Alternate Universe "Brothers Larabee"
Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em damnit!
Thanks to Phyllis for BL/AU2
Main Characters: JD, Buck, Vin
Ratings/Warnings: Please do not do what Buck does with Google.
Summary: Fate; Fact, or fiction? The brothers are left to decide.
With a fierce storm interrupting an enjoyable afternoon walk, Nathan Jackson clung to his brother for dear life as JD plowed steadily through the heavy rain while skillfully veering from side to side through tree-lined roads. When he called the ranch to hitch a ride home rather than get drenched from the fresh rainfall, Nathan figured JD would arrive in his Blazer.
Nope, the kid arrived on his bike, and sporting the biggest grin. Granted, he brought all-weather gear and a full visor helmet for the doctor, but still, hardly the lap of luxury.
"Y'okay?" JD hollered back.
"Just peachy!" Nathan replied, clinging tighter. Actually, it wasn't half-bad, but he figured he'd feel the vibration through his body for days to come. He also knew JD was making a point or punishing him, either circumstance fitted. His mind drifted back to the previous evening and a heated after-dinner discussion.
ONE NIGHT PRIOR
"Gonna need strippin' down."
JD's face fell as he listened to Vin's diagnosis of his beloved bike. "So, it is the carburetor."
Tanner nodded. "Reckon so."
"Is this the bike again?" Nathan asked as the family sat around the living room enjoying after-dinner beers and milk.
"Uh huh," JD replied, then turned back to Vin. "Don't worry, I'll drop it in to Seth's motor shop tomorrow. Maybe it's time I gave the old girl the check over she deserves."
"Indeed," Ezra agreed. "You've been procrastinating far too long. Having to be reminded `we told you so' when one of us has to collect you and your defunct machine one day soon is poor recompense for dealing with the issue prior to such an event."
JD gawped at the southerner while he processed the lengthy admonishment, then shrugged. "If what you're saying is if I get my bike fixed, then I can avoid having to call one of you guys if I break down then don't worry, I'll make sure it's not you I call."
"Guys," Chris interjected. "Let's not do this again tonight, huh?"
With consistent stormy weather recently, they were all getting a little stir-crazy. That, coupled with similar conversations occurring daily, Chris would be glad when Thanksgiving got closer and gave them all something more upbeat to focus on.
JD took a hard swallow of his milk before looking at his brother. "Sorry, Ezra."
The southerner raised one hand. "No need to apologize, JD, I misspoke."
"You ever think to get rid of it and get a newer one? Better yet, ditch the damned donorcycle and stick to the Blazer."
Nathan's views on motorcycles was renowned, and he rarely missed an opportunity to express them. Mostly the family gave him leeway, they knew that, in his line of work, he'd seen the worst of it, but tonight JD wasn't having it.
"Aw, knock it off, Nathan. You've seen car wrecks, too, and we all drive, but I never hear you sound off about that."
"There's a darn sight more protection for a body inside a car," Nathan snapped back.
"And just as much chance of cruisin' along and meetin' an idiot drivin' one at you, as a biker has," Vin added. He rode a bike, and was tired of this argument, too.
"Yeah, well, JD's patched his up more times than I care to recall. Time to retire the rust bucket."
Buck hissed inwardly at Nathan's words. The bike was hardly a rust bucket, luminous green, yes, but rusty? No. Plus, it meant the world to JD. It was his only surviving link to Boston, and living with his mom. Retiring the bike was not an option.
JD stood. "Says you." He slammed down his glass. "I'm going to bed."
"JD!" Josiah sighed as the boy left. His gaze turned slowly to Nathan.
"What?" Nathan noted the disgruntled stares, and stood. "Y'all think I'm over-reacting. Okay, perhaps, but just Google 'motor cycle accidents' and click on 'images', then tell me I shouldn't give a damn." With that, he walked off toward the stairs.
"This family needs a vacation."
All eyes turned to Josiah, who continued. "We work hard, and rarely play. Time for some fun, don't you think?"
Chris pursed his lips in thought. "Cabin?"
Buck agreed. "A long weekend would be fun, maybe between Thanksgiving and Christmas?" They all nodded as Buck's gaze tracked the route JD and then Nathan had just walked. He felt a nudge to his arm.
"Give `em a minute, Bucklin," Vin urged. He noted Buck's glance toward the study. "And don't be Googlin' no images trust me on this."
Wondering if Vin had the ability to read minds, Buck made a face and finished his beer.
At a tap to his door, JD tossed the shirt he had just taken off toward his laundry hamper and looked that way. "It's open." He nodded to Nathan as he entered. "Hey."
The pair looked at each other.
The pair huffed out chuckles.
"JD, I know I'm a pain in the ass over this, but " He snagged the sleeve of JD's Tee and pulled his surprised brother into a fierce embrace. "Just stay safe, okay?"
JD slowly raised his arms to pat Nathan's back, before easing away. He nodded. This wasn't a time for words, just a simple acknowledgement of his brother's deep-seated fear. The youth smiled. "One of these days I'm gonna get you on the back of my bike and show you what you're missing."
"Yeah, when Hell freezes over, Kid."
Grateful to see the ranch in the distance, Nathan shivered. Hell hadn't turned to ice, but it felt pretty darned close right now. When the garage door rose, the pair rolled inside. JD turned off the ignition, toed down the kickstand and they dismounted. He thumbed off his helmet and grinned.
Nathan chuckled. "I'll let you know when my ass wakes up."
The following day Seth Anders stepped away from JD's bike and nodded. "Vin and you were right. I can get the job started today, and finished by tomorrow."
JD made a face, then nodded. "Okay. Uh, I don't know when any of the guys can pick me up. Should I just bring the bike back tomorrow?"
"No need." He thumbed to one corner. "Since he got married, my Bobby's `R' series is just sitting there. You're welcome to borrow it to get home, and until yours is ready."
JD walked over to the blue and white Kawasaki and stroked it, reverently. "You sure?"
Seth smiled. "Uh huh. It could probably do with a run." He moved to a wall, unhooked a key and tossed it to JD. "Knock yourself out."
Snatching the key from the air, and with a grin, JD uttered his thanks and straddled the machine. "Nice," he said to himself.
He lifted the kickstand, put the key into the ignition, and turned it to the `on' position. Reaching down to the base of the fuel tank with his left hand, JD turned the petcock to `on' to set the fuel valve lever in the 6 o'clock position.
