by Kim & Joy K

For Blackraptor webmaster Nancy, in honor of her birthday!

“Chris is going to kill us.”

“Damnit, JD!” Vin growled when JD accidentally jostled his arm trying to catch his balance.

“Sorry, Vin,” JD said. “I can't find my wallet. I must have left it at home.”

"JD, we wrecked Chris's truck; we're in the middle of nowhere; I broke my wrist; you've got a sprained ankle; there's no cell phone service. Who gives a crap if you left your wallet home?"

JD lowered himself carefully down to sit next to Vin in the gravel.

"So how are we going to get out of here?"

"I don't know. You're the boy wonder," Vin grumbled, clutching his throbbing arm to his chest.

"Well, it's not my fault the tire blew," JD said defensively.

"It's not my fault either."

Both men were silent, carefully exploring their injuries.

"It's Chris's fault,” said JD, examining his left ankle. “He should have warned us the tire was low."

“Yeah, kid, it's all Chris's fault. He owes us a damn big steak when we get outta here.” Vin leaned back against the side of the truck trying to clear his head enough to think.

“Yeah, but how are we gonna get out of here? If they don't find us, Vin, we could starve.”

“We ain't gonna starve! It's only been twenty minutes.” Vin's stomach chose that moment to growl.

“See, you're hungry, too. We're gonna starve.”

Vin rolled his eyes. “A wolf or bear will get us 'fore we can starve,” he said sarcastically.

JD did a double take. “You're serious?”

Vin closed his eyes trying to ease the headache. “We'll be fine,” he said softly, rubbing his forehead with his good hand.

“You're bleeding,” JD informed him.

Vin looked at his hand, then touched the cut on his forehead again. His headache was growing, but he didn't think the bump was too bad. It was a wonder that they weren't hurt any worse. They'd hit that boulder plenty hard. Hard enough to bend the rim of the wheel and make the truck undriveable. He just hoped they hadn't bent the frame. That would cost a fortune to fix and the truck would never be the same.

They'd borrowed Chris's truck to haul some lumber out to Nettie & Casey's place. Then they had spent the morning repairing the back of the barn where the flooded creek had damaged the siding. Nettie fed them lunch and JD and Casey had spent an hour flirting before they'd hit the road.

But not just any road. Vin sighed. Why had he taken the old 'highway'? For that matter, why did they even call it a highway? It was no more than a pair of ruts leading out to the community of Titusville. Not that you could really call Titusville a community. There was a general store which had a little bit of everything, a feed store and a farm which doubled as old man Titus's junk yard. Most of the traffic that went to the little town came in from the west side through the pass on the main highway. But that was an extra two hours to go all the way around to that side of town from Nettie's place.

Titus had a flatbed trailer which he had repaired. Chris had been looking for one for his ranch for awhile and Titus's price was right. Vin had decided to pick the trailer up and surprise Chris with it.

The trip to Titusville had been uneventful except for a couple of places where the creeks crossed the road due to the excessive rain they'd had lately. Fortunately they were only a few inches deep, but they did make for a bit of four wheeling adventure.

The return trip hadn't been as lucky. Coming down a steep gully and rounding a sharp corner, they had blown a front tire on the truck. Vin had managed to keep them from sliding into the gully, but had hit a large rock with enough speed to bend the rim of the wheel and slam both of them around inside the truck. The broken wrist was a result of the sudden stop. The cut on his head and JD's ankle injury were a result of trying to get the truck back on the road. JD had turned his ankle in the rocks and Vin had banged his forehead on the door of the truck reaching for JD as he fell. They were in the middle of nowhere. Their cell phones had no service, and no one knew where they were.

And it started to rain.

“You hurt anywhere else 'sides your ankle?” Vin asked.

“I don't think so,” JD said. “I think it's broke.”

“Yeah, well I'm sure my wrist is.”

“Sorry,” JD said softly. “I didn't do it on purpose.”

“Ah, hell,” Vin said under his breath when he saw the tears in JD's eyes. “Don't worry about it, Kid. It was an accident. Let's get back in the truck and out of the rain.”

JD struggled to stand without putting weight on his ankle. “How long do you think until they find us?”

Vin shrugged. “Depends on how soon they start looking. Chris'll call Nettie's when we don't show up. She'll tell him we were headed for Titusville and they'll come looking.”

“And then he'll kill us.”

