Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em...damnit!
Thanks to KT for Monarch of the Glen AU
Characters: JD, Vin, Buck
Ratings/Warnings: A bit sad if you're an animal lover
Summary: The harsh realities of rural life.
Author's Note: - A minor reference to a character from 'Unleashing the Past', but not enough for you to need to read that story, though it would be nice if you did :o)
Breakfast at Glenneaval castle was its usual, lively affair. New Yorker and current Laird, JD Dunne was staring incredulously at estate manager and personal hero Chris Larabee.
"Let me get this straight. We spend months protecting and nurturing game bird on the estate, just so folk can come around when the birds are full grown to shoot 'em?"
Chris's return gaze never wavered. "Aye."
JD glanced around at his new family in search of support, but they just looked back in acceptance of Chris's reply. JD's cousin and deputy estate manager, Buck Wilmington grinned when JD's frustration caused him to push his fingers through his hair and become highly animated as he matched Larabee's fixed stare and chattered on.
"So – for months we coddle, feed, and protect these birds, and they waddle and flap about like pigs in shi…" He glanced toward housekeeper Nettie Wells and her raised eyebrows as she glared at him before leaving the room.
"Shi-a-a-avings," JD just caught himself in time. "Just so's folk can pay us to hunt them down and take them out with buckshot?" Once again he searched for support, but this time, due to his theatrics, his gaze was met with chuckles. JD stood.
"You're all nuts."
"They have hunting in the USA, JD," ghillie Vin Tanner challenged.
JD did not look impressed. "That's supposed to win me over, Vin? Do I look the type that likes shooting at critters, huh?"
"You eat them," estate legal eagle Ezra Standish stated calmly, while popping a juicy piece of sausage into his mouth.
JD made a face. "Yeah, I go to the store and buy them pre-packed. They don't come with a face, and I don't have to go and shoot anything to eat it." He took a breath and wondered what it was about this that had gotten him wound up so fast. He rubbed absently at a spot on his back and hung his head.
"Sorry guys; I – I uh…"
Chris's voice had the teenager look his way.
"The birds are bred for hunting. We ensure their mating and nesting seasons are undisturbed, and it gives us the numbers to allow the cull. People like to hunt, and it brings a lot of money into the Estate's coffers."
JD nodded. "Yeah, sorry."
"Kid, donn'ae ever apologize for caring," Vin insisted. "We have wildlife that needs tending, and fish hatcheries and game birds for sporting income. What's caught is eaten. If there's a desire to just shoot at targets, we set up a clay target shoot. The dogs retrieve the kill the instant a bird goes down, and we only allow large fish to be taken away; all others are thrown back. We keep it as humane as we can." Vin decided not to share how he would deal with a retrieved bird that was injured and not dead.
Looking around the table, JD was relieved to see that no one was judging him. He picked up his and Buck's plates, and then thumbed toward the door. "'Scuse me. I've got a couple of chores to do."
"Kid, why don't you help out here today? I have `nae much on." Buck quickly explained. "I need to do maintenance on my truck later, so I've farmed out some of my jobs."
JD grinned as he prepared to exit the dining room. "Sure, I got a few things to catch up on. Maybe I can help you with the truck, later?"
Now Buck was smiling. "Was hoping you might, Laddie."
While Ezra finished his coffee, his sympathetic gaze watched JD leave the room. "Well, that told us."
"The kid's a city boy. He's going to find country life a very different challenge to smog, twenty-four-hour fast food, and constant traffic noise," Household manager and part time district nurse Nathan Jackson pointed out.
Chris pursed his lips and set down his cup. As he spoke, he knew his words would set alarm bells ringing, but he felt it was time to be said. "Something tells me the lad's struggled with a lot more than traffic and smog during his time in 'the Big Apple'."
Each man turned his attention to Chris. After a few seconds, an imperceptible nod from Vin, and a pained look from Buck told him he wasn't the only one who had been wondering, and judging by the way Ezra, Nathan, and the estate's environmental advisor Josiah Sanchez were seemingly replaying events and conversations in their minds, they were on the same page, too. They all found JD to be a warm, outgoing soul, but so far he had revealed little of what life with his mother had been like.
"Thank you, JD." Nettie watched the youth rinse the dishes he'd brought in, and then place them into the dishwasher before picking up a basket.
Nettie smiled. "Yes, please."
JD headed for the chicken coop. Between some broody hens incubating eggs and pecking at anything even remotely resembling a hand, and a feisty rooster protecting his ladies in their nesting boxes, collecting eggs lately could prove detrimental to one's extremities. However, one hen already had chicks and JD was eager to see how they were doing. What greeted him was not at all what he expected.
