The Ranch
III. Land of the Living

by Karin


JD sat up in his bed, feet stretched out before him. He was thankful that Mrs. Potter had broken her rule of JD's room being off-limits. She wanted him to have a place for privacy and she didn't think he'd get that if she had access to his room.

The glass was cleaned up, along with the trash that had fallen out of the trash can. None of his dirty clothes were missing and his top drawer was still half-opened; she hadn't ‘picked up' his room , just shoveled a path to his bed from the looks of it.

JD sat while he waited for the adrenaline rush to run its course, he knew he should've crawled up the stairs and not hopped up one at a time. He had been nearly dead on his feet...well foot...before attempting the stairs, now here he sat..unable to sleep.

JD finally gave up waiting, he simply let the upper part of his body flop backwards letting his head drop onto the pillow. Unfortunately, his head grazed the headboard before it hit the pillow.

"Couldn't you just drop a piano on me and be done with it!" JD yelled out to the ceiling, his hand absently rubbing the spot he'd hit.

With that declaration a low, dull rumble shook the windows in his room. JD looked out the window and saw the dark cloud approaching the ranch.

"Great, so much for the Bar-B-Que," he said, his tone filled with aggravation.

The lightning bolt struck, the jagged streak visible from where JD lay.

"Okay! Okay! don't have to take things so seriously!" JD chastised the ‘one' he thought responsible.

JD watched out the window as the rain started to buckets. He doubted that amount of water was used in a car wash, his windows becoming little streams...more like rivers...covered glass. JD focused on the rain; not only the sight of it but the sound, he never felt himself begin to slip away. His eyes closed more and more with each blink, before long his eyes stayed shut...his whole body became relaxed and followed his eyes into a deep sleep.

+ + + + + + +

4 hours had passed and JD still slept.

Chris climbed the stairs, Nathan behind him, as JD's nap neared 5 hours. Nathan had stopped by as promised. To say he was concerned at the length of time JD had been asleep would have been an understatement.

"JD?" Chris asked after knocking on the bedroom door.

No response.

Chris knocked again, then listened...nothing again.

He turned the knob quickly, half expecting JD to be sprawled out on the floor, blood gushing...from somewhere. He sighed as he saw JD on his back resting peacefully.

Chris walked over to the bed. "JD," Chris said softly as he shook JD's shoulder slightly.

"JD," Chris said again, the shake a bit firmer. Still nothing.

Nathan was at the bedside in two steps, his face not hiding his concern. He put a hand on the teen's chest, the other checking the neck for a pulse.

"Call 911 Chris," Nathan said calmly, feeling anything but.

"Nathan?" Chris asked.

"Is Mr. Dunne going to grace us with his presence..." Ezra asked as he walked through the door. He thought if JD was still in a bad mood he may be able to help.

"What's wrong Nathan?!" Chris yelled.

"He's having some kind of reaction..." Nathan said shaking his head.

"Reaction? What do you mean reaction!" Chris yelled again.

"You need to call..." Nathan said, ignoring Chris's question.

Ezra stepped to JD's desk, grabbing the phone and dialing 911. Chris and Nathan could hear Ezra faintly in the background.

"Ambulance is on the there anything I can do?" Ezra asked quickly.

"Might want to let the others know," Nathan said. Ezra nodded and left the room.

"Dammit Nathan!!! Answer me! What the hell did you do to him!!?" Chris demanded, shoving Nathan's shoulder sharply so he looked at Chris.

"I think it's the aspirin," Nathan said calmly, trying to hold back the anger he was feeling.

"You think? Jesus, Nathan..." Chris ended under his breath.

"Look..." Nathan pointed to JD's cheeks. He then lifted JD's shirt to reveal a similar rash covering the young man's abdomen as he had on his cheeks.

"I don't think it's that serious," Nathan offered.

"You don't think? What kind of answer is that?!" Chris yelled.

"Hey, hey, hey...easy there pard," Buck said putting himself between the two men, his hands pushing Chris's shoulders. He could feel the muscles were tense.

Buck and Vin had made a mad dash to the kid's bedroom as soon as Ezra filled them in as to what was happening. Josiah offered to make sure the ambulance knew where to go and Ezra had the responsibility of trying to reassure Mrs. Potter that JD would surely be fine.

"How's he doin' Nate?" Vin asked with concern, glancing at Buck to make sure he had Chris under control.

"His breathing's real slow, so is his pulse," Nathan said.

"Whad'ya' give him?" Vin asked.

