Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em...damnit!
Thanks to KT for Monarch of the Glen AU
Summary: Living up to expectations is a job in itself.
Characters: JD, Buck, OC
Summary: JD starts to sleepwalk and prompts the need to solve a mystery
Doctor Hamish Dalglish entered the Glenneaval castle kitchen and joined the group sitting at the table. Thanking housekeeper Nettie Wells for his tea, he sipped at it before focusing on a distraught Ezra Standish, Glenneaval's Business Manager and resident legal eagle. He apprised them of their young friend and recently acceded Laird's physical and mental condition.
"JD's fine. A mild concussion, but I see no signs to suggest an x-ray; he'll just need monitoring for the next day or so. Buck's staying with him for now."
Resident Nurse Nathan Jackson nodded his understanding.
"You did everything right," Hamish assured Ezra. "Waking a sleepwalker is hazardous. The fact that JD fell close to a beached tree stump was simply bad luck."
Ezra shuddered at recalling the moment JD stumbled in his sleep and crashed over, head first.
"Any thoughts on all this?" Estate Manager Chris Larabee asked.
"Stress, without a doubt," Hamish replied. "Just need to figure out what's triggered it."
THREE WEEKS PRIOR
Following a now daily routine, Deputy Estate Manager Buck Wilmington jogged jauntily up the stairs toward JD's and Ezra's rooms in order to wake his young cousin and protégé JD, for breakfast. There was a lot to fit in today, as in two days Buck, Ezra, and Conservation Advisor Josiah Sanchez, were heading to Edinburgh to meet with Judge Orin Travis, an old friend of Chris's, and the man overseeing the estate's gaming and fisheries licenses. The trip would take them away for forty-eight hours, travelling up one day, to return the day after next, and JD was invited to join them. To say the lad was excited was an understatement. The new Laird had yet to visit Edinburgh and could hardly wait, even though he and Buck would be working flat out for the next day and a half to make up for being away from their duties.
On that note, Buck fully expected JD to barrel out of the door as soon as he knocked, but when no sound was forthcoming from inside, the genial Scotsman entered. "Hey, Kid...you awake?"
He frowned to see the drapes around the large four-poster bed, and the window, still partially drawn. Crossing the shadowy room, Buck opened the window's curtains to reveal a stunning view of the rear gardens, beach, and loch. This was the second largest bedroom in the castle, but Buck knew JD loved it because of its outlook. He would often catch the boy sitting in the love seat and gazing out over the glorious vista.
The room's atmosphere was humid and heavy, so Buck threw open the window to let in some fresh, spring-morning air. While doing so, the room's ambiance registered in his mind and he walked to the bed and threw back the drapes.
"Och, JD, why did you not call someone, boy?"
Bleary hazel eyes peered back at him. JD's dark hair was damp, and spiked ends clung to his clammy, pale forehead. He blinked, but didn't flinch when Buck's palm touched there.
"...Just a cold..." JD squeaked before releasing a loose, rattling cough.
Buck nodded, relieved it wasn't a raging fever, nevertheless, the kid was sick. "Have you taken anything?" He noted a weary shake of the head.
"Not yet...too cold and tired to move."
As JD spoke, and while dialing on his phone, Buck poured water from a decanter into a glass. "Nathan. Got a minute? Yeah, JD's room, you might want to grab your bag." After ending the call, Buck helped JD sit up and plumped up the pillows behind him before handing him the glass of water. Sitting down on the bed, Buck urged him to sip at it, and then sighed.
"Damn, I knew us getting caught in that deluge the other day would cause problems."
Looking back at Buck, the boy shrugged. "I'm fine. And if that's the case, how come you haven't caught a cold?" he asked, his voice raspy and with a nasal quality.
The brunet grinned and 'beat' his chest with one fist. "Aah, Laddie, I'm a Scotsman. Hale, hearty, and hardened to the Highland weather."
Sneezing, then thanking Buck for passing him a tissue, JD made a face. "We do have rain in New York, y'know."
Buck chuckled. "Well, then I must assume 'Nooo' York rain isn't so fierce."
JD blew his nose. "Nah, just toxic."
Saying the words rather than doing the actions, Nathan entered the young Laird's room and sat on the opposite edge of the bed to Buck. He took out a thermometer, shook it, and slipped it under JD's tongue. While waiting on the results, he tapped a decongestant, and two paracetamol pills into a plastic cap. He then took out a stethoscope and pulled up JD's pajama top to listen to his chest, while intermittently asking the boy to breathe in deep and release as he switched the instrument between JD's back and chest. Finally, after checking the lad's eyes and ears, and feeling his neck glands, and tonsils, the nurse took the thermometer and read it.
