Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em...damnit!
Thanks to KT for Monarch of the Glen AU
Summary: Living up to expectations is a job in itself.
Roughly follows, and refers to KT's story Dream
Thanks to KT, for being a pal, for the yummy manips, and indulging my nagging :o); Also to Kathy because her enthusiasm gave me the courage to write in this AU, and to blackraptor for their wonderful archive.
Relaxing back against the lush grass and pink heather of Drum Maise, JD folded his hands behind his head and sighed. Buck had first brought him here the day he arrived at Glenneaval, and it was love at first sight for the New Yorker. From here, he could see miles of land and lochs; a small part of a vast estate that he inherited just six weeks ago when his mother's brother, Angus Ross, passed away.
Knowing Uncle Angus had wanted to meet and get to know his only living blood relative, had made settling here easier than JD anticipated; but a recent revelation caused the teenager to ponder his position more and more recently. In the last few days, talk of an official ceremony in a few weeks time to proclaim JD as Laird, had stirred up intense emotions, and JD considered the moment when he learned Angus had a son, a child he never knew of, and who overnight provided JD with a cousin.
The fact that the illigitimate son was Buck, had eased the situation considerably, and despite JD's insistence, Buck maintained that he wanted no part of the title, money, and all that being Laird entailed. While accepting Angus fathered him, Buck was never acknowledged by the man, and was comfortable with that, and happy to maintain his position as assistant estate manager and his modest, draughty flat over the castle kitchens. Watching out for a boy he had grown to adore almost the instant they met, was balanced with teaching the new Laird all he needed to know about his duties, and it was working out nicely, until news of the ceremony was discussed.
At breakfast, Ezra explained a clan elder, or as he was known, the Proctor, would soon be arriving to discuss, then at a later date to oversee, the handing over of the 'Ring of Lairdship'. It was an ancient and traditional rite, full of pomp and ceremony, and involved the wearing of the clan tartan. Hearing he needed a fitting for his dress kilt, JD's nerves had instantly kicked in during the conversation. So, grabbing an all terrain vehicle, or 'quad' as Chris called it, JD went for a long, exhilarating ride across moors, through woods, and finally to Drum Maise his favorite place to think.
"You shouldn'ae switch off your phone. There might be an urgent need to contact you."
Startling from a light slumber, JD rolled to his side to greet the twinkling blue eyes of the estate's ghillie, Vin Tanner. Jumping up and brushing himself down, JD smiled, shyly. "Sorry, I put it to silent, and kinda forgot."
"Buck's in a meeting with Ezra, and Chris, but he seemed to know where to send me to find you."
JD nodded and walked toward his ATV. "Yeah, he would. This is his favorite place to think, too." He turned and frowned. "Wait *find* me? Should I be somewhere?"
Vin leaned back against his two-door Land Rover pick-up and smiled. "Once a month, Angus, me and Chris met with the estate's tenants. Angus's death delayed our next gathering until today, so Buck is taking over from Chris, and needs me and you to head to the Crofters' Hall ASAP."
JD straddled his quad bike. "Bit short notice, huh?"
"It came up at breakfast but you'd already hared off." Vin had figured out why JD left, but decided not to call him on it. He opened his cab and climbed in. "Buck's holding them off, but we need to get moving. Follow me."
With a nod, JD started his engine and did so.
"Apart from some overhanging trees which need clearing from the side roads, and roof repairs to Alistair McGee, and Joyce Purdy's crofts, we're good?" Buck asked, addressing the dozen or so crofters sitting in the hall, from his seat behind a wooden table.
One man stood to speak when, on hearing the dying engines of two vehicles, and noting the entrance to the hall of Vin, followed by a teenager, he re-took his seat, and all eyes turned toward the newcomers. Buck grinned, warmly.
"For those of you that haven't met him yet, this is John 'JD' Dunne, your new Laird."
JD blushed at the scrutinizing stares, quickly taking his place at the table between Buck and Vin. The silence was broken by a male voice somewhere at the back.
"He's naught but a bairn."
Seeing Buck about to defend him, JD raised a shaky hand to stop him, and stood. "I can appreciate you thinking that, sir. I am young, can't deny it, or change the fact. But the guys who've been managing this estate, and especially Buck, have been helping me embrace all I'll need to know about running Glenneaval. I got a real long way to go, but I promise I won't let you down." JD wondered if the hush after that little speech should worry him. He noted a man stand the same man that sat down when he and Vin walked in. Buck acknowledged the floor to him, and pulled JD down to sit.
"Name's Kenneth McFarlane. If you mean what you say, then I'd appreciate you looking into some local kids racing around on quad bikes close to my home in the evenings. I know they're from the village, but I've yet to catch the little bast " he coughed, " hooligans. If they keep it up, I'm going to set up a wire and tip the little buggers off their bikes."
Vin glanced in alarm at Buck, who nodded. "Kenneth, allow us to investigate before taking such measures. Something like that could have serious consequences."
McFarlane nodded. "I'll give you a week. If they're still coming by after that, they're mine to punish." A shadow caught his eye, and he glanced toward the door. He nodded quickly on seeing Chris Larabee leaning against the doorpost, watching the proceedings.
Buck declared the meeting closed and as he and Vin discussed the list of tasks, JD noted a group of ladies gesturing for him to join them. Smiling, he stepped away from the table and walked, hand outstretched toward them.
"'Morning, Ladies, I'm " He inhaled sharply when five women encircled him, encroaching on his personal space. They poked, prodded, and pinched his cheeks, 'oohing' and 'aahhing' as they scrutinized the blushing boy.
"You've not much meat on those bones, laddie, but I've no doubt Nettie Wells is already making strides to fatten you up some, to withstand the winter up here."
"Actually, ma'am, I eat pretty well "
"Ooh, that accent how adorable is that?"
JD turned his head to the new voice and smiled. "I'm from New York, ma'am "
"You have the look of a Ross, bairn, but not the name," another woman pointed out.
"My mom married a Dunne. Actually Dunne is Irish "
"I hear you're barely eighteen?"
Before he could answer, another lady spoke. "Aww Agnes will adore him."
As JD pondered who Agnes was, Buck stepped in. He smiled and took JD's arm. "Sorry to whisk him away, ladies, but the Laird has important business to attend to." The women smiled and simpered at the handsome Scotsman, giving JD's cheeks one more squeeze before the chattering group dispersed.
"Well done, Kid. You survived your first tenants' meeting."
JD puffed out his cheeks. 'Great, I get the 'coos', and he gets the 'swoons'. He turned to Buck. "'Survived' good choice of words." He glanced at the departing women, then back to Buck. "Thanks. They had a lotta questions," he added, drawing out the words.
Laughing, Buck draped an arm around the youth's shoulders. "Just means they like you."
"What important business do I have?"
"Tree-lopping," Buck replied with a grin, the smile widening when JD rolled his eyes.
Buck stopped walking just outside the building and turned serious. "You alright, laddie? You left rather sharply this morning."
JD smiled. "Oh sure, I'm fine thanks." He knew his cousin doubted him, but was relieved to see Buck nod.
Buck urged them on. "Let's head back for lunch, then go trim those trees."
Chris had stepped from the doorway to let the tenants out, nodding to each one as they passed him. When Kenneth McFarlane reached him, Chris directed the man to just around the corner of the building.
"Ken, like Vin said, don't be stringing any wires up to catch kids on quads. We don't want to have to explain a decapitation to the villagers, do we?"
McFarlane made a face. "I'm not that dumb, man. The height would simply enable the wire to catch under the handlebars and tip them over."
"Still unwise," Chris maintained. "Allow us time to look into it, would you?"
Kenneth sighed. "Aye, that I will but I want results." He leaned forward conspiratorially. "Though, I'll not hold my breath. Between you and me, the new Laird looks to be about as useful as an ashtray on a motorcycle."
As Kenneth moved away, Chris looked up to see JD staring right at them. It was obvious he'd overheard. Before he could explain the man was all wind and piss, JD's head dropped and he moved toward the ATV he had ridden down on.
"See you at the house," JD called back to no one in particular, before he revved the machine and roared off. The last thing he needed was for Chris to see how hurt he was by that remark. JD wasn't overly confident of his position either, and now it appeared Chris, like the crofter, might be concerned that JD was shaping up to be a pretty useless Laird. While he rode for the castle, JD wondered if any of the other guys secretly felt the same way.
"That an invitation, Stud? Only I'm still a bit sore from my hospital stay a month back." Buck frowned as he watched JD ride off. "Why isn't he wearing headgear?"
Chris shook his head at the brunet, and couldn't help but offer a tight smile, before he explained his expletive. "Ken was shooting his mouth off about his opinion of JD as the new Laird "
"JD overheard him?" Vin asked, joining them.
Buck pursed his lips, then shrugged. "To hell with the man. We know different, and that's all that matters." He smiled. "Nettie's made game pie for lunch accompanied by her famous rhubarb chutney. Don't tell me you'll be passing on that?" He chuckled at Vin's raised eyebrow. "I'll take that as a 'hell no'."
"I wonder if there's dessert."
Buck laughed. "Good thing you walk so much, Tanner, or we'd be rolling you round the Glen at the rate you pack it away."
"I have a quick metabolism," Vin defended.
