding. He thought about protesting, trying one more time to get his dad to hear his explanation, but he just didn't have the energy, and he was too mad at him to even try, so he just said "Whatever" and turned to go inside.
Buck went in through the front door, and headed for his room. As he turned into the corridor that led to the bedrooms, Vin appeared at his door.
"Hey man you look like shit," he commented.
Buck stopped and looked sideways at the young Texan, just as Chris appeared at his door.
"You said the wrong thing there pal," he counselled.
Buck's wane face broke into a fairly good imitation of his trademark grin. "Now junior I have to tell you that ain't hardly possible," he informed Vin.
Chris looked at his brother with some concern. "Buck are you alright?" he asked.
"Sure, why wouldn't I be? I'm just tired."
"Good date?" Chris enquired.
"Yeah pretty good, I'm gonna turn in now guys." With that he headed past them and disappeared into the bathroom.
Chris watched him go without moving, and continued to stare at the closed bathroom door. Vin joined him.
"Something wrong?" he asked.
"Yeah, something is very wrong, I just don't know what exactly," Chris admitted.
At precisely 3:00am Chris shook Ezra awake. It took some doing but he eventually got the young southerner awake, and coherent. By the time he was escorting him to his grandfather's study Vin had joined them, and while Chris kept watch, Vin watched Ezra open the small safe with alarming ease, and replace the money in a black cash box sitting inside. Then they escorted him back to his room repeating the warnings about what would happen if he attempted to leave. Once back outside in the corridor Chris turned to Vin.
"What do you think he meant 'insurance'?" Vin asked.
"I think all his life Ezra's had money, the people he grew up with had money, their whole life is geared to getting more money. He doesnt understand how life goes on without it, or that some problems can't be solved with it."
"And suddenly he has no control over his life and no money," Vin ventured.
"To Ezra money equals control, security, maybe even love," Chris speculated.
"Money can't buy you love," Vin offered.
"Thank you John Lennon." Then he frowned. "Listen to me, spouting psychobabble, who knows what Ezra thinks?"
Vin shrugged and said goodnight, but he just knew Chris was right.
The morning dawned bright and clear, promising a warm day for the picnic. JD woke early. He looked across at Buck; he was curled under the covers sleeping soundly. JD went to the bathroom, showered, came back, dressed and checking his watch noticed it was nearly breakfast and Buck hadn't stirred once. He tentatively approached the bed, and called Buck quietly. He got no response, so he tried a gentle shake of the shoulders, then a firmer one, finally Buck stirred. He pulled himself groggily out of sleep, peeling open one eye to look malevolently at whoever had disturbed him, but when he realised it was JD, the malevolence melted away and he forced himself fully awake.
"What?" he growled.
"It's almost breakfast, you'll be late," JD explained worriedly.
Buck groaned inwardly, he had to tell JD he wasn't going with him today. With some difficulty he sat up and swung his legs of the bed, the sore muscles in his stomach protested, and his head pounded. Drawing his hand over his face he composed himself and sat up straight.
"JD I'm gonna skip breakfast, have a lie in," he explained.
"But Buck we're leaving right after breakfast," JD protested.
"Thing is kid I'm not going with you today, 'fraid I did it again last night, got home late an' got myself grounded," he explained.
JD's heart sank, no this could not happen, it would be no fun without Buck. Why would he let him down like this? He knew what would happen if he was late again. No; his mind rejected that notion, he had faith in Buck, he would never have come home late if he could help it, there had to be another explanation.
"But thats not fair, it wasn't your fault, he can't punish you if it's not your fault," JD reasoned.
"How did you know it was ." Buck inquired with wonder.
"It wasn't was it?" JD asked suddenly.
Buck shook his head, amazed at the boy's blind faith in him and hoping he could live up to it.
"No kid it wasn't. But, well; dad's under a lot of pressure, he's stressed. Guess he's worried about me too, and anyway I'm not feeling too good so maybe I'm better off having a quiet day." He didn't want JD to feel bad about the situation if he could help it. "Besides," he continued, "Mom's coming today,
someone should be here to greet her don't ya think?"
JD knew what Buck was doing and he wasn't buying it, but he didn't want to upset him so he played along.
"Yeah I guess, you better stay here and get better, I I wish you were coming though, thats all."
"Me too kid, go on now or you'll be late for breakfast."
