Alternate Universe "Brothers Larabee"
Follows Friends and Enemies
Note: My thanks to Phyllis for letting me have a little play with her AU2, for beta-ing this for me and for all her support help and encouragement.
Buck relaxed as his little brother took over the driving. They were on their way to Twin Lakes to join the rest of their brothers for a fishing weekend. JD looked across at Buck.
Buck looked at him, "What for?"
"For waiting for me, so's I could come too." JD reminded.
"I promised I would, didn't I?" Buck smiled.
JD nodded, "Yeah, it's just, `cept my mom, no one ever kept a promise to me before."
Buck sat up and put his hand on JD's shoulder, "Well, ya got family now, and families keep their promises."
They were quiet for a while. JD broke the silence.
"I've never been fishing before, how will I know what to do?"
Buck chuckled, "Oh brother, are you gonna have one HELL of a weekend!"
+ + + + + + +
Vin looked out in awe at the scene before him. Their lodge was in a quiet cove on a bend on the lake and the sight of still water reflecting the surrounding mountains, was breathtaking. Chris came up behind him and rested his arm on the younger man’s shoulder.
“So you like it then?”
Chris smiled, “I could tell by the way you were going on about it.”
Vin turned to look at him, grinning, “I can’t believe this place is yours.”
“Ours,” Chris reminded, “This is a holiday home for the FAMILY, which means the seven of us.”
Vin laughed softly, “Yeah, I keep forgetting. Hell, JD’s gonna love this. We were talking yesterday, neither of us have ever had a vacation.”
Chris’ heart ached and he gave his brother a squeeze to his shoulder.
“Well, this weekend we put that right.”
The light was fading as JD pulled into a parking spot just to the side of the cabin. As the two men stepped out to get their bags, the youth caught sight of the sunset as it reflected across the lake. He gasped in awe. Buck chuckled, putting his arm around the younger man’s shoulders.
“You are gonna enjoy this weekend, I promise you that, little brother.”
JD nodded, turning away from the lake to look at him. “Oh God, yeah,” he smiled.
They picked up their bags and locked up the Chevy, walking toward the cabin porch. The aroma of citronella oil and the pinging of the electric bug zapper greeted them, as did their other five siblings. Josiah got up from his seat, and stepping forward, put his arms around the two men.
“Finally, now the vacation can truly begin.”
Chris approached, “JD, you’re in with Vin, Buck’s with me, and Josiah, Nathan and Ezra get the master bedroom.
Ezra snorted, “Sharing, oh joy.”
The men laughed.
“Yeah, but I’m sure ‘Siah and ‘Nate won’t mind,” Buck teased.
They all laughed again, even Ezra.
Vin grabbed JD’s bag, “C’mon, kid, I’ll show you where we are.”
Their room was located in the attic, which had been converted to a comfortable twin bedroom with a large picture window and a glorious view of the lake. Just as they reached the doorway and Vin had stepped in, JD bent over, a sharp pain shooting through his stomach and causing him, momentarily, to catch his breath. He managed to straighten up just as Vin turned back to him.
“Wow, this is awesome,” JD said, covering, as much as he could.
Vin looked at him, “You ok? You look a little pale.”
“Sure, just a little tired is all. So which bed is mine?”
Vin pointed to the one farthest from the door and JD nodded his approval.
“Supper’s about ready, kid, don’t be too long settling in.” “ I won’t,” JD answered, “I’ll just wash up.”
He watched as Vin left and when he thought it safe, flopped down on the bed. His start to the vacation had been delayed by a quick trip to the Four Corners’ Pharmacy, where he’d purchased some aspirin and an anti-emetic for his nausea. Dragging himself to a sitting position, he searched around in his duffle bag until he located the drugs, and fishing out a bottle of water, quickly swallowed the pills.
He sighed; when this vacation had first been discussed he could barely contain his excitement. Chatting with Vin, he discovered another thing they had in common. Although for different reasons, neither man had ever taken a vacation, JD had quickly realized that, despite his apparent calm exterior, Tanner was just as excited to be going as JD. The youth pushed the medication back down into his bag, determined that a little stomach ache would not spoil this time together and went to freshen up.
+ + + + + + +
Rising at the crack of dawn, the two youngest had dressed and had their breakfast long before the others had even stirred. They took the opportunity to take a walk, explore and familiarize themselves with their surroundings.
By the time they had returned, the others were up. Buck grinned as they walked in.
“There ya are, you ready to go fishing?”
As each took a drink of water, they nodded eagerly, watching as the others deposited equipment on the kitchen table.Ten minutes later, saw each man loaded down with items and on their way to a small flotilla of row-boats, tied to a set of moorings at the water's edge. Ezra spread a blanket out on the grass and got comfortable with a book, a glass and a bottle of white wine. JD gawped at him.
“Are you attempting to catch flies to aid your fishing JD, or do you have a question for me?”
“Aren’t you coming, Ez?”
“Good heavens, no, I have no desire to sit in a cramped boat spearing small wriggling creatures in order to capture larger wriggling ones. This is much more dignified," Ezra informed. "You are most welcome to join me.”
After a short initial period to allow the information to filter through, JD shook his head.
“No, uh uh. Thanks, but I really want to try this.”
