Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em damnit!
Thanks to Phyllis for BL/AU2
Alternate Universe "Brothers Larabee"
Main Characters: JD
Summary: An unusual approach to New Year for the brothers.
Refers to an incident in the story Miracles Do Happen.
Christmas was done and dusted, after Thanksgiving saw JD mostly recovered from what could have been, had good luck not intervened, a fatal accident. The promise of a planned trip to their lakeside cabin was put back so often that the only week left was the run up to New Year. After frenzied, last minute shopping and preparations, and talks with the ranch hands staying on over the holiday, arrangements were finalized, and during the week before New Year, the brothers took off for their trip.
Despite not normally being overly tactile, there was something irresistibly endearing about seeing his youngest brother's expression while looking out over the lake through the picture window of the attic room they shared. Approaching, Vin dropped an arm around the kid's shoulders. He glanced at the faded bruises from JD's accident before Thanksgiving, before also looking out at the vista.
"This view never fails to give me a buzz."
JD nodded, his gaze fixed firmly on the sunlight sparkling across the calm water. "It takes your breath away," he whispered. Leaning in a little, he turned to Vin. "There are some days I can hardly breathe for being so thankful I'm a part of this family."
Vin sighed, softly. "Yeah."
They glanced at each other, and then laughed. "Boy, that made me sound lame," JD chuckled.
Vin shrugged. "That makes two of us, then. I came to tell you that Josiah's made hot chocolate."
The pair turned to leave. "Cool."
The smell of melted chocolate permeated the stairway. As the brothers took up seats around the kitchen table, Chris made his customary toast.
"May the fish, and not the bugs bite."
"When are we handing out the presents we brought?"
Grinning, Buck shook his head and ruffled JD's hair.
The boy unsuccessfully ducked the maneuver. "What?"
Due to a new tradition they decided on last year, and with the group returning the day before New Year's Eve, they thought it might be fun to bring the New Year presents for each brother to exchange. The present was to be fun, and not meant to be expensive.
Chris shrugged. "Any thoughts?"
"How about the night before we go home?"
JD tried not to make a face that showed he hoped it would be sooner rather than later.
The others nodded.
"Sounds reasonable," Ezra agreed.
Buck laughed softly to himself. He could read JD like a book, but didn't give the lad's disappointment away.
Chris stood. "I'm all for bed and an early start."
The scraping of chairs across the wooden floor heralded the unanimous concurrence. Placing their dirty mugs in the sink, the seven brothers headed for bed.
Thermal undergarments, sturdy boots, flannel-lined shirts and insulated jackets were donned by each man. From inside his designated boat, and from under the bill of his Red Sox cap, JD stared up at Ezra, who was standing on the small jetty. "Aww come on. It'll be fun."
Ezra fiddled with the flaps of his khaki, fur-lined, Ireland deerstalker. "I cannot, in all conscience perceive stabbing a wriggling invertebrate and drowning it in the hope of attracting a fish over a prolonged and likely boring period of time fun. Let alone in temperatures in the low twenties."
JD pointed to a small island across the lake. "I was thinking of fishing from there. It is kinda cold on the lake."
"Cold; quite the understatement, brother." Ezra stared as JD giggled.
"Ezra, just get in the danged boat, would you?"
With a roll of his eyes, the southerner stepped unsteadily down into the wobbling rowboat. "Well, seeing as you asked so nicely." He sat down and watched JD untie them from their mooring. He noted JD look at him. "What?" Ezra wiggled his gloved hands. "Surely you don't expect me to row, do you?"
With a lopsided grin, and a shake of his head, JD began rowing. "Good God, no. What was I thinking?"
From his craft amongst the little flotilla of rowboats, Buck pointed and all eyes turned toward Ezra and JD. "Ha I'll give it to the kid, he's persistent. He said he'd get Ezra fishing today."
"Ah, now," Nathan commented. "He's got Ezra in the boat whether he'll fish remains to be seen."
"Have faith, brother," Josiah chuckled. "Stranger things have happened."
"Where are they off to?" Chris asked.
"Kid said he wanted to try castin' from the island back there," Vin replied, gesturing to the little landmass of rocks and shrubs to one side of them and a little ways into the lake.
The inquisition over, the blanket-swaddled brothers settled in for a few hours fishing.
Sitting on a boulder on the island's shore, Ezra wrapped his hands around his thermos mug, and watched as JD scrambled down a small crop of rocks to land to one side of him. "Having fun?"
Brushing himself off, JD nodded. "Uh huh. This is a neat little place." He pointed. "Could easily set up a tent or two back there to camp out in the summer."
Standish huffed. "Camp out; of course, just the thing to do when we have partially civilized living quarters just across from here."
Accepting a coffee, JD sat down next to his blanket swathed brother. "Where's your sense of adventure, Ezra?"
