Pop Tarts by Sue M

Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep `em...damnit!

Alternate Universe "Brothers Larabee"

Characters: JD, Buck, Chris, OFC

Summary: A sugary snack brings back memories and touches a nerve.

Thanks to Phyllis for Brothers Larabee/AU2, and to Blakraptor for giving my stories a home.

Buck and JD had been issued a shopping list and were heading for the local store. Brothers for only four months, they and the other five of Linc's boys still had a lot to learn about each other; but somehow, these two had instantly connected.
For JD, it was the sheer pleasure of having someone giving a damn. Being an only child to a single parent had often been difficult, especially when his mother became too sick to work. About the same time, a rather special teacher had spotted JD's high IQ and instantly fast-tracked him. From that day, JD's life was crammed with schoolwork, laboring at a local 7/11 to make ends meet, and taking care of his mother.
When she died, he suddenly realized how alone he truly was. And penniless after using all his savings to put her to rest. He hoped to quickly put his two degrees to work to clear his debts and replenish his savings. Before he could, a letter arrived that changed the course of his life, made him a man of means, and gave him six wonderful brothers.
A ready-made family.
While the pair traveled to the store, JD watched Buck as he chatted. He reminded him of himself, animated, loud, and expressive. JD and his mother had always enjoyed a very tactile relationship, Buck was affectionate too, and JD appreciated that he could just be himself around the big guy. He figured Buck felt the same, as there were many times through the day the pair gravitated toward each other.
When Chris had hinted to Buck he needed someone to shop as Nettie couldn't do it this week due to a short trip, JD instantly volunteered to go with him. JD loved spending time with Buck, no matter what they were doing. In truth, he had grown to love every one of the six men, and cherished that he could turn to any one of them at various times. Not a day went by when he didn't feel truly blessed.
For Buck, his feelings for his new family astonished him. Loving them had been the easiest part; it was just…there, as if it was always meant to be this way. They were all so different and he cherished the variety of personalities.
But JD…
He couldn't put it into words, but the moment the little guy walked into their attorney's office, with skinned, bloody knees, and ripped jeans, Buck's heart almost burst. Something about this boy had called out to him. In those first few hours, he knew instinctively he always wanted to be there for his brothers…and especially this one, it was as if their souls were…joined.
He watched JD while he talked. This kid could go for long periods without taking a breath. He was so animated, and funny. Buck was very aware of the stupid grin on his face whenever JD talked with him. He could listen to the kid all day, even when the others started to fade. Buck rarely felt like that, though he could certainly understand why the others did. They just weren't used to perpetual motion accompanied by non-stop conversation…Buck ran a bar…hell, it was his life!
Arriving at the store, they trundled around with the shopping cart. Buck was noticing more and more how reserved JD was about spending money, looking to the cheaper cuts of meat, generic food brands and store offers. So the next incident shouldn't have surprised him at all, really.
They had successfully completed the list when JD trotted off back to an aisle. Buck stared at his youngest brother as he dropped armfuls of pop tarts in the trolley.
"Why on earth do you need so many, JD?"
JD smiled, "They're on special, if you buy six boxes, you get another six free, how cool is that?"
Buck sighed when it struck him; the poor kid still thought he had to watch his money, as he had when he lived in Boston. He ruffled the youth's dark hair, deciding to spare his embarrassment.
"Great idea, Kid, and seeing as I like `em too," Buck winked, "let's have a dozen more!"
JD's eyes lit up. "Cool," he squeaked, going back for more, while Buck looked on fondly, smiling to himself.
On their way back to the ranch, Buck glanced at JD. "So…bit of a Pop Tart, junkie, huh?"
JD grinned. "Well, when I worked at the 7/11, whole batches would go out of date at a time. I asked Mr. Kane…my boss…if I could buy them. I think he knew me and Mom were struggling, so he made me a great deal." He looked at Buck. "They last for a good while after their sell-by date, y'know. Anyway, at least when we had Pop Tarts, I had something to help fill me up, or as a snack between meals. Sometimes I'd be too tired to cook when I got home," he shrugged. "Going from college to work was a bit much some days, but I'd grab a Pop Tart and some milk and I'd be set."
