Despite having to dash the boys plans to recreate the circus in the back yard, Buck and Chris decided to keep the circus theme going. After a supper of baked potatoes with melted cheese, bacon and beans, they watched a selection of Disney videos with a circus theme. They did discuss getting 'The Greatest Show on Earth' but it was just too long. They also thought about Dumbo, but decided the story line too traumatic for the boys. Vin happily watched all the videos, JD enjoyed Pluto's adventures, he was asleep halfway through Goofy's and never saw any of Mickey.
Come morning, both boys were eager to get on with their chores and play. So with the horses all groomed, fed and turned out into the corral and the stalls mucked out Buck and Chris saw no reason not to let them play while they had a rare and much needed bit of quiet time before the others came over to watch the afternoon football match. There had been an overnight frost, but while it was still chilly and crisp outside it wasn't so cold as to keep the boys inside.
The normal sounds of boys and puppies playing was something they were now well used to, it was part of the background and they took no notice. The absence of noise or different noises got their attention. When it first went quiet, both men, in different parts of the house stopped. Chris looked up from the computer, Buck hit the mute button on the TV remote. Then the silence was replaced by the sound of hooves.
"What the " Chris began coming into the great room.
" is going on," Buck finished, already on his feet.
They headed out, running as they headed out on to the back porch and across the yard towards the barn. As they approached it was clear where the noise was coming from, all the horses were charging around the corral in a great swirling parade of dust, manes, tails and hooves.
"What in the world has gotten into them?" Chris asked.
"That" Buck pointed to the middle of the corral, where two small boys stood. Vin appeared to be in charge, he was waving a long switch, encouraging the horses on, JD was standing behind him. Both were grinning like loons.
"Oh shit!" Chris gasped. "VIN!"
Both boys looked around, JD waved enthusiastically.
"Vin, put the stick down and stand still," Chris ordered.
Vin frowned, seemingly not comprehending what his father was saying.
"Vincent Michael Tanner! Put that down now!"
Vin blanched, dropping the switch as if it were suddenly a live snake. JD, seemingly realising what was going on, started toward Buck, seeking reassurance.
"JD stand still, stay with Vin!" Buck shouted.
For a moment JD hesitated, then retreated a few steps and pressed himself close to Vin. With the boys no longer encouraging them, the horses began to slow. As soon as they were able to, without exciting the horses anymore, Buck and Chris slipped under the rail and crossed to the two boys. Without a word, they picked up their respective sons and returned to the rail, only when they were on the other side, did anyone say anything.
"Just what were you doing, young man?" Chris demanded.
Vin looked at the ground and shrugged, mumbling something inaudible.
"What was that?" Chris prompted.
"He said, we's being the free horses guy," JD supplied.
"The 'free horses'? You mean the liberty horses."
Vin was still concentrating on the ground, so JD continued his explanation. "We didn't ride the horses and we didn't make the dogs do nothing and we didn't do any of the things you said not to do."
"JD, hush now," Buck squatted down next to the five year old.
"But I was just telling Chris what we was doing."
"I know, hush now."
"I didn't touch them with the stick," Vin whispered.
"What was that?" Chris asked.
"I didn't hurt the horses with the stick, I wouldn't do that."
Finally, Chris realised that they were at cross purposes. "Oh Vin, son, no, I know you'd never hurt the horses." Vin looked up hopefully. "I was alarmed because it was dangerous. Our horses aren't trained like those circus horses, and you don't have any training at all in how to handle liberty horses. That man we saw, he's been doing that for years, he trained those horses himself, probably since they were born."
"I didn't try to do the fancy stuff," Vin offered.
Chris pulled his hand down his face, how could he make Vin, who loved horses and trusted them implicitly to look after him, understand?
"Come on Little Bit, let's go and let the dogs out." Buck held out his hand.
With one last look at Vin, JD reluctantly took his father's hand and allowed himself to be led away.
"Vin?" Chris drew Vin's attention back to him.
"I didn't do any of the things you said not to do, honest."
Chris sighed. "I know, I should have been more specific. But you have to understand that horses are creatures of flight, when something scares them, they run - fast. We, humans, we have learned how to get the horse to trust us, to tell him when to run. You waving a stick says run to them, it scares them and when they're scared, they could hurt you, without meaning to."
Vin frowned. "Peso wouldn't do that, he wouldn't hurt me."