“Your choice,” Ezra nodded, “I will talk to you later and you can no doubt regale me with tales of the ‘one’ that got away.”
Chuckling to himself, JD joined his brothers.
Despite Buck’s protests, JD and Vin were sharing a boat. Buck had desperately wanted to show their youngest the finer points of fishing, but Chris felt the two would feel more comfortable making their mistakes together, with the other four available to help if necessary.
Ezra was happily dozing when a squeal went out, drawing him to look out at the floating group.
JD was wrestling with his rod and line with Vin behind him, attempting to assist as the others called out encouragement.
Vin’s arms had come around JD to offer extra support on the reel-in, but it was having an unbalancing effect due to JD’s shaky movements.
“Relax, JD, or we’re gonna go over,” Vin warned.
”I’m trying, but if I’m not careful, I might lose it.”
The other men looked on with a mixture of amusement and concern, Buck called out,
“Guys, take up the slack, then pull. As it’s coming nearer, reel in.”
“WE’RE TRYING!” JD and Vin said together. Suddenly, the rocking of the boat became more intense and JD could feel it start to tilt to one side. Any attempts to steady it became futile as momentum took over and both men went over the side with a yell and a shriek, landing with a huge splash in the water.
From the bank, Ezra gasped, but couldn’t help but laugh, as was the case with his other brothers.
Vin’s head broke the surface and he spluttered, scanning the water for his fallen brother.
Unknown to Tanner, as JD went over the side, the sharp pain in his stomach returned momentarily, causing him to gasp. As he hit the water, he swallowed, taking in water, causing him to feel dizzy and disoriented. He was unable to locate the surface and started to panic.
Even with laughter ringing in his ears, Vin began to feel uncomfortable with
the length of time it was taking his brother to surface, and, taking a deep breath, he dove under. Within a few seconds, he spotted JD sinking slowly, and with a kick of his feet, he pushed downward, his hand outstretched. As soon as he had a grip on JD’s shirt, he twisted his body to face the other way and kicked hard again, moving slower this time due to the extra weight.
The rest of the floating family were now next to the overturned boat and scanning the water for movement, relieved when Vin broke the surface, pulling at something. Buck jumped in and was at Vin’s side in seconds, assisting him. They hauled the youth up and pushed him up against the overturned rowboat.
JD felt his face clearing the water and inhaled deeply. Unfortunately, it was too much for his lungs and he started coughing, hard choking coughs, as his body desperately searched for oxygen. He hugged the boat until the coughing subsided. He finally looked at Vin.
“Th…thanks,” he whispered.”
“Are you ok?” Buck wanted to know as he treaded water next to the two men.
JD nodded, and between coughs and a hint of a smile, said, “I swallowed water when I fell, sorry.”
The noise of an outboard engine drew their attention to see Ezra pulling up alongside, in their small speedboat.
“May I offer some assistance?” he asked, looking at the three men in the water.
It was decided to call it a day, and an hour later saw everyone showered and dressed and enjoying a hot cup of coffee. JD looked miserable.
“What’s wrong, li’l bro?” Buck wondered.
JD looked at him, then to the rest. “I’m so sorry, I ruined everything.”
Protests went up, but it was Josiah's voice that broke.
“Absolutely not, John Dunne, these things happen. Are you intending to try again tomorrow?”
The youth nodded enthusiastically.
Josiah smiled, “Well, there you are then, and I have a good feeling that tomorrow, you will catch a fish.”
JD grinned, “Hey, Ez…wanna hear about the one that got away?”
+ + + + + + +
The next day, despite a broken night of sleep, due to intermittent pain, JD felt totally at ease. He had sat still in the rowboat for two hours, a world record for him, waiting patiently for a fish to bite. Buck was seated behind him. The big man, while absolving Vin of any blame for the previous day, had insisted on sharing a boat with their youngest, as he felt he had made a promise to teach the young man to fish, and would need to share a boat to do so.
A sound from JD alerted Buck to the possibility of his brother’s first catch.
“I think I got one,” JD whispered, but not as quietly as he’d hoped.
Buck chuckled, “Ok,” he put his long arms around the slight youth and gripped the fishing pole, “Just relax and take up the slack.”
There was indeed evidence of a fish on the line, and together they began to reel it in, Buck taking great care to let JD feel he was in control, despite the opposite being the case. Five minutes later, JD was holding up his first catch, his handsome face beaming with delight. From their boats, the other brothers applauded, cheered and whistled, as the young man held up his prize. Buck was chuckling fit to bust, pride and emotion threatening to overcome him. He gave the younger man a tight squeeze and then picked his own fishing pole up.
“Right, squirt, back to it, we got to catch us some supper, and we’re gonna need more than one fish for seven hungry men!”
With a laugh, they resumed their positions, peace reigning once more.
By late afternoon, the brothers decided to call it a day, satisfied they had more than enough fish for supper. Chris paddled quietly over to Buck and JD, amused by the scene in front of him. JD had dozed off, slipping back against his older brother and inadvertently preventing him from reaching the oars, and rowing them back to the shore. Buck just shrugged his shoulders and smiled at the inquisitive look Chris was giving him.
