Accidents Happen by Sue M

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

Thanks to Phyllis for BL/AU2

Main Characters: JD, OC

Ratings/Warnings: None

Summary: Forgetting a ranch rule has dire consequences

With a slow day on the cards, and a hot one at that, Vin Tanner, foreman of the Double L ranch, informed his brothers of his decision for a clear out and spruce up the yard and outer buildings. He asked for anything no longer used, or needing fixing up or replacing, to be brought to his attention, and was currently examining items already set to one side of the yard. He nodded to Chris when his brother approached.

Vin pointed. "Do we really need this anymore?"

Chris fought a shudder on seeing a spiny roll of barbed wire, and recalled the day when JD's horse bolted and threw him into a fence made out of it. The seven brothers ripped that one down, and other fencing like it, soon after.

"No. The natural boundaries are working just fine."

Hearing laughter, Chris turned his head, and grinned when Buck and JD joined them. The pair was loud, and roughhousing, as usual. He glanced at the wire, then to the gloves on JD's hands and pulled his own gloves from his back pocket. As he pulled them on, Chris pointed to several objects on the yard, and then the wire.

"You two start over there, I got this."

Following orders, Buck and JD's efforts eventually led them inside the stables. Due to the heat, they decided to take a juice break before tackling their next tasks, and so the pair headed for the house.


After their break, while Buck went to check on whether anything else needed to be done in the yard or outbuildings, JD made a start in the stables. After a long, productive half hour in the tack room, he wiped his brow and drained the juice carton he brought with him from the house. Placing the empty carton on the sill next to him, the youth exited the stables, and smiled when he passed Max Bolt, an old hand and regular seasonal worker for the Double L.

Despite having years of ranching experience, Max found it hard to get regular work these days. His hearing was deteriorating, and he was becoming a little forgetful, and arthritic. Nevertheless, in no way would the Double L turn him away, and he never let them regret their compassionate decision.

"Hi Max."


The man smiled. "Was just about to clean down the yard south of the bunkhouse. Looks like one of the vehicles is losing oil. You need a hand with anything before I make a start?"

JD remembered to speak a little louder with Max. "Nah, I'm good, thanks. I just need a pen and paper to write an inventory of what needs replacing and I'm done. Does Vin know one of the trucks has a faulty seal?"

"Yeah, I logged it with the boss a little while ago."

Grinning at Max's choice of title for Vin, he nodded, and left to find a pen and paper, all the while thinking that there must be some way to computerize this process.

Touching his hat to the departing youth, Max walked into the stables, through the tack room and in to the storeroom located at the rear. After studying the array of cleaning agents, he pulled out a large container of Clorox. Realizing it was far too much bleach for his needs, he glanced around for something in which to decant it. Spotting an abandoned juice carton in the tack room, Max shook it and tossed out the dregs. Rinsing it, he used a funnel to pour a quantity of bleach into the container. Satisfied he had sufficient; Bolt sealed the Clorox container, took out the funnel, and went back to the storeroom to put the items away. Half-way out through the tack room he remembered there was something else he needed, but couldn't for the life of him recall what it was. He set the carton down on the table JD had laid out the unwanted tack, and returned to the storeroom, where he stared at the laden shelves in the hope of jogging his memory.


Clipboard and pen in hand, JD returned to the tack room and began listing all the singled out tack that needed replacing. Soon he was thirsty again, and without looking away from the objects laid out before him, he absently reached over and picked up his juice. The carton's weight suggested there was more juice left than he realized, which was a real neat surprise. He scribbled down one of the items to be disposed of while he took a quick mouthful of juice. JD set the carton back on the table, but even before it touched down, JD spat out the liquid, gasped, and glared at the now upturned carton in confusion. His mouth and throat stung, intensifying to raw burning when the gulps of air he took in sent toxic fumes up the back of his throat and in to his nasal passages, causing his eyes to stream.


Coughing, he dropped to his knees, and with one hand clutched at his throat, JD tried to call out, but no words would come; he looked to the stable doors…they seemed so far away…


Buck watched Vin examine the truck that was leaking oil. He called to the legs poking out from under the vehicle. "How bad?"

Sliding out from underneath, Vin stood and wiped his oily fingers on an old rag. "I can fix it. I'll put a paper-lined tray under it for now until I get a new seal." Vin glanced around. "All on your lonesome? Where's JD?"

