Medical staff seemed to materialise from nowhere, shoving a panicked Josiah aside.
"What's happening? What's wrong?" he asked desperately, but no one answered him, and he found himself retreating until he was pressed up against the wall, he didn't want to look, but he couldn't pull his eyes away. A knot of fear formed in his gut as he watched, unable to shake the feeling that Buck was slipping away, but unable to accept it. Finally the younger of the two doctors turned away from the bed and came up to him, she was trying to look reassuring.
"What's the matter with him?" Josiah asked again.
"He's had what we call a febrile convulsion' it's like a fit, caused by the high fever," she explained.
"Can't you do something about it?"
"It's a difficult balancing act. Fever is how the body deals with infections, in a way you can say the body burns the poison out, but if the temperature gets too high, then the body can't cope."
"So what are you doing?"
"We've given him more drugs to try and keep the fever down and placed him under a cooling blanket."
Josiah's eyes flitted back to Buck. "So what does this mean - for him."
The doctor's reassuring look faltered. "It isn't that predicable, it could be the beginning of the crisis, but he could go on like this for sometime, or well there really isn't any point speculating, we just need to take this one step at a time." The unspoken possibility was left hanging in the room. "Sir?"
Josiah realised he had stopped listening. "Sorry."
"You look tired and there are things we need to do. May I suggest you take a break, give as an hour?"
Josiah pulled his eyes back from Buck's bed to the doctor. "Yes, yes you're right. Please, take care of him."
Vin had found his way to the hospital chapel, not that it really was a chapel, but a 'multi faith prayer room'. There was soft lighting, abstract stained glass windows, soothing pale green walls, chairs were arranged in a U shape facing a raised dais with a simple polished wooden table on it and a single white candle, which was really a white tube with a gas cylinder hidden inside it. He did believe in God, but had little faith in divine intervention. Ezra - an atheist - said religion was like insurance, you had it just in case, but you never know if you are ever going to need it, you might be paying for years and never get anything out of it. Yet as he sat there he did ask for help, told God of the man he had come to know, reminded Him just how good a man Buck Wilmington was, and what damage his death would cause to all of them.
He was aware that the heavy door behind him had swung open but he didn't look up, this was a public place for private refection. But when the person sat down next to him he realised it was Josiah.
"What's happened?" he asked apprehensively.
"He had some kind of seizure," Josiah explained.
"Calm down, he's okay but they wanted me out for a bit, they have to do something to get his fever down again. Vin I I want to apologise for some of the things I said to you before, I didn't understand, not until just now when I saw him " He hung his head, clasping his hands together so hard his knuckles were white.
"It's okay, you were right, we've just go to have faith that Buck is strong enough to beat this."
"Ay, I know, but he looks so weak, so fragile."
"I know, but that's the infection, that's not Buck, not the real Buck."
Josiah took a deep breath. "I know, I know, we just have to keep hoping." He looked over at Vin. "I need to get back to Glenneaval right away."
Vin frowned. "Why, what's happened?"
"Nothing, it's personal. I'll call Chris, see if someone can come over early, then I'll take their car back."
"Can you tell me why?"
Josiah shook his head and Vin accepted that. Whatever it was, it had to be important for Josiah to leave Buck at a time like this.
Stepping outside Josiah pulled out his cell phone and hit the speed dial for the castle.
"Nate? Yeah it's me, I can't explain but I need someone to come and pick me up right away what? No nothing like that, he's had a rough night, but that's not why I need to come back. Oh, okay then. Bye."
He stepped back into the prayer room and re joined Vin. "Nathan says Ezra and JD are already on there way here, left a little while ago apparently."
Vin glanced at his watch. "Bit early isn't it?"
"BUCK!" JD shot up, sitting bolt upright in bed, drenched in perspiration. Paddy, who'd got off the bed sometime ago jumped up and barked, William sat, looking at his young master quizzically. As JD sat there panting he leaned over and gave his ear a tentative lick.
"It's okay boy, I'm okay," he assured the dog in a trembling voice.
The dream had been so vivid; Buck was being pulled way from him into a black nothingness. He didn't want to think about what the dream meant, but he did know one thing, he was in the wrong place. Yes the castle and the estate had to keep running, but it did that just fine before he ever came to Scotland, they didn't need him but Buck did. He reached out and patted the dog.
"I have to go back boy."
Just then the bedroom door opened, Ezra, balancing on his crutches was visible in the doorframe. "What's wrong? I heard the dog bark."
"I have to get back to the hospital, I need to be there, not here, this is wrong." JD was already out of bed and pulling on a tee-shirt.
"Can you wait for me?" Ezra asked.
JD froze where he was for a second, then nodded. "Sure."
JD was already behind the wheel of Ezra's Range Rover when Nathan appeared beside it. They explained quickly what they were doing, but didn't wait to hear his response.
Ezra spent most of the journey with his head resting against the glass as JD drove. Normally he'd never let such an inexperienced driver as JD drive his precious car, but now he couldn't be bothered to worry. Somehow he couldn't get the idea that Buck's condition was his fault. If he'd been more careful, if he'd just paid attention, then he wouldn't have slipped, the phone wouldn't have broken, nor would his ankle and Buck would have been rescued hours earlier. Logically he knew that wasn't so, yet the nagging worry persisted. He was going to be okay, he'd recover in a few weeks, would Buck?
As they neared the hospital, he pulled himself up, forced his mind into some semblance of a positive attitude. He glanced over at JD, whose young face was a mask of concentration as he began to ease the big vehicle into a parking bay.
"Well done," he complimented.
"It's a lot easier to drive than the old Land Rover."
"I should hope so."
"Are we doing the right thing?" JD asked as they walked toward the main doors, their progress slow due to Ezra's crutches.
"Does it feel like the right thing to do?"
"To be honest it feels like the only thing to do."
"Then it is assuredly the right thing to do."