The man waved an object in his gloved hand. "In my Kindle and the book I'm currently enjoying."
"You brought reading material?"
Ezra raised an eyebrow. "I'm surprised you asked."
JD huffed out a laugh. "Yeah, me too." He glanced across the water. "I know I haven't fished today, but I reckon we should head back."
Instantly, Ezra was standing and packing up. "So soon? How sad." He failed to hide his dimpled grin.
"We'll come back here and fish tomorrow, yeah?"
"We?" Ezra squeaked. He cursed when he glanced at JD who was currently perfecting 'the look'. 'Damnit, Standish, you know never to look directly into his eyes.'
"Tomorrow? I can hardly wait."
By the time JD pulled in next to the jetty, the others were back and on their way up to the cabin. Buck and Vin reached down to moor the boat and help the pair up.
"Catch anything?" Buck asked.
"Most likely a cold," Ezra huffed. "You?"
"A few nice Cutthroat Trout," Vin replied. "But they're lyin' deep this year. No bites, Kid?"
"Nah, I didn't fish. I took a look around the little island, instead. You guys should totally come out there with us tomorrow."
"Us, huh?" Vin laughed at the disgruntled glance from Ezra.
Buck chuckled at the exchange, then looked back across the lake. "Might be fun." He tugged at JD. "Come on, we got us a fish supper to prepare."
As promised, the next day all seven brothers took their speedboat over to the little island. They caught a few fish, but not half as many as the day before, so on the third day it was just JD out there, as Ezra insisted he was coming down with a cold.
From an Adirondack chair on the cabin's decking, the southerner relaxed back and watched the little convoy of rowboats set off. Lifting his flask, he raised it in the air and then took a drink. "To a good day's fishing, boys." He grinned and pulled his blanket up around him. He chuckled softly. "I surely must nurse this cold wouldn't want to get sick."
Ezra glanced up at the gray-pink sky. "Looks like we may be in for some snow." His grin widened. "Oh dear, which means we'll have to head back to our toasty, heated home, and me to my private, feather-bedded room. Such a shame." Settling down under the blanket, Ezra resumed reading the newest book on his Kindle.
It was sometime later when a sound caused him to look up and cock his head to listen.
Finding it too cold to simply sit and fish; or maybe he just couldn't handle sitting still for too long, JD once again began rowing for the island. He was halfway there when a noise caught his attention. He looked up. "What's tha ? Oh SHIT! Nooooo!"
Today, Chris and Buck were sharing a rowboat. Josiah and Nathan also, while in his, Vin lazily stretched out under a blanket with his hat over his eyes and one hand touching the fishing rod, just in case he got a bite.
Chris tapped a focused Buck's shoulder and pointed toward JD. "That boy couldn't sit still if his ass was cemented to the ground."
Buck chuckled. "We should have betted on how long he'd last."
Before anyone could break the news to Buck that Ezra had, a distant, but familiar noise put them on alert.
Chris frowned. "I didn't think anyone else would be up here this time of year " His breath caught in his throat when he saw a racing speedboat round the island to head straight for them.
Leroy Eaton was enjoying a few days away from his family. He loved this vast, freshwater lake and that only a few cabins dotted its extensive banks. It was a wonderful place for peace and solitude, while easily adapting for a fun, family vacation spot. With his children in their teens, they were more eager to be around more civilized locations at this time of year, so he was here alone, and enjoying every minute.
As he would be returning home the next day, he decided to take the speedboat out for a run. It was a bracing trip and thinking he was alone, or at least one of only a few on the lake right now, he ran the vessel full throttle. Rounding the bend toward the Larabee cabin, the man couldn't have been more surprised to see a little group of rowboats sitting on the lake. Taking evasive action, he swung the boat away and closer to the island, barely seeing JD's solitary rowboat until he was practically on top of it.
Vin sat bolt upright in his boat as the other brothers stared in horror at the launch bearing down on them. Their shock turned to terror as the boat swerved and now JD was in its path. Vin was slipping off his boots even before he realized he was doing so. From the jetty of their cabin, Ezra was already firing up their own power boat.
JD sucked in air as he watched a speedboat round the bend and head for his brothers. A split second later, he realized it was changing direction, and now heading for him. With barely time to react, he had to decide which way to jump. He made his decision within a millisecond of the boat's bow clipping the rear-side of his boat, splintering it into little more than kindling.
His body hitting the lake took JD's breath as foaming, icy water churned around his sinking form. Weighed down by his coat, jeans, and boots, JD stopped fighting the turbulence and waited until his descent slowed. With lungs bursting, he kicked hard for the distant, rippling light above him. Just as he feared his chest would explode before he broke the surface, a hand grasped the back of his collar, propelling him into fresh air, where he noisily inhaled a huge breath.
