|Aftermath, Part 2|
|By Jana L Puckett|
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.
4 "Mr Barkley."
Nick stared at the carpet, seeing not the patterns of the rug but broken skulls and bleeding infants.
He could hear another sound behind the Major's voice and absently identified it as weeping, whether his own or his Mothers or his sisters he wasn't sure. The blood had soaked into the ground, making dark designs of mud that would soon dry from the heat of the burning house nearby.
He was suspended in time, trapped in this long ago nightmare of reality. There was no sound in the universe besides the Majors' soft words, the spitting laugh of the flames and his own voice hoarsely begging the lifeless babies to be all right, pleading to God for a miracle that didn't come. A hand touched his shoulder and he looked up into eyes as sad as his own.
"Mr Barkley. Do you understand what you've just said?"
He nodded. The effort it took to move his head those few inches left him exhausted beyond belief.
"A violation of section...." he searched for the rule but couldn't find it. "I'm sorry but I don't remember the section. It states that to deliberately inflict injuries ...." his voice trailed off again. "I'm sorry, but I don't remember exactly what it says..." He lacked the energy to finish the thought.
"If you think you're going to use that statement," Jarrod's voice broke in, cold and sharp "I suggest you think again. I'll get it thrown out so fast your head will spin."
Macklin looked up, seeming almost as wrung out and ragged as the family. "It was a voluntary statement, Jarrod. You know that as well as I do. You also know there's not going to be a statute of limitations on this."
"He doesn't know what he's saying. Nick hasn't slept for four days. He's half drunk; for all we know this is just some dream he had-"
"Not a dream." Nick whispered.
"Quiet Nick. "
"Jarrod, I have a statement from your brother-"
"At the moment he's not competent to give a statement."
"I have a statement from Alderson-"
"Who was indisputably insane-"
"-about the events leading up the the death of Batson in Mayville-"
"Had every reason to lie-"
"GODDAMN IT, Jarrod!" Macklin struggled with his temper.
He hated this case. He hated Mayville and General Alderson and Robert Batson. He hated what he was doing now. He turned to Nick, noting how the cowboy was worn to a frayed thread, not at all like the confident, brash fellow of the other evening. Nick's cool detatchment had been unnerving to witness the night of the trial.
Two things had kept Macklin from disliking the man that evening. One, he had testimony from people he trusted as to the young Lt's actions that night. Two, in the time he had spent investigating the massacre he had discovered that a large number of the soldiers involved had reacted to questions the same way. They invariably had not talked about Mayville to anyone since the night it happened and when they did finally provide details they used the same informative but distant manner, as if it was simply an average military report about an average military action.
Macklin had decided against telling Jarrod of the side effect he had noted: more than one man had suffered an emotional breakdown not long after they were interviewed. The Major was shocked at the speed and severity of Nick's reaction however, or rather had been shocked until he heard the events leading up to the death of Private Batson. Add to that the vicious mind game Alderson had played with his former aide...Gods, no wonder the man was disintegrating so quickly.
"Mr Barkley, would you wait outside for a few minutes?"
For a moment he thought he would be ignored, then Nick nodded silently and stumbled through the french doors into the garden.
Victoria turned to Heath.
"I'll keep an eye on him." Heath volunteered, and moved to a spot where he could watch his brother through the glass.
"My son..." Victoria Barkley looked pleadingly at Macklin, and he sat down again feeling drained of energy.
He knew what he should do now. He had handcuffs in his saddlebags and had been prepared for the possible need to take Nick Barkley into custody for the murder of Robert Batson. The thought of doing so made him feel sick. In cold legal terms, the correct response for the Lt to have taken after what he witnessed in Mayville was place Batson under arrest immediately and turn him over for trial. That was the army way of handling crimes. The not so cold facts told him that had Barkley not killed the man the end result would have been more slaughtered civilians, more rapes, more executions of innocents. Batson's ability to avoid justice for the crimes he had already committed argued he would have escaped with little more than a slap on the wrist and picked up his murderous rampage where it left off.
Macklin felt the dictates of the army and the dictates of his conscience clashing violently. Was this how Barkley felt that night, watching Mayville burn and Batson rage? He tried to articulate his thoughts, put everything in perspective.
"I'm supposed to uphold the law, Mrs Barkley. That's what makes a group of scared kids soldiers instead of mindless killers. Military law reminds them there are other laws. That even though they're at war there are certain things that can't be done; certain boundaries that can't be crossed. Immutable rules of society have to be followed or you're not soldiers. You're not even human. You're unthinking ........things." Macklin's voice was soft, as if he was talking only to himself.
Jarrod could feel the major's struggle and seized the arguement.
"But if everything falls apart, if madness becomes the rule and you're watching the .....RAPE of decency and humanity.....how long can you remain sane if it gets people killed?" His finely tuned lawyer's sense told him he would have only one shot at convincing the officer to walk away. Jarrod's gut instinct told him he wasn't just fighting for Nick's freedom but his brother's life as well.
"How long can you follow rules in a place where rules don't exist? What do you do when obeying 'protocol' gets people killed and shooting down your own man will only save lives?" He saw the doubt on Macklin's face and pressed the point. "Is there any doubt in your mind that if Nick had hesitate a moment longer, more people would have been murdered by Batson?"
The officer sighed and it occurred to Jarrod that Macklin looked almost as sick and tired as Nick did.
"I'm supposed to uphold the law." Even to Macklin the words sounded hollow. Macklin thought of Alderson, plotting the destruction of an entire town then sleeping like a baby at night. He thought of 'Bobby Bats' destroying all he touched and laughing at the suffering he inflicted while the young man who finally put a stop to it was sitting a hundred feet away, wracked with guilt.
"Your brother saved lives that night, did you know that?" His voice was low and angry. "He was the most junior Officer there and he's the only one who kept his head well enough to save lives. Ninety-seven people, that's how many civilians ended up being protected in that corral on his orders. The fire brigade he organized saved half the damn town." He glowered at Jarrod "Your lunatic brother even rode his horse into a burning building to get some children to safety. Rode the damn thing through the doors up the stairs and came back out with two kids in his arms."
Macklin gazed compassionately at Victoria Barkley and decided.
"Your boy isn't going to jail for killing 'Bobby Bats'. Your son was a good man, a good officer, everything I've heard."
He opened the folder and scribbled a decision. Allegation: Untrue. He stood up and handed the rest of his notes to Jarrod.
"You better make sure those end up on a fire somewhere."
"They will." Jarrod promised, stuffing the papers in his pocket.
