Alternate Universe: Future LB (the boys are teenagers)
Notes: A Berm is a kind of crude emergency hut.
Vin groaned. Pain, major pain. That at least meant he was alive, though, and that was a good thing. Now, to assess the damage.
"JD?" He called out. If his brother hadn't made it, nothing else would matter.
"I'm fine," JD replied quickly.
"I hadn't asked how you were yet. Define fine," Vin instructed. There was a glimmer of hope that JD might really be fine, but he doubted it.
"I, I think I broke my arm. It'll feel better when it stops hurting," his brother replied, his tone attempted to be cheerful and failed.
Vin snorted. "Yeah, well, better feeling pain than feeling nothing at all." Like I can't in my leg, he mentally added.
They where on a family vacation at Yellowstone visiting an old army buddy of their dads over Thanksgiving break. The men had run into town for supplies and the boys had been told it was okay to take the horses out as long as they stayed on the trails they knew from earlier rides over the last few days.
Too bad no one had told the elk they were allowed on the trail. Vin had been in front when an elk had leapt out in front of them. It was a toss up as to which of them was more startled. His horse had spooked and thrown him. JD had been right behind and his horse had given into peer pressure and followed the other horse's example. JD had followed his brother into the gully. Thankfully he, had slid, more than fallen and somehow managed to hold on to his mount's reins. Hopefully, Vin's would go home, which would alert the adults.
"Are you okay?" JD asked, hesitantly, shivering in the bone chilling cold that had suddenly descended on them, hinting at a storm.
"I've been better," the older teen admitted.
"Better call dad," JD sighed. Buck was going to be hovering over him the rest of the trip.
Vin reached through multiple layers of clothing and pulled it out. "I landed on it. Looks like it died on impact."
JD took a deep breath. "Okay, well, we'll just have to hope the GPS is still working on it."
Vin closed his eyes and nodded.
"Meanwhile, we're stuck here. You're the boss, what do I do?" JD asked. He was experienced at camping, but Vin was the one who had gone off alone into the forest for days and been fine.
"First, we splint and sling your arm. Then we start on a shelter. Snow trench will be easiest, I guess it's be a berm since it'll be above ground and made of branches and duff. There's an emergency and first aid kit in the saddlebag," Vin told him. Thankfully, JD was not given to panic and their dads had drilled into them to always have a safety kit. "Bring them over and let's see what we have."
JD untied the rope from the saddle and secured one end around a tree and the other end he clipped to Flare's halter and removed the bridle that was over it. He left the saddle on as it would help keep her warm, but loosened the cinch so she was comfortable. The mare immediately began nibbling at the various plants and grass around her.
"Vin? Are you okay?" JD repeated his question as he returned with the bridle over his shoulder. Normally, his friend and bother in all but blood would be doing everything with him and reassuring him; not simply sitting there against a tree instructing and letting him do everything.
"I can't feel one of my legs. Since it could be something with my back, it's best I don't move or it could cause worse damage, " Vin explained. He had hoped to avoid having to tell JD.
"Why didn't you say something?" JD almost yelled.
"Because there's nothing we can do about it," Vin said calmly. "Other than my not moving, we just have to wait for help."
"Should I try and ride back after I get you settled?" JD asked, swallowing.
"Do you know how to get back?"
JD slumped his shoulders. Vin was like Buck and Chris, he always knew how to get back home. JD, on the other hand, needed a map, and precise instructions if he was going to get anywhere.
"If I was sure about Flare's abilities to get home I would think about it, but I don't know her, so best you stay here. They'll be looking for us soon. At worse we'll have to spend the night. Our best bet for being found is staying together," Vin was emphatic. He did not tell him that there was a storm coming and when it hit they were deader than a beaver hat unless they worked fast. He was pretty sure that JD would not have been able to beat it back.
JD relaxed. He wouldn't have left Vin here hurt and alone. He brought over the first aid kit first. When his arm was settled he would get the emergency one with survival equipment.
JD dropped the kit by Vin and opened it.
"Yes! A splint!" Vin said with relief. JD handed him the splint and athletic tape.
JD gritted his teeth as Vin positioned his arm, set the splint and tapped it in place. Thankfully, he could move his arms without the rest of his body. It wasn't perfect, but it would get the job done. The two triangular bandages became a sling. Vin also made him take two of the pain killers, which he would only do if his brother did as well.
Next, the younger boy brought over the emergency supplies. Vin sorted them out.
"Dad always says as long as you have a good knife and waterproof matches or a lighter, you can get by for a night or two. Looks like we have more than that here," JD commented, looking at the assorted gear.
"We should be okay. I need you to attach this as high up in that tree as you can," Vin told him, handing him a bright red flag and pointing to the tree they were under.