"Maybe he wouldn't, but Pony? Pony's a strong willed horse. Beau and Quincy are both big. They wouldn't mean to hurt you, but it could happen, all of them going so fast in such a small space. I don't want you to get hurt."
"I know, I'm sorry."
"It's okay, just so you know, I only tell you not to do things because I love you and I don't want you to get hurt, not because I don't want you to have fun."
"I know that, Dad, we have lots of fun." The twinkle of merriment was back in Vin's eyes.
"Good, so let's leave the horses to calm down for a bit before we take them out for a ride."
"Yay! Can I go tell JD?"
Buck was just finishing a very similar conversation with JD when Vin ran up with the good news.
The rest of the morning passed relatively quietly. After a good two-hour ride, the boys played outside while their fathers got the house ready to welcome their uncles, who were coming over to watch the football game after lunch. Despite the earlier incident and the restrictions placed on them, their games still revolved around the circus. Buck delighted them by demonstrated a hitherto unseen talent for juggling apples. Naturally, they insisted he take a break from sweeping the porch to instruct them. Vin made good progress, managing to keep two small oranges going, JD wasn't so successful, but seemed very happy with his own version of juggling. Both boys were determined to demonstrate this new skill to their uncles and Chris had no doubt two sets of proper juggling balls would find their way to the house, courtesy of Ezra.
So it was that, as Josiah, Ezra and Nathan all exited Nathan's car, their two small nephews, eager to share their circus experiences and demonstrate their juggling skills, pounced upon them.
The uncles were properly appreciative.
"My, my Vin, that is most impressive," Ezra enthused as Vin tossed one orange from one hand to the other in a high arc, quickly passing the second one before catching the first. He managed it six times before he dropped one.
"Buck showed me how, did you know he could juggle?"
"Indeed I did, though I must confess I had forgotten." Ezra was about to mention his own juggling ability but thought better of it, especially as JD was now tugging his pant's leg with a grimy, somewhat sticky hand.
"I can do it too," he announced. "Wanna see?"
"Of course I wish to see, show me what you can do."
JD stepped back a little way. Then with his little brow furrowed in concentration, tongue protruding from the corner of his mouth, he managed to toss a single orange from one little hand to another at a distance of about three inches, twice.
"Did you see me?" he asked enthusiastically looking up, clearly impressed by his own performance.
"We sure did, wow, JD you're really good," Nathan gushed.
"Vin's better," JD admitted.
"Well, he's got bigger hands, that makes it easier to catch the ball."
JD looked at his hands and then over at Vin's. "Oh yeah, Wow Uncle Josiah must be real good at juggling, 'cause he's got real big hands."
"Well I guess he must be, let's go in and ask him."
The match was a tense one, the lead changing hands several times with only a few points difference. When it was finally over Buck, felt himself let go a breath he hadn't realised he was holding and make a conscious effort to relax his shoulders.
"Damn that was a good game," he commented as he stood up, looking down at Ezra. "Just how does he do that?" he asked of no one in particular.
Vin clambered down from the arm of the recliner he'd been sharing with Chris, to stand beside Buck and regard the slumbering Ezra.
"He's faking it," the seven-year-old stated matter of factly.
"Yup, want me to prove it?"
"No," the 'slumbering' Ezra growled. He opened one baleful eye. "How did you know?"
Vin shrugged. "I can just tell, sometimes people sleeping on the street would pretend to be asleep until we walked past then they tried to get our food. I just learned to tell when someone is sleeping and when they's faking." Vin looked up at Buck, apparently oblivious to the distress his simple explanation had had on the adults around him. "Where's JD?"
"What? Oh I'm not sure, I think he went to your room."
Buck watched Vin trot off in search of his brother with a lump in his throat. Suddenly there was hand on his shoulder, and he looked over to find Chris standing beside him.
"Never again," Chris' voice as no more than a whisper.
"Never," Buck agreed.
Vin couldn't find JD in the bedroom so went outside to look for him. When he didn't find him in the barn or the tree house he walked around to the back porch, where he found JD sitting on the steps by the kitchen door. Ringo and Elvis were playing with the basketball on the grass below him but JD wasn't making any effort to join in. JD was just sitting there holding his arm against his chest.
"JD, what's wrong?"
Vin ran up to him, kneeling in front of the little brunette.
"My arm hurts."