"Major," Victoria tried to find the words but could only come up with "Thank you."
"He saved lives." Macklin repeated. "You tell him that until he realizes it's true."
The major left the room and they could hear the front door opening and closing again, leaving them alone once more.
Jarrod felt as if someone had taken a very large stick and beaten him furiously from head to toe. He saw the figure of his brother slumped in the garden chair and wondered if Nick felt the same way. Certainly Heath did, he was moving with the same tired stiffness to his muscles and their mother- well for the first time Jarrod could remember, she just looked old.
Victoria opened the doors to the garden and rested her hand on her son's shoulder; sharp edges of bone under her fingers. Nick had dropped weight dramatically and was all but invisible in the shadows; a usually vibrant figure washed out and reduced to grey lines and shades.
"Nicky." A slight movement of the head; Nick hadn't heard the diminutive since he was eight. "Come upstairs and go to bed."
Jarrod could see Nick strugging to remember why he was out here.
"Macklin. I need to wait for Macklin. He's going to need to take me in."
Jarrod cleared his throat. "He's not pressing charges." Nick started, and Jarrod realized his generally alert brother had been unaware of his approach. "I talked to him. It's taken care of."
"D'ja buy him off?"
Jarrod swallowed a surge of anger- was this what his brother thought of him?- before brutal honesty made him admit he'd brought it on himself. Victoria had sucked in her breath at the question and Audra wouldn't meet his eyes. He composed himself. First things first, take care of his brother, deal with the rest later.
"No. He just wasn't inclined to pursue charges given the circumstances of what happened." Jarrod wondered if his brother even understood him.
"Come on, Nicky. Let's go- upstairs."
Victoria pulled gently on her son's arm guiding him to his feet and Audra slipped to his other side, tenderly seizing his other hand in her grasp. Nick finally responded to the soft touch of her fingers.
"Audra. My little sister."
She smiled at him. "Walk me upstairs, big brother. Please?" He nodded and they carefully walked through the study.
Heath remained by the pool table while the slowly moving footsteps whispered up the staircase. Jarrod pulled the garden door behind him and sat behind the desk.
"Jesus, Heath. What have I done?"
Heath didn't say anything. He was gently rolling billiard balls across the table, watching them bounce of the sides and roll into each other.
"It's even worse than we thought, isn't it?"
Heath sighed. "Yeah." One of the billiard balls rolled back to his hand and he pushed it off again. "Nick never talked about much that happened in the war, did he?"
"No. He talked about friends, about Jock, or members of the regiment or people he met. He never did talk about specific battles or what he saw in combat. I asked him about it once, he said he didn't really remember a whole lot."
There was a cartoon figure on the desk blotter that Jarrod was focusing on. Nick must have drawn it as he did when he was puzzling out a problem. An astonished dragon stared quizzically as an oblivious Don Quixote charged madly past the lizard in a determined attack on a blameless windmill. Jarrod smiled at this latest addition to a long succession of errant knights and perpetually puzzled dragons who never could seem to get down to the serious business of mortal combat. Nick had started drawing them when he was around twelve, and they always made Jarrod laugh. Had he ever told his little brother how much he enjoyed them? Jarrod searched his memory and came up blank. The only comment he had made on Nick's efforts was the time when they both needed the desk and Jarrod had claimed first rights, saying all Nick was going to do was stare into space and scribble a bunch of silly pictures. Nick, with a rare show of quiet dignity, had vacated the desk without a word and Jarrod belatedly acknowledged the hurt look that had flashed through the green flecked eyes.
"That never struck you as strange?" Heath had left off playing with the billiard balls and turned around. If he was still angry at Jarrod, or felt anything other than concern at Nick's situation he was hiding it well.
"It didn't then." Jarrod admitted. "It does now." He studied the cowboy for a moment. "You know something."
Heath shook his head. "Not exactly, just..." he thought for a moment. "That new doctor in town, I've met him before. He worked at a charity hospital for veterans. He was taking care of a friend of mine. Josh had been through some rough times in the war. A lot like Nick, ya know? Quick to get mad, just as quick to laugh. When the war was over he moved back into civilian life as if he'd never left. Ask him about the war and he just shrugged, said it was a big blur to him and changed the subject. Then out of the blue he started having nightmares, couldn't sleep, started seeing things from the war.'
"One day he walked in talking about blood. He said the rain had turned into blood and we were all about to drown in it. Started talking about the war and seeing his best friend die and..it was a real mess. No one was certain what was wrong so his family sent him to this hospital."
"That's where you met this Doctor?"
"Yeah. I'd gone to visit Joshie and talked to Dr Martin. He said he'd seen more than a few cases like this. Guys who kept everything they felt guilty about or frightened of under wraps. He said he felt like... they sat on everything, didn't deal with things that bothered them as they happened during the war and tried to pretend like it never happened. Problem was, if they couldn't control it anymore they were dealing with everything they remembered all at once instead of handling them one at a time. Like a tree that won't give under the wind and eventually splinters during a storm, he said."
Jarrod swallowed; the analogy seemed a little too accurate for his comfort.
"What happened to your friend? Was Dr Martin able to help him?"
"No," Heath turned back to the pool table. "He killed himself."
"Jarrod!" It was Victoria's voice and there was an unaccustomed edge of panic in it.
Audra called Nick's name and a crashing splintering noise came from upstairs. The two brothers broke into a run as they hit the staircase. Jarrod and Heath could hear glass crunching underfoot as they entered the splintered remains of the room in time to witness Mother and Audra trying uselessly to restrain their brother as he up ended the dresser. Victoria and Audra lost their grip and Heath pulled them safely out of the way of the madman rampaging through room.
Jarrod could hear Nick shouting something as he lashed out at anything in reach, shattering breakables, wrenching furniture into pieces with his bare hands. The sobbing words eventually became clear.
"I knew who it was, I saw him there and I didn't do anything. Oh God It's My Fault..."
Jarrod watched helplessly, not willing to try to beat his brother into submission, hoping the fit of anger and self hatred who fade quickly. His eyes fell on the only unbroken object in the room at the same moment Nick's did, and Jarrod moved, knowing even as he did that it was too late.
He watched his brother slam both fists into the mirror, shattering it into a thousand pieces and patterning the wall in a spray of bright sable. Abruptly the rage vanished, as if it had bled away with the body's life fluid and Nick stood unresisting as his older brother caught his shoulders; pulled him into a tight embrace. Jarrod could feel Audra and Victoria tugging at Nick's hands, frantically wrapping them in towels as Heath helped him lower the alarmingly light body to the floor.