JD took comfort from Ezra's simple logic. "I guess."
Josiah met them in the front entrance. "I need to get back," he explained, holding out his hand for the keys.
Though puzzled, JD and Ezra didn't comment. "Don't scratch the paint," Ezra warned as JD handed over the keys.
Buck now lay under a special cooling blanket, the cannula replaced by an oxygen mask, the dialysis machine, while not in use, stood ominously in one corner of the room. But while Ezra saw all these changes, all JD saw was the jaundice. The fear that had woken him, had siezed his gut and wrung it into a knot as he drove back to the hospital, turned into cold dread, because it was real, he was going to lose Buck, just like his mother. He stood in the doorway for a second the then turned and fled.
"JD?" Ezra tried to turn and follow him but he just couldn't move that fast.
"I'll go." Vin put down the book and brushed past Ezra, jogging after the fleeing teen.
For a second Ezra watched them go, then turned back to Buck. He crossed to the bed and stowing his crutches safely under the bed, eased himself down into the chair.
"So Buck, what are we reading?" He forced his voice to remain steady and normal, he couldn't hide the expression on his face, but there seemed little chance Buck would see that.
"Tom Clancy, excellent choice, I don't know where Vin left off, so I'll just start at the top shall I?"
He tried, he really did, but the words stuck in his throat, there was no flow to his narrative, and within half a page he'd stuttered to a stop.
"Who am I kidding, I need to talk to you. I need to say sorry, I was clumsy, I let myself get injured and the phone got broken and I couldn't make it over the mountain," the words seemed to tumble out of him as he unburdened himself. "I wish I could have summoned assistance sooner, but I " He'd placed his hand on top of Buck's and now he felt a movement, where his slim, nimble fingers over lapped Buck's larger hand he felt something. Buck's fingers bent a little, making an attempt to hold onto Ezra.
"Buck? Can you hear me? Come on man, fight, try to come back to us." Ezra stood and balancing on one leg, he leaned over Buck. "I know you can beat this, I have faith in you, so don't you give up on us."
Buck's world was dark and full of pain and confusion. There were voices, that as good, he didn't like the silent darkness, when there were no voices he felt so alone, so abandoned. Some of the time he recognised the voice, though the words made no sense, sometime he could understand the words but had a hard time working out who was speaking, most of the time it all sounded like gibberish to him, but even gibberish was better than the dark silence.
He couldn't understand what Ezra was saying, but he did know it was Ezra. It took him some time to work out who Ezra was. He'd identified Chris' voice on occasion, he wanted Chris to go home and be with his son, yet he remembered Chris wasn't married anymore, it was all so confusing. Ezra, he had this image of a man in a suit, with a dimpled smile and a pen, he wasn't sure why the pen was significant, but knew it was. Ezra was his friend, and his friend was there beside him, his friend Ezra was holding his hand. He tried to hold on to his friend's hand. He so wanted to know he wasn't alone. He had no idea what was going on, why was his world like this? What had happened to him? Maybe Ezra knew? Maybe he could ask him?
Ezra held on desperately to Buck's hot hand, speaking to him, encouraging him. He was rewarded when Buck's head moved toward his.
"That's it, open your eyes, you can do it."
By now Buck's assigned nurse was hovering at the end of the bed. "Dont stop," she whispered.
"Come on Buck," Ezra made his voice more commanding. "Open your eyes now."
The two of them all but held their breath as Buck's eyelids fluttered, then they opened, bleary, the whites tinged yellow by the jaundice, but they were open.
"Hello my friend," Ezra greeted.
A slight frown formed on Buck's brow.
"It's me, Ezra, remember?" Ezra gave his hand another squeeze. "You're in hospital, you're getting better, but you have to keep fighting, don't leave us."
The frown disappeared, and the eyes seemed to focus for a second or two, then the eyelids fluttered and closed.
Josiah drove as fast as he dared back to Glenneaval. Pulling up in front of the castle, he entered via the little used front door. What he needed to do, needed to be done unseen. Slipping quietly upstairs, he silently made his way into Angus' old room. On the wall, between the two windows, was a long picture of the Black Watch regiment, taken when Angus was a captain. Josiah studied the picture, he'd seen it before, and picked out his former employer and friend, but not now. Frowning he glanced down. And then cursed.
The picture had been changed. This was not Angus' regimental picture, it was his fathers. He turned away and crossed to the small bureau. On the shelves below were photo albums. Pulling out several, he was at first confused and then angry to find all the pictures of Angus were missing.
Sitting down on the bed, Josiah had a fair idea who had done this, there was only one person who could have, only one person who might have felt the need to do this. He ran his hand through is hair. What to do now? If anything. If Buck died, and he was beginning to entertain that idea that this might happen, what did it matter, one way or another? Then again, how did it happen? If it had happened.
"Damn it man, you're probably imagining all this," he chided himself out loud.
Nonetheless, he slipped out of the room and headed for the kitchen. One way or another he was going to know.
Nettie was cooking, she was cooking on a truly heroic scale, cooking kept her busy and she needed to keep busy. Casey, also worried, had disappeared upstairs; she was determined to clean every room, from top to bottom.
"Nettie?" Josiah entered the kitchen, as the elderly housekeeper was putting a crust on a game pie.
"Hello there Josiah, any news?"
"No change," he reported sadly.
She began crimping the pastry to the edge of the dish.
"Where are the pictures Nettie?"
"What pictures are those?" She didn't lift her head.
"The ones of Angus when he was in the army, the regimental picture, the ones in the photo album in the bedroom."
"I don't know, are they not there?"
"No, and dont go telling me you dont know anything about it."
Nettie continued to crimp her pie.
"Youre the only one who would have reason to move them."
"What would I want with some old pictures?" She placed the pie in the Aga and set the kitchen timer.
"You don't want them, you were hiding the evidence."
Nettie raised an eyebrow, but continued to wipe flour off the kitchen table.