Switching the engine kill switch on the right handlebar into the `run' setting, JD pulled in the clutch lever and depressed the starter button on the right handlebar to start the motor. The bike roared into life and Seth smiled right along with the youngest Larabee brother, then handed over JD's helmet and nodded his approval. "See you tomorrow."
JD's grin widened. "Thanks, Seth." Snapping down the helmet visor, and with a wave, he turned the bike and accelerated out of the garage.
In the den and staring at, but not watching the TV, Buck startled at Vin's holler from just a few feet away.
"Man, where were you at? I've been talkin' to you for almost half a minute." He noted a look in Buck's eyes that concerned him. "Hey, you okay?" Tanner sat down on the couch, next to his brother "Buck?" He tried not to react to the grip on his wrist.
"You hardly ever ride your Indian, do you?"
Vin shook his head. "Not so much these days. Most things I have to do involve the need for a truck." He moved closer. "Why?"
"Good thing the roads around here are country, and not too busy, right?"
"R-i-g-h-t." Vin pointed to Buck's juice sitting on the coffee table. "You got a shot of whiskey in there or somethin'?" The look in Buck's eyes grew haunted.
"JD rode his bike to Seth's."
"Uh huh, he needs..." Vin straightened. "Damnit, Buck, you done went and Googled, didn't you?" He winced at the increased pressure to his wrist.
"Jesus, Vin, I had no idea how awful..."
Carefully unhooking himself, Vin gave a compassionate smile and raised a hand to squeeze Buck's shoulder. "Those pictures show extreme accidents, Buck. Ain't no way JD an' me are gonna end up like that."
"Promise me." Buck's plea was raw and soft.
"You have my word." Vin knew Chris had come into the room, but didn't react for a while. Eventually, he glanced up at the concerned man and Chris nodded before addressing his distracted brother.
"Buck, JD just called to say he's heading home." He frowned when Buck didn't react. "He, uh he said you asked him to call when he was heading back?"
It took a few seconds, but eventually the words filtered through and the brunet looked up. "Yeah?" He swallowed hard and nodded. "Good...good, thanks."
Acknowledging a cue from Chris, Vin patted Buck's knee, stood, and with a touch to Chris's back, left the pair alone in the den. Chris took up Vin's vacated spot.
"Hey, Pard, what gives?"
Buck took a deep breath, and then replied. "Nathan sounds off about bike accidents so often I hardly ever listen these days. But the other night..."
Chris tilted his head. "Got to you, huh?"
Buck nodded. "Big time. I know I shouldn't have, but I looked up some photos."
"I know, I know, but I did, and it's done, and I can't take it back." He swallowed. "But I wish to hell I could. The thought of Vin, or JD ending up like that...oh God..." He looked at Chris, his eyes misty.
"JD's out on his bike right now."
Chris frowned. "Yeah, I know, I just told you he called. And he went out yesterday to get Nathan, and the day before that to drop something over to Nettie." Chris chewed his lower lip. "He and Vin are good, careful riders, Buck..."
" Did you know eighty percent of bike accidents end as fatalities?" Buck continued on as though Chris hadn't spoken.
" And that in the majority of cases, the accident is caused by the other driver?"
Chris simply stared at his despairing brother.
"Don't you see, Chris? No matter how careful those boys are, it likely won't be their fault if..."
Finally the brunet snapped out of his funk and looked at the earnest blond.
"Enough, now. You can't do this to yourself, to Vin and JD..." he reached over and squeezed the man's arm. "...To us." Chris was visibly shocked at how affected Buck had become, and kept a grip on his arm until the liquid-eyed brunet spoke.
"Sorry," he breathed.
Chris moved closer and dropped an arm around Buck's shoulders. "Don't apologize for being the brother I've adored for over thirty years, just don't do this to yourself. You'll want to steal JD's keys next, or lock him and Vin in their rooms." He laughed at the twinkle in Buck's eyes and the waggle of his eyebrows, and patted Buck on the shoulder.
"Shoot, man, what am I gonna do with you, huh?"
"Maybe help me with my cunning plan?"
They both laughed and Chris pulled Buck to his feet. The pair left the TV playing to itself as it was decided they needed a beer.
Radio blaring away in the background, Seth Anders whistled a tune as he worked on JD's bike. He smiled to himself at the well maintained cycle before him. "Knowing that boy could easily afford to buy a newer, less `crotch rocket' style bike, you must be real special to him, ole girl." Seth patted her. "Don't you worry. Your carburetor just needs a good clean and tune-up. I'll have you purring again in no time."
A voice interrupting the music playing on the radio caught Ander's attention and he reached over to turn up the volume. Just as he heard the broadcaster announce a serious incident on a nearby highway, rotor wash sounded overhead, fading away to the direction the announcer was confirming.
"Must be bad if a chopper's on the way." Curious, he walked into his office and flicked on the TV. For a while, the local news channel simply relayed information about the incident, but finally they went live to the scene. Seth watched, studied, and then drew a shaky breath before reaching for the phone.
Coffee in hand, Vin plopped himself down in the den to take five, and channel-surf for the duration of his short break. Settling on a wildlife program about brown bears, he munched on a cookie or four and enjoyed the quiet environment.
On hearing the phone in the study ringing, he leaned the back of his head against the couch and looked upside-down toward the door. Satisfied someone had picked up, he sat upright and resumed munching.
Having shooed Vin from under her feet, and as a delicious concoction of beef, onions, vegetables, marrowbone and pearl barley bubbled away in a large pot on the burner within its rich, thickening gravy, Nettie made space to dust the worktop with flour and roll out her pie pastry.
It was a little early in the season for her much loved `belly- warming' pie, but she sensed a need for comfort in the household and knew this would go a long way to settling her boys at dinner this evening.
As she rolled out the pale crust, Nettie smiled at the way she had inadvertently 'adopted' seven grown men as her own. She could not be more proud of them had they been her own. Precious, each and every one, and all were struggling with a reality that changed their lives and forged an unbreakable bond. But the relationship was fragile. Years of growing up together and learning to temper fears were lost, and so anxieties surfaced, often, and at inappropriate times.