JD took it and reached as high as he could over Vin and attached it to the lowest of the limbs.
Vin looked at the supplies. The axe and shovel would be needed for the shelter. Between the kit's knife and his own, they had two good sharp knives. The map and compass weren't much help since they were staying put. Mirror might help in getting attention. Flashlight, waterproof matches, energy and candy bars plus aluminum blankets and water pouches. They should be able to make it, provided they were set up before the storm hit.
+ + + + + + +
"Yeah, well, Buck, I wasn't the one that felt inspired to moon the admiral's car only to find out later it was his wife driving it," Chris laughed as he and Buck followed their friend Frank into the house and set the grocery bags on the counter
"No, just streaked the base on a drunken bet," Frank laughed, the bag of Chinese carry out he had joining the other bags. He had been surprised when his friends from his Navy SEAL days had called to take him up on his offer for a visit. They had been saying for years how they should get together, but never had.
Fritz, Frank's German shepherd, followed them. One never knew when yummy people food might be dropped or offered.
"Vin! JD! Dinner!" Buck called. It was odd that the boys had not already come out to greet them, but they might have been involved in whatever they were doing.
"Here's a note. Says the boys have taken the horses out," Frank said.
"They knew when we were eating and to be home by then," Chris replied with concern. It wasn't like the boys to blow off meal time. They were too responsible for that, not to mention usually too hungry. They were both active and healthy boys with the appetites to prove it.
"Their cell phone's not picking up calls," Buck swallowed. The boys had taken the emergency phone with them, just as they had been taught to.
Frank glanced out the window and picked up his cell phone.
"Sam, it's Frank, JD and Vin went out on the horses, Patch is back without a rider and Flare is still gone. Who do we have patrolling the back trails?" He asked to a fellow ranger. Frank had taken them all to the station earlier that week. One of the reasons for the trip was that Vin was thinking he might want to be a ranger and was collecting information on the job.
At the news of the horses both men had run to the window that looked out on the pasture. The paint, Patch, was back and standing by the gate in his tack. Two of the other horses were inside the corral. The last one was nowhere in sight.
"Okay, thanks, appreciate them keeping an eye out, and if you get anything call me," he requested. "I know we have a storm coming. It looks like they headed north or west from my place. We're going to take Fritz and the horses and head out. Call if you get anything, and we'll do likewise."
"Either of the boys have any special medical concerns?" Frank asked.
Both fathers replied negatively.
"No, no special medical concerns. Okay, thank them for me." Frank hung up the phone.
"Air rescue will be in the air and circling the area," he informed the fathers.
"How do you want to break up for the search?" Chris asked. With three, someone would be alone and that was a bad thing on a rescue.
"We're all going together. Chris, get the camping and first aid supplies together. Buck, grab what we'll need for the boys and the survival gear. We'll figure on staying overnight. I'll go get the horses geared up."
"How are we going to know what way to go?" Buck asked.
"Fritz tracks, he'll find them," the ranger assured the worried parents. Sadly, he had experience with missing children and their families. It was part of his job.
With that, Frank headed out to the corral, while Buck began collecting winter gear they would need and Chris gathered first aid items. They could only hope they would be able to find the boys before the dark clouds overhead turned into a blinding storm.
"He okay?" Chris asked, indicating Patch, as he and Buck hauled the gear out to corral.
"He's fine, you're on him in case he gets stubborn. Buck, Becca," he indicated a seal brown mare, then tacked up a cremello.
Fritz wiggled in delight as his tracking collar was put on He did so love playing hide and seek!
The men mounted up, and the German Sheppard trotted along heeling to the lead horse. At the head of the trails the boys had been using, the command was given and the dog went in front, quartered, and then headed north.
Frank radioed in that they were heading north.
The men followed, the boys had headed right into the path of that storm.
+ + + + + + +
JD returned after the flag raising. Now, even if their camp was covered in snow, people would know where to find them.
"We'll need a shelter," JD told Vin.
"Berm will be fastest and easiest," Vin responded calmly.
"Okay," JD took a deep breath, "Once I have this thing built, how am I going to get you into it?"
"You're going to build it around me. Luckily we're under some pines. We can use those lower branches to help make the top. Walls need to be three to five feet high, and the smaller it is inside the warmer we'll be."
"We're going to be so close I'll be wearing your skin," JD snorted as he began moving the snow to make the walls.
"Are we going to be able to build a fire or something?" The younger teen asked.
"Our bodies alone will make enough heat to keep us warm?" JD gawked.
"Yep, as long as the shelter's not too big."
"I don't think that's going to be the problem," JD retorted.
The older teen smirked. "Just keep to your own side."
JD said nothing (for once) but just smiled back.