Vin frowned. "Want me to rub it better?" Not long after Vin had found him, JD had stumbled over, and bruised his thigh badly, on a broken pipe. Vin was at a loss as to how to help a wailing five-year-old, until he remembered what his mother used to do.
"No, don't touch it," JD stated firmly.
"What me to get Uncle Nathan?"
JD shook his head. "I want my Buck."
That was when Vin knew JD was really hurt, JD almost never called Buck anything other than Da these days, but when they had first come to live with their fathers JD had often refereed to his Da as 'my Buck'. It was as if, in those early days, Buck had became the kind of security object to JD that Cat represented to Vin.
"Okay, you just sit there and I'll go get him." Vin ran inside, already calling for Buck.
"Hey, Junior, calm down, where's the fire?" asked Buck as he came in response to Vin's yelling.
"JD!" Vin pointed to the door. "He's hurt his arm."
"On the back porch."
"Okay, you go find your Uncle Nathan." With that Buck took off for the back porch.
Buck forced himself to slow as he approached JD; if the boy was badly hurt he didn't want to scare him any more than he already was.
"Hey there Little Bit," he greeted softly. "Vin said you hurt your arm?"
JD nodded solemnly, hazel eyes huge as saucers.
"Can I see?" Buck pointed to the arm JD was nursing against his chest, but JD shook his head firmly. "What about Uncle Nathan?"
Nathan had come out onto the porch, the others standing anxiously behind him.
"You know Nathan's real good at fixing owies, don't you?" Buck encouraged.
JD looked over at Nathan who was now squatting down to one side of him, he seemed to be hesitating.
"Tell you what, why don't you tell me how it happened?" Nathan suggested.
Now JD looked not hurt but ashamed.
"JD?" Buck reached out a finger and lifted the little, down turned chin.
"I'm sorry." JD had shed no tears until now, and it was shame, not pain, that brought tears spilling down his little cheeks.
"Whatever it is son, tell me, so Nathan can help you."
JD's eyes darted over to Nathan and then back to Buck. "I wanted to balance on the ball, like the dog in the circus." JD's red-rimmed eyes looked up. "You didn't say we couldn't do the things the dogs did."
Buck silently cursed himself, JD always took things literally, he knew that, he should have worded his warning more carefully, the incident with the horses should have made him stop and think about everything. He'd been so wrapped up in the football he hadn't even noticed were JD had got to.
"It's alright, I'm not cross," he assured. "Did you try and stand on the basketball?"
"Yeah, but I couldn't, it's too rolly, so I tried the football." Buck looked around. A football, his football, was lying under the old chair on the porch just behind JD. "I fell over." Now the tears fell in earnest. "I'm sorry."
Buck moved so he was sitting beside JD and then, careful not to move the apparently injured arm, he picked his boy up and set him down on his lap, kissing the top of his head.
"There now, don't cry, Buck's got you, you're safe now, I'm here," he soothed as he looked over at Nathan.
"JD, did you fall on your arm?" Nathan asked softly.
"Don't 'member, I fell over." With that, JD buried his face in Buck's shirt.
In all this time, he hadn't once moved his left arm, keeping it close against his chest. Buck looked over at Nathan, who silently made an X with his fingers. Buck nodded his understanding, then turned back to JD.
"Little Bit, do you remember when Vin hurt his wrist?"
"When he had a cast?"
"That's right, well before the doctor put on the cast, he took a special picture of Vin's arm."
"A x-ray, I 'member."
"That's right, well we need to take you to have an x-ray as well."
JD looked down at his arm. "Willed it hurt?"
Now Buck was in a quandary, he had vowed not to lie to the boys, unless it was totally unavoidable, the x-ray wouldn't hurt, but having to move his arm probably would.
"Well, no the picture machine can't hurt you, but you will have to move your arm."
"No!" JD stated firmly. "Hurts."
Buck cuddled JD as close as he dare. "I know son, I know, but they'll give you medicine so it doesn't hurt, okay?"
JD looked up into his father's eyes, normally so full of love and merriment. The love was still there, the merriment replaced by worry. "Do I gotta?"
Buck kissed him one more time as he stood up, JD still in his arms. "Yup, you gotta. You gotta be a brave cowboy for me, can you do that?"
Since everyone except Nathan had had at least one beer, he was the only one able to drive to the hospital. None of the others had drunk enough to put them over the blood/alcohol limit for driving but they had maintained a zero tolerance approach to drink and driving in front of the boys. They decided it would be too complicated for Chris and Vin to go as well, in spite Vin's protests that JD needed him.