Surprisingly, Chris was the worst. Having suffered the pain of loss, he feared it most, but kept it contained. Although his brothers knew he cared, he rarely revealed just how much. However, he was getting there. Having found a soulmate in Vin, a source of comfort in Buck, a confidante in Josiah, an entrepreneur in Ezra, a caretaker in Nathan, and an innocent in JD no matter how hard the boy fought the obvious and having six partners to share his concerns, his decisions, his triumphs and his failures was bringing Chris out of his shell. He was affectionate again, teaching again, and that, along with JD's instant and persistent enthusiasm for becoming a family, and all seven men's deep-seated and fierce protectiveness of each other, had been the threads that coiled around them and bound them all together.
Lately, it was Buck's turn to have concerns. Today, Nettie felt it was clear he had done something he didn't want to share; she could tell by his demeanor, but he would work through it, he always did. She just hoped the fallout would be minimal, especially for JD; for some reason, Buck's anxieties mostly involved JD.
Hence the pie, and her melt-in-the-mouth triple chocolate mousse for dessert. If that didn't get them all smiling, nothing would. The housekeeper briefly raised her head when the phone rang, but continued on when voices suggested one of the boys was picking up.
"Double L Ranch, Josiah speaking, how oh, hello Seth." Sanchez frowned and looked around. "What? No, not yet. I'll try his cell. Which channel? Okay, thanks." Replacing the handset, Josiah hollered out, drawing Ezra out from the study, and startling Buck and Chris who were exiting the mudroom.
"Anyone near the TV?"
Vin's voice drifted from the den in confirmation.
"Switch to Channel 7, KVFC News." As Josiah spoke and walked toward the den, his cell was in his hand and he was dialing.
Chris and Buck hurried to join him. "What's going on?" Chris asked, his brow furrowing when Josiah cursed and snapped his phone closed.
"Aww, hell "
Vin's words had all the brothers converging into the den and staring at the images on the large, flat-screen TV. The Texan pointed. "Would you look at that?"
" We're here at the second crash site, just a few hundred yards from the first."
On hearing the reporter's words, and seeing the tangle of unfamiliar vehicles on a nearby highway, all five men stared in horror.
Not taking his eyes off the screen, Buck leaned into Josiah. "Who were you calling?"
Removing his helmet and sweeping back sweat-moistened hair from his forehead, JD hung the headgear on the bike's handlebars. He was hot, and so removed his leather jacket and rested it over the gas tank.
JD was halfway home when the traffic stalled, and due to an accident ahead, had been that way for some twenty minutes or so. Although the road wasn't normally too busy, it was a main route to and from town.
Sitting astride the loaned blue and white Ninja, he glanced over his shoulder at the cars behind him, then looked ahead.
About to call home to let them know what was happening, and while pondering a different route, something ahead caught his attention.
On the road somewhere behind JD, plumber Aaron Small was approaching the short tailback of traffic, but as he was on a bend, and traveling way too fast, he didn't see it until he was almost upon it. Despite swerving, his car hit the back-side of the truck at the rear of the holdup. With its engine roaring, and in a cloud of dust, gas fumes, sparks, and debris, the car shot upwards, sailing over the truck and the vehicle in front of it. Clipping the next car in line caused it to do a full flip, increasing its velocity. The car came down to earth right-side up, and with a resounding crunch, landing on top of the bike JD was riding.
Back at the Double L, and in the den, Buck stared at Josiah. "Why were you calling JD?"
"Seth heard about the accident and called to ask if the kid made it home, yet."
Glances were exchanged before all five men scrutinized the images being relayed into their home. JD's bright green bike wasn't there. They each took a relieved breath. The phone in the study was again ringing, but soon stopped. No one took their eyes off the screen until Nathan entered the den. His face was gray and his eyes wide.
"Nathan?" Chris said, softly.
The doctor approached the TV and watched the images. His shaky hand reached out and a finger pointed to a wrecked car and the squashed bike beneath it when the camera panned that way. His words came raspy and raw.
"Seth called. Said he forgot to mention that JD's bike's still in the shop."
"Then then how's he supposed to be getting home?" Buck's voice also held a tremor. All gazes tracked to the bike Nathan was pointing at, and the car that had landed on top of it.
"Seth said JD borrowed Bobby's bike." He tapped the screen. "Apparently, Bobby's bike is just like this one."
Concerned by the drama unfolding directly ahead of him, JD had toed down the kickstand and climbed off the bike to take a look. A man was out of the car ahead and appeared distraught. JD approached. "You okay?"
The man pointed into the car. "My wife my wife's an epileptic. She's convulsing. Can you help me get her out?"
Recalling something he once read JD shook his head. "Might be better if we drop her seat back and just make sure she doesn't thrash around and hurt herself."
Nodding, while berating himself for panicking, the man climbed into the rear seat, dropped back the front passenger seat and held his wife's head and shoulders steady. JD got in next to her, held her hands in his, and gently laid one knee across her thighs. The strategy worked, and the woman slowly came to rest easy.
"Thank you," the tearful man said softly.
JD eased backwards out of the car doorway. Bent over and still half inside, he thumbed to his bike. "I left my phone in my jacket. My brother's a doctor, I'll go call him and ask advice. Do you need an ambulance?"
"No, she'll just sleep now. Thank you again; I really appreciate your help."
With a smile, JD straightened, turned and walked away from the car. The last thing he knew of was a deafening noise and a heavy blow to his face. Vehicle fragments and his helmet catapulted away from the fresh wreckage like missiles. One such piece caught JD in the face, knocking him senseless to the ground.
The tension in the den was palpable, spilling out into the big room, and study, as the brothers moved around restlessly waiting for Nathan to glean information on the incident. Calls to JD's cell went to voicemail, adding to the anxiety. No one could stop thinking about the bike with the car resting heavily on top of its crushed form, which led to thoughts on the fate of the bike's rider. They all snapped to attention when they heard Nathan end a call and join them.
"Heavy lifting gear has arrived at the scene. So far, there have been several injured and one fatality, but my colleague can't divulge more than that. All casualties have been moved to FC Memorial where their conditions will be assessed." He gazed around the stricken group.
"If we're gonna head there, we'll have to take the long route in. They don't anticipate opening the road for several more hours."
Chris was the first to move for his jacket, shouting instructions as he prepared to leave. It wasn't until they were in the two vehicles allotted for the journey when it was noticed that Buck wasn't with them. Urging Chris, Vin, and Nathan to go, Josiah and Ezra went back to look for him.