"S'my fault. I let him, I let him do it. I just stood there and watched. My fault. I knew what he was."
Jarrod felt the warmth of blood and tears soaking into his shirt as he braced the crow dark hair against his chest, wrapping both arms protectively around the disconsolate, guilt wracked form.
"My fault. I killed them. I killed those babies. Oh God, Pappy I killed them. My fault."
"Easy, little brother." He shushed. "It'll be ok, Nick, Pappy's here." He pulled his brother closer and his anguished eyes met Heath's. "Dr Martin..."
"I've got him. I'll take care of everything here. Just get the Doctor."
Jarrod tightened his grip on Nick, wishing he could pull him close enough to absorb the pain. He wasn't aware of Heath leaving the room or pounding down the stairs. His world narrowed to the despairing brother shuddering in his arms.
"S'allright. It's all right little brother. Pappy will take care of everything. I promise." hapter 5 "Let's see, we have blood loss, shock, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, as well as the fact that he hasn't eaten in around 4 days. And those are the simple problems."
Dr Martin's face was boyishly beardless and he seemed to squirm under Victoria's gaze. She was not generally given to bias based simply on a person's age, but a grey hair or two would have been immensely reassuring. As it was, she had already bitten her tongue once when Dr Martin asked for a drink and she almost suggested a nice lemonade. Only Heath's repeated assurances that the man was an excellent Doctor allowed her to sit calmly downstairs talking to this distressingly youthful physician, while upstairs Silas was mopping her son's drying blood off the floor.
Experience told her it was just a second wind that leave her feeling even more exhausted the next morning but for the moment she was able to focus on helping her son. Even at that, she was aware she was embarrassingly ignorant of Nick's actions lately and couldn't answer most of the Doctors' questions. Thank God for Heath, who was providing most of the grim details of the preceeding week.
"The incident at the jail," Dr Martin swished his drink around in his glass nervously "When he was forced to 'play' russian roulette, did he see a doctor or talk to anyone about it at the time?"
Jarrod rubbed his finger over the scar on his chin. "No, he just mounted up and rode back home. When he arrived here he locked himself in his room and stayed there. He wouldn't come out, he wouldn't talk. He didn't even change out of his clothes he was wearing at the fort." Jarrod's eyes studied the flames in the fireplace. "There was blood, and bone and flesh...So much blood they looked black. He wouldn't change out of them. He wouldn't..."
Jarrod wondered if he sounded as numb as he felt. Probably did, judging by the strange expression on the Dr's face. Then again, maybe that was because he was rambling about Nick refusing to change from the bloodied clothing while he himself was still garbed in the blood soaked suit he had been wearing when the Doctor arrived three hours ago.
The blood had dried by now of course; the stiff blotchy patterns of maroon scratching the skin of his chest and arms. The discomfort was curiously consoling somehow, like a form of penance. There was some kind of tunic people used to wear in the middle ages for that exact purpose but he couldn't think of the name. He could feel the Doctor's gaze on him again but Jarrod ignored the young man. Hair shirt That was the word he looking for--It felt like he was wearing a hair shirt.
Jarrod struggled to rejoin the conversation. The doctor was still staring at him; even Heath was giving him an uneasy glance.
"And he had never discussed Mayville with any of you?" Dr Martin quizzed Heath.
"No." Answered Heath. "In fact, from what he said, I always got the impression that he didn't really remember that much about it, like everything had been one big blur."
"But that changed after the kangeroo court?" The Doctor leaned forward intently. Jarrod sat up straight in his chair. What was this man getting at?
"Yep. Bit by bit, at least at first." Heath seemed hesitant and uncertain.
"What do you mean exactly?"
Jarrod listened carfully to Heath's answers. "Nick had the first nightmare the night of the court martial. His screams woke me up."
"No one else heard him though? No one else knew?"
Heath twisted uncomfortably. "Nope. Nick's room is near mine and I'm.....I'm a really light sleeper and I'm always um... kinda listening for trouble. Anyway, we only have two rooms in that hall. Plus there's a door that shuts the hall off from the rest of the house. It can pretty much block any noise short of a gunshot. And he asked me not to tell about the nightmares....he didn't want anyone to know about it."
The sideways glance told Jarrod that Nick's request had been far more specific: He had not wanted Jarrod to know about it, another knife in the gut.
"I figured-well, that it was something that would go away. That he'd get over it. I mean, Nick's always been so tough, ya know?"
"Tell me about his first nightmare. How did he react to it?" The doctor perched forward, watching Heath carefully.
"Shook him up. Shook him up bad. I hadn't seen anyone react to a dream that way since right after Carterson. Some of the guys got out of prison and started having horrible nightmares. What scared Nick, I think, was that he wasn't sure it was just a dream. When I woke him up he started....." Heath searched for an apt description but couldn't find a kind one. "Babbling. He was sweating so bad he looked like he'd been swimming or something. He was shaking. I asked him if he'd had a nightmare and he said he didn't know. Said it was like a nightmare that wasn't a nightmare. Not like a dream nightmare, more like a real one. He was talking about people screaming and babies crying and about how was supposed to take care of the children..."
"Did he remember the whole incident that night?"
"No," Heath shook his head decisively. "He wasn't sure what it was really. He was only certain that it wasn't just a dream." Heath swallowed painfully. "I think he suspected...he started to say 'Jesus, Heath what if -' but then he just stopped. I think he couldn't bring himself to....finish...the thought."
The Doctor rubbed at his forehead.
"Did he go back to sleep that night?"
"No..well yes..." Heath paused. "Nick tried to but he had the same nightmare again right away. At least I guess it was the same nightmare. Maybe it was worse."
"Did he say it was worse?"
"No. No, he didn't. He just...." Jarrod noticed his brother's blue eyes looked painfully bright.
"He just... kept saying one thing: 'Terrible. Terrible.'"
Dr Martin had not wanted Nick left alone, a decision based on a blunt assessment that the patient had come far too close to slashing his wrists for it to be simply co-incidental. Protests that the injury was accidental had been met by the acidic rejoinder that the next such 'accident' would likely conclude with a funeral, ending any opposition. Audra had volunteered for the first shift, and sat by her brother's still form thinking about elephants and camels and dancing bears for Christmas. She ran a damp cloth through Nick's hair, gently cleaning away dried clots of blood.
"Nick? Do you remember that first Christmas after Father died, all the things you did for us, the fireworks, and beehives and that circus you brought home? Remember the bear, Nick? The Dancing bear and the camel and the elephant that you had stomping around in front of the house Christmas morning?"