Blood, and signs of a struggle suggested a wild animal had somehow got into the coop. Of all the hens to pick, it chose the one who clearly wouldn't leave her babies, and now, minus their mother, they were lethargic and cheeping pitifully as JD hurried inside to assess the damage.
"Aww, no, no…" He stepped back and stuck his head outside.
He figured if anyone would know what to do, it would be Vin Tanner. Despite JD's focus on the sad little clutch of chicks, he was still grateful Vin and Chris, quickly followed by Buck, had joined him. JD knew his eyes would give away his emotions, but right now, saving the chicks was all he was interested in. He pointed, and stepped back for Vin to see.
Tanner assessed the scene in seconds. He signaled to Buck. "In the office storeroom, there's a brooding box, a feeder, a food dish and a red heat lamp."
Buck nodded, and left.
JD swallowed, and spoke around the lump in his throat. "This has happened before?"
Vin was gently massaging the chicks. "This is the countryside, Kid, it happens all the time." He turned to JD and jerked his head. "Get in here and gently rub some warmth into them until I can set up the box."
Nodding, JD did so. Chris moved closer. "Where are you gonn'ae set up the box?" Before Vin could reply, JD did so.
"How about the den? I can take care of them in there." JD had utilized a small, spare, downstairs room and turned it into a den for the new flat screen TV, Playstation 3, and Wii that he received for Christmas. Extravagant presents, but the others decided JD's presence had dragged the estate into the twenty-first century, so maybe a few upgrades and technological additions to the castle were appropriate.
"It's got a pullout couch, so I can stay with them."
Vin frowned. "Laddie, they need 'round the clock care." One look at the pleading gaze and, much to Chris's amusement, Vin nodded. "Alright, and I'll help as much as I can."
JD grinned. "Neat."
Within the hour, the box and lamp were set up in the den. The chicks were huddled together and directly underneath the lamp's red glow. Vin and JD peeked in. The former spoke.
"I've had to put paper towels down until I can get some shavings for the bottom of the box, though, they're a little young for those just yet."
"Why are they huddled like that, Vin? And what's wrong with using newspaper?"
"Newspaper's a little slippery for them. It can cause spraddle-leg, which, if not caught early will prevent the chick from standing properly as it grows, and that could cause it to die, or have to be put down because it can't keep up with its siblings."
Tanner checked that the distance between bulb and chicks was safe, and attached a thermometer. "When they huddle under the lamp, they're cold, if they move to the sides of the box or pant, it's too hot."
"And if the temperature's just right?"
"I'll write down what the temperature should be for each development stage, and you adjust this lamp arm high or low, here, as needed." Vin demonstrated the lamp's positional settings. "They'll sleep under the lamp in a circle, with the center clear if the temperature is right."
JD nodded, but was suddenly fearful he might not be up to this. He couldn't help but smile as the small fluff balls were starting to move a little. "What do they eat?" His face changed to a grimace. "Not worms, I hope."
Vin grinned. "Not quite yet. For now, they'll have a special feed. I've got a little in the storeroom, but I need to get more. In a week or two, they can also have kale, lettuce, some small grasshoppers, and mealworms."
JD frowned. "Grasshoppers? Oh, Crickets?"
"Err, yeah. Then we'll need to put some grit down too, to aid digestion, and encourage them to scratch."
Buck entered the room unnoticed and had listened. He placed a hand on each of JD's shoulders and squeezed. "You're gonn'ae be a daddy, Kid."
JD rolled his eyes before going all serious. "What do you think got their mama?"
Buck and Vin exchanged glances. "Probably a fox," Vin replied.
The youth chewed his lower lip as he glanced between the rousing chicks and his mentor and cousin. "Buck, 'bout work, an' all…"
Gesturing to Vin, and with a slap to JD's back, Buck moved to leave. "Don't fret on it, Squirt, I got it covered." He grinned at the beaming return smile.
Vin straightened. "I'd best go look into how the fox got in." He pointed to the chicks. "Remember, they're still babies, so won't do much more than sleep, eat, and poop – a lot. Try and get them into a routine, they like routine."
JD nodded. "Sure, got it."
Joining Chris and Buck at the coop, Vin crouched down to look at what Larabee was examining.
"Little bugger dug down and squeezed in under the boards. I'll get one of the boys to build a brick perimeter against the wood."