They found him still in the den and staring at the TV, only now it was turned off. Ezra and Josiah exchanged glances, before the latter tenderly took Buck by the shoulders.
"Come on brother. We're heading into town." He was met with rigidity. "Buck?"
The brunet turned frightened, misty eyes to Josiah, blinking when Ezra also came into his line of sight. Buck shook his head. "I can't "
Surprised, but concealing it, both men made encouraging moves toward him.
"Sure, you can," Ezra replied taking Buck by the elbow. He was scared beyond words about what they might find out at the hospital, they all were, but they also needed to know. "We need to "
"No!" Buck swallowed. His voice was raspy. "I've seen those pictures. I can't I can't let that be the last way I see JD."
"Buck " Josiah's rumbling whisper caught the brunet's attention. " We know nothing yet. You'll never forgive yourself if you stay here you know that."
The brunet sighed. "Damned if I do, and damned if I don't " even as he spoke, his feet were moving. Aided by the gentle pull from his brothers' grip, he went through the motions of heading out as he listened to Josiah's encouragement.
"We'll be together. No matter what the outcome, we'll all be together."
Seeing Nettie's pale face as she stood at the kitchen door, Ezra nodded his intention to Josiah, and broke away to speak with her. Several minutes later, they were bringing up the rear in the family mission to get to FC Memorial.
At the hospital, and in the arranged waiting area, anxiety rose with every staff member that came and went but offered no further information. JD's phone continuously going to voicemail wasn't helping. Several families occupied the space, which soon became too much for Chris and Vin and they stepped out into the corridor.
"I'm worried about Bucklin."
Chris nodded at Vin. "What's with him? I've seen him scared before, but he looks as though he'd shatter like glass if " Chris couldn't bring himself to finish the sentence.
Tanner debated with his conscience, eventually deciding that there was no trust to be broken by divulging what he knew. "You recall Nathan yellin' about checkin' out bike crash images by Googlin'?"
Chris stared. "Yeah; but hell, who would do that ?" He closed his eyes momentarily as realization hit. "Aww, shit, Buck," he whispered. His green gaze returned to scan misty blue orbs. "What are we dealing with, here?"
"The sheer terror of seein' JD's body lookin' like that and it bein' the last image he has of him."
Chris nodded, slowly. "Okay, thanks. At least we know now what we have to do."
The Texan took a shaky breath, his reply was soft. "Yeah." From that moment, that image, should there be one, would be their torment alone.
Josiah and Ezra flanked Buck as his taut, trembling body gently rocked in its seat. In the hope his status would gain him access or information; Nathan had decided to wander off and check things out. He felt that, if it should be bad, he would rather deliver the news himself.
He reflected on the last few days' conversations. 'I told you so', was not in his vocabulary. The point he always tried to make was that, no matter how careful a bike rider, the odds of survival were stacked unfavorably for the driver of a fast-moving vehicle with no protection.
While attempting to maintain a professional calm as he went about his mission, his mind was filled with how a body might look trapped between the full weight of a car that had just landed on it from a height, and an upright bike. The image produced was not a good one, and he tried everything to dismiss it, but the illustration was as relentless as a woman scorned in its determination to get the better of him. Consequently he used every professional ruse he knew to triumph over the onslaught, but already knew it was a lost cause. This was family, and the tenet for practiced procedure might as well not exist when it was one of your own.
"God, I could use a smoke."
Still standing in the corridor outside the waiting room, Tanner looked at his brother. "I ain't seen you smoke since I came here, Cowboy."
Chris shrugged. "Gave it up before " he halted. " A long time ago. Used to like those little black cheroots." He smiled. "Sarah wasn't so keen."
"I'll stand you a coffee."
Chris nodded, but straightened when he saw Vin stare down the corridor and push away from his slouch against the wall. Turning, he watched Nathan approach.
"I need y'all to come with me."
"Buck, would you like a drink?"
The man shook his head in reply to Ezra's question and continued to rock while staring at a spot on the faded linoleum. A whisper from Josiah sitting to one side caused him to snap his head toward the big man. "Are you praying?" he hissed.
Josiah's kind blue gaze fixed on watery, dark blue orbs. "Yes."
Buck jumped to his feet and began pacing. "Quit it. What use is praying? If the kid's dead, it won't change anything." He paced some more, his arms waving with agitated gestures.
"What's taking so much time? How long do they need to figure this shit out?" His stare switched between Ezra and Josiah. "No news is good news, right? No wait, not with stuff like this. They're just finding the right words for the families they already know, right?" He slammed the palm of his hand against a wall, startling the other people in the room.
"Why are they taking so long?"
Reacting more to the distress than the volume of the cry, Josiah and Ezra nodded to the alarmed onlookers, took Buck's arms and guided the struggling brother toward his vacated chair.
"Buck, you must stay calm. You'll make yourself ill," Ezra stated, concern evident in his voice.
Just as Buck's mouth opened to reply, the door pushed in and Chris stepped inside the room and looked at Buck, Josiah and Ezra. He simply jerked his head toward the corridor, and all six moved out.
Standing in front of a curtained area in the bustling ER department, Nathan looked at his brothers. "JD's been tagged as a `John Doe'."
Chris and Josiah anticipated Buck's vulnerability and each clung to his arms as five audible gulps filled the area between them and the curtain, which Nathan now pulled back.
The hooks scraped across the metal runner to reveal a small, young, partially clothed male figure half-propped up on a bed and attached to several recognizable machines. His slack face was turned to one side; while on the upturned half lay a cool pack which covered the entire left portion of a very familiar face, even if only half was visible. Nathan smiled.
"He had no ID on him."
The men were already surrounding the bed and laying a hand on the still form. Eyes closed, Buck leaned in and rested a cheek against the blood-spiked, dark hair, and settled there. Chris looked at Nathan.
"How how did he survive that?"
"I'm thinking miracles truly do happen," Josiah stated, softly.
After a small pause for contemplation, all eyes turned to Nathan.
"Details are sketchy, but there's a statement from a driver that says a young man went to the aid of a woman having a 'grand mal' an epileptic seizure in one of the cars ahead in the line. Paramedics think a part of the wreckage from the car that dropped onto the bike hit him in the face."
"He was off the bike?" Buck asked for confirmation, his voice hoarse and hushed.
Nathan nodded. "Yeah."