Chris waved a hand. "Actually, I'm off to the village, so I'll see you for dinner."
With collective nods, the three men headed for their vehicles.
"Should you be stretching like this?" JD asked Buck as he watched the tall, kilted man balance close to the top of a ladder and slice a chainsaw through a third tree branch in almost as many minutes.
"I'm doing okay, Kid," Buck called, assuming JD was talking about his recent injury, rather than him hanging off a ladder in a kilt. "We Wilmingtons heal fast." He watched in satisfaction as the limb and its foliage dropped to the ground with a thump and a rustle. In truth, considering how sick Buck had been after his injury, he was feeling better than in a long while. He decided it was down to the fresh Highland air, good food, good friends, and he grinned as he watched his cousin drag the felled limb toward the back of the pick-up finding family.
He looked up. It would be dark soon. With winter drawing in, the days were shortening, leaving their working hours packed with jobs, and barely enough time to complete the day's list. This afternoon, they had done well, better than expected, and he was feeling a mite jaded, now. JD looked tired, too, but he knew the boy would never say so. Buck began his descent down the ladder, then helped a struggling JD to put the final branch on the pick-up.
"Ready to call it a day?"
JD bit back a relieved smile. "Sure, if you think it's for the best."
Buck grinned. "I do. It'll be getting dark soon." Securing the tailgate, and walking around to climb into the cab, they headed back to the castle. Noting JD's lack of conversation during their ride back, Buck nudged him. "Penny for them."
JD shrugged and looked at him. "Got half an estate that's yours for the taking if you'd just say the word."
Buck sighed. "Not again, Kid. You have to stop this. Your mum and you deserve it, and I truly want nothing more than to work, live, and be happy here." He reached out and squeezed JD's knee. "And I am. Plus, knowing I've found me a real live little brother is the icing on the cake."
JD frowned. "Brother?" His features belied his inner thoughts. He and Buck were cousins, but the way he felt around Buck, was how he always imagined it to be like to have a brother.
Buck laughed shyly. "Err, sorry. Just my little take on things "
"No." JD grinned, widely. "I really like it. It was kinda how I was feeling, too." He dropped his gaze. "I thought you'd think I was nuts or something."
"Oh, mostly I do but I'm still pleased we're on the same wavelength." Buck's heart soared at the boy's chuckle. "JD " Buck waited for the teenager to look up. "Don't let Mac's comments upset you. Chris and Vin tell me he's all bark and no bite. Angus was loved and respected, and it's gonn'ae take time to earn that kind of admiration."
"You could, though." It had not gone unnoticed that Buck was an instant hit with the tenants and estate employees.
"Aah, I just have the gift of the gab you you're a natural born charmer, and in time, a great Chieftain for the Ross clan."
JD doubted that, but smiled, anyway. "As long as the guys and especially you stand by me, I can do anything."
Buck nodded. "Then that's settled."
Walking into the kitchen, Buck and JD were shocked to see Vin sitting on a chair and clearly in pain. Chris looked on in concern, while Nettie and Nathan were attempting to remove the ghillie's right boot. Ezra brought in the first aid kit, but Nathan was already stating the injury required a hospital trip.
"What happened?" JD asked, shocked to see Vin displaying his pain, a definite indication that it was bad. He also noticed a piece of bloody wood and an equally bloody, long, sharpened nail sticking up out of it, and lying close by on the floor.
"Someone's been laying tire traps for the quad bikes " Vin grunted out."
"Traps?" JD queried.
Chris glanced at him. "They bury wood with nails in them under the leaves in the woods, hoping a quad tire will run over it."
"Only Vin walked over it, instead," Ezra finished.
"Here we go," Nettie warned.
Vin's boot came off, and the blood trapped inside it spilled when Nathan tossed it down.
JD remembered hearing Buck's voice, but knew very little until he realized he was in the garden, sitting facing the loch, with Buck and Ezra next to him.
"Just breathe that's my boy."
JD groaned. "Oohh please tell me I didn't faint."
"You didn't faint " Buck said. " Much " He laughed at the horrified look on JD's face. "No, you didn't, just went a little hot and sweaty."
"It was the blood seeing it like that " JD swallowed. "I thought his foot was hanging off." He shook his head and looked at Buck. "And after all I went through with you "
"Different circumstances," Ezra reminded. "We had to think on our feet that day. Today you walked in on it all. It must have been quite a shock."
Resisting the urge to say 'ya think?' JD simply nodded. "Is Vin gonna be okay?"
"Chris and Nathan are taking him to the hospital as we speak," Buck assured. He and Ezra helped JD stand, but he waved them off.
"I'm fine; but I think I'll pass on dinner."
Understanding his apprehension, the two men walked indoors with the teenager. After he grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge, JD bid them goodnight.
Surrounded by the heavy drapes of his four-poster bed, it took a moment for JD to realize how light it was outside. He grabbed his watch off the bedside table. "Shit!" It was gone 10am; a good three hours after most of the castle's ground staff and occupants normally began their day. In the kitchen, about fifteen minutes later, Nettie smiled at the thundering of feet heading her way. In his stockinged feet, JD slid into the main kitchen, halting abruptly on seeing Vin. His bandaged foot was propped up on a chair while he sat next to the big Aga stove Nettie was working at. "Why didn't Buck wake me?" JD moaned. Noting Nettie pointing to a chair at the table, JD sat.
Putting a plate of eggs, hash browns, sausages and mushrooms in front of the boy, Nettie explained. "Vin is out of action for at least a week, so Buck and Chris are sharing ghillie duties until he recovers. Today, Buck left early, and thought you might enjoy a lie- in." Before JD could complain, she continued.
"Also, you have a visitor later. The Proctor called to say he'll be arriving to discuss the inauguration ceremony with you." She watched JD's face pale and him push away his food. Much to Vin's amusement, she promptly pushed it back, before handing the injured ghillie another round of bacon sandwiches.
"Jeeze, I don't need all that fuss. Can't he just hand me the ring and I say thanks and then "
Nettie turned and scowled. "John Daniel Dunne shame on you. This tradition is from the clan's origins and you should be honored "
"Wait, wait, I am!" JD attempted to clarify. "I know I talk a lot an' all, but I'm not real good at this pomp and ceremony stuff." He lowered his voice. "'Sides I have to wear a skirt."
"Kilt, laddie," Vin admonished around a mouthful of sandwich and while smoothing down his own tartan. "Don't knock it until you've tried it."
"I'm not knocking it. Just feels weird thinking of wearing one, is all." He poked at his eggs and glanced at Nettie. "I have to meet this guy alone?"
"Oh no," Nettie assured. "Buck and Ezra will be here by then."
Relieved, JD took his first forkful of food. He looked to Vin and pointed to the bandaged foot. "Does it hurt?" As soon as the question left his lips, he winced. Of course it bloody hurts.
Vin grinned, appreciating the concern. "Not so much. I was lucky I didn't suffer too much damage. Just a bit of a bugger, being laid up like this."
JD nodded. Pausing in his eating, he glanced at Vin. "Uh sorry about having to leave like that yesterday. You know? When I saw your boot come off?"
Tanner bobbed his head. "Turned my stomach, too, Kid." While trying not to think on it, the pair settled down to enjoy their food.
Later that afternoon, Buck smiled to himself while watching his cousin pace like a condemned man about to meet his demise. Ezra pushed back his sweater sleeve to check the time, despite there being a large grandfather clock standing in one corner of the library. Finally, Nathan led in family elder Burgess Ross; Proctor to the Ross clan for over forty years. The three men in the room stood, waiting as the white-bearded, salt and pepper haired man looked JD up and down. Finally, he stepped forward and firmly clasped JD's upper arms in his hands.
"You're a Ross alright, laddie. I see a lot of your uncle and mother in you." He gestured for them to sit. Taking a seat at the desk Ezra often used, Burgess lifted a small box and folders from his briefcase. After leafing through the papers, he folded his hands on the desk, and smiled as he addressed JD.
"I was sorry to hear of Jessie's passing, lad. I remember her well, she was a bonnie lass, and despite the fight that sent her off to America, your uncle loved and missed her more than he would ever care to admit, and is why he went to such lengths to find her."
JD swallowed around the lump in his throat and nodded. "Thank you, sir."
Burgess continued. "While it is a solemn and distressing event to lose a good friend and great Clan Chieftain, and despite the immense tradition upheld in the title of Laird, it brings with it an inevitable element of change. Angus was in his thirties when he inherited the title, and despite upholding his father's established practices, injected his personality into the position, while having the foresight to realize the estate would benefit from employing people, good people, whose expertise and loyalty would help him bring the estate into the twenty-first century." The Proctor smiled. "And finally turn a profit. John, I understand you have already embraced and respected those in place to protect this heritage."
"Yessir, I do uh, have."
"Splendid." He leaned forward on the desk. "Next to John Burgess Ross way back in 1534, you are the youngest Laird in our history. The title, while historical, and mostly administrative these days, still carries a great deal of responsibility, honor, and respect. I hope you can appreciate this undertaking for all that it is."
JD nodded. Hell yeah, it was that very 'undertaking' that had been keeping him awake at night lately. Satisfied, with the pep-talk, the Proctor guided JD through the short but significant upcoming ceremony, and how the day would be expected to go.