"He talked to me, Buck, he was delirious, he talked to me as if I was Angus. He promised to take care of JD for me - Angus - he told me he didn't want 'it'. He said 'it' should be JD's. And you know what I think?"
"I can't imagine."
"I think 'it' is this place, all of it. Now why would Buck think that Angus would give this to him? Except that, if you really look at him, especially now his beard has grown a little, you can see the old man. He has his eyes, I don't know why I didn't see it before, all I need to confirm my theory is a picture of Angus at Buck's age - but they're all missing, arent they?"
"What are you trying to say?"
"That Buck Wilmington is Angus Ross' natural son, he knows it and you know it. Because if what I suspect it true, namely that Buck is the spitting image of his father, you would have known as soon as you saw him, way back on the day of the funeral."
"Your imagination is running away with you."
"So show me the pictures."
"I told you, I dont know where they are."
"Fine, show me your pictures, I know you have them."
"My pictures are just that - mine."
Josiah forced himself to remain calm; he pulled up a chair and sat at the table. "Just hear me out - please."
She looked at him critically. "Very well." She continued to wash down the table.
"I understand what's going on, you recognised him, but he doesnt want anyone to know. My guess is that he had no idea."
Nettie gave no indication if his summations were correct.
"And when he did find out, being the man he is, he didn't want people to think he was after the money. My guess is that he wanted to leave then and there. But something made him stay. Stay and keep the secret. And that thing was JD. He agreed to stay and look after his cousin. But that's not fair, I know what it's like to live with a secret, it eats away at you, little by little. Buck doesnt need to hide who he is. We know him now, we know he's not after the money."
"Say, hypothetically, that this is true, what about JD? What about his feelings? He's a good boy; he's going to feel all this is his under false pretences, that he doesnt belong here. That poor boy's got no one, where else is he going to go?"
"He's got a big cousin come brother, who cares for him and is already looking out for him, he's got family. Doesnt he have the right to know that? And what if he does what to share it, this place, what of it? Damn place is big enough."
"You know what I think?" Nettie announced.
"That all this is academic, if Buck dies, then the last thing JD needs to know is that the friend he's just lost was really his only family."
"Yes, you're right, but when he recovers, then we are going to have this conversation again."
"I gave him my word." This last, hushed statement was her only admission that his supposition was correct.
"I know, I'm not going to say anything."
"JD!" Vin chased the young American down the hospital corridor. "Hang on will you?!"
JD slowed, but he didn't stop, he needed fresh air, and he needed it now. Vin, to his credit tracked JD, but didn't try and stop him.
"You okay?" he asked softly after JD had taken a few deep breaths.
"I'm, actually I don't know how I feel. Seeing him like that, it was "
JD pulled his hand over his face and turned to face Vin. Suddenly he looked so much older, old, drawn and tired.
"I don't know what I'm gonna do if he "
"He's not gonna die," Vin was mildly surprised to hear the real conviction in his voice as he said this.
"He might, I've seen well never mind, but he could, he could just slip away from us, give up the fight and slip out of our lives forever."
"Buck isn't a quitter boy, don't ever think that, and he has no intention of leaving us."
"I'm not saying he is, it's just sometimes, people have no strength left to fight with."
"Come on man, don't talk like that, he's not going to give up and he's a big strong boy. Black Watch train them tough you know?"
JD shrugged. "I guess."
"Dont guess, know it, believe it, if you believe it, he'll believe it. Now brace up, because we're going back inside - alright?"
JD looked up into Vin's blue eyes, which seemed to blaze with an intensity he'd never seen before. He nodded. "Okay, I'm ready."
"Oh thank God you're back," Ezra exclaimed at Vin and JD appeared at the doorway.
"What's happened?" JD demanded.
The nurse turned and smiled. "He woke up - briefly."
"He did?" JD stepped eagerly into the room, and crossed to the bedside. "How long for, did he say anything?"
"It was only a second or two, but I swear he recognised me," Ezra explained.
"That means he's gonna be okay - right?" JD looked over his shoulder at the nurse.
"Well, I think we should "
"Sure it does," Vin cut in.
"I don " The nurse would have said more, warned them not to jump to conclusions, but one look at Vin took the words out of her mouth. "I'll go and report to the doctor."
Buck wanted to go back to the light, and the comfortingly familiar face, but he was just too tired. He could hear the voices, and the voices were his anchor. He recognised them more now. It was still hard to put names and faces to the voices, but they were there, they were his friends, his family and he wasn't alone. He'd rest a little, get his strength back - just why was he so tired? Then, when he was rested, he'd try again to reach them and the light.
Despite the doctors warnings not to get their hopes up, Buck's tiny step toward recovery convinced all his friends he had turned a corner, and Buck proved them right.
Over the next forty-eight hours he showed little signs of improvement. His temperature dropped half a degree; his heartbeat slowed, his blood sugar stabilised and the jaundice began to recede as his liver function began to improve. He'd woken twice, only for a few seconds, and he hadn't spoken yet, but JD, who hadn't left his side once, swore he smiled.
All the others wanted to be there, but they did still have an estate to run and much as it hurt him to do it, Chris insisted they still rotate, so someone was always there to keep things running smoothly. JD he left out of this, there was nothing JD could do that someone else couldn't do as easily and he seemed to need to be at Buck's side more than any of them.
On the second day, even the doctors were beginning to talk in terms of when Buck recovered not if. The oxygen mask was replaced with a cannula again and his colour was almost back to normal. It was teatime, four o'clock; Nathan had accompanied Ezra down to out patients for his follow up appointment at the fracture clinic. JD had stopped reading and was just sitting and watching, when he saw Buck's head move.
"Buck?" Instantly he was on his feet and leaning over the bed. " Come on Buck, it's me JD, open your eyes, it's time to wake up now," he implored.