"1-0-4. Bed rest for you, kiddo." As Nathan spoke, he tapped the pills into JD's palm and urged him to swallow them with the water. He followed by pouring out a measure of a malodorous, brown concoction. "This is a chesty cough syrup. Its formula is a little drowsy, but that's good, you need to rest up."
"It's just a cold," JD protested, before downing the pills and syrup. The face he made caused both men to chuckle.
"Actually, your lungs have light crackles so I'm authorizing a prescription for Penicillin. A day or two of rest and taking your meds will have you fit in no time." He glanced at Buck, hoping to convey the need not to worry, but that the condition needed to be monitored for a while.
"I guess I'll have to take the pills to Edinburgh with me…"
Nathan's head was shaking. "Oh no…you won't be fit enough to travel Kid, at least not for a few days. Sorry."
Alarm crossed the youth's pale features. He looked at Buck. "Can you hold off leaving for a few days?"
Buck's heart sank. "We dare not, sorry. We arranged this appointment weeks ago, and we cann'ae miss the deadline, or that's part of the estate's business gone for the year." He patted the blanketed knee of the disappointed teenager. "Don't fret, there'll be other trips."
Shrugging, JD nodded, wearily. "Sure, I guess."
With a promise to bring him breakfast, Buck headed off to arrange for Chris to organize some of the estate's workers to take a few of their jobs today, not only to ensure all was done before he left for Edinburgh, but so as Buck could drop in on JD and maybe finish a little early.
Three days on and JD Dunne, former US east coast resident, and Glenneaval's current Laird, was still suffering with a cold and cough, although it was much less intense, now. Enjoying his newly granted freedom, he wandered around the castle in search of company. Nathan was at Four Corner's local hospital, Vin and Chris were due in for lunch any time soon, and Nettie was shopping. Despite being lonely, JD was also relieved. If his friends were not hovering around him, he truly was on the mend. In truth, although still a little tired, and with very little appetite due to everything tasting and smelling like phlegm right now, he did feel much better, and was why he had wandered until reaching the rear gardens, facing the loch.
He walked down toward the beach and stood at the top of the steps. For a minute he simply stood there and gazed out at the sunlit-dappled water. JD closed his eyes, and listened to the rustle of the breeze through the dense, majestic woodland that surrounded the castle and loch and stretched as far as the eye could see. Just as he was considering the sound reminded him of something, a voice startled the teen and caused his eyes to open.
"Cann'ae see much with your eyes closed laddie."
Turning, he looked up and saw a white-haired man dressed in a white shirt, rolled up at the sleeves, a maroon sleeveless pullover and gray trousers, over which was draped a suede tool pouch. JD's face screwed up in a question, but the old man pre-empted him.
"Name's Alistair Fife. I've been the gardener here for nigh on fifty years. So, you're the new Laird, eh?"
A little startled, JD nodded as he watched the man go about his work. "Yessir."
"I'm guessing you're pondering as to why we've nae met before. I don't do an awful lot around here through the winter, just maintenance mostly. Also, I was taken poorly before Angus passed on…and have no been able to work full time for a while."
Alistair smiled. "We may not have met, but I've been keeping a close eye on you, lad, and so far, I'm liking what I see, with both you, and with that tall, dark-haired chappie." He scrutinized the staring American.
"You have your grandmother's and mother's eyes," he said, softly.
JD finally found his voice. "I do? You…you knew them?"
"Och aye. Told you, I've been here a good few years." He watched the boy walk toward him.
"Could you maybe tell me a bit about them sometime?"
Alistair smiled wider. "Thought you'd never ask. How about now? But we should go into the summerhouse. I can make us a brew, there, and you'll be out of this breeze. Don't want to have Mister Nathan on our tails, do we?"
The pair ambled up the path through the rear lawn, patio, and shrub gardens, around the sundial and toward a large wrought iron gate that led into a walled area. JD had only been in there a few times, preferring the yard overlooking the loch. When he inhaled, the heady scents of roses, clematis, and a variety of blooms and shrubs broke through his clogged sinuses for the first time in days. As they walked toward the quaint, green, wood and glass summerhouse, JD suddenly became aware of just how much effort must be involved in keeping the grounds this beautiful.
"You do great work, sir. These gardens are awesome."