"It's traditional, but not obligatory to invite the villagers, however, Angus did, and a great day of wining, dining and merriment was had by all. I can arrange for refreshments, entertainment and invitations and posters to go out alongside an announcement in the local paper if you'd like."
JD glanced toward Buck and Ezra, who nodded, then back at Burgess. "Yeah, that'd be neat, thanks. Be kinda cool to have the whole village there sorta gives me a chance to meet them."
Burgess looked helplessly at the two men, clearly not understanding much of what JD had just said. Assuming their smiles were positive indicators, he continued. "Archie McTavish and his predecessors have been tailors to the Ross clan for generations. I'll arrange for him to call in and measure you up for your dress tartan."
JD nervously agreed, glancing up at the wall with the portrait of Angus, resplendent in his Ross tartan and standing on Drum Maise with one of his black Labradors.
"I assume you gentlemen will be honoring the occasion likewise?" Burgess asked.
Ezra nodded. "I'd like to honor my stepfather by wearing a Ross tartan, yes."
Buck looked uncomfortable. "I have my Black Watch colors," he nodded, noting JD's flash of disappointment.
Burgess stood, picked up the velvet box, and walked around to the front of the desk. "Come here, laddie."
JD approached and the Proctor took his hand. "This is the ring of Lairdship." From the open box now in his palm, JD was encouraged to take out the gold ring within. Its circular face had a stag engraved into it.
"This ring has been in the Ross family for generations."
JD's eyes misted over. "Wow." He looked at the man. "My mother would have received this?"
Burgess nodded. "Most definitely." He sighed. "I know why Jessie left, and as I mentioned, after the anger passed, Angus missed her, greatly. Being a stubborn bugger, he left it far too long to find her, but when news came of locating her and her son; he was the happiest man alive." His gaze saddened. "Having to tell him Jessie had died was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but he rallied and, despite how weak he was, insisted you be brought here to meet him." The Proctor smiled. "I've heard you have a lot of your mother's spirit in you. You most certainly resemble her. I have no doubt he would have adored you, just as he once idolized Jessie."
JD's cheeks flushed when thoughts of what might have been began to overwhelm him. As if sensing the dilemma, the Proctor returned the ring to its box, snapped it shut and turned to pack up his things. "I will send you an itinerary for the big day, and Archie will call to make an appointment for your fitting." With a nod and shake of hands, the man left.
In mild shock, JD watched him go. "Holy shit!"
Buck laughed and clasped JD's shoulders. "Well put. Come on, dinner's almost ready."
All seven friends enjoyed a meal of homemade tomato and basil soup, lamb stew, and Typsy Laird for dessert. JD's delight on hearing its name amused them all. While eating dessert, Josiah spoke.
"So, John are you excited about the upcoming ceremony?"
JD nodded. "Sure. It sounds like a great day " he paused, reflecting back on Kenneth McFarlane's words. "Just hope I can live up to all that it represents."
"You will," Nathan said, unexpectedly. "I spent a lot of time with Angus. He was so looking forward to meeting with you. He said that, if you were half the person your mother was, you'd be a fine lad indeed."
JD blushed and found a sudden interest in his pudding.
The teenager looked up to meet Chris's gaze. "I'd be honored to pipe for you on the day."
JD swallowed hard. "Yeah? Gee, thanks, Chris. I'd be real honored if you would, too." Smiles circled the table. After a long pause, JD looked at them all. "Who's Agnes?"
Vin's eyebrows went up. "Why do you ask?"
"The ladies in the hall the other day said Agnes would adore me."
Chris smiled. "Agnes is in her nineties and will have seen four Lairds by the time you're inaugurated. She's a real sweetie, but has been poorly for a while now. Her croft isn't far from McFarlane's place."
Nodding his thanks at the information, JD scraped up the remains of his dessert and sat back from the table. "That was awesome, I'm stuffed." He looked at Buck. "What's on the agenda for tomorrow?"
Patting his mouth with a napkin, Buck replied. "I thought we'd tackle the shingle repairs on the roofs that were mentioned at the meeting."
"Cool. Anyone checked out Mister McFarlane's complaint, yet?"
"I'm going over there tomorrow," Chris offered. "I'll let you know what I find."
JD smiled, partly in thanks for the information, and partly to acknowledge he was actively involved in the estate's affairs. It warmed him to see his new friends really were keen to keep him in the loop.
Two days on and, despite it being several hours off, JD was at the castle waiting on the first fitting for his dress kilt. The house phone rang, but no one answered, so JD picked up. It was Kenneth McFarlane.
"I know you and Mister Larabee promised to sort this, and the little buggers should be in school, but instead, those kids are out there on their bikes again, and running all over my leeks and parsnips."
"Okay, Mister McFarlane, I have one stop to make, and then I'll be with you." Figuring he'd be back well before the tailor arrived, JD went to the kitchen to find Nettie.
"JD, what can I do for you?"
"The roses in the garden do you think it'd be okay for me to cut about a dozen blooms?"
Nettie smiled. "Sweetie, they're yours to do with as you please. May I ask why?"
JD shrugged. "I know, but someone took the time to grow and care for them, so I thought I should ask. I'd uh, like to give them to someone I heard was sick." Fifteen minutes later, and with the blooms de-thorned and wrapped in paper, JD placed the bouquet in the small rack at the front of his ATV and headed out.
Cutting the engine, JD picked up the roses, approached a neat little cottage and knocked on the door.
On hearing the frail voice, JD pushed open the door and walked into the small sitting room. His eyes widened on seeing a white- haired woman, wrapped in a blanket, and sitting amongst all the ladies from the Crofters' hall the other day. 'Aww shit.'
"Aaaahh look Agnes, the lovely new Laird has come to see you." All the ladies 'awwed', and JD blushed. The older woman spoke.
"Don't mind them, lad come on over here."
Smiling, JD held out the roses. "These are from the castle gardens. I heard you were sick and thought I'd come on over and see how you were doing."
Agnes sniffed the blooms and smiled. "They're beautiful, thank you. Tell me, how are you settling in?"
"I'm doing okay, thank you, ma'am." He didn't react to another round of comments about his accent.
The old woman nodded. "Good. I'm sorry for your loss, son. Your uncle and mother were good people." She smiled. "You have your mother's eyes, and your uncle's chin."
"I do? Gee, thanks."
"We're having tea and shortbread. Would you care to join us JD, is it?"
JD nodded. "Yeah, it is. Uh, no, sorry, I have to be somewhere else, soon, but as it was on my way, I wanted to call here first." Noting her outstretched hands, he took hers in his. She held his tightly.
"Don't be a stranger. Come and visit again."
"Sure, I'd like that." He turned to go. "Oh I hope y'all will come to my inauguration. Invitations should be going out, soon."
The ladies squealed. "Tell me, will that nice Mister Wilmington be there?"
"Or Mister Sanchez?" piped up another.
JD could see where this was going as other names were called out. "Oh yeah, they'll be there." With a final wave, he left.
Resting after a long day of gardening at the corner of his land that the quad bikes had churned up, McFarlane, jumped up from his armchair on hearing a quad engine passing close by his home. He just missed whoever it was. His jaw was set enough was enough. "Damn that so-called Laird. If he and his lackeys can't deliver, I'll make good on my promise and sort out the little bastards myself."
Passing Kenneth's smallholding, JD followed the fresh quad tracks into a small copse where he came across half a dozen youngsters. The group, all boys, watched from their perches on the seats of their bikes as the slightly older teenager pulled up, cut his engine and approached them. JD smiled.
"Hey there, how ya doing?"
They eyed him suspiciously. "Who the fuck are you?"
"Name's JD I live up at Glenneaval."
There was a pause before another boy spoke. "Wait you the new Laird? I heard he was a Yank."
JD nodded. "Yep, I guess that's me. I'm from New York, but my mom was born here and raised at Glenneaval, before she got to around my age, and moved out."
Unsure as to why JD was here, the first boy climbed off his quad and approached. "You lost?"
"Nope. I was looking for you, actually well, not you specifically." JD sighed. "Look, here's the deal. The guy who owns the croft a ways back is pissed at you wrecking his vegetable garden. I promised I'd talk to you about it."
The youth shook his head. "It's not his garden. He took over part of a public pathway and made it hard for our quads to pass by without clipping the land he claims is his. My Nan has lived here all her life, and she says he doesn't own the bit we ride over."
'Interesting', JD thought. He pulled out a bunch of Mars bars from a bag in his quad rack and offered them around. "So can we talk?"
They chatted for a while, and a good picture formed for JD. "If I'm reading this right, there's no sports hall around, save for the one at your school, which is miles out."
The boys nodded. "This is about all there is to do around here," the first young man admitted.
JD paused. "Does the village have a community hall?"
Again, they nodded.
"What's it used for?"
Another youth shrugged. "Jumble sales, church teas bingo."
JD pondered for a few moments. "Uh if I could get permission, and I could get a court marked out there to shoot hoops and just goof around, would you be interested?"
JD nodded and watched six pairs of eyes light up. "And if there's a kitchen there, I guess we could set up some sodas, chocolate, and such. Maybe a couple of vending machines."
Animated 'yeses' greeted his ears. He dialed. "Hi Ezra. The village hall any chance we could talk to the people who run it about marking out some courts there?" He smiled. "Basketball at least. Thanks." His phone beeped and he groaned. "Aww shit, battery's about to kick it." He looked at the boys. "The hall belongs to the local kirk?"