"Son, it's getting late and we don't know how long it will take. What about the horses and dogs? Someone had to be here to take care of them."
He knew Josiah and Ezra would in all likelihood stay until they had some news and would willingly take care of the animals if need be, but he just didn't want Vin hanging around the hospital for who knew how long, on a school night.
"I should have played with him," Vin said softly by way of a response.
"What was that?" Chris asked.
"I knew he was bored, and I was too, a bit, but I like sitting with you and watching Buck and Josiah getting all excited and shouting at the players like they can hear them, so I didn't go and play with him."
"Hey, Cowboy, this isn't your fault or Buck's or even JD's, it's no one's fault; just an accident, plain and simple. Okay?" Vin looked up and nodded. "Good, now let's go and wave them off, looks like they have JD's seat in Nathan's car."
Since he couldn't ride to the hospital on Buck's lap, Nathan put a sling on his arm and with it resting on a cushion on his lap; he was strapped into his car seat with Buck sitting beside him. Vin stood by the open car door.
"Dad says I have to stay here and look after the animals 'til you get back," he explained.
"Okay. Will you feed Elvis and give Milago a pat?" JD sounded like a condemned man on his way to the scaffold
Vin stood in the driveway and waved at the car until it was out of sight.
With his arm supported and the shock of the accident wearing off, JD began to be more his normal self as they headed for the hospital. By the time they were parking the car, he was chatting away as if nothing had happened. Buck had been thinking that they were overreacting and JD had only bruised his arm. Then he remembered how Vin's broken arm had gone untreated for almost a day, just because he didn't make a fuss. Then all his initial fear came crashing right back as he got JD out of the car. Once the buckle on the car seat was undone, JD began to reach to be lifted out and instantly cried out, pulling his arm back against his chest.
"Ow, ow, ow!" he exclaimed. Not only did tears well up in his eyes, but he visibly paled.
"Easy, Little Bit, take some deep breaths, let it settle down." All the time Buck was speaking, he was carefully untangling JD from the straps and preparing to lift him out. "Ready?"
Huge, trusting, hazel eyes gazed at him. "Yeah."
"Well alright then, come to Buck." With infinite care Buck lifted him free of the seat and into his strong arms. JD decided he didn't mind how much his arm hurt so long as Buck was there to hold him.
The ER walk in entrance was some way from the parking lot, so JD was back to his old chatty self again by the time they walked up to the admitting desk. Never had Buck been so grateful to have Nathan there. He was sure the triage nurse would have taken one look at the boy in his arms, intelligent eyes taking in everything, chatting away and smiling; and given them the lowest priority. As it was Nathan started using medical technical terms that meant nothing to Buck but clearly impressed the nurse, who went away and found a very young looking doctor.
"Hey, there little fella, my name is Doctor Kim and I hear you hurt your arm?"
JD nodded at the young Asian man. "I fell off the ball," he admitted.
"Oh, I bet that hurt."
Buck had to give the young man credit for not asking what JD had been doing on the ball.
"It hurted a lot, but now it only hurts if I move it."
"Oh really?" Doctor Kim reached out one hand toward JD's injured arm, instantly JD pulled in a little closer to Buck. "It's okay, I'm not gonna touch it. JD, can you wiggle your fingers for me?"
JD thought for a moment; he looked up at Buck who gave him an encouraging smile.
"Okay." JD wiggled all his fingers and thumbs on both hands.
"Did that hurt?" Kim asked.
"That's good, isn't it? Now, can you move your hand, like this?" The doctor made a movement as if he was waving goodbye. JD copied him admitting it hurt a bit more. Next, the young doctor had him wave his hand up and down.
"Ouch!" JD yelped.
"Okay, we'll give you something for the pain now."
JD wasn't as worried about needles as Vin, but he wasn't thrilled about them either. However the promise of a toy from the doctor and a McDonald's happy meal from Buck, placated him enough to have the shot. Once it had had time to take effect, the doctor returned.
""How's it feeling now?"
"It don't hardly hurt at all, now," JD beamed at him.
"Well, that's good to know, because I need to get a look at your arm, so we have to take some of these clothes off."
JD was still wearing his sweatshirt.