Vin grinned. “Yep.”

7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7

"Hello, Nettie. It's Chris. Is Vin there?"

"Lord, no," Nettie answered, glancing at the clock. It was now nearly six pm. "He and JD left around two o'clock. They were headed for Titusville."

"I thought JD had class today," Chris said. He clearly remembered Vin asking JD to accompany him yesterday at the saloon and JD turning him down.

"It was cancelled, so he drove out to give Vin a hand," Nettie explained.

"That's good to know," Chris said. "For a minute I thought I was losing it." They shared a laugh and Chris asked, "What's in Titusville?"

"Not sure. Must be something," Nettie said. "They probably got to jawin' with Mr. Titus and lost track of time."

Chris smiled to himself at the thought of Vin jawing with anyone. JD, however, was a different matter. "You're probably right," he said. "I'll try JD's cell; Vin's went straight to voicemail."

"You can try," Nettie said. "Service is pretty bad out that way. Tell Vin to give me a call when you hear from him."

"Will do," Chris said. They exchanged goodnights and Chris flipped his phone closed to end the call. He flipped it open again and called JD's cell. Damn! Straight to voice mail. He left a message for JD or Vin to call him as soon as possible. He dropped his phone on the counter of the kitchen and took out the ground beef. Vin and JD would probably be here any minute and they would definitely be hungry. Hamburgers would keep until they arrived.

7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7

"I'm hungry," JD stated for the tenth time.

"JD, if you say you're hungry one more time, I'm gonna feed you my phone," Vin answered and then sighed. He knew JD was just hurt and scared and trying to take his mind off of their situation, but dammit, he was hurt too. He wasn't scared yet, but he knew that it wouldn't be long before the fear that he was holding at bay by sheer will started to get to him.

"I wish we had some nannites," JD said.

"Nan- What are you talking about?" Vin demanded.

"You know, nannites," JD said. "Like they put in Dr. Weir on Stargate."

"Stargate?" Vin looked at him like he was crazy.

"C'mon, Vin," JD said, sounding as irritated as Vin felt. "Remember that episode where they had to use the Replicator nannites to save Dr. Weir? She had a bad head injury and was gonna die."

"Yeah, kid. I remember it," Vin sighed. He felt bad about snapping at JD. The kid was just trying to help. "I wish we had some nannites too. I wish we had some tire nannites so we could get the hell out of here.

"Tire nannites," JD laughed. "That's funny, Vin."

Vin smiled at him and then he chewed on his bottom lip for a minute before making a decision.

"JD, I think I gotta go for help," he said softly.

"You can't!" JD answered. "You're hurt," he said. "You were right, Chris will come looking for us. We just have to wait for him to find us."

"We don't know how long it'll be b'fore Chris starts worrying," Vin answered. "You want to be stuck out here all night? Titusville can't be more than a couple of miles back up the road," he said. "It'll take me less than an hour to get there. I'll be back here with help b'fore you know it."

"I don't think it's a very good idea for you to leave," JD reiterated. "It's not so bad here. We can hold out until they find us."

Vin wished he could be as sure of that as JD was pretending to be. "I don't think so, Kid," he said. "If your ankle's hurtin' anywhere near as bad as my wrist and my head, holdin' out's gonna be a problem. Not to mention, no food, no water. It's cold now, but it's gonna be hot as blazes tomorrow. I ain't relishing the idea of spending the day in a black truck with no water."

JD knew the fear he was feeling showed on his face. "Let me come with you," he pleaded, already knowing Vin would reject his request.

"I wish to God I could kid," Vin said. "I don’t wanna go alone anymore than you want me to leave you alone. But, you can't walk and I can't help you. The best thing for me to do is go now while we still got some daylight left. And, the best thing for you to do is stay here. If Chris gets here b'fore I get back send him to pick me up, OK?"

"Sure," JD answered. "I'll bet he shows up the minute you get out of sight."

"I hope so, kid." Vin said. "I hope so. I'll be back," he said softly and grasped JD's wrist in the manner, JD had seen him use on Chris - and only Chris - so many times.

JD's bottom lip trembled as he returned the grasp. "I know you will," he said. "Be careful."

"Will do," Vin said and then he was gone.

7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7

It was dark. The sun seemed to go down earlier when it was blocked from view by a mountain. JD flipped open his cell phone. Still no service, but the light from the screen was momentarily assuring. He would turn on the lights and heat in the truck, but Vin had cautioned that they needed to save the battery. They might have to try using the A/C if it got as hot as they were predicting tomorrow.