Everyone stared first at each other, then at JD.
"Is he okay apart from the whack to the face?" Vin queried.
"He hasn't woken yet. He's only alone because the medical staff knew I was coming straight back with you guys. A CT scan and X-rays were good. He has a hairline fracture of the cheekbone, and a lot of heavy bruising, some swelling and several cuts. Once he's awake, they can assess him fully, so they're gonna admit him for a day or two."
"But, he's unconscious. That's not good, is it?" Ezra wondered.
"No, it's never good, but JD's shown signs of awareness, so the doctor's not overly concerned right now." He pointed to the machines. "He's being monitored, and checked every half hour. JD's in good hands, guys."
Buck straightened from his nestled position. "I, uh I'm gonna go get the kid some fresh clothes." He pointed to a familiar bloody, torn shirt tossed in the corner of the area.
Josiah patted Buck's arm. "Don't worry, I can do that. You stay "
"No!" With a squeeze to the boy's lax hand, Buck walked away from JD's side. "Ezra, you gonna drive me, or can I have your keys?"
Standish squeezed JD's knee before moving away. "No, I will be happy to drive you." He gave a knowing look to his puzzled brothers. He too was shocked Buck was taking the unprecedented step of walking away from a still non-conscious JD, and hoped to get to the bottom of the decision.
Chris took over the role that Buck seemed to be abandoning. "Don't be too long. I'll text you the room number they admit JD to."
Buck raised a hand and left. Ezra touched two fingers to his forehead, nodded, and followed Buck out. All eyes turned back to a stirring JD.
"What the hell's goin' on?" Vin asked, his throat thick with emotion and concern.
Chris took a seat and held the fingers of the slack, bandaged hand with an IV needle attached. "I don't know, but what I do know, is that it can't be good."
The silence inside the Jag as it headed for the Double L was unbearable. Swiping sideways glances at his subdued brother, Ezra spoke. "I will endeavor to get us home, and then back to the hospital as swiftly as possible."
Buck didn't look up, he continued fiddling with the phone in his hand. "Can't go back. There's a problem at Rosie's "
Ezra snorted a laugh. It seemed to be the appropriate reaction to the very idea that Buck would not be at an injured JD's side.
" I'll pick out some clothes for you to take back, and check in later." The brunet continued on as if Ezra hadn't responded.
"Buck, surely whatever it is, under the circumstances, Inez "
"She's in Mexico, visiting family." They rolled up the drive and into the yard, and Buck jumped out to an approaching group of concerned ranch hands. He walked through them and into the house.
Mouth agape, Ezra watched him go. He stepped out of his car and took the time to bring the inquisitive men up to speed, then went to follow Buck in. Before he could even reach the porch, Buck was out and locking up. He tossed the stunned man a duffle bag.
"Catch you later." With that, Buck crossed the yard, entered the garage and, a minute later, was roaring away down the drive in his truck.
Ezra took a hard swallow. "What just happened, there?"
Voices filtered through the weight pressing on and around his head and stopping his eyes from opening. Familiarity pulled him closer to the light, but there was a chill to the usual warmth he felt whenever he awoke amidst voices. Before he could force his eyes open, JD mumbled a name.
He tried to turn to the warm, solid presence at his side, but couldn't move his head, and was about to panic when a voice whispered in his ear. "Doing good, Kid. In your own time."
That was the push JD needed to look. His eyelids fluttered and he peered through the one that opened. "Chris?"
Larabee grinned, and tried not to dwell on the raspy weakness of JD's usually voluble tone. "Hey. Hell of a time to take a nap, Buddy."
JD swallowed and instantly a straw was between his lips and providing a trickle of cool water over his tongue and dry throat. The frown remained as his gaze scrutinized the smiling faces around him. The undamaged eye opened wide.
"He's fine and on his way," Vin answered, giving Chris a knowing look. Chris nodded his thanks for presenting the fib that would have weighed heavy on his heart.
"Neat." Appeased, for now, JD's eyes closed and he slept.
Chris glanced at his four brothers standing around in JD's room. "That's the third time he's woken up and asked the same question."
"It's not unusual to wake up confused after a knock to the head," Nathan assured.
"Where the hell is Buck? What's he playing at?" Chris asked, rhetorically, which was just as well, as no one knew how to respond. Unsure as to whether to leave JD and go look for Buck, or stay put, each man was wondering that while one ordeal was ending, had another just begun?
At Rosie's bar, Buck locked his office door. Sitting at his desk and using the computer, he scrolled through the accident photos recently posted on the website of their local newspaper. They were alarmingly graphic, and gave him a clear indication of how JD would have fared had he been sitting on the bike.
Shoving the chair back to face away from the monitor, Buck leaned his elbows on the arms of his chair, rested his face in his hands and wept.
Two days on, and JD was home. He lay ensconced on the couch and wrapped in his favorite comfort blanket. Concerned they had worried enough about him, he hadn't told his family that he was suffering some after-effects from the accident, which in turn made him feel a little guilty for exploiting his brothers' kindness while he was laid up. The men's initial shock of the mishap, and seeing how very badly bruised the boy's face was, ensured they were surpassing their usual efforts, so JD shrugged off his symptoms, laid back, and gratefully soaked up the love, thoughtfulness, and concern. Waking from a light doze, and with an awkward smile due to his swollen face, JD thanked Josiah for the grilled cheese sandwich and milk the man set down on a small, collapsible table at his side.
Any smiles however, hid a deep hurt. Since his discharge from the hospital, JD had barely seen Buck, and when he had, Buck merely raised a hand, waved, and promised to catch him later, before disappearing out the door. The others had rallied, but JD was lost. Buck was never far from his side under normal circumstances. When either was hurt, or sick, the pair was inseparable.
All sorts of explanations were forthcoming, but, while not wanting to believe anyone would lie to him, the excuses seemed to be less and less plausible as time went on. Something was wrong with Buck, and once he was feeling stronger, JD planned to get to the bottom of it.
It took another two days to corner his big brother, and, in hindsight, JD soon wished he had done so in an empty room, instead of the big room filled with all six of his siblings. And definitely not after, had JD known, a family viewing of the local news channel showing fresh video footage of the accident. Taken with a phone, it captured the moment a car landed on an unoccupied motorcycle, while flying wreckage from the incident took a somewhat blurry, but familiar young man a short distance away, clean off his feet, and shattered the windows of several cars ahead.