With Buck and Chris holding onto a semi-submerged Vin, Tanner ducked his head under the water. Seconds later, his arm rose and a gasping, spluttering, struggling JD broke through the surface. Josiah and Nathan had come around and the big ex-preacher grabbed the youngster's flailing arms and hauled his sodden form into their boat. As that occurred, Buck and Chris did the same to Vin, and Ezra pulled the speedboat up next to Nathan and Josiah.
In seconds, Chris and Buck's blankets were wrapped around Vin. Chris gathered up all the rowboats' mooring ropes and once JD had been manhandled up to Ezra, all six brothers clambered up onto the sturdier vessel. Vin's gaze fixed on his soaked brother. The Texan himself was shivering, but looked positively tanned against JD's blue- tinged skin and lips.
Ezra and Nathan were draping the silent, shivering youth in blankets, while anxious glances were exchanged at JD's lack of reaction. All at once, JD inhaled, coughed, blinked slowly, then looked up at an anxious, hovering Buck.
"Oh, God," he stammered between violent shudders. "I don't think I'll ever feel warm again."
Chris's command was quiet, but oozed urgency. All but JD looked up when Leroy's speedboat pulled alongside them.
"Oh, man guys, I'm real sorry. I had no idea anyone would be on the lake. I normally give the island a wide berth." Eaton gulped at the glare from Chris and felt sure the blond, and, or his companions were about to jump aboard his vessel and rip him a new one. Surprise registered when the fury evaporated right before his eyes.
Despite the rage directed toward the recklessness of the man before them, it was evident the incident was an accident. Right then, anger would delay JD and Vin getting into warm, dry clothes. Chris waved a hand.
"Apologies can wait; we got soaked, freezing folk to attend to." Barely had Chris spoken when Ezra fired up their boat and was heading for the jetty, towing a little flotilla of rowboats behind them.
An hour later, and sandwiched between Buck and Chris, JD and Vin were now in dry clothes and sitting on the couch facing a roaring log fire. JD was still draped in a blanket, his eyes heavy-lidded as he stared wearily at the warming flames. Vin's hands were wrapped around a mug of hot chocolate, his complexion a regular, healthy hue, unlike JD, who looked positively ashen. Feeling the boy trembling against him, Buck glanced around his gathered family and spoke, softly.
"Hey, why don't you go up to bed, Kid?"
There was a long pause, then a quiet "Sure, okay."
Nathan stood and touched the back of his hand to JD's forehead, but with them sitting close to a roaring hearth, he couldn't tell if JD was unnaturally warm or not. Standing a little unsteadily, JD pulled the blanket in tight and shuffled off to bed. He stopped and looked back at them, grinning on seeing Buck right with him.
"Go take a seat, Buck." He noted Buck's reluctance and addressed them all. "Look, thanks for the concern, but I'm fine, guys. I just needed to feel some warmth get to my bones is all." He nodded at Vin. "Thanks again, Vin."
Undeterred, Buck followed JD anyway, glancing back at the others when JD coughed.
Tanner stretched. "Anytime, Kid." He winked at his brothers. "But I'm kinda hoping there won't be a next time, or at least the water'll be warmer if there is."
All eyes flicked between first Chris, then Nathan. The latter shrugged. "JD took in some water, but he seems okay. Best he rests up tomorrow and I'll keep a discreet eye on him."
"You don't think he needs a trip to the hospital?" Chris wondered.
"Not that I can tell. He didn't injure himself, and his skin tone's back to a more natural color, now. Plus, when I mentioned going home, JD was adamant not to. We just need to watch out for cough or cold symptoms, or any signs of delayed shock."
With a collective, silent agreement that at the first signs of trouble they'd head home, the brothers settled in for the decidedly frosty evening.
As he eased himself into bed, JD smiled at his hovering brother. "Seriously, Buck, I'm okay. I was real cold, but not any longer. I just feel tired, now."
Buck nodded. "Sure, but I'll just hang around if that's okay." Smiling at the sleepy nod, he sat on Vin's bed and watched JD drift off. Despite having to agree that JD did indeed seem unscathed by the incident, the big-hearted man's smile faded as he contemplated how close JD, or for that matter, all of them, had come to serious injury or worse.
With only one day before heading home, the next day the brothers took it easy. No one felt like fishing, so while JD chose to stay close to the fire; Chris, Vin, and Josiah went on a long walk before settling in for the afternoon. Arriving back, they were surprised when a truck pulled in next to their cabin just ahead of them. Leroy Eaton stepped out.
"Chris, guys. I'm heading out, but I dropped by to see how you folks were doing, and to apologize again for my recklessness."
Any anger long gone, Chris gestured toward Tanner. "Well Vin's okay, and JD seems a little subdued, but can't say as we've noticed any problems so far." He shrugged. "I confess, I was pretty pissed at you yesterday, but it was an accident, let's leave it there, shall we?"