"Aspirin, that's it," Nathan said with surprise.

"Didn't you ask him if he was allergic to anything?" Chris said accusingly over Buck's shoulder, pushing into Buck to get closer at the only one he could think to blame for JD's state.

"Of course I asked him, he said he didn't think he was allergic to anything. Then I asked him if he'd ever been prescribed anything. He said no. ‘That's' why I gave him the aspirin, just in case he was allergic to anything," Nathan answered defensively.

The ambulance attendants entered the room, Nathan stood and talked to the two paramedics, filling them in on his suspicions. He sent a sorrowful look to Chris as he left them to do what they had to for JD. Chris' glare was deadly, his jaw set firmly.

"Chris you know this ain't his fault," Buck said firmly but softly. "Come on..lets get you to the hospital."

Chris looked away as his son's limp body was lifted from the bed and onto the stretcher. He nodded in response to Buck's words and followed the medics out of the room.

+ + + + + + +

JD opened his eyes, he figured he must be dreaming, nothing looked familiar or clear for that matter. He closed his eyes tightly and opened them again.

Still dreaming...what's with the killer headache? he thought.

"JD?" Chris said hopefully as his son's eyes opened for the first time since they'd arrived at the hospital three hours ago. His head hung as he saw those same eyes close again.

"Dad?" came a very quiet, almost a whispered question.

"Hey," Chris responded just as quietly. His hand laying on the side of JD's head, his thumb gently wiping away a stray tear. He didn't know if JD was aware of what had happened, or even where he was, but one thing he did know... JD was scared.

"Dad?" JD asked more strongly, sounding like a small child who'd lost his parents at the supermarket. JD turned his head ever so slightly in the direction where he felt a hand rubbing his temple.

"You're okay, son."

"Wha...hap'n?" JD stumbled out the words.

"You had a bad reaction to the aspirin Nathan gave you at the clinic," Chris said, looking directly at the hazel eyes that he could tell weren't able to focus.

"‘My...fooot," the teen answered slowly.

"Get some rest...I'm not going anywhere," Chris squeezed JD's hand, JD managed to return a small smile then closed his eyes again.

A soft knock caused Chris to break his gaze from the bed.

"You doin' okay?" Buck asked, walking into the room, standing next to his oldest friend.

"Better," Chris said quietly, sounding tired. "He woke up for a bit, wasn't really with it though."

"He's gonna be okay Chris," Buck reassured, noticing a certain look in Chris' eyes that he'd seen once before. It wasn't the same hopeless, empty look; more like a look of fear.

Chris hung his head and nodded at Buck's statement. "I know..but..."

"But nothing. He's not Adam," Buck said with a quiet force.

"No, no he's not," Chris smiled, looking back at his son's face.

"Bet they would've been the best of brothers," Buck said, a warm grin gracing his face as he too looked at the sleeping teen.

"Sarah would've had her hands full," Chris laughed through the whisper.

"I'm sure she's watching over her whole family," Buck said, placing his hand on Chris' shoulder.

+ + + + + + +

Vin and three other men entered the hospital and walked directly to the elevator, punched the button for the third floor. The elevator door opened and the four men exited as one, turning left passing three rooms, entering the fourth room on the right.

"Thought you went home?" Chris stood as he asked, wondering what else had gone wrong with the hour that was left of this awful day.

"We did," Vin answered simply.

" see... we...became..." Ezra tried to explain.

"We were a little worried. You hadn't called since he woke up before, thought we'd come down and see if everything's okay," Josiah stated.

"What he said," Ezra smiled.

"‘M fine,"JD said tiredly, turning his head to look at the group that stood at the door.

"Glad to see you're feeling better," Nathan said.

"Don't think it could get any worse. Just wanna get rid of this headache. Why won't they give me any aspirin?" JD asked, looking for the answer from his father.

"You're allergic to it," Chris repeated words he'd said six times since JD woke up a half-hour ago.

"...and that's why I'm here, right?" JD asked, wondering if that's why he was lying in a hospital bed.

"That's why you're here," Chris nodded.

"Doc said he's still fuzzy, keeps repeatin' thin's," Buck said in hushed tones to the others.

"It'll get better when he wakes up next time," Nathan said.

"Yeah, doc said it would, but he's gonna be a little groggy for awhile," Buck said, looking back towards the bed where small laughs were heard.

"I think you been up long enough, back to sleep," Chris instructed JD, trying to erase the smile.

"Ooookaaay," JD said lightly; adhering to his father's request, JD simply closed his eyes and fell asleep.