"I thought you were worried about damp getting trapped between the bricks and the timber," Buck reminded.
"Aye, but if we put a liner between the two and under the bricks, and then run a sealant across the seam, it should work."
"Chicken wire?" Vin suggested. Chris pondered, and then nodded. "If we stake it between the liner and wood, and below and above the brick line, that would reinforce any attempt at burrowing. Okay, I'll get on that, now." He turned to Buck. "The Kid and the chicks okay?"
Buck chuckled. "Oh yeah, but I think he's in for a few long nights."
That night in the den, JD sat up on the pullout, rubbed his eyes, and glanced around to determine what had disturbed him. The eerie red glow of the heat lamp brought it all back and he tossed back the comforter. In a few steps he was standing next to the baby chicks' temporary home, and he smiled to see all of them cheeping away as they ate from the feeder.
"Hey, don't you gals know it's bedtime?"
There was no heat in the admonishment. JD sat on the arm of the sofabed, leaned over the desk the box was on, and as he rested his chin on the backs of his folded hands, he stared in wonder at the little fluff balls that he and Vin had saved.
Unclasping his hands sometime later, he extended one finger to gently stroke the downy feathers, and grinned as the curious birds nudged and jostled to get close to their provider. Turning his open hand palm up, he gasped softly when first one bird jumped into it, then several others decided to take a look. Once their curiosity was satisfied, the chicks went back to eating, before finally settling down to sleep under the lamp in a circle formation. Yawning, and before returning to bed, JD replenished the feeder and water bowl, a duty he would be performing once more prior to dawn.
Opening one eye, JD could see Buck's blurry features right in his face. "Huh?"
"You slept through breakfast. I wondered if you'd like to eat."
JD sat up, stretched, then in a moment of panic jumped up to check the chicks. He was greeted by a surge of cheeping as he peered into the box. "Oh, thank God, they're all okay."
"And happy to see their 'daddy'," Buck chuckled.
JD made a face and snatched at the plate of eggs. "Very funny." He plopped back onto the pullout, and dug his fork into the food. Suddenly he pulled back and grimaced at Buck. "Uh…ah…" He glanced between the chicks and the plate of eggs.
Buck shook his head. "You're not eating their sisters, JD. The cockerel and the hen have to have a 'special moment' before they go from eggs to chicks."
"I know," the youth squeaked out. "It's just, well, it feels kinda…weird."
Buck took the plate. "I'll get you some bacon sandwiches – unless, of course, it'll have you going to the nearest pigsty and apologizing to the pigs."
JD groaned and began folding his bedding and re-assembling the couch. "When did eating get so freakin' complicated?"
Heading out, Buck winked. "You just need to get your 'country' head on, Laddie. We got the boy out of the city, now it's time to take the city out of the boy."
With a huff, JD wandered over to the chicks and petted them as they cheeped and waddled around the box. "Easier said than done, hey girls?" He smiled. "Well, at least you'll be too small to be part of anyone's Easter dinner this year." He leaned in conspiratorially. "I heard Nettie's opting for turkey, anyway."
"Gaaah! How can you do that, Vin?"
Ten days on and the ghillie laughed as his bare hand put another mound of mealworms onto the floor of the brooder box and mixed them around with the shavings and fresh grit. He beckoned JD closer. "Look, they're beginning to scratch for their food."
Peering in, JD beamed widely, pride evident in his features. "They're doing good, right?"
Vin nodded. "Aye, they are. You've done a great job, rearing them."
JD answered without looking up. "Couldn't have done it without you," he said honestly, missing the flash of delight across Vin's face at his words.
"Another week or so and they can go back to the coop," Vin stated as he pointed. "See how their feathers are changing?" He grinned while JD nodded and when, as the youth put his hand in to pet the chicks, they cheeped wildly and gathered around the offered digits.
"Will you miss them?"
JD looked at Vin. "I guess – yeah, sure I will. It feels good to know we kept them alive, though."
Vin straightened. "Aye, it does."
Hearing voices as he passed by, Buck peeked into the den. He noted the dark scoops under JD's eyes. "Whoa, Laddie! Not so much bags under your eyes, more like suitcases." He chuckled as JD widened his eyes and he poked the soft skin underneath them.
JD made a face when he found the skin to be smooth. "Aah, jeeze, you're cracking me up here, Buck," he deadpanned.
The gregarious Scotsman chuckled. "Good to know; and just so you don't get alarmed should you venture outside at all soon, just keep breathing, when you're out there okay? That nice, clean stuff filling your lungs is called 'fresh air'."