Alistair smiled. "It's a labor of love, laddie. Your grandfather and your uncle allowed me to make every decision. I hope I did them proud." He stepped into the summerhouse and checked there was water in the kettle. Striking a match, he lit the small burner to boil the water.
"You sure did, sir," JD nodded. He took up the padded wicker chair offered and gazed around at the old gardener's inner sanctum. "This is neat."
"Thank you. I like it. Now then, you know my name's Alistair, what am I to call you? John, is it?"
"JD will do fine, sir…uh, Alistair." He watched the man ease down into the other chair. "Uh, so…you knew my mom?"
Fife nodded. The kettle boiled and he poured water into two cups each containing a teabag, and made the tea as he spoke. "I did. Jessie was a grand lass, stunningly pretty, and full of spirit and endless curiosity. I often feared such a powerful will would struggle to stay here."
"Jessie had such drive, such…energy. Her need to know what was going on in the big, bad world outside of Glenneaval soon became her undoing." He passed JD a steaming brew.
"You see, Angus was the oldest. He doted on Jessie, but all his life he was preparing to one day take over from their father. Jessie had the freedom to dream, to think beyond Glenneaval. Your grandmother died, and then your grandfather, and the young miss went off the rails a little, much to Angus's frustration. They went from happy, loving siblings, to bickering adversaries. When the young American backpacker came, and subsequently stole her heart, he took from us Glenneaval's brightest flower."
Despite never having drunk tea before, JD thanked the old man for the tea, and gently pushed for more information. "Why did she never come home? What was it Angus said to make her never want to come back?"
Alistair sipped his brew. "Aaahh, well, now there's a sad tale. Angus discovered the lad she fell for was using drugs, but nothing he said would convince Jess. One morning, Angus thought she was in pain in her room. He went in, only to find your ma, and the boy having…relations. Angus hit the roof and they had the biggest fight ever. Jess told him she was leaving, and Angus shouted angry words he would never have an opportunity to take back."
"What did he say?" JD was hanging on the man's every word.
"He told her that if she left, and things went wrong, to no come running to him for help." The old man's eyes filled. "And she never did. 'Twas a sad day when we learned of her death, and only then because Angus knew he was dying and wanted her home. When he learned he had a nephew, it drove Angus with a passion to find you and bring you here."
JD swallowed his tea with a gulp. At last he knew why his mom couldn't come home, and it warmed his soul to finally accept Angus really did want him here and be part of the family. He jolted when the old gardener stood. "Come I have something to show you."
Setting down his mug, the young Laird eagerly followed. They stopped by a large tree that had evidence its sturdy branches once supported a swing. Alistair pointed to horizontal marks and names carved into its bark next to them.
"Four generations of Ross children have marked their heights and carved their initials in this tree." He pointed. "There are Angus and Jessie's, see?"
JD did see. Reaching out, his fingertips reverently touched the engraved wood. He hadn't realized there were tears in his eyes until he could no longer see the marks.
"And here…see this…"
JD looked in the direction of a large rose bed. Moving toward it, he gasped at the beautiful scarlet roses with perfect buttercream centers. "Wow."
Alistair took out a secateurs from the tool apron tied to his waist, snipped a bloom, stripped its stem of thorns, and threaded it into a buttonhole of JD's denim jacket. "Your grandmother cultivated this one herself, and your Grandfather called it, `Jessica'…your mother's first name, and your grandmother's middle name."
While JD absorbed all this information, Fife glanced around when he realized the wind had picked up, stirring the trees, vines and bushes. "It's getting a wee bit chilled out here, JD. Best you go on in, don't want that cold to come back now, do we?"
Before JD could answer, Vin's voice calling for him carried toward them on the breeze. The boy smiled and Fife could only reflect more on how much like his mother and grandmother JD was.
"Thank you so much for talking to me. Can I visit with you again?"
"Bairn, this is your home, you can come here any time you want." He grinned. "But thank you for asking."
JD ran back to the house, almost bowling Vin over as he stood just outside the pillared portico at the castle's rear entrance. The teen regretted his energetic burst the instant he began coughing.
"You're supposed to be taking it easy, Kid."
"I am," JD spluttered. "I just took a stroll in the garden."
Both turned to see Chris walking toward them. JD shook his head. "Nah, been talking to the gardener, Alistair."
Larabee nodded. "Mr. Fife…a good man."
The three moved toward the kitchen. "Yeah," JD agreed.