It was JD who informed the others that Buck was grounded. Vin and even Ezra were clearly disappointed, Chris looked concerned, and when his father came into the kitchen angry. He glared at Ryan all through breakfast. As they got ready to leave Chris managed to get his father alone.
"Why did you have to do it dad? JD's heartbroken and you know how much Buck was looking forward to showing the kid the sights, improving his riding, dad?"
"I warned him Chris, if he was late I'd ground him, he was late and well it doesn't matter he was late."
"You warned him? When on Friday?"
"But I was late too, you didn't warn me." Chris didn't understand what was going on.
"The circumstances were different son, you and him it's different."
"Why dad? 'Cause Buck's not your real son you dont trust him like you do me? Dad it's not true Buck just as " Ryan stopped him with a raised hand.
"It's not your concern son, it's between me and Buck, stay out of it."
With that he turned to leave. Chris wanted to stop him, tell him it was wrong, but he had to think of the others and not spoil their day by getting himself grounded as well.
When Josiah had originally suggested Maggie attended the conference on fostering it was as a delegate, to get some ideas, meet people who had done it; before Ezra and JD arrived. Then just a week before the conference, one of the speakers had dropped out and Sanchez's friend had asked him to speak. Josiah could not make it. By then she was a genuine foster mother having just received the papers giving her and Ryan custody of Vin. Josiah had asked her to speak, to give her first impressions and her past experience. After all Buck might have been adopted, rather than fostered, but her experience with him was relevant. She had looked forward to it, as she took notes every night, of that first week with Vin and JD in the family. She tried to put on paper not only things that had happened, but how the dynamics of the family had changed, how she was feeling, how the boys had changed.
It had gone well, and she had learned a lot mostly from talking informally to other delegates. Arriving back at lunchtime on Sunday and letting herself into the house she was surprised to hear music coming from one of the downstairs rooms. Believing that the men had carelessly gone off three days ago and left it on, she headed in the direction of the sound. What she found was Nathan, his back to the door, working at the computer, singing away to the music. Maggie smiled to herself. How was she going to get his attention without scaring the poor boy to death? Finally she walked over to the stereo and cut the power. Nathan spun around to see her standing behind him.
"Ma'am you scared me!" he breathed "Did you have a good time?" he asked remembering his manners.
"I did Nathan, Mr. Larabee has roped you in as a house minder I see," she observed.
"Well he just said I could use the computer if I wanted to, I guess the house minding was a fringe benefit," he explained.
"I am going to have some lunch, would you like some?"
"If it's no trouble, I can make my own, Mr. Larabee said I could use the whole house," he replied uncertainly.
"Of course it's alright, Nathan. You can stay as long as you need to, sleep over if you like, all helps to keep the house safe. And if it helps you with your studies I'm happy."
Over lunch he told her about his first meeting with the shaman and the sweat lodge, he was so enthusiastic she found herself wishing she were also studying ancient Native American medicine. Once the meal was over she repacked and loaded up the truck to set out for the ranch, she offered to take Nathan one more time, but again he declined.
The Larabee posse was having a good day. Buck did not entirely leave their thoughts but they didn't let it dominate the day. JD was enjoying the freedom, the movement of the horse under him, the scenery. He felt at home on the horse, he felt safe and secure. That was until they came to flatter more open section of the trail and the two Chris Larabee's at the head of the ride suggested a gallop. JD gulped, he'd never gone faster than a gentle canter in the safety of a corral. Suddenly he wished Buck was there more than anything else, he was such a good teacher, he instilled such confidence in JD, so that he knew that with Buck around anything was possible. Vin somehow knew what he was thinking and he dropped back until he was beside him.
"JD all you have to do is relax and let Henry do the rest, sit up, let your leg hang long and hold on to the horn if you need to," he instructed patiently.
JD nodded. Just then Ezra's horse also pulled up on the other side.
"When this is over I will ask Mr. Wilmington if I may help in your equine instruction. I can see some of the finer points have been ignored, but in the meantime I would suggest you listen to Mr. Tanner's advice. And remember, horses are herd animals, they stick together, so Henry is not going anywhere the rest of us arent going," he advised gently, his soft accent somehow adding authority to what he said.
"JD you ready?" Chris jnr. called back.
"As I'll ever be," he admitted. Then he looked at the other two. "Thanks guys."
Ryan Larabee was riding at the back, the sight of the two older boys counselling the youngster in Buck's absence gladdened him, he was especially pleased to see Ezra offering help as well as advice.