As JD slept, Chris lifted his eyes from his son's and looked to Nathan. Nathan caught the look that told him Chris blamed him. Nathan knew there had been no way to know that JD was allergic to anything. Nathan also knew that Chris wasn't thinking rationally; instead of defending himself he simply walked out of the room.

"Ain't his fault cowboy," Vin said steadily. The exchange not going unnoticed by any of the others.

"He nearly killed him," Chris justified.

"Pard, you and me need to talk," Buck said. His tone determined.

"We'll stay with him,"Josiah assured, seeing Chris balk at the idea of leaving JD.

"Talk," Chris said impatiently as he still sat.

"Not here," Buck stood firm. "Don't think JD needs to wake up hearing this," Buck whispered.

Chris turned his head, looking at his oldest friend's face. His face a mixture of concern and anger.

"Fine," Chris said sharply.

"We'll be in that closed off waiting room," Buck informed the others, in case they were needed.

Chris walked into the waiting room, he turned angry eyes to Buck, ready to yell. The slam of the door cut that thought short as he faced a very angry Buck.

"You ain't blaming Nathan for this," Buck growled out.

"If it weren't for Nathan..." Chris started.

"It would've been some other doctor! If ya'd brought him here, to the hospital, the doctor would've done the same! Face it ain't no ones fault, it just happened!" Buck shot out, trying to make Chris see that no one was to blame.

"If he'd say the same thing?" Chris shot back.

"Chris! He didn't die!" Buck yelled out. "Look," Buck said calmly. "You didn't lose him...he gave ya' one hell of a scare, he gave us all a scare."

"I can't lose him too Buck," Chris said quietly, looking down as his voice became strained.

"You didn't," Buck said, a comforting hand on his shoulder.

"This time," Chris sighed.

"So..this is how it's gonna be?" Buck changed tones. "S'pose you ain't never gonna let him out of the house again? Let him go for those horseback rides, hang out with his friends...God forbid ya' let him ride in a car," Buck said sarcastically.

"Like I said Chris...he ain't Adam. You're scared...don't ya' think he might just be a little scared, too? If you're that afraid of losing him, maybe you should just wash your hands of him, be done with him...that way YOU can't get hurt again," Buck's tone decisively scary.

Chris was stunned at the idea. He sat down abruptly in a chair, before he fell over.

"Be done with him?" Chris nearly whispered.

"Jesus, Buck," Chris said hiding his face in his hands. "It started all over again. He was just laying there, not moving. I couldn't wake him up and I thought..."

"You thought he was dead," Buck nodded, sitting next to Chris.

"I can't go through that again, Buck."

"Well, then you picked the wrong profession to be in, running the ranch...the system kids. Face it Chris, when Sarah died she left ya' that big heart of hers. The one that always brought them stray dogs home. Ya' wasted three years with ‘what ifs' and ‘what could have been'. Ya've done a good thing here Chris, gettin' that boy. He needed ya' and ya' needed him. Don't give up on him because of this," Buck's words filled with emotion.

"I made a promise to his mother, Buck. The night he called me ‘Dad' for the first time. I swore to her I'd look after him and take care of him, in a little over three months I let her down. Let Sarah and Adam JD," Chris sighed.

"Enough of this poor you horse shit Chris! You had a sweet and beautiful wife and a little boy who looked up to ya'. That was taken away. JD had a great mother that raised him alone, that was taken away from him. Then ya' found each other. He's everything Adam and Sarah were, and he worships the ground ya' walk on; and ya're somethin' he ain't never had. Don't disappoint all those people because of ‘what might have happened', it didn't."

"Ya' adopted him ‘cause he was a good kid; way I see it now, he ain't ‘causin' ya' nothin' but grief..." Buck said casually.

"I got custody of him because he was a good kid...he deserved to have a home, not get shuffled around for the next two years or so...And I adopted him because..." Chris said with anger.

"Cause why?" Buck asked softly.

"I loved him," Chris hung his head.

"Exactly. Ain't nothin' but pride pourin' down from Heaven, Chris. Ain't no one disappointed in ya' up there. I'm sure Sarah and Adam are beaming. And JD's momma. Ain't nothin' ya' can do that will disappoint her, ya' took her only child and gave him a home," Buck reassured.

"Who said having kids was easy, huh?" Chris smiled after sniffing, trying to hide the tears that had fallen as Buck spoke.

"Sure ya' got a few gray hairs to sprout before JD's done with ya'," Buck smiled.