Early afternoon the next day, and with the intention after returning from Edinburgh for Josiah to be dropped at his cottage, and Buck and Ezra head for the castle, the conservationist found himself eager to visit with his surrogate family and so accompanied the pair home to join them for dinner. Surprised how happy they were to be home, Buck and Ezra removed their luggage from the latter's Range Rover and, with Josiah's help to carry their cases, walked through the stone entryway and vestibule and in through the large oak door. Standing in the vast hallway, each man embraced the moment.
Home. Now, for these men, it truly was.
All three grinned when Nathan appeared from the study. "Hey, you're back."
"Indeed, and here to report we are again legally functional for the new season," Ezra grinned.
"How's the kid?" Buck's concern surprised no one and prompted smiles to accompany equal curiosity. Buck and JD talked on the phone every day of the trip, but Buck wouldn't be happy until he saw the boy for himself.
Nathan gestured toward the back of the house. "He's in the walled garden with Alistair."
Buck frowned. "Alistair? The old gardener? I heard he'd retired."
"Not quite," Nathan replied. "Go ahead, I'll make some coffee and you can drag JD back in here and tell us about your trip."
"Then what happened?" Inside the summerhouse, JD's eyes flashed with anticipation at yet another tale from his mother's and uncle's past.
Alistair chuckled. "Well, naturally your grandfather wasn'ae amused. He'd spent years growing that azalea bush from a mere twig, and there was your uncle, sitting slap bang in the middle of it, with your mother straining to haul him out. Their punishment was that the broken tree swing remained unrepaired for the duration of the summer." The old man chuckled harder at his new friend's laughter. He hadn't enjoyed himself this much for a long time…probably not since before Angus's passing. When JD started coughing, Alistair passed him his mug of tea.
"That cough's still hanging around then."
JD's head snapped toward the familiar voice and he beamed. "Buck!" Without a second thought, he stood and moved toward the grinning man standing in the doorway, and into a fierce embrace. A few long seconds later they parted. "You're back."
"Aye, and with all the necessary paperwork to keep the estate busy for the season." As he spoke, Buck's gaze moved toward the white-haired man sitting in a chair and sipping from a mug.
"Aww, shoot, where are my manners? Buck, this is Alistair, the head groundskeeper. Alistair, this is my cou…uh, my Buck. He's like a big brother to me." JD just caught himself before admitting to Buck being family. Only their closest friends knew Buck's true heritage. The brunet, still holding on to JD, moved to shake the man's hand.
"Pleased to meet you, sir."
"Likewise, and the name's Alistair."
Buck nodded to the man, then turned to JD. "I hate to break up the fun, but we're about to have coffee and scones."
"We?" JD asked.
"Ezra, Nathan, Josiah, and me."
"Awesome." JD's eyes tracked to Fife. Buck noticed.
"You're welcome to join us Alistair."
"Much obliged, laddie, but I'll no finish my work if I dally much longer."
With a parting grin, JD checked when the old man would be working again, and with a promise to see him then, left with Buck, who grinned inanely at JD's enthusiastic chatter.
"…He came to work at the estate when he was sixteen…was never married, and he's a decorated war vet, Buck. I bet you'd enjoy talking to him…"
Alistair watched them go. "Aye, lad…there's no fooling this old man. I know exactly who 'your' Buck is." He smiled. "And your secret's safe with me. God bless you both."
As they headed for the house, Buck halted JD's verbal tirade. "You're still coughing. You sure you're okay?"
JD shook his head, but his grin widened. "Sure, I'm fine. Jeeze, I've missed you, Buck…and the others. It's been real quiet around here, and not being able to get out almost drove me crazy. Then I met Alistair." JD's eyes shone with affection. "He's also told me loads about Mom and Uncle Angus." The teen sighed and went quiet, before being stirred from his reverie with a nudge from Buck. He flashed a coy grin.
"It's such a shame about them fighting. They sounded like they were real happy here, once."
Buck draped an arm around JD's shoulders. "I'm sure they were, Kid. But dwelling on what might have been won't change things." He playfully flicked the boy's ear. "JD…donn'ae be going all maudlin on me now."
"Nah, I won't. I mean, it's kinda sad how things used to be, and knowing how it all went bad, but I know me learning about it won't change anything. It's just real neat listening to Alistair talking about his past, and to hear about life on the estate when Mom lived here, you know?"
Buck swallowed, quietly happy to see JD taking some steps on his path to closure. "Yeah Kid, I know."