A little over a half hour later, the berm was done and the snow and wind were starting to gain in fury. JD had created a small, crude, but adequate set of walls around Vin.
"How am I supposed to make this top?" JD turned to him. "The branches are too high to use."
"Try and find some larger branches to lay across as a support and then we'll pull the rain poncho from the emergency gear over it and insulate it with as much snow as you can find," Vin instructed.
JD suited action to words. Leaving a small ventilating hole. Backing himself in, he pulled the block over the door and settled against Vin for the night.
Both boys prayed that their fathers were safe and would find them quickly. The one thing they were certain of was that as long as they were not home, storm or no storm, neither were their dads.
+ + + + + + +
The three men were silent as they followed the dog. Buck prayed that his friend was not going to lose a son for the second time. A lot of people saw Chris as uncaring, what they didn't see was that he did care. He didn't want to, but he did. It was that that had caused him to stay in high stress and demanding jobs that gave little glory and bad pay, but allowed him to help others. If he lost Vin, though, Buck was pretty sure he would dive in a bottle again, and this time nothing would drag him out. If JD was gone, the large man figured he'd join his friend. He had never really understood Chris's loss until he had had JD. That boy had opened up a whole new world to Buck.
Lottie continued in the same confident walking she had been using. Buck and Chris followed. She had obviously been used for this task before and simply followed Fritz.
"Would they know what to do in a storm?" Frank asked. The wind was picking up and the snow was getting heavier.
"JD, no, Vin, yes," Chris replied.
"They would stay together, though, and JD would follow Vin's lead," Buck continued.
"If Vin's able to help him," Chris said coldly. The cold black emptiness that had engulfed him when Sarah and Adam died was waiting once more to consume him. He had known that his time with Vin was short, but he had thought he would be losing him to the world, in the way that happened when your child grew up, he was not ready to lose Vin like this!
Silence fell again as the dog quartered slightly, but kept them going in a straight line along the trail the boys had evidently used. The horses kept along in the mile eating pace of theirs. Thankfully the boys had so far followed instructions and used trails they knew. It gave them a general idea of where to go.
Fritz bounded ahead barking, as Lottie suddenly led them all off the trail. A red flag could be seen barely attached to a tree's branch.
+ + + + + + +
JD had not been kidding about how close he was going to be putting himself to Vin. In the small burrow they had created JD was right up against his brother. Vin didn't complain.
"Were you really going to join the army?" JD asked.
Vin thought back to how all this had started because he had requested the army recruiter at the schools career day to send him some information about the armed services. Too bad he had forgotten to tell his family. JD had gotten the mail that day and announced the package loud enough for the surrounding three ranches to hear. It had also gotten the undivided attention of both their dads. Vin had never meant to deceive anyone, but had not said anything as he had no information to give them.
It had led to a family conference about options and various things the senior might like to do with his life. Up until then he had not thought of anything but law enforcement or the military. It was agreed that he would be good at either, and both jobs had been discussed as to how happy he would be doing them. JD had suggested that Vin might consider being a forest or park ranger if he was willing to go to college. Vin had nothing against college as long as it was towards a goal and not just for the sake of going.
"Yeah, I was thinking about it," Vin answered the question.
"Are you still?"
"I haven't ruled it out," Vin yawned.
"I can't imagine going that far from home," JD sighed.
"You might if it was something you really wanted to do; like going to MIT," Vin replied.
"Vin! how did you ..." JD sputtered. The college had only recently begun asking him what he was planning on doing after high school.
"I saw the letter of interest on your desk. Are you going to go?"
"I don't know, I hadn't thought about it until they sent me that letter. I mean, I knew I would be going to college, but, I don't know if I want to be that far away," JD answered hesitantly.
"Maybe that's part of what college is about," Vin offered.
"I was going to talk about it with Dad when we got back. I'm not sure I want to live at home while I'm at college, but I do want to be close enough to come home on weekends if I choose to."
"Sounds like we need another family conference," Vin chuckled.
"I could use it," JD laughed. He was a year behind Vin, so it was not as urgent an issue for him.
Both boys fell silent as a dog barked. Flare whinnied and was answered.
"Dad!" JD yelled, scrambling forward, grabbing the shovel in case enough snow had fallen for him to have to dig the door out.
Staying where he was, Vin merely closed his eyes and thanked God.
+ + + + + + +
All three men were off the horses almost as soon as Fritz reached the makeshift snow shelter and stood in front pawing and whining excitedly.
"JD!" Buck responded to the muffled cry from within.
Chris grabbed the horse's reins as Buck began working at the door to the berm.
Worked from both sides, the door was opened in minutes to JD rushing his father like he had as a young child.
"Vin's hurt! He can't feel one of his legs," JD began immediately.