Buck made a face and checked his watch. "Ah shoot. Been helping Chris load up the truck with some of the items for tossing and I guess I lost track of time. He's probably lining up some old reins to string me up with for leaving him alone so long."

Tanner grinned and tossed the oily cloth aside. "Well, I'm done here. Max went for something to clean up the stains on the yard, so I'll walk back with you."

Cries of help from the direction in which they were going instantly had the two men on alert and running.


Pulling on a pair of well-worn, leather working gloves after a quick bathroom break, Chris exited the ranch house to cross to the side of the stables where the generator was located. He always liked to give it an overhaul during the Spring/Summer, in preparation for the long winter months ahead. A frantic call from the front of the building had him change direction and quickly head that way.


Unable to remember the other item he came for, Max closed the storeroom door and walked to where he had left the carton filled with bleach; only to find it lying on its side on the floor and oozing its caustic contents. At the same moment he was setting it upright, his gaze located JD's huddled, sputtering form writhing on the floor at the front of the tack room, and close to the door to the stables. He hurried toward him and crouched down.

"You alright there, boy?"

JD grasped Max's shirtfront and his panicked look located the man's confused gaze. Max followed the shocked youth's watery stare to the once-spilled carton.

"Oh God, no!"

Momentarily unsure of what to do first, Bolt decided he needed help. He reassured JD he would be right back, then unhooked the boy's fingers from his shirt, stood, and ran through the adjoining stables to get help. Calling out, he visibly wilted with relief when he saw Chris, and breathlessly pointed his boss in the direction of the tack room. Max then followed the man now jogging toward it.

Inside, Chris's eyes adjusted to the change in light. It felt as though his heart leapt into his throat on seeing JD on his hands and knees and coughing up God knows what. Dropping down to his youngest brother's side, he grabbed JD's shoulders. The youth raised one arm to take Chris's hand, but the effort caused him to lose balance and roll onto his back. Chris scooped JD up and glared at Max.

"What's happened?"

Bolt was visibly shaking. "I think he drank Clorox."

Struggling between holding onto a terrified, shivering JD, and the questions bombarding his mind, Chris pulled JD in tighter and finally found his voice. "Get Nathan!"

Eagerly obeying, Max again ran for the doors. He just caught Chris's cry of 'and bring water!' before almost bowling Buck and Vin over when they arrived at the same time as he burst through. Bolt's actions and the earlier cry had both men dreading what they might find inside.

Footsteps and familiar voices caused Chris to turn his head toward the door. His look would have been enough to strike terror into Buck and Vin's hearts, but seeing JD's restless legs and trembling form being held by Chris completed the nightmare scenario.

While Buck dropped down next to his brothers, Vin instinctively ran to the freestanding faucet in the tack room, one of several installed throughout the stables when the building was rebuilt, after a fire destroyed it. Running fresh water over his bandana, and hurriedly filling a canteen hanging next to the saddles, he rushed back and squatted down between a distraught Chris and Buck.

With consideration for the puffiness of JD's blistering lips, the Texan gently raised the canteen to them to get JD drinking. Once the kid could take no more, Vin dabbed the soothing water-soaked cloth over and around the youth's blistered mouth, partly to relieve, and partly to remove any of the caustic residue. Lost in his concern, he jolted when Chris spoke.

"JD…JD. Have you swallowed any?"

"Swallowed what?" Buck rasped out, painfully aware JD was struggling to answer the question.

"Max said he'd drunk bleach."

Buck stared incredulously at his older brother. "What? Why? How?" Buck squeaked, knowing that any answers could be a while coming.


JD was beyond scared due to being in agony, and fighting the most horrendous nausea and dizziness. He didn't have a clue as to what was happening, except that it wasn't good. Voices were merging into echoey white noise, and he felt out of touch with reality. Just as JD was appreciating something soothing trickling down his burning throat, and a cool cloth easing the sting to his lips, Chris's voice penetrated the haze. Unfortunately between his shaking body, his screwed up, streaming eyes, the God-awful fire in his throat and mouth, and the increasing queasiness in his stomach, he just couldn't muster up the energy to respond.