JD didn’t want to think about tomorrow. Vin would make it to Titusville and he’d call Chris and they’d all be off the mountain in a couple of hours. They wouldn’t be here tomorrow.

“Yeah, right,” JD said softly. “Vin’s been gone almost four hours. Someone should have been here by now.”

He wouldn’t voice the fears. He couldn’t. Vin had to have made it. He couldn’t have been injured or lost trying to save the dumb jerk that suggested this road in the first place. Why had he killed the time, while Vin talked to the old man about the trailer, checking out maps on his phone's Internet connection? For that matter, why did the connection work up there and not here?  He must have had clear sight to a cell tower somewhere on the other side of Titusville.

“He’s fine,” said JD. “Someone will be here any minute.”

A coyote howled somewhere nearby. JD looked out into the darkness and hit the automatic door locks. “Where are you, Vin?”

7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7

“Anything?” Buck asked anxiously.

Chris shook his head. “Titus said they left around four or so.”

“Why’d they go to Titusville anyway?” Buck asked.

Chris shrugged as he picked up his ringing cell phone.

“Larabee… What did you find out?… Okay… We’ll meet you up there… Alright.”

He turned to Buck. “Josiah says there are no accident reports on the main highway. He and Ezra are heading up to Titusville. I told them we’d meet them there.”

“What about Nate?” asked Buck as he put some bottles of water and snack bars into a backpack.

“He and Rain went to her sister’s this weekend,” Chris said.

“That’s right. New nephew.”

Chris nodded absently. “If they’re not on the main highway, where are they?” he asked.

“Probably holed up in a bar somewhere in Titusville with a couple of senoritas.”

Chris looked up. “You’ve never been to Titusville.”

Buck shook his head as he slipped into his jacket.

“There’s barely a general store. The gal who runs the store won’t even carry chewing tobacco because she says it’s a nasty habit. But she really does it to give old man Titus a hard time. I used to get my feed up there before McCrakkens opened their store.”

Chris shrugged into his jacket and the two men headed out the door to look for their wayward friends.

“Wait, do you mean that little hole in the wall off the old highway?” Buck asked, unlocking his truck.

“That’s Titusville,” Chris confirmed. “Don’t know why they call that old pair of ruts a highway.”

“You don’t think…” Buck trailed off as both men came to the same realization. The old highway was the shortest, though not safest route. Just the type of road their trouble magnets would take.

“They’d have to be fools,” Chris said, “with all the rain we’ve had lately.”

Buck nodded, both men knowing that it was likely where Vin and JD had gone.

7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7

It seemed like he'd been walking for hours. Where the hell was Titusville? Vin stumbled on the uneven terrain. "Fuck!" he swore and cradled his injured wrist. JD had tied it up for him as best he could using his undershirt. Thank God he wore undershirts. He'd learned a long time ago that layers was the best way to keep out the heat and the cold. Damn it was cold. He couldn't help but wish he had another shirt or his leather jacket.

Damnit, he'd promised JD he'd be back and now it was pitch black and he had no idea how far it was to Titusville. He peered down the road seeing nothing but inky blackness. He sighed and started walking again. Several minutes later he thought he could see a light in the distance.

"Titusville!" he exclaimed, relieved and excited. It wouldn't be long now. "Hang on, Kid," he said and then laughed at himself. JD might not be able to hear him, but just knowing that help was close had picked up his spirits immensely. His head still hurt and his arm throbbed all the way to the shoulder, but with any luck in a couple of hours, Chris and Buck would be bitching at him and JD while painkillers and pretty nurses drowned them out.

Just then he stumbled over something in the road and fell hard, hitting his head again. Stars exploded behind his eyes and then, mercifully, he felt nothing. Vin lay unconscious, bleeding from the newly reopened gash on his forehead.

7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7

"Ezra, any word?" "Chris asked, when he answered the call. He and Buck were headed for the shortcut they believed JD and Vin had taken.

"No, Mr. Larabee," Ezra answered. "We're about 40 minutes from Titusville, but I thought I'd check in before we lose service."

"Good idea," Chris answered. "We're headed into Titusville from the other side. If you don't hear from me, assume my cell isn't working and we'll meet at the general store."