JD? He was sure that was JD's voice. Buck forced himself to link the name and the voice to some kind of mental image. JD was dark, and short and American! He remembered him! Buck congratulated himself. There was something else, something about JD he should remember, but for now it eluded him. So he concentrated on what JD was saying. From the tone of his voice, he seemed to want Buck to do something - but what? Try as he might he couldn't make his brain decipher the word's meaning. There was nothing for it, he'd just have to ask him what he wanted.
"Buck!" JD all but shouted in excitement. "Come on open your eyes." Buck blinked twice in response to his command. "That's it, come on you can do it, open your eyes."
Buck's eyes slowly opened and tried to focus on the somewhat blurry image in front of him.
"Hello," JD greeted with relief.
"JD?" Buck asked again, just to be sure he'd got it right.
"Yeah it's me."
"W't y' want?"
"What do I want?" JD asked, more than a little puzzled.
"For you to wake up, that's all for now."
Buck's vision was improving and as JD's image came into focus. His young friend looked tired and haggard.
"You sick?" he managed to ask.
"No, no I'm just tired."
Buck tried to lift his arm, he wanted to touch JD, reassure himself he wasn't dreaming, but he couldn't lift his arm, it felt as if it had lead weights attached to it.
"No, not that one, you broke that one." JD lay a gentle hand on top of Buck's left hand. With its brace, his left arm was cocooned by pillows to protect it.
"Yeah, you've been very ill, but you're getting better."
"I know, you rest now."
Buck needed no second bidding, his eyes closed and he visibly relaxed back into the pillows.
For a moment JD just stayed were he was, then slowly he sank back down on to the chair again. Only then did he see Nathan, Ezra and the doctor standing in the doorway. They were all smiling.
Despite the doctor's usual caution, Buck's friends knew he was on the road to recovery. It was a long journey, or so it seemed, but little by little he got stronger, his fever broke, he managed to stay awake for ten minutes a day, then half an hour, an hour, three hours. He began to eat again and he began to smile and joke again.
Once the infection was truly in recession he made rapid progress, enough to be awake long enough to get bored.
"Afternoon!" he greeted JD as he strolled in to the ward.
Once he no longer needed to be in intensive care, Buck had been moved to a general ward, there were four beds in his part of the ward, three of which were occupied. Visiting times were two till eight. Despite their jobs, despite the long journey time, someone visited Buck every day. Much of their time was spent just watching him sleep, but there was always someone there.
"Did you get them? Buck asked.
"JD?" Buck could see the teenager was bothered about something. "What's up?"
"Nothing," JD replied a little to hastily. "Sorry, so what do you want to do today?"
"Watch the rugby on TV. You sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine, okay?"
"Okay." Buck let the subject drop.
"What channel's the rugby on?"
The day before Vin had been visiting. Though Buck was now awake long enough to watch TV on the personal screen that each bed was equipped with, he drifted a lot and the near permanent headache he still had made watching TV tiring. So he had asked if someone could bring in his personal CD player and some CDs in from his flat.
Vin had passed on the request to JD who had let himself into Buck's flat, which was above the kitchen, directly below Nettie's.
Josiah walked into the kitchen, knowing Nettie was alone.
"And what can I do for you?" she asked in her slightly abrasive tone, of hers.
"Buck's on the mend, out of danger - time's come."
"I want to see those pictures."
"I told you, my pictures are mine."
"Fine, I'll go to Perth, I'll visit the regimental museum, he was a distinguished solider, so was Buck, they have pictures in the archive. One way or another I will know the truth. Now are you going to make me drive all the way over to Perth? The others are going to ask questions if I go."
Nettie put her chopping knife down and very slowly and very deliberately wiped her hands on her apron. "You're just not going to give up, are you?"
"I am not, no."
"Ay, that's what I though. Come on."
With no further comment or discussion, she walked past him, on her way to the stairs. After a moment's hesitation, Josiah followed her. She led him to her sitting room and pulled out the very same photo album she had shown Buck on the day of the funeral.
"This is a joke - right?" Josiah challenged. "This is Buck."
"Take a look at the rank insignia," Nettie challenged.
Josiah squinted at the picture and at the insignia on the shoulders, it was a single crown, a major.
"Buck left the army as a captain," she reminded.
"Oh my God."
"What are you going to do?"
"Nothing, for now."
Nettie had to trust him not to betray Buck's confidence. The two of them were headed out of the flat, the front door was open, Josiah about to head down the stairs when he turned back.
"What happened do you think? I mean, I would never have pegged the old man for the kind to love them and leave them. And I can't believe he'd not acknowledge a child he'd fathered."
"He didn't know."
"That's what I suspected. It still doesnt fit with the man I knew."
Nettie said nothing, but her expression said it all.
"But you clearly know something."
"I have a theory, but for now it stays with me."
"Ay, well fair enough." With that he turned and went down stairs.
"This stays between us?" Nettie called after him.
On the stairs below them JD sat and stared, Buck's CD player and disc case still in his hand.
He tried to assimilate what he'd just heard, tried to make sense of it. His uncle had a child, somewhere, a child he hadn't known about and that child should have inherited the estate. Clearly Nettie and Josiah knew all about it. What was he to do? This person had to be told, they deserved to be know the truth. Just as soon as Buck was back on his feet, he'd have to confront Josiah. Maybe who ever they were would let him stay on, maybe as a trainee gilley?
He stepped back into Buck's flat and waited until he was sure the staircase was empty, then slipped downstairs.
Buck improved steadily. A week after JD delivered his CD player, the doctors decided he was strong enough to undergo surgery to close the wound in his stomach properly. Because of the extensive infection around the entry point, Mr Watson has been forced to cut away some of underlying muscle tissue as well as the skin. Now Buck would undergo surgery to close this wound by grafting a flap of skin and muscle into it.
It was Chris who was at his side when he finally woke up, back in intensive care.
"You again?" he asked groggily.