Nathan's voice was right next to his ear and cut through the buzz in his ears. Moments later, when something was slipping over his tongue and sliding down his fast closing throat, JD's brain registered help was at hand. The intrusive item caused him to choke and splutter and all at once, his true dilemma occurred to him.

Help! I can't breathe!


Nathan arrived with Max, Josiah, and Ezra, and didn't ask questions, he was already aware of the problem. Within moments, he'd sat JD up and was forcing additional water into him, but the doctor already recognized there was a more serious issue developing.

Removing a nasogastric tube from his medical bag, Nathan ran the tubing from the tip of JD's nose to his ear, and then down his body, stopping at the stomach. Length required determined; the doctor instructed his brothers to take out a straw from his bag, and Josiah dropped it into the canteen. Encouraging Chris to hold the distraught boy upright and steady, he talked tenderly to JD.

"I need to get a tube into you. It will keep your airway open, and the end will sit in your stomach ready for when you get to the ER for treatment. Sip from the straw when I say, and the tube will slip down more smoothly." He smiled when a sweat-soaked and drained JD, finally opened his bloodshot, watery eyes and nodded, though he was pretty sure the kid hadn't likely understood a word.

"Good lad. Here we go…the nose first…"

Despite his discomfort, JD suffered the anaesthetized tube entering through his nose. When he gagged, Nathan knew he'd reached the throat.

"Okay, Kid, swallow."

With what little strength he had left, and Buck holding the canteen and straw and urging him on, JD sucked from the straw. The action of him swallowing eased the tube along JD's tightening throat, and down through his esophagus. Getting that part of the procedure right would guarantee the tube was in the stomach. Nathan then listened with his stethoscope at JD's abdomen, nodding approvingly when he heard air to confirm the tube was placed correctly. The doctor snipped the tube at the point he marked after measuring it, earlier, snapped on a collector bag to the external tubing end, and then startled his brothers when he jumped to his feet.

"Right, we gotta go."

Without a word, Josiah dipped in and with a grunt, and some help from Buck, lifted a now hot, limp, and fading JD into his arms. Vin snatched up the nearby juice carton, and wrinkled his nose as he sniffed at the contents. Carton in hand, he followed the others to Chris's truck. Seconds later in the back of the Ram, Buck held onto JD, while Nathan sat next to the kid and kept the collector bag below stomach level. He called ahead to the hospital, and with Vin riding shotgun, the five drove off. Minutes later, Josiah and Ezra followed in the Jag, leaving behind a group of confused and concerned ranch hands, and a traumatized Max.


Feeling horribly detached from his surroundings, JD lay on his side, on a bed in the trauma room and tried to focus on the man peering down at him. After having tepid water squirted into and all around the outside of his mouth, he caught a mention of a gastric lavage, but after that, JD figured due to something they injected into his IV, he wasn't really aware of what was being said. What he was sure of though, before he drifted off, Nathan was standing right at his shoulder and holding onto his hand.

Jackson watched the whole procedure, right to the point where the stomach contents ran clear, and his unconscious brother was cleaned up for transfer to an overnight room. JD further received supplemental oxygen and was administered the beta agonist ipratropium, and then a 4-percent solution of nebulised lidocaine, which was used as an analgesic agent, and to also help reduce any coughing when he woke up.

With assurances JD would be fine providing the test results were as expected, and with praise for his accurate and speedy fieldwork ringing in his ears, Nathan joined his brothers to keep them informed.



Already on his feet, Buck approached his brother. Despite his anxiety, Nathan's smile relaxed the brunet a little.

"He's being moved to a room, soon. It went as expected. Not much bleach was ingested. I'm guessing JD instantly spat it out, which is why most of the damage is in and around his throat and mouth. The kid'll be exhausted, and in some pain for a while, and as he needed to be sedated for the procedure JD will be out of it for the night, so he'll at least rest easy for now. For the next week to ten days, he needs to feed via liquids, but nothing hot, just tepid, and he should only drink water, not soda, juice or coffee. Oh…" Nathan grinned, "...and he's gonna have to curb the chatter for a few days."

Despite everything, that remark made the others smile, too.

"I need to pick up a prescription for gel for his lips, and some painkillers," Nathan finished.

"Allow me," Ezra offered when Nathan explained it could be picked up when JD was discharged.