Vin and Josiah nodded.
"What about your young friend?" Leroy asked.
"My brother, is fine with it."
Chris grinned inwardly at the man's reaction to that news. He signaled toward his companions, and then to the cabin. "All my brothers are fine with it. Leroy, this is Vin and Josiah. Buck and Nathan you know. Ezra drove the boat yesterday, and JD's the kid you sent into the lake."
Eaton nodded to them all. "If I wasn't in such a hurry, I reckon how you came by four more brothers is quite some tale to tell." He turned to his truck and dropped the tailgate. "By way of an apology, I brought over a keg of my homebrew. Thought it might help to warm y'all up some."
Josiah and Vin relieved the man of the barrel, thanking him as they did so. Chris reached out and shook Leroy's hand. "Next time you're up this way, look us up. I'll be happy to fill you in on a pretty wonderful legacy Dad left us all."
"I'll hold you to that," Leroy assured. With a final apology, and farewell, the man drove off.
The three brothers stared at the keg in amusement. "Looks like we're in for a good night, boys," Josiah chuckled.
Later, after a surf and turf cook-out, washed down with several glasses of homebrew, five men were inside the cabin and hammered.
Buck blinked, but couldn't move. "I think my brain died."
"I find it surprising you needed alcohol to appreciate that, Buck," Ezra teased, before full on giggling like a girl.
Buck slowly looked up at his brothers. "Did Ezzzra just insss-ult me?"
"I do believe a slur was directed at your person, brother," Josiah replied with a hiccup. "Man, but that homebrew's potent stuff."
"Uuh we missin' someone, Chris?" Nathan asked, glancing drunkenly around.
Buck chuckled. "Tha'sss in inee inneebee drunk Larabee for 'Yes'."
Out on the deck, despite the cold, JD and Vin were laying on their backs and looking up at the stars twinkling in the clear, black velvet sky.
"Ooh whasss that, Vin?"
"Ooh and that one?"
"That one? Ooh, what about that one?"
Vin frowned. "Huh? Now you're seein' things."
Flipping onto his side to face Vin, JD rested his elbow on the frosty wood and propped up his head with his hand. "Maybe it's not a shooting star; maybe Santa's a little late going home."
Raising his eyebrow, Vin glanced sideways and made a soft, dismissive noise. "How old are you? 'Sides, ain't no such thing as Santa Clause."
JD gasped. "Sure there is!" He noted the glare. "O-k-a-y not like in books and movies, but " He touched a hand to his heart, and then to Vin's. "But Mom said in here."
There was a long pause. "You're drunk."
JD giggled and flipped onto his back. "Nope, I'm JD."
The pair's chuckles then full-on laughter, drifted into the cabin. Nathan pointed toward the outside on hearing them. "Oh good, at least they ain't fallen into the lake."
"They should come in," Ezra insisted. "'Sss cold out there." He looked up as the objects of their conversation walked in.
"'Ssss cold out there," JD stated, ignoring the shake of the head from a weather-hardened Texan. JD sneezed long and hard several times, and snatched up some paper towels to wipe and blow his nose. "Told you."
"Snow's comin' in soon," was all Vin said before flopping onto the couch and instantly snoring.
JD waved a hand in the general direction of his brothers, and trudged toward the stairs. "'Night."
He leaned heavily on the wall as he walked wearily up to his and Vin's room. He figured the dizziness he was experiencing was down to the alcohol; and the chills causing him to shiver, and the ache in his bones due to lying on frosty boards for best part of half an hour. Well, that, and likely his impromptu swim in a freezing lake. A good night's sleep would fix it.
As they were due to travel home at some point the day after, the others decided to follow their youngest brother's example. They locked up and headed for bed, dragging a sleepy, and reluctant Vin with them.
The next morning, six hung-over men sat at the kitchen table and stared at their coffees. Buck finally raised his aching head.
"Still sleepin'," Vin offered, his eyes looking a little less bloodshot than his companions'. "I heard him upchuckin' in the night." He noted the looks his way. "It's okay, I put him back to bed on his side, and a bowl next to him, and he grunted and waved me away before I left the room earlier."
Chris yawned. The action caused him to wince. "Aaahh never again," he grumbled through clenched teeth.
"'Til the next time."
They all chuckled at Josiah's words, each man instantly regretting it as they all flinched with pain and then reached for the aspirin.
An hour later and feeling a little more human, Buck dragged himself upstairs to check on JD. Seeing the bump under the bedcovers, Buck tiptoed around and eased himself down onto the edge of the bed. He grimaced at a small amount of questionable liquid sitting in a bowl on the floor below JD's head, and then reached out and put a hand on the top of the dark head and unkempt hair just poking out from the comforter.