For the next few days JD visited with Alistair, who happily regaled him with more tales of his boyhood, army life, and JD's once immediate family's happier days. After the third day's visit, and finally deemed fit to work by Nathan, JD went back to helping Buck, Chris, and Vin with the estate. Several mornings on, JD, Ezra, Nathan, and Buck were joined by Josiah, Vin, and Chris for breakfast. The six men were amused by JD's non-stop chatter about Alistair and his tales from the past. JD suddenly locked gazes with Vin.
"He speaks Gaelic, Vin, you should meet him."
The thought of speaking his native tongue again appealed to the ghillie and he nodded. "I'd like that. Have 'nae had the pleasure so far."
Chris checked his watch. "Go ahead, we got time."
JD frowned. "Alistair's already here?"
"Nettie said she took him out a bacon sandwich earlier. He wanted to get an early start on some planting."
JD glanced at Vin and beamed when he nodded, then he excused himself from the table. "Cool, this way."
Vin shook his head and grinned as JD trotted on ahead in his eagerness to see his new friend.
"Alistair, hey, it's me, JD!" Stepping up into the summerhouse, JD grinned at the dozing gardener. His mug of tea and plated sandwich rested untouched on the wicker table between the chairs he and JD always sat in to chat. The daily paper dangled from his fingers. "Alistair…wakey, wakey."
Reaching out, JD gently took hold of the man's shoulder. The movement caused the broadsheet to flutter from Alistair's hand, and the white-haired head to drop forward. As it did so, Vin stepped inside the large, glass-fronted shelter.
"Alistair?" Touching the man's face, JD gasped and turned wide eyes to a clearly concerned Tanner. "He…he's a bit cold."
Stepping closer, Vin crouched down and checked the neck for a pulse. JD feared he had an idea what Vin was thinking, despite the ghillie attempting to hide his reaction.
"No…aww gee please, no…"
When Vin turned misty eyes to him, JD knew he had guessed right. "No," he whispered.
"Kid, go get Nathan…"
"No…I'll stay." He stared at Vin. "Please…I'd like to stay."
Nodding, Vin stood, squeezed JD's shoulder as he passed, and hurried to the house.
JD shivered in time with the breeze rustling the trees and shrubs in and around the garden. Stepping forward, he reached out to take the old man's chilled hand. Tears pooled in his eyes as he stood there in reverent silence, to eventually overflow and skitter down the boy's cheeks as another loss so soon after his mom and uncle tugged at JD's very being.
"I'm so sorry," he said, his voice hushed and raw with emotion. "I hoped we could be real good friends." JD remained there, staring, and was unaware of his friends' approach until strong hands grasped his shoulders and drew him away and outside.
In the garden JD could barely see Buck's features for the tears clouding his vision. Aware Vin and Ezra were also looking at him, he turned his face away to hide his despair. Seconds later he was pulled into a tight clinch by Buck, and the others subconsciously closed in to offer their support. When Josiah, Nathan, and Chris emerged from the summerhouse, Buck, Vin, and Ezra saw Nathan sadly shake his head.
Glenneaval Castle was about to organize another funeral.
JD was surprised it took a whole week to arrange to bury Alistair. In Brooklyn it would have been over in around two days…at least, that's all the time he had to get used to his mom's death. He stood in the graveyard of Cille Choirille Church and shivered in the warm wind whipping around him as he gazed at the magnificent surrounding landscape. It wasn't hard to imagine that this little church dated back to 600AD. Even on a sad day like today, JD still found solace and awe in his adopted home. 'Brooklyn it ain't' he mused.
His friends were standing next to their vehicles while talking with Reverend McTavish. Alistair had no family; however, the villagers and tenants turned out in force to say their goodbyes to a last remaining custodian of the old estate. Now, all who remained in the quaint churchyard was just the seven of them and Nettie; the remaining gardeners, and some of the stable hands from the nearby riding school had recently left for the Wake.
Unaware how long he had been standing there staring at the deep hole and fresh heap of earth piled around it that was to be Alistair's final resting place, JD glanced back to where his six friends were. He felt a little embarrassed to see them waiting patiently for him. With a sigh, he tossed a solitary scarlet and cream rose into the hole and watched it drop gently onto the coffin.
"Jessica says goodbye. When you see my mom, tell her I miss her. And when you see Uncle Angus, tell him I wish I could have met him, but that his friends and his son are taking good care of me. I hope you knew how much I liked and admired you, Alistair. Thank you for being a friend, I know it wasn't for very long, but I'm sure gonna miss you." Turning, he walked back toward his ride home. He smiled when Buck walked half way to meet him.