"We can see him now, right?" Buck asked.

Relief obvious when Nathan nodded, the six brothers headed for JD's temporary accommodation.


On entering the room, and at first glance, JD, in his semi-reclined position with head facing to one side, appeared to be uninjured in his slumber. Moving closer, and through the clear oxygen facemask over JD's nose and mouth, the six men could just see puffy lips glistening from an applied salve. JD's nose had traces of blood around the nostrils; Nathan explained likely caused by the insertion of the nasogastric tube, or its removal.

With his face drained of color, tendrils of black hair took on a dramatic effect as they framed JD's clammy features. Buck took a seat next to the bed, and the nurse in attendance smiled, first at Nathan, then the others.

"John's resting comfortably. The Benadryl shot he's been given is helping to reduce the swelling, so he should find it easier to swallow when he wakes up. I'll leave you to visit." Passing JD's chart over to Nathan, the nurse left. At the same moment, the ER doctor arrived.


Jackson smiled. "Hi Steve. What have we got?"

"A lucky escape," the doctor smiled. "As you know, we gave JD a charcoal lavage, just to be thorough, and tests concluded barely any poison had entered his stomach. Evidence suggests he spat out the liquid the instant he tasted it. Between the antihistamines and painkillers, he should be reasonably comfortable at home while the swelling reduces further, so I see no reason to keep him here once he's awake and successfully checked over. Only a liquid diet for now, and we'll see him again in five days…just to ensure there are no complications."

Hearing Nathan's previous words repeated, and noting their brother's reassuring nods to the doctor's prognosis eased the others' concerns. With a round of handshakes, the doctor left. The six brothers took up seats in an effort to convey their presence to their injured youngest, and while they sat, went over what they knew of events so far. After talking a while, Chris and Vin were clearly becoming agitated about something. An exchange of glances between the pair dictated their next move.

Standing, Chris squeezed Buck's shoulder. "Before it gets late, Vin and me need to investigate JD's accident. We need to talk to Max." He glanced at the others before resting his gaze on Buck. "Seeing as the kid's gonna sleep all night, would you and Josiah stay, and we'll all be back in the morning?"

Staring for a few moments at JD's slumbering form, Buck nodded. "Sure. Right now, I don't think I could trust myself around Bolt."

"You think this was his fault?" Ezra asked, surprised when Vin and Chris nodded.

"Judging by his demeanor after he got help, I'd say so, yeah," Vin replied. "And if he was involved, he's got a lot of explaining to do."

"Would've helped if I hadn't forgotten to go back and check up on the kid."

Chris scowled at Buck. "Knock it off, there's a good chance this would've happened whether you were around or not; but I'll be a lot happier once I've talked to Max and heard what did go down earlier."

Before leaving, and after getting some coffee and sandwiches for their remaining brothers, Nathan, Ezra, Vin, and Chris each gave JD's arm or leg a squeeze, and offered some words of comfort, despite knowing he might not hear them. When they left, they patted Josiah and Buck on the back, leaving the pair in a room echoing with the sounds of a hissing oxygen mask and rapid, soft, raspy breaths from JD.


The next morning, Max Bolt stood in the ranch house study and faced four brothers, and would have been less intimidated facing a firing squad. Larabee looked about ready to reach into the ranch hand's throat and pull out his internal organs, and Tanner appeared to be willing to take said organs and decorate the yard with them. Max couldn't quite gauge the expressions of the other two brothers, but he was confident they were not as impassive as they tried to convey.

"To clarify," Chris said. "Believing you were alone in the stables and storeroom, and on seeing a discarded juice carton, you decided to use it to decant an amount of Clorox into it."

"Yes, Mr. Larabee, sir."

Vin's blue-eyed glare burrowed into the man's gaze. "So, the rules I recited to you when you returned to the ranch…rules that have been in place since Linc Larabee's time; rules, not guidelines, clearly bannin' the transfer of dangerous materials into unmarked or inappropriate containers…you figured they weren't for you, huh?"

Bolt hung his head in shame. "No Boss, it's not that at all. I admit, I disregarded the rules, and in hindsight, it was a stupid, avoidable mistake, but I truly thought I was alone in there. JD wasn't in the tack room when I arrived, he was heading off across the yard in the opposite direction. The juice carton was empty…and after I filled it I only walked away from it for a few seconds." He looked up, his eyes misty, and his face lined with misery.

