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Aftermath, Part 1
By Jana L Puckett
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Disclaimer: The characters and situations of the TV program "Big Valley" are the creations of Four Star/Republic Pictures and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended. No infringement is intended in any part by the author, however, the ideas expressed within this story are copyrighted to the author.

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A continuation of the episode "Court Martial."
rologue      "Take care of your little brother, Jarrod."

He was four-almost five- and walking into his parent's room to see his baby brother for the first time. The memory had that sort of clarity only found in dreams.

"Take care of your little brother, Jarrod."

Mother looked exhausted but happy, Father was intently focused on a noisy bundle on the bed as Jarrod Thomas Barkley approached the interloper with a stab of jealousy.

"Take care of your little brother, Jarrod."

His mother beckoned him over to her side and gently handed the blanket wrapped infant to her son. He stared into trusting hazel eyes that peered hugely underneath a soft dot of black hair. Tiny fists waved randomly, helplessly, and Jarrod's resentment at the small stranger faded away beneath a growing bubble of delight.

"His name is Nicholas. Nicholas Jonathon Barkley. He's your little brother."

Jarrod pondered the name with the intensity only a precocious four year old could apply.

"He'll kind of have to grown into that name." He said doubtfully.

Victoria laughed.

"He will if we help him." Her gaze fastened on her firstborn. "You know he's going to need you as he grows up. He's probably going to want to follow you everywhere and do what you do. That makes him your responsibility."

Jarrod's eyes widened.


"Really." She nodded.

A fierce protectiveness towards the baby in his arms made Jarrod stand up straighter while Victoria watched with pride.

"Take care of your little brother, Jarrod."

The dream came back several times that night, and when he woke up in the morning, Jarrod could remember the dream but had no idea why he'd had it. hapter 1      At the far end of the hall, Nicholas Jonathon Barkley was dreaming too; only in his dreams the children were dying.

It was Mayville, and smoke and blood and insanity were assaulting his senses. Burning his eyes, echoing in his ears, the stench filling his lungs and turning his dinner into foul tasting vomit. He was stumbling through the streets trying to stop something terrible from happening but knowing he would fail. There was a flapping roar overhead and a dark figure glided by; laughing, taunting, jeering, mocking his clumsy attempts to run through the bloody mud. Leathery wings flapped out of reach, turning a corner. The boy officer heard the gunshots and staggered onward, knowing he was already too late.

The children were dying

A malignant shadow capered and danced and fired army bullets into tiny skulls while he did nothing to stop it; struck dumb with horror.

The children were dying

The young Lt raised his pistol and fired uselessly at the dark howling madness that was death, the boy only now feeling spatters of blood on his face, burning streaks of scarlet and he didn't know if the crimson liquid came from the red rain that was falling from the sky or the slaughtered babies at his feet.

The children were dying and it was all his fault


Hot hands, holding him down, a face blurred in the night as his mind struggled to piece things together. He was at war..he was at home...

"Nick, it's a dream."

He felt the warmth of blood spatters on his face and wondered where he was. He was in {Mayville} Stockton and he was {Lt} Nick Barkley.

"Come on, wake up...It's just a dream."

The face above him was had {brown} blue eyes and wavy {red} blond hair. It was {bobbybats} Heath. He could put a name to the face. Heath Barkley his younger brother, and that meant this was Stockton California. Nick felt liquid on his face and had a moment of terrifying disorientation {if this is home then why do i have blood on my face?} He brushed his fingers against the liquid and they gleamed wetly, clearly in the moonlight. Not blood, sweat. Or maybe tears.

The hands gripping his shoulders released him and he heard Heath fumbling at the bedside light. Somehow the faded light from the lamp made the room seem smaller, more threatening.

Heath eased himself on the side of the bed, watching Nick rub his palms over his eyes.

"You had that dream again, didn't you?" Heath's voice was flat, tired.

Well it should be. Nick had awakened him every night for a week now with the same nightmare, and being jerked out of bed by a brother's screams was not the way to acquire beauty rest. Then again, he had it easy; he could just go back to sleep soon. Heath suspected Nick would stay stubbornly awake until dawn, as he apparently had done every other night judging from his hollowed eyes. "Do you remember it this time?"

A sigh. "No."

"Do you remember anything about it?"

A shake of the head. "Only that it was about Mayville."

A wave of exhausted concern made Heath decide on the direct approach.

"Nick, you need help."

"From who? A Doctor?"

Right. Tell a Doctor about the nightmares, the smell of gunpowder that wouldn't go away and the faint sound of a baby's cry that was following him everywhere. Any self respecting quack would toss him in a madhouse. Maybe that's what he deserved.

"I don't want to talk to a Doctor."

"The family." Heath pressed.

Another obstinate shake of the head.

"Nick you have to do something!"

"I don't have to do any Go-" he bit off a curse, "I don't need any help."

"This is eating you alive-"

"I'm fine."

"At least let me tell Jarrod."

"NO!" Nick slid over to the opposite side of the bed his shoulders tight with tension. "The last person I want to talk to about this is Jarrod."

Heath nodded. Nick's work lately had gotten him out of the house before dawn and brought him back long after dinner. Heath had figured that it wasn't just coincidence.

"Jarrod thinks you agree with what happened. He thinks you've forgiven him."

"Of course I have." Nick growled. "How could I be angry at Jarrod? I mean, what he did he was doing for the country, for justice and truth and all those things that are important to him."

"More important than you?" Heath's dry question stabbed deeper than intended and Nick winced.

"I didn't say that." Nick tugged unhappily at his hair as he had when he was a boy.

Heath could almost see waves of uncertainty coming off his brother. "You just believe that it's true."

"I don't know. I just...I don't know. I don't know anything lately, Heath."

Nick felt dragged down with fatigue and words he hadn't intended to say spilled out.

"In the last coupla days I haven't even been sure where I am half of the time. I'll be doing something and all the sudden I wonder what I'm doing here when I have a Staff Meeting the General is expecting me at. One of the hands will ask me a question and I'll start to ask why he's out of uniform before I realize I'm at the ranch."

Nick looked up, and Heath could see dialated pupils, nervous sweat.

"I keep seeing snipers, smelling smoke. Then I turn around and there's nothing there. There's no one."

The hand tugging on his bangs were shaking and Nick laced his fingers together in his lap, willing them to be still.