He looked across as he thought he heard a noise from Buck, shrugging inwardly when he saw nothing obvious. The rest of the journey home was relatively quiet after that, JD lost in his memories, and Buck…
Buck was choked. Dear God…how had this kid and his mother lived? He was pretty sure Vin hadn't had it easy, either, but hearing it in detail like this, just about broke Buck's heart. His thoughts then turned to the two-dozen boxes of Pop Tarts in the back of the truck. Shit, Chris was gonna flip. As they pulled into the yard, the man himself was walking from the barn to greet them, still sporting a hint of a tiny limp from a nasty accident two months previous. JD jumped out when they pulled up.
"Hi, Chris. We got everything you wanted…and…"
"Hey kid, why don't we start unloading?" Buck interjected.
With a nod, JD began pulling packages from the truck and carrying them into the house through the back door. He spotted Josiah. "Hey, Josiah."
Sanchez grinned. "John Daniel, you're back." He took some bags from his youngest brother while JD nodded.
"Yup, and we got everything." As they placed the groceries on the counter-top and exited the kitchen, Chris and Buck passed them with more bags.
"Is that it?" Josiah asked.
"Got 'em." Vin, Nathan and Ezra brought up the rear with the final items.
"My word, a veritable cornucopia of delights. I doff my hat to you, gentlemen."
JD chuckled; he loved Ezra's overstated dialogue. Buck shooed them out of the kitchen.
"Go back to what you were doing, JD an' me'll sort all this out."
JD called out. "Hey Vin…we got Pop Tarts!"
Tanner grinned, "Awesome, how about we break some out, later?"
JD nodded. "Sounds good to me."
A half-hour later, Buck sighed. "We need a bigger kitchen."
JD laughed on noticing Buck was struggling to put away all the Pop Tarts. "Nah, there's a trick to this…let me do it."
Pulling over a stool, JD climbed up and painstakingly stacked and maneuvered until every box was in the cupboard. "There ya go."
Just as he finished, noise from the living room suggested all the brothers were in the house. Chris came into the kitchen. "Seeing as Nettie's away, I thought we'd have a barbecue. Now, where did I put that steak seasoning?" He opened the cupboard JD had just finished filling, yelping as almost a dozen boxes of Pop Tarts rained down on him.
Several bounced off his skull. "Holy, shit…ow!" Rubbing at a sore spot on his head, Chris stared at the pair standing in the kitchen. JD scooted down to pick up the boxes. "Sorry, Chris."
"Why the hell do we need this many boxes of Pop Tarts?" Chris growled, missing Buck's warning look. "Well?" He glanced between Buck and JD, "I'm waiting."
"Sorry, that's my fault, Chris, they were on special," JD confessed.
"So…what then, JD, you felt obliged to buy out the store?"
Dunne frowned, suddenly feeling defensive. "No, and what's the big deal, they're just Pop Tarts?"
"Boxes of them, JD, most of which just landed on my head because there are too many to get in the cupboard." The rest of the family had gathered around the doorway to see what all the fuss was about.
"Is this actually about Pop Tarts, Chris, or are you making a point because I bought them?" JD wondered.
Now Chris was frowning. "What? NO!"
JD was clearly getting worked up about it. "Really? Only I've never known you question anything bought before, so why now? Is it because you think I talked Buck into something you don't approve of?"
Chris looked at Buck hoping for some guidance. Buck stepped forward.
"Tell you what," JD continued, picking up an armful of boxes off the floor and dumping them in the trash, before he fished out his wallet, extracted a twenty, and stuffed it into Chris's shirt pocket. "There you go…problem solved." With that, he pushed past his shocked siblings and bounded up the stairs to his room.
Chris was at a loss; Buck hoped he could explain, re-telling them the story JD had shared with him on the way home from the store.
"He went real quiet in the car, afterwards. I'm guessing it stirred up a few memories. I really don't think this is just about Pop Tarts, Stud."
Larabee sighed. "What can I do?"
Vin bobbed his eyebrows. "Have some Pop Tarts?"
JD gripped his mattress as he perched on the edge of his bed. What must Chris think of him? Or the others, for that matter. Talk about over-reacting. But something inside him just snapped; Chris's tone had cut him deeply.
"I'm not a kid, damnit!"
"No, you're right, you're not. I'm sorry, JD, I over-reacted." Chris stepped into JD's room and stood just in front of him. JD laughed, softly.
"That makes two of us." He looked up at his brother, sincerity in his eyes. "Chris, I…I'm real sorry."