She rinsed the rag in a basin of water; small specks of red dripped off the rag and dissolved into pinkish stains.
"I couldn't believe it. Jarrod couldn't believe it. He thought you were crazy. Eugene loved it of course. And Mother....it was the first time she laughed since father had died. That whole ridiculous show you brought here just because I said I wanted a circus for Christmas."
Raven hair darkened with moisture; more thick knotted chunks slid out of the strands. Audra dipped the rag in the basin again.
"And those fireworks you gave Jarrod! That box was as tall as you were and twice as wide; and you talked Jarrod into setting them off all at once. It was 3:00 in the morning and you two set off all the fireworks in the world, laughing like children."
The water had turned bright red. Audra wondered if she was doing any good or if the blood would remain caked and clinging to her brother forever.
"There was Eugene and his beehive. I couldn't believe you broke down and set up the beehive and all those bees after you'd argued with him about it all year long. You were so certain that he'd would take care of them for just a few months and then get interested in something else and they'd end up being your problem."
She emptied the basin and poured in clean water from a pitcher; resumed sponging away the blood.
"Sure enough, in two months Eugene was onto another project, and they became a nuisance you had to deal with. I remember how you came in one day covered with bee stings. I kept waiting for you to say 'I told you so' but you never did. You never mentioned it to Eugene. Not once. God, you spent that entire year carrying the two of us on your shoulders."
Audra bit her lip and continued. "Running the ranch, handling business at home, trying to spend time every night with Mother. Spending time every day with me and Eugene. I know Jarrod was grateful; and so proud of you. So was Mother. Did we ever tell you that?"
The rag ran through the strands of hair again. She wanted Alderson's blood off her brother. It sickened her to think of the general's blood mingling with Nick's, as if some evil taint from the general would do even more damage than had been done. If possible.
"That was our first Christmas without Father. It should have been horrible. But when I think of it, I don't remember it as being sad. I remember Fireworks in the night, and elephants in the yard, and bears dancing on the porch."
Once more she performed the soothing, rhythmic motions. Stroke. Rinse. The water turned red.
"Was it a happy Christmas for you, Nick? Do you remember the bear?"
"The real question here, is what are you going to do once he wakes up?"
Maybe it was fatigue or tension, but the Doctor no longer looked quite so young to Victoria. She noticed circles under his eyes and worry lines on his forehead. It was also possibly his manner, which became increasingly acidic as the night wore on, was adding to the impression of years.
"Why can't we just keep him sleeping for awhile?" Jarrod suggested.
The Dr raised a sardonic eyebrow. "And how long is 'awhile'? A week? A month? Two months? I could do that, but I won't. I sincerely doubt you'll find addiction a long term improvement over melancholy."
"I'm not saying we should hook him on laudenum for the sake of convenience." Jarrod's voice had taken on the stocatto tones they always did when he was angry. "I'm just suggesting if we could stop the nightmares-"
"The nightmares are a symptom, not a problem. Anyone could tell you that." Dr Martin sounded as angry as Jarrod. "You want to help him? Solve the problem and the symptoms fall away."
"The PROBLEM is over ten years old!" Jarrod was almost scarlet.
"I would say the PROBLEM is that apparently there has been no one in the family he could talk to about this rationally long before it became a half remembered dream that started eating him alive!"
"Dr Martin!" Victoria's voice flashed icy fire.
"Be as angry as you'd like, Mrs Barkley. But tell me this: After that court martial business, did anyone go to Nick and say 'You were badly used and I'm sorry'?"
There was a guilty silence and Dr Martin gave a bitter smile. "That's what I thought. I can treat your sons symptoms Mrs Barkely, but it's your family that will have to supply the cure." He picked up his medical bag and paused as he caught Jarrod's eye.
"Just out of curiosity, when Nick discovered you'd set up whole thing, what did he do?"
Jarrod rubbed his cheek where the bruise was fading. "He hit me."
The Doctor raised an eyebrow. "Only once? I'm going home."
"We'll send someone to ride back with you." Victoria decided.
"Why? I'm not going to hurt anyone."
"Mother, I'll go with him." Heath offered.
"Thank you, Heath." Victoria smiled gratefully at her blond son as he followed the physician outside. She rarely misjudged people as badly as she had Dr. Martin. She had assumed from his exterior that he was naive, inexperienced and awkward, and the doctor had turned out entirely too incisive and sharp tongued for comfort. Victoria prided herself in her ability to 'read' people, and misstepping so badly with him made her wonder how often she had misread her family as well.
Heath was only too happy to escort Dr Martin home. For starters, it gave him a reason for not facing Jarrod at a time when Heath was struggling with an urge strangle his older brother. How a smart man could be so concerned with his family and so careless with it all at the same time was something Heath could not understand.
Heath was also deeply shaken by Nick's condition and needed time to pull himself together before he took a shift to watch over his brother's sleep. Ever since he'd arrived at the ranch, Nick had been a rock...or maybe a better phrase would have been a rock rolling downhill. Decisive, determined, he went all out at a task and wouldn't quit until it was done.
The Barkley ranch tended to be ahead of the curve when it came to diversifying, trying new ideas or taking on new projects. Nick, for all his swaggering dismissal of college, had cultivated a remarkable working relationship with several agricultural professors. On more than one occassion he had supplied them with a few head of cattle or an acre of land here or there to try out their ideas, even loaning them a ranch hand or two periodically. In return, they kept him up to date on the most recent advances in husbandry, medicine and anything else that he took an interest in. As a result, Nick usually had all the facts he needed to make a decision about the same time the other ranchers in the valley were suspiciously rejecting a new idea for lack of details. And once Nick made up his mind he moved with breakneck speed, often leaving people behind him wondering what was happening.
In this he was helped by the fact that he was the only rancher in the valley who kept all of his own books. Heath had heard more than one town person dismiss Nick as a 'not too terribly bright hothead,' a description that had started to annoy Heath no end. He had discovered very early on that Nick knew to the nickle how much the ranch's expenses were, where the money was going out and coming in, and what each change in the market would mean for the overall profitability of the various enterprises.
Shortly after Heath had arrived they had hired a manager for the orchard operations. A month later, Nick had fired the man insisting that man was either incompetent or a thief; his operating costs were too high. A surprise inspection of the man's office had turned up a practically new set of books, proving he had started embezzling funds shortly after he arrived. Nick had noticed the inconsistancy so quickly that the man had not yet cleared enough to pay for his subsequent attorney fees. While Heath had been stunned by the pace at which Nick discovered and solved the problem, the rest of the family had been blase almost to the point of indifference.