"Now we can try to take your sweatshirt off, but, even with the shot, that might hurt a bit, or we can cut it off," the doctor offered.
JD looked down at his sweatshirt, it was almost new, a pretty blue one with a train on it, Buck had brought it at Wal-Mart just a few weeks ago. He still remembered being cold while living in the warehouse, warm clothes were important, not to be destroyed.
"No, don't cut it up, I "
"Little Bit, I'll get you a new one," Buck assured. "Doc, you go ahead and cut off."
"What do you think?" Buck asked as young Doctor Kim peered at all six x-rays, three of the damaged left, three of the undamaged right.
"I think that there is no major fracture and that I need to ask someone older and wiser than me to interpret these pictures."
That impressed both Buck, and Nathan, who liked a man who admitted when he didn't know something. While Buck and JD waited for an orthopaedic paediatric specialist, which at seven in the evening on a cold December Sunday, was going to take sometime, Nathan went out to use his cell phone and let Chris and the others know what was going on. Some three hours later, they were finally on their way home, JD made it out to the car, Buck's jacket wrapped around him, since he no longer had his sweatshirt, before he was asleep. Just after ten, Nathan pulled up outside the house. Chris, Josiah and Ezra were waiting on the porch.
"So?" Chris asked as Buck carried the slumbering JD in.
"Take a look," Buck offered.
Chris tentatively lifted up the jacket to get a look at JD's left elbow. The little arm was almost swamped in the bright blue splint with Velcro straps, which held it at a 90' angle.
"I'll let Nathan explain, I'm gonna put him to bed. Vin in there?"
"Yeah, he tried to stay up, but didn't last much past nine." Chris watched Buck carry JD to the boys' room then turned to Nathan and listening intently as he explained to the three men.
"He's got a type one radial head fracture. He has to keep it in that splint for a week, then he can start to take it off to wash and begin to move it. He won't need it at all after two weeks. He's had a shot for the pain." Nathan laughed. "I tell you, he was a space cadet there for a while, the orthopaedist must have given him about a year's worth of pre med tuition before he crashed out."
Buck stood in the door of the boys' room watching JD sleep, his broken elbow, encased in its blue splint, supported on Scooby Doo, who had been pressed into service as a pillow.
"You planning on standing there all night?" Chris whispered, coming up behind him.
"No, I just wanted to make sure .you know."
"Yeah, I know."
"I let him down, didn't I?" Buck lamented sadly.
"Now just how in the hell do you come to that conclusion?"
"You've read the computer entry. He got hurt because he was bored, there was no one to play with and I didn't notice 'cause I was so wrapped up in a stupid football game I didn't even know where he was."
"Are you saying you have to watch him 24/7? That he's never ever going to play on his own again?"
"Well no, of course not, I "
"It was my idea to take them to the circus in the first place, maybe it's my fault?"
"Of course it wasn't your fault."
"Right, nor is it yours. Accidents happen, sometimes they can't be foreseen or stopped, all we can do it pick up the pieces."
"It's not your fault Buck." Vin's voice caused both men to freeze where they were.
"How long have you been awake?" Chris asked.
"Just a little while, I was thinking about JD; thinking that I should have played with him. I know he doesn't like football, I was kinda bored too, but I like sitting with you Dad, so I didn't move and go play with him. So I was thinking it was my fault, but - like you said - I can't watch him all the time. That's what 24/7 means doesn't it? All the time?"
"Right, and I can't do that, so it wasn't my fault either."
"Out of the mouth of babes," Chris whispered too low for Vin, who wouldn't have taken kindly to being called a 'babe', to hear.
Buck took a long, deep breath. "Guess you're both right. Thanks, guys."
Just then JD shifted in his sleep, he must have moved his elbow awkwardly, because he whimpered. One boy and two adults held their collective breath to see if he would wake up, but he just continued to sleep.
"Night, Junior," Buck called, once it was safe to breathe again.
"Night, Buck; night, Dad."
With that, the adults withdrew from the room. "Is it just me or do we sound more like the Waltons everyday?" Buck commented.
"Don't even go there," Chris warned good-naturally. "And by the way - "
"Don't ever call football stupid again!"
"Oh yeah, sorry about that, you have to know I didn't mean it."
Chris was fighting to keep a straight face. "I'm glad to hear it." Was all he managed before the grin broke through and split his face. "Such words are sacrilege."
Next up - I Go Out Walkin by Winter
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