The blond smiled. As far as he was concerned, it was finished with. "That makes two of us." He winked. "We have some food ready."
The youth shrugged. "Not hungry…thanks anyway." JD really wasn't. His stomach was in knots from the fight.
Chris stepped forward, pulled him to his feet and gave his chin the softest of punches. "Yeah, y'are."
Five men looked up from the dining table and grinned at the approaching pair. JD chuckled and shook his head at two platefuls of Pop Tarts, and seven glasses of milk sitting there. He stared at Chris, a slow grin forming.
"Guess I am hungry after all." He approached his brothers, taking his seat next to Buck. "Sorry, guys." They smiled back at him.
"Can we eat now?" Vin's words broke any remaining tension and that evening, seven brothers sat together at the dining table and enjoyed their glasses of milk, good conversation, and Pop Tarts.
Six days on and Nettie was back from her short break and cooking for her boys. Her persona often appeared gruff, but they all knew how much she had grown to love each and every one of them. When the newer brothers agreed to stay, at least for a while, Chris worried she might find seven men to cook, clean, and care for, too much, but he couldn't have been more wrong. In fact, Chris was sure her presence had helped settle the new boys in.
Chris looked up from his newspaper when she walked into the dining room carrying plates of food. Jumping to his feet, he took the plates from her. "You should have called, I'd've come to help."
Nettie huffed. "I may be getting old, Christopher, but I'm not helpless yet."
Grinning at the wry smile from her, Chris nodded. "Yes ma'am." Placing fingers to his lips, Chris let out a piercing whistle, heralding to all that breakfast was served. In around six minutes, all but one seat had been filled. Buck frowned. Come to think of it, he hadn't heard JD up and about this morning, though he had heard him moving around in his room in the early hours.
Exchanging glances with Chris, Buck rose from his chair and headed upstairs. He tapped on JD's door…once, then twice, but no reply. Turning the knob, he entered the darkened room. "JD?" Surprised the boy was still in bed; he shook his head and flashed a grin.
"Get your butt outta there and down for breakfast before Nettie…JD?" In an instant, Buck was kneeling next to his youngest brother's bed. The kid was on his stomach, his hair damp and sticking to his forehead. The brunet placed a hand on JD's head, surprised at how warm he was. "Hey…what is it?" he asked, softly.
JD moaned so softly Buck barely heard it. "Mi…graine." The next moan was more like a sob.
"Jesus…how long?"
"Couple hours. Jussst let me sssleep…I'll be fine."
Buck stood. "Hold on."
Hurrying out of the room, he went to the top of the stairs. He almost yelled, then remembered JD's delicate state and took the stairs two at a time, instead. The rest of the family looked up from their meal when he entered the room.
Instinctively, Nathan stood. He had only needed to see the worry in Buck's face to realize something was very wrong. "What is it?"
"Kid's got a migraine. He's pretty rough. Can you give him something?"
Nathan was already heading for his bag. "Is this his first?"
Buck shrugged as he followed Nathan up the stairs. "I didn't ask. Why? Is that important?"
"Just wondering if JD's a regular sufferer or if this is a one- off." Entering the room, he went to JD. "Hey…how're you doing?"
"Just need…to sleep," JD drawled.
"You taken anything?"
JD sighed. "I'm all out. Haven't had one since…moving here." He groaned again, but it was in gratitude as Nathan's long fingers massaged the back of his neck.
One handed, the doctor reached into his bag. "I'm gonna give you a shot of sumatriptan, it'll be faster, but you'll go out like a light. Is that what you normally take?"
"Okay I'll get a prescription made up to make sure you're prepared for any future attacks." He gestured for Buck to continue with the massage while he prepared the medication. Seconds later, JD got his shot. By the time the other brothers had arrived to see what was happening, the kid was asleep.
"What's going on?" Chris asked.
Now standing, Nathan ensured JD was comfortable. Leaving Buck with him for now, he urged the others onto the landing. "He's suffering with a migraine. Looks like he's experienced them before, though he said not since coming here."
"What causes them?" Vin asked.
Nathan shrugged. "Food, drink, weather, stress. My guess, seeing as he's a computer buff, is that's usually a trigger, but since moving here, he's laboring outside, riding…lots of fresh air and hardly any computer time…at least, nothing like he was used to in Boston, I'm guessing."
"Can we do anything?" Josiah wondered.