"He's falling apart." Heath thought miserably.

Nick, the rock, the unassailable one, the force of nature forever in motion was falling apart and Heath felt helpless to slow the process. He chewed over his options for a moment. Tell a doctor? Nice plan but Heath didn't think whatever was wrong with Nick was physical. Tell Mother? Heath had a firm belief that Victoria could handle anything. But to tell her was to tell Jarrod and Nick had already said he didn't want to do that.

"Can't say's I blame him." An angry section of his mind suggested. "It was Jarrod's little 'court martial' that set this off. And since Mother and Audra are both convinced Jarrod did the right thing, that leaves Nick the odd man out. Funny how often that happens when Nick and Jarrod quarrel."

Heath tried to brush off the thought as unworthy but couldn't quite do so. He loved Jarrod, admired him and respected his passion for truth. But there were moments, and this was one of them, that he felt that Jarrod's "truth" had come at Nick's expense. And because Jarrod's intentions were genuinely noble, an angry response from Nick brought the wrath of the rest of the family down on his head.

In Heath's opinion, the whole 'court martial' farce had rested on taking advantage Nick's relationship with General Alderson without Nick's knowledge or consent. When Nick showed up unexpectedly Jarrod could have- and to Heath's mind should have- called the whole thing off. He didn't, and Nick had been tied up, threatened with hanging, emotionally battered...and found that it an elaborate practical joke . His trusted older brother had used him and everyone around him seemed to approve whole heartedly. No wonder he was confused.

Nick was still rambling disjointedly.

"And Jarrod was...He was working with the government and ... he was right. You heard Mother and Audra talking about how proud they are of him. I mean he .. he uncovered one of the men who assassinated Lincoln. I'm proud of him. I should be proud of him, not angry. It just...." His voice stumbled uncertainly. "I must be wrong. IF I was angry at him I'd be wrong. He's the brainy one, ya know?"

Heath had heard that phrase more than once from Nick. As always, it irritated him. Maybe it had been a family joke at some point but Heath didn't find it funny.

"Look Nick, why don't you at least talk to Mother? "

A shake of the shaggy head.

"You have to talk to somebody!"

Nick stared blankly out the window for a moment and an idea straggled to the surface.

"The General. I need to talk to General Alderson. That's where it all started."

Heath eyed him doubtfully.

"That's at least twelve hours ride away."

Nick pulled himself off the bed and began dragging on his clothes.

"Then I'd better get moving."

"You probably aren't his favorite person in the world." Heath pointed out. "He might not want to talk to you even IF they let you see him."

Nick pulled on a shirt without answering.

"Nick, I don't think this is a good idea."

Nick searched wearily for his boots. "It's the only one I have."

Heath watched him silently, wanting to stop his brother; not certain he should.


His brother paused in the doorway and turned haunted eyes on Heath.

"Will you at least let me talk to the family for you? To Jarrod?"

Nick rested his head on the doorjamb for a moment.

"Yeah sure. Do what you want; talk to him. If anyone can figure this out, it's Pappy. He's the smart one."

Nick walked out the door leaving Heath with a question that had been troubling him for awhile. If Jarrod was the smart brother, what did that make Nick?

To Top

Heath could hear the murmur of voices in the dining room before he slipped in, Nick's seat glaringly empty to his eyes. There was a small envelope next to Jarrod's coffee and dismay on Victoria's face as Heath came in alone.

"Don't tell me Nick has already headed out for the day?"

"He had an errand he wanted to run."

Victoria had not raised four children without learning to recognize an evasion when she heard one.

"I don't think I've even seen him in the last week. I'm fairly certain he still lives here since I've seen signs that his bed has been slept in but I haven't seen so much as Nick's shadow lately. Jarrod-"

Blue eyes met hers with an abstracted look. Obviously Jarrod hadn't heard a word of the conversation.

Victoria withheld a sigh of exasperation as she realized Jarrod was so deep in thought over something that he was scarcely aware of his surroundings.

"I'm sorry Mother, I wasn't really listening." Jarrod looked contritely at her. "I was trying to figure out how to respond to this." His finger flicked the opened envelope by his plate.

"What is it?" Audra asked.

"A letter from the defense department." A slightly embarrassed look crossed his face. "It seems they want to give me some kind of commendation."

Heath was dumbfounded. A commendation? They talk him into terrifying his family and using his brother and they think that deserves a commendation? Lovely.

"Oh Jarrod that's wonderful!" Audra responded excitedly. "Is it going to be a medal? Will there be a ceremony?"

"Audra please; Jarrod dear what does it say?"

"Just bureaucratic babbling mostly. I'm not really sure what to tell them."

"Tell them 'YES'! Oh we're so proud of you!" Audra was bubbling with delight.

Jarrod shook his head. "Audra I'm a civilian; I'm not even sure they CAN give me a medal." He returned to his breakfast with a bemused smile.

Heath angrily blinked back a memory of Nick wiping away sweat and tears and pushed the chair back with a scraping sound. Better to leave before he said something he regretted. Jarrod was so engrossed in how to answer the letter that he didn't even notice.

To Top


It was funny how such a small room could still echo each sound so ominously. Then again there wasn't any other noise to fill up the empty air. Three people sweating was fairly noiseless.


The bullet slid into the chamber and the barrell closed with a click. The gun barrel was spun and slowed down, eventually stopping, though on an empty chamber or a full one he had no way of knowing. The pistol slid across the table to his hand.

"Pick it up."

The voice was full of hatred and contempt, a sleet thin cover for madness. He hesitated and the only other pistol in the room was cocked.

"Pick. It. Up. Or I'll kill the guard now. "

He could feel two sets of eyes on him. Dead green ones and terrified brown ones. His own hazel eyes sought out the gun pressed to the private's temple, could see a finger tightening on the trigger a bit at a time. Anything he did aside from follow the orders he was given would get the boy killed. He picked up the gun.

"Now here's what we're going to do." The voice was calm, soft, even reasonable. "You put the gun under your chin and pull the trigger. If it doesn't go off... " A skull like smile. "then you point it at my head and pull the trigger. If we're both still here, then you spin the barrel and we play again."

Christ he's insane I shouldn't have come here

"No." he said defiantly. "I'm not doing this. Even if I blew your head off, you'd still fire the gun just by reflex and kill that kid."