"Hey, sleepyhead." He quickly withdrew his hand. "Shoot! JD?"
While fully expecting JD to feel warm from being all tucked up tight, Buck wasn't expecting the near-furnace temperature there. He rolled JD to his back and was shocked at the boy's sickly pallor. "This can't all be from alcohol," he mumbled to himself. He gently shook the shivering youth, eliciting a soft groan before JD's eyelids flickered open.
"Jeeze, Buck, I feel like " Before JD could complete his sentence, he was rolling to his side and dry heaving.
Buck rubbed his brother's back, alarm growing at the heat permeating JD's tee, and the vibration there from deep inside his chest. Once the heaving stopped, Buck offered JD a sip of water, and told him he'd be right back. Deciding that hollering for Nathan would do neither himself nor JD any favors, Buck jogged down the stairs two at a time and skidded in his socked feet into the kitchen. All eyes turned to him.
Chris huffed and grinned. "Kid always was a cheap drunk "
" No," Buck interrupted. "It's more than that." He was eternally grateful that Nathan always trusted Buck's judgment and he followed the hurrying doctor back up the stairs.
A few minutes later, and with all the brothers in and around Vin and JD's room, Nathan stood and addressed them. "I'm pretty sure it's influenza."
Buck glanced at the others. "From falling in the lake?"
Nathan shook his head. "Not directly. I'm guessing it was incubating, and that dip brought on a chill and forced the symptoms out. I have a few packs of Tamiflu in my bag " he smiled at the surprised looks. "I'm always prepared for anything, especially when traveling, you should know that by now."
"I didn't think there was much could be done for flu," Chris pointed out.
"An anti-viral drug is more a help than a hindrance. We've caught it early, so we might get lucky and he can travel home in time for New Year."
Attention turned to Vin.
"The sky's already graying up. Snow's comin' in fast."
All gazes went back to Nathan. The doctor shook his head. "No way can he travel just yet. I need to pump fluids into him, and he needs at least a day or two of rest and quiet."
Chris glanced out of the large window and across the lake. The distant mountains and treetops were already enveloped in snow-laden clouds, and obliterating the route they needed to take to get home.
"Okay. If that's what it takes to get the kid fit to travel, then I'm staying. I know Nathan wants to..." he noted Nathan nod. "...And Buck will insist." The brunet was already moving to go sit on JD's bed. "The rest of you hi-tail it out of here before the weather deteriorates."
There was a significant pause. From outside his and JD's room, Vin spoke first. "If it's all the same to you, Cowboy, I'd prefer to stay on, too."
"With no guarantee those staying will make it home before New Year, I also wish to remain," Ezra added.
Josiah grinned. "Full house, brothers."
"The snow " Chris tried.
"Is white and what of it?" Vin interrupted. "We've got supplies, and I'll go out and rustle us up some game bird and maybe some vegetables before the snowstorm hits." He pointed in the direction of his and JD's room and jerked his thumb toward the door. "Take care of the Kid."
Chris looked to Buck, who winked and gestured for the blond to follow after Vin. "Go make sure he don't shoot a bear, Stud. We don't have room in the larder for one."
"I'll go gather firewood," Josiah offered.
"I'll help," Ezra added.
Nathan smiled, approvingly. "Let's do this."
While Nathan set to work, Buck laid out a fresh fire in the small hearth but didn't light it. The central chimney rarely pumped smoke, as the family mostly vacationed during late spring to fall, but once a year a local handyman would call by and check the flue was clear, just in case a fire, or several, was required. Only the main hearth had been lit during their stay this time, but once JD's fever broke, he would need warmth, and quickly, so Buck's task was to ensure that when the time was right, the fire was lit, and stayed lit. His job for right now was to keep the boy's heated, fevered body cool. Being westerly facing, the room was normally cool in itself until mid- afternoon, but Nathan figured it would give the anxious man something to do other than worry.
While treatable, influenza was still a killer, and although JD was strong and fit, Nathan intended to ensure he missed nothing in his endeavor to get the kid well as quickly as possible, and the family home for New Year; though that particular goal seemed unlikely, now.
"Toby quit nipping Peso's tail he kicks more like a mule than you do " JD tossed and turned, and his legs moved restlessly under the covers. "Gotta get more feed "
Buck rubbed his sooty hands on his jeans and joined Nathan at JD's bedside. He squatted down and touched the back of his hand to the youth's sweaty forehead. Buck glanced at Nathan. "Wow, still hot."
"His high temperature and the meds will make him a little out there for a while, but if we can keep him hydrated, he'll be okay." Nathan handed Buck a bowl filled with tepid water, and a cloth. "Just dab his face and neck from time to time. It'll help keep him cool, and hopefully soothe him a little."
Not needing to be told twice, Buck did just that for several hours.