Nathan shook his head. "Not much. The meds I've given him will work to combat it, plus keep him asleep for a while, so he should be better afterwards. He'll need to drink lots of water, then." He raised his bag. "I said I'd write him a prescription."
Ezra smiled. "I would be happy to drive into town to get it filled."
Chris looked around at them all. He couldn't be more proud of them. It had taken a serious accident to him and JD for them all to truly appreciate how much they cared, but care they did, and Chris knew his father would be so happy right now. "Is Buck staying?"
"For now," Nathan replied. "It looks like JD got sick in the night, but if he stays asleep, that will pass."
"Sick?" Vin repeated.
"During a migraine, the stomach is slow to empty, and causes nausea. A pill at this point would work, but it would be painfully slow. Soluble meds are good, and injections better. That's what he's had now," Nathan explained.
With a nod of understanding, the group headed back downstairs. Inside JD's room, Buck stared at his little brother, overwhelmed by the compassion he felt right then. He sighed as he took a seat and gently stroked the dark tresses. It was an odd legacy Linc Larabee left them, but it was one for which Buck would be eternally grateful.
It wasn't until after dinner that JD made his first appearance. Even after a shower, he looked rough. Nettie was still at the ranch, and insisted on making him scrambled eggs, and some toast to go with it. JD smiled and thanked her. His stomach was growling, he just hoped he could keep it down. From the doorway of the kitchen, Nettie watched JD pick through most of it, then saw Buck approach the youth and gently massage JD's neck and shoulders.
"Come on," Buck said softly, "Let's go sit on the sofa." Bringing his glass of water with him, JD nodded and followed the older man. Nettie moved to clear the dishes, waving off Josiah's attempts at doing just that. She was engrossed with this new, developing family. Seven charismatic and well-mannered men, who had started bonding so beautifully, despite a rocky start and a difficult history. The care they showed for one another had captivated her, while willing them to succeed in their pursuit of family.
A tough old bird…her own depiction of herself, saw the Double L's housekeeper rarely moved to tears. Standing in the entrance to the main room, she watched as Buck gently, and slowly, coaxed his sick brother into a position where he could simply card through JD's hair and ease the boy's pain. In no time, JD was asleep…and Nettie was wiping her eyes on seeing grown men with such love and compassion…and no embarrassment of it. Gathering up her things, she looked back at them all as they each gravitated toward the main room until all seven were sitting together. With such affection in their hearts, Linc's boys had a damned good chance of going beyond the year Linc had wished for them. She just hoped they recognized that, too.
Over the next two weeks, JD had two more migraines, and Nathan insisted he get checked out by their doctor. Granted a clean bill of health, it left Nathan puzzling on why JD was again suffering, after going more than four months without any. The CT scan after JD's and Chris's accident, and another ordered by their doctor recently, showed no physical issues, concluding the trigger was otherwise related. All they had to figure out was what that trigger could be.
At the end of one particularly busy working day, Chris had been summoned to the kitchen. Having then moved into the hallway after her talk with him, he stared at Nettie. Chris pursed his lips. "That much?"
Nettie nodded. "I know my cupboards, Chris; I'm beginning to understand how Mother Hubbard felt."
When she walked back to the kitchen, his gaze moved to JD and Vin as they came tumbling into the mudroom, laughing. "Hmm…" He watched them walk toward him, ignoring the goofy grin on Buck's face in anticipation of the conversation, as he looked back from the main room. "Uh, you guys been raiding the food cupboards outside mealtimes?"
Looking at Chris, JD shrugged. "Sure, sometimes, yeah. Cereal, maybe a sandwich. Why?"
"Just curious. Nettie needs to do the weekly shop two days early, is all." He relaxed on seeing JD's anxious looks. "It's not an issue, guys, just let Nettie know if we're running low, okay?" Chris noted their nods, but there was something about Vin's gaze that hiked up his curiosity. Thinking back on it, Vin had been hovering close to JD for over a week now. He knew the two youngest's relationship was growing closer, but, until now, it hadn't occurred to him just how much they were hanging out together.
Chris trusted Vin. Their relationship was stronger than appeared. Often, they would find moments in the day, or in the evening, where they would simply sit together for hours, sometimes talking, or just resting quietly. It was something Chris and Vin enjoyed immensely. Chris was confident that if, or when Vin deemed it necessary to share anything he might know, he would, so for now, the blond decided to leave it at that.