The boy approached the seated group. "Hey, Buck, glad I caught you "
The brunet was quickly on his feet and heading toward the door. "Sorry, will have to be later, Kid, got me a problem that won't solve itself."
JD's shoulders slumped. "Was just thinking the same thing."
His words heralded five inhaled breaths, and stopped Buck in his tracks momentarily before attempting to again move on.
JD moved into Buck's line of sight, inwardly shocked when the normally kind, blue eyes couldn't look at him. "Buck? What is it with you? I walk in a room, you walk out. I go outside, you come inside. I say `hi', you say `bye'."
There was no response, but at least Buck wasn't moving; and neither was anyone else.
JD approached the man and touched a hand to Buck's arm. He visibly winced when Buck shrunk back from him. Eyes filling, JD awkwardly tucked the spurned hand into his jeans pocket and spoke through a thick throat. "Buck? What is it? Is it something I've said? Or done? I I can't fix it if I don't know what I've done wrong "
" Good Lord!"
Everyone jolted at Buck's raised voice. The generally genial man glared at his youngest brother.
"Jesus, give it a rest. We all have responsibilities, JD. Some of us take them more seriously than others. You made your choice, and got hurt I'm sorry for that, but life goes on, Kid. I'm just busy, is all. Deal with it."
JD stared at the stranger before him, unaware his brothers were, too. Before he could speak, Chris was next to them and taking hold of Buck's arm.
The brunet jerked out of Chris's grasp.
Buck glared, sharing the look between Chris and JD. "I'm done worrying." He pointed at JD, but stared at Chris.
"No matter how many times we say it, he still goes off on that damned bike. Why should I spend time fretting over a boy who can't take good advice and almost ends up as another statistic another gory photo on the web under the heading 'stupid bikers and their broken, bloody bodies'! Tell me? If he doesn't care " Buck leaned in toward Chris, his voice low and filled with emotion.
" Why the hell should I?"
As he rushed away, Buck's shoulder brushed JD's and unbalanced the boy. Taking a step back to steady himself, JD hiccupped as he fought to contain the sob rising from his chest, and the dizziness slowly overwhelming him, causing the floor to seemingly rise to meet him.
Recovering first, Vin was on his feet and chasing after Buck before anyone else had time to think, let alone react. Chris stared at his shocked brothers. This was worse than he thought.
"'Scuse me." Attempting to hold it together, JD turned to take his bruised body away from the place his heart shattered into pieces, but he swayed and stumbled. Chris was there in an instant and supporting his ashen-faced brother. Nathan joined him and without a word, the pair helped the boy to his room.
After easing JD down to sit on the edge of his bed, Nathan poured water into a glass and handed it to the trembling boy. He disappeared for a few moments, and returned with a penlight, which he shone in JD's good eye; his left eye still being severely bloodshot.
"How long you been having dizzy spells?"
JD swallowed, fighting the rising nausea. A tear threatened to escape the corner of his eye and he swiped at it angrily. "Since the day before I got home from the hospital."
"Why didn't you say so?" Chris asked.
"Try me," Chris challenged.
JD inhaled a shuddering breath. "Well, I wanted to come home, so I figured I'd say nothing and it'd all go away." He smiled, shyly. "And...usually, Buck notices and I don't have to say anything. As time went on, I felt kinda awkward mentioning it."
Nathan nodded his understanding. So desperate was JD to show his brothers he was just as much a tough guy as he perceived them to be that, if he was carrying his head in his hands, he would say he was 'fine'. Buck was always aware of just how 'fine' JD was, and readily let anyone who would listen, know. Their familiar world was so off- kilter right now. Seeing JD close his eyes and gulp, he turned to Chris.
"I'm gonna give him a shot for the nausea. He'll likely sleep. Go check on Buck."
JD's eyes popped open and he looked at Chris. "Make sure he's okay. Tell him " JD finally released the sob he was holding. "Tell him I'm sorry I let him down."
Chris stood and leaned in to squeeze the side of JD's neck. "No one's been let down. Rest up, I'll be back later."
"Bucklin! Damnit, Buck, STOP!"
Outside, in the yard, Buck halted. He turned and faced his advancing brother. "Drop it, Vin."
"Drop it?" Vin was in his face. "Drop it? What the fuck just went down in there?"
"None of your damned business." Buck turned to leave, but Vin grabbed his arm.
"Like hell it's not. You go back in there and talk "
"Didn't you hear?" Buck hissed. "I'm done talking asking begging. If JD wants to kill himself fine but I don't want to know about it anymore."
"You don't mean that." Vin could see the conflict in the sorrowful gaze holding his. Buck cared alright, way too much.
"What's this? 'Bikers united', huh? Should've known you'd back the fool kid up. Well fine, you do that, and you can identify what they scrape up of him from the road someday." Before Vin could reply, Buck stormed off to the stables, leaving a stunned Tanner debating whether to follow.
A hand on his shoulder caused him to turn toward Chris. "I just left JD. He's a wreck. Go, I'll handle Buck."
It took a moment or two, but eventually Vin nodded and headed inside. Chris pursed his lips, straightened, and went after Buck.
Josiah walked from the kitchen with a tray of coffees. He set them down and handed one to Vin, and Ezra, before taking one for himself. "What a mess," he said as he took a seat.
"Indeed," Ezra agreed. "I am assuming the bullshit Buck just spouted has come about due to a traumatic and deep-seated fear evoked by the recent incident."
Ezra had to smile at Vin's understated reply. Nevertheless, it was all the answer necessary. "Is there anything we can do to help?"
"Just be there for them," Josiah advised. "Both Buck and JD are emotionally driven. They feel deeply, think and act with their hearts. When Buck comes around, he'll be devastated, and while we all know JD forgives in an instant, this will leave scars. Listen when they talk, but never offer either an opinion. This is one squabble we need to iron out, and then bury deep."
"You proud of yourself?"
Inside the stables, Buck kissed the nose of his big Gray. He glanced at Chris and made a face. "Fuck off."
"Ah hell, you know I'm not about to do that." He poked Buck's shoulder. "So, we gonna duke it out, talk, or just stand here in silence?"
Buck patted his horse's neck before moving to walk past Chris. "Do what you want, I'm leaving." He stared at the fingers curled around his wrist. "Let go."