With the wind picking up and the snowflakes getting bigger and falling faster, Josiah and Ezra dropped another two armfuls of timber into the near-full wood bin at the back of the cabin. They both looked up at the sound of a distant gunshot.
"The next lot of kindling will be our last, and we'll take them inside," Josiah half-shouted over the swirling wind.
Josiah didn't miss the man's grim expression. "JD will be fine," the big man added as they trudged through the growing layer of snow into the nearby woodland.
"Of that, I am reasonably confident," Ezra called back, despite only being a few feet away from his companion.
"So why the glum face?"
Ezra halted, causing Josiah to do likewise and look back at him. "I have been considering the incident at the lake. Had I been with JD that day "
Josiah shook his head. "You'd have been drenched and half frozen, too." He approached his brother and smiled kindly. "There, or not there, you couldn't have prevented what happened. Let it go, Ezra. It was an accident, and not one you were responsible for."
The southerner nodded, but in his heart, he wasn't totally convinced his presence wouldn't have been helpful. What Josiah was right about though, was the fact it had happened and dwelling on it could not change that. He looked up at the snow-heavy sky. Time to get this job done and get back inside. This was going to be one hell of a storm.
Chris held his breath as Vin eased his rifle's high-powered scope toward the only pheasant crazy enough to be out in such weather. He'd already bagged a wild, albeit small boar, and they had gathered a bagful of roots, mushrooms and garlic. Chris himself had shot a rabbit, and so, along with the small amount of cans, goods, and powdered milk they always brought with them, not to mention the fish still in the cooler, their supplies would easily last until New Year, if necessary.
As the soft pattering of snow enveloped them in a white wall of feathery stillness, and with flakes clinging to his hair and eyelashes, Vin turned to Chris. "We're not gonna make it home for New Year, y'know."
Chris nodded. "Yeah, I figured as much. I guess I should call the Ranger's station."
"Already tried. Cell reception sucks out here." Vin fired off a quick shot at another rabbit, causing Chris to jolt. "If the snow's bad, I'll hike to the nearest highway when it clears, some."
"...And if that's the case we'll go together."
Tanner offered a lopsided grin before sobering. "Kid needs you here."
"JD has four big brothers to keep him occupied. He can spare me."
"He looks up to you."
"He looks up to us all, quit looking for excuses."
Vin couldn't help chuckling. He bent to pick up the fresh kill. "I reckon these'll do for now."
Chris nodded, shaking loose some of the snow crystals clinging to his damp, fair hair. "Thank God for that, my feet are freezing, and I want to check over the generator."
The pair turned back to the cabin, outwardly shocked by how deep the snow was getting since they last took note. "Chris?"
"JD's gonna be okay, right?"
The pair halted and Chris replied. "You bet. He's due a couple of rough days, but Nathan's on it."
They continued crunching through the snow. "Yeah," Vin said, softly.
"Damnit, Buck I'm freezing." JD tugged desperately at his comforter, but Buck held firm.
"It's just the chills making you feel that way, Kid. We have to keep you cool until your fever spikes and your temperature starts registering somewhere lower than 'furnace'" Buck's eyes welled at his little brother's restlessness. He looked over to Nathan.
"Can't we give him more pills yet?"
Nathan pointed to the jug of water on the nightstand next to JD's bed. "Get more of that into him, and then, yes. He's dehydrated, Buck, what with the alcohol consumed, and the fever he's running. More water then I can help him rest."
With a nod, Buck poured out a glassful of water, eased JD upright and encouraged him to drink. He couldn't help but grin at the glare.
"I can hold a glass, y'know," JD squeaked out.
"Did I suggest otherwise?" the brunet replied, still grinning, and still forcing water into his brother's dehydrated body.
"What now?" Buck noted JD's slight blush.
"Need to pee."
Buck stood and set down the glass. "Come on, then." Despite JD slapping away his hand, Buck continued to help, outwardly shocked when JD crumpled back onto the bed like a wet tissue. Another two attempts concluded JD had no energy reserves to get himself walking. Seeing Nathan had stepped out, Buck bent over and scooped his brother up.
"Gerrrofff, you nut."
Undeterred, Buck shifted the heated body in his arms and continued on to the bathroom. "Save your strength for the finale unless you want me to help there, too." He actually chuckled at the squeak, and raspy 'no, that's okay,' from the lad, and though JD did what he needed to do by himself, the big-hearted man held the boy upright the whole time.
Returning to the bedroom, and now being half-carried, half- walked, JD leaned into Buck. "Sorry."
"Everything. Being sick, you having to do this " JD's hand weakly swept outwards.
Buck pressed his lips to JD's ear. "Shut up." He grinned at the hoarse giggle.
When they entered the bedroom, Nathan and Ezra were just finishing up changing the sheets on JD's bed. All three noted the sigh when JD got back into the fresh covers, but then instantly shivered. Ezra dropped over the top sheet and offered JD several more sips of water.