Vin leaned over and grasped the side of Buck and JD’s boat. Nathan and Josiah had come around the other side and Nathan leaned over and did the same. Ten minutes later and the brothers were tying off the boats and collecting the fish. Buck nodded his thanks and suggested they go on back while he roused their youngest. He touched his hand to JD’s forehead, a little concerned how warm he felt, but then, it was a hot day, and the boy WAS sleeping against another body.
“JD…JD…hey, squirt…you with me?”
JD started to wake, stretching slightly, but the pull on his tender stomach was uncomfortable, and so he sat up, rubbing his eyes.
“Shit. I fell asleep?”
Buck nodded, “Yep, but then it is very peaceful here, a man has time to relax, chill out,” he looked at JD, “Catch up with some sleep.”
JD looked crestfallen, “I’m sorry, I screwed up again.”
Buck had climbed out of the boat and was helping his brother do the same, “No ya didn’t, we have enough fish for supper and everyone’s nice and relaxed. Come on, I could do with some coffee; ‘ya want some?”
JD shook his head, “Milk?”
Buck grinned, “Milk it is.”
Chris had noticed how quiet JD had become after supper, despite seemingly upbeat while they were eating. He couldn’t think of any obvious reason why he was down, so he risked a question.
“JD, is everything ok? You seem a little down.”
Naturally concerned, all the men looked toward the youth, surprised to see him teary eyed and looking a little embarrassed. JD backhanded away a tear, and smiled shyly.
“Oh, I’m fine, honestly. I was just thinking.”
“What about, son?” Josiah asked.
JD looked at this wonderful group of men that had become his family. He often wanted to pinch himself to make sure he hadn't dreamed the last several months, since the letter about the will had dropped on his rather threadbare doormat back in Boston.
He smiled, “I was just thinking how lucky I am, and wondering what I’d done to deserve it. I was also thinking about leaving here tomorrow. I’ve had such a blast. Can we come again, soon?”
Buck did what everyone else had been thinking of doing; he’d got up and was hugging the young man, his voice raw with emotion.
“Kid, I can’t wait to get back up here to see you and Vin fall in the lake again.”
Everyone laughed, and decided that it was a good time to pack up and head for bed.
+ + + + + + +
Three days after their trip and things were pretty much back to routine at the ‘Double L’. Chris, Buck and Vin were with the horses in the corral, Josiah was up in the top pasture, working on his new ‘project’, Nathan was back working at the hospital, and JD and Ezra were going over some paperwork and accounts on the computer.
Ezra looked at JD, who seemed to be in some discomfort and looking decidedly hot and clammy.
“Are you alright, JD? Would you like to take a break?”
JD nodded at his brother, “Actually, yeah, I need the bathroom, I won’t be long.”
“Take as long as you need, I think I’ll take a stroll to the corral and check on our siblings," Ezra suggested, standing and stretching.
JD walked calmly to the bathroom, but once inside he locked the door, flying to the toilet and just getting there in time to throw up violently. After about five minutes, he pulled himself shakily back to his feet, cleaned up the toilet, and then washed up, wiping his face with a washcloth. He looked at himself in the mirror; he looked ghastly. With Nathan unavailable, he decided it was time to share his little problem with his brothers, he’d hoped it would go away, but now had realized he needed help. He walked to the door, unlocking it, and then made his way out to find his family.
Ezra had arrived at the corral, grimacing at the dust rising in the air.
“Good afternoon, gentlemen.”
“Hey, Ez,” Buck called back, “What’s up?”
“Why would you think anything is, as you say 'up' just because I choose to walk out into this dust bowl you have created with your activities?”
“Ok,” Vin smiled, “Now I know something’s up, he’s prepared to get himself dusty.”
Chris faced him, “What is it?”
Ezra cleared his throat, “Have any of you noticed how our youngest is faring lately?”
Each man thought for a moment. Vin spoke first.
“He doesn’t seem to be eating much.”
“And he seems a little lethargic lately,” Chris nodded.
Buck frowned, “That may be because he isn’t sleeping too well. What’s your point Ezra?”
“Well, all of the above, plus he has seemed a little out of sorts during our work session this afternoon.”
The three men dusted themselves off.
“Let’s go and have a chat with him,” Chris decided, turning and walking toward the house, the others following.
JD could hardly place one foot in front of the other as he left the bathroom and headed back to the living area. He felt very weak, very hot and very nauseous, and the pain in his stomach was almost too sharp to bear. As another wave of pain hit him, doubling him over, he gripped onto the back of a dining chair. Just as the pain was passing the four men entered the house, alarmed to see the condition he was in. Buck was at his side in seconds.
“JD, are you sick?” he asked.
JD nodded weakly, “I think I might be, yeah,” he gasped out.
“How long have you been feeling like this?" Chris wanted to know, the answer caused them all to gasp.
“Since just before the trip, I didn’t say ‘coz I really wanted to go and I thought you’d cancel it. Besides, it wasn’t too bad, then.” He bent over as another pain shot through him.
Buck held on to one of the boy's arms while his other hand rested on the back of the JD's neck as the dark head leaned against the big man's chest, all the while looking back in deep concern at his other brothers. After a few moments, he felt JD relaxing and straightening again.