JD glanced at a smirking Vin, then back at Buck. "Don't you have a ditch to dig, or something?"
Buck raised a hand. "Fine, I know when I'm not wanted. See you for dinner." He pointed. "That'll be in the big dining room four doors away down the hall..." He ducked back and cackled as one of JD's pillows hit the door just where Buck had been standing, but in doing so, he missed the huge grin from JD.
Three days before Easter, and with warmer weather causing the recent snow to finally clear, no one could help but turn up on the day the chicks were returned to the coop. Watched by their friends, Vin and JD walked into the run. Squatting down, they tilted the box and the chicks hopped out and onto the dirt floor. Vin grinned and nodded his approval as the little birds scuttled curiously around their new home, while JD's misty gaze told a story of pride, and maybe a little loss.
Tanner stood and exited the run to join the other men. With a sigh, JD also stood, but as he went to walk away, all the chicks cheeped loudly and followed him. While it was cute, and amusing, Vin feared that this might happen due to the chicks getting attached to JD.
"Come on," Vin beckoned. "Tough love, remember?"
Nodding, JD trod carefully until he made it out of the run. Closing the gate, he looked back. "They'll be okay?"
Buck patted JD's back. "They're meant to be outside, Kid, they'll get used to it." Even as Buck spoke, the chicks were scratching in the dirt and eating any scattered food they found.
"Chicken sandwiches for lunch?" Ezra teased, his grin widening at JD's scowl.
"I can't believe you'll never eat chicken again, John," Josiah queried.
JD glanced back at the coop, and then grinned. "Oh, I will, but I may need a little time."
A warm, sunny Easter Sunday started with laughter as, instead of decorated boiled eggs for breakfast, each man found a chocolate egg under this egg cozy. Buck waggled his eyebrows.
"Now that's what I call a calorie-laden breakfast."
Vin and JD had already unwrapped theirs and bitten into them.
"I believe that was Tanner-speak for 'very nice'," Ezra informed.
Trying to chew around a full mouth, Vin nodded, while JD simply sighed happily and savored the chocolate treat. They all turned their attention to the door when Nettie came in. Chris was on his feet and approaching the distraught housekeeper instantly.
"What is it?"
The woman glanced at JD, and then looked at Chris. "I went to collect eggs…"
JD was on his feet and out of the door in a second, with Vin, Buck, and the others hot on his heels. Reaching the coop, his sneakers kicked up gravel when he skidded to a halt. A breath caught in his throat as he surveyed the gory scene of feathers, blood, and several small, dead chicks.
JD bit his lip in an attempt to stem emotion, but he sensed Buck closing in behind him, and JD's liquid gaze hid nothing when he turned to Vin for answers.
The ghillie walked around the run, squatting occasionally as he examined the spoils of a fox attack. His pained gaze met JD's. "Sorry, Kid, it looks like a fox somehow got through the wire and made off with a couple of chicks."
"How many?" Chris checked.
Vin gestured. "We got three dead. I donn'ae think a fox could carry more than two, so…five, maybe?" He once more studied the ground, looked around and pointed in a direction. "This one's in no hurry, so its den must be reasonably close by."
JD clenched his fists and teeth in anger. "All that time and care to finally get them strong enough to be released and then…"
Buck squeezed his cousin's shoulder. "I know it's harsh, JD, but it's nature's way…"
JD spun around to face him and the others. "NO! I don't wanna hear no more bullshit about…" his raised fingers 'air quoted'. "…'The way of the country'. IT SUCKS!"
Shrugging off Buck's supporting hand, JD stomped through his gathered friends and toward the side entrance into the kitchen. Sympathetic gazes tracked the youth.
"Kid!" Buck called.
Chris squeezed Buck's arm. "Give him a minute, he's struggling with us knowing how affected he is."
Standing, Vin swallowed hard at the devastation and lowered his distressed gaze. "He's not the only one."
There was a long pause before anyone spoke. "Josiah, any thoughts?" Chris asked.
"I'm thinking an early litter. Not too much food about due to the recent snow, and the fox appears to be going for easy meals so – maybe a single parent family."
Vin nodded his agreement. "Judging by the tracks, I donn'ae think the den's too far past the gatehouse. I'll go take a look."
Nettie looked at JD as he came in and snatched up a bunch of keys from a hook. At night, the keys were locked away, but during the day they were kept close to hand. "JD?"
The boy feigned a smile. "Won't be long, ma'am." With that, he headed for the study, and then an ATV.