"If I could just take those moments back, or take the lad's place…JD's a real nice kid, and the thought of hurting him in that way…any one of you, or the other hired hands…well, it about rips my gut in two."

"A bigger gulp from that carton would just about have done that to JD's gut," Nathan assured.

"Or worse," Ezra added.

Max nodded. "I know. If I just hadn't forgotten what else I came in for..." He sighed. "I can't begin to tell y'all how sorry I am."

Larabee pursed his lips and exchanged quick glances with his brothers. "I reckon for now, it's best you stay put in the bunkhouse. We need to talk, and will let you know what we decide later."

Bolt nodded and turned to go, stopping when Chris spoke again.

"Oh, and Max…these days we use liquid soap on fresh oil stains…it's safer and just as effective." Accepting the information and appreciating that Chris's instruction held no room for debate, Bolt left with a heavy heart.

After a pause, Ezra spoke. "You intend to fire him?"

Vin nodded. "Be little point in implementin' rules if we didn't enforce them…"

"…Or failed to discipline those who flaunt them," Chris finished.

"JD could've died," Nathan reminded, evoking a collective shudder.

Standish nodded. "While having no desire to trivialize the incident, may I play Devil's advocate?" Receiving stares, Ezra took that as a yes. "As well as consulting with Buck, and Josiah, perhaps JD's input might also be prudent. I know him to be very fond of Max." While understanding the personal side of this was eating away at his family, he was well aware that Chris, and Vin were known to be hard, but fair, and he was counting on those traits to temporarily stay any decision.

The pair looked at each other. Chris offered a barely discernible nod and Vin replied as he moved to leave. "I'll tell Max he's on suspension without pay pendin' our decision."

The southerner was proud of his family. Good, and reasonable people…always. He hoped JD's reaction would be as he anticipated…and in his heart, Ezra was confident that would be the case.


"Don't try to speak. I'll get you some ice chips."

Overnight, both Buck and Josiah had dozed off, awakening to find a pair of confused hazel eyes staring back at them. The brunet tenderly dropped a few ice slivers onto JD's sore tongue and waited for them to melt and lubricate the boy's dry throat. If he kept that down, Buck was able to offer a small drink of water.

Still groggy, JD stared at his brothers for a long time while the cool ice drizzled down his raw throat. Finally, he spoke. "I don't have a clue what's going on." His voice was a mere, raspy whisper and it hurt to talk.

"Soon," Buck promised. "We'll talk, soon. Doc says you shouldn't be jawin' too much, if at all, until the swelling's gone down some." Instinctively he reached out to brush at the hair in JD's eyes.

The youth blinked, instinctively. "Need to know…"

Buck had hoped the explanation could wait until the others arrived. JD possessed a look that could melt the hardest heart…and had used it on numerous occasions. Buck could never resist it, and neither could their brothers, so he filled JD in some, stopping short at the actual liquid ingested.

Brows knitted together, JD nodded. "Oh, sure…I remember. The juice. Jeeze, it burned…" He yawned, fighting the pull of sleep; he really didn't want to sleep any more.

Seeing JD's grimace at the pain caused when he spoke and yawned had every nerve in Buck's body jangling. "Yeah…" he said, through clenched teeth. "Now quit talking."

"Are you not following Doctor's orders?"

All eyes turned to Chris, who was followed into the room by Vin, Ezra, and Nathan. JD cracked his first smile, or attempt at one, he wasn't sure due to the odd way his lips felt. "My face feels weird," he squeaked.

"Nothin' new there then," Vin teased, paling when JD huffed out a laugh and suffered for it. "Shit, I'm sorry, Kid…"

JD waved it off. "'S'okay." He dozed off for a few moments, waking up, and talking as if there had been no interruption.

"Home guys…please?" Every part of him ached from the outside in, and all he wanted now was his own bed.

There was the look from him again, and they all chuckled. They knew it well. Nathan moved to leave the room. "I'll go see if I can speed up the process."


Exasperated that JD was still trying to talk, Jackson looked to his youngest brother.

"What was in the carton? What did I drink?" JD didn't miss the exchange of glances. Chris nodded and Nathan reluctantly replied.