"Yeah, me again." Chris passed him a glass of water with a straw.
"I'm not going to ask how you feel, I can see it hurts like hell."
Buck didn't try to deny it.
"Right, you've got a morphine drip, all you need to do is press the button."
Well used to the on demand drip, Buck found the button and pressed it. "Did they say how long I have to stay here?" he asked.
"In intensive care, they think only a day. The rest depends on you."
"How well you behave, do as your told, eat properly, leave the nurses alone, you know the drill."
"And if I do behave?"
Chris cracked a smile. "Because Nathan will be there when you get out, a week to ten days."
Now it was Buck who smiled. "Really, that soon?"
"If you're good."
"Oh I can be the perfect patient."
"Yeah right, I'll believe it when I see it."
Buck, however, was so desperate to get out of hospital; he really did do exactly as he was told. Walking was still slow and painful. The abused stomach muscles pulled with every movement and, much as he hated to admit it, he was still very weak. If he tried to do more than the physiotherapist advised his legs began to tremble. Nevertheless on the seventh day Nathan arrived with Ezra and his luxurious Range Rover, to collect him.
With Buck doing little more then shuffling, and Ezra on crutches, progress out to the car was slow.
"So how's the ankle?" Buck asked Ezra.
"Feels fine now, a bit stiff when I take the boot off but otherwise fine."
"It might feel fine, but don't you go putting any weight on it yet," Nathan warned.
"I can't tell you how glad I am that you're coming home, now he'll have someone else to nag," Ezra told Buck.
Buck just smiled, right now he was too tired and sore to joke, he just wanted to get in the car and go home. With some relief he eased himself into the passenger seat next to Nathan.
"Here." Nathan handed him a pillow. Buck just raised an eyebrow. "Put it on your tummy, it'll make the seatbelt more comfortable."
By the time Nathan was heading out of Inverness, Buck was asleep, not waking until they passed over the cattle grid at the beginning of the Glenneaval driveway.
"We're home?" he asked.
"That we are," Ezra assured him.
Buck was amazed, when he finally made it up to his rooms - he'd refused to let Nathan put a bed in one of the ground floor rooms - there were dozens and dozens of get well cards and gifts. In a few months Buck had made a real impact on the estate and in the small village. He'd been able to get things done that Chris, trying to do two jobs, had forgotten or just didn't have time for, and he'd done it cheerfully and willingly. People appreciated that; then again there was more then one woman in the area, who was particularly concerned for Buck's health.
"These are all for me?" he asked as he surveyed the cards and gifts that all but covered the dining table.
"Ay, they are, looks like a lot of people are worried about you." Chris smiled at his old friend.
As well as cards there were gifts too, chocolate, home made cakes and biscuits. Though she said nothing Nettie silently fumed, did these women think she didnt know how to feed him up? Nettie was a woman who liked a well fed man. Josiah was a constant joy to her, Nathan, Ezra and JD she considered just about acceptable. Vin hovered on the edge of this category. When she had him in her clutches he ate ravenously and this would eventually begin to show, however come the summer, when he was out on the moors for fourteen, fifteen even sixteen hours a day, the weight just fell off him again. Chris she had given up as a lost cause, no matter what she did he remained as skinny as a rake. Buck, she hoped, fell into Vins category, the trouble was, so far she hadnt been able to feed him enough to compensate for the energy he burned everyday. Now he was at home, and sedentary, she had plans. First she had to put back the weight hed lost in the hospital, weight, in her opinion, he could ill afford to lose.
Over the next two days she set about her task. With some gentle advice from Nathan, she fed him small meals through out the day, beginning with hot buttered toast with his morning coffee, served in bed. Buck protested that he was a grown man and his bedroom was private. Nettie, however, brushed these protests aside.
Hush now man, you've no energy to do more in this room than sleep, and besides I'm not going to see anything I havent seen before. Now do you want a hand sitting up?
The healing wounds to his abdomen made the simple act of getting from a prone position, to a sitting one, all but impossible without help. Nathan had borrowed a portable overhead handle from the hospital, for as long as Buck needed it. Though the fact that is was known as a Monkey Pole had given rise to more than one lewd joke.
No, Buck answered firmly.
Nettie couldnt weigh much more than seven stone, the thought of her trying to lift him, all twelve stone of him, was ridiculous and frankly - embarrassing.
Seeing her reaction to his firm and swift refusal, he softened his approach. The handle works just fine, honestly.
Well, okay then. Heres your coffee and some toast, eat it while its hot mind, I put Marmite on it, just the way you like it. Though what's wrong with my home made marmalade I dont know?
You perfectly well I dont like marmalade.
Nettie snorted. Call yourself a Scotsman, and you dont eat marmalade. She shook her head. Youll be saying next you dont eat haggis!
Now Id never say that, he assured her.
Ay, well well have to see what we can do. Ill let you get on now, theyll be breakfast in the kitchen whenever youre ready.
As she was leaving, Paddy, one of the dogs, was coming in to the bedroom, having followed the smell of toast.
And dont go feeding that dustbin on legs your crusts, you need them, theyll put hairs on your chest.
Buck decided not to mention that he didnt need any more hair on is chest then he already had, but it was nice to listen to Nettie cluck over him, his mother used to say the same thing about toast crusts.
With lots of rest, the company of friends and his own bed to sleep in, not to mention Netties diet of early morning toast, breakfast, elevenses, lunch, tea, supper, evening snack and bedtime hot chocolate, Buck did indeed begin to regain some of the weight hed lost, the colour returned to his cheeks and the sparkle to his eyes.
It was his third day home, Nathan had finished changing his dressings an hed managed to take a shower, before pulling on soft track suit bottoms and a sweat shirt. Putting on socks was just too much trouble to bother with, so he pushed his bare feet into his sheepskin moccasins and made his way, slowly, down to the kitchen.
Good morning again, Nettie greeted.