JD decided he wasn't ready to share the sudden dread of getting close to someone, only to have them die, that had overwhelmed him in the last few days. The very idea made him sick to his stomach, and he guessed was why he wasn't sleeping too well lately. The pair moved toward the waiting group and on to the Wake being held at the castle. It was the least they could do for the long-serving native of the glen. In the next weeks, Fife's croft would need to be cleared ready for a new tenant. It was a task neither of the friends were looking forward to.
Ezra jolted awake. It took a moment to get his bearings, but he soon became sure the noise that woke him came from JD's room situated across the landing from him. Slipping into his dark green silk robe, Ezra padded across to JD's open door and peered inside. He pushed back the four-poster's heavy drapes to reveal that the bed was empty. Through the partially draped window he could see the moon's reflection across the loch. Ezra stepped toward the glass and looked down into the garden.
He raced off to another wing of the castle. He needed help.
Having called out from the doorway, and noting the alarmed man spring sleepily up in his bed, Ezra moved into the bedroom. "Easy, man. It's Ezra."
Running a shaky hand over his face, Buck snapped on the lamp and stared back at Standish, resplendent in his green silk PJs and robe. "Castle on fire?"
"Hardly. Come with me."
Standing in the garden, both men watched JD in his pajamas, bathed in moonlight, and walking across the beach toward the loch's edge. Buck grabbed Ezra. "Come one, he's gonn'ae get wet." With the greatest of care, they were soon guiding the still sleeping teen back to bed.
Once satisfied the boy was settled, Buck closed JD's bedroom door and frowned at Ezra. "What do we do now?"
Ezra pursed his lips. "Let us see what tomorrow brings."
"May I borrow a blanket?"
"Of course. Is your room cold?"
"No, I'm gonn'ae sleep in JD's room…"
Standish squeezed Buck's arm. "My friend, if JD should find you in there tomorrow, he'll be confused. We could use his recall of events to be unprompted." He smiled. "You have my assurance I will attend to him should JD decide to venture out again."
Buck pondered awhile, then agreed. "Thanks."
Returning to bed, Ezra left his door ajar for the rest of the night, but JD never stirred.
At breakfast the next morning, JD stifled a yawn.
"Tired?" Ezra asked.
Unaware of any concern, the teen frowned. "Had me a strange dream last night. I dreamt I could hear the traffic back home, but…even though I searched, I couldn't find the highway." He frowned. "And here's the thing...when I showered this morning, between my toes was sandy. Weird, huh?"
Both men exchanged looks, silently agreeing to try and figure out what prompted the new development before deciding when to let JD know what he did. But first, they decided to share this odd little incident with the others.
For three consecutive nights JD wandered onto the beach, yet never woke up, until the night of the fourth trip. Despite Ezra following him, JD wandered off his normal path and was suddenly gone from sight. Ezra raced down the few steps to find the teen lying prostrate on the beach and bleeding from his forehead. Dropping to his knees, Ezra gathered the youth up in his arms. The Englishman's heart pounded in his chest on hearing JD moan and seeing him semi-conscious. Holding him close, Ezra berated himself for not thinking to bring his mobile phone. He was never so relieved than when he saw Buck appear from out of the gloom and approach.
Standish waved off the question. "That can wait. He's hurt, and shivering, we need to get him indoors." Between them they carried JD into the den, by which time he was awake, and very confused. Soon Nathan was with them, but insisted he phone for the doctor on call.
While the doctor was with JD, and just outside the den awaiting his diagnosis, Ezra turned to Buck. "How did you know we were on the beach?"
Still a little shaken by the whole incident, Buck replied. "I dreamt about Alistair. It was so vivid. I was standing in the garden, and he was sitting in his chair in the summerhouse and pointing toward the loch. He told me to take care of the loch's edge...said it was treacherous. When I woke up, the dream unsettled me, so I came over to check on JD…"
"…and found neither he nor I was there."
Buck and Ezra looked toward the den door when Nathan momentarily left Doctor Dalglish and JD to join them. "Doc says to get him to his room and in fresh pajamas, then he'll talk to us in the kitchen over a brew."
Buck sat in the plush, red, high-backed, winged Chesterfield and watched his cousin sleep.
What the hell had JD stressed out? JD couldn't recall ever sleepwalking before, and without a living relative to confirm it either way, they must assume he never had. The doctor mentioned that apart from illness, trauma or an unexpected event occurring, or forthcoming, a sound, smell, or similar could also be the trigger, and Buck spent the next several hours going over anything JD might have said recently.