"Like you're letting go of JD? Not gonna happen."
"JD's made his decision."
"What decision? He's behaving the exact same way he's been doing since he got here. Hell, Buck, it was that bike that got him here, to us. I remember your face when you saw his scrapes that day he walked into our lives. It was the look that told me that, no matter what happened with the rest of us, you and JD would always have each other." He tilted his head at a teary-eyed Buck.
"Or did I get that completely wrong, Pard?"
It took a few seconds, then Buck's head dropped and his shoulders shook. Chris embraced the man and held tight until Buck was spent. Finally Buck released the fistful of Chris's shirt he'd been clutching and stood straight.
"You know everyone knows how much I love you all, and how much I love that Kid. Those pictures that accident God, Chris, it left me cold. All the way to the hospital, all I could see was those images, only it was JD's body all twisted and mangled, and his bloody face staring lifelessly back at me, not a stranger's. I can't let it go."
Chris offered a tight smile. "Yeah, you can."
"Would you find that so easy to say if this was Vin?"
Pausing for thought, Chris sighed. "Right now, I can't answer that. I'd like to believe I could. Hell, you think this has been easy for any of us after seeing those images, and the damage to JD's face, and Bobby's bike?" Chris squeezed his brother's arm. "Look, I know this is hard, and that fixing things, and putting it behind you will take time, but you can do this. We're all here for you, Buck, especially JD. Quit punishing you both, go talk to him."
Head hanging, Buck nodded. After a long pause, he spoke, softly. "You know I will."
"Yeah, I do." Chris patted Buck's arm and then gestured toward the house, and hoped he was playing this right. "Okay, listen, I uh, gotta get back, JD's sick "
Buck's head shot up. "Sick? What do you mean, `sick'? Upchucking? What?"
Fighting a grin, Chris shrugged. "The kid told Nathan and me he's been getting headaches, nausea some dizziness. Nathan's given him a shot; he'll be asleep awhile "
Before Chris could finish, Buck was past him and gone. Larabee smiled. "Welcome back, Buck. We've missed you."
All eyes turned to the streak of color that was Buck as a door banged when he exited the mudroom and then jogged up the stairs. From the rocking chair in JD's room, Nathan glanced up as Buck entered. Not looking at his seated brother, Buck spoke, his gaze firmly fixed on the slumbering boy on the bed.
"How is he?"
A little startled, but pleased to see Buck, Nathan replied. "He's been suffering some dizziness, and nausea, but that's not uncommon after a concussion. It's called P.C.S. Post Concussion Syndrome. It has three categories, and many symptoms, so in retrospect, he's doing good."
Buck was already seated against the headboard, and next to JD's head. After gently touching the back of his hand to JD's forehead, he looped his hands under JD, tugged, and held the sleeping boy against his chest. "You sure?"
"Pretty much. I just feel bad I missed the signs."
"Yeah, well, he's been pretty much keeping to himself, and not necessarily 'cause he wanted to. You go on, Nathan, I'll stay with him."
Nodding, the doctor stood, grinned, and left the pair together.
Buck rested his cheek against JD's dark hair. He closed his eyes and sighed. "Rest easy, Kid. Ole Buck's got you, now."
JD snuffled, but didn't open his eyes when he spoke, softly. "Buck?"
"Right here, Son. I'm real sorry I haven't been around much, but I'm here now, and for as long as you need me."
JD sighed, contentedly. "Thank...you "
Buck's eyes opened, and he smiled as JD settled against him. He relaxed back and, for the first time since that fateful Googling session, he slept without dreaming of shattered bikes, and mutilated bodies.
Drifting deeper into sleep, JD suddenly felt himself lifted up and a warmth envelope him. A familiar, rhythmic thud beneath his ear made him feel safe; a voice he loved dragged him to the surface of lucidity, but not fully. "Buck?"
The response warmed his soul and JD unashamedly settled closer. At the back of his mind was a dark place he didn't want to revisit, and this comfort was helping him drive it away. He barely replied to the promise he knew would be kept, before sleep claimed him fully, and he happily succumbed knowing his world was perfect again.
Just over two weeks later, and after a long trail ride on an unseasonably warm November day, JD and Vin were hiking up the largest mountain on their land. Vin's long, slow gait allowed him to occasionally pause and appreciate the lush grass and its sporadic clusters of late blooming wildflowers with insects flitting around them. He smiled as he watched a large flock of birds take flight from the treetops below, and at the sight of a distant deer munching on the sweet grass near the edge of the woodland. His brow furrowed when something startled the deer and various small creatures close by into fleeing.
Now mostly recovered from his post accident symptoms, JD was his usual bundle of energy. Walking slowly was never for him and especially so since being mostly inactive for so long. He sprinted up the mountainside, dislodging small rocks, while oblivious to grass and flowers crushed underfoot; and how wildlife and insects within a half a mile radius dispersed due to his activities. Having already reached the summit, he half slid-half ran back to a stationary Vin. The Texan shook his head, but his smile belied his hands-on-hips stance.
"Man, this place is awesome, Vin." JD pointed. "Look at that lake down there, and is that a herd of deer?" Turning to face back up the hill, he lightly thumped Vin's shoulder. "Come on, slow poke, we're burning daylight. Let's go."
Knowing JD needed to dispel all his pent up energy before finally appreciating his surroundings, and grateful to see him fit enough to do so, Vin nodded. "I see `em. Kid, but aren't you forgettin' somethin'?"
JD patted down his pockets before looking puzzled at his brother. "I am? What?"
Moving forward, Vin gently swatted the side of the boy's head as he passed. "To stop awhile, and listen to the silence."
From the summit, the pair dropped down onto the grass and looked out over the stunning vista of woodland and pastures dotted with creeks and small lakes.
"Man, I have to pinch myself every day to remind myself I'm a part of this."
Vin nodded. "Feels good to put down roots."
"And to have someone to share it all with," JD rounded, his voice soft as he took on board all he was seeing and what his words fully entailed. He grinned and playfully pushed away the tanned hand ruffling his hair. "Yeah, yeah...I'm a girl."
Vin smiled and flopped back in the grass. "Nothin' girlie about bein' happy, Kid." He looked at JD. "You are happy...right? No post accident problems? And, you and Buck...you're okay now?" Vin knew they were talking, but was still worried there might be unresolved issues.