The two men stood, Chris nodded as if confirming an inner thought. He stepped to Buck and embraced the man.

"Thanks," Chris whispered.

"Anytime pard. Now go see your son," Buck said. Chris again nodded, and left the room, returning to JD's bedside.

Chris sat in the chair next to the bed. He let out a long steady breath as he looked to his son's sleeping face, feeling a heavy burden lift as he released the tense breath.

+ + + + + + +

Chris pulled the truck to a stop in front of the stairs that led up the porch. He glanced over at his passenger, his head resting on the back of the seat, his too-long dark bangs still managing to hang in his eyes.

"How's the headache?"

"Not too bad, kinda getting used to it," JD turned and smiled.

"You gave me...all of us...a pretty bad scare," Chris said.

"You? Nothing like falling asleep listening to the rain, and the next thing you know you're in some hospital bed," JD chuckled.

"I made a mistake once before, I don't want to make the same one again," Chris said, hanging his head as he played with the steering wheel.

"What was that?" JD asked, looking directly at his father, feeling a little worried at the tone.

"Didn't tell my family how much I loved them," Chris said, bringing his head up to face JD. "I don't plan on making that mistake again."

"I'm sure they knew how much you cared," JD said, his head turning and hanging down.

"Do you?" Chris asked, bringing his son's chin up with a tender hand.

"Yeah..I do," JD nodded. His face beginning to flush. " know..I.. I" JD stuttered out.

"Yeah, I know," Chris smiled.

"Good," JD nodded, then suddenly felt the need to get out of the truck.

Unfortunately for JD, his body didn't respond as well as his brain requested. He stood from the truck, planting both feet firmly on the ground. His brain registered pain from his cut foot. The response of lifting his foot off the ground, the small ‘ow' that parted from his lips seemed to take an hour; but the fall to the ground face first took only seconds.


"Shit!!" JD exclaimed.

"Dang that hurt!" JD continued.

"You okay?" Chris asked as he grabbed the teen's arm to help him stand, ignoring the curse he heard.

"Yeah," JD grunted as he got up. "Guess I brought that Hallmark moment to an end pretty quick."

"I'd say so," Chris tried not to smile, but let it go as he saw JD smiling, too.

"I suppose everyone saw that?" JD asked.

"Like onlookers at a 14 car pile up," Chris nodded towards the porch. JD looked over his shoulder only to see the audience leaning against the railing.

"Thought you said the circus left town, Vin! Way I see it the clowns got left behind!" Buck laughed out.

"Funny Buck..I was gonna ask Vin the same thing," JD shot out as he leaned on his father's shoulder, limping his way up the stairs.

"Well alright, glad to have ya' back home," Buck smiled. He was glad to see JD back in better spirits.

"One thin' ‘bout bad days kid," Vin stated, following JD into the house.


"They end," Vin grinned.

"Don't think it mattered if it did or not. Today can't be worse than yesterday," JD sighed.

"Let's hope not," Buck added, sending kind eyes to Chris.

+ + + + + + +

JD entered the house. As he was helped into the living room, a small, squeaky voice was heard.

"JD! IheardwhathappenedandItoldEsauhehadtotakemetothehospital..."

"Casey! Give the guy a chance to sit why donchya...and breathe for Pete's sake!" Esau grabbed at his sister.

"Sorry man, had to bring her," Travis whispered.

"You guys come to the hospital?" JD asked. If they had, he didn't remember it.

"No, Mr. Standish called me and told me what happened, then I called Travis," Esau explained, satisfied that Casey was sitting quietly in a chair.

"Your dad called this morning, said you were coming home and invited us over for a cookout. If you're not up to it we can go home," Travis said.

"No...I'm okay. A little off-balance but okay," JD smiled.

Buck had retrieved JD's crutches, he gave them to JD who took them gratefully. Travis and Esau flanked JD as he swung slowly between the crutches as they went out the atrium door that led to the backyard.

"Well Miss Casey, may I escort you to the backyard?" Ezra asked, a wide smile gracing his face.

"I'm with JD," she said affectionately, running to catch up to the trio of boys.

"Is he aware of that?" Ezra asked the remaining men. The others shrugged then began to follow her out the door.

"Nathan?" Chris asked, stopping the man.

"I just..I'm sorry, for what I said. I know this wasn't your fault," Chris apologized.

"It's okay. You were worried about him, I understand," Nathan smiled.

"Still shouldn't have blamed you. Thought I knew all there was to know about him, just finding out I don't know much," Chris said, referring to the fainting and the allergic reaction.