"As you-"

"What? Ezra?" Chris glanced at his phone. 'Call lost' was on the display. "Ezra's lost signal," he told Buck.

"No sign of them?" Buck asked, worry making the normally smiling man's brow furrow.

"No," Chris said, his own brow furrowed and his eyes narrowed. He stared out the window into the night. They'd find them. They had to.

7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7

Vin groaned as the throbbing in his wrist and the pounding in his head woke him. He lay as still as possible trying to remember where he was and how he'd come to be injured. He was finding it difficult to think with his head trying to come off of his body. He raised the hand that wasn't injured and winced as he touched a huge bump on his forehead that was sticky with drying blood.

He had fallen. That's right. He had been on the road to Titusville with JD and he had fallen.

JD! He jolted upright and groaned again as the pain in his head blazed white hot, at the sudden movement. He fought against nausea that was trying to overtake him, swallowing repeatedly. After several minutes his stomach momentarily stopped rebelling, but Vin knew that another sudden movement and he'd likely lose the battle.

He had to get to Titusville. The only problem with that was that he had no idea which direction Titusville was in. He glanced around. The moonless night stretched out in all directions. There was nothing to give him an indication - wait, was that a light? Vin blinked, and looked in the direction he thought he'd seen light in. There it was, the faintest of glows that could only be the ratty neon sign old man Titus had installed at the general store. Vin and JD had both thought it hilarious that the man had actually put up any sign, let alone a neon sign. Right now, Vin would kiss that sign if it was here.

But it wasn't here. He took a deep breath and started walking toward the light, hoping he didn't find any more rocks to stumble over in the darkness.

7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7

JD jerked awake, yelping in pain when he bumped his ankle against the back of the seat. He grabbed his calf and gingerly moved his ankle so it was resting on his coat. He'd balled his jacket into a pillow, but nothing was comfortable. He hit the button on his watch, illuminating the numbers. He gasped slightly at how much time had passed. He hadn't intended to fall asleep. Vin was out there somewhere struggling to get him help. It just wasn't right that he would be sleeping while his friend was sacrificing his comfort.

He heard a noise and ducked down below the window, listening intently. He cursed Vin for ever planting the vision of wolves and bears in his mind. Silently reminding himself that he was inside the truck and whatever was making the noise was outside, he steeled his nerves and slowly raised up to peek out the driver's side window.

He was met by a blinding light in his face.


Buck fumbled with the door handle. “Damnit, unlock the door!”

Still seeing spots from the light in his face JD reached for the door handle and popped the locks.

Buck yanked open the door.

“Is he alright?” Chris asked.

“You alright, Kid?” Buck asked.

“I am now,” JD said in relief.

“What the hell did you do to my truck?” Chris asked half seriously.

“Uh... I... uh... Vin...” JD stammered.

Chris shook his head. “Where's Vin?”


“Spit it out, Boy,” Buck teased as he shone the flashlight down the length of JD's body and spied the crudely fashioned splints on his ankle.

“He went for help,” said JD. “I told him to stay. I wanted to go with him...”

“Relax,” Buck soothed. “You hurt anywhere else beside your ankle?”

JD shook his head.

“Did Vin go toward Titusville?” Chris asked.

“Yeah, he said it wasn't more than a mile back,” said JD.

“More like five,” Chris said. “Buck, let's get JD in your truck and head on up. We'll have to come back for my rig tomorrow.”

“Sorry, Chris,” said JD.

“Where'd the trailer come from?” Chris asked.

“Old man Titus. Vin saw it, knew you wanted one and figured the price was right.”

7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7

“This is Titusville?” Ezra asked incredulously.

“Not according to the sign,” Josiah said nodding to the old neon sign on the general store. All the letters flickered somewhat, but the “u” was definitely out, reducing the grand name of Titusville to a juvenile joke.

“Ah, Mr. Willmington would appreciate the humor,” said Ezra. When Josiah shut off the engine, both men stepped out of the Suburban. “It would appear the metropolis has rolled up the sidewalks for the night.”

Josiah shook his head at Ezra's sarcasm. “Let's just find the boys and get out of here.” He rattled the door to the store hoping for some signs of life.

“You don't suppose we missed them on the highway?” Ezra asked as they walked over to the feed store and tried the front door.

“It's possible, but we both were watching for Chris's truck,” said Josiah, turning and looking around. Something caught his eye in the lane between the general store and the feed store and he strode quickly toward it.