When Ezra took over to sit with JD, Buck walked out of the castle and into the gardens to the summerhouse. There, he stood and absorbed the sounds and smells of the breathtaking garden. Closing his eyes as he listened, something JD said 'clicked' in the back of his mind. Hurrying to the rear gardens, Buck again stood still and closed his eyes. He jolted back to the here and now when Larabee's voice broke the spell.
"Anything you'd care to share?"
Buck smiled. "I think I've worked it out."
JD yawned. Blinking awake, he was surprised to see Ezra and Vin sitting in his room. "Hey." Carefully, he pushed himself up in the bed before touching the bandage on his head. "Huh; it wasn't a dream, then."
Ezra stood and approached. "JD, I'm sorry I failed to stop you from falling. Unlike previous occasions, I was a little behind and you changed course…"
"Huh?" JD frowned. "Wait…occasions? I've done this more than once before?"
JD was worried the guys were hiding something from him. "Ever since I arrived here?"
Vin spoke. "No, only recently."
"Why am I doing this?"
"We were hoping you could tell us," Ezra replied.
Turning his head to see Buck, followed by Chris entering his room, JD smiled. "Hey."
"You up for some food and a chat?"
"Food, no. A chat? Sure."
Josiah and Nathan arrived. "Here you all are," Josiah grinned. "And you're awake," he noted, looking at JD.
Buck quickly told them he and JD needed to talk, but that they were welcome to stay. The men took up seats and positions against the low windowsill, and on the chairs and bed.
"Kid, do you remember one recent breakfast when you said you'd had strange dream that you could hear the traffic back home, and even though in your dream you searched, you couldn't find the highway?"
JD nodded. "Sure. I remember."
"How close was the highway to your place?"
"Well it was an overpass, and not too close, but I could see it. It was always busy, and all day and night there was this distant, constant noise, like…like…"
"Wind through trees?"
The teen frowned. "Uh, yeah…kinda...maybe."
Nathan sat forward. "You're suggesting the noise of the wind rush through the trees here reminds JD of home?"
Buck shrugged. "Possibly."
"But he's been here several months, why now?" Josiah asked.
"Your ma died just before you came to Scotland?" Vin had figured Buck's line of reasoning. JD nodded.
"Alistair's funeral!" Nathan stated. It had to be the catalyst he decided.
"Come again," JD's mind was swimming.
"After your mother died, was there something you did afterwards, maybe each night…after work, or before bed?" Chris asked, quickly catching on.
JD pondered for a while, then shrugged. "I remember being real lonely after she died. I hated sitting alone in the apartment, so I used to take my supper and climb out the window to sit out on the fire escape and watch and listen to the traffic in the distance while I ate. I used to wonder who might be in the vehicles, and where they were heading for, or coming from. I found, if I closed my eyes, with the background noise I could pretend I was near the ocean or in a forest surrounded by trees…anywhere but there, on the stairway, alone…"
He blushed when he realized six men were listening in earnest. "Pretty dumb, huh?"
More than a little choked, Buck pulled him close. "No lad, you were dreaming of something better…and you found it."
There was a small pause for thought. "That's it? That's what's got me stressed out?" JD asked.
"It seems promising," Vin answered.
Seven friends looked at each other. Hopefully, mystery solved. With luck, they could help JD move through it.
JD took a deep breath and glanced around his friends. How had he gotten to be so lucky? He looked at the buttonhole Alistair cut for him. Standing on his bedside table, it was now pressed and inside a small picture frame; a memento of the moment he gained a new friend, a man who had helped unleash his past.
And now it would seem that more than just his Scottish heritage had been exposed, but at least JD would find that from that moment on, his sleepwalking ceased.
A few days on, and with things settling down, JD was about to enter the kitchen to join his friends for coffee and cake when he heard them talking about Alistair.
Chris stirred his tea. "He'll be missed personally, but as for any actual work, he contributed very little of late."
"Will you promote one of the others to head gardener?" Vin asked.
"No point," Buck replied. "The position didn'ae officially exist…"
"We were…to coin a phrase…'humoring him'," Ezra clarified. He was unable to explain further due to the distant sound of a door banging shut, which had them all frowning. On hearing a two-stroke engine, Ezra stood, and moved to peer out of the kitchen window.
"Our youngest has a head of steam and is currently tearing out of the courtyard on an ATV."
Buck glanced toward the closed kitchen door. "Damn, do you think he overheard us?" He went to move but Chris halted him.