Chris stepped toward them, “Come on, we’re going to the hospital,” he ordered, alarmed at how JD was swaying.
The young man looked at his older brother and could see his lips moving, but was unable to decipher the words. Everything seemed to be disappearing around him and the further away it got, the hotter he felt.
Suddenly the youth dropped like a stone and Buck and Chris just caught him before he hit the floor. They looked at each other over the top of the now unconscious young man.
“He’s burning up, Chris. Shit, how did we not see this?” Buck was instinctively holding JD close to him, as he squatted on the floor.
“We’ll analyze it all later, Buck, right now, he needs medical attention.” Chris helped Buck to his feet and supported him as best he could as the taller man carried JD, and they all headed for the door.
“Ezra, call Josiah’s mobile and tell him what’s happening, then call the hospital and get hold of Nathan.”
Ezra nodded to Chris and began dialing. Vin was already in the Ram and had the engine running. In just a few minutes they were heading out. As they reached the end of their road, Nettie was arriving to start her day. She would sometimes start later so as to provide an evening meal and deal with the day’s laundry as the men finished their work. Ezra gave her a quick explanation, and then they were once again on their way.
The car was quiet as they headed for the hospital. Buck was cradling JD, racked with guilt at not noticing his condition earlier. Chris instinctively knew what was going through the lovable rogue’s mind, he knew how attached he had become to the dark-haired whirlwind that had become such a big part of their lives, hell, they all had. This new family unit had started to gel nicely and, despite the abruptness of how it all came about, Chris found himself thankful every day that they were all in his life. He hadn’t realized until then how very lonely he had been feeling , how much he, Buck and Nathan had moved away from each other in their daily lives. He looked at Buck.
“Put it behind you, Wilmington, we all missed it, and when he’s feeling better, we’re going to have a little chat with him about this.” Everyone knew Chris didn’t mean it, but it made them feel a little better to hear him sounding off as normal.
As they arrived at the hospital, Nathan was waiting for them with a gurney and a nurse. Chris and Vin helped Buck shuffle himself out of the car, his precious cargo clutched protectively to his chest. He was reluctant to give him up; though he knew he had to. Ezra jumped out from the front passenger seat and closed the car doors, giving Wilmington a tight smile of reassurance.
After placing JD gently down on the gurney, Nathan smiled at Buck, almost as a request for permission to move in, and then shone a light in JD’s eyes. None of the brothers missed the shaking of Nathan’s head and his concerned demeanor.
“Let’s get him inside,” he told the nurse, and they began rolling him in.
Another doctor took over as JD was wheeled into the ER, but was happy for Nathan to stay and observe. After twenty minutes, Nathan and Doctor Grieg came out to speak to the men. It was Doctor Grieg that spoke, taking an empty seat next to them.
“Gentlemen, John appears to have acute appendicitis. It doesn’t seem to have ruptured, but I am concerned about certain aspects of his condition, which may suggest complications. We are taking him to surgery now, and will hopefully be able to let you know what we find soon.”
He nodded to them as he stood and walked toward the elevator. A minute later, JD’s bed crashed through the ER doors and toward the same elevator. The five men watched the youth until the elevator doors closed, and then made their way down to the surgical waiting room.
Two hours later and Josiah had arrived and had been updated. Buck had started pacing, commenting occasionally on how blind he must have been to have missed JD’s decline in health.
Chris was exasperated and started to show it.
“I’m not going to tell you again, Buck, we ALL missed it. JD didn’t exactly help either.” The blond instantly regretted his words when Buck glared at him. Chris held up his hands,
“Sorry, bad choice of words, but you know what I mean.”
Buck flopped down into a chair and sighed, “Yeah, I know, don’t make it any easier though.”
They all nodded their agreement, and continued to wait.
About another hour later, Doctor Grieg approached the six men. They stood, but he gestured for them to sit, and did the same.
“Well the good news is, John should make a full recovery, although, it may take a little time.”
The six brothers sighed in relief, but it was short-lived as they knew there was a ‘but’.
“However, he’s a very sick young man right now. Due to the acute appendicitis, he has inflammation of the peritoneum… peritonitis.”
Nathan nodded, his face grim.
“Peritonitis interferes with the natural movement of the intestines due to inflammation, filling the stomach with undigested food and juices, which in turn causes vomiting and severe spasms of pain. We were fortunate to have caught it in time. When you visit with him in post-op, you will see he is receiving fluids and antibiotics intravenously and has a catheter. There is also a tube into his stomach to draw off excess fluid. As he is so poorly, we intend to keep him sedated for a day or two, and hopefully remove the stomach drain a day or two after that. Is there anything you’d like to ask?”
The men shook their heads and thanked the man, each shaking his hand as he left. They walked to the recovery room and went inside; shocked and saddened by the sight before them, a slight, pale body, surrounded by machines and tubes.
Buck’s heart ached to see his youngest brother so ill. Standing next to the bed, the big-hearted man absently stroked back the boy’s almost black hair, taking in everything as his eyes darted up and down the still form. He looked back at Chris and the others.
“I just want to take him home.”
They all nodded, moving in closer. Chris stretched out his hand and squeezed JD’s arm.
“We will, Buck, we will, just not today.”