Morning. He eased himself down onto one of the sturdy wooden chairs around the kitchen table.
Theres bread in the toaster, kettles boiled, Weetabix in your bowl. Ill get you the milk and some orange juice, sugars on the table.
She bustled about the kitchen putting his breakfast together while he ate his cereal and drank orange juice.
I did eggy bread, bacon and black pudding for the others, is that alright for you?
Sounds delicious, except for the black pudding.
Its good for you, itll put
I have more than enough chest hair, thank you, but no thanks to black pudding. He made a childish face of disgust.
He managed to eat most of his breakfast and was sitting contentedly, nursing his second mug of coffee as Nettie tidied up.
Buck can I talk to you about your father? she asked, as she placed the last cup in the dishwasher and started the machine.
He wasnt my father, he was just the man that got my mother pregnant.
Nettie sat down opposite him. Thats what I want to talk about.
Buck frowned at her. Meaning?
Can I speak frankly?
Always, you know that.
I have been thinking about how it you came about, or at least how I think it happened. Buck didnt say anything, so she carried on. You see, him, Angus, visiting a prostitute, it just doesnt seem right. You and he look so alike, so you know he was a good looking man.
That made Buck smile, just a little.
And, like you, he had a way with the ladies, that man could charm the birds out of the trees, so why?
I thought back to when, counted back from your birthday. You know it was cancer that killed him?
But that cancer wasnt the first time. Way back hed had cancer before, it was testicular, he had to have one removed. She could almost see Buck wince at the very thought. Then there was the chemotherapy and the radiotherapy. He lost his hair, and they told him he might be sterile and impotent. I think his visit or visits with your mother were a sort of test, so see if he could and how a woman would react to him, after the surgery. Does that make sense, to you, as a man?
Buck tried to imagine how hed feel, mutilated in such an intimate way, the loss of his hair, told he might never father a child or pleasure a woman again. Hell yes, hed want to test things out and not with any one he might meet again, just in case it all went horribly wrong.
Yes, I can understand that. Guess those doctors were wrong.
Well you know doctors, always doom and gloom, never want to get your hopes up. There was one thing I didnt understand.
What was that?
Stop me if Im getting too personal.
Just say it.
How did your mother let herself get pregnant?
Buck had thought about that many times. When he was conceived, his mother was still very young she hadnt been on the game for long. He could well imagine that when she was flush with money shed go out and celebrate, coming home drunk, waking up hung over, she had probably forgotten to take her contraceptive regularly. In those days, before AIDS, there were plenty of men prepared to pay extra for natural intercourse.
Well no contraceptive is 100% effective, so they say, guess I beat the odds. He sat back, wincing as the movement pulled at his newly healing wounds. I dreamt about him, Angus, in the hospital, I had the most vivid dream. He was sitting beside my bed and we spoke. I told him how much JD had wanted to meet him, how I was taking care of the kid for him, told him I didnt want this place. It was so real.
He looked up and was surprised to see a look on Nettie's face he couldn't fathom.
"You didn't dream that, it happened," she began cautiously.
"What do you mean, it happened? He'd dead."
"You were so sick with the fever, delirious. It was Josiah who was beside you, it was Josiah you spoke to when you promised to look after JD." She fell silent and let him assimilate what she had just said.
"And I spoke to him? I thought he was the old man?"
"So he knows?"
"He worked it out."
"You were so sick with the fever, delirious. It was Josiah who was beside you, it was Josiah you spoke to when you promised to look after JD." She fell silent and let him assimilate what she had just said.
"And I spoke to him? I thought he was the old man?"
"So he knows?"
"He worked it out."
JD had that feeling in his stomach, that tight uneasy feeling, that feeling he used to get when he'd been called to the principal's office and he didn't know why. There was a dagger hanging over him and he didn't know when, or if, it would fall. Under normal circumstances he would have asked Buck for advice. In just a few short months the tall ex-army officer had become more than a friend to him. Buck seemed to have made it his mission to be a big brother to JD, or at least he assumed it was like having a big brother, since he'd never had one, but then again neither had Buck.
But he couldn't take this to Buck, it was too big, potentially too devastating, and Buck wasn't strong enough yet. So far, Buck mostly just sat in the big recliner and watched TV, chatted to whoever was around, ate and slept, mostly he slept. It just didn't seem right to burden him with this problem. Yet that knot in his stomach wouldn't go away. What if he wasn't going to lose it? His uncle left it to him, named him in his will. He didn't leave it to his oldest male heir; he left it to him, John Daniel Dunne.
After two days with little sleep and no appetite, everyone was worried about him. They kept asking what was wrong. Nathan was muttering about delayed shock, while Nettie fretted that he was wasting away. Everyone was very careful not to fret about him or ask him what was wrong around Buck, which JD appreciated and which just made Buck suspicious.
"Kid?" he began, one afternoon while they were watching an old western on Channel Four together.
"What's going on?"
"Well John Wayne has teamed up with Dean Martin and "
"Not the film, around here, you're walking about as if you've got the world on your shoulders. Nathan's fretting about you; Nettie's trying to feed you like there's no tomorrow. People stop talking when they come near me or I come into a room."
"JD I'm not stupid, I know when something is being kept from me. Are you okay?"
"Honestly, there's nothing wrong, Nathan thinks I'm suffering from delayed shock, that's all."
Buck looked at him, trying to ascertain if that was true, it was certainly plausible. "Anything I can do to help?"
"Nah, I'll be okay."
JD knew, however, that he wouldn't be okay until he knew what was going to happen to him. Ezra was the lawyer, Ezra would know were he stood. Deciding there was no time like the present, he waited until Buck fell asleep, which didn't take long, then walked down the corridor and up the stairs to Ezra's office.
He knocked, though the door, as it almost always was, stood open.
Ezra was on the phone but waved him in. "Well I need that impact report by the end of the week, no later. Bye." With that he put the phone down. "What can I do for you?" he asked the young laird.