Chris and his grandfather increased the speed gently until they were going flat out, and JD was in heaven, he held on to the saddle horn at the beginning, but as he gained in confidence he eventually let go and with the odd sideways glance at Ezra, who kept pace beside him, to check he was still doing it right, he kept up with the rest of them. When it was finally over everyone, humans and horse were blowing hard, and the ride slowed to a gentle amble.
"How was it?" Vin asked JD.
"Wow!" he breathed. I wish Buck was here, he thought.
"Me to," Vin said.
JD turned to him, frowning. "What?"
"Wish Buck was here."
JD looked at Vin not knowing what to say. "How did you ." he finally stammered.
"'Cause we all do," Chris explained having let his horse drop back to come alongside JD.
JD looked at him and past him to Ezra who nodded.
Maggie Larabee pulled up in front of the ranch house, and walked in wearily, dropping her bag in the hall. She wasn't expecting anyone to be there yet, but checking her watch she reckoned it wouldn't be long, so went into the kitchen to see what Sofia had left for supper. Finding three huge home-made pizzas in the fridge found she needed to do nothing until the ravenous pack of men returned. She was standing in the kitchen, looking out of the windows toward the ranch buildings, when she saw JD sprinting up the track towards the house. He didn't look distressed so she strolled out to meet him.
Once they were back Chris could tell JD wanted to go tell Buck all about his day, so he had offered to take Henry and let him run up to the house early. As he got closer to the house he spotted Mrs. Larabee waiting for him on the veranda.
"Hi JD did you have a good day dear?" she asked the out of breath boy.
"Yes ma'am it was great," he panted out. "I gotta tell Buck about ..it," he continued.
A sudden concern shot through Maggie, why wasn't Buck with them?
"Didn't he go with you?"
"No ma'am," he said sadly, "your husband grounded him, 'cause he got in late last night." JD saw sympathy in her eyes, and so continued. "It wasn't fair Mr. Larabee wouldn't let Buck explain and on Friday he said Buck had come home drunk but he wasn't, ma'am he wouldn't."
She regarded him with wonder, so passionate in Buck's defence, so sure Buck was innocent, after less then a fortnight. The two of them were made for each other.
"I'll talk to Mr. Larabee, you go see Buck, I haven't seen him so I guess he's in his room."
By the time the others, hot, dusty and famished trooped into the house JD came back from the bedroom.
"He's not there," he announced.
"Who's not where?" Chris asked as he came in.
"Buck, he's not in the bedroom, have you seen him Mrs. Larabee?" he asked hopefully.
She hadn't and it quickly became evident he wasn't in the house.
"I know where he is," Chris said quietly, "I'll fetch him back."
Between the covering hall and a long collection of storage rooms and workshops, stood the old barn, it was the only building left that dated from the time the first Larabee had settled in the valley. If modern buildings didn't surround it, it could have come out of an episode of 'Bonanza'. Painted red and white it had big double doors in the front, with smaller doors above below a hoist arm, there was a matching set of small doors at the back. The two sets of hayloft doors offered wonderful views out over the ranch buildings to one end and out over the fields and the not so distant mountains at the other end. The first time Buck had come to the ranch after his mother had been killed, he had spent hours in the loft, looking out over the landscape. It was still his thinking place, where he went to be alone.
Chris walked into the old barn, which now housed the ranch's collection of horse drawn vehicles and their harness. The loft was used only in autumn to house the extra winter feed. He crossed to the fixed, narrow ladder that led to the loft.
"Hey brother you up there?" he bellowed up into the loft.
"Chris," came the reply, so quiet Chris barely heard it.
"Yeah, come on down we're back, the kids looking for you," he explained.
"Can't." Came the single word reply.
Chris started up the ladder. "Oh come on Dad's not that mad and mom's here ." He stopped when his head reached the top of the ladder, and he could see Buck. He was slumped against a sack of feed left over from the winter. He looked terrible, drenched in perspiration, left arm wrapped protectively around his right side.
"Oh God." He scrambled up the rest of the way and over to Buck. "What's the matter?"
Buck managed to look up and attempt a smile. "Wouldn't be surprised if it weren't my appendix, I tried to get down but I couldnt', I called when you guys came back but I guess you didn't hear me."
Chris didn't know what to do, he could tell Buck was in excruciating pain and he didn't want to leave him alone but he also needed to get help and fast. Just then he heard a voice below them.
"Chris did you find him?" JD called up.