JD closed his eyes to block out the horrified looks, and in a vain attempt to hide his own dismayed reaction. How in hell had he managed to drink bleach? How dumb does a guy have to be to drink that? His eyes closing finally won the battle for sleep, and he drifted off. An hour later, and again awake, the boy was discharged.


JD loved his brothers…trusted them with his life, and, in his eyes, knew them to be right in all things. So one day on, and hearing the majority of them talking about dismissing Max, confused him. He fingered the bandanna Vin had given him to wear to keep his throat warm.

"Why?" he said, hoarsely, as he glanced around at the seated men.

Vin offered a sympathetic but determined look. "No point in makin' rules if we fail to follow them."

"But, it was an accident," JD tried.

"That could've killed you," Buck reminded. "Or someone else. What Max did…well, you just don't do a fool thing like that, and we make the consequences of breaking the rules clear when the guys sign up."

"I understand," JD nodded. "But…"

"JD." Chris interjected. "Everyone hired and living here knows how important safety is. Too much is at stake to let things slip."

Touching a finger first to his near-normal sized, blistered lips, and then to his still very sore throat, JD knew his brothers were right, but firing Max for making a mistake just felt so awful. Max was a real nice guy, knew stuff about ranching he was sure even Chris and Vin didn't know, and was full of stories about the old days.

"I'll abide by whatever action you choose, but, for the record, I don't feel good about a man losing his job and his means to earning a living, over one mistake." He looked at them all through impossibly large eyes.

"When I screw up, you always forgive me. I learn from my mistakes…don't you think maybe Max and the other hands will too?"

Chewing on the inside of his cheek, Chris rested his gaze on Vin. Of course they agreed. God knows the pair had talked this through until they'd gone full circle. But where should they draw the line? And when? Right after a limb is lost...or a life?

The blond sat upright. "Time to be the foreman, Vin. I'll go along with whatever you decide." He glanced around at the others and they all nodded, even JD, though his expression was painful to see.

Tanner returned the acknowledgements and left, humbled by the faith his brothers showed in him.


Convinced it was only a matter of time before he received his marching orders, Max was already packed. Standing before Tanner in the empty bunkhouse, the man removed his hat and waited for the final judgment. He watched Vin perch on the edge of the communal table.

"Records show you've been workin' here on and off for over thirty years."

Bolt nodded. "Yessir."

"Got a good, clean record. Chris tells me Linc thought a lot of you…Linc's father did, too." The Texan stood.

"This is a tough one, but the bottom line is, you broke rules designed to protect folk and livestock here at the Double L."

Max agreed. "Can't argue with that, Boss. All I can say is how truly sorry I am. Been a wrangler all my life, never once had me an accident that hurt any man or beast other than myself. I messed up, and I appreciate you letting me sleep and eat here while you made your decision." He replaced his hat on his head.

"Thank Mr. Larabee for me. He's been good to me over the years as was his…your Daddy, and Granddaddy before him."

Vin nodded. "Sure will." He extended his hand.


Six men seated on chairs and benches on the porch, perked up when Vin joined them.

"It's done?" Chris asked.

"Yeah," Tanner replied.

No one seemed keen to comment; JD and Ezra kept eye contact with Vin.

"Told him if anythin' like that happens again I'll kick his ass outta here so fast his butt'll arrive two days before the rest of him." The sounds of outward relief and accompanying smiles told Vin his gut reaction was the right one.

Chris nodded his approval. While the Double L was a serious, working ranch, it was additionally so much more. It was home to an extended family. Regular workers rarely left. Seasonal staff returned year after year due to enjoying their time on the Double L.

"Awesome, Vin," JD rasped.

"Hey, no talking remember?" Buck reminded.

JD huffed, his reply still husky. "I've barely spoken for two days."

Glancing sideways at JD, Buck waited until the kid looked his way and appeared wistful. "Aaahh, yeah. Good times."

There was a small pause, before the pillow that sat nestled behind JD's back flew toward Buck's head, and produced guffaws of laughter from the brothers.


Later, JD left the group to walk over to the corral to answer the calls from his eager horse and persistent donkey. He smiled when Max approached.

"Hey, there."

Bolt touched his hat. "Mighty good to see you well, son."

JD nodded. "Thanks. I'm getting there."