Around three in the morning, Chris and Buck had been disturbed and, having gotten up to investigate, they met at the bottom of the stairs. Hearing noises, they nodded their agreement and crept toward the kitchen. From inside, Vin silently shushed them, and the three watched JD, still fast asleep, cooking up eggs and bacon before placing the plate on a tray with cereal and juice. They moved when he carried the tray past them and into the big room, placed it on a table next to one of the recliners as he mumbled something, and then proceeded to head back to bed, sniffing up tears all the way there. Tanner rejoined the pair at the kitchen table, after ensuring JD got safely to bed.
Mugs of hot cocoa now on the table in front of them, Buck asked the question. "What's going on?"
Vin sipped his drink and shrugged. "He's been doin' this for almost two weeks. He never wakes, and always manages to finish without hurtin' himself. I only ever heard him say one word in all that time, and he remembers nothin' the next day."
"What's the word?" Chris asked.
All three exchanged glances. It was seven months in total since JD's mom had passed, only three months before he came to Denver. What was it about his Mom that could have him behaving like this? Chris glanced at the clock on the wall.
"Don't know about you, but I couldn't go back to bed, now. I reckon I'll make an early start on the chores."
Vin nodded, and stood to put his and Chris's mugs in the dishwasher. "What we gonna do about JD? So far, we've been lucky he ain't hurt himself, or set the place on fire, but I'm worried the luck's gonna run out." He stared helplessly at his brothers. "I read it's dangerous to wake someone when they're sleepwalkin'. That's why I've been shadowin' him."
Buck drained his cup. "Have to ask, Vin…why didn't you tell us about this?"
Tanner squared his shoulders. "Man's got a right to his privacy, Bucklin. `Sides, I kinda hoped he'd be over it by now."
Chris stood. "Later, we'll talk to the others...after dinner…we talk to JD."
Buck glanced between them both. "He's due to help me out at Rosie's today." He paused for thought. "I'll call Inez later about me and the kid going in and getting away earlier than we planned."
Approving, Chris nodded, and the three headed to the mudroom to grab their boots and coats, and begin their day.
Sitting opposite him at the breakfast table later, Ezra studied his youngest brother. JD looked drained. He was pale, and dark circles under his eyes created a sunken appearance to the usually wide, bright, hazel orbs. He leaned one forearm on the table. "JD, are you well this morning?" He was becoming concerned at the frequency of JD's migraines.
Rubbing his eyes, JD nodded and a smile formed. "Sure. Just feeling a little tired, is all." His smile widened when Buck, Chris and Vin joined them, soon followed by Nathan and Josiah.
Buck ruffled JD's hair as he took his seat next to him, chuckling at the huff, and swipe to his hand from the boy. Picking up a napkin, he turned to JD. "Hey, Kid…Inez asked if we could cover earlier for her today. You up for it?"
Following his brother's actions, JD nodded. "Okay. What time?"
"Was thinking of heading in around ten?"
JD glanced at his watch. "Shoot, we'll have to get a move on."
Buck waved off the comment. "Nah, we're good. I said around ten."
With JD below par, breakfast was a subdued affair. Unknown to the youth, glances around the table between the others had already secretly conveyed a need to talk, and no one missed JD had again avoided eating the cooked food, opting for cereals and toast only. They all smiled when JD was finished and asked to be excused so he could change from his work clothes into more appropriate attire for Rosie's bar.
Once sure that JD was out of earshot, Ezra spoke. "I sense an underlying tone to our morning repast."
Chris glanced at Vin and Buck, then nodded. In few words, he successfully and concisely reported the events of the early hours of the morning.
"I knew it!" Nathan stated. "This business of him not eating cooked food each morning…" he glanced around at them all. "At first, I thought it was down to his headaches…that his stomach was a little delicate. This makes sense."
"It does?" Josiah contended. "How so?"
"Well, JD's not been ill every day, yet lately, every morning he skips the eggs and bacon and just goes for the toast and cereal. He loves Nettie's cooking, and between the days he wasn't suffering, there seemed no reason to avoid those foods."
"I take it you have a plan to help him?" Ezra questioned Chris.
"We were thinking, after dinner, to try and get him to open up about his Mom. Maybe it'll trigger a memory that fits his behavior, and we can figure this out."
Nathan nodded his approval. The brothers stood. "Tonight then," the doctor smiled.