JD grinned. "Ah, right. Josiah a pal of mine, is on the committee, and Ezra " he smiled wider. "Another friend said he'd look into it for us." It was clear his news cheered the group up. He pointed. "Back that way, there's an old logging site. It's long been cleared, but I reckon, with some work, the estate could make it into a small quad trail and motor cross circuit, and there's an access trail to it closer to the village. Whaddya think?"
"You you'd do that for us?"
JD shrugged. "Sure. I like to ride out on the ATV too, so I know how much fun it would be to have a proper course."
Back at the castle, Buck had removed his wellies and Barbour, and was washing up before heading into the kitchen. Inside, Vin, Chris, Nathan, and Nettie, were sitting around the table enjoying a pot of coffee.
"McTavish here yet?" Buck asked, pouring himself a brew.
"Been and gone," Nathan replied. "JD hasn't got back yet."
Buck frowned. "Back from where?"
"He didn't say, but he took roses from the garden with him," Nettie confirmed.
"Anyone call him?" Buck pushed. As he spoke, Ezra and Josiah joined them.
"No, we thought we'd ignore his tardiness," Ezra put in, then raised a hand. "My apologies, but Josiah and I have had a difficult time appeasing the recently departed tailor. He said in all his business's years, a Laird has never missed a fitting." He poured coffee for himself and Josiah, and joined the others.
"I wonder who the flowers were for," Vin dropped in.
"Didn't you say he was asking who Agnes was at dinner last night?" Nettie deduced.
Josiah nodded. "That he did. It would seem he met up with the boys riding the quads, also. He called us, earlier."
Chris stood, took out his phone and dialed. A minute later, Agnes had confirmed she'd seen JD, and that he was heading on to somewhere else, but didn't know where.
"Lost track of time?" Nathan asked.
Buck shook his head. "He can be a bit scatterbrained, but not for the important things." He tried JD's phone again, but just got voicemail.
"As I said, Ezra spoke to him just over half an hour ago. He was fine then," Josiah filled in.
Standish smiled. "It would seem our young head of clan has desires to aid the village youth in passing their spare time in a more athletic manner."
Before anyone could ask how, the castle phone rang. Buck answered it from the kitchen extension, hitting the 'hands free' button to put it on loudspeaker. "Glenneaval, Wilmington speaking." Kenneth McFarlane's excited voice came through the phone.
"I did it! I warned you, and Larabee! I got one of the little buggers. Serve him right. He'll think twice about riding over my land again. That bairn that calls himself Laird said he'd deal with it but he never even showed up."
Chris stood and spoke. "Ken please tell me you didn't set up a wire "
"I did! It flipped the little bastard's bike just how I planned it."
"Is he okay?" Nathan asked. The following silence was ominous.
"Well, that's the thing. I've watched from the window, but he's not moved yet."
Buck stared at the others, his stomach suddenly churning as he hit the secrecy button. "Did JD take the quad bike?"
Nettie nodded. "Yes."
Chris was at the phone and went back to hands free. "Ken, don't move him, we're on our way." He looked at the worried faces around him. "Let's not second-guess ourselves. Either way, there's a kid out there hurt."
Vin cursed as he realized he could be of no help. Chris turned to him amidst the hive of activity as the others got ready to head out. "Dial '999', and fill them in. Tell them to put air rescue on standby."
Vin nodded, his eyes conveying a silent message, which Chris nodded to. Minutes later, Chris's Range Rover, and Buck's Land Rover were heading out.
In his truck, Buck glanced at Josiah in the seat next to him. "Keep trying JD's phone."
Josiah nodded and squeezed Buck's arm. "Have faith, son."
"God, Josiah, I can't lose we only just " Buck's throat was clogged with rising fear.
"I know," was all Josiah could say.
Making his way back to McFarlane's croft, JD's grin was as wide as his face and as bright as the afternoon sun. If he could pull this off, he would have finally solved an issue all by himself. He understood teenagers hell, he was one. They were bored, and if the church council agreed to his proposal, they'd soon be occupied more constructively, and McFarlane would be a happier tenant. He knew with Vin's expertise, and Josiah's help as a conservationist, he could work out the quad trail. He cheered, inwardly. Result! Time to share the news with Kenneth McFarlane.
As he traveled toward the edge of the copse that bordered Ken's smallholding, JD didn't see the wire strung between two trees, and his quad suddenly flipped up at the front, throwing him backwards and onto the ground face first. Before he could even consider any pain, one of the spinning bike's back tires bounced off the shallow banking, and as the bike flipped, it rolled over him. The other back wheel crunched his ribs, while its mudguard smacked him on the side of his head. Any pain after that, JD was oblivious to.
They were almost at the copse. Vin had called to say paramedics were on their way and life-flight was on standby. All at once, the quad bike JD was riding was in view. No one missed it was resting upside down. Then they saw JD, lying unmoving on the ground ahead of them. Buck made a noise, startling when, even before Chris's vehicle had stopped, Nathan was out and running past them and toward the prone form. Slewing to a halt, Buck was out the door and right behind him.
The men watched as Nathan dropped to his knees and called to JD, but the boy never stirred. Bypassing the bloody, dark hair for now, Nathan ran practiced hands over the youth's body, wincing as he checked the lower ribcage. He eased a hand under JD's stomach, and withdrew it before opening his bag and taking out a stethoscope. While aware Buck was now kneeling next to him and clasping JD's hand, the nurse raised the boy's shirt and jacket, placed the flat of the instrument to the teenager's back, and listened.
"What?" Buck was pale, his eyes wild.
"Decreased breath sounds on the right, and a distended belly. I need to set up a field IV." He looked at Chris. "Any idea on the ambulance's ETA?"
"Vin said the paramedics were on their way." Chris checked his watch and did a mental calculation. "With luck, ten minutes?"
"JD can't wait that long. Josiah, Ezra, help me out here."
The nurse looked up at Buck.
"What's wrong? How bad is it?"
Nathan quickly glanced around at them all. "I think he has at least one broken rib. I could be wrong, but it appears to have punctured his lung, and he's struggling to breathe. His stomach's hard and distended, which suggests internal bleeding."
Buck paled further. "Oh, sweet Jesus."
"An IV will help stabilize him, and " as he talked, he was unpacking a full oxygen mask and canister. " the oxygen will help, for now. I can't roll him, in case he has spinal injuries."
"Is it bad?"
All eyes turned to Kenneth McFarlane, who had ventured out to see his handiwork, toting a blanket for whomever he had laid out. Buck leapt to his feet and flew at him, and it took all Chris and Josiah's resources to pull the estate's normally genial assistant manager off the man.
"You were told " Buck bellowed. "Chris told you not to use a wire."
McFarlane defended his actions. "You have no idea what it's like to be harassed by those hooligans. I warned them, told them I was gonn'ae take matters into my own hands if they didn't stop, but they just ignored me and kept coming through my land. If it takes one of them to get hurt to get the message so be it!"
In a flash of fury, Chris had the man's shirtfront in a fist. "The lad you've hurt is JD."
Kenneth stuttered, glanced toward Nathan and the boy he was working on, then back to Chris and Buck. "He how? Oh dear God, why? What was he doing out here?"
Deciding he would rather spend time with JD, Buck shrugged Josiah, and now Ezra off, and glared at the man. "JD was acting on the promise he made you." He turned away and dropped back next to his cousin, and Chris released the shocked tenant.
Head hanging, McFarlane sloped off back to his croft, turning back once, to speak. "I'm sorry. I never thought it would do serious harm. I just wanted to scare them off."
Despite it feeling like an eternity before the paramedics arrived, Nathan had secured a neck brace, set up an IV, and positioned a hollow tongue depressor to keep the youth's airway open and receive oxygen. He was just about to check the head wound, when blue flashing lights cut through the twilight of early evening. The ambulance driver, much to the group's relief, had successfully traversed the narrow trail from the road to the edge of the copse.
After handing over to the paramedics, Nathan urged Buck back and they all waited for something, anything, which would give them hope that this wasn't as serious as they feared. Soon secured to a spinal board, JD was placed onto a gurney, intubated, and moved into the ambulance. There, an emergency procedure of the insertion of a needle into the chest cavity to drain the building liquid was performed, before they attempted to transport him. One EMT approached the group, focusing on Nathan.
"We're meeting up with an RAF Sea King, and then he'll go on to Inverness. You can go with him."
Sensing Buck tense, Nathan gestured to the man. "Buck's going." Nathan would never forget the look of gratitude he received. Seconds later, Buck was in the ambulance and they were gone.
Several hours later, six men's gazes turned to the hospital's ER waiting room doors when a doctor entered. Five stood, the sixth struggling with his foot injury, but with Josiah's help, Vin was soon standing with them.
"The procedure went well. John has two broken ribs, one of which pierced his right lung, but it was successfully re-inflated. There was bleeding into the stomach, but we caught it in good time. He has several large bruises to his side and back, and the laceration to his head received four stitches. However, the head CT, and neck and spine x-rays were clear."
Buck exhaled. "So he's okay?" The returned look gripped his heart like a vice.