He stopped in front of the phone booth and squatted down, bringing himself eye-level with the man slumped against it.


“Phone don't work.”

“Figures,” said Ezra. “Are you all right?” It was a dumb question. It was obvious that Vin was hurt.

“JD,” Vin mumbled. “He broke his ankle.”

“Okay,” Josiah soothed. “Let's make sure you're all in one piece and then we'll go get JD.”

“Chris is gonna be pissed,” Vin said.

“Chris'll be happy you're alright,” Josiah countered. “Can you walk?”

Vin nodded, then winced in pain.

Ezra turned the flashlight on him, careful to shine the beam above his head, not in his eyes. “Nice lump,” he commented.

Vin looked sideways at him. “Thanks for your concern.”

Josiah grinned. “Let's get you in the 'burb.”

Both men helped Vin up, steadying him and keeping him from falling.

“You're wet,” said Ezra.

“That happens when it rains,” Vin answered.

“Dare I ask what happened?” Ezra asked, steadying Vin while Josiah opened the door.

“Blew a tire. Had a wreck. Broke my wrist. Hit my head. Hiked out.” He wasn't about to tell them about the tripping and falling, hitting his head again, or getting lost. “That about covers it.”

“And JD?” Ezra asked.

“Think he broke his ankle. I made him stay with the truck,” Vin answered leaning back against the seat.

“You took the old highway?” Josiah asked.

“Shouldn't even have that ditch on the map,” Vin grumbled.

“Should we go get him?” Ezra asked Josiah.

Josiah shook his head. “Chris and Buck are taking that road to get here. They should come across JD. We'll wait here.”

Thirty minutes later two vehicles headed back toward town on the main highway, not taking any chances on the shortcut with their wayward lambs.

7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7 ~ 7

The trip to the clinic had taken several hours and both Vin and JD had been treated and released. The doctor had wanted Vin to stay overnight for observation, but the tiny clinic was already overcrowded and Vin had protested. Chris had promised to watch him and bring him back if the dizziness and nausea got worse. The doctor had reluctantly released him after his wrist had been splinted and he'd had his head examined.

As it turned out, JD's ankle hadn't been broken, but it was severely sprained. Josiah had taken him and Buck and Ezra home. Vin had wanted to return to his apartment, but Chris had pointed out that three flights of stairs was a little much if the elevator wasn't working. It was evidence of how truly exhausted and sore Vin was that he agreed without an argument.

Vin had fallen asleep on the trip to the ranch and barely managed to rouse long enough to stumble with Chris's help into the house. It was no surprise to Chris. Vin had been wiped out before they'd ever left the clinic and it had been all Chris could do to muscle him down the hall to the guest room before Vin collapsed. Chris had done nothing more than remove his shoes and cover him with the blanket. He had barely closed the door when his cell phone rang.

"Buck," he answered. "How's JD?"

"Sleeping like a baby," Buck replied. "Vin?"

"Define baby," Chris answered and then joined Buck in a relieved laugh. Things could have turned out so much worse. He pushed that thought firmly away. Tonight was just for being glad Vin and JD weren't seriously injured. "Come out to the ranch tomorrow if JD's up to it," he suggested.

"Will do," Buck answered. "Night."

**The Next Day **

"Shit!" Vin cursed. He and JD were playing the new video game Buck had given them as a get well present and he couldn't manage his controller properly with his broken wrist. His car had just crashed.

He threw the controller down. "The heck with this," he said. "I want a rematch when I've got two good arms," he demanded.

"Shoot, Vin, the broken wrist gives you an excuse for losing," JD laughed and set his own controller down.

"Ha, ha," Vin groused.

"Well, you don't exactly drive real vehicles any better, Vin," Chris said from the recliner.

"Aw, hell, Chris!" Vin exclaimed, "I know it was my fault. I should never have taken that route. I just never figured they'd call somethin' like that a highway."

"It was my fault," JD interrupted. "I'm the one who told Vin we should take that route. I found it on the Internet.

Chris sighed, "No, it was my fault. I knew that tire was low, but I forgot to get air in it."

"You're all three right!" Buck interjected. "It's all your fault and your fault and your fault," he said nodding at each man in turn. "So, one of you get me a beer."

He ducked as, a pillow, a video game controller, and an empty beer can came flying toward him.