Checking his watch, Nathan handed the southerner two pills, which he promptly got JD to swallow. Not too long after, JD was finally resting comfortably. Nathan fired a thermometer into JD's ear and checked the results.
"Still high, but he'll sleep now, so that will help."
Noise downstairs heralded the return of Chris and Vin. Buck ushered the pair out as he took up a chair. "Go ahead. I'm okay here."
With a nod, the two brothers left.
With only JD's raspy breathing breaking into the silence, Buck reached out and toyed with the damp, dark tendrils of hair sticking up from JD's heated head. "Rest easy, little brother. We got all the time in the world." He glanced out at the snowy landscape. "You're gonna be wired when you see all this snow."
Vin and Chris stood in front of the roaring fire and toweled their hair. They looked up when Nathan and Ezra joined them.
"How's JD?" Chris instantly asked.
"Doing okay," Nathan replied. "Not quite out of the woods yet, so to speak, but he's responding to the meds." He glanced toward the kitchen. "Did you get a bird?"
"Uh huh," Vin replied. "You need broth?"
Nathan smiled that Vin knew what he was after, and nodded.
"I'm on it," Vin promised, moving to prepare the bird for cooking so they could boil up the carcass for broth for JD. They had canned soup with them, but it would never be as nutritious, or as palatable as freshly made broth.
It had taken a while to cook using the wood-burning stove, but several hours later, their hearty, evening repast was consumed, and the bird's carcass well on its way to becoming another meal...or two. Chris left his brothers clearing up and was now standing next to JD's bed. He reached out and playfully flicked at the wayward hair sticking up.
Chris turned toward Nathan and smiled. "I know. Just wanted to check in on him before hitting the hay." He gestured toward the window. "Still snowing."
Nathan nodded. "Cell phone reception's down."
Chris's expression turned to one of fear. "Do we need ?"
"NO! No , I was just commenting because I couldn't get JD's iPhone to tell us the weather forecast."
"Don't need no gadgets to tell us this snow's in for the night," Vin interjected as he brought in a bowl of steaming broth. Chris took it from him.
"I'll take first watch."
"Uh Chris, JD ain't gonna be alone. I do sleep here, y'know."
Larabee took up a seat. "Good, and I suggest you get some." He gently shook JD. "JD Kid got some broth for you."
Eyes remaining closed, JD weakly flipped a hand. "Not hungry thanks."
"Tough, come on."
Cracking open an eye, the youth peered at the man holding something that, while causing his stomach to clench, made him aware he actually was a little hungry. "Chris?"
"That's me." He set down the bowl and eased JD into a sitting position. "Come on, drink this."
As Vin flopped down on top of his bed, he grinned. Any one of the brothers could eventually get JD to do something for his own good, but only Chris got instant respect. He raised his head when Buck entered the room.
"You lost, Bucklin?"
"Har, har. Just thought I'd "
"I got this, Buck. You can spell me later," Chris insisted.
There was a moment's hesitation. "He's okay?"
"He's just drinking some broth." Chris decided he wouldn't share that JD only took a few sips.
It was clear Buck was reluctant to leave, but he knew it made sense. "Okay, later, then."
The next morning the brothers awoke to a spectacular, snowy landscape. There was still light snow falling, but it was the depth of the fallen snow that surprised them. Chris nodded to himself, then addressed the other three with him in the kitchen.
"We may have to dig our way out to the highway once JD's ready to travel."
"Then, that's what we'll do," Josiah cut in. "Meanwhile, there's eggs and bacon, and I'm volunteering to cook breakfast."
"I'll make the coffee," Ezra jumped in, giving Vin a pointed look.
The Texan laughed. "You tryin' to tell me somethin', Ezra?"
"Whatever gave you that impression?" the southerner deadpanned.
Attention turned to Nathan when he joined them. The doctor smiled. "Fever's broke. To say Buck's pleased is an understatement." He pre-empted the next question, too. "JD's gonna need another day at least, maybe two, before he can travel."
With nods of agreement, breakfast and coffee was prepared, and enjoyed.
"Can I get up?"
Mid afternoon and JD was still in bed and tired of feeling tired. Buck frowned, then relaxed and nodded. "How about you bundle up and sit next to the fire? You can see out the window from there, too."
JD smiled, and after a visit to the bathroom, aided, but on his own two feet this time, he was soon ensconced in a small armchair next to the fire, and swathed in his comforter. He looked out over the lake and the surrounding snowy vista.
"Wow, that's just awesome."
Trying not to focus on how weak and raspy JD still sounded, Buck pulled up a chair next to him. "It sure is."
"What are the roads like?"
"Uh not sure." Buck winced as JD recognized the untruth.
"Oh God. That's down to me."