JD sat himself down in the comfortable chair on the other side of the desk. "I need to ask you some legal stuff."
"Well that is my field of expertise, what can I do for you?"
"Okay, my uncle left this all to me - right?"
"What if he had a child, his own kid, but he hadn't known about it, would that child get the estate?"
"If Angus had left no will, then yes he or she would have a prior claim on the estate, but he did leave a will in which you and you alone are named, no one can take that from you."
JD though for a moment. "But it would be theirs, I mean it should have been theirs."
"Why are you asking me this? Angus had no children. It took him long enough to find you."
"I was just wondering, that's all. Thanks Ezra."
Ezra's words had convinced JD no one could take the estate from him. The trouble was he still had this nagging feeling of being the owner under false pretences. So, being a typical impulsive teen he decided to take the bull by the horns and confront Josiah and Nettie. It took him a day to engineer a meeting between the two of them in private. He eventually cornered them in the kitchen where Nettie was peeling potatoes for the evening meal. Seeing Josiah had arrived, JD asked if he could have word with him.
"Sure, what can I do for you?"
"Can we go into the kitchen?"
Once he had the two of them together he confronted them with what he'd overheard.
"So, who is this person?" he finally asked.
There was an uneasy silence.
"I know most of it, you might as well tell me the rest," JD pressed.
"I can't," Nettie finally admitted. "I promised not to reveal their identity and Josiah has promised to respect that."
"You promised?" JD asked. "As in you've met this person?"
Nettie suddenly knew she's said too much, but it was too late to go back. "Yes, but I really can't say anymore, please trust me, they don't want it, this, they don't want any of it."
Sometimes, if he was honest most of the time, JD couldn't get his head around the fact that he was the boss, that technically all these people worked for him. Right now he had to force himself to remember.
"I'm the laird of Glenneaval, you work for me and as your laird I'm ordering you to tell me who this person is. I have all this, I have so much money, maybe they don't want this place, but they may need money, I've got more than I need the they are entitled to some of it - right? And what about me? I have no family except a crazy father who - if he's even still alive - could be anyplace, this person is my cousin, my family."
There was nothing more Nettie wanted then to tell him, tell him the man he admired, the man he thought of as a brother, was his cousin, but she couldn't.
"Please sir, don't make me choose, but if you want it you'll have my resignation, but I'll not break my promise."
She'd called his bluff. JD sighed, if Nettie wouldn't tell him, there was no way Josiah would and he didn't want to lose either of them.
"Of course I don't want you to leave, either of you. But you have to understand how it makes me feel, it's like I'm a squatter in someone else's home, I feel like an impostor."
"You were never meant to know," Josiah explained. "It would a have been better if you hadn't found out, it was my fault, I should have been more discreet."
"Better if I hadn't found out?" JD asked incredulously. "Why do I suddenly feel like Luke Skywalker?"
"Return of the Jedi, Luke and Obi Wan? Oh never mind."
"Please JD, you don't need to feel like an impostor, they really don't want any of this, they don't need the money," Nettie assured. "Your mother grew up here, this was her home, even if Angus hadn't left you this place, it'd still be your home."
JD shifted uncomfortably. "I guess. I need to think a bit, um I think I'll walk the dogs."
"It's dark," Josiah reminded him.
"Oh, yeah, I'm gonna go upstairs."
"Supper's going to be on the table in about half an hour," Nettie informed him.
"I'm not hungry, don't wait for me."
Nettie looked horrified. "Well you just wait here a moment then," she instructed firmly.
There was an uneasy silence between Josiah and the young laird while Nettie bustled about, muttering about 'foolish men folk who would let themselves starve to death without her'. Finally she returned and handed JD a small cardboard box which proved to contain a King Size Mars Bar, two packets of crisps, a huge slice of home-made pork and game pie, a slice of Dundee cake and a bottle of Pepsi.
"I'm really not that hungry," he insisted.
"Ay well, I'll keep some supper, just in case."
When the others asked were JD was, Josiah simply said he was feeling a little off and wanted a quiet night. Nathan was all for going and checking on him, but was persuaded not to by Buck, of all people. It turned out to be a subdued evening all around with most people turning in or heading for their own homes early.
"JD! Come on wake up!" Josiah pounded on the JD's door. "Come on or I'm coming in!"
Awakened more by the dogs than by the pounding JD half ran, half stumbled to the door and pulled it open.
Josiah thrust a piece of paper at him. "This was pinned on my door this morning."
Still trying to focus JD scanned the hand written note.
I OVERHEARD YOU, NETTIE AND THE KID, I WAS A FOOL TO THINK IT COULD EVER WORK OUT. LOOK AFTER HIM FOR ME.
JD read it a second time. "I don't get it?"
"Just get dressed, Chris is on his way over."
"What's going on?" Ezra appeared at his bedroom door.
Josiah looked around. "Buck left."
"What? Why? He's not fit to drive!"
"We know, don't worry we'll bring him back."
Even as Josiah was explaining to Ezra that he couldn't tell him any more than he had, JD was pulling on clothes. By the time Chris' car skidded to a halt outside, everyone was outside the house waiting for him. It was just after six, Vin, early as ever, had picked up the milk from the gate and arrived to find the castle ablaze with light and people outside.
"What the hell is going on?" Chris demanded.
Josiah all but bundled a shell shocked JD into his car. "Buck took off, I can't explain why right now, but I need to know where he might go?" Josiah asked.
"What do you mean, took off? Why the hell would he do that?"
"I told you I can't explain it, now think man! Where might he go?"
Chris forced himself to stop and think. "He's got no family, but he has or at least he used to have, a cottage."
"Some place north of Perth, can't remember the address. He used to let it out to holidaymakers through an agent. This time of year it'd most likely be empty"
"Well that's a starting place, there's only one way he'd go if he's heading for Perth." Josiah climbed into the car.