+ + + + + + +
Day two saw a tired youth reluctant to sit up in bed or eat. His temperature was still a little high, but the Doctor seemed content with his progress. Vin had been with him most of the morning, and was at a loss as to how to motivate his younger brother, giving up eventually as the youth drifted in and out of his medicated sleep. He was concerned that the youth was answering in short or one word replies, but put it down to his meds.
Day three and Buck was reading to JD from a car magazine, something that usually sparked some interest, but not today.
“Buck, I’m tired, d’ya mind?”
Buck was a little surprised, but folded the magazine, “Sure thing, squirt. Can I get you anything?"
JD shifted awkwardly, “No, I told you, I’m tired.” He turned his head and closed his eyes.
Buck got up and gave the youth’s leg a squeeze, “Just stepping out for a minute, ok?”
As Buck closed the door to JD’s room, Vin arrived.
“How’s he doing?” Vin drawled.
“Well, let’s say, his mood’s been better. Good luck! I’m gonna get some coffee.”
Vin nodded and walked into the room.
JD’s eyes stayed closed. Vin shrugged and made himself comfortable.
An hour later Buck had decided to shoot over to the bar to see how things were. Vin was still with JD but was getting little response.
“VIN! Knock it off; I’m not in the mood to play on the PS2. Why d’ya bring it anyway, can’t you see I’m sick?”
Vin raised his eyebrows. “Sure, kid, whatever you say.” Something registered deep in Vin’s mind and he filed it for later. Both men looked up as Doctor Grieg entered.
“Good afternoon, boys, JD, I’ve come to see how you’re doing. How are you today?”
JD flashed a smile, “Pretty good thanks, when can I go home?”
Grieg chuckled, “Well, I’ll take the drain and the catheter out tomorrow and get you up and about, then we’ll see, maybe the day after, if you promise to go home and rest.”
JD gave him his best smile and cheerfully promised, “I will, I promise.”
On the fourth day after surgery, JD appeared to be showing a little more improvement, his temperature was still high, but the stomach drain and catheter had been removed and the doctor was ready to switch control of his condition to a milder pain medication and the body’s natural resilience.
The brothers were thrilled to see JD’s hazel eyes looking at them with some clarity, for the first time in a few days. He smiled at them as they entered his room, a gesture returned by six relieved men.
“How are you feeling, kid?” Buck asked.
“Fine, thanks,” JD replied, as he took a drink of water, from Chris.
Buck snickered, “’Fine’, yeah, right! We all know your ‘fine’, boy.”
JD smiled, but the smile never reached his eyes, a rarity for the youth, and did not go unnoticed by the others.
Later in the day and several hours since the others had left, leaving Buck in attendance, food was provided for the young man. JD pulled a face and pushed it away. Buck sighed and pushed it back toward him, taking off the covers while trying to look enthusiastic.
“Ya have ta eat, JD. You need to get well.”
JD glowered at him, “Well if it’s SO good, YOU eat it.”
“Very funny, now come on, just a little.”
The tray suddenly flew off the side table, landing with a clatter on the shiny tiled floor, spreading over a large area.
Buck was shocked, “JD, what the hell are you doing? That was just childish!”
“BITE ME!” JD glared, defiantly.
“What did you just say? Since when do you get off talking to me like that?”
“If you don’t like what I’m saying…LEAVE!”
Buck just stared, and that was how Chris and Vin found them moments later. Buck looked as the two men entered, then back at JD.
“Fine by me!” He growled and stormed out of the room, past the two men.
Chris and Vin glanced at each other, then approached the youth.
“What’s going on, son?” Chris asked.
JD shrugged, “I’m tired, Chris, d’ya mind? I’d like to get some sleep.”
Chris nodded and the two men left for a minute. They caught up with Buck at the coffee machine in the corridor.
“Don’t.” Buck warned.
“I’m not here to judge, Buck, I’m just curious.” Chris stated.
Buck turned to them both, sorrow in his eyes, “What is up with him? He’s one of the sweetest, kindest people I’ve ever met. It’s like he’s had a personality change.”
Vin nodded, “He sure is cranky. If he ain’t complaining, he’s sniping, and if he ain’t sniping, he’s sleeping.”
Chris scratched the side of his face, “Well then, it’s time to find the doctor and get some answers.”
JD was sobbing hard. He hadn’t meant to be so short-tempered, especially with Buck, but he felt so ill, and was afraid to say because he desperately wanted to go home. He was so distraught he didn’t hear his door open, and was a little surprised when large hands scooped him up. He looked up to see the soft pale blue eyes of Josiah, and resuming his heart-wrenching sobs, he clung to the gentle man like his life depended on it.
Josiah felt such compassion. He drew JD in tightly as he perched on the edge of the bed for a better angle, completely enveloping the slight body with his powerful, comforting arms.
“Let it all go, John Dunne, just let it all out, son,” he soothed, absently rocking as he rubbed the shaking youth’s back, feeling the heat there.
Five minutes later, and JD was no better. Josiah could sense the boy’s exhaustion, but was determined that as long as JD clung on, he would do the same. The ex-preacher looked up as the door opened and, having spoken to the doctor, Buck, Chris and Vin entered. Buck was alarmed at the scene, looking from JD to Josiah, the latter looking to Buck, his eyes telling the story, while at the same time, beckoning him over. As Buck arrived at their side, JD came up for air, but on seeing him, wailed harder.