"He's quite poorly, I'm afraid. Once John's out of recovery, he'll go up to Intensive Care. Due to the damage to the lung, and to give it and his body time to recover, we have him heavily sedated, and on a ventilator. When you see him, he is attached to several monitors, a vent, and has an IV, catheter, and chest drain, so he looks a little rough. However, they're there to do a job, and if all goes well, we can take him off the ventilator sometime tomorrow."
Everyone was stunned, Buck felt sick to his stomach. "Can I see him?"
"I'll call for you when he's settled in SICU." With a nod, the doctor left.
One by one, the six men sat down. Buck looked at Nathan. "Bottom line how bad is 'quite poorly'?"
The man met Buck's gaze. "Although the doctor confirmed the surgery went well, JD has suffered several critical traumas, two penetrating. He's a strong kid, but has a lot to deal with right now."
"Do you mean that his body may not be able to win this battle?" Ezra asked.
"The ventilator will help a lot one less thing to cope with as he heals. If he comes off the vent without incident, JD will have a good chance of a full recovery," Nathan explained.
"And if he doesn't come off the ventilator comfortably?" Josiah pushed.
Nathan sighed. "Not being able to breathe unassisted is bad news."
Vin struggled to his feet. "I need some air." Only weeks ago, he had stood with the lad while he, and they all, watched Buck struggle in this very hospital with a life-threatening injury. Vin couldn't bear to do this again. He glanced around at them all, and his body relaxed a little.
Aye, he could.
"I'll be right back. If they move him "
Chris nodded. "I'll come and get you." He watched Vin lean on his staff and limp out.
Josiah stood. "I'll call Nettie, again. She'll be wondering how things are going."
Wearily, Ezra also stood. "I will procure us some coffee."
"I'll help," Nathan offered as he stood and followed Ezra out.
Chris smiled, understanding what the others were doing. He moved closer to his old friend. "Buck "
Buck offered a thin smile. "It's alright, Chris. JD's gonn'ae be fine, I just know it."
With Chris unable to do more than nod, the pair waited together for the call to ICU.
Seeing JD for the first time was a shock to all of them. The doctor hadn't been wrong about JD looking rough pale, motionless, and surrounded by paraphernalia and tubes. One particularly intrusive pipe was between his lips and secured around his face and head with strapping. Its extended tubing periodically delivering oxygen to his lungs before another withdrew the carbon dioxide.
Over time, the whoosh of the respirator grated on everyone's frayed nerves, but while the others took turns to sit with the pair, Buck remained unmoving next to his cousin. Regular checks showed JD was stable, and, despite the medical team holding off a full twelve hours more than promised, the time finally came to take JD off the breathing apparatus.
Buck leaned over the boy. "No messing now, laddie take that breath and we can go home soon."
He moved to the back of the room with the others, and all six waited expectantly for JD to take his first unassisted gasp. There was an extended pause after the oxygen assist was shut off, but sure enough, JD inhaled and exhaled once, then again, and again. The doctor smiled at them.
"We'll reduce his meds now and see how he wakes up. If it goes well, we can move him to a room." With that, he and two nurses removed the tubing and the apparatus, and left the boy with a simple nasal cannula resting on his cheeks and over his ears.
Assured JD rousing would take several hours, Vin and Ezra stayed with Buck while the others went off to eat and ensure the estate was running smoothly. No one wanted to travel the seventy miles home again until they could see for themselves that JD was on the road to a full recovery.
For the umpteenth time over the last few days, Buck took JD's lax hand in his and stroked it with his thumb. Their relationship had come a long way in under two months. More like they had known each other always. Buck took JD out to work with him most days, and it had forged a bond that began the day they both arrived at Glenneaval. Buck loved his job, and having JD along made it a hoot. The kid was feisty, funny, and eager to learn, displaying a bravado Buck knew was brimming with courage, but underlined with a vulnerability only someone like-minded could recognize, and appreciate for what it was.
That was why all seven got along so well. Each of them, despite being unwilling to admit it, at least sober, liked to be needed wanted to belong, and at Glenneaval, they did. Chris had said recently to Buck, that when Angus died and news of an American possibly inheriting the title got out, he feared for the estate. However, Buck's and JD's arrival, despite stirring change, brought a tranquility and fulfillment to the place that had caught them all off- guard.
Chris, in fact, all of them, now knew JD would mature into an excellent successor. His eagerness to maintain a status quo, and his awe of the men already in place, had made for a smooth transition. Add to that the kid's likeability factor, and desire to learn everything, any fears for Glenneaval's future had evaporated.
Despite the stillness of the room, something made Buck sit up mid yawn. There again, JD's hand twitched. His legs began tiny, slow, restless movements under the covers, and JD's throat rippled when he swallowed. "Don't fight it, JD you're nearly there."
Buck's words were the push JD needed. He gripped the hand holding his, and fought the heaviness of his eyelids to take his first peek at the world in three long days. It was a tad blurry, which was disappointing, but he didn't need to see clearly to know the face peering down at him. His frustration grew when an attempt to say Buck's name came out as a hiss of squeaky air. Something cold hit his tongue, melting to drizzle icy trickles down the sandpaper someone had pasted to the inside of his throat. JD tried again.
The brunet smiled; a wide, warm grin that lit up his handsome face. "Finally. If I'd known you were such a drama queen, I'd have got you a tiara."
"Mmmmmm " The noise was JD's attempt at not laughing, but despite how his stomach and sides burned when he did so, it escaped, and he hissed out a snort that caused Buck to chuckle heartily.
The brunet leaned in and stroked the boy's cheek with the backs of his fingers, savoring a moment he knew had to end when he buzzed to let the doctor know JD was awake. "Welcome back, little brother, I've missed you." Their gazes locked and JD nodded, before his eyes drifted closed and he slipped into a healing sleep. Buck buzzed for attention anyway, while delighting in a moment he would hold dear forever.
The next time JD opened his eyes he noticed his surroundings appeared different. Quieter, and a little larger. He rolled his head to one side along the pillow, and his sleepy gaze met the twinkling eyes of Nettie. He smiled. "Hi."
The woman leaned forward and took his hand. "Hello bonnie lad. It's good to see you awake." She noted his gaze roaming the room. "I sent them all off to eat. They'll be back in a wee while."
JD sighed and nodded, smiling when she offered him a few sips of water. Once Nettie raised the head of the bed a little, he attempted to find his voice. It came out rough from disuse. "Why am I here?"
Torn between telling him, and knowing JD needed to figure things out for himself, the kindly housekeeper gave him a hint. "Do you recall paying a visit to Agnes?"
"The lady who's sick?"
Nettie nodded and watched him contemplate on that fact. A spark of recognition lit up his medication-dulled eyes and he swallowed. "Yeah, she had visitors." All at once, memories returned in a rush and JD became agitated. "The bike it flipped." He stared at her. "Why would it do that? I wasn't speeding "
Nettie stood and held him as close as his IV and chest drain would allow. "It's alright, when you're well we'll explain it all in detail, but you mustn't fret, you did nothing wrong."
Returning from their coffee and sandwich break, Buck was alarmed to enter JD's room and see the youth distraught. In three strides, his long legs took him to JD's side. Easing back from Nettie's embrace, JD gently waved off his cousin's concern.
"I'm fine, really. I just got a little caught up in the rush of waking up, is all."
There was a long pause, and an exchange of glances but Nettie's look eased their minds, somewhat.
"Good to see you awake, JD," Chris said, sincerely. "Just take it easy. You know you won't heal overnight." He figured adding 'considering how badly injured you were', wasn't necessary. That was for them all to know, and JD to find out one day maybe.
Appreciating the arm now around his shoulders, JD patted Buck's hand, but his gaze darted between Ezra, Chris, Josiah, and Vin. "Guys, I could use your advice." He could feel himself tiring, but wanted to set wheels in motion on a plan that had popped into his mind directly after recalling the bike flipping.
"'Sure'," Vin said, in his best attempt at an American accent, and was pleased when JD giggled before sobering again. The youth briefly explained his hopes for the old logging site, and waited in earnest to hear their opinions. He hoped the squeeze to his shoulder from Buck was a good sign.
Chris nodded, slowly. "I like it." He turned to Ezra and Nathan. "Finances?"
"There are funds set aside for community projects," Ezra replied. Nathan nodded his agreement.
"Feasibility, Vin, Josiah?" Chris asked his ghillie, and conservation expert.
"It won't disturb the wildlife any more than the logging did. There are no rare nesting birds in the vicinity, and the area's vast enough to make a decent circuit," Vin replied.
Josiah nodded his agreement.
Vin winked at JD. "And the kid's right, the track closer to the village will need a little clearing up, but it's a better and less intrusive way to get the quads there."
"So is that a yes?" JD asked, desperate for the answer before his body betrayed him.
The group looked around at each other, an unspoken agreement filtering the room. "Aye," Chris replied. "We'll get right on it."
JD relaxed into his pillows, then looked at Josiah. "The church hall?"
"A company is arriving in the next few days to mark out the courts in three differentiating colors; one for basketball, one for netball, and one for badminton. The church council will be meeting tomorrow to work out a schedule for locking and unlocking the hall each evening." He noted JD's eyes closing. "All that remains is the installation of security lights in and around the building and we're good to go. John "
JD forced his eyes open to look at Josiah.
"That was an inspired idea, lad."