After several months of observation, Heath had decided the Barkleys were so used to Nick's talents as a foreman that they took them for granted. One reason why Nick and Heath got along so well was Nick's astonished gratification at finally having someone in the family realize exactly what it was that he did and offer to ease the burden. Heath had worked at enough large ranches to realize that the person who ran it could make or break the operation. As a team, they worked well together with Nick supplying enough energy for any five men and Heath giving him a sounding board, a hand with the books, a patience for tending to the more boring but neccessary elements of the job and a willingness to put in as many long hours as Nick did.
Heath had also acted as an occassional buffer between Nick's high strung nature and his more laid back kin. Maybe because Heath was from outside the family, he could observe things with a degree of detachment. Heath had immediately realized that Nick, restless and highly energetic, was often frustrated by what he perceived as his family's almost aggressively slow response to his efforts and ideas. From Nick's point of view he wasn't shouting, he was just trying to get their attention. The rest of the Barkelys, led by the more deliberate and thoughtful Jarrod, were baffled by Nick's simmering frustration and often tuned him out making Nick shout all the louder ...... the part of Heath that loved the theatre of the absurd had wanted to roll about on the ground laughing.
Fortunately, Heath's diplomatic half had asserted itself and melded into a working partnership with his brother while gently easing the friction between Nick and the rest of the family. In return Heath had gotten the unwavering support of a brother who had seemed, up until this week, rock solid. Heath had come to depend on that support and it shook him badly to see Nick looking so.....broken.
"Doc," Heath finally broke the silence of the ride back to town. "You've seen lots of cases. How bad off is he?"
"As long as we're just treating the symptoms? Bad. Even if he gets functional again, he won't be all right by a long shot. Oh, he might be able to return to work, run the ranch for awhile, maybe even a good while. But the problem won't go away, and it'll eat away at him until he's hollow. Just a paper thin shell walking around that can shatter at any stress. Then he'll slash his wrists, or blow his brains out... or possibly just crawl into the bottom of a bottle and stay there. We had a term for the last one at the hospital. We called it self-medication."
Dr Martin's tone had taken on the bitterly knowing sound Heath remembered from the hospital. Heath was also remembering something else: He'd had almost the exact same conversation with the Dr about his pal Joshie, and Joshie didn't get better.
Jarrod looked around, thinking that what had been Heath's but was currently Nick's bedroom needed cleaning. Anything that had been laid down and not picked up immediately was still there. The only things that had been removed were the bloody, ruined clothes Nick had been wearing. Jarrod wasn't surprised. Nick had always objected fiercely to anyone coming in and -as he put it- moving his stuff.
Jarrod had started to clean the room this morning only to be stopped by Silas, who had gently pointed out that Nick would notice things had been changed once he woke up.
"He can't even control his dreams, Mr Jarrod." The butler's soft voice had admonished. "Is it asking too much to let him control this room?"
Jarrod had been surprised by the astute observation. It had never occurred to him that his brother's seemingly careless messiness actually had a purpose. Nick surrounded himself with chaos, but at least it was HIS chaos. Jarrod sat down in the chair next to the bed and let his mind wander.
Nick wasn't getting better. Physically he was better, color was back in his face and he was up and around some, but emotionally he was drained, depressed and apathetic. He didn't sleep through the night unless he had a sedative and the Doctor was not going to continue to prescribe the medication for much longer. It was Dr Martin's educated guess that once Nick was deprived of any form of sedation he would turn to alcohol, drinking himself into a stupor to avoid the nightmares that raged through his sleep. If he was prevented from drinking and the nightmares returned he would lose sleep, start hallucinating again and likely end up in a hospital.
God, maybe they should have let Macklin arrest Nick; at least there would have been a trial and the whole truth would have come out.
Jarrod frowned. Now where had THAT thought come from? They already had the truth, Nick had told them what had happened, right? And Nick hadn't lied. Even if he was planning to he wasn't capable of it, so it must be the truth, or at least the truth as he remembered it. Jarrod turned that over in his mind.
"Witnesses can be a pain in the ass." The first lawyer he had interned with had informed him of that fact his very first day. "If there are five different witnesses and you'll hear five different stories. And God help you if you try using your own client as a witness because HE has the worst memory of all. If he thinks he's right his version of events is that he's Percival Pureheart and a walking saint, which the jury will hate. If the client feels even slightly guilty, he'll end up telling a story that assigns himself all the blame and the jury will commence hanging him. If your client insist on being his own witness son, always plead your case out. It's just not worth it."
Jarrod had never subscribed to this particularly cynical theory of law but the old barrister had a point. Why assume Nick would be different from any other witness to a crime? Jarrod got up and searched the room, finally finding his bloodied jacket from the other evening buried under a pile of debris. If he remembered correctly.....yes! There it was in an inner pocket: the statement Macklin had written up while talking to Nick, as well as other documentation on the case. Jarrod moved next to Nick again and started reviewing the file, the lawyer part of his mind taking over.
After about an hour of reading, Jarrod put the file down and started playing with the information he had. Like any legal case, this was a puzzle, and Jarrod slid the pieces around in his mind, trying to make them fit. Nick reezing, Mayville, Robert Batson strolling up to shoot the children... it didn't add up. Jarrod flipped back to the pencil covered page where Macklin had scribbled notes while Nick was talking and re-read the statement which, surprisingly, was almost word for word of what Jarrod remembered Nick saying.
Certain things... little things but troubling...weren't making sense. First, and most important was Nick's description of his actions. He claimed he froze, had just watched as the children were murdered. Wrong. Jarrod knew his little brother well and could not imagine any circumstances under which Nick would passively stand by and watch two people murdered. Nick reacted to action with more action, and it was impossible to believe that he would have stopped trying to get to the woman and her children to help.
Secondly, Nick said there was someone else. In fact, Jarrod skimmed to the exact spot....he'd said there was more than one...there were people trying to hide from Batson but Nick had not mentioned what happened to them. Jarrod reviewed the other papers Macklin had given him, looking for information on any witnesses which, despite the opinion of his curmudgeonly mentor, often provided a valuable insight on events What he found was disappointing. Macklin had interviewed a single witness to the shooting who had insisted she saw nothing. The witness in questions was the sibling of the children Batson killed which was the only reason why her name was even in the file. She had apparently never left Mayville.