“B…Buck,” he gasped through his sobs, “I’m s…s…so, sorry.”
Buck seamlessly took over from Josiah, pulling his brother to his chest and resting his chin on top of the dark hair.
“Aw, hell, kid, forget it. You know I can’t stay mad at you fer long. C’mere.”
That was how they stayed until the young man fell asleep. Buck gently lay him back down on the bed, adjusting the covers and pushing the youth’s hair from out of his face. He then gestured to the others and they stepped outside.
“What happened, Josiah?” Buck asked.
“I wish I knew, brother, I found him in a severe state of distress and offered him comfort.”
Chris sighed, “The doc’s going to come up soon and check on him, to see if he might have picked up a secondary infection.”
“If Ezra was here I think he’d be offering odds as to why JD hasn’t said anything,” Vin guessed.
“Care to enlighten us, brother?” Josiah chipped in.
Vin nodded. “When I was with him yesterday afternoon, the doc examined him, saying that if all was well, JD could go home in a day or two. JD had been more than a mite cranky with me, but he put on one hell of a performance while he was getting checked over. I’m guessing he wants out, but he’s afraid he’s not well enough.”
They all nodded, suddenly it was all making sense.
+ + + + + + +
Four days later and JD smiled widely as he walked in through the large oak door to the ranch house. His new antibiotics were working their magic and the painkillers were doing their job. Buck clapped him on the back.
“You ok, kid?”
JD nodded, “Oh yeah, it’s great to be home.”
Ezra walked into the living room from the study, “It is very good to have you home. I have missed you, and I regret my business trip took me away at such a difficult time for you. Had I known you had picked up another infection, I would not have left.”
He was now in front of him and had placed a hand affectionately on the young man’s shoulder.
JD grinned, “Thanks, Ez, I missed you too.”
Ezra smiled widely, his gold tooth flashing. He knew the boy meant his words wholeheartedly, and it felt good. He was really beginning to like family life.
“May I assist you to your room, Mister Dunne?”
Buck spluttered, “Did I just hear Ezra offering help? Did you bang your head, Ezra?”
The rest of the men, who were now all inside, chuckled. Ezra pulled a mock look of disgruntlement.
“Oh, I may have to sit down as I feel weak from experiencing such hilarity.” He turned back to JD,
“I believe your room is aired and waiting,” he offered out his elbow and JD, laughing, took it, “Shall we?”
JD nodded, snickering, “God. I’ve really missed all this.”
They went on up to JD’s room.
Buck smiled, “Yeah, well we’ve missed you too, kid,” he said, softly. He felt an arm on his shoulder and saw it was Josiah.
+ + + + + + +
JD looked at Buck in awe. “You mean it? We can go this weekend?”
Buck nodded, “Inez said she’d look after the bar, Josiah, Nathan and Ezra have commitments, but Chris and Vin are up for it.”
JD’s shoulders dropped a little, “Wouldn’t it be better if we all could go?”
“Oh we will, two weeks after that, but for now, we have their blessing to go ahead, we all think you could do with a nice break.”
Chris came into the living area where the conversation was taking place. He patted JD on the back.
“You and Vin made us realize we don’t get to the lodge nearly enough. So, you up for it?”
Dark hair bobbed up and down as the owner’s head nodded enthusiastically.
“I’ll just go pack.”
Chris called after the disappearing form, “JD, we have a few….ah, what the hell, at least he’ll be ready,” Chris grinned.
The lake still looked awesome. A heavy scent lingered in the air, there had been heavy rainfall that week and the ground was sodden, but the fish were biting. Saturday had been a great success, Vin had even packed some fish in the cooler to take home they had caught so many.
Early Sunday morning saw Buck and JD up and dressed for a walk. JD wanted to see a bit more of the place, and despite Vin’s eagerness, Chris had ensured the two brothers take the walk together, he had felt they needed some time alone.
Two hours later, Buck had decided to head back. Although nothing had been said, he could see JD was tiring. The walk had been difficult due to the heaviness underfoot and the rain had turned the track to mush. The two chatted happily, swatting each other playfully, as they walked slowly, side by side.
Suddenly, while dodging a playful side-swipe, Buck’s left foot gave way as it slipped in the mud and he felt himself start to topple down a steep embankment. He flailed his arms wildly to regain balance and dug his heels in to gain purchase, but to no avail. Instinctively he reached toward JD and in a natural movement, JD grabbed at his brother’s hand. Unfortunately, Buck was beyond help and his larger frame and panicked vice-like grip eventually caused the younger man to follow him down the embankment in a series of sickening, crunching tumbles through dense foliage.
All was still.
+ + + + + + +
Chris checked his watch for…well; he’d lost count of how many times he’d checked. He frowned, surely Buck wouldn’t march JD around for so long? The kid had only recently gotten out of the hospital. He picked up his cell and dialed the two numbers again, nothing but voice mail.
“So, ya wanna go look?” Vin asked.
Chris sighed, “Hell if I know what’s best to do. Maybe another hour?”
Vin shook his head, “Can’t explain it, but I don’t like it. The ground’s soft and slippery…best to go look, I reckon.”