Chris ran over to the opening below the ladder.
"JD run back and get mom, tell dad to get an ambulance for Buck!" he instructed.
JD panicked, he ran to the ladder and began to climb. "What's wrong? Buck!" he called.
Chris stopped him. "Tell dad it's appendicitis; go JD, hurry!"
He could see the distress on his face, he watched as JD debated what to do, go and get help or run to Buck's side. It only took a second, and then he dropped down to the dirt floor of the barn and sprinted for the house. He barrelled into the house shouting at the top of his voice.
"Mrs. Larabee, Mrs. Larabee!" he bellowed.
Maggie managed to get a hold of the whirlwind. "JD son calm down, what is it?" she asked as the others looked on.
"It's Buck, he's sick, appendix. Chris says you gotta come and Mr. Larabee's to call for an ambulance. Hurry ma'am come on!" he hadn't taken a breath.
Maggie let him drag her out of the house as she watched her husband reached for the phone and her father in law stopping the other boys from following. Instead of running back to the barn JD and Maggie piled into the truck still parked outside the house. Chris heard it skid to a halt outside the barn.
"She's here, mom's here," Chris told Buck squeezing his right hand as it hung limply over the sack.
He listened as Maggie told a clearly terrified JD to wait at the bottom of the ladder and began to climb. While they had waited for her Buck hadn't spoken, he was finding it hard enough to just live with the pain. He'd been stuck in the loft, afraid he was going to die alone in agony for hours and he was just grateful to have someone there with him. He'd gone up into the loft to think, like he always did. By the time he realised he was really ill and in need of help he wasn't able to negotiate the ladder.
Maggie scrambled up the ladder barely keeping her own fear in check, and her first sight of her son didn't improve things. Clearly, if it was appendicitis it was very advanced and if it wasn't she dreaded to think what it could be. Taking Chris' place she sat down next to him. Before she said anything to Buck, she told Chris to take JD back to the house and find out what was happening. He was reluctant to go, but in the end he did leave. She could hear JD questioning him and wanting to come up, but she knew Chris wouldn't let him.
"I'm here dear, mom's here," she soothed, and was rewarded when he looked up at her. From his face it was clear he'd been crying but was now past that. Now he just wanted the pain to stop, whatever it took, if he could have died right then, he might have considered it.
"Make it stop mom, please make it stop," he begged.
He knew she couldn't but everyone secretly believes their mom can make anything better.
"I wish I could darling, but help is coming, just hang on."
"I'm sorry for causing trouble, getting stuck up here. I had to think, after what I said to dad," he explained.
"You and dad had a falling out?" she asked.
"He wouldn't listen mom, I wasn't drunk, I wouldn't, not ever." It was hard to tell what was causing the most pain, the infection burning in his side or his father's lack of faith.
She stroked his hair and held on to his hot hand. "I know love and we will get it sorted out I promise, but we have to get you well first." He wanted to tell her.
"I was late," he began.
"Its alright don't worry about it now."
But he continued. "I had to stop on the way back to help the lady with the kids, changed her tyre 'cause she was only little like you," he rambled. "Skinned my knuckles an' got all greasy." She instinctively looked down at the hand she was holding and noted the bruised and scraped knuckles. "She was nice and cleaned off all the grease with some spirit."
He looked up at her, she could see desperation creeping in and fear. "I have to tell him I'm sorry I said a terrible thing, I have to tell him I'm sorry," he breathed.
"What ever you said he'll forgive you. You can tell him when you get better," she assured.
"No, now, I might " she had to stop him, she wasn't going to let him say it, she was horrified he was even thinking it.
"You will tell him when you get better," she said in her best 'don't mess with mom' voice. "And thats the end of it young man, I don't want to hear any more about it, all you have to do is concentrate on getting well."
Buck looked up once again assured that moms could fix anything, and allowing her to just soothe and comfort, as he began to drift. Maggie wasn't sure how long she just sat there on the rough wooden floor holding her son and trying to help him ride out the waves of pain, but when she heard the helicopter swoop in low over the roof, she didn't think she'd ever heard a more beautiful sound.
Ryan had made the 911 call with a sick knot in his gut, almost unable to articulate what he needed, amazed when it was over that he had persuaded the dispatcher to sent a chopper. All he could think about were the last words he and Buck had had, the hurtful things said on both sides, and he began to doubt his assumptions of last night. If Buck was sick, that might have explained how he had looked. Once they knew a chopper was on the way, Chris snr. took Vin and Ezra outside to move a stallion and his companion out of a field close to the house and then stood by to wave the chopper in.