The smile got tighter, wider and he could see the uncalloused finger applying a little more tension on the trigger. The guard started shaking as the acidic odor of urine filled the air and he could see the boy mutely begging him to go along. Yellow teeth, old and canine gleamed at him hatefully.

"A rock and a hard place, eh? If you refuse the boy's dead. If you kill me the boy's dead. I guess all you can do is hope that the only person you kill in this room is yourself. Now I'm going to count to three."


Sweat spattered on the floor.


Options Think There has to be another option.


Brown eyes were tearing up in terror, silently calling for help. He lost his breath as he recognized the look, remembered what had happened.

flames leaping in the darkness wailing voices being lost in the crackle and roar of the burning house two sets of eyes watching him in fear and panic in the instant before he heard the shots


There was only a second to decide. Nick Barkley pressed the gun beneath his chin and pulled the trigger. hapter 2      "...ggering devices, barbed wire, soap ..."

Heath checked off the items on the purchasing list mechanically, his mind on his troubled brother. Nick's erratic behavior lately had set off a memory Heath couldn't quite pin down. The nightmares, the shaking, the moments of disorientation when he couldn't remember where he was. Heath had seen it before somewhere else but couldn't recall the specifics. He was deliberately thinking about NOT thinking about it - no small feat- in the hope the facts would pop up of their own volition.

He focused on adding the figures together, wishing that he had Nick's wizard like ability to glance at the list and tell instantly if the total was off by so much as a cent. The storekeeper had once joked that Nick could tell if a bill was correct just by weighing it in his hand. The total seemed accurate and he scribbled his signature on the bottom of the receipt and left the store.

"Ho, Heath!" Jarrod's baritone greeted him as he hit the sidewalk "Just arriving in town?"

"Nope. Just leaving."

"You weren't even going to drop by and say 'Hello'? There was an air of mock indignance to Jarrod's voice as he gently teased his brother before focusing on the loaded wagons. "My Lord, that's a lot of feed."

Heath was getting the disquieting feeling that if he waited until Jarrod realized Nick was having problems, the topic wouldn't come up for weeks.

"Jarrod, we need to talk about Nick."

"I'll say we do. What's he thinking of, buying that much grain out of season?"

Heath tamped down on his temper. "The market was glutted and this stuff was a bargain. It'll keep forever and we can always use more grain. Uh..Nick..."

"Well, he's got enough there so we can go into the grain business ourselves."

"He knows what he's doing, Jarrod." It came out sharper than he intended but Jarrod didn't notice. "Look, Nick-"

"He's better know what he's doing as much grain as he bought. He's not taking that old weather faker's advice about how there's going to be a drought this year is he?"

"I don't know Jarrod. You'd have to talk to him about it" That sense of bubbling frustration was back as he realized Jarrod was only partially paying attention to him. "You oughtta talk to him about a lotta things."

"Huh?" Jarrod dragged his attention away from the loaded wagons. "I'm sorry, you were saying about Nick? You know, it's past lunchtime; are you hungry?"

Heath could feel the muscles of his jaw tightening in anger.

"No." The answer was cold, abrupt and angry and Jarrod stared at Heath, genuinely startled at the obvious fury Heath was reigning in.


Heath climbed up on the wagon without a word and slapped the reins down on the horses. He could feel Jarrod's puzzled gaze on his back as he drove away.

Screw him.

To Top

It was a harvest moon.

Nothin' like a harvest moon tae light ye up as a snipers' target.

It was one of the first warnings he had gotten from Jock, who had seen him heading out of the camp's perimeters for a smoke. The Colonel had simply yanked him off his feet a second before a bullet had passed overhead.

Keep yer eyes on yer arse and yer head outter it an mebbe you come outter this alive, eh boyo?

He hated riding on an open road under a full moon but he needed to get home and it was the quickest way. He felt like a big fat stupid target out here, a reaction he thought he had shaken off around 2 years after the war was over. Or maybe the war had never been over.

Hazel eyes clouded with exhaustion started to close and he forced them open with an effort. How long since he'd had a full night of sleep, he wondered. seven days now? Was it seven days or eight? His mind backtracked...he'd led the night patrol last night and taken some green troups out the night before. Plus there was a staff meeting he'd had to attend....but then he didn't have to attend any more since after all the general was now dead in the guardhouse...The guardhouse? A wave of disorientation so intense it made him dizzy washed over him and he stopped his horse trying to figure out where he was.

No war now. The war was over for why was he thinking it wasn't? He slapped absently at the mosquito that buzzed by sounding like the fly that had buzzed over the dead guard.

Oh yeah that was right. The guard was dead as was General Alderson and it was all his fault.

He wondered why he cared so little and felt a mild tremor shake his body. The first time he'd killed a man was on his third patrol. Everyone had congratulated his marksmanship. The captain had given him a nod. The veterans a slap on the back. He'd accepted the praise with bravado, then went into his tent to collapse on his cot where he shook so badly he couldn't even walk for an hour. Now all he felt was a slight shiver and he wondered if that change was good or bad.

His horse snorted and tossed its head impatiently and Nick realized he had been sitting in the saddle staring in space, for how long he had no idea. Cocoa snorted again and the steam from the nostrils floated past like smoke from a burning building.

the woman screaming as she ran with her children. The uncomprehending terrified eyes of the toddlers looking around.

Nick blinked again and it was all gone. There was nothing there but himself, stupidly sitting on a horse under a full moon, staring down at a road where water seeped up through the coils of mud like blood seeping through a bullet shattered brain his memory supplied, and he stumbled off his horse, fell to his knees in the road and heaved until his stomach was long past empty.

To Top

Victoria Barkley's boys each had their own way of getting angry. Nick's was generally to vent; Jarrod's was to retreat to icy formality, and Heath's to completely withdraw from the person he was angry at, not wanting to do anything to aggravate his temper. He was doing that tonight, pulling away from Jarrod and by extension, Victoria and Audra. It was obvious even to Audra in her most bubbly state, that things in the family were askew. Nick was gone for the eighth day in the row, an absence that troubled his mother but for the moment had been only vaguely noticed by Jarrod, who was concentrating solely on Heath.

"He fusses over Heath too much" The thought surprised her and she stopped to examine it a bit closer. "It's true. He worries about Heath more than he should. He always has, ever since Heath arrived."