"JD, I..."

The youth shook his head. "No...let's not do this. It was an accident. Okay?"

Liquid eyes crinkled into a smile. "Thank you, sir."

"Sir?" JD regretted the pain from the sharp vocalization, but continued anyway. "Jeeze, don't call me that, Dude, it makes me sound old."

Max laughed, and with a squeeze to JD's arm, he turned to leave.



"If you call Vin Boss, what do you call Chris?"

Bolt leaned in and winked, warmed at the chuckle to his reply. "God!"


Watching the exchange, Chris gave JD a few minutes after Bolt left, and then walked over to the corral. Joining the boy in leaning his arms on the top fence, he looked at JD.

"You okay?"

JD nodded, his focus still on handing out treats to whosever horse showed an interest.

"That a good nod, and you're saving your throat, or a 'not really, but I'm gonna be all tight-lipped about it', nod?"

Turning to his brother, JD licked at his healing lips and shrugged. "Been thinking on how easy it was to…you know, drink bleach. I mean, it stinks, but I didn't smell anything."

"Don't reckon you had enough time to register a smell. You spat it out pretty quick, right?"

JD nodded. "Yeah I guess. It's kinda hazy, but I recalled that I was writing, and…and then I just kinda had the carton in my hand. I remembered being surprised that there was still some left. I completely forgot that I'd drunk it all." JD nodded to himself as the memories drifted in and out.

"I was holding the carton; but I was focused on the list I was making. One second I was writing, and then…I took a swig." JD sighed. "Just goes to show you should never lose concentration doing ranch work, huh?" In frustration, he pushed hair from his eyes. "Man, I can't believe how dumb I am."

Chris smacked JD's shoulder with the back of his hand.

"Oww! What was that for?"

"Kid, no matter how long a person's been in this business, there'll come a day when one simple, everyday task turns to shit. At least this time it turned out okay." He raised an eyebrow. "I f I ever hear you put yourself down like that again, I'll set Buck on you."

Rubbing his shoulder, JD laughed, softly and stared at the ground. A few seconds later, he spoke. "Thank God for Nathan." JD glanced at Chris. "If it wasn't for him…"

"He did a first rate job, but is keen to move on. You know how he hates dwelling on the bad stuff. How about you?"

"More than ready."

Encouraging JD to walk back to the house with him, Chris nodded. "Good. Now rest that throat and put it right. No matter what Buck says, it's been way too quiet around here lately."

JD grinned. "You are so gonna regret saying that, Chris."

Laughing as he watched JD scamper back to a waiting Buck, the blond gave a slight shake of his head and spoke softly to himself. "Nah, this time you're wrong, Kid. I may not say it often enough, but I can't think of anything worse than not hearing your six voices every day."

Chris took up his seat just as laughter ensued when Buck started in on his favorite target.

Removing a small jar of salve from his pocket, Buck's eyes glinted with mischief. "Come on then, Kid…pucker up." He made kissy noises through his own rounded lips, chuckling at JD's glare.

"What was that? You say something? No? Cool, come on then, let's get those ruby lips back to their former, luscious appearance."

JD raised his hands in defense. "Buck, you need help," he rasped, fighting a grin.

"Nope, I can manage this all by myself," Buck said, deliberately misunderstanding. He stood, poked in a finger to scoop up some gel and stepped forward. "You ready?"

Now JD was on his feet and moving away. "Get the hell away you goofball."

"Seeing as you shouldn't be talking, I'll disregard that remark." Buck stepped closer, but JD was already off the porch.

"Buck!" JD squeaked.

In reply, the brunet made a dramatic point of whisking a hand past his ear. "Damn bugs buzzing round my ear. Come on, Kid, you only have to say if you don't want me to do this."

"I don't want you to do this." JD cursed that the combination of a stifled chuckle and his still healing tissue gave very little volume to his high-pitched plea. He started moving toward the stables.

"No answer?" Buck's grin widened. "Okay, here goes…" Salve-covered finger outstretched, he proceeded to stride quickly after the now giggling, fleeing youth, while their brothers sat back and enjoyed the show.

Chris chuckled and kicked back with a beer. He glanced around at the mayhem and laughter and nodded inwardly and he appreciated that having this to look forward to every day was definitely not something he would want to lose.

The End

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