Watching the family disperse, Chris ran a hand over his face. Privately, he feared they could be opening up a can of worms that they might not be capable of containing. He felt happier they would all be there, especially Nathan. His youngest brother was in pain, both physically, and mentally. If it was linked to JD's recent past, Chris could fully relate to how it needed to be addressed sooner rather than later, before it consumed him, and did the boy's health some serious damage.
Chris feared JD's heart had already suffered.
A busy day had made for an interesting dinner that evening, full of chat and laughter. Chris watched JD closely. He looked so much more relaxed, and he almost called off their family talk, until it became evident talk about baseball, including mention of the Red Sox, sent JD into reflective mode. Once the dishes were cleared and the dishwasher was on a cycle, the men took their drinks into the large family room and took up seats.
As JD settled next to Buck, he yawned. "Don't think I'll leave it too late tonight," he said. "I don't wanna set off another migraine by getting overtired."
An awkward silence ensued, so Ezra jumped in. "I had an email from Mother, today. It would seem her new beau has proposed to her." He wasn't truly ready to share this yet, but felt it would help establish the content of their discussion.
"What number husband will that be?" Josiah asked.
"Five," Ezra replied, a tight smile on his lips. "May God have mercy on his soul."
They all chuckled.
"Hey, Kid, you haven't talked much about your mom since you got here. You wanna maybe fill us in, some?"
Chris gently shook his head at Buck. 'Subtle as a brick, bro.' He saw JD's face pale.
"Wh…why? What did you want to know?"
"Anything you want to tell us," Buck urged, making a face at Chris's concern.
"JD." Vin leaned forward in his chair. "Did uh…did she have a favorite food? You talked about Pop Tarts a while back. Did your mom like those, too?"
While confused at the sudden interest, JD went paler, despite the fact no one thought that was possible. He could feel his skin go cold, yet at the same time, his body felt uncomfortably hot. His hands began to tremble, causing his milk to gloop up the sides of the glass, so he set it down quickly before it spilled over. Something in Vin's question had set off a chain of memories that were assaulting JD like punches, and he closed his eyes in a desperate bid to avoid them. "No…" his whisper was barely heard, but its tone sent shivers through his brothers.
Buck's large hand curled around JD's wrist and he watched his kid brother's focus change until his shimmering eyes were firmly on Buck. JD's brow furrowed.
"I…I keep having this dream."
Maintaining eye contact, Buck nodded. "What's it about?"
Releasing a shuddering breath, JD's thoughts were transported to seven months ago.
On hearing his mom's voice, JD abandoned his late supper of Pop Tarts and milk, and headed into her bedroom. Not finding her, he walked back toward the living room of their small apartment, amazed he had missed her bundled up in a comforter and ensconced in the recliner chair. "Hey," he said, softly, kissing her cheek. "Why aren't you asleep?"
Rachel Dunne smiled. JD loved her smile, it lit up her beautiful face, a face ravaged by illness and pain. "I was, but I heard you in the kitchen."
"Damn, sorry. How did you get in here?"
"Don't be," she said, softly. "It's nice to see you before you go to bed." She shifted slightly. "Mavis called in, and I asked her to help me to here. I just can't get comfy in bed lately." Her expression changed to one of mock scolding. "Now, young man, are you eating Pop Tarts again?"
JD blushed. This woman may be terminally ill, but nothing escaped her. "Busted," he grinned. "What can I say? I'm addicted."
"You're also not fourteen anymore," she reminded him.
JD shrugged. "It's sad, I know. There's no hope for me!" He balked at his words, regretting them instantly, but Rachel took his hand in hers.
"Would you make me some tea?"
He smiled. "Sure."
After she had drunk most of it, he rose from the sofa and kissed her goodnight. "What would you like for breakfast in the morning, mom?"
"What time do you need to leave for work?"
JD smiled. "It's Sunday tomorrow."
"Oh," Rachel nodded. "I forgot. Well, in that case, would it be alright to have eggs and bacon?"
His heart soared. It had been a while since his ma had asked for anything but soup. "Sure! How about a sausage or two to go with it?"
Rachel laughed and JD's spirits rose off the scale. "We'll see." She watched the son she adored go into his bedroom and bring out his pillow and comforter to make up a bed on the sofa. "Why…?"
He smiled. "Do you mind?"
"Not at all," she replied. "This is nice." Beckoning the boy toward her, she watched him kneel and stroked his face before allowing her hand to linger on his cheek. "Have I told you lately that I love you?"