Why was that? Because, at the time it was needed. Heath was very unsure and Nick was too absorbed with the cattle drive they were planning to prop Heath up at the time. She remembered that clearly. Jarrod had been annoyed with Nick for rehiring someone Heath had just fired, and Nick had bluntly told Jarrod that the herd came first. That was Nick's main concern. It had to be since he was responsible for not only the Barkley herd but the herds of two other ranchers. He treated Heath like anyone else who was working on the drive.

In the long run, Nick's unsentimental approach did far more for Heath than Jarrod's coddling. When Nick essentially made Heath his co-foreman there had been grumbling about taking orders from someone who wasn't a 'real Barkley' But there were no complaints about favoritism. Everyone knew that Nick wouldn't stand for anyone who was incompetent touching his precious cattle.

Jarrod was a different matter. He had been determined to prove something - Victoria didn't know what - to Heath. Maybe Jarrod was ashamed of what Tom did. Maybe he had decided that he personally would make Heath feel welcome. He had always been there ready to listen to whatever Heath had to say, always willing to help out, always trying to fill Heath in on the family history.

Nick had once spent a Sunday morning observing Jarrod telling Heath about various Aunts, Uncles, and cousins before bluntly asking Jarrod if he was going to test Heath over it that night. Jarrod had scowled, Heath had laughed and Nick had invited his brothers to go fishing that afternoon, which they did. It had been the first sign that Nick and Heath were becoming close. Jarrod had never really stopped worrying about Heath though, sometimes to the point of condenscension.

Nick, on the other hand, had the most amount of trouble getting around the idea of adding Heath to the family, but once he had he'd simply accepted Heath as a sibling to the point of occassionally talking about some long ago happening as if Heath had been there with him.

Victoria could remember Nick once talking about a long ago picnic and asking Heath if he remembered the really great peach cobbler someone had made.

"No." Heath answered.

"How could you forget that cobbler?" Nick had been genuinely indignant.

"I didn't forget it, I just never tasted it. I wasn't here at the time, remember?" Heath seemed more amused than annoyed.

"Oh." For a moment Nick was completely taken aback. Then, "Remember the best cobbler you ever ate?"


"It was better than that. So when we went swimming later...."

Nick's habit of essentially including Heath in his childhood memories had struck Victoria as both scatterbrained and touching, and fortunately Heath saw it the same way. Heath and Nick had fallen into a comfortable easy relationship with remarkable speed. Jarrod on the other had, still tended to be very careful with Heath's feelings.

In fact he focused so much on Heath that he seemed to be ignoring Nick in some ways. When there was a problem with Nick and Heath, Jarrod would be first concerned with whether or not they were physically OK, then how Heath was handling the aftermath. What Nick wanted or needed seemed to drop out of Jarrod's consciousness. It wasn't that Jarrod cared less for Nick, just that he seemed to be assuming Nick would come to his older brother if he was upset. That was fine with small problems but with large problems it wouldn't work.

Victoria reflected that Jarrod had forgotten Nick's tendency to try to deal with troubles entirely on his own. Like when he had been bitten by a rabid wolf and not only withdrew from the family but actually rode off, presumably to die alone. The memory still stung and she had never entirely gotten over the hurt at discovering that Nick had kept that information from them.

If something was really wrong, Nick wouldn't talk about it until Jarrod sat down with him and found out what was going on. And since Heath arrived Jarrod hadn't been as attentive to Nick, who often needed Jarrod as a surrogate Father figure. The fact that Nick called his brother Pappy was not accident. Jarrod had had practically raised Nick for months at a time when Tom was off on business.

I wonder if Nick ever feels like he gained one brother and lost another?

Victoria's thoughts kept her occupied during the strained supper conversation that finally left even Audra unable to fill the silences. Silas gathered the dishes together and took them into the kitchen and the sense of tension got noticably heavier. Jarrod , puzzled and confused over what was troubling Heath, decided he wasn't getting anywhere with his delicate probing questions.

"Heath, something's been bothering you all day, and since I seem to be part of the problem, why don't you just tell me what it is?" Heath took a deep breath. "Where's your brother, Jarrod?"

"What?" Jarrod plainly had no idea what Heath was talking about.

"Where's your brother? Your brother, Nick. You know, he's about six feet tall, black hair, hazel eyes? You court martialed him last week, remember? I do. I thought they were going to hang him. That's what Nick thought, too."

"That's what this is about?" Jarrod was relieved it was something so simple. "Heath, Nick and I already talked about it. I explained everything and he's fine."

"He's not FINE Jarrod!" Heath repressed an urge to shake his older brother. "If he was FINE he wouldn't have left at one in the morning to make a 12 hour ride to where Alderson is being held so he can talk to the man. If he was FINE he wouldn't be having nightmares that are so bad that he wakes up screaming every DAMN night. If he was FINE" Heath lost his breath and finished more quietly than he intended. "He wouldn't be falling apart like he is."

"Falling apart? Nick?" Jarrod was reeling at the information Heath was revealing so harshly.

"Yes Nick, every night since Alderson was here. That courtmartial shook him up, Jarrod and he hasn't been the same since. I don't think he's been getting more than two hours of sleep a night. Once he has the nightmare he won't go back to sleep; he's afraid to. He said he's having other problems too."

"What kind of problems?" Audra sounded timid and shaken at the thought of her protector waking up screaming. Nick just didn't do that. When he was six once he'd had a nightmare about monsters while he was suffering from a fever. When he woke up and mistook his father for the monster of his dreams, he had dealt with the problem by conking Thomas Barkley over the head with bowl of water. Screaming with fear was not Nick's usual way of handling matters.

"He's having..hallucinations, I think." Heath remembered the shaking hands of the night before. "He told me he's been seeing things, hearing things from the war. He's been getting confused about whether he's at home or in the army. He can't remember where he is half the time." Heath trailed off miserably.

Victoria remembered her dismissal of Nick's hurt and anger once Jarrod's deception was revealed. "He'll get over it." She cringed as the pitiless words came back to her.

She should have gone to him, talked to him. But she'd been so relieved that everyone was safe. None of her children were hurt. None of the children were injured or bleeding, not on the outside anyway. She'd been utterly exhausted and it was easy to dismiss Nick's anger as nothing more than a tantrum. How had that looked to Nick? Probably like everyone thought Jarrod was right. And if Jarrod was right then Nick had to be wrong so who could Nick possibly talk to?