Minutes later Chris and Buck came into the kitchen. "Have you seen JD, Nettie?" Buck asked.
The housekeeper continued peeling potatoes. "If you're referring to the whirlwind that is John Dunne, then yes." She gestured toward the hook with her head. "He took the keys and left." She finally looked up to find she was talking to herself.
"Well, there must be something in the Spring air today."
The two men halted at the study door. A few glances told them that there was a shotgun and a box of cartridges missing from the gun cabinet, and JD had left the keys on the desk.
"Shit." Chris unclipped his radio and spoke into it. "Vin, JD's got a shotgun and shells. I think he's going foxhunting."
"I'll watch out for him," Vin's tinny voice assured as the ghillie replied.
"What now?" Buck asked; his features pinched with concern.
Chris looked him in the eye. "Now, we split up and hope we find him."
"He told me he's never fired a gun," Buck said with unease.
Chris licked his lips. "I don't think he's ever fired a rifle or shotgun, no."
Before Buck could question Chris's statement, they were heading out.
Leaving the estate via the main entrance, JD crossed the bridge over one of the rivers that fed the loch, passed by the gatehouse, and roared off down the road. Having to start somewhere, and reminded that Vin figured the fox lived close by, JD turned off a mile later and into the first of several small copses filled with, not big evergreens, but deciduous trees and scrubland. Turning off the quad's engine, and with the shotgun still strapped across his back, the youth took off into the woods.
After only a few pointers from Vin, one of which being that, unlike the fastidious badger, foxes left pieces of prey around their dens; JD knew what he was looking for. He came across a couple of dens, but eventually found one with the carcass of one of his precious chicks abandoned outside it.
Taking up a seat on a damp, cracked trunk of a deadfall, he loaded the gun, raised it to his shoulder, pointed it in the direction of the den's entrance, and waited.
Having approached the same copse, but from a different direction, Vin was soon hot on JD's trail. Not that it was hard; JD had left one that a blind man could follow. Once he knew where JD was heading, Vin radioed it in and the other five men also moved into the area, but from other angles. Vin was just appreciating how much JD had learned in such a short amount of time, when a gun blast had him sprinting deeper into the frost-laden woods.
Carrying a medical kit, just in case, Nathan followed Josiah, while Ezra brought up the rear of their search group. They were about halfway to their destination when an echoing gunshot had them all running in the same direction.
Chris and Buck heard the shot and cursed as one. They took off at a pace, each man fearing what they might find, and hoping it was a fox lying dead or injured, and not JD.
While trying to ignore the cold seeping into his body, JD's patience was rewarded when a young male fox exited the den. JD looked into the gun's sight, but found his vision blurring as his eyes filled. He had never killed, and was struggling with the concept, especially in cold blood. 'Damnit, JD, it butchered your chicks, and it'll kill again. Do it!'
The fox's amber stare at his soon-to-be executioner never wavered. JD's finger tightened on the trigger and he fired.
The gunshot helped Vin with a direction, and he soon came to a small clearing. He held a breath on seeing JD flat on his back with his legs draped over a deadfall. The shotgun was lying on the leaf-strewn ground next to him. Fearing the worst, he approached, releasing the retained breath when pain-filled hazel eyes looked up at him.
"Owwww. Damn…gun…kicks like…a mule."
Squatting down, Tanner checked for injuries, and noticed JD favoring a shoulder. "How bad?"
JD groaned again, but waved it off. "I'm fine. The butt kicked back into my shoulder, is all."
Vin glanced around. "Did you get it? The fox?"
JD's eyes widened, before he went coy. "I couldn't do it. At the last moment I pulled up and just shot into the air."
On seeing the others arriving, Vin patted JD's knee, stood and went to investigate the den. Nathan insisted JD stay still while he checked him over. After half a minute or so, he declared nothing more than a small bump to the back of JD's head, and a bruised shoulder…and ego. Buck and Chris helped JD up, and Ezra brushed damp leaves off the youth's sweater and jeans.
Vin gestured for JD to join him. Using his ghillie stick, Vin parted the shrubs and shone a flashlight down into the den. Crouching, JD gasped, his mouth still open as he turned to Vin.
Tanner nodded. "Looks like one parent died, and as a result, the survivor is getting food from as close by as possible, so as the cubs won't be left for too long."
JD's complexion paled. "Oh God, I almost shot their mama."
"Or papa," Vin advised.
On joining them, Buck squeezed JD's shoulder and pulled him upright. "You're no killer, Laddie."