JD smiled, talking as he drifted off. "It's just what I would have wanted if I lived here at that age."
Buck moved his arm from under the slumbering youth's shoulders. He huffed out a soft laugh. "He's only just over a year older than them."
"Aye, but I'm thinking he's seen far more in his young life than they will in all of theirs," Nettie pointed out.
After spending his first days out of the hospital in his room, and mostly sleeping, JD longed to get out into the fresh air. Working outdoors daily, generally with Buck, and occasionally Vin, the teenager had become accustomed to being out on the estate and in the glorious wide open spaces of the Highland scenery and bracing air. Entering his bedroom to collect his breakfast tray, Casey gasped to see a shirtless JD attempting to get dressed.
Just pulling up his jeans, JD spun around on hearing Casey's intake of breath. "Whoa, hey! Don't you ever knock?" He was unable to control the grunt of pain when his ribs pulled.
The young girl was still recovering from seeing, what she considered to be, a really nice tight arse, and the beginnings of a toned upper body. In her usual style, she covered her faux pas by going straight into attack mode. "You should be in bed. If you choose to ignore good advice and parade around your room half naked, that's your lookout."
'Parade around? I wish I had the strength to shuffle, let alone parade,' he thought to himself. JD cursed at the release of another soft groan when he tried to button his fly, and aggravated the incision from his operation. "Even so, knocking's good," he puffed out, "so let's go with it, huh?" He was surprised when he looked up, to find that Casey was right next to him. He gulped when her slender fingers quickly fastened the buttons of his fly, leaving the top two undone.
"Best to leave those, they're a bit close to the bandages."
JD smiled, shyly, "Uh, yeah, good point. Thanks." She didn't move away, and they locked gazes. "Tray's over by the bed," he rasped out, suddenly feeling very warm.
Without warning, Casey ran her fingertips over his chest and stomach bandages, before leaning in to kiss him tenderly on the lips for several long seconds. She pulled back and walked over to the bed, leaving JD more than a little flustered. Collecting the tray, Casey headed for the door.
"Not that I like you or anything " Looking back before she exited, she flashed him a smile. "...But I'm glad you're okay."
Watching her go, JD touched his fingers to his lips. "What the hell was that all about?" he wondered. He shook his head. "What would she be prepared to do if she liked me?" Deciding Nettie wouldn't approve of where his thoughts were taking him, JD shook them off and shuffled toward his closet to choose a shirt and sweater. He almost jumped out of his skin when Buck's voice boomed out across the quiet room.
"What are you doing up and dressed?"
Recovering, JD frowned at Buck and Nathan, who were now entering his room. "Aw, come on, fellas. I'm going stir crazy in here. All I want is to go sit out and look over the loch."
Buck went to disagree, but Nathan cut in. "Okay, but you put loose trousers on so's not to aggravate your stomach, and you bundle up with blankets while you're out there. Also, once I say you come in that's it, no arguments got it?"
Deciding it was the best deal he would get, JD nodded. "Sure, anything you say."
Half an hour later, JD was ensconced on a cushioned, wooden lounger, swathed in blankets, but happily situated on the loch's beach, just below the castle gardens. He contentedly gazed out at the breath-taking vista, not really understanding much of what happened to him recently, but fully appreciating he might never have again seen all this.
JD sighed, confused as to why was he feeling homesick all of a sudden. He didn't really want to go back to New York, there was nothing there for him, and Lord knows, despite how much his mom loved him, his life there had been far from easy. He decided it was nerves about his postponed, but inevitable upcoming inauguration. He truly feared he wasn't the right person for this, and had wondered if anyone here saw him as a perspective effective Laird, or just a pushover willing to step back and let it all happen.
Which of those did he want to be?
Could he find a happy middle ground?
Chris was JD's biggest concern. The guy had managed the estate without interference, and was without doubt the best in the business; And then there was Angus, who had lived here all his life, and while he knew what was needed, would never interfere if Chris's decisions were sound.
Just before JD's accident, Chris had mentioned they were due a planning meeting. On his second day home from the hospital, Chris told him the meeting had taken place, and the minutes Ezra took were ready for JD to read when he felt up to it.
As if sensing his cousin's unease, Buck took him to one side and assured him the meeting, which was also Buck's first, had, according to the others, been pretty routine with no issues. That eased JD's mind somewhat, but he still felt he needed to talk to Chris about where the estate manager saw the new Laird's role in the grand scheme of things.
JD huffed softly, frustrated at how he was allowing feelings of insecurity and of being surplus to requirements dampen his growing love of his new home and 'adopted' family. He relaxed back, telling himself the doctor warned him that his medication, the effects of the anesthetic, and the injury to his head might make him a little low. He touched fingers to the shaved spot around his stitches. The doc wasn't wrong. Trying to put it all to the back of his mind, and in the calm of the gently lapping water on the shoreline, he snuggled down into the blankets and drifted off to sleep.
"JD, you have a visitor."
Jolting awake, the teenager stretched, regretting it instantly when it pulled at his incisions and ribs. He rubbed at his eyes and looked up at Chris.
"Hey." He coughed to clear his dry throat as he pushed himself up. "Who is it?" JD couldn't help noticing Chris's stern features.
"It's Kenneth McFarlane. You don't have to see him. Ezra and Josiah had to bodily push Buck into the study to stop him from ripping the man's head off. If you will see him, I'll be happy to stay here with you. Shall I ask him to leave?"
Remembering something one of the boys told him on the day of his accident, JD shook his head. "Nah, it's cool. Bring him over; and Chris "
Amused at the American vernacular, the estate manager halted his walk to collect the visitor and glanced back. "I'd appreciate you staying. Before you go to get him, I'd like to run something by you."
After their talk, Chris walked back up the steps to bring Kenneth down onto the beach, nodding to Buck, Josiah and Ezra in passing, who were now in the garden, and waiting on JD's decision.
McFarlane was a man in despair. Head hanging, and features drawn and lined from lack of sleep, he walked with Chris to JD's side. "Sir I know I deserve no mercy, but I wanted to tell you how sorry I am."
JD looked up at him. "Sorry you did it at all, or sorry you got me instead of one of those boys?"
The man stared, a little taken aback. "Both."
There was a long pause while JD scrutinized the man. His heart filled with compassion, understanding why he did what he did, even though he had gone about it all the wrong way. He glanced at Chris, who nodded for him to continue. "You let it go too far."
Ken nodded. "I know."
"I meant the fear."
McFarlane stared into the youth's eyes. "Fear?"
JD bobbed his head. "You knew those boys had found out that the land you were working, and which they were riding over, wasn't really yours, and you went into overdrive to get rid of the problem before Chris got wind of it. Am I on the right track?"
Mouth gaping, Kenneth finally nodded. "It started as a one-off many years back. I just needed some extra ground one year; but hardly anyone used the path, so I worked it annually, right up until now. Then those kids got their bikes and started riding over my crops."
"You've been working it years, you say?"
"Aye, that I have, sir."
"Hey, Kenneth, call me JD." The teenager chewed at his bottom lip. "Look, I'm not gonna lie to you, I was pretty pissed when I first heard what you did; but I've had a lot of time to think on it, and well, as long as you swear not to do anything like it again, we're good."
Apart from struggling with the accent, Kenneth wasn't entirely sure he had heard the youth correctly. "You'll not be putting me out of my croft?"
JD now fully understood why the guy looked so ill. "No. Apart from this incident, Chris and Vin tell me you've been a good tenant. Just one thing before you go, though."
The man nodded, his face looking years younger on learning he could stay in the home he loved.
"No more wood with sharpened nails through it, on the forest trails, either." JD wasn't sure that was down to McFarlane, but the returned expression, and then the nod of agreement, confirmed his suspicions.
Buck, Josiah and Ezra joined the three on the beach. JD smiled up at all four of his friends. "Mister McFarlane is leaving now. He needs new fencing adjacent to the forest trail, can we help him out?"
Despite his earlier anger at what the crofter had done, Chris, like JD, had no desire to put him out of his home. His eyes conveyed his approval of JD's handling of the situation, and that he had included Chris in the formation of his plans, before asking if Chris minded him doing the talking on this occasion. He recognized the youth's need to be seen as more than a figurehead to this man. The blond nodded to the question. "I'll look into it."
With a hearty handshake for JD and Chris, Kenneth left insisting he would see himself out. Buck closed in. "JD "
The teenager tilted his head. "Buck, come on, you'll never convince me you wanted to put that guy out on the streets."
His cousin shook his head. "I was just gonn'ae say " he smiled. "You did the right thing."
Seeing Chris nod his agreement, the youth beamed. "Thanks. That means a lot to me." He glanced at Standish. "Oh, Ezra can you find out if Mister McFarlane's able to continue working the extra ground he adopted?"
Ezra nodded. "I most certainly can. Providing it goes uncontested, and that the trail remains open for ramblers, and such, the matter can be arranged with very little fuss."
"JD, how *did* you know about the extra land he'd acquired?" Chris asked.
"I was just lucky those kids told me on the day I met them, about what one of their grandparents had once told them. To be honest, I wasn't sure it was a reason McFarlane was getting all steamed up, so I just threw it out there and it looks like I figured right." Noting the men seemed pleased with his efforts, JD decided to take the bull by the horns.