"Nicholas my son," she grieved "We hurt you badly."

Jarrod was staring at Heath with a sort of slowly dawning horror. "Why didn't he tell me?"

"Why do you think, Jarrod?" Heath exploded. "For Christ's sake Jarrod, you set Nick up, you USED him! Why? He's your brother!"

Heath pushed away from the table and glared at Jarrod.

"Didn't it occur to you that maybe this could be hard on him? That you were using him as a sort of bait to draw in the General and that he might not appreciate being used like that?" Heath shook his head incredulously. "Jarrod, I gotta, know. When they came to you with this plan did you stop to think about what this might do to Nick? That he could end up being hurt?"

"I did, but I never..." Jarrod faltered for words "I never thought...."

"He thinks the world of you Jarrod. He may argue and quarrel with you but did you ever notice that he's the one who almost always gives in? That in the end, he usually does what you want? About the only thing he stands firm on is running the ranch, other than that he generally does things your way. He figgers you must be right, most the time. After all.." the words came out bitterly "You are the smart one, or so he's always been told."

Victoria looked stricken and Heath savagely cursed himself for revealing more than he intended to. He was too tired to be having an angry conversation if he was revealing confidences he knew Nick would rather keep private. And Jarrod...

Jarrod was reviewing the whole matter from start to finish, Heath's words having shredded Jarrod's self congratulatory assumption that everything had worked perfectly.

I thought about Nick. The thought sounded whiny and defensive even to him.

'Right Jarrod,' his conscience replied far too promptly. 'You thought about him for three seconds and decided you could handle him. It never occurred to you that he might deserve a little more consideration than being 'handled', did it?'

He flinched at the brutal accusation. It wasn't fair. He had never intended to hurt Nick, even Nick had known that. Jarrod had just wanted to get to the truth.

"Oh yes, your all fired truth!" the relentless little voice in his mind mocked. "What are you willing to sacrifice for your immutable truths? Your brother? Surely he won't mind if you spill his blood on your precious alter of truth. And even if he does, you can 'handle him, right? So go to it, Pappy, handle his nightmares, the ones you didn't know he had."

Nightmares..dreams. Jarrod remembered the dream he'd had last night.

"Take care of your little brother, Jarrod."

Oh God.

To Top

There was a scar on Jarrod's chin that had come courtesy of brother Nick, or more exactly one of brother Nick's more hair-raising escapades involving a 20 foot waterfall and a barrel. Jarrod had waded in to stop his reckless sibling only to get swept over the falls himself. Naturally, Nick had walked off without a scratch.

At first Jarrod had been sufficiently embarrassed by the scar to try covering it up with an "I'm concentrating" chin stroking gesture that had looked incredibly thoughtful and wise, or so he believed from the lofty perspective of an overly self concious 16 year old. Now it was an ingrained habit that unthinkingly appeared whenever he was worried about his brother. He was aware he was doing it now only because he was also searching for a probably worthless precedent in a poorly organized book and his arm was getting tired from moving down to the page and then back up to his face.

"Can't sleep?"

Jarrod's idle page flipping was interrupted by his mother's voice.

"No." He closed the book, marking his place with a finger. "I've been trying to find a precendent but I haven't had any luck." His finger rubbed the scar on his chin again.

Victoria sat down beside him and they listened to the clock checking off the seconds.

"I'm being stupid. This is stupid sitting up and waiting for him, he's probably stopped somewhere for the night." Jarrod started to stand but his mother laid a finger on his arm, stilling him. He could remember as a boy how he could always tell how angry she was by the tension in her hands. Right now there was no tension, no anger, just pain.

"Remember the day he was born?" Jarrod finally broke the silence.

"I'm not likely to forget." His mother responded dryly. "You took 19 hours of labor pains and I was all prepared to go through it again. Instead he was born in less than three hours." She smiled "At the time I was relieved. Years later I realized he probably had some great idea for a practical joke and was in a hurry to get here and put it into action."

Jarrod wasn't smiling like she'd thought he would; his face was intent as his eyes gazed on the old memory.

"I remember how you handed him to me, how you told me he was my responsibility. I remember being terrified that you were trusting me with something - someone! - so important, but at the same time I was so happy. Holding my brother that first time was one of the happiest moments of my life. Of course at the time I didn't realize what I was letting myself in for." He gave his mother a scolding look. "You really should have started me out with a dog first." he chided.

"Oh a puppy would have been too easy." His mother laughed. "It would have lulled you into a false sense of security when nothing could really prepare you for Nick."

Jarrod smiled, then turned to look at Victoria. "I haven't been doing a very good job by him lately, have I?"

Victoria shook her head. "None of us have. You mustn't take all the blame on yourself."

"I'm not just talking about the last week; I've been going back over a lot of things tonight and trying to see them from Nick's point of view. Heath was right you know; Nick does give ground more than I do, I just never give him credit for it."

Victoria was silent for a moment. "I think you're being too hard on yourself."

"Oh?" Jarrod stood up and started pacing restlessly, realizing he'd wanted to do that for hours. "Remember Julia Saxon? Remember what Nick's reaction was when I brought her home? 'What's SHE doing here?'"

"How could I forget" Victoria replied a bit tartly, "I wanted to box his ears for bad manners like I would have done when he was 12."

"You know, Heath told me a few weeks later that had he been in Nick's shoes he probably would have reacted the same way. Julia Saxon fed secrets to the confederacy and Nick's regiment was decimated BECAUSE of the information Julia provided. He buried men he'd fought beside for years. When I walked in with her, it must have been like a kick in the teeth. He probably saw me saying that the soldiers he lost that day were nothing; were less important than some old girlfriend. I meant to talk to him about it. I never did."

Victoria hadn't thought of that possibility. Looked in that context, Nick's reaction to the woman seemed downright tame, and his efforts to clear Julia Saxon of murder charges incredibly generous. Granted he had done it for Jarrod, not Julia, but the fact that he could bring himself to do it at all spoke volumes for Nick's love for his brother.


"Do you know how long it's been since he called me 'Pappy'?" He turned to look at her. "At least a year, probably longer. I just hadn't really paid much attention."

"Jarrod, that doesn't mean he no longer trusts you."

"I know. But it does mean he doesn't feel close to me anymore. Somehow in the last two years he stopped talking-REALLY talking to me. Maybe because I stopped listening; I don't know. If I was listening I probably wouldn't have agreed to the whole 'show trial' for General Alderson."