JD choked, a little taken aback. "Every day," he rasped out.
Rachel nodded. "Good. It's important you know. I couldn't wish for a more wonderful son." She sighed. "I'm so sorry you have to go through all this…"
Shushing her, JD shook his head. "Let it go. We're here, together, and that's all I need. I love you, mama. Get some rest now, okay?" He kissed her temple, smiling at another soft sigh. Settling down on the sofa, JD stared at her until he saw her smile, and slowly drift off to sleep. Swiping away a tear, JD was relieved to see she was finally sleeping peacefully.
"'Night mom."
Rising before his mother had awoken, JD slipped into the kitchen after using the bathroom to freshen up. Humming to himself, he cooked them both eggs, bacon and a sausage each. Placing his mom's plate on a tray, JD poured out a bowl of cereal, and some milk into a jug. His mom had been in such good spirits last night, he figured he'd try and coax her to eat as much as she could manage.
Adding a glass of juice to help her take her meds, he carried the tray to the table next to the recliner, before teasingly wafting the steam from the food toward her. When she didn't twitch, he took her hand, instantly straightening, his face ashen when he felt how cold it was. "Mom?"
His trembling fingers touched her neck to check for a pulse, tears blurring his vision. "Mom? MOM!"
Backing away, he grabbed the phone and dialed. "Doctor Blanchard…it's JD. M...mom…" he sniffed, hard. "Thanks." Replacing the receiver, he returned to his mother's side, momentarily frozen to the spot. All at once JD dropped to his knees and, howling in despair, buried his face in his mother's chest. "Mama!"
JD stared at his brothers, tears streaking his face, as were Buck's and Josiah's, but not one man was unaffected. He concluded his story.
"She was gone. They took her to the hospital, but decided there was no need for an autopsy. I must have walked the streets for hours. When I got back home, I walked up to her chair. The breakfast tray was where I'd left it. My food was still in the kitchen, and the half- eaten Pop Tarts from the night before, on a plate close to the trash." He glanced around at them all, a hint of a blush in his cheeks.
"I left her food there for days. It was like…if it was still there, then she was, too." He swallowed the phlegm in his throat and coughed. "Last couple of weeks, I've dreamt about that last meal. It was so vivid, like I was really back there. Between the dreams, and the migraines. I feel pretty pooped lately."
Unable to stop himself, Buck pulled his kid brother into a fierce embrace. He knew exactly what JD needed. "You need to let it out, Kid."
Grateful for the comfort, JD at first fought the rising emotion. He had been bottling it in since the funeral, and even then only allowed himself a few minutes of grief. But seeing the reactions to his story from six men who loved and cared about him, something inside snapped; starting at first as a soft sob, and descending into a torrent of heart-wrenching grief. By the time he was spent, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
After the worst had subsided, it eventually occurred to Buck that JD was resting heavily against him. With a quick check from Josiah, they discovered JD was asleep. Buck relaxed back, taking the boy with him, and got comfortable.
"D'ya think this'll do it?" Vin asked, softly.
Nathan shrugged. "Hard to tell, but it's got to have helped. Crying is very cathartic."
"I know what set him off." All eyes turned to Chris. "Pop Tarts."
It took a moment, but slowly, five heads bobbed in understanding.
"Buying them and talking about home prompted a resurgence of memories," Ezra rounded up for them.
"Well, I'll be damned," Buck whispered, trying not to wake JD.
"Sounds, scents, and smells can evoke powerful memories," Josiah explained.
"So, should we toss 'em out?" Vin asked. "The Pop Tarts, I mean."
"Nah…I'd prefer if you didn't." JD's sleepy words made them smile. No sooner had he spoken, he was asleep again.
Buck pulled him in closer. "It's settled, then."
One week on and JD's migraines had evaporated, and his sleepwalking had ceased. All his brothers promised that once they knew he was okay, they would share their own memories, also. Nettie approved, convinced that the more these boys knew of each other, the closer they would become. While she watched them bantering animatedly at breakfast that morning, and feasting…she rolled her eyes…on Pop Tarts, instead of their usual bacon, eggs, cereal, and toast, she felt sure this family would make it.
Chris glanced her way and winked. Nettie smiled in return. Yep…these boys were as one in heart, and on the cusp of some magnificent adventures.
The End