"You know the important things," Nathan reassured.


"He loves ya'," Nathan smiled, slapping the man's shoulder and walked out the door.

+ + + + + + +

The cookout was a success, JD had eaten well, and his coordination was improving with every smile and laugh.

Casey became very bored very fast when she came to the conclusion that, without anyone to share her thoughts about how handsome JD was, or that he'd ‘looked' at her, she was terribly bored chasing the object of her young heart.

JD was wiped out, fighting off sleep until his friends ‘decided' to leave. Travis and Esau both had caught JD nodding off in the middle of a conversation.

Travis, Esau and Casey thanked Chris and the others; Casey insisting next time they invited ‘her' over that they should have someone close to her age that she could talk to. Ezra assured her that her request would be taken into consideration.

Chris tried to get JD to wake up. He was rewarded with ‘just a couple more minutes Dad', as JD shifted in the chair.

Chris just picked his son up and carried him into the house and into bed.

"Hey..wha?" JD let out as he was lowered onto the bed.

"Sorry, didn't want to wake you up," Chris said.

"Everybody go home?" JD asked, pushing himself to sit up then lean against the headboard.

"Casey and the boys did, the others are staying the night," Chris informed. If the men had left on Friday, they usually didn't come back until Monday morning.

"They worried I'll do somethin' else?" JD laughed out.

"No, just worried in general," Chris smiled his response.

"I'm sorry about this weekend..cutting my foot, passing out..getting sick," JD apologized.

"Not your fault, you could've warned me about the blood thing, though; as for the aspirin, we just won't give it to you again," Chris said easily.

"I faint when I see needles and blood," JD said with a cheeky grin. Chris chuckled at the information he already knew.

"You mind telling me why?"

"Don't know really...just happened," JD shrugged. Chris saw a hint of guilt flicker behind the hazel eyes JD tried to hide.

"This have to do with your mom?" Chris asked.

"I...I think she mighta' died cause of me," JD said evenly, not taking blame, but almost questioning his mother's motives.

"What makes you think that?" Chris asked quickly. While going through the adoption process, Chris had been told that JD's mother had been sick with cancer; he also knew that she'd been terminal.He hadn't discussed the reason Katherine Dunne had died with her son, and JD had never brought it up.

"She had cancer. She started these treatments, you know...they stuck her with needles and always seemed to be taking blood for one reason or another...right before she stopped the treatments, I went with her. She was trying hard, but I could see it hurt her...doing that to her; they stuck her to get blood...something happened and the blood just started coming out of her arm. God it seemed like so much...just running on the floor, I started feeling really weird...then I woke up. The doctors at the clinic told me I passed out. I figured it was a one time thing, so I went back with my mom for her next treatment..the minute they brought out a needle the same thing happened. Soon after she stopped going altogether...I think it was because I couldn't go with her anymore," JD stated.

"Had nothing to do with the fact she was terminal?" Chris asked. JD shot him a look, but didn't get into why he knew, they'd never talked about what caused his mother's death, just that she'd been sick.

"She could've lived longer," JD said.

"Maybe, but what kind of life would she have had? She didn't want to spend her last days feeling sick from the treatments, knowing they weren't going to make her better," Chris stated.

"I guess. Can't stop thinking though...maybe she would have kept up with the treatments if I didn't get wigged out by the whole thing," JD shrugged.

"Wise person told me you can't live on ‘ what ifs' and ‘maybes'. You have to remember, no one made her decision to stop treatment. That was hers to make and hers alone. I talked to the Doctor that treated your mom; it was part of the adoption process," JD nodded his understanding. "Two days before she stopped treatment she found out she was terminal. You knew she was going to die, didn't you?"

"Didn't know when. I wouldn't have left her if I'd known she was that sick," JD said defensively.

"I think she did," Chris said. JD smiled at the words.

"I think she did too. I was kinda mad at her for sending me out here; but, I think she knew what she was doing," JD's smile remained warm.

"I think she had a couple of angels whispering to her," Chris said. JD and Chris nodded in agreement until JD yawned.

"Get some sleep, Nathan said you could go to school tomorrow," Chris said.

"Night Dad."

"Night son."

Chris walked down the hall after closing JD's bedroom door, then down the stairs that led down into the kitchen.

"Feeling better?" Buck asked from the part of the counter he sat on.

"Yeah, he's tired but fine," Chris assured.

"I weren't talkin' ‘bout him," Buck said seriously.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Chris smiled.

"Glad to hear it. Welcome back to the land of the living."


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