Jarrod sat there and let his legal persona sift the information. Alright, Nick says there were other people there; they must have seen something. Macklin interviewed a single witness who said she saw nothing. But from the age of the witness she would have been around twelve or thirteen at the time...old enough to understand that speaking up could be dangerous. That explained why she said nothing then. Why would she continue to this day to insist she had seen nothing that night? A remembered conversation he'd had with a disgusted Macklin provided the answer.
"Ghosts." Macklin had said. "There are groups of men dressing up in white sheets pretending to be ghosts roaming the countryside down there."
"What on earth for?" Jarrod had been fascinated.
"It's a way to keep the ex-slaves in line. These crackers claim ex-slaves are deeply superstitious and regard the sheet wearing bands of men as wandering bands of ghosts. If an ex-slave is showing too much independence a group of ghosts will show up at night and burn down the house or beat the poor man or his family.... It makes getting statements absolutely hell."
Jarrod had privately thought that anyone who genuinely believed putting on a sheet would convince everyone else they were seeing a ghost had to be one of the dumbest people on earth. Wearing a sheet would, however be an effective way of keeping one's identity secret. So...assume that Mayville had it's own share of 'ghosts,' and this woman - he skimmed the page to find her name again - Angela Woodard - was fearful that talking to anyone about what she saw would bring a visit by the nightriders. That would be a very good reason not to talk .... as long as she was in Mayville.
For the first time in a week Jarrod felt better. He was no longer reacting helplessly, no longer sitting passively by while his brother was pulled apart. He had a plan. hapter 6 "Miss Woodard?"
The woman standing inside the shabby door was carefully keeping herself to the shadows .. and blocking the entrance, Jarrod noticed. There was a whimper from inside and woman glanced back at the noise.
"Angela Woodard?" The shadow shifted slightly.
Jarrod could see the fingers holding onto the door tighten nervously.
"My name is Jarrod Barkley. I'm an attorney from California." He offered his card and she eyed it warily.
"Ah neva been ta California."
"Yes ma'am. May I come in?" Wrong question, he knew it immediately as the woman tensed up. "Never mind, I'll just stay here on the porch. We can just talk through the door if you'd like."
The woman's eyes cast beyond him into the street as if looking for something, and when the road stayed empty she relaxed slightly.
"Ya need someone ta do ya laundry?"
"No ma'am. I was hoping I could talk to you about the massacre that happened here during the Civil War." The woman stepped back into the shadows again and he realized he was losing her. "I'd be willing to pay you for your time. I know you have work to do."
He pulled a gold eagle out of his pocket and offered it. She made no move to take it and he wondered if she was afraid to get that close to him. He placed it on a shelf by the door and stepped back slightly.
"Ah din't see nothin' that night."
Jarrod gently cleared his throat.
"According to my brother you did; you had to have. He said you were right under that oak over there when your family was killed."
The door started to shut and Jarrod blocked it with his foot.
"Mrs Woodard, please! My brother was there that night. He killed a man who murdered two children, but he doesn't remember exactly what happened. He thinks it's his fault your family was killed, that he just stood there and let it happen."
She stopped pressing on the door.
"Mrs. Woodard, I'm losing my brother to a half remembered nightmare. My little brother .... I don't want to lose him to Mayville."
She looked at him intently.
"They was ma little brothers." She said softly. "That man kilt ma little brothers that night." She studied his face for a moment. "Yer brother, he was that boy Lt, wan't he?"
Jarrod nodded. "He said it was his fault. He said he just stood by while they were murdered. It's killing him."
She shook her head slowly.
"That ain't what happen'd."
He followed her gaze to the large tree down the street.
"Ah think that night'll neva be over." She met his eyes for the first time and slowly opened the door. "Maybe ya'd better come inside.pilogue Heath was waiting impatiently at the train station for Jarrod. When he had received the telegram asking him to be at the station his initial response had been to suggest Jarrod could walk home. He had swallowed it at Victoria's request. She felt the strain in the household was hard on Nick when he didn't need any additional complications and had asked Heath to bury the hatchet. After a brief moment of uncharitably thinking he'd like to bury it in Jarrod's neck, Heath had grudgingly agreed, for Nick's sake.
Even getting past that, Heath still resented being dragged to town when there was so much work to be done around the ranch. He was somewhat embarrassed, since he had firmly believed that he had been shouldering a good half of the burden of running the ranch only to discover in the last few weeks that Nick had been allowing him to take up his share very slowly. Heath had not realized what a careful, patient teacher Nick was, never allowing Heath to do more than he was able to, never letting him realize how much he still had to learn.
"Nick probably figgured if he let on how far I had to go, I'da been too overwhelmed to learn a blamed thing. I'm not sure but what he wasn't right."
Heath glanced at his watch again, wishing the the train would hurry up. He couldn't see why Jarrod was in such a big rush to back to the ranch, seeing how he'd taken the worse possibly moment to high himself off to parts unknown with scarcely an explanation. That had sat poorly with the whole family. Eugene's latest letter had been nearly incoherent with rage and Heath didn't blame him one bit. Heath was starting to wonder if the brother he thought he'd known ever existed.
A distant whistle interrupted his mental grousing and he struggled to put on an expression that was, if not welcoming, at least neutral. He watched the train pull slowly into the station and promised himself that when - if - Nick was okay again, Heath would take Jarrod someplace private and pummel him but good.
"Boy howdy, I'm getting as hot-headed as Nick. Maybe it's the stress of running the ranch that makes him so touchy sometimes."
The train stopped, and after a moment Jarrod stepped onto the platform and offered his hand up to help someone step down. It was a black woman carrying a baby, and Heath took in the dark features with surprise. Evidently she was with Jarrod, and Heath wondered why the two were traveling together.
"Heath!" Jarrod waved him over, and Heath noticed to his annoyance that the lawyer seemed pleased. "I'd like you to meet Miss Angela Woodard. Miss Woodard, this is my brother Heath."
Heath was disconcerted by the intensity of the woman's gaze as she stared at him for a moment before turning back to Jarrod with a slightly disappointed expression.
"It ain't him."
"No Ma'am. It's my brother Nick we need to talk to. Heath, how's he doing?"
"He's getting outside but only when we push him. Otherwise he just sets around. It's spooky, you know? Like Nick's gone and this shell has been left behind. It looks like Nick, but ain't nobody home."
Jarrod nodded. "Angela, let's get you back to the ranch." He gave her a pleading look. "I know you're tired but..."
"Ah unnerstan'." she answered, shifting the basket holding her baby to her other arm.
"Would you like me to take that for you Ma'am?" Heath offered.
She pulled back and Jarrod shook his head. Heath understood instantly. This was her child and she had no intention of placing it in the arms of someone she didn't ... couldn't trust. "Ah have her, thank you."