"Chris, can I ask you a question?"
Larabee nodded. "Any time, you know that."
"'I've had something on my mind a lot, lately. I I need to know what you want of me. You're the best in the business, along with all the other guys. I don't want to interfere in the running of the estate, honest, I just want to "
Chris stepped forward. "JD, I " he looked around. "We all want you to be involved. Angus let us run things, but he knew about everything that took place. Is that how you want it to continue?"
JD nodded. "Yeah, I figure I'll learn best that way. I just want to do my uncle and my mom proud."
Chris understood. "Knowledge and experience is hard earned, but well worth the effort. You have a long way to go if you still plan to work from the bottom up."
"That's cool!" JD looked at Buck. "I've already been taught a lot, and I can't wait to learn more." He smiled. "Thanks, Chris. I appreciate your honesty."
"That's all you'll ever get on this estate lad it's the way it's always been; and, JD...you're already doing your uncle and Mom proud, laddie."
Feeling so much happier, JD relaxed. Seeing Casey heading over with a tray of food and drink, the men winked and made to leave. Buck leaned in. "I'll check in on you later."
JD nodded, sitting up when Casey arrived. "Uh hi."
"Knock, knock." She mocked, before grinning.
Deciding it was clearly an 'in' joke between the pair, the others left.
"I just brought you some sandwiches and a chocolate mousse."
Pleased it wasn't mashed food again, JD grinned. "Neat, thanks."
Casey perched on his lounger, and as they chatted, shared his food. She shivered and, without thinking, JD innocently pulled back the blankets and she carefully snuggled in next to him. They sat quietly and admired the view until JD dozed off again. Slipping off the lounger and pulling the blankets up around him, the girl ran gentle fingers down his slack cheek. "I truly am glad you're okay," she whispered. Casey picked up the tray and left, deciding she would mention to Nathan that JD seemed to be getting a little cold.
Two weeks on, and the teenager was almost fully recovered. One measuring, and three fittings later, JD's dress attire was ready. The day was upon them, and after a restless night, JD got up to prepare for his inauguration into the Ross clan, and as Laird of Neaval.
Everyone in the household and rented crofts had dressed formally for the occasion, and the immediate surrogate family were gathered in the great room to meet JD and Buck in their dress kilts. While Nathan and Ezra offered around sherry and whiskey, Buck walked from his room above the kitchen, and into the main building where JD's room was located. Pausing for a moment, he adjusted his shoulder sash, checked the line of his jacket and kilt, and then knocked on the door.
"Taxi for Dunne!" Buck grinned at the retort from inside the room.
"Ha ha, very funny Buck, get the hell in here." JD was struggling with his black tie, and mightily relieved to see his cousin walk in. However, before he could beg for help, JD stared at the elegantly dressed man before him, cursing softly to himself as his eyes welled up.
"Aww, Buck "
Joining him, Buck spread his arms in a presentation style gesture, then approached the boy. "I only did this for you."
JD eyed the kilt reverently. It was a Ross tartan not the vibrant preferred red and black checked kilt more frequently worn, but a dashing muted purple with maroon checks. "Thank you," he whispered. He gazed up at the man who he loved as a brother. "Buck, I wish please think about "
"JD " Buck's tone was soft, but pointed. "The only thing I have to be grateful about Angus being my da is that it gave me you. Apart from my mother, you're all the family I've ever wanted, and having you here now, has made me the most content man alive. Add to that the adopted family we've both come to love, Chris, Vin, Josiah, Nathan, Ezra, Nettie, and Casey, and I can say categorically, my life is complete." Reaching out, his long fingers brushed the shaved spot at the side of JD's head.
"Seeing you so sick, and not knowing whether I'd ever be able to tell you how much you mean to me, was agony, and helped me understand what you went through after my accident." He smiled. "We're blood, laddie, and well, you must have a notion of how much I care about you. My ma always said that true happiness was just around the corner. She wasn't wrong." He moved his hands to knot JD's tie, before standing back and nodding approvingly. "You'll do. Come on, let's get you to your execution err, I mean inauguration."
Buck's chuckle set JD off, which frustrated the teenager, because he wanted to find the words to tell his surrogate brother-slash- cousin how he felt about him, too. Buck winked, and guided him out of the door. "No need to say it, I know," he stated, appreciatively.
All eyes turned to the grand staircase when the cousins walked down it. Perceptible, admiring murmurs greeted them. Nettie locked gazes with Buck and nodded her approval of his kilt choice. Chris approached them. He shook Buck's hand.
"Can't fault you in your choice of colors," he smiled.
"I reckon my Black Watch kilt could use a rest," Buck grinned back.
Chris turned to JD and held his shoulders. "You look splendid, lad. Angus and Jessie would have been proud."
"Thanks," JD said in a nervous exhalation of breath. He looked at the gathered friends. "Thanks all of you. I couldn't do this without you."
"The photographer suggested taking photographs here, by the mantle," Ezra stated, pointing to the huge fireplace in the great room. "Some prior to, and some after you put on your sash and hat."
JD anxiously touched the bare spot on his head. Nettie approached. "Turn to that side when your photographs are taken and it won't notice. Your Tam o'Shanter will hide it after that." She smiled as he nodded. "You look dashing, John."
JD laughed, nervously. "Feels funny in to be in a skirt."
"Aye, it shows your knobbly knees," Vin teased.
"I have knobbly knees?" JD squeaked, raising the kilt to see them.
"Whoa, hold on there, lad we've no desire to see your draws," Josiah warned. Everyone laughed and the tension eased.
JD insisted everyone had individual photographs taken, as well as a group one. JD's was of him standing next to the fireplace, with one hand on the mantle. "That will look nice on a wall," Josiah commented to the others, gesturing to a portrait of Angus's and Jessie's father JD's grandfather, above the hearth.
The Proctor appeared from the direction of the garden and said they were ready to begin; and so with wishes of good luck, all but the two cousins left. JD halted the photographer.
"Sir, would you take a photo of Buck and me, together?"
Happy to oblige, several were taken before the man hurried out toward the ceremonial awnings, and the waiting guests.
Once the group left the castle to walk down onto the beach, leaving JD and Buck alone in the great room, and before the latter escorted the former to the staging area, Buck spoke. "I have something for you." Fishing inside his leather sporran, he removed a small pin. Reaching down, he attached it to the front of JD's antique, fur dress sporran. "I want you to have this. It's my Black Watch sporran badge."
JD's mouth gaped. "Wha ? Buck, no. I can't accept this "
Before JD could proclaim he hadn't earned it, Buck placed his hand at the back of the youth's neck and squeezed. "Aye, you can. It would mean a lot to me for you to receive it on such an occasion. I remember how I felt the day I was given it."
JD's hazel eyes flashed with emotion. "Buck I " He held up the sporran to look at the badge, and smiled. "Thank you."
Buck nodded, and then with his free hand pointed at the same cast image of Saint Andrew holding the cross, on his own sporran. "I received this badge when I made captain, but the one you have, my original badge, will always remain dear to my heart." He gave JD's neck another squeeze and pointed to the door. "Ready?"
JD swallowed. His throat was dry. "Ready to speak in front of all those people?" He grinned. "Not really, but let's do it anyway."
Buck proudly escorted JD from the castle, through the gardens, and down the steps to the beach. To the sound of Chris's piping, they walked down a narrow, red tartan carpet, flanked either side by smiling villagers. Kenneth McFarlane hovered behind the throng, prompting JD to stop and look his way. He smiled at the man and offered his hand, which Kenneth moved forward to take; but instead of shaking it, he simply held onto it for a moment and mouthed the words 'thank you'. Up to that point, Buck had been struggling to forgive the man for going against Chris's wishes and causing a near-fatal accident, but seeing JD's simple pardon, his anger evaporated, and Buck nodded to the man before urging JD on.
Approaching the canvas canopies and wooden staging set up on the loch shore, just at the water's edge, Buck couldn't have been more pleased if the occasion had been for himself. Smiling down at the nervous teenager beside him, he leaned in as they slowed.
JD exhaled, shakily. "Well if you mean by okay that if I fart right now I might just crap my pants then, yeah, I'm okay," he said, quietly.
Buck chuckled as they reached the Staff Master, who was waiting patiently on the sand, just below the staging, to hand over the family crest embroidered onto heavy velvet, draped with the Ross tartan, and hanging from crossed batons. With a nod, Buck took it, and then turned to JD.
"JD, I couldn't be more proud. You'll make a great Laird, and for as long as you want me to, I'll stand by you."
Gazing up at him, JD swallowed. "Then, for as long as we live, I'll never put a foot wrong." He accepted the crest from Buck. "Eh, who am I kidding? I'll get it wrong " he smiled. "But you'll have my back, right?"
More than a little choked, Buck nodded. "Always." With a wink, he turned and walked up on to the wooden staging to join their five friends, Nettie, Casey, and their tenants and staff, who were gathered on the platform. Taking his position, Buck took a deep breath and watched the cousin that had become more like a brother; take on he smiled at JD's constant insistence this was as much Buck's as his their destiny.
Nervously, JD straightened and turned toward the stage. Seeing the smiling faces of his friends, he relaxed a little. Returning their smiles with a grin, JD made the walk, staff in hand, toward and up onto the platform.