Chris dropped the reins, no longer caring if the horses wandered off or not, and dove for the structure holding his injured son.
"Did you move him at all?" Frank asked.
"No, he stayed where he was and told me what to do. I built the shelter around him," JD said, shaking.
"What happened to your arm?" Buck asked, seeing the sling.
"I broke it. Vin splinted it. It'll be fine, Vin's really hurt!" JD almost wailed.
"Buck, Chris, I need the roof off so I can have space to examine Vin," Frank instructed.
Both men instantly set to work, While Frank grabbed his first aid supplies and went into the structure.
"Hey, Vin," he greeted the blondish brown haired teenager.
"Let's take a look at this leg. JD said you can't feel it?"
"No, I haven't been able to since I landed here," Vin confirmed.
"Can you feel the other one?" Frank asked, gently running his hands over Vin's injury.
"Yes, it hurts but I can feel it," Vin answered.
Just then the roof was lifted off and the park ranger got more light on the situation.
"Frank? Any ideas?" Chris asked anxiously.
"He can feel the other leg, so it's not a spinal injury. From the angle and what I felt, he's dislocated his hip. It's probably pinching a nerve and that's why he can't feel it."
"Splint?" Chris asked.
"Yes, we don't want the injury exacerbated. We'll go up to his hip and move him as little as possible. Hopefully, the rescue chopper can get near here before the storm. If not we'll get him out in the morning, and move him into the tent."
Buck nodded, and started unloading the gear with JD.
Chris stayed with Vin, while Frank quickly and deftly immobilized the leg.
"Hey, dad," Vin greeted Chris.
Chris gripped his shoulder. "Good to see you, son."
Frank stepped away and called their location in.
"Everything will be fine," Chris assured him.
"I was afraid I had injured my back," Vin said with relief.
"Even if you had, you did exactly the right thing. I'm proud of you," Chris brushed a lock of his hair out of his eyes like he had when Vin was young.
Vin smiled up, and leaned his head in against his dad's shoulder.
"Okay, rescue has our location and will be here in the morning. We'll level the shelter and put the tent there. The ropes can be used to make a corral behind it so we have double the wind break," Frank instructed as he rejoined the others.
"Will Vin be okay?" JD asked.
"He should be fine. He has a dislocated hip. It'll be sore and we'll have to be careful with him, but he should be fine."
Buck and JD both sighed. Everyone was safe, and that was what was important; anything else they could and would deal with when it came up.
The three men carefully moved Vin and set him under a tree. JD stayed with him around a small fire.
Buck and Frank made short work of collapsing the trenches JD had made, erecting the tent and packing snow around it for added insulation. Chris stripped the horses of bridles and loosened the cinches; hobbled them and made a makeshift corral by wrapping a rope around trees.
The men put out the fire and carefully carried Vin into the tent. JD followed, and the five settled in the tent. The boys surrounded by their fathers.
"Did you set up the camp?" Frank asked Vin.
"JD did, I just told him what to do," Vin replied.
JD snorted. "Good thing you did, I had a vague idea of what to do, but not the faintest idea how."
"That was a really good emergency camp. You would have been fine even if we had not arrived," Frank praised them.
"Dad taught me how," Vin explained, grinning at Chris.
"Good job to you both."
"Thanks," JD answered.
Vin was asleep, tucked up against his father.
JD soon followed tucked under his Da's arm.
The wind blew and the snow fell, but the five sleeping men were oblivious in their well-earned rest. Fritz was curled up on his masters feet.
+ + + + + + +
Vin yawned, and blinked, and finally opened one eye.
Chris was smiling at him from the chair beside him in the recovery room.
"They fix it?"
"Yep, put it back in place. You'll be just fine. Have to go easy on it for a bit, though," Chris said.
"Gee, you mean I can't go rock climbing tomorrow?" Vin laughed.
"Nope, no rock climbing for awhile," Chris smirked.
"His arm's in a cast and sling. He's on pain killers and pretty out of it or he and Buck would be here."
"Still thinking you would like to be a forest ranger?" Chris asked.
Vin nodded, "Yeah, I think I would like helping people and being able to be outdoors."
"Frank had to work today, but said to let you know that he would happy to write you a letter of recommendation," Chris informed him.
Vin smiled, "That's great. The classes I need are offered at Colorado State in Denver."
"Are you thinking that you want to live at home while you're in college?" Chris asked in surprise.
Vin shrugged. "Maybe, or maybe just weekends. I think I would like the option. I'm ready to leave home, but I think I'd like to stay with my family a little longer."
"There's plenty of time to talk about that," Chris assured him. Every now and then, the man still gave way to the boy.
Vin fell back asleep, his father watching over him, no matter how old he was.