Heath led them both to the buggy and helped Ms Woodard get in the back, then grabbed Jarrod's arm before his brother could climb into the front.
"Jarrod, what is all this about?"
"She was at Mayville Heath. She saw what really happened."
Heath's eyes widened. "You think she can help Nick?"
Jarrod nodded gravely. "I think so. I think she can help him alot."
Heath felt a smile stretching his face.
"Well, boy howdy, let's get her home."
Nick sat in the garden, wishing everyone would just leave him alone. He felt as if a gaggle of well meaning relatives had been surgically attached to his side and were steadily driving away whatever sanity he had left. Audra, for example had wandered over exactly as he was thinking he had humored everyone long enough and could go back to bed, only to have her seize his arm and drag him into the garden where she prattled endlessly on about the flowers.
"Just as well." he supposed.
If he went up to bed he'd just lie there thinking of different ways to avoid sleeping. The Doctor had stopped the sedatives and the nightmares were returning with a vengeance. He had spent the last night with his eyes tightly shut as he repeatedly jabbed at the deepest cut on his hands to avoid falling asleep. Audra may have been fooled but Victoria wasn't, particularly when she saw the blood staining the sheets and noticed the torn stitches in the morning.
Nick was aware he was causing his mother -hell the whole family- pain, but much to his disgust couldn't seem to care. He felt like he was drowning in a sea of guilt and despair, and he didn't have enough energy to keep himself afloat, much less help someone else. In his more contemplative moments he was appalled at his selfishness but that only added to his self loathing. Not for the first time Nick wished he had died at Mayville, died during the war, died at the guns of the railroads hired thugs rather than his father.
Audra was looking at him expectantly and he realized she was waiting for an answer to a question.
"Yeah Audra, sure. Sounds great."
Her eyes clouded with hurt and he knew with a sort of dull dismay that he had bungled again. Another stroke against him in his mental tally sheet of faults and he decided to retreat to his room.
"Nick?" It was his mother, must be time for them to swap off. "Jarrod's back. Could you come to the study for a few minutes?"
At least she was giving him a graceful exit.
He focused on heaving himself to his feet and moving his stiff body inside. He could see Jarrod and Heath standing there with a poorly dressed black woman. She was clutching a basket with a baby inside and Nick wondered tiredly what on earth was going on now.
"Hey Jarrod. Glad you're back. I think I'm going to bed."
Jarrod shook his head firmly and Heath walked over to close the door.
"We need to talk first." Nick recognized the steely edge in his brother's voice. It was his 'I'm the oldest brother and we're doing this my way' voice.
"I don't want to talk Jarrod. Can't this wait?"
"No it can't. Sit down, Nick. I want you to meet Angela Woodard. Angela, this is my brother Nick."
If he was supposed to remember the name, he drew an embarrassing blank as he politely nodded to her.
Brown eyes met his and he had the disconcerting feeling they had met before and he simply didn't recall.
The acccent was familiar anyway, he'd heard it every day while he was in the army and had fallen in love with the dulcet tones of southern speech. He wasn't the only one either; many a young union soldier had started trying to imitate the slow moving drawl. Nick had taken his troopers carefully practiced southern accents as the final absurdity that elevated the war from tragic farce to insanity. Damn, his mind was wandering again. He pulled his meandering thoughts back to the woman in front of him, felt again that faint twinge of recollection he couldn't place.
"I know you from somewhere."
She nodded. "Ah was at Mayville. Ma family lived there. Ma sisters and ma brothers, me 'n Mama. We was there that night."
Nick dropped his eyes and his shoulders sagged as guilt dug claws into his chest. Angela took in the lank hair and haggard face.
"Ya brother was right. Ya don' remember what happen'd, do ya?"
"I remember." God, why had Jarrod brought her here?
She shook her head. "No, ya don'. Now ya lissen here, Ah'm gonna tell ya what Ah saw."
She lowered the basket on her arm gently to the floor as she sat on the far edge of her chair and Nick slowly lowered himself into the opposite one. He wanted to run, he wanted to hide his head for shame and beg for forgiveness but his breath was stuck in his throat and he couldn't speak. He could only listen.
"Ah don' know how it start'd, we jus' heard screamin', an gunshots. We knew it was trouble. If white folks had trouble then black folks woul' get it two times more. Jus' how it was. Wadn' nothin' we could do but try ta wait it out, hope it wouldn' get too bad. It got all quiet, we thought maybe it'd pass'd us by. Then we heard footsteps an' someone kicked open tha door. It was a bluecoat. He had cruel eyes, crazy eyes. He grabbed ma Mama an' threw her down. She start'd screamin' fer us ta run. So we did, me an' ma sisters. We run out the front door..." She bit her lip and tears spilled down her face. "We was so scared. We forgot about ma baby brothers in tha crib. Too scared to go back in the house and get 'em. Jus'...hidin' under that tree n' hopin' nobody'd see us. We could hear Mama screamin' and that soljer laughin' like it was all a game. Maybe it was ta him."
Nick felt sick. What had he been doing while the woman had been raped and the children terrorized? Probably wandering stupidly down some street hunting for a General who had already left the scene. Nice going, Lt.
"Then he came out, threw somethin' back inside and tha house start'd burnin'. Ah saw 'im...make a torch n' head out ta tha barn. That was when Ah heard ya shoutin'. Ya was runnin' to tha house but ya stumbled into tha mud pit in the road. It was sticky mud." Her eyes took on a distant look for a moment. "That mud ditch been there long as tha town had been. Folks lived there knew 'bout it. Strangers like ya couldn' know. Didn' know how it baked all day an' got wet again all night. Didn' know folks wouldn' take horses through it 'cause they'd get stuck. Jus' didn' know."
Nick could feel his family around him, his Mother and his sister choked with horror, Heath, sad but knowing. Jarrod simply waiting...for what? Nick didn't care. He just wanted to get this over with and he turned his attention back to the softly drawling figure in front of him.