Handing his pipes to Vin, Chris stepped forward to take the crest from JD, smiling reassurance to the boy as he did so. Before re- taking his place, Chris handed the staff to Ezra, who stood with Buck as he held on to it.
JD glanced toward the loch, and noted a large, gold chalice standing on a wooden plinth at the edge of the platform. He then turned to the Proctor, who approached and smiled as JD bowed his head and went down on one knee before looking back up at him. The elder passed JD the chalice, and urged him to sip from it. He bit back a grin at JD's shudder at the aged Meade within, before replacing it on the plinth. He then held JD's upper arms much the same way as the first time they met, and bent forward. He kissed JD once on each cheek, before bringing him to his feet to address him.
"Is your name John Daniel Dunne?"
JD smiled nervously and replied. "My name is John Daniel Dunne Ross." Satisfied mumblings encircled them, accompanied by the grins of JD's closest friends. The Proctor nodded and smiled his approval. Chris was passed a purple velvet cushion and approached the pair.
"John Daniel Dunne-Ross, accept this ring of Lairdship on behalf of your clan." Burgess removed the unboxed ring from the pillow and placed it into JD's outstretched palm. "Rule wisely, and may God protect you, and keep you in wisdom, health, and joy."
JD smiled and nodded, then, taking the ring in his fingertips, raised it and displayed it to all around him before handing it back to the Proctor. Burgess then took JD's right hand, and placed the ring on the middle finger, the only one the large ring fitted comfortably. "Let it be known throughout the Glen, that this man, John Daniel Dunne-Ross be the new Laird of Clan Ross of Neaval." With the closing declaration, everyone clapped, cheered, and called for a speech.
Praying his nerves would hold, JD cleared his throat to speak, amazed when silence fell. "Uh " he grinned. "I wanted to make this really neat speech, full of big words and great things to fit the occasion, but that's not me, and the first promise I made when I came here, is that I would always be myself." He glanced at Buck, who nodded. JD continued. "I pledge to uphold the traditions and office bestowed on me to the best of my ability." He gestured to Buck and his friends. "I have six wonderful men in my life who have honored me with their friendship, wisdom, skills, and knowledge; and who I trust and consider as family, and will look to for guidance throughout my time here, for as long as they're willing." He smiled at the nods he received.
"And I cherish the friendship of those who knew my uncle and my mother, and have made me feel welcome here." He smiled at the Proctor, Nettie, and then quickly to Casey, both women returning the gesture with a glint of moisture in their eyes. His gaze again met Buck's. "Last but not least, I want to thank Buck, who joined the estate the same day as I did. He's taken me under his wing, teaches me every day, and is a man I'd be proud to be like. He means as much to me as any brother ever could. Here, together, we've found where we belong, and I just wanted him and the other guys, to know how much I value them being in my life." His emotions rising to the fore, JD hadn't realized the ensuing silence was due to the profound impact his speech had on the gathering.
Taking a breath, he looked around at some faces that were becoming so familiar; and others so dear to him, that they would be etched in his heart and mind for eternity. After a pause, he raised his hands in the air. "Okay, enough speeches, let's party!"
Cheers and laughter went out, and a folk band comprising of violins, a hand held drum, an accordion, and two flutes, struck up a jaunty tune, drawing people to approach the staging area to dance. Pulling his Tam o'Shanter from his head, JD walked toward his approaching friends, happily accepting the soft punches, handshakes and a squeeze from Josiah. Buck's embrace came last, and seemed to go on forever, but neither minded as they savored a day that they would never forget.
Pulling back, JD passed his left fingers over his right hand, then took Buck's right hand in his. He placed the ring of Lairdship onto Buck's signet ring finger. Buck went to protest, but JD held firm.
"You know how much of a Klutz I am, right? It would mean a lot to me if you could take care of this for me." Still clinging to Buck's hand, JD's gaze turned liquid, but never wavered. Buck's eyes glistened as he fought the tightness in his throat and tried to find his voice.
"It would be an honor." He smiled. "And for someone who said he's crap at making speeches that one was a fair contradiction."
JD winked. "That was the sherry from earlier, talking."
While the popping of champagne corks, whoops during the jigs the music was encouraging, and general merriment as the sumptuous buffet was enjoyed filled the air, Chris cut in.
"JD, we each have a gift for you, to honor the occasion."
JD looked genuinely stunned. "Really? Wow, thanks." Following their lead, and promising Casey the dance she had asked him for when he returned, he trotted behind his friends as they walked back through the castle. Their first stop was the library, where some gift bags awaited them. Nathan went first and handed JD one of the bags.
"Thanks." Peeking inside, JD laughed and took out a bulging red pack with a white cross on it. "A fanny pack!"
Nathan coughed. "Err, we call them 'bum bags', here, JD. I want you to promise me you'll wear it every time you venture out further than the drive."
About to make a smart comment, JD could see the earnest look in the nurse's eyes. "Sure, I promise. Thanks, Nathan." Nathan smiled his approval.
Josiah presented his bag next. It contained a small box, which held a white gold chain and small, matching circular pendant. On one side, was the stag to match the Ring of Lairdship and the family Crest. On the other, was engraved one word 'Caraidean'.
"It's wow, thanks, Josiah, I love it." JD smiled at the man. "What does the word mean?"
"'Friends'" he said, simply.
Ezra handed over his gift bag, and smiled. "I thought it would be an appropriate time to begin a new tradition."
From the bag, JD took out an elongated red velvet box. Snapping it open, he revealed an impressive fountain pen, engraved with JD's initials. JD was pretty sure it was gold, and would be shocked later to learn it was indeed twenty-three Carat. The new Laird grinned widely, fully understanding the sentiment behind the gift. Angus's own pen, one that had been in the family for generations for signing all estate administration, was bequeathed to Ezra. This was most definitely the birth of a new era.
"This is a truly handsome pen, Ezra, thank you."
"I was wondering perhaps it would be prudent to keep it in the study, unless "
As he closed the box, JD nodded to Standish. "No, no that's fine, I agree, it would be safer there."
Reaching behind the desk, Vin stepped forward and held out a thick, treated, rustic walking stick. JD recognized it instantly as similar to Vin's own ghillie staff.
"For me, Vin?"
Tanner nodded. "Seeing as most of the thicket on the estate is as tall as you, I thought you might need some help in beating it down when you're out on the land."
They all laughed. JD nodded. "You got a point there." He ran a hand down it, then back up to the large, gnarled knob handle. "It rocks, and I love it. Thanks Vin."
Chris decided to take his present from the gift bag and hand it directly to JD, who opened the wooden box and stared at what looked like a bronze fob watch. Taking it out, JD turned the circular casing in his hand, and then pressed a small button. It flipped open and he gasped. "A compass wow!" He suddenly went quiet. Buck moved in and read the inscription inside. His gaze met Chris's and he smiled and nodded.
JD looked up at the man he wanted to impress more than any other. "You you mean it, Chris?" His voice was shaky.
"I never say things I don't mean," Chris replied. He handed a similar box to Buck. "Vin tells me you lost yours."
Buck nodded, too choked to speak while reading the same inscription as JD's, save for the name at the start. ' here where you belong'.
After a short pause, Buck rallied. "There's more," he said, excitedly. He and the others guided JD toward the front of the castle and out onto the front driveway, where stood a beast of a flame red 4x4 Toyota Hillux pick-up. Vin dangled the keys, then placed them into JD's hand.
The teenager gawped at the monster, and then turned to his grinning friends. "Mine?" His voice was a squeak, so he coughed and spoke in a deeper tone. "Mine?"
Buck chuckled. "Let's see you fall off that big bugger." He watched the new Laird approach the shiny vehicle and brush trembling fingers over the glossy paintwork.
"Guys Holy shit, I don't know what to say." JD composed himself. "Thank you thank you *so* much. It's totally awesome." He made a sad face. "I didn't even get you guys anything."
"Don't worry, you can make it up to us," Josiah winked. "We all have birthdays coming up."
"You should take it for a run," Chris suggested.
Buck raised his hands when JD turned hopefully to him. He had been taking JD out driving, to get him used to traversing the area and driving on the left. "Kid much as I'd like to offer, there are single ladies drinking champagne down there on the beach, and I haven't met all of them, yet." The group laughed. Vin stepped forward.
"Come on, JD let's put her through her paces."
The teenager beamed. "Awesome!" He got a kick out of 'beeping' the central locking open, but turned to Vin before climbing into the huge cab. "Wait you mean driving through mud and all?"
Vin jumped in. "Aye, that's the idea."
"But it'll get dirty." He joined the ghillie and slid behind the wheel.
"What's your point?" Vin teased. "I bet you're one of those who unwraps presents real slow, aren't you?"
JD fired up the engine. "Yeah, so?"
"Just go! And if you avoid any puddles," he waved a knobbly, thick, rustic hawthorn stick at him. "I'm gonn'ae hit you with my ghillie staff each time."
The five remaining friends chuckled as the pair pulled off at a sedate ten miles per hour and with Tanner's voice yelling 'Floor it, JD!'
Buck turned to Chris. "I reckon JD's gonn'ae work out just fine."
"I reckon that goes for all of us," Josiah added.
Chris watched the pick-up roll out of the drive, then turned and walked with the others back to the festivities. "Aye, he'll do."
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