"You did what you thought was right. That's what your father and I taught you to do."

"No, that's part of what you and father taught me to do. The other part of what you taught me to do was take care of my responsibilities to my family. Mother, it's not just that I arranged that fiasco the other evening and Nick ended up being hurt. It's that I arranged it all without even thinking about him." The memory of his dream stung him again. "I neglected the first and most important responsibility anyone ever gave me."

Victoria didn't answer him. There was nothing she could say.

To Top

Cocoa stumbled into the barn, his owner not in much better shape. Nick looked around stupidly for a moment until his surroundings penetrated his overly tired brain. Mechanically he pulled the tack off the horse and curried the gelding, staying awake only by dint of focusing on dragging the brush down Cocoa's hide. He dumped some oats in the feed bin and left the barn with the same superfocused attention on completing every step. He fumbled with the front door before getting it open, grateful that no one was awake, pausing in the doorway to get oriented.

I need a drink

Right. Whiskey would go right to his head on an empty stomach Then again, who the hell cared? He managed to pick up a bottle and an empty glass without breaking them, then headed for his room. Thank god for double locks and double shots.

He wasn't even aware of sleepless hours passing until he heard Heath's soft voice through the door.

"Hey big brother, did you find out anything?"

Nick throttled back a tide of hysterical giggling. "No."

"I talked to the family for you."

Nick choked on another wave of giggles that threatened to escape, imagining the conversation at the dinner table:

"Listen everyone," he could hear Heath say, "Nick has flipped and needs to be locked up."

Then Jarrod, looking up with interest. "Dibs on his room."

not fair, Nicholas. Not fair at all

Fortunately, he felt no need to be fair at the moment. There was a scraping noise outside the door and he realized Heath was awaiting a response. Nick searched him memory, trying to recall what the proper answer would be.

'go to hell on the horse you road in on,'

'whaddaya want a medal? '

'thanks Heath I appreciate that'

He decided to try the third one.

"Thanks, Heath. I appreciate it."

Another scraping sound; Heath was probably shifting his weight from foot to foot nervously.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

Sure lets talk about it split a beer have some laughs and I'll tell you what a gutless monster I am; that'll be a jim dandy conversation

"Not right now. Maybe later."

Heath mumbled something, waited a few more minutes, then moved off when he realized no response was forthcoming. Nick was just happy to be left alone with his stomach twisting friend, Mr Booze. His peace and quiet was short lived.

"Nick?" It was Audra's voice

"Please go away."

"Nick , I want to talk to you."

"I don't really want to talk to anyone right now." His voice was rough, shaking. I need a drink. I need a drink. I need a drink. The bottle was half empty, how long had he been drinking?

"Nick please. I want to help you."

"I just want to be alone for awhile Audra. All right? Just...Just tell everybody ,,, best leave me alone."

Nick uncurled himself from around the bottle he'd purloined from downstairs and poured a glass; not caring that it was Jarrod's scotch rather than whisky, just needing something to make forget him before he unraveled completely. Needing something to block out the memory of the trapped, pleading fear in the private's eyes before the General had killed the boy. Just like Mayville. Just like Bobby Bats.

"Like shooting fish in a barrel, Lt."

His stomach heaved again and he ordered it not to throw up. It was a relief when his stomach complied. Maybe he'd actually make it through this without humiliating himself any further than he already had. Then again, maybe not.

"Nick?" It was his mother's voice now.

Go away go away just leave me alone please.

"Nick, we need to talk."

"I'm really tired, right now Mother. I just want to rest."

Another swallow of scotch, another coal of nausea burned through his chest. For a moment he had the oddest thought i wonder if i'm swallowing acid before the alcohol kicked his empty stomach. Funny how the sour pain could be comforting.

Victoria listened to the muffled voice, trying to judge what shape her son was in.

"Nick, I want you to open the door this minute!" She jumped as something slammed into the door with a shattering of glass.

"Leave me ALONE!"

She could hear a raspy wheeze through the wood and bit her lip, thinking he sounded like a man clinging to his sanity by his fingernails. She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to see Jarrod standing beside her, his eyes bottomless pools of guilt. He started to speak through the closed door, then stopped himself and moved stiffly away. Victoria struggled to put her thoughts in order. Jarrod would have to be involved in helping Nick through this or whatever they tried wouldn't really work. Nick wasn't going anywhere right now. Victoria realized sadly that for the moment, Nick wasn't CAPABLE of going anywhere.

"Will you talk to us tomorrow?"

There was a rough pleading sound to her voice that cut him to the quick. He writhed at the knowledge of how he was hurting her.

"Nick, if we let you rest today will you talk to us about it tomorrow?"

Silence and nothing more. Tears were running down his face and he couldn't speak, couldn't breathe, couldn't move a muscle without allowing sobs to escape.

"We're your family, Nick. We want to help. Please."

"Yeah, tomorrow." Anything to get her to leave. "I promise. Just, please leave me alone right now."

"I'll bring some food up for you and leave it outside your door."

Victoria waited for a moment but there wasn't an answer. When she came back from speaking with her firstborn, she noticed the tray was sitting, cold and untouched, in the hall. hapter 3      "Mr Barkley, It's Major Macklin. I need to speak to you."

There was a creak of floorboards and the sound of a key turning in the Lock. The door opened less than an inch revealing a hazel eye that flickered nervously about.

"What is it?"

"I need to talk to you about Mayville."

"I've said all I plan to say about that night."

The Major's jaw tightened. "No sir, you haven't. Now we can talk now or we can talk a week from now in front of a grand jury."

"What do you want from me?"

The door started to close and Macklin blocked it with his foot.

"Robert Batson."

Nick opened the door a little wider and looked silently at the intellegence officer.

"Why don't you just arrest me?"

"Because," The major's answer was surprisingly gentle "I'd rather talk to you."

Nick nodded slowly. It didn't make sense; but then nothing else that had happened in the last week or so had either.

"I'll meet you in the study."

Major Macklin studied him carefully and decided the man was in no shape for bolting out the window.


As soon as the Major reached the study, Jarrod pounced on the officer.

"Major, would you mind telling me just what in hell is going on? Nick was at the fort less than a day ago. If you had questions why not talk to him then?"

The major's expression didn't change.