Chris nodded, “That’s what we’ll do then.”
Selecting several items, just to be prepared for any eventuality, they locked up and headed out. Chris made a quick call to the ranch, informing Josiah of their situation. Josiah said he would keep in touch.
The two men looked down in dismay at the squelchy trail, noting just how slippery it was. Their fears grew.
JD‘s head was pounding. He had already tried getting up, twice, but was having trouble, and was desperately trying to piece together how he got to be cold, wet and sore, and…unable to move one arm!
He looked around, trying to remember…BUCK!
His heart lurched as he spotted the still form of his big brother, and, suddenly having a reason to move, he slowly and painfully dragged himself over to the man.
“Buck, Buck…can you hear me? Buck…”
A small sound. JD closed his eyes in relief and continued to attempt to rouse him. He was rewarded by a flicker of eyelids and eventually a peep of dark blue eyes. JD smiled.
“Oh thank God, Buck. Lie still for a minute. Can you tell me if anything hurts?”
“What? What hurts?”
Buck huffed a soft laugh, “Everything.”
JD almost wanted to punch the big guy…almost. Right now, he was just grateful to get a response.
JD shook his head, “I can’t leave you Buck, not like this. I could take hours to find help. Hell, I don’t even know where we are.” JD was fighting his own pain and nausea as he spoke. He couldn’t risk his brother seeing he was in trouble too.
“Phone…” Buck gestured.
Berating himself, JD reached into his back pocket, horrified to find his cell in bits. He started frisking Buck.
“Usually… have a fine lady… to do that…” Buck tried to make light.
“Shut up, Buck, you loon,” JD half laughed, finding the phone in Buck’s back jeans pocket, only to growl as he held it up to allow the water to pour out from it, whilst realizing, it, and Buck were sat in a muddy puddle.
“Have ta go NOW, kid.” Buck insisted.
Their eyes met, both pairs dulled with pain, hazel eyes full of sorrow and fear, blue eyes soft and encouraging. JD sighed and shrugged painfully out of his zippered, fleece jacket. Placing it lovingly over the top half of his brother’s torso, JD cast his eyes over the rest of Buck’s features, noting some gashes and scrapes, and soon to be bruises. He made him as comfortable as possible and stood for the first time.
Everything went black and he plopped to the floor, the blackness easing as light teased back in at the edges. Buck looked concerned, but JD waved him off.
“Just a head rush, that’s all.” He looked one last time at Buck and leaned in. “I really don’t know, Buck. If I stay, I could keep you warm.”
“No. I’m ok, r…really, go on, kid, you can do this.”
“You have a hell of a lot of faith in a city boy; I hope I can do you proud.”
Buck weakly held JD’s hand, “You always do.”
Without hesitation, JD leaned in closer and rested his head on Buck’s, remaining there for a few moments.
“Please don’t leave me,” he half-sobbed.
“I promise.” Buck answered with a wink, and nodded it was time for JD to go.
+ + + + + + +
Vin crouched down, surveying the ground,
“No doubt about it, they went this way, but there’s no evidence they came back.”
Chris nodded, “Best keep going then. I’ve informed the Ranger’s station and they’re on standby. If we don’t find them in the next hour, I’m calling ‘em in.”
Two determined men walked on through the muddy trail.
Normally, the climb up the wet and slippery embankment wouldn’t have proved too much of a challenge for the athletic twenty-three year old, but he was injured, and fresh out of hospital, and every part of JD’s body ached with pain and exhaustion.
His lungs felt as if they were on fire, as he stopped to cough. The coughing just made his head pound more, and he began to fear he was not up to the task in hand.
Somehow, that very thought brought him new energy, as his mind drifted momentarily to the image of his injured brother. Buck was counting on him, and by God, he wouldn’t let him down, even if it killed him. He felt relief as he finally scrambled over the embankment’s edge, lying there for a minute or two while his body and lungs recovered a little. He dragged himself wearily to his feet, and began his journey to find help.
After about half an hour, JD stopped, resting against a large rock for support. He knew his left arm hurt, but had now come to realize it was more like the whole of his left side, from his shoulder, to his hip, to his knee. He wiped away at the blood that had been steadily trickling down his face from a cut on his scalp, under his hair, gingerly touching the spot and sighing at how matted with blood his hair was. He shuddered at how he must look right now.
After another ten minutes or so, the youth pushed on, wincing at the pull from his appendix scar, adding to his misery. The mud seemed to suck at his hiking boots, his steps getting heavier and heavier. His left knee suddenly gave way and he toppled into the mud, screaming in agony as he landed on his left hip, accompanied by a severe coughing fit. As the coughing subsided, JD gasped for air, grateful for the intake of oxygen and wondering what he had done to deserve a cough on top of everything else.
Trying to regain his feet, his knee failed him and he had hardly left the ground before dropping back down again. He was in despair, and sat in the mud, wondering what to do next. The noise of branches snapping drew his attention to the trail ahead. His heart pounded in his chest, ‘great’ he thought, ‘I can hardly move and now I’m gonna get eaten by a bear.’
JD stared up in hope, his vision blurry. In seconds, his two brothers were supporting him. Chris gently held the youth’s face and turned it up toward his, as JD clung to the two men.