"Josiah he's in no fit state to drive, bring him straight back here and take this." Nathan handed Josiah a pillow. "I should come with you."
"No idea how long we'll be gone and you've got clinics today. Don't worry Nate, we'll find him."
Just as he was about to pull out Vin climbed into the rear seat.
"What are you doing?" Josiah demanded.
"Someone's gonna have to drive Buck's car back here," he explained simply.
"Oh, right - good thinking."
With Vin in the car JD couldn't ask the one question he needed to ask, now that the initial shock had warn off. Did the note mean that Buck was his cousin? Was Buck Angus' natural and unknown son? Should the castle, the estate and all the money have been his? Why didn't he want it? Why didn't he say something?
To his credit Vin didn't ask any questions, he didn't say anything, he just sat in the back and watched the scenery go by. It was still early and dark, the roads were all but deserted and Josiah was taking liberties, driving on or even over the speed limit, which on a single-track road was all but suicidal. JD couldn't help but sigh with relief when they reached the main road, except that Josiah sped up. They raced into and out of Fort William and down Loch Linnhe as dawn began to pale the sky. The weak winter sun barely penetrated the dark, low clouds as they entered Glen Coe. JD only had a sketchy knowledge of the dark history of the place, but even he could feel the oppressive atmosphere of the long valley with it's flat bottom and steep sides.
"There he is," Josiah announced.
Looking ahead, the other two spotted Buck's old Range Rover. Josiah floored the accelerator. It didn't take long for them to catch up, but no amount of flashing headlights or honking horn could get him to slow or stop.
"Well to hell with it!" Josiah swore. "Bloody, stubborn, idiot."
Then, with no other cars in sight, Josiah overtook the Range Rover, pulled ahead of it, turned across the road and stopped. Buck was forced to stop.
"Take the wheel," Josiah told Vin as he climbed out, "JD, you stay here."
Josiah strode up to the car and pulled open the driver's door. He was ready to give Buck a piece of his mind, until he saw him. Buck sat rigid; his hands clasping the steering wheel with white knuckled intensity. Glancing down, Josiah noted the pillow under the seat belt and realised his manoeuvre had forced Buck to brake hard.
"Oh shit, I'm sorry, I forgot."
Buck took a deep breath then a second one; finally he released the wheel and sat up.
"Let go of my car door," he instructed darkly.
"No way, you're not fit to drive, Nathan said so."
"Nate worries too much, get out of my way."
"Not a chance, you come and get into my car, Vin can drive yours back." Josiah opened the door a little wider.
"I'm not going back." Buck sat still, staring ahead of him.
"Why? Because you're Angus' son, because you think people will think you're a fortune hunter? No one thinks that - no one. When you were in the hospital, so sick we thought you were going to die, who was with you?" Buck looked up at Josiah. "We were, me, Chris, Vin, Ezra, Nathan, Nettie and JD - why? Because we're family now. You had a dream, you thought you saw your father, a father you never knew and who never knew you, had come back - right?" Buck nodded. "But it was only a dream. Do you know what 'dream' means in Gaelic?" Buck shook his head. "Family, tribe, clan, that's what. That's what we are, all of us, a bunch of misfits. Who our fathers were or were not is irrelevant. If you had been named in the will, if you had inherited it all and Ezra told you about JD, on his own in New York, no family, debts, working two jobs - what would you have done?" Buck looked up at the car now parked neatly head of him, and at JD's worried face watching him. "I'll tell you what you'd have done shall I? You'd have sent for him, gave him whatever he needed. Why? Because he's family. Don't take that away from him, you're all he's got."
Buck kept his eyes on JD. Was he being selfish? Was he letting his own fears and pre-conceptions get in the way of what was right? JD looked back at him, he looked so young, hell he was young. His mother had taught him to be proud of who his was, his own man, to always rely on his own resources never take charity. Never wallow in self pity, yes they were poor, yes she had to sell her body to make ends meet, but that was no one's fault and no one owed him anything. As much as he loved her, he now knew her teaching had almost cost him something more important.
"I don't think I can," he finally admitted.
"Get out of the car."
For a moment Josiah thought he was still intending to leave, until Buck undid the seat belt and just sat then. Buck was speaking literally, he was too sore or too weak to get out from behind the wheel.
"Never fear, that's what family are for, lean on me."
As soon as he saw Josiah start to help Buck out of the car, JD was out and running toward them. He slotted himself on Buck's other side.
"Lean on me," he offered, echoing Josiah's words.
Buck managed to smile and rested his broken wrist on his young cousin's shoulder. "Thanks. Guess we have to tell the others now."
"Vin knows, or at least he's worked it out," JD explained.
Buck looked up to see Tanner standing beside the other car, rear door open. That was okay, Vin was a good man. Chris? Well Chris knew him as well as anyone did, he's probably be the only one who would understand his actions, even if he didn't agree with them. Nathan would just scold him for putting his recovery back by doing too much too soon and Ezra? He wasn't sure what Ezra would think, horrified that he'd turned his back on a fortune, sympathetic that he didn't want to be judged only by who and what his parents were?
They drove back in silence, Vin following in Buck's car. Unable to face a big scene with the others, Buck had asked JD to call Nettie on his mobile and give her the okay to tell the others. He imagined her having to get the picture out to convince them. It was he decided more than luck that had brought him to Glenneaval, it was fate, this as were he as meant to be and what he was meant to do.
JD had been trying to work out what to say, and failing so he just sat in silence. He was just beginning to think that Buck would take his silence for disapproval, when he spoke.
"I don't want anything to change," he said.
"Then it won't."
"Thanks. I mean I know some things will change but I don't want your inheritance, I don't want to change my job or live in a big room in the main building."
"It's okay, we'll work it out."
Buck smiled, rested his head back and closed his eyes. Somehow he knew they would work it out, that's what families did - right?
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