Buck huffed. "No it's down to the snow. You got sick not your fault, either, and now we just have to wait a day or two."
"Cell reception?" JD sighed at Buck's shake of his head. "Shit."
"Quit worrying. There are six big, fit, strong men ready and able to tunnel our way outta here when the time's right." He sighed inwardly at JD's slump in the chair. "Hungry?"
"No, I'm really not." JD yawned. "Could I have some milk?"
Buck stood and patted his knee. "Consider it done." Just before exiting the room, he looked back to see JD staring in awe at the view. With a grin, he left. When he returned, JD was fast asleep in the chair. Buck made sure his brother was comfortable, placed the guard around the popping, spitting fire, and went downstairs to offer help with the rabbit stew Vin and Josiah were about to get going.
The next day, New Year's Eve, and JD took a quick, but much appreciated shower. Bored with broth, and sitting in his room, JD was allowed downstairs. It quickly became obvious he was weary and a little blue, so Buck and Vin sat him in the rocking chair positioned next to the patio doors that led onto the decking. After bundling him up, they advised him to keep watching, and then they, and Ezra, dressed warmly and went outside.
JD's hoarse chuckles brought Chris, Nathan, and Josiah next to the boy. Soon, all four were laughing as Buck and Vin, with Ezra's 'supervision', struggled to roll giant snowballs up onto the decking. Within the hour, a large, jolly snowman, with sticks for arms, a carrot nose, and small rocks for buttons, was looking back at the indoor brothers, while the outdoor brothers beamed with delight at JD's grin. Vin disappeared, and winked at Buck and Ezra when he returned.
Chris pointed. "Hey that's my scarf!"
Josiah scowled. "And that's my fishing hat!"
A wheezing sound drew their attention, and the three laughed at JD's breathless giggles. Outside, Buck, Vin, and Ezra took their bows to the applause from Josiah, Nathan, Chris, and JD. Buck pushed Ezra.
"What are you bowing for? All you did was watch."
Ezra pushed back. "Supervised brother, su-per-vised." He went rigid, and slowly blinked, when a snowball hit him in the head and slid down his face.
"Watched," Vin insisted as he dusted fresh snow from his hands and winked at a helplessly hysterical JD.
Before anarchy could ensue, rotor wash drew their attention to the sky. A hovering chopper drew close, and a projected voice called out.
"Hey there. This is the Park Ranger. We saw your chimney smoke. Is everyone okay?"
Vin gestured that they were.
"Snowplow's are working flat out, but the side roads won't be clear until after New Year. Is that a problem?"
Chris had joined them, and indicated it was not.
"I hadn't realized anyone was on the lake until we got a few calls and then saw your smoke. I'll head over on my snowmobile tomorrow to check in on you and bring you some tire chains."
With that, the chopper left.
Chris shivered in his shirtsleeves. "I guess Nettie and, or Jake have been making calls." The four made their way inside, grateful for having a caring housekeeper, and deputy foreman.
"Well, at least they'll know we're okay, now," Buck assured.
"And we're here for New Year," Ezra reminded.
"Any of that homebrew left?" Buck wondered.
They all stepped inside, and answered as one.
That evening, the brothers played poker, and swapped New Year's Eve stories; until it became evident the date mostly conjured up feelings of loss and loneliness for each of them. JD dozed, intermittently, but was determined to be awake for the witching hour.
On the stroke of midnight, they clinked glasses of sparkling, bottled water, and wished each other a heartfelt 'Happy New Year'. They then bundled up, JD too, and helped him step outside with the rest of them for a minute. Standing on the deck, the seven looked out over the frosty, moonlit lake. Neither man had ever seen it like this, and each one was rendered speechless...
...just for a few moments.
"It's like a postcard," JD whispered. "It's perfect."
Buck pulled him in close and smiled at each of his brothers. "Perfect yeah, it is."
"Y'know, apart from JD gettin' sick, I've kinda enjoyed this New Year," Vin stated.
Chris nodded. "Me too. We had to get back to basics, but it was actually more fun."
They all agreed, even JD. Buck could feel him start to shiver.
"Come on, let's go in."
"Aww, no, Buck I'm "
" Fine " they all finished for JD, before laughing.
"'Sides, we have gifts to exchange," Josiah reminded.
"Oh yeah," JD squeaked as they closed the door. "Neat."
Later, they planned to roast wild boar somehow; open a few cans to go with it, and finish up any relishes and leftovers. The day after that, with their vehicles sporting the promised chains, they would return home to a relieved Nettie, and ranch hands, and resume their anything but basic lives.
Bathed in a glow from the interior lights, the snowman stood sentry on the decking, while inside the cabin seven brothers' laughter at the goofy gifts they'd exchanged echoed out across the lake, followed by another resounding, and collective 'Happy New Year!'
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