"Assuming he did, I'll go. I should explain this."
From the first day JD arrived, Buck had shown him a place that became special to him in the same way as it had to all the six men of the estate. Climbing out of his Range Rover, Chris smiled to himself and approached the familiar form seated on the grass atop the picturesque Drum Maise. "You're getting predictable."
From his position sitting among the striking, purple heather, JD turned and shrugged. "Can't help it, the views from here are magnificent."
Chris joined him on the grass. "That they are." He paused. "JD, I came here to explain what we were saying about Alistair. He was allowed to stay with the estate…"
JD glowered. "What do you mean, 'allowed'? That man was…"
Chris halted him. "Hear me out." He grinned when JD's jaw clamped tight, but his glare toward Chris never wavered. Larabee liked that. Few men would dare to stare him out, and those who did, he was already close to.
"He'd been way too frail to work exclusively for some time. After he first got sick, it was clear the man wasn't as strong as he once was, so Angus and me negotiated a new contract. It allowed him to work a two-day week, and for a slightly lesser wage, but we also offered him to remain in his croft rent-free. We hired two new gardeners to work part-time and on opposite shifts, with Alistair fitting in the two days they rested. Maintaining his title of head gardener, he still had final say on all planting, so…he may not have physically been doing the work, but the gardens are still very much his stamp."
Feeling a little foolish now for racing off, but clearly still grieving for their all too recent loss, JD swiped away a solitary tear. "That was real generous of y'all."
Chris smiled and squeezed the youth's shoulder. "At Glenneaval, we take care of our own."
"Yeah, you do," JD said, his tone soft.
The soft breeze ruffled the dark and blond hair of the pair as they sat in silent contemplation admiring the views. Eventually, JD pointed. "I noticed that patch of open ground there, why is it so vast? How come there was logging in the heart of that forest, and then…nothing?"
Chris stared, and then replied. "When I came here seven years ago, I noticed that some of the trees there were diseased. My first decision was to remove a large portion of those woods…or risk losing everything. It was not well received, but the idea worked."
JD nodded. "I can see why it made sense. Any thoughts on replanting?"
Larabee smiled at JD's like-mindedness. "Vin, Josiah, and me have been discussing that very idea. I take it you'll approve when we put it to the vote?"
"Sure. Be kinda exciting to watch new woodland being born." JD swallowed. "Alistair once told me that, for him, there was nothing more rewarding than watching a labor of love grow and blossom."
"I agree." Chris paused for thought. "How about we name it 'Fife Copse'?"
With eyes glistening, JD nodded. "I'd really like that."
Chris stood and reached out to pull JD up. "Me too. Come on, let's get back. Vin can't hold Buck back much longer."
Taking the offered hand, JD's expression was of shame. "I'm sorry I stormed out, but when I heard y'all talking that way…" He brushed himself off and shrugged. "I guess I owe you and the guys another apology, huh?"
Draping an arm around the teen's shoulders, Chris shook his head. "No. You misunderstood but, while waiting to hear the full story would have been preferable, you showed heart; you showed you care, and Glenneaval needs that. It doesn't work just as a company…this is home, too. Just one thing, though."
JD looked up at the man he had come to idolize. "What's that?"
"I prefer a man to confront me personally rather than shoot off fuming. You think you can do that for me?"
With a grin, JD nodded and the pair made their way back to their vehicles. "Yeah, I can do that. Chris?"
"You said this feels like home for you guys. Would you think I was crazy because I think of y'all kinda like...family?"
Chris couldn't help but smile. "I can't think of anything more sane."
As JD approached his quad bike, he decided there was a favor he needed to ask of Buck, and hoped his cousin-slash-big brother would agree.
In the walled garden, Buck and JD stood back from the old tree swing and nodded their approval at the carved lines depicting their heights, and their initials next to them. JD pointed.
"Shoot, look how much taller you are than me." He squeaked when Buck grabbed him around the neck and gently knuckled his head.
"Och, donn'ae fret, we'll make a big, tough Scotsman out of you yet, short-arse."
With a playful push, JD looked up at him. "Hey, I'm from Brooklyn, I'm plenty tough."
Buck smiled, his gaze soft. "Aye, you are." He grabbed him to walk back to the house. "And don't you forget it."
Relaxing into the clinch, JD nodded. "As long as I got you, I never will."
Buck beamed, and squeezed the smaller body tighter. "Well I'm not going anywhere, laddie, so it would seem we've got years of good times ahead."
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