“What the hell happened, kid? Where’s Buck?”
JD knew he was losing his battle for consciousness, and gripped Chris’ arm firmly, pointing back along the way he had come.
“B…back there, down an embankment…he’s hurt bad, C…Chris.”
Chris nodded, just as JD passed out into his arms. He swallowed hard and looked at Vin who returned the nod.
“I got a better chance of finding him, Chris. Call for help, I’ll give you directions when I get there.”
Chris was torn over the plight of his two brothers, but agreed with Vin. He watched the slim man run off up the trail then sat down on the soggy ground, cradling his youngest brother tightly to keep him warm, and praying they weren’t too late for Buck. He reached for his phone.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah put down the phone and turned to his two anxious brothers.
“Chris has JD, but he’s unconscious and possibly badly injured. Vin is looking for Buck right now. They’ve called for professional help. Chris said he’ll call as soon as they’re at the hospital, and he stressed, when ALL of them are at the hospital.”
They all desperately wanted to drive to them, but they knew they would never get there on time to be of any real help, so they waited.
Vin noticed the tracks leading down an embankment and looked over. His heart lurched as he saw Buck lying on the ground, very still. He called in the location to the rangers’ station, and then carefully made his way down. On arrival, he called Buck’s name and checked the big man’s neck for a pulse, surprised when he realized deep blue eyes were looking at him. Vin smiled.
“Hey, how are ya doin’?”
Buck attempted a smile, “I’ve been better,” he whispered. “JD?”
“He’s with Chris,” he offered Buck a drink from a bottle of water, and took off his own jacket to add to JD’s for extra warmth.
Vin checked his brother over in an attempt to assess his injuries. His demeanor was calm, but his heart was pounding as he secretly feared Buck’s injuries may be worse than they appeared.
About ten minutes later, the sound of rotor blades pierced the quiet, Vin winked,
“I think your ride’s here.”
Chris sighed with relief, pulling the cold and unconscious youth in closer, as he heard the chopper somewhere above him.
“Hang in there, kid, help’s here.”
Once again, the blond found himself reflecting on all the changes in his life over the last few months... seven men, he thought, four of them total strangers only a few months ago, and now look at them. He fingered JD’s blood-matted hair, hoping whatever cut was there wasn’t serious, grateful trained medics would soon be with them.
+ + + + + + +
The next day, saw five men sitting quietly in a private room at the local hospital, watching over their two sleeping, bed-ridden brothers.
Buck was battered and bruised and sporting a dark blue cast on his right leg, up to his knee. His head injury was superficial.
JD was much the same, the left side of his body seemingly to have taken most of the damage. He had twisted his left knee and his left shoulder had been dislocated. He had developed an upper respiratory infection and his head injury, though nasty was not dangerous, had been stitched.
Buck stirred and smiled to see his brothers were still there from when he had awakened earlier. His smile faded a little as he looked across at JD, noticing he was not awake as he lay bandaged and bruised.
“Penny for them?” Chris spoke, standing up from his chair and approaching Buck’s bed.
“I’m not sure they’re worth that much,” Buck answered.
“You’d better not be blaming yourself over this,” Chris chastised, “This was an accident, pure and simple. Just you remember that.”
“I dragged the poor kid down with me Chris, What was I thinking? I was already going over, there was no way…”
“Buck, shut the hell up.”
All eyes turned to JD’s bed on hearing the voice.
“We both reached out, and hell, if I hadn’t ’ve gotten hold of you, I probably would have jumped down after you, anyway,” JD insisted.
Buck smiled at his youngest brother, his eyes bright.
“You’re something else, kid, d’ya know that?”
JD looked around at six smiling faces.
“Yeah, well. I got me some great role models.”
+ + + + + + +
One month later and Buck’s cast would be off in another week, but JD and Vin couldn’t wait.
All the necessary items had been packed in the two vehicles and JD was going over the list one more time.
Chris walked in from the Ram and picked up the last items, Buck’s crutches.
“All set, JD, we’re just waiting on you.”
JD threw Chris a set of house keys and followed him out, turning to watch him lock up.
Chris turned and smiled, “What for?”
“For indulging me. I know we should’ve waited another week or two, but…”
“No need for thanks,” Chris grinned, “Believe it or not, this trip was unanimous. Mind you, I don’t know what Buck’s gonna say when he has to keep Ezra company on the bank while we fish.”
JD laughed, “You didn’t tell him yet? Oh please let me be there when you do.”
Chris put his arm on JD’s shoulder as they walked toward the cars.
“Well, I’ll make you a deal, you promise to stay out of trouble, and keep Vin out of it too, and I’ll give you a front row seat.”
JD shook his head, “No deal, I’m not about to make a promise I can’t keep.”
“Okay, how about this, you stand between us when I do tell him.”
JD looked across at Buck, then back to Chris, and chuckling, nodded. “Deal!”
JD was feeling very privileged. He knew these men had other things to do, but had insisted they take the trip, assuring there was always an opportunity for, as Josiah put it, ‘making time for the little things.’
He laughed softly, as he listened to his family as they ‘jostled’ for positions in the vehicles. Yes indeed he WAS lucky, and life was good.