"Mama run outta tha house; she was carryin' my baby brothers n' headin' fer us by th' tree. Ya started shoutin' fer a medic, sayin' people needed help, still tryin' to get through that ditch an' havin mud up to ya knees. Ah heard a shot. Mama fell down, droppin' ma brothers an' Ah knew she was dead, 'cause she wouldna dropped ma brothers unless she'd been dead. Ah saw that man walkin' up again. Ya was shoutin' at him, tellin' him to turn around or ya'd shoot but he didn' take no notice. He jus' kept walkin'...like he had all tha time in tha world. Like he was goin' to church on a Sunday mornin'. He looked so happy. Ya was pointin' the gun at him, tellin' him ya'd shoot. Then ya was pullin' the trigger but nothin' happened. Ah saw ya tryin' ta clean -"
"Mud." The blurred memory started to focus. "There was mud and it wouldn't fire. I was trying to clean off the mud so it would fire.."
fingers fumbling wildly as he tore off bits of clothes to wipe the hammer clear away the mud while he screamed at Batson to stop to stand down get away from there it was an order finally dropping the service revolver in the mud and reaching inside his shirt for the battered pistol he carried as a last ditch weapon old and ugly and stiff but dry and workable
"Mud." She nodded. "Ya' was shoutin' at him to stop but Ah could see his face. He din't care. He was havin' fun...he was laughin an' loaded bad, makin' this squealin' giiggle like a pig makes." She looked at Nick sadly. "It scared ma' baby brothers, that laugh. They was cryin'. Ah saw ya' drop yer gun an run towards Mama, ya was pullin' a pistol from yer shirt an loadin' it and shoutin' at that crazy man. Ya' was still loadin' it when he killed ma brothers." She shuddered at the memory and Nick felt his stomach roll with nausea. "Then he started walkin' to me, ma sisters, n' Ah knew he was gonna kill us, too. Wad'n nuthin' to him. We was fleas. Laughin' that laugh, him pointin' that gun in ma face. An that was when ya shot 'im. An ya' shot 'im an ya shot 'im."
Nick nodded slowly, tiny pieces of memory falling into place.
"Ya was cryin'. Ya' picked up ma little brothers and ya' was cryin'. Ya' was askin' 'em not to die." Angela looked at him with remembered amazement. "Ah never saw no white man cryin' over black babies before. I allas thought white men was one a God's dangers, but ya were standin' there an'cryin'..."
Despair and guilt rose again and his eyes blurred with tears. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
I'm sorry I failed. He wanted to say. Sorry I didn't - couldn't stop Batson. Sorry for the burning house and the screaming mother and the babies bleeding in the mud.
But the words couldn't come and they were meaningless and useless. As useless as he'd been that night. A hand touched his arm and he looked up into her eyes, searching for hate and anger, for blame and rage.
"Ya' did th' best ya' could." The forgiving words rolled over him in a gentle wave. "Ya' did more'n anyone else. Ya stopped him. Ya' kept that man from hurtin' us more. Ya' cried for ma brother's jus like ma Daddy or ma Mama woulda done. It wad'n yer fault."
The knot around his heart loosened for a moment, then tightened with grief and to his shame he felt tears running down his face.
"But the babies- I didn't save... those poor babies."
He felt her fingers tighten on his arm, pulling insistently.
"Ah want ya to see somethin'." She reached into the basket on the floor and lifted out her daughter, held the girl up so he could see the tiny form. "This is ma daughter. Her name is Jordan." The child gave a wordless giggle. "If ya hadn' been there that night, she wouldn' be here today. Maybe Ya' couldn' save those babies. Ya saved this one."
He brushed the blinding tears from his eyes, and for the first time in a long while, a child's face that didn't spring from nightmares filled his gaze. The youngster in turn watched him with fearless fascination. A cold, painful knot in his chest was slowly dissolving.
I didn't just watch. I wasn't able to stop him but at least I tried. She saw what happened and she doesn't blame me.
Two small lives gone; the pain was still there but it was bearable as he drank in the sight of the tiny life he was responsible for in a way. He hesitated. He didn't have the right to ask, but he needed to.
"May I hold her?"
Angelia Woodard nodded shyly, and placed the baby in his arms. Nick pulled her close, felt the girl's breath on his cheek, heard bubbling, contented gurgles. He studied the perfection of her small fingers and tiny little fingernails. There were ten; he counted them carefully and turned his attention to counting her toes. Jordan cooed and giggled in delight at his undivided attention, waving her hands and catching the edge of the rough blanket. His finger tenderly traced the contours of her face and around her lashes.
"She has beautiful eyes." He whispered, and pulled her even closer, listening to her breathe, to her heart beating against his chest.
The rhythym of life.
"Yes, brother Nick?"
"Do you really think Angela will stay? Her and Jordan?"
"Hard to know little brother. Silas could use the help, and she didn't have anything to go back to in Mayville."
Jarrod turned the light by the bed off, hoping to encourage Nick to fall asleep. Tonight he had protested swallowing his medication, complaining the powders made him drowsy and were probably just making him sick; a gripe that did much to relieve the family tension. It was the first flash of his usual fire that had been seen in weeks. Of course, taking his medicine also meant he'd had to return Jordan to her mother arms, another reason to protest. Jarrod strongly suspected if Angela and Jordan stayed on, the baby would never learn how to walk. For a moment Jarrod thought Nick had fallen asleep, then:
"Get some sleep, Nick."
"Why'd ja go looking for Angela?"
"Because I thought she might know the truth about what really happened that night."
"You didn't think I was telling the truth?" Jarrod noticed with relief that Nick didn't sound angry, just curious.
"I didn't think you knew what the truth really was." Jarrod was determined to be absolutely honest. "What you were telling us had holes and gaps that didn't make sense. I knew Alderson wouldn't tell the truth. What you told us came partly out of nightmares, memories that hurt you so badly you tried not to remember. What you were describing didn't match my brother. I know my brother, and I knew some part of the story was missing."
"How'd ja know it wouldn't be something bad?"
"I know my brother." Jarrod repeated. Nick blinked drowsily, almost asleep. "The brother I know, the brother I'm proud of wouldn't have just stood there and watched. I knew that with all my heart. I just had to find proof. Not for me, little brother, but for you."
A long silence, then in the last sigh before sleep,
Deep regular breaths filled the room, and Jarrod leaned back against his chair. He had insisted on staying the entire night, and not just a four hour shift. If anything happened, he was going to be there. For an hour Jarrod studied his brother's face in the moonlight, noting that for the first time in weeks the strained, hollow look was gone and the sleep was peaceful and unmarred.
"My little brother." The thought brought a tide of protectiveness with it, and he reached down and stroked the soft raven hair with a gentle hand. "Sweet dreams, Nick. Nothing but sweet dreams. Pappy says so."
He was seven, almost eight as he walked into his parents room to meet his new sibling. Victoria gestured for him to approach the bed, then carefully gathered the blanket wrapped infant and placed it in his arms for the very first time. He accepted the child and the responsibility laid on him joyfully, standing as tall as he possibly could.
"Take care of your little sister, Nick."