Chris walked up to the house with his arm around JD. He tried to reassure him everything would be alright, people had their appendixes out every day, a friend at school only a few weeks ago and he had been back in time for his graduation. But JD was scared. He was losing his mother, he had accepted that. And then Buck had come into his life and had understood, Buck just knew instinctively when he needed someone to hold him, when to say nothing and when something had to be said, to say the right thing. Now he was sick and they wouldn't let him see him. His mom had sent him away so he wouldn't have to see her die. Fear, ice cold as a March blizzard, was blowing through him. What if that was why they wouldn't let him see Buck? What if he was dying? He couldn't lose Buck, not as well as mom.
In the house Chris found his father waiting by the phone.
"Chris, how is he?" he asked.
"In pain, too much pain to get down the ladder. When are they coming?" he asked.
"Soon, very soon, they're sending a chopper, dad and the boys are waiting for it," he explained.
JD's fear intensified, they only sent a helicopter if you were in real danger, he'd seen it on TV, on 'ER'. His heightened fear must have shown in his face because Ryan frowned at him.
"JD I know you're scared son, but everything is going to be alright," he got up and came closer. "Come on, come and sit down." He led the frightened and trembling boy over to the small couch in the study. JD allowed himself to be led, he allowed himself to be gently pushed down onto the couch, and accepted the strong arm placed around his shoulders, he even lent into the embrace, but it wasn't the same, it wasn't Buck. The phone rang, and Chris picked it up quick as lightning.
"What? .Yes ma'am .Yes he does I'll tell him ..Yes ma'am we are, thank you for calling. Goodbye." He put the phone down, and looked at the others. "That wasn't about the chopper, JD could you go out and see if they're ready out there? It can't be much longer."
JD knew he was being got rid of so the others could talk, but he went anyway, and this time he couldn't be bothered to listen in, he hurried off to find Vin and Ezra. Chris turned to his father.
"That was a Mrs Rees, she wanted to thank the tall young man with dark hair, who said he lived here. Seems he stopped last night to help her change a tyre, she was particularly grateful because she had three young children with her. She was worried because he skinned his knuckles and she wasnt sure she had got all the grease out of the cuts." He took a breath, scanning his father's face, then continued. "She said we must be very proud of such a helpful and polite young man, and I agreed with her."
And Ryan knew what a terrible error of judgement he had made, he had jumped to conclusions just as Buck had accused him. He hadn't trusted, like he had told himself he would when the boys got older. Damn, but this parenting thing is just one long learning curve and I just got it wrong. He chided himself. Chris was angry with his father, he was mad as all hell with him. Dad had always been fair and reasonable and patient, until now. He and Buck had had some difficult times when they were younger but he had never been unjust, even if neither Chris nor Buck had appreciated it at the time. He held his father's gaze for a long time, until the noise of the helicopter broke the tension and both bolted for the door.
There was only room in the helicopter for one person to travel with Buck, and that was Maggie. As they watched the chopper lift off, each one of the men and boys left behind wished he was going too. It took some persuading but Ryan convinced the others to stay at the ranch with Chris snr. while he drove to the hospital. As he was speaking to them he realised JD was missing, but before they could worry about him, he came back into the hall where they were all standing. He was carrying Buck's bag, which he handed to Ryan.
"I packed everything he'll need," he said quietly, handing over the bag before fleeing back into his room.
Maggie had never been so scared as she was riding into the city in the helicopter and in the mad run through the hospital corridors. The paramedics were convinced it was appendicitis, and from what she overheard in the aircraft, Buck was going to be taken directly to the OR. The gas and air he was given had eased Buck's pain considerably and made him somewhat light-headed, an effect that was intensified by his level of fatigue, but he never lost consciousness. Maggie knew he was frightened, he held on to her hand and never took his eyes off her until they reached a pair of plastic swing doors, then a nurse turned her away. She handed Maggie a form and a pen, and directed her to a waiting area.
"You can fill out the admitting forms here and then just hand them to the nurses desk. As soon as there's some news someone will come and find you here," she explained.
Maggie studied the form and sighed as she realised there was so much she didn't know about him. If he'd ever had an operation before? Whether he'd ever had asthma? Did heart disease run in his family? Questions she just couldn't answer. Returning the half completed form to the desk, she sat down to wait.
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