Mirroring Vin's relaxed pose, JD linked his fingers and put his hands under his head as he lay on his back and watched the occasional fluffy white cloud drift across the deep cerulean sky. "Yeah, we're good. And I spoke to Bobby Anders a few days ago. The insurance company paid in full for his bike." Closing his eyes against the glare of the afternoon sun, JD recalled his relief on resolving the guilt he suffered about the destroyed bike Seth loaned him, while reflecting on his and Buck's talk just after the accident.
NINE DAYS PRIOR
Looking up from the hay bale he was moving, JD stabbed the hay hook into the packed straw and straightened. "Hi Buck."
"What are you doing? You've been told to rest up awhile." Buck stared at JD's bruised face. The swelling was there, but going down, the bruises were changing color, and he could open his eye now, even though it was still bloodshot.
"Aww, I'm fine just moving a few hay bales to feed the horses. You know I hate sitting around."
Pulling his gloves from his back pocket and sliding them on, Buck tugged the hook free and began moving the hay. "Yeah well " he grunted, " you might be feeling better, but Nathan said if you overdo it, you could get dizzy spells again." He noted the look from the younger man and instantly felt a stab of guilt through his chest. Dropping the hook onto the hay, he walked back to JD and drew him close.
"Allow me some remorse, would you? I went a little loco for a while there, but you must know I could never not care about you, right?"
JD looked into sincere, deep blue eyes and nodded. "I know, Buck, though I have no idea why. Lord knows I screw up enough to make you crazy, but I've always believed there's nothing we can't work out " He grinned. " Eventually."
Buck smiled, resisting the urge to perform his customary cuff to JD's injured head. "Damn right. Now, how about we finish this together, then go get us some of Nettie's chocolate triple layer cake before Tanner gets it all?"
With an inward sigh that measured plus-ten on the 'contentment scale,' JD nodded and set to work or as much as Buck allowed him to do. As they finished up, the brunet cast a sideways glance. "And, we're good, yeah?"
The pair headed inside for the aforementioned refreshments, and what would be a more in-depth, healing talk.
"Sure Buck, we're good always."
" Our bikes."
"Huh?" Realizing Vin had been talking while he daydreamed, JD rolled his head to the side to look at his brother. "Sorry, Vin, what were you saying?"
With a soft chuckle that caused the hand resting atop his toned abs to jiggle up and down, Vin repeated himself. "I was sayin', maybe now, the guys'll cut us some slack about our bikes."
Now JD was chuckling. "Yeah, and I'll wake up and find myself back in Mom's apartment in Boston, and this was all a dream." Something about that sentence unnerved the youth and he sat up. "Maybe we should be getting back."
Vin enjoyed stretching his long, slender body out fully before also sitting up. "Yeah, I guess we should." He looked at JD. "Uh, Buck's ridden a motorcycle, right?"
Standing and brushing himself down, JD nodded. "Uh huh. Some while back, I think, but I remember him saying so during our first days here." He reached out to tug Vin to his feet, not that the Texan needed the help. "Why?"
"You think maybe he could be persuaded to again?"
JD's eyes flashed with excitement. "Maybe...and you've just given me a great idea."
The week of Thanksgiving and Buck looked up from his magazine to see a vibrating JD and, surprisingly, a similarly keyed up Texan, standing before him in the big room. He put down his reading material.
"Hey, what's up?"
Vin and JD looked at each other and the Texan urged JD on.
"Don't get mad."
"Why would I get mad, Kid?"
"Remember when we talked about motorcycles, and I said you, me, and Vin should go riding one day, and you said, `yeah'?"
Buck frowned and sat up while recalling that day when JD's post- concussion symptoms had diminished, and the pair had talked a long while about what had happened, their relationship, and just about every other subject in between.
"I believe, what I actually said was 'yeah when the World goes nuts and declares bikes to be the only mode of transport allowed'." He made a face. "Don't recall that happening as of yet."
JD chewed his lip, then shrugged. "Whatever. Anyway, you know it's coming up to Christmas "
"It's a good while yet. We haven't had Thanksgiving " He noted JD's huff, Vin's eye-roll, and his amused brothers gathering around, while silently urging him to 'shut the hell up'. "Uh, yeah, it's nearly Christmas and?"
"I got your present."
Buck's eyebrows rose. "Already?"
JD nodded. "Actually, it's from me and Vin."
Tanner raised his hands. "No I chipped in a little; it's mostly from JD."
"A-n-y-w-a-y " JD continued. "It's outside."
Buck rose to his feet. "In the yard?"
"Uh huh." They all walked toward the door. "Now don't get mad."
Buck opened the door. "Jesus, Kid, I just said I wouldn't Holy shit!"
Stumbling off the porch, Buck stared at a soft-tailed Harley Davidson in a stunning red and black design, sitting in the yard.
"You you bought this? For me?"
"Don't get mad."
"I ain't mad, Kid."
"Really?" JD finally smiled. "Isn't she a beauty? Vin helped me get a real sweet deal, and then we worked on her, some. It it doesn't have to be a long trip, and we'll go whenever you feel ready." He noted Buck's gaze fix on him.
"I " JD thumbed toward Vin. " We just want you to understand our passion for motorcycles maybe even get to love them too, even if it's just a little bit."
Buck's silence had everyone hold their breath. Vin and JD exchanged looks, and JD felt his heart sinking until Buck scooped the pair up in a fierce embrace. Vin tolerated it for a few moments, but then, laughing, he wriggled free. JD was trapped, but didn't mind a bit and hugged his brother back.
Stepping away, Buck shook his head. "If I was ever gonna buy a bike which I wasn't, but if I was, this would be the one." He smiled as one tear threatened to roll down his cheek. "Thank you. I can't believe you spent all this money."
"Me either," JD chuckled.
Buck lovingly stroked the machine as he circled it. "When I'm ready?"
"And not before?"
"Not much point in you wobblin' around behind us, Bucklin," Vin grinned.
The others laughed and nodded approvingly; though not so much Nathan, but he opted not to spoil the moment.
Buck raised an eyebrow as he glanced at the waiting pair. "Maybe in the Spring?"
JD whooped, the others grinned, and most stepped down from the porch to inspect Buck's new `baby'.
Leaning against a porch support, Chris looked to the Heavens and said a silent 'thank you' to whoever of his family were watching over them, and asked if they could keep up the good work.
Especially next Spring.
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