"When he arrived I didn't know he was there. At the time he left the situation was a bit hectic, what with most of the men trying to scrape the general off the wall."

"What are you talking about?" Jarrod demanded.

Major Macklin cast him a puzzled look.

"He told you didn't he?"

"Major," Victoria's cool voice stepped in, "Nick has barely said a word to anyone since he came home early this morning.. He went to his room, locked the door and he's been been there ever since."

Macklin's eyes widened in surprise.

"Alderson's killed himself."

"Oh God." Audra whispered.

Jarrod dug his fingernails into his palm. "He didn't tell us;" He thought numbly. "Nick came home and locked himself away and didn't tell us. Oh Christ."

Jarrod buried himself in his legal training, letting his intellect take over.

"What exactly happened Major Macklin?"

"We're not entirely certain; that's one of the reasons I need to talk to your brother." If the Major was offended by Jarrod's 'Prosecuting Attorney' tone he didn't show it.

"He had a gun."

The voice was slurred from lack of sleep and, Jarrod suspected, from liquor. Nick hadn't shaved in days, his hair was tangled and uncombed. He had lost weight and appeared to have spatters of mud on his face and clothes. His usually clear gaze was clouded with sorrow and doubt. Major Macklin's eyes drifted over the stiff stains on Nick's clothing.

"Mr Barkley," That odd gentleness was back again, "Would you like to change your clothes?"

"Huh?" Nick looked at the Major uncomprehendingly.

"You have blood on your clothes, sir."

To his horror, Jarrod realized the Major was right; the stains on the shirt were reddish brown, and Jarrod noted with a queasy twisting sensation that fleshy specks of brain matter were stiffly clinging to the cuffs.

"Shock" that dry legal voice observed in his head. "He came home and locked himself in his room without even noticing the blood because he's in shock."

Jarrod stepped forward to help his brother and saw Nick back away.

"Don't touch me." There was whiff of scotch and Jarrod wondered how much he'd had to drink. "Just don't... Don't touch me."

Nick sidled over to a chair and the Major took the opposite one. Jarrod ached to sit beside his brother but reluctantly held back. He had the sick feeling that Nick had privately decided that this might be another setup of some kind and had no intention of trusting his back to any of them. Victoria caught her eldest son's arm and pulled him towards the couch where Heath sat, shoulders hunched and Audra was perched on the end, a frightened look on her face.

Of course she's scared. I'm scared

Major Macklin opened a folder and pulled out some paper and a pencil.

"Can you tell me what happened today?"

Nick blinked slowly.

"I asked to see the General. They had me leave my gun up front and escorted me to a room. A guard came in with Alderson. The private was just a kid, scared. I could smell it all the way across the room but I didn't know why. Then the General took the kids' pistol and I could see he had a derringer in his hand."

"How'd he get a derringer?" The Major demanded.

"I dunno." Nick focused his eyes on Macklin "It's your jail, Major. You tell me." He enunciated the words carefully, and Macklin gave him a hard stare before making a note on the papers.

"What did you do when you saw the gun?"

"Didn't do anything."

"Why not?"

"I thought I was imagining it. I've been.....seeing things lately. I thought it was just..something that....wasn't really there. Then he took the kid's gun and I knew it was real."

Macklin frowned. "This happened immediately after Alderson entered the room?"


"According to the guards outside the room you were in there for over a half an hour."

"Maybe. I dunno. I lost track of time."

"Doing what? Talking?"

"Hmm?" The hazel eyes had the glazed unfocused look to them again.

"What took a half an hour? Were you talking?" Macklin was losing patience. "Sharing a drink? Discussing the weather? Try-"

"Playing. We were playing."

"Playing? Playing what?"

"Game. General invented a game. He uh..he cocked the derringer and put It against the guard's head. and he emptied the pistol. He told the kid to put one bullet in it and spin the chamber. Then he gave me the gun and told me the rules were that I'd point the gun at my head and pull the trigger. If it didn't go off then I pointed it at him and fired again. If it still didn't go off we'd spin the chamber and try again. Told me if I didn't do what he said, he'd kill the guard. So I played the game."

Heath was shaking; he could remember the guards at Carterson playing sadistic games like that with some of the prisoners. He had been spared that little torture, but he had seen it take a terrible toll on those who been forced to take part in the entertainment. He didn't need to look to know Jarrod was shaking as well, and he could feel Victoria's fingernails pressing into his arm. Oddly enough, he didn't mind the pain she was inflicting; it helped block out the soft hopeless tone in his brother's voice.

"He got tired of it, said it was taking too long. He had the kid load all six bullets instead of one, told me to choose head or tails. Said if I didn't call it while the coin was in the air, he'd kill the guard anyway. Then he flipped the coin in the air. I called tails."

"And that's what came up? Tails?"

That unfocused gaze again.

"I didn't see. I just saw him push the gun against that scared kids temple and pull the trigger. I was trying to get across the table to stop him but I couldn't. The kid hit the floor, and the General put the gun in his mouth and fired again. " Nick closed his eyes for a second. "He was laughing."

"Why did you leave the fort after we told you not to?"

"I don't know. I don't remember anyone saying anything to me. I wouldn't have heard them anyway over the baby."

"What Baby?" Macklin looked up sharply.

"The one who was screaming."

"There are no children at that fort, Mr Barkley."

"I heard it." The words were soft but there was no doubt in anyone's mind but that he was serious. "That's all I could hear. I had to get away from the screaming."

The Major cleared his throat uneasily.

"Mr Barkley, do you think there is any chance that the 'baby' you heard had any connection to the events in Mayville?"

"Now wait a minute!" Jarrod was on his feet in an instant. "I'm not sure where you think you're going, but this conversation just ended."

"No sir, it didn't." The major's voice was steady and he eyed Jarrod with annoyance. "This conversation is continuing until I get everything I need to close the file."

"Leave it Jarrod." Nick's flat voice put in.

"Not a chance," Jarrod snapped, "this conversation is over until I confer with my client."

For the first time Nick's emotions cracked through and he turned on his brother with sudden fury.

"This isn't one of your damn legal games, Jarrod! Stop treating me like I'm some puppet. I'm not your client." A sullen, angry note crept in, "I wouldn't know who you're really working for anyway."

"Nick!" Victoria was shocked at the bitter words. Jarrod took a deep breath.