JD turned his head to look back at Buck. "No, I guess I'm not."
Ezra tapped his watch. "I hate to be a party-pooper but Miss Nettie will be expecting us for Easter dinner in less than an hour and a half. Also, after traipsing halfway around the countryside, I would like to take a shower before dining, and I'm sure JD would, too."
In full agreement to leave the little family in peace, the seven friends made to leave.
All eyes turned to JD.
"What about these cubs? We have to protect our chickens, but how will the fox find food? They might starve."
"Like we keep saying, that's the way of it, JD," Vin declared. "That's how rural life and the animal community works."
The others stifled chuckles as JD produced 'the look', a wide-eyed, soulful expression that could somehow turn determined, hardened men to mush. "Vin?"
Tanner hung his head, smiling as he raised it to look at JD. "I know of poacher snares. I check for them each day, and take them down, but they're back as soon as I've left the area. I know how to get to them before the poachers do, so I'll bring any dead captures and drop them here, okay?"
JD beamed. As they moved out, he turned to them all. "Can I bring kitchen scraps here, too?"
Buck chuckled. "Kid, I think you should consider marriage."
"What?" JD squeaked, clearly horrified at the idea.
"Well first chicks, now cubs. You sound like you're in need of a family."
Looking around at the six men, and then toward the castle in the distance, JD smiled. "Nah, got me all the family I need right here, thanks."
Late afternoon, and after a hearty Easter dinner, JD took a walk out into the warmth of the castle's rear gardens to find Buck sitting on a bench and facing the calm, silvery loch. Momentarily closing his eyes, the boy inhaled the heady scents of the first Spring flowers surrounding him, a colorful and fragrant reminder of the hard work of their much missed, late gardener Alistair. With a grin, JD crept up on his outwardly dozing cousin and surrogate 'big brother'.
The stunning loch views from Buck were obscured when hands covered his eyes. He grinned at the obviously disguised, deep, growling 'guess who?'
"Kid, how old are you?"
Chuckling, JD came around and plopped down next to him on the bench. "How'd you know it was me?" he grinned, offering Buck a sweet from a bag of hard candy.
Choosing a purple one, Buck shook his head. "Easy. Who else around here has soft hands like yours?"
JD shoulder nudged the man. "Hey!"
Buck grinned wider. He gestured to the flowers. "Still early in the season but, now the snow's gone, it's quite a show."
JD's fond gaze scanned the yellow daffodils, white and blue crocus, and a variety of flowers in various shades of white, cream, orange, red, pink, and lilac as they gently swayed in the breeze.
"Alistair loved these gardens. He was a real talented guy."
Buck nodded. "That he was, Laddie that he was." He semi-turned to face JD. "Kid, I'm sorry about your chicks. I know how attached you got to them."
JD's gaze lowered and he sighed. "Thanks. Yeah, seeing them like…*that*…" He shuddered. "…Hurt a lot; and while I'm still kinda mad at the fox, I guess I'm learning to appreciate how it works out here."
Buck raised a hand to squeeze the back of JD's neck. "What you did wasn't in vain, Kid. Three-quarters of the clutch are still cheeping merrily, and that's down to you…"
Buck grinned. "Yeah, and Vin." He slapped JD's knee and endeavored to change the subject.
"So, are you ready for the Four Corners Annual Easter Egg Roll, tomorrow?" His heart soared at the beaming return grin. He knew JD loved all the quirky traditions that they and the locals upheld throughout the year.
"Aww, yeah. Should be a blast. What's the prize?"
Buck waggled his eyebrows. "W-e-l-l, if a pretty lassie should win, I…"
"Buck!" JD laughed as his cousin's chuckle warmed his soul.
"They get a trophy, well a copy of the original one."
"Is that all?"
"Laddie, the trophy is hundreds of years old. Before Easter eggs, the villagers would roll hard-boiled eggs."
"Ah, right. Well, how about a check, too?"
Buck spluttered. "Give away money? Donn'ae let Ezra hear you say that."
Laughing together, the pair relaxed back and sat in comfortable silence as they soaked up their surroundings; of trees rustling, the rippling loch sparkling in the sunshine, and the heady fragrances of pine, flora, and fauna wafting along in the soft, though cool breeze. After a while, JD sighed, contentedly.
"I love it, here." He turned to his companion and smiled. "Happy Easter, Buck."
Buck raised an arm, lazily draped it around JD's shoulders and pulled him closer. "Aye, me too, Kid, me too. Happy Easter, Little Brother."
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