"All right Nick, I deserved that. But you're right, this isn't a game and you need to consult a lawyer. If not me than someone else. Please let me help."

Nick pulled his head into his shoulders. "Macklin will you please shut him up or get him out of here?"

The major cocked his head.

"It appears to be your choice, Counselor."

Defeated, Jarrod sat down. He had called down this storm, the least he should do is see it through. Macklin turned back to Nick.

"General Alderson alleges that you used the confusion that night in Mayville to murder a soldier you didn't like. A Batson-"

"Bats. S'what we called him: Bobby Bats." Funny how such a booming voice could sound so empty.

The major looked down at his folder. "Private Robert Batson. The General claims you two fought over a woman."

A hoarse, cynical laugh. "A woman. No, I wouldn't describe it as a fight. I brought him up on charges of rape. The 'woman' was a 12 year old girl. And the charges were dropped, because her parents refused to let her testify. A week later their house burned down killing everyone in the family. I couldn't really prove that he did it; and no one was interested in pursuing it. He was a 'good soldier' you see."

Macklin had heard that reasoning before. An amazing number of officers went to great lengths to ignore the wrong doings of a private that killed effeciently.

"What did you know about Private Batson?"

Nick started rubbing at a bloodstain on his forehead, the maroon mark crumbling away under his fingers.

"Nothing really." He sounded like he was discussing something he could not have cared less about. "We called him Bobby Bats 'cause he was crazy. Really, bone deep crazy. He loved war, loved it. Loved shooting people, loved the blood and pain. Loved the corpses it left behind. He volunteered for every burial detail. It didn't matter if some poor sod had been dead five seconds or five months; just as long as he could handle the bodies. I remember hearing him talk once about 'shootin' lice'. That's what he called killing confederates, 'shootin' lice'. He said he always tried to gut shoot 'em. They'd linger that way, he said. Sometimes they'd linger for weeks, gangrene eating away at 'em from the inside out. That's when the men started calling him Bobby Bats."

The Major nodded; he already had this information.

"Did you see him that night in Mayville?"


"And what happened?"

A shake of the head. "I'm not sure I remember."

"Start with what you do remember."

the patrol, then gunshots

"I was...I was leading a small patrol. Everyone in it was new; for some it was their first night. I was just taking them on a short trip around the camp, getting them a little experience. A lot of these were kids, farm boys. Others were from the city and this gave them a chance to get used to patrolling at night, the way it felt and sounded. I once saw a kid on his first patrol panic when he rode through a spiderweb. He ran right into enemy lines. They killed him of course."

Victoria cringed at the chillingly casual words.

"After that I tried to grab up the new boys and take them on a short trip around the perimeter their first night; get their first patrol under their belt, maybe shake some of the jitters." He stopped, wondering where his mind was taking him. What was the subject? Mayville. What happened that night in Mayville.

"Go on." Macklin prodded.

"We were just about finished when I heard the shots. The last thing I wanted to do was drag these kids into combat; I couldn't see any other options though. We headed towards Mayville." Nick closed his eyes on the memory. "It was madness. The only soldiers in town were ours and they were shooting at anything that moved. There were civilians bleeding in the street and houses being burned. Some of the soldiers were looting stores. I didn't know what to do."

He looked up with a half pleading expression and his family could see the uncertain boy faced with an impossible situation that he had been that night.

"I didn't know what to do. Standard Rule- When you're in a situation that's new to you follow Military Protocol. But Military Protocol didn't really cover this. There's no section on the appropriate actions to take when you find your regiment sacking a town. Uh, I......"

He could feel a headache starting behind his eyes.

"Hell, I didn't know what to do. I just....I told my men to protect the civilians. We started evacuating women and children and moving them to a sheltered corral. I set up guards and told them to shoot any soldier trying to hurt the citizens. Then I went out into the main street." His mind started wandering again. "It could have been worse, ya know. Most of the soldiers were so glad to have someone give them orders they would've obeyed anyone. I'd tell them to put down their weapons and try to put out the fires. Or have them start evacuating civilians back to the corral. Anything to get them calmed down.'

'It seemed like we'd get one street settled and another would go up in flames. I was looking for General Alderson but no one knew where he was, they just kept saying he was in town."

The Major was scribbling notes furiously now, his pencil the only thing to be heard in the room aside from the rasping voice.

"Someone shot my horse. I didn't see who, too much smoke. I saw another fire starting up the street and started running in that direction." Nick paused for a moment; this is were the dream always started and he felt his body shivering. "There was a fire, a house on fire and some people near a tree, hiding sort of. They were kids I think, maybe they were slaves. I heard somebody yelling at me not to worry, it was only blacktown, so they may have been slaves.'

"It was muddy. I remember I kept slipping in the mud and I heard screaming. A woman, was running out of a burning building with two little kids. Babies really, they weren't old enough to walk. I could see where her hair had been burned off; she had smoke coming off her skin, clothes were on fire. She just collapsed. She was still too close to the fire for the kids to be safe but she couldn't go any further. The babies were holding onto her and crying. I started running over, sliding in the mud."

Mud like cold molasses sucking on his feet, send him falling to his hands and knees as he tried to run to the woman. In his dream he had forgotten something important but he didn't know what it was, he was drawn by the sight of the burning woman and the two children...

"Mr Barkley?"

His hands were shaking again and he pushed them against his chin in unconscience imitation of prayer as he tried to focus on answering the questions.

"I was trying to reach the poor woman to get her babies to safety but I knew I was going to be too late. That's when I saw a soldier walk up to her. I was so relieved. Uh....I um..I think I stopped running. I thought 'He'll move them, they'll be safe.' I think I even smiled. And then I heard the soldier laughing and I realized it was Bobby Bats. That he'd probably set the house on fire, that he'd killed her. That he'd kill anybody. I knew all that. I knew that...

'And I did nothing. I just watched as he...he looked down at those two little kids, and he shot them."

blood spattering wildly as the terrified shrieking of the infants stopped his whole world narrowed in horror at the shattered bodies grouped on the ground

"He looked so happy, like a kid on Christmas morning who was seeing at his presents instead of these...slaughtered.....babies. He was smiling. Then he saw me and he said, "Like shooting fish in a barrel, huh, Lt?' and he smiled again. He looked so ... happy.'

"And I think that's when I emptied my gun into his face."

On